Written by D.C. Fontana, Jerry Sohl, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Paradise is different things for different people, but the finding of an idyllic world seems to be a topic worth repeating in the Star Trek universe. Sometimes that idyllic world is due to changing the world to suit the inhabitants while at other times it’s due to the inhabitants being changed to suit the world.
In This Side of Paradise, the Enterprise is traveling to a colony on Omicron Ceti III, which it expects to find dead after exposure to Berthold rays. When Captain Kirk (Willaim Shatner), the Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and others from the ship beam down, they find the colonists not only alive, but the colony thriving.
Mr. Spock encounters a woman he knew once before, Leila Kalomi (portrayed by Jill Ireland). Leila had been interested in Spock romantically, but his Vulcan nature precluded any relationship. Spock also begins noticing the lack of animal life on the planet, which is contrary to the records of the colony.
Leila brings Spock out to a field where he is sprayed with plant spores. Soon Spock is declaring his love for Leila.
Kirk receives orders to evacuate the colonists. The leader, Elias Sandoval (portrayed by Frank Overton), refuses. Other members of the crew are exposed to the spores, including those on the Enterprise. Kirk soon finds himself alone and marooned, with the ship having been sabotaged. Finally, he too becomes affected.
A recurring theme through the three seasons of the original Star Trek series is breaking through Spock’s Vulcan demeanor. The most rewarding occurrences are when it happens on its own, through no outside interference. However, here it works fairly well. The script originally had Sulu being the first affected and declaring his love for Leila. Switching it to Spock made the story much better.
Leonard Nimoy does a good job making the emotions of the Vulcan break through and making it believable at the same time. His actions and reactions are so out of character from what we’ve grown to expect and at the same time they seem right for him. He convinces us that both characters are truly a part of Spock and that the side he demonstrates under the influence of the spores is a part of his nature that he suppresses.
Shatner does a good job with Kirk. He becomes frustrated as he continually loses control of the situation around him. The wry looks of amusement and frustration on his face shows how he doesn’t take it as seriously as he should until it’s too late. He is unable to fight the domino effect among his people as they succumb to the influence of the spores which are also protecting those on the planet from the Berthold radiation.
Where the episode is weak is in regard to the secondary characters. I didn’t care for Leila at all, and a lot of that had to do with Jill Ireland. Some of it is the script, which seems to have her act as nothing other than a pretty face. There’s little that’s substantial in her lines and she’s not convincing as someone Spock could or would fall for. Ireland could have done a bit better with the material she was given as well, but instead she seems to play the character as weak as it’s written, rather than trying to give her a spark of intelligence which would make it believable that Spock would fall for her.
The sets are another case where it looks like another backlot set used for dozens of other shows that the viewer is told is a far away planet and we are just supposed to believe it. It actually looks like a western setting on earth – house style, the paddock area, etc. It could have been from any time over the fifty or so years before that, but it doesn’t have the feel of a colony on a planet off on their own. Just as settles in the New World took on designs that were suitable for their homes here, there should have been some influences that changed the look away from what we see. I know in my head it’s budgetary reasons, but I would think a little more effort could be made in that direction.
As for any effects, the main one is the plant and the spores it shoots. They are pretty fake looking and not convincing at all.
This Side of Paradise isn’t great Star Trek, but it is good. It won’t turn up in anyone’s list of top ten episodes, but it is enjoyable and fun. It’s more light-hearted than other episodes and doesn’t have the crisis feel to it that other episodes have. There’s some room for improvement, but I think one of the reasons it works as well as it does is the fact that the focus shifts to Spock and we get to see him act completely out of character. Nimoy really shines without overdoing it.