Written by Margaret Armen, David Gerrold, Oliver Crawford, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Jud Taylor
Rewatching The Cloud Minders after the events of the last year really gives its social message a prominent resonance. After all, we have the current situation where many service-industry jobs have been abandoned and people are looking for ways to force people to take those low-wage, high-stress jobs so they can be served, rather than recognize that people just don’t want to work those jobs now for a variety of reasons. I’d say that writer David Gerrold was quite ahead of his time with this episode.
The Enterprise is in a quadrant of the galaxy where a botanical plague threatens to destroy all of the vegetation on a Merak II, rendering it uninhabitable. They are on their way to the planer Ardana to acquire zenite, a mineral that is the only known antidote to the plague. The leaders or Ardana want the landing party to beam to their cloud city, Stratos, while Captain Kirk (William Shatner) wishes to grab the zenite and run.
The Ardanans have eliminated all violence in their culture, and are a society of art and leisure. Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) yearns to visit the City and see all it has to offer, but the acquisition and delivery of the zenite are pressing. Unfortunately, it seems to be missing when they arrive at the mine entrance. Before they can communicate with anyone, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are taken prisoner by the “Troglytes.” They escape when Plasus (Jeff Corey), the High Advisor, arrives with a security detail.
Plasus tells Captain Kirk the Troglytes are being manipulated by a group known as “The Disrupters” and asks them to return to Stratos with him until they can locate the zenite. Plasus introduces them to his daughter, Droxine (Diana Ewing). Plasus says the Disrupters are causing havoc in Stratos to try to force the leaders to accede to their demands, which he says are completely unreasonable.
Know where this is going? Yeah, so do I.
After interrogating a Troglyte found within the City, Plasus intends to get the names of the Disrupters from him, but he jumps to his death rather than allow himself to be interrogated. Droxine seemed to recognize him, and he her, yet this part of the story is never built upon.
Resting in their quarters, Spock has already figured out that the society isn’t quite as non-violent as it presents. When he hears Droxine outside his quarters, he goes to her and they have a conversation that makes it seem that they are interested in each other. Meanwhile, Kirk is attacked by Vanna (Charlene Polite), the leader of the Troglytes that tried to kidnap Kirk and Spock when they first arrive. He manages to disarm her, and she fills him in on what life is really like on Ardana.
The Troglytes are seen by the citizens of Stratos as being inferior. Droxine states that they cannot understand the logic, and their eyes cannot adjust to sunlight, making their home in the caverns the perfect place for them. Their function in society is to support all of those who live in leisure in Stratos. She maintains that they cannot understand the things the citizens of Stratos understand. Kirk and Spock find Vanna being tortured and threaten Plasus with reporting him to Starfleet. They leave the planet without the zenite.
Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) examines an unrefined sample of zenite and finds it emits an odorless gas which has a negative effect on those exposed to it that. Removing them from the caverns, or at the very least from exposure to it by using a filter mask, would allow them to be on a level playing field with the residents of Stratos.
Yes, there’s a huge social commentary here. The residents of Stratos live lives of leisure, dedicated to the arts, while their society is supported by the labors of the Troglytes who are pretty much slaves. They live in caverns without exposure to the sun, nor the ability to partake in all the Ardana society has to offer. Some have been brought to Stratos to work for the residents of the City, as is the case with Vanna, and instead of being grateful as the Ardanans expect, it makes them more resentful.
One could say it’s something of a mirror of Antebellum society in the South prior to the Civil War, where the slaves worked in the fields and a select few were house slaves. All of that supported the economy and society of the time, while the slaves received none of the benefits, save for a subsistence. However, it also mimics our current society where the “haves” live their lives at the expense of the “have nots” and give no thought to their existence except while they are interacting with them. They feel entitled to the fruits of the labors of the working class and see minimum-wage compensation as just (or even argue for the elimination of the minimum wage).
Either way, it seems there has always been a bit of human nature where people are willing to exploit other people for their own comfort, and it extends out into the universe with The Cloud Minders. For the most part, I found it very timely and well-done. There are a number of weak spots. The most prominent is the relationship between Droxine and Mr. Spock. I would imagine the thought was that being an intellectual she would be more attracted to Spock than the more physical Captain Kirk. However, with what we’ve known about Spock during the series, being drawn to her this quickly is not believable. Upon full examination, she is as shallow and uncaring as the rest of the Ardanans living in Stratos. Had the story gone the way I thought it might, with Droxine secretly helping the Troglytes and knowing there is more to them than just their labors, it would have made the attraction between Droxine and Spock more believable. Instead, she’s just another pretty woman in a skimpy dress that thinks too highly of herself.
The performances are good. William Shatner as Kirk is under the effects of the zenite gas is campy and over-acted, but it’s okay here because he’s supposed to be becoming more violent. Leonard Nimoy is the thoughtful one here and the contrast works in many ways. The rest of the crew of the Enterprise is under-used in this episode, but there was only so much time to tell the story. Jeff Corey plays the part of Plasus well, trying to ameliorate the Captain and keep the situation from blowing up with Starfleet, but also very angry that their society is being interfered with and questioned. In his mind, everything is as it should be and he resents challenges to that. Diane Ewing is very pretty in that skimpy costume, but other than that she falls pretty flat. I don’t know whether to blame the director or the actress for that. However, Charlene Polite as Vanna gives a much better performance in that role, as both what amounts to a leader of the resistance on Ardana as well as a worker fed up with her role in the society. What she is able to accomplish should be all the proof that the Troglytes are on much more equal footing with the residents of Stratos than they would like to believe.
While not one of the best episodes of the series, The Cloud Minders is a good one. It holds up to the test of time better than most as the questions it raises about worker rights and the problems inherent in our society’s structure are even more present now than they were when this was filmed. For the final season, this is a highlight among many pretty poor episodes. Although predictable, the story is compelling and pretty well-executed.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Way to Eden
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Savage Curtain