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?

Previous episode: A Piece of the Action
Next episode: A Private Little War

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11 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.

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