Written by Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Ralph Senensky
There are some episodes of the original Star Trek series that hold up better than others. The ones that don’t hold up so well are usually due to issues of it being dated to the era of the 1960s. In the case of Metamorphosis, it would be quite easy to dismiss this as being dated. However, what saves it is how well it ties into the movie Star Trek: First Contact in addition to it being a pretty good story and production.
A shuttle containing Captain Kirk (William Shatner), the Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and a VIP patient heading to the Enterprise for medical treatment. Nancy Hedford (portrayed by Eleanor Donohue) is a terminally ill Federation diplomat on a mission to negotiate a truce. The shuttle crashes for no apparent reason on a nearby planet as they are making their way back to the ship.
The four find a man alone on the planet. He explains that he crashed on the planet and has been there alone ever since. After extensive questioning, the man reveals himself to be Zefram Cochrane (portrayed by Glenn Corbett), the inventor of the warp drive, which led to the founding of the Federation of Planets.
At first, Kirk disbelieves the man’s story. Cochrane died 150 years before and was 87 years old at that time. Cochrane explains that he had gone out in space to die when his ship crashed on the planet. There, he was taken care of by an energy entity he calls “The Companion”. It not only fixed what was wrong with him from the crash but rejuvenated him and made him younger.
Unfortunately, it has been a lonely existence. Cochrane told this “Companion” that he would die of loneliness, thinking it would allow him to leave the planet. Instead, it brought the shuttle here. Now it’s up to them to figure out how to save Ms. Hedford and get the three of them (four of them?) away from the planet. Meanwhile, Scotty (James Doohan) has command of the Enterprise and is systematically searching for the missing shuttle and it’s very important passengers.
Let me get out of the way what I didn’t like about Metamorphosis first. The way Cochrane talks to Eleanor is incredibly sexist. It might have sounded fine in the sixties, but even now, just about forty years later, it sounds ridiculous. He treats her like she is mere eye candy to him, rather than a woman who is a diplomat with intelligence and stature all her own. I can’t imagine what it would sound like to people in the 23rd century. Then again, after seeing the character of Cochrane in the movie Star Trek: First Contact it does sort of suit him. However, there he treated his friend Lily with much more respect than he treats Nancy Hedford here.
The reason for Hedford being there in the first place seems conveniently diminished by the end of the episode; a bit too conveniently. She is there despite her medical condition because the negotiations are so important, yet by the end of Metamorphosis it seems like Kirk is shrugging it off with the attitude that somehow it will work itself out.
The rest of the story is quite well done. The energy being seeming to be like a jealous girlfriend is a good angle. Cochrane seems to get this, and it’s a good point of evolution for his character. There’s enough that’s similar to the Cochrane viewers see earlier in his life in Star Trek: First Contact that it seems that he has grown a bit since then with the experience he’s had, rather than being a completely different character. Watching Metamorphosis for the first time in a long time gave me an appreciation for the continuity producers of the movie managed to convey.
Dr. McCoy really gets a chance to shine in Metamorphosis as well. He is probably the strongest of the cast here, as Kirk comes off as more of a hot-head than a Captain capable of reasoning out the best course of action. I suspect this was a time when Shatner was throwing around his weight and wanted the Captain written as more of an action-oriented character rather than a thinker. It’s a shame because someone who has risen to this position of authority should be both, and his actions really are detrimental to the character. It is the Doctor who seems to be the most capable of finding a solution to their problem, and he really holds it all together. Kelley does a lot here and handles it well, giving the Doctor a degree of assurance and maturity that suits him quite well.
Ill-used is Leonard Nimoy who doesn’t really have a lot to do. It would have made sense to really have him and Scotty switch roles, with the Engineer piloting the shuttle and on the planet, and the First Officer in charge of the Enterprise. They really could have been interchangeable, and I suspect the reason Spock was put in the shuttle was just that it gave him more screen time in the long run.
Corbett is excellent as Cochrane. He is a strong character as well as showing signs of maturing after having years alone to ponder things. Corbett manages to play him with the right balance to convey the emotions with all the years of loneliness combined with a degree of humility. He truly seems like the man who said Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment.
The story is paced pretty well. Each moment seems to serve to propel it along. There is conflict and a good degree of suspense. In addition, Metamorphosis is a love story and one that works well in the Trek universe.
In the end, I felt like I liked Metamorphosis more than I should have. There are pitfalls that make it seem like I shouldn’t like it, but for some reason, it all works quite well. I actually feel like it’s one of the better episodes of the series, despite some issues. Kudos to DeForest Kelley for picking up the slack for Shatner here – that probably went a long way to improving it.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – I, Mudd
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Journey to Babel