Sunday, January 5, 2014

Whom Gods Destroy

On 15th October 1968 Leonard Nimoy wrote a stinging memo to Gene Roddenberry and Doug Cramer, who had replaced Herbert Solow as Executive in Charge of Production. The memo complained about the script for Whom Gods Destroy describing it as,"re-doing a show we did during the first season... Dagger of the Mind." The memo is reprinted in Leonard Nimoy's biography I Am Spock and is critical the quality of the script and third season Star Trek but reserves most of its punches for the portrayal of Spock.

"[Spock] walks into a room, phaser in hand, and is confronted by two "Kirks"...can Spock handle the situation using his deductive logic, the phaser in his hand... or any other of the imaginative techniques that a smart ass Vulcan would normally use? The answer is: NO... My primary interest in contacting you gentlemen is my concern over my lack of experience in playing dummies... Maybe if I watched some "Blondie" episodes... Or better still, I could get right to the bottom line by wearing some braids and feathers and learning to grunt, "Ugh, Kimosabee"?"

The finished episode is the result of the rewrite to take Leonard Nimoy's comments into account. Spock still looks like an idiot but to be fair so does Kirk, who is also unable to come up with a way to confirm his identity, and Garth, who forgets he has a working phaser although where it goes when he shape shifts is anyone's guess, and the entire Enterprise bridge crew who spend the episode fretting about the situation on Elba II but fail to take the initiative when the security forcefield is dropped. Sloppy writing isn't unusual for Star Trek. The existence of The Alternative Factor is proof it was possible for everyone concerned to drop the ball. What's unusual here is the tag scene where Kirk talks to Spock after the fight.

IRK: Tell me something. Why was it so impossible to tell the difference between us?
SPOCK: It was not impossible, Captain. Our presence here is proof of that.
KIRK: Yes, and congratulations. What took you so long?
SPOCK: The interval of uncertainty was actually fairly brief, Captain. It only seemed long to you. I was waiting for a victor in the hand to hand struggle, which I assumed would be Captain Garth. Because of your depleted condition. Failing a resolution to the struggle, I was forced to use other means to make my determination.
KIRK: I see. Mister Spock. Letting yourself be hit on the head, and I presume you let yourself be hit on the head, is not exactly a method King Solomon would have approved. Mister Scott, ready to beam up.

What makes this tag scene odd is the deliberate way it draws attention to Spock being stupid. Why write a character as an idiot, and then mock the character for actions the writer has imposed? Leonard Nimoy is pretty open in I Am Spock about being protective of the character. He gives examples of memos he wrote regarding Spectre Of The Gun, and a dispute over the IDIC medallion seen in Is There In Truth No Beauty? It's not impossible this is writers revenge. A warning shot to Leonard Nimoy from the production team that writers write and actors act. Then again it could just be bad writing. If the production team were utterly wedded to the two Kirks fight idea then short of drastic rewriting the easiest way to take the sting out of Spock's sudden inability to use his brain is to acknowledge it; to wink to the audience over the story and go 'we know this is silly, and we know you know this is silly' as noted in the review for Wink Of An Eye.

Apart from the tag scene there's little notable about Whom Gods Destroy. Garth and Marta are both insane but it's strictly television madness meaning they do little more than act like capricious children. In the end Garth is Trelane without the omnipotence; but in The Squire Of Gothos the danger develops as Trelane acquires a taste for the hunt, "but this is such sport. I must fetch all the others back to play," and Trelane has the power to carry out his threat. Without the countersign to the code "queen to queen's level three" Garth is trapped on Elba II. And although Kirk and Spock are trapped at a madman's whim nothing too bad can happen to them with NBC's Standards and Practices Department making sure the torture isn't too traumatic for viewers. The story is on hold from the moment Garth discovers he can't get up to the Enterprise until he's finally stunned into unconsciousness by Spock. In fact this is a pretty Spock light story. He's dragged off stunned at the beginning of act one, reappears for the banquet in act two, and then disappears until he's needed to end the episode. It's as if someone on the production team realised Spock's presence was potentially story breaking but also necessary for the scene where Garth disguises himself as Spock.

It's easy to see why Whom Gods Destroy was made. It has a limited number of sets, few speaking parts, not too many special effects requirements, and allows the chance to reuse some old costumes and props. It's a lot harder to believe anyone was passionate about making this episode. In Inside Star Trek Robert Justman writes of the third season. "By the time episodes were filmed, whatever excitement existed in the original stories and scripts had been diluted... it was now strictly budget driven. There were no highs and no lows -just a boring in-between. My never ending battle to cut costs without compromising quality had failed." Whom Gods Destroy was the first episode produced without co-producer Robert Justman, he'd resigned to go and work for Herbert Solow at MGM Television.

Enterprise crew deaths: None.
Running total: 50

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