Written by D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Joseph Pevney
With no knowledge of what the future would hold for the Star Trek franchise, actor Mark Lenard took on his second role in the series so far. Considering the series was only in its second season, you would think having the same actor back in a different role would be a no-no. I’m sure Lenard had no clue that his role as Sarek would be one he would reprise for years to come.
The Enterprise is transporting a number of delegates to a Federation conference on Babel. The ship arrives at the planet Vulcan and prepares to take a Vulcan delegation on board. Ambassador Sarek (portrayed by Mark Lenard) beams on board with his human wife, Amanda (portrayed by Jane Wyatt). Captain Kirk (William Shatner) offers them a tour, and Sarek asks for another guide besides the Vulcan Science Officer, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Kirk agrees, then tells Spock he has two hours if he would like to beam down to the planet and visit his parents. Spock informs Kirk that Ambassador Sarek and his wife are his parents.
Other diplomats soon join the trip, including the Tellarite ambassador, Gav (portrayed by John Wheeler). There is lingering tension between Spock and Sarek over Spock’s choice to join Starfleet. Meanwhile, Spock’s mother acts as any normal mother would, talking about Spock’s boyhood to Dr. McCoy’s (DeForest Kelley) questioning.
However, it’s the delegates themselves who seem to be having difficulty getting along, even before their mission starts. The Enterprise is also being shadowed by a mysterious ship they cannot identify. It is signaling someone on board the Enterprise, but who?
When Gav is then found murdered, and Sarek is a logical suspect, things start deteriorating rapidly. At the same time, a defect in Sarek’s heart begins to take its toll and he needs an operation to repair it and stay alive. In addition to McCoy’s inexperience with Vulcan anatomy, the only possible blood donor on board is Spock. When Kirk is assaulted by the spy on board their ship and rendered unable to command, Spock must put the welfare of the ship above that of his father.
Journey to Babel has a little bit of everything. There’s a mystery and drama that keeps the viewer hanging until the very end. There’s some comedy in McCoy’s prying for the details of Spock’s childhood. There are space battles between the Enterprise and the unknown vessel tailing them. All of this is combined with some terrific acting and a story that never seems to have a dull moment.
Journey to Babel has the complexities not just of the political intrigue, but the relationship between a father and son. Sarek seems to be human-like in his disappointment that his son chose his own path, rather than follow in his father’s footsteps. This appeals to the fans of the series who have long watched for those glimpses of human-like qualities in Spock’s character. We now find ourselves doing the same thing with the character of Sarek. Of course, having his human wife opposite him helps in that regard.
Wondering how a human and Vulcan would manage a relationship? Well, it’s shown with remarkable warmth for being between a race which has managed to repress emotions and embrace logic above all else and humans. Jane Wyatt does a terrific job in the role of Amanda, a role she will also portray in the movies. She loves both her husband and son and has learned to read them for the signs that they love her as well, even if they will not come out and say it. Lenard is wonderful opposite her, as it seems she has cracked the shell he puts on when out in public, and those glimpses of the warmth and love between them are most satisfying.
The regular cast is terrific as well. For once, Shatner doesn’t overact when he’s trying to convince Spock he’s well enough to take the ship over so Spock can donate blood to his father. It would have been easy for Shatner to overact once he can let his guard down, but he doesn’t and it works largely because he is convincing. Nimoy as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock shows less emotion throughout Journey to Babel than his father seems to.
One place I thought Journey to Babel was lacking was in the special effects department. There are some unremarkable effect during the battle with the mysterious vessel which has been tailing the Enterprise. When Chekov (Walter Koenig) fires phasers at them, it just sort of winks out. There’s no point of impact or anything. Later on there’s a more dramatic explosion, but it looks more like someone taking a sledgehammer to a television than a ship exploding. The depiction of the aliens is interesting and has the feel of making the most of a limited budget. The Andorians are depicted with blue skin, white hair, and antennas while the Tellarites are a race that more resemble a cross between a human and a pig.
The ending to the mystery is a bit contrived. It has the feeling of an episode of a Scooby-Doo cartoon as they solve the mystery of who was behind the murder and other events and why. This is forgivable since the main point of Journey to Babel is actually the relationship between Spock and his father.
This is an excellent episode of the classic series. It has everything right with it from the story to the acting to the pace of the episode. The effects could have been better, but this is primarily character driven and works well in that regard. It’s definitely one of the top episodes of the series.