Written by Meyer Dolinsky, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by David Alexander
Amid an episode that is pretty awful in many ways, we have moments of social justice that Star Trek became known for. Indeed, I don’t know how people can call themselves fans of the series now and align themselves on the side of right-wing politicians here in the U.S. They must have missed a lot when watching the series.
The Enterprise responds to a distress call on an unexplored planet. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) beam down. Unlike the previous episode, they have no space suits and no drawn weapons. So much for a lesson learned.
They are greeted by Alexander (Michael Dunn) a dwarf of a man who says this society thinks of themselves as “Plato’s Children” and call themselves Platonians. He brings McCoy to treat a wounded man known as Parmen (Liam Sullivan), the leader of the Platonians. When Parmen is in pain, he exhibits psychokinetic power that tosses the Enterprise around as if in a storm. On the planet, objects are hurled through the air and other people are attacked. He almost chokes Alexander to death psychokinetically.
These people traveled to Earth during the time of the Greek civilization. They admired it so much, that they modeled their own society on it. His wife, Philana (Barbara Babcock) claims to be more than 2,000 years old.
Once Parmen recovers, it becomes apparent he has little interest in letting the Enterprise or any of the crew leave. In particular, they want Doctor McCoy to stay with them. McCoy refuses, at which point Parmen begins using his powers to toy with and torture Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
The actors are convincing at being forced to do things against their will. Sure, William Shatner chews scenery, but here it’s perfectly appropriate. Leonard Nimoy gets to show emotion as it’s forced out of him. It’s all cheesy and over-acted and ridiculous. The Platonians are nothing bus sadists and fixate on torturing the Vulcan by having him perform against his character.
What’s important here isn’t much of what we’re seeing but what’s being said. At one point, Kirk sits down with Alexander, who is sort of the court-jester to the Platonians and the object of most of Parmen’s abuse, and the two have a remarkable conversation. Kirk tells Alexander “where I come from, size, shape, or color makes no difference.” This was revolutionary for the 1960s because this is what the Civil Rights movement was all about. This one sentence puts into words what the entire Star Trek series was about.
Then, of course, there’s the moment that Plato’s Stepchildren has become known for throughout television history. Parmen is using his psychokinetic powers to treat the Enterprise crew like puppets. At one point he forces Kirk and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to kiss. This is the first interracial kiss ever on U.S. television. Of course, the caveat is they were forced to do it against their will, and the cut does not show their lips touching, but it aired. At this time, there were states that were still doing battle to keep their anti-miscegenation laws on the books, although the Supreme Court was about to rule them unconstitutional. What seems like no big deal now, was a huge deal at the time.
While much of this episode is horrible, the series managed to slip by the censors some great moments that make it worth viewing. People born after this era won’t understand the significance of what they are watching amid all of the torture, but it’s really a tremendous piece of history. You can’t be against social justice and call yourself a fan of Star Trek.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Tholian Web
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Wink of an Eye