Like ‘The Naked Time’, this story has been dated by scientific change. The Enterprise is investigating a quasar en route to Makus III, where medical supplies are needed to deal with a plague. I’ll get this out of the way right now. Just as polywater turned out to be pathological science but is real in Star Trek because it’s mentioned in TOS, so a quasar is not an object found inside the Milky Way. There was intense speculation as to the nature of quasars up until the 1970s. They are “quasi-stellar objects”, that is, objects which look from here like stars but which give out a lot of radiation and have odd spectra. At the time, speculations included the ideas that they were high in antimatter, that their gravity was so high that it distorted the light coming out of them and I think that they were white holes. What they actually seem to be is young galaxies billions of light years away, way outside our Galaxy, with loads of stuff falling onto a black hole and being destroyed. This is not what they are in Star Trek, but there is a possible fix because there is a much smaller object called a “microquasar” which involves a black hole ripping matter out of a nearby star, and that’s similar enough to the object in ‘The Galileo Seven’ to serve as a substitute. Even so, the fact that discrepancies between Star Trek and the real world will presumably increase as time passes means that it’s gradually turning into a mythology with a fantasy world rather than staying as science fiction. This is not only fine but quite fascinating, as Spock would put it, as it could be seen as the development of a sacred text, and it’s well-known that some anthropologists see Star Trek as an emerging religion.
Back to the story. High Commissioner Ferris, who outranks the captain, is supervising the medical supply delivery when Kirk sends seven crew members out on the Galileo 7 shuttlecraft to investigate the Murasaki-312 quasar. The signals to the craft are cut off by ionising radiation and it crashlands on the planet Taurus II. Ferris is annoyed by Kirk’s actions although there are Star Fleet standing orders to investigate such objects when encountered. There is a time limit for getting the supplies to Makus III, meaning that they only have a limited amount of time before they will be ordered to abandon the search. On the planet, there isn’t enough fuel to get the craft back into orbit and it’s being attacked by ape-like giants. It’s also Spock’s first command and his lack of emotion and reliance on logic seems to be causing him to make a pig’s ear of things. Kirk sends out another shuttlecraft, the Columbus, to find them with no luck and more casualties, then when the time’s up he leaves at “space normal speed” for Makus III, in other words very slowly. The Galileo VII shuttlecraft crew manage to lift off but won’t be able to maintain orbit, so as orbit decays Spock, who has been a paragon of logic all the way through, jettisons all the remaining fuel, leaving a streak in the atmosphere of the planet marking the location of the craft and enabling the five survivors to be beamed back aboard the mother ship just as it burns up in the atmosphere.
Now for the nitty-gritty. The remastered picture of the quasar is awesome! It’s exactly what a quasar should look like. It’s also green, which is significant because green glows in space are usually the result of extremely sparse gas whose particles rarely collide. They occur in nebulae and aurorae for example, but there are for instance no green stars with the possible exception of Zubaneschemale, and nobody knows why that’s green. Anyway, it indicates a high degree of ionising radiation.
The conflict between the curiosity which leads Kirk to send Spock et al to investigate the quasar and the human need for medical supplies to combat the plague is an echo of the general theme in the story of conflict between logic and emotion in leadership styles. Taurus II turns out to have a barely breathable atmosphere with the equivalent of 9% oxygen, which actually just isn’t breathable but I’ll let that pass. It might support someone who was just lying down for a short while before they lost consciousness after a few minutes, but that’s a guesstimate. The other problem is that the radiation so close to a microquasar, which is what I’m going to assume this is, would quickly kill everybody unless they had some kind of special protection, but for all we know there might be a special form of protection crew members undergo.
My pickiness, of course, parallels Spock’s tendency to miss the point in his management of the crew. A giant ape-like being kills one of the crew with a spear and Spock examines the spear point, pronouncing it to be similar to a Folsom point. Here again I want to quibble because such spear heads are way more advanced than the apparently subhuman beings wielding them would be capable of crafting. They’re clearly not on the level of behavioural modernity, but Folsom points only came into existence after the last ice age and are purely Homo sapiens artefacts. However, it’s precisely this kind of observation which gets on the nerves of the crew when Spock makes it, and his apparent callousness at the violent death of a crew member drives a wedge between the humans and himself. In order to avoid doing the same, I will restrain myself from now on.
Spock fails to recognise the need to bury the victim with full honours and expects the anthropoids to be scared off by shooting phasers near them rather than directly killing any of them, which in fact angers them and leads to them attacking the shuttlecraft with rocks. This is ultimately down to Spock’s apparently absent empathy.
In the meantime, Kirk is taking a gamble. He places search teams on the planet at widely separated locations with little chance of success and also risks the anger of Star Fleet (I’m going to have to get a house style together here. Is it “Starfleet” or “Star Fleet”?) in the apparent belief that saving crew members will constitute mitigating circumstances. To be fair, Kirk is an experienced leader while Spock has never done anything like this before.
My favourite bit of the whole episode is Kirk’s work to rule. Whereas he obeys the order to abandon the search, he also drags his heels and when no alternative remains he proceeds to leave the vicinity of the quasar at “space normal speed”, that is, as slowly as possible. It’s not specified how much slower this is than warp speed but even at the speed of light it’s likely to take months or years to get to their destination.
Spock finally makes an emotional decision, though in a very deadpan manner, when he jettisons the fuel in an act of desperation which, as it turns out, sends a signal and resolves the situation.
We then get a final scene which used to be common in TV shows in the 1960s and beyond of the recurring characters sharing a joke, this time at Spock’s expense, which apparently became a running gag throughout the series, where Spock claims to have made a rational decision to have an emotional outburst. This is a little inappropriate in view of the fact that there have been several fatalities and nobody seems to care that much about it, but on the other hand humour can provide relief in such situations.
All in all then, the general idea seems to be that a human, emotional approach has merits which logic lacks, particularly in the field of management. I’ve resisted the temptation to talk about the technical side of things here for exactly that reason. Another good thing about this episode is the relative lack of sexism compared to some of the others, and there’s a technical point about the classification of alien species which I will attempt, at some point, to cover over on Transwaffle, where it’s surprisingly relevant.