Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Immunity Syndrome"


Air date: 1/19/1968
Written by Robert Sabaroff
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The high-concept description would read simply: "Giant amoeba in space!", which pretty much sums it up. Hoping not to become the victims of an 11,000-mile-long single-celled organism as did the Vulcan starship Intrepid, the Enterprise crew attempts to figure out how to escape the organism's dark, mysterious void before being sucked into the protoplasm.

Dare I ask just where an 11,000-mile-long space amoeba came from? I don't think I will. Anyway, "The Immunity Syndrome" is well-executed starship-based entertainment. The core of the episode resides in Kirk being forced to choose between sending either Spock or Bones on a suicide shuttlecraft mission to study the organism from the inside, in the hopes of finding a way to destroy it. The engaging rivalry between Spock and McCoy, who both want to go on the mission, is particularly interesting ... it's an episode like this (in which, for example, Bones can't bring himself to wish Spock luck until after he has left the room), that makes the Spock/McCoy relationship so memorable.

As always, Sol Kaplan's score makes a big difference in selling the excitement, and Spock's sarcastic edge ("Thank you, Captain McCoy.") boosts the episode on the "pure enjoyment" scale. It's not particularly meaningful, but who said all Trek had to be meaningful?

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13 comments on this review

Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 11:29am (UTC -5)
Trek never cares about how the crazy lifeforms it conjures up, with the apparent notion that they are simply and inexplicably unique, could have come into existence. We've had this amoeba, and the planet killer from this series, the crystalline entity from TNG, the telepatcic pitcher plant from Voyager; never was the subject addressed in the slightest.
Mon, Jan 7, 2013, 4:30pm (UTC -5)
The conversation between Spock and McCoy in sickbay is very ironic considering the events of Wrath of Khan.

Excellent ep, combines sci-fi imagination and good character work very well. One of my faves. 3.5 stars
Thu, May 2, 2013, 1:43pm (UTC -5)
This episode needed a guest star to give it some conflict or someone else's perspective. Without it this as story remained all it could hope to be -- a straight forward problem solving episode with every character doing precisely what he or she predictably does up to and including Scotty's dire warnings about the ship loosing power. Spock is not on a suicide mission simply because you know he isn't going to die. Spock and McCoy are at odds but that's nothing new. And why of all things an 11,000 mile long ameoba? I didn't find the task before Kirk and crew intriguing or frightening. It's okay but is hardly only one star short of the suspense and tension in the Doomsday Machine.
Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
Why an 11,000-mile-long amoeba?

Possibly Robert Sabaroff had found inspiration in the 1966 film "Fantastic Voyage." Or wanted to rip it off a bit. ;)
Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 6:46pm (UTC -5)
Incidentally, I immediately thought of this episode when, in the new movie, Spock describes Khan as the most dangerous enemy he ever faced. Uh, space amoeba! Or the Doomsday Machine. Or Nomad. Or V'ger. Or Lazarus. What of Lazarus? What... of Lazarus?
Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 6:48pm (UTC -5)
Sorry. I tried to avoid one small spoiler but I let a big one slip through.
Mon, Jun 10, 2013, 11:34am (UTC -5)
@Grumpy: Well, Khan nearly stole the Enterprise, he stole the Reliant, he killed most of the people on Regula 1, he stole the Genesis device, he nearly killed the entire Enterprise crew and his actions led to Spock's death.

Anyway, I think Spock was comparing Khan to other humanoid enemies. V'Ger, the cigar tube in ST:IV, Nomad, the Doomsday Machine were all more machine than man. Other than maybe Chang and Kruge -- and Spock probably has no memory of Kruge -- was there a super-villain that haunted the Enterprise crew like Khan?

I mean, the closest thing to a repeat villain appearance (other than Khan) was probably Harry Mudd! None of the Klingon or Romulan bad guys from TOS appeared more than once.

So, yeah. Khan probably was the most dangerous adversary.
Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 10:26am (UTC -5)

Yes, I took that to mean "most dangerous adversary" by virtue of the fact it cost the crew the Enterprise and Spock himself, for a period of time. Granted those things were a bit random, they were the result of battle damage as opposed to specific genius acts by Khan, but nonetheless the encounter with him was the most costly of all.

PS Hey, the anti-spam question changed! This has rocked my world.
Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 7:02pm (UTC -5)
I guess Gary Mitchell didn't measure up as an adversary because they didn't have the budget to cut loose. But that's more a criticism of the new movie than this episode.

Unless... What if this amoeba *is* Gary Mitchell?? I never believed that he could be stopped by a rock falling on him. Assuming he survived, perhaps his powers mutated out of control, like Tetsuo in "Akira," and this Lovecraftian monster is his final form.
captains log 4456.7
Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
I know its a bit late but you commented that the story needed a guest star to act as additional conflict I agree it could have made the story more interesting however I think they tried that with the dialog between Kirk and bones when they first returned the "dark zone" bones determined crew dieing bones recommended leaving to save the enterprise Kirk to argue and override must explore dispite danger it was brief but I think the writers wanted to draw our attention to "all" the enterprise was capible when they pulled resources and talents together.....
William B
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 11:16am (UTC -5)
One of the things about the original series that makes me laugh with some delight is that not only do music cues get reused again and again, but those music cues are startlingly specific. Part of the score from "The Doomsday Machine," where Decker (and later the Enterprise) approach the planet-eater, gets reused again and again as the music theme for, "SLOWLY APPROACHING GIANT BIZARRE SPACE MONSTER OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN," such as in "Obsession" and this one. Just as the "Amok Time" battle theme comes to be the "ENTERPRISE CREW IN RITUALISTIC COMBAT PLANETSIDE!" ala "Gamesters of Triskelion." These are very specific situations which repeat with surprising regularity.

In a season that also gives us "The Doomsday Machine" and "Obsession," "The Immunity Syndrome" doesn't seem quite as essential in the GIANT SPACE MONSTER genre. Unlike those ones, though, this episode is not about obsession, but about togetherness. It's about the Enterprise crew as a unit, in general and especially the Big Three. In some ways the TOS episode it's probably closest to is probably either "Balance of Terror" or "The Corbomite Maneuver" -- an episode that is devoted to how the Enterprise crew reacts to a crisis on-ship, and how they weather the increasing strain that near-death puts on them. It begins with Spock's anguished cry at a ship full of Vulcans dying, with a line to McCoy about the difficulty caring about a large number over an individual, and ends with the fates of Spock and the Enterprise crew overall intertwined, as we wonder if both the ship and the individual will escape. Spock, for his commitment to the Vulcan people and feeling for them, devotes what he believes are his last moments to speaking highly of the crew of the Enterprise, "the finest ship in the fleet," demonstrating that his belonging to the Enterprise crew overrides, in some sense, his sense of belonging with the Vulcans. The Enterprise crew responds in kind, saving Spock at risk to the whole of the ship, in one of those need for the many/need for the one balancing acts that forms the crux of TWOK and TSFS. Kirk names the key crew members on the bridge for commendation as they wonder if they're going to get out, and he singles them out both as individuals and as their function/rank, in an episode in which we spend a lot of time on each crew member's duties. In combination with the GIANT SPACE AMOEBA, and McCoy and Kirk's conversation about the possibility that the Enterprise and her crew constitutes antibodies combating a virus infecting the galaxy, the episode seems to me to be showing something like belonging, Kirk et al. both being individuals capable of their own choices and conflicts, and also little functional parts of the giant cell/organism which is the Enterprise.

The Big Three interplay, especially Spock/McCoy, is delightful, especially in that last segment (the sarcastic "thank you, Captain McCoy" Jammer points out). I love the way in which Spock and McCoy's competitiveness and subtle desire to protect each other comes through here -- and Kirk trying to figure out a way to manage them, as if they're squabbling children.

I would give it 3 stars as well.
Thu, Feb 9, 2017, 5:36pm (UTC -5)
As the episode moved along and it became clear that this was a space amoeba episode, I feared the worst. I mean, Enterprise crew must find a way to escape weird space anomaly episodes are usually acceptable at best and rarely among the best. But I did end up pleasantly surprised at how this one progressed. And I think there's two reasons for that.

For one, I think there was an actual sense of danger in the episode. Yes, we know the Enterprise will be saved, and we even know that Spock won't die either. And yet, the tension was enough that we could still pretend that they could. It felt real, akin to Balance of Terror or Corbomite Maneuver. Perhaps part of the reason the threat felt real was because the crew was committed to finishing the mission, not necessarily to save their own necks, but rather to save the galaxy. There was at least the possibility that a heroic sacrifice might be needed. So when Kirk ordered Scotty to keep a little bit of impulse power in reserve, it allowed you to think, sure, they will use it to escape... but maybe they won't. Maybe they'll have to use that power. And plus there was the tension of the shuttlecraft, and how they would be reunited. So yes, I think the episode did a good job of building up the suspense.

And secondly, the Big Three all did a good job this episode. Sure, there were some parts that were very awkward, such as Spock continuing to needle McCoy even while on a very dangerous mission (I would get McCoy doing that to Spock, but not the other way around). But in general, the banter and the concern over all aspects of the mission were real. I liked Kirk's dilemma of who to send, and I thought his and Bones' concern for Spock when they thought him dead were nicely understated. Obviously, they couldn't focus on it too much at the time, they needed to complete the mission. But you could tell it was in the back of Kirk's mind, and more or less the front of Bones' mind. Someone said this episode needed a guest star, and I disagree. I think the three leads all contrasted nicely with each other, and no real need to have someone else there to provide a different perspective.

Of course, all of that is against the backdrop of an admittedly hokey premise (so it eats energy, so everyone feels tired, but because it eats energy we need to move forward to move back, and antimatter will kill it because its negative energy?). And for all the buildup of their impossible situation, it's a bit of a deus ex machina ending (we are told they don't have enough energy to escape, and then... they do, somehow. With the shuttle intact, no less). So while it may be a good space anomaly episode, it's not exactly a real classic. Just good enough to be an acceptable hour of entertainment.
Sat, Mar 18, 2017, 9:24pm (UTC -5)
This is my favorite episode. I've seen each episode hundreds of times, and my favorite ones are those that have something to say, or have personal interplay. Sure there are many holes (Not including the holes in the amoeba!) - But the important part is the story. As always there are continuity errors out the wazoo - switching for meters to miles was particularly annoying - But I overlook that as I usually overlook "believability". With of course exceptions like Spock's Brain.

What made this story remarkable was that I think the only sets were the ship and the shuttlecraft. No guests, little other characters. Just the story. Of course we know that no one ever dies who is important - Even Spock lived in ST III, which kind of made his awesome dying scene in ST II a bit bogus. I just loved the character interplay and storyline.

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