While there is a lot to like about the first dozen episodes of Star Trek, I always feel that “The Galileo Seven” is when the series begins to hit its stride. From here to the midpoint of season two, we get a run of episodes that I’d put among the best any Star Trek series has ever done (one glaring exception, aside. But we’ll get to that later.)
And a lot of the credit goes to the entry of Gene L. Coon onto the scene.
“The Galileo Seven” is the first episode that sees Coon as producer and showrunner for the series and you can almost feel the series stepping its game up a notch with this one.
Not that I’d necessarily say this is a perfect episode, mind you.
After a couple of episodes with Captain Kirk front and center for much of the action, we get an episode that brings Spock to the front of the action. While en-route to deliver vital supplies to a colony, the Enterprise stops off to investigate a quasar-like phenomenon known as the Muraski nebula. Spock takes out a shuttlecraft to get up close and personal with the phenomenon, along with six other crew members including Dr. McCoy and Scotty. Before we even get to the opening credits, the shuttlecraft is off course, damaged and forced to land on a planet inside the nebula.
Shouldn’t be an issue except the Enterprise’s sensors won’t work in the Muraski effect and the ship has a two day deadline before they have to book it to their next assignment. Kirk’s forced to consider the possibility that he will have to leave some of the crew behind, possibly to face certain doom.
Meanwhile, Spock’s in command for the first time (at least that we see on the series) and just about everyone in the shuttle except Scotty is questioning and nitpicking his every last decision. While we’ve come to expect a bit of ribbing from McCoy, I’d argue that much of the reaction of at least four characters under Spock’s command in this episode borders on insubordination. I can’t help but recall Kirk’s line to Bailey in “The Corbomite Maneuver” that he will keep Bailey’s opinion in mind “when this becomes a democracy.”
Spock’s command style is an interesting choice for his character and also to create conflict. Spock’s continued reliance on logic to address every situation that comes up and his reaction when the planet’s natives don’t respond logically makes for some interesting character drama. That said, I’m not entirely sure I buy into all of it because it puts Spock in the position of being “in the wrong” for much of the installment. Well, at least until the point that he has to make a purely emotional decision to “send up a flare” that ends up saving the remaining crew members from the shuttlecraft.
Gene Coon edited scripts tended to emphasize the conflict of emotion vs logic in McCoy and Spock a bit. In many ways, it feels like what we get here is a bit more barbed and has more on an edge to it than we’ll see in later stories. Almost like Coon is trying a rough draft of how these characters can and will interact for the rest of the series (both real-life and animated) and the subsequent films. You could even see this episode as a springboard for the character journey that culminates in Spock’s arc in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, a couple of things stand out.
One is seeing Uhura have a larger role in things than just opening hailing frequencies. As a fan, I’ve heard a lot about how frustrated Nichelle Nichols became as the series progressed with how Uhura was utilized in scripts. And watching these episodes again, I begin to see that she has a point. In this episode we see Uhura offering analysis to Kirk and contributing to his decision making process. We see that she’s cross-trained on a variety of systems and is a capable member of the crew beyond just opening communications channels.
We also get the first of what will be a long line of Starfleet higher-ups who serve as a thorn in the side to our familiar crew. Commissioner Ferris is the first and I’d argue the one who has the most legitimate beef with what Kirk and the crew are doing. Given that we’ve got to get these supplies to their delivery point within a set amount of time, it’s hard to understand why the crew doesn’t warp to the meet-up, deliver the goods and Ferris and then come back to investigate the nebula. (Of course, it would be a VERY short episode if they did this with less drama)
It does, however, begin to show us just how extremely loyal to each other the crew of the starship Enterprise are. And this will pay dividends down the road.