Written by Steven W. Carabatsos and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herschel Daugherty
The first season of the original Star Trek series finished quite strongly. There were a number of episodes among the last few which are some of the best of the series. Operation: Annihilate! might have something of a strange title, but the story here is quite strong.
The Federation has sent the Enterprise to the planet Deneva after losing all contact with the residents there. On their way to the planet, they encounter a Denevan ship headed directly toward the sun. Their attempts to head off the seemingly suicidal pilot are fruitless. They worry that a mass-insanity that had affected this part of the galaxy has somehow made its way to Deneva.
There are more than a million citizens of the planet Deneva. A landing party beams down from the Enterprise in the middle of a city that should have 100,000 inhabitants but is strangely silent. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is eager to find the facility his brother, Sam, works in, believing a transmission the Enterprise picked up came from his wife, Aurelan (portrayed by Joan Swift). They are first attacked by what seems to be an angry mob. Once they are dealt with, a woman’s screams draw them to a building where they locate Aurelan in a hysterical state. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) sedates her, and they locate the body of Kirk’s brother, Sam as well as the unconscious form of his nephew, Peter.
When Aurelan awakens, she tells as best she can a story of something that came on a ship, forcing the crew ship’s crew to bring them to Deneva, and how they use pain to control humans. She then dies. Kirk goes back to the planet to try and investigate what “they” are.
The landing party including Kirk, the half-Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the Chief Engineer, Scotty (James Doohan) locate a gelatinous blob on the walls and ceiling of one of the buildings which are emitting the buzzing sound they hear. They fire at the creatures and manage to kill one before the remaining fly off. However, as they are turning to leave, one of the creatures fly over and land on Mr. Spock’s back, stings him, then flies off.
Back on the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy examines both Mr. Spock and Peter. He finds them both in the same condition, with some sort of strange parasite affecting their nervous system. Spock makes an attempt to take over the ship and is subdued. His Vulcan half is able to overcome the infliction of pain by the creature which is attempting to force him to do their will and get the ship for them.
Finally, Kirk agrees to allow Spock down to Deneva to do research, since he is already infected. They need to find a way to destroy these blobs, or everyone on the planet will have to be killed to prevent the spread of the infection.
The story that’s set up here is fine. In some ways, it’s something we’re quite used to in Star Trek: an alien being threatens to destroy humanity as we know it, only to be foiled by the crew of the Enterprise. The inclusion of Kirk’s immediate family here should have been the main thrust of the story for Kirk, but it isn’t. When he sees Sam dead and later on watched Aurelan die, his emotions don’t surface. That could be written off as the Captain having a job to do and pushing himself through it, were it not for his reactions near the end of the episode.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!!!
When Captain Kirk comes up with the solution of exposing the creature to an extraordinary amount of light to kill it and drive it from the host bodies, Mr. Spock volunteers to be the test subject. After exposing himself to the light, he comes out of the chamber completely blind. This means Kirk faces the possibility that the cure will leave every human on the planet blind.
However, Dr. McCoy soon figures out another way of using light to do the job. This still leaves Spock blind. For a few moments, as the discussion is going on, Kirk appears to be pointing a finger at Dr. McCoy for Spock’s blindness. McCoy is already wracked with guilt and just doing the best he could. Even Spock realizes this and acknowledges that he volunteered to be the test subject. Later on, Kirk backs off of this position and tries to tell Dr. McCoy he wasn’t at fault but the damage is already done.
This is where Kirk shows his emotions – at the prospect of his friend and First Officer being blind. He doesn’t show anything at the death of his family, but it is exhibited here. This is one of the major faults of the episode, and just adding a few scenes of grief over the death of his family would be most beneficial. It would also help if there was ever a mention of Peter Kirk again in the Star Trek universe.
There are a few other plot holes as well. Wouldn’t it be logical that after the story Aurelan tells about how the creature infected them, there would be some sort of mandatory quarantine enacted? Why would Kirk leave a landing party down there, and more importantly, why would he have additional people beam down unprotected?
Leonard Nimoy gives a terrific performance. Early in the infection, he shows what Vulcan insanity would look like. It’s quite shocking and dramatic without descending into campiness. Later on, when he seems to have it under control, he emits subtle ticks from time to time to show what this creature is doing to him. He’s not screaming in pain or being overly dramatic. Instead, his actions are perfectly reasonable for a Vulcan and convey the pain he is suffering much more than anything else could have done.
Shatner does fine with what he’s given. There’s a terrible inequity in his emotions that I detailed above. I put that largely on the writing and directing. Shatner is rightly contemplative and decisive at times but is largely outshined by the performance of Nimoy.
The parasites are more of the rubbery effects that flop around. They are largely unimpressive by today’s standards but seem to be more out of “B” movies such as The Blob. They serve their purpose, and since they aren’t supposed to be mobile and only intelligent, the concept of an intelligent creature that appears as a blob works.
For all its faults, Operation: Annihilate! is a fine finish to the season. The title is sort of out there, but the episode is pretty good. It creates a good degree of suspense and threat. I could believe a whole planet and its citizenry could be destroyed in the name of “the needs of the many”. The acting is good, and aside from a few problems with the plot, it works quite well.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The City on the Edge of Forever
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Amok Time