Written by Robert Block and GeneRoddenberry
Directed by Joseph Pevney
There are times when an episode seems so out of place in a series that I just know there has to be a deeper meaning behind it. In the case of the second season Star Trek episode Catspaw, looking into the history of the show it becomes quite evident that the motivation behind the episode was to capitalize on the airing in close proximity to Halloween in 1967.
Chief Engineer Mr. Scott (James Doohan) and Lt. Sulu (George Takei) are part of a landing party that is overdue in checking in. When they finally establish contact, only one member, a Mr. Jackson (portrayed by Jay D. Jones) is ready to beam up. When they beam him up, he keels over, dead. A voice emits from the body telling Captain Kirk (William Shatner) there is a curse on his ship and they need to leave this place or they will all die.
Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and several others beam down to the planet. Kirk leaves Lt. DeSalle (portrayed by Michael Barrier) in command. The landing party beams down and finds a fog surrounding the location from which Jackson was beamed up. Spock begins picking up multiple life-form readings from his tricorder, but the Enterprise still only picks up the three from the landing party. However, there is soon interference that prevents the landing party from communicating with the ship.
Three ghostly forms appear in the fog, warning off the landing party. Soon a castle-like structure appears as well. The life-forms are inside the castle according to Spock. The three venture inside, to be greeted by a black cat. The life readings of the landing party also disappear off the Enterprise‘s instruments.
As the landing party follows the tricorder readings through the castle toward the life signs, suddenly the floor drops out from under them. They tumble through the opening and are unconscious. When they awaken, they find themselves in a dungeon, chained to the wall. Scotty and Sulu come in, but appear to be in some sort of a trance. They release the three and are escorted by them to Korob (portrayed by Theo Marcuse), who seems to be in control of the situation. He does admit to not being a native of the planet. At first, the cat seems to be his companion and seems to advise Korob.
Spock speculates that Korob might be a wizard, based on legends he has read about. The animal might be a human in an animal form, which is also included in the legends. This seems to prove true when the lovely Sylva (portrayed by Antoinette Bower) makes an appearance. It soon becomes apparent that these two beings have different views of the use of their powers. However, it is up to Kirk to figure out a way to extract himself, his crew, and the ship from their clutches.
Catspaw has themes of witches and wizardry to capitalize on the initial airing’s proximity to Halloween. Perhaps that worked well then, but it really fails going forward. There’s never a real sense that the Enterprise or most of the crew are in peril since that would mean an end to the show.
Take out the peril and what is really left of the episode? Not much. The writing is somewhat lackluster and the story isn’t one that uses the characters to their full potential. Sulu and Scotty act like zombies throughout the episode. Dr. McCoy eventually joins them, but even before then, he isn’t given much to do. Most of the interaction takes place between Kirk and Sylvia, and to a lesser degree, Korob.
That’s not to say the actors fail in any way. I give them points for trying as hard as they did with what had to be a script that made them scratch their heads. It just fails to build anything into the story or use the actors in a substantial way. The whole premise feels contrived and forced.
This episode also marked the debut of the character of Ensign Chekov. The story goes that the network wanted a character that would appeal to an audience, particularly females, along the lined of Davey Jones of The Monkees. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Chekov’s hair – it’s not just Beatle-esque but poofy and big. It was a character all its own. Happily, it got toned down and the character grew into its own niche in the show.
Catspaw is not great Star Trek or even good Star Trek. It is forgettable for the most part and something that does not represent the best the series had to offer.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Doomsday Machine
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – I, Mudd