The first half-dozen episodes of Star Trek spent time establishing the regular characters only to see “The Naked Time” dig a bit deeper into what makes each of these characters tick by pulling back the veil.
The primary instrument for this involves everyone on the ship throwing the universe’s largest keg party while on a mission to observe the break-up of planet Psi 2000. While we’re initially told that Psi 2000 could give the crew a preview of Earth’s future, it’s really there as a delivery system for the mysterious virus that makes everyone lose their minds and act a bit crazy.
For some of the crew, it’s giving into flights of fancy (Sulu, Reilly) while others it brings up things bubbling beneath the surface (Tormolen, Spock, Chapel).
Some of the crew’s descent into character study is intended to offer a bit of humor. Certainly the image of Sulu running around the corridors brandishing a rapier is one of the more indelible from the original series (possibly helped because it’s included as a still in the closing credits on more than one occasion). Or Riley locking himself in engineering and declaring that there will be ice cream for desert and a dance that evening is a bit lighter on the surface.
But there are serious undertones to them, even beyond Riley’s turning off the engines as the ship spirals down out of control.
One thing that strikes me watching the first dozen or so episodes of the original series is how much character work is being given to characters beyond the big three. Learning what we later do about Riley and his history in “The Conscience of the King,” it’s easy to imagine that Riley’s pride in his lineage springs less from some kind of regional identification and could possibly be more about trying to find some connection to the family he lost under Kodos’ rule.
I also can’t help but wonder what the series might have been like if we’d explored this side of Sulu a bit more. If Sulu were a character on Next Generation, you can’t help but feel we’d find out a bit more about his interest in fencing and just how that has an impact on his character. I wonder if there’s a lost episode out there with Sulu in command and he gives into this side of his character a bit more.
On the more serious side of things, we have the reactions of Chapel, Spock and Kirk when they fall under the influence of the mysterious disease.
Chapel’s bringing to the surface her love for Spock sets in motion her defining character arc for the series and it does bring up some interesting questions when we find out about her motivation for joining the Enterprise crew in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” But even as serious as Chapel’s mooning over Spock is treated, the real purpose of her becoming infected is to get the disease to Spock.
At this point, you just let Leonard Nimoy take over and go to town. After six episodes establishing the dual nature of Spock, we get to see Spock have to fully confront his human side and the regret and shame he feels facing it. The line that he could never tell his mother that he loved her is memorable as is Spock’s battle to retain control of his emotions in the briefing room.
According to multiple Trek “tell all” books, Nimoy had to fight hard to get the scene where Spock breaks down re-written and re-focused. In his memoir, William Shatner recounts that the scene initially involved the graffiti painter running about the ship and Nimoy felt that the impact of the scene was lost because the audience would focus more on this random crewmember than on what Spock was going through. Nimoy asked Gene Roddenberry to have the scene re-written, which is eventually was. And I think the episode and the series is better for it as a whole.
Then we come to Kirk, who gets infected late in the game. This is one of the first instances in which Kirk’s devotion to the ship and his love for the Enterprise prove to be a saving grace for him and help pull him out of a spiral. Kirk’s devotion to the ship is well documented and we repeatedly see him throw caution to the wind as well as the Prime Directive to keep the ship and her crew safe.
Shatner and Nimoy’s work in the briefing room as Kirk tells Spock they have to risk implosion and a full power start is great stuff and another early example of the chemistry these two actors have. And while McCoy is there to give Kirk the cure, I’d argue that Kirk is pretty much cured by the time he heads up to the bridge after clearing the corridors. (It appears that he recalls Spock’s advice from “The Enemy Within” to not let the crew see him as anything less than perfect. Well, except Rand.).
Of course, the story is very fortunate that as much of the crew is coming down with the disease that McCoy and Scotty are unaffected. Take them out of play and this episode maybe doesn’t end quite as well.
This episode is also one that holds up better the second time through viewing the original series, once we’ve had a chance to really get to know all of these characters.
I’d probably also be remiss if I didn’t point out that poor Tormolen does himself in with a butter knife…