Written by Gilbert Ralston and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels
Every now and then there are concepts behind an episode that are just so well thought-out that they should work. Imagine presenting the legends of the Greek gods as alien beings so powerful they seemed like Gods to the humans who lived on Earth at the time. Heck, I’m sure if we all somehow were transported to 5,000 years ago and were able to communicate with cell phones and heat up food by putting it in a box, we would seem pretty darn amazing too.
That concept is behind Who Mourns for Adonais? The Enterprise is charting the planet Pollux IV. There is a bit of interplay on the bridge involving Lt. Carolyn Palamas (portrayed by Leslie Parrish), a very pretty officer, who specializes in archeology and anthropology. Chief Engineer Scotty (James Doohan) asks her to accompany him for a cup of coffee and the two depart.
Just prior to establishing orbit around Pollux IV, a space anomaly is detected which looks like a giant hand reaching out to grab the Enterprise. Science Officer, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who is from the planet Vulcan, soon reports that it’s not living tissue, but a field of energy. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) orders the ship to try to avoid the energy, but none of the maneuvers are successful. The ship is soon in its grip, unable to move.
Another anomaly appears in space, what appears to be the face of a man. He communicates with the Enterprise, calling them “my children”. He asks them to beam down to him, calling it “returning home” but not to bring Spock along. To illustrate the power he has, he puts pressure on the hull of the Enterprise, nearly crushing it before Kirk agrees to accede to his demands.
Kirk beams down to the surface, along with Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Scotty, Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Lt. Palamas. When they arrive, they find a man sitting nearby. He talks of ancient Earth and of legendary people who lived then. He claims to be Apollo. Doctor McCoy states he is a simple humanoid.
Apollo (portrayed by Michael Forest) seems to have great powers. He can change his size at will. He also blocks their attempts to communicate with the Enterprise. He wants the humans to stay there with him and worship him as a God, as they once did. Lt. Palamas develops feelings for the God, and he would like to make her his bride. However, she is the one who holds the key to their escaping the powerful being’s grasp.
There is so much that could have been right about Who Mourns for Adonais? This wasn’t just another “alien species posing as something Earth-related to conquer the humans.” This is treated as the true story of the legendary Gods and exposes the secret behind their powers that made such an impression upon their subjects thousands of years ago. It’s really a great concept.
However, it fails in many ways in the execution. Apollo himself is not powerful, but has forces behind him which make him seem powerful. It would have been better were he some sort of inherently powerful and god-like creature, but then it would have been incredible hubris for Kirk to have been able to out-wit a God. This is where the signs start appearing of Kirk being almost infallible as the Captain of the Enterprise and I suspect it was about this time that Shatner began counting lines in the script and demanding changes.
Scotty continually lets his feelings for Lt. Palamas get in the way while they are on the surface. He attacks Apollo several times, even going against express orders not to do so. When they are plotting their escape, he worries more about her welfare than anyone else and everyone else. This is so out of character for both Scotty and any Starfleet Officer, he should have been brought up on charges and dismissed. It seems that regulations only apply when they don’t interfere with the plot.
My issues with Kirk really go back to Shatner’s ego taking off. He isn’t bad otherwise, but looking back from the perspective of what I know over the years, this seems to be the episode that marks the change for his character. No one else has much to do in the cast. Scotty is one dimensional, Lt. Palamas is the source of conflict and love interest, and Apollo is the villain. Kirk is the hero and I have no clue why Dr. McCoy and Chekov are there except to fill in the background shots.
The special effects are pretty awful. The hand in space is a hideous concept and execution. It’s an image that has become emblazoned on the minds of many Star Trek fans, and it’s not really a good representation of the series. It’s very obvious that many of the effects where Apollo is larger than life are done with a split-screen or other effect where he has been filmed and then the part with the landing party added. The timing is just a bit off in the conversations as well, making it less convincing.
Who Mourns for Adonais? had a lot of potential that was unrealized. That’s a shame. I wouldn’t introduce someone to Star Trek here as they would probably laugh you right out of the room. It’s something that most fans will see at one time or another, and although it’s not as horrible as Spock’s Brain, it is disappointing. I wouldn’t go looking for it.
**Note: When I was younger I always thought the title was Who Mourns for Adonis? The title of the episode is actually taken from a line from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Adonais.