Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Spock's Brain"

1/2

Air date: 9/20/1968
Written by Lee Cronin
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A woman steals Spock's brain for use as a utilities regulator on her home planet, leading Kirk and crew to go on a mission to retrieve it. Yes.

How or why she came about choosing Spock's brain is as unknown as why this episode was ever produced in the first place. Possibly the dumbest episode in the entire Trek canon, "Spock's Brain's" sole saving grace is the fact that it's so bad it's downright funny. The unintentional hilarity of this episode almost makes it worth experiencing, simply so you can shake your head and laugh in disbelief.

What on Earth was Gene Coon (entering this under his pen name) thinking? The plot is beyond hopeless and utterly nonsensical; the performances are beaming in from another galaxy; and the jokes fail to be funny while the (apparently) serious moments cause unrestrained laughter.

My snickering continued throughout the episode, occasionally peaking at the many moments when Kirk demands in desperation, "What have you done with Spock's brain?!" Before long, the very words "Spock's brain" become laughable. Perhaps even Marc Daniels couldn't take this remotely seriously, having seemed to direct it with all the cheesiness the story is worthy of. The epitome of bad science fiction.

Previous episode: Assignment: Earth
Next episode: The Enterprise Incident

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16 comments on this review

Daniel L. - Sat, Jan 10, 2009 - 8:44pm (USA Central)
"When the facts become legend, print the legend," the old proverb goes. NBC's refusal to reach an agreement with Gene Roddenberry over what day and time the third season episodes would air resulted in Roddenberry, for all intents and purposes, leaving the show; no longer was he concerned with the day-to-day details.
After NBC called his bluff (Roddenberry threatened to "quit" in the manner described if the time slot were not changed from FRIDAY AT 10 P.M. for frakkin' crying out loud!), Roddenberry became increasingly bitter toward the studio and even toward the man whom NBC picked as the 3rd season showrunner, Fred Freiberger.

Folks talk about Star Trek's "legendary" bad third season. This legend is just that - a legend - because there are just enough very unfortunate facts out there to allow tbe uninitiated to come to the incorrect conclusion that the season was horrible.
These facts include the existence of "Spock's Brain," "And the Children Shall Lead," and "The Way to Eden," a three-course turkey dinner if ever there were one. Further facts include the existence of extraordinarily wanly executed premises ("That Which Survives," "The Savage Curtain"); premises which were rather dopey to begin with. And finally, the season contained episodes that had some intriguing high-concept ideas that were presented in a rather pedestrian/obvious manner ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," "The Mark of Gideon," "The Paradise Syndrome," "Is There In Truth No Beauty," "For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky," "Wink of an Eye").

The facts that remain, though, include:
1. The season contains several solid to excellent episodes, most notably "The Enterprise Incident," "Spectre of the Gun," "The Day of the Dove," "The Empath," "The Tholian Web," and "All Our Yesterdays" (can't agree with Jammer about "Plato's Stepchildren" and "The Cloudminders"; they're both guilty pleasures, but not three-star episodes. "Requiem for Methuselah" is a semi-guilty pleasure that I would not rate quite as favorably either. And let's just say that "Turnabout Intruder" is an acquired taste. It's one I acquired long ago, but one that many fans, understandably have not).
2. As is well-documented in Inside Star Trek, authored by the late Herb Solow and the recently deceased Robert Justman (NBC executive in charge of production and show producer, respectively), the show, in its third season, had its budget drastically reduced, suffered waves of departures of talented individuals in the special effects, makeup, lighting and editing departments, and, as per NBC edict, was forced to churn out episodes with a full day's less shooting time than it had been given in the previous season.
Therefore, given the extraordinary circumstances under which the individuals who toiled to make what is the third season of Star Trek, the season as a whole is far from the nightmare that people assume/hold as an article of faith that it was.

Of course, this assumption is necessary for an even greater legend to be maintained: that Star Trek, a show that was "rendered virtually unwatchable" in its third year, was cancelled, only to be discovered in syndication, where it gained a wordlwide following, spawning an animated TV show, a motion picture, etc....

The myth sounds more enchanting to hear, but the facts are actually more interesting, if one actually is willing to accept and recognize them.
Ralph - Tue, Feb 3, 2009 - 10:36am (USA Central)
I agree on the most part with Daniel. On the other hand, a lack of funding is no excuse for bad storytelling, and there is a lot of that in the third season.

And on a side note: I just watched "Spock's Brain" and the part where Scotty suddenly "faints" to give Kirk the chance to overpower the woman with the pistol is so dumb it ends up as one of the funniest moments in TOS history.
Dave - Thu, May 28, 2009 - 7:37pm (USA Central)
Brain and Brain - What Is BRAIN! I agree this episode was SO bad that it was funny! I would LOVE to see what those characters from Myster Science Theatre 2000 would do to this episode...
John Pate - Tue, Dec 1, 2009 - 3:52pm (USA Central)
Spock's Brain - why does everyone diss it so much? It worked well for me when I was a kid back in the seventies and, for all its faults, it's highly entertaining. Sexy alien woman steals Spock's brain - how could it be wrong!

The Empath - great performances from everyone, a real old school sci fi story aliens vs humans trope, and the staging was genius.
n
Turnabout Intruder - hysterically funny performance from the Shat and, again, thoroughly entertaining.
Jeffrey - Mon, Dec 14, 2009 - 6:32pm (USA Central)
As silly as "Spock's Brain" is, I do think there are some redeeming values to it. I like the concept of "The Teacher" as well as the early conversation on the bridge as the crew admires and investigates the mysterious ion powered ship. But the standout scene to me, which I think goes unacknowledged is the scene on the bridge where Kirk consults with Sulu, Chekov and Uhura as to which of the 3 M-class planets to investigate. It is not often we see Kirk consult with these characters and it's great that all three of them contribute ideas, theories and reasons for their choices. It's a logical, reasonable scene of investigation and I also appreciate the fact that Uhura asks the forgotten question "Why did they take Spock's brain? What was the purpose?" It reminds me of the conclusion to "Bread and Circuses" where it is Uhura who deciphers the meaning of "Son" to the Big Three. Sulu moments are so rare that they all stand out, so to see him actively conversing is a pleasure, as well as Takei getting to record his one captain's log of the series. When I first saw STVI in the theaters, I was upset that Sulu wasn't on the Enterprise with the rest of the crew. It just didn't feel right having him apart from the other regulars. But after many rewatchings it makes perfect sense for Sulu to have been promoted by that time and to see his obvious admiration of the Excelsior at the end of STIV, it felt right that he become the next commanding officer for that starship. At any rate, yes, "Spock's Brain" is silly, but it is fun and the bridge scene with K, S, C and U is a well done dramatic scene which doesn't get the respect it deserves (in my opinion).
Mario - Thu, Jul 15, 2010 - 9:35pm (USA Central)
I don't think Spock's Brain was the best, but it certainly wasn't the worst, as indicated. The ratings for Plato's Stepchildren, Mark of Gideon, and Cloudminders were really overstated!!!
The Flaming Nose TV Blog - Fri, Oct 15, 2010 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
One thing that never changed during Star Trek is the high quality guest stars in the episodes. Season Three had so many -- Jeff Corey, Michael Dunn, Mariette Hartley, Ian Wolfe, Kate Woodville, Lee Meriwether, Kathie Brown, Jason Evers, James Daly, Skip Homeier, Steve Ihnat, Frank Gorshin and more -- that any episode here is well worth watching for that fact alone. 3rd Season TOS seems more two-dimensional somehow, probably reflecting the more limited budgets, but as another commenter noted, the cast always did their best despite script inconsistencies and with the clock running out for them.
Paul - Sun, Nov 28, 2010 - 1:51pm (USA Central)
I never thought "The Way to Eden" was as bad as most, and "Spock's Brain" is extremely entertaining because it's simply laughable. "And the Children Shall Lead," on the other hand, is the worst episode of the series and "The Lights of Zetar" isn't far behind.

The third season just isn't as daring as the first or second year. There's no improvement from the previous years -- whereas TNG and (arguably) DS9 got better after the first two seasons.

TOS season three is a lot like VOY -- nothing interesting to say in a larger sense, some good one-off episodes, bad continuity and a ton of clunkers.

But my opinion is weird. I'd watch ENT and bad TOS before most of VOY.
Mike Meares - Sun, Jan 23, 2011 - 12:11am (USA Central)
Leanord Nimoy is quoted as saying about the The Third Season of Star Trek that it was "very weak in general, but it was especially not good for Spock." That was an understatement!

At the start of the Third Season after Gene Roddenberry left the show for all intents and purpose most of the writing staff had also leftthe show. Fred Freiberger took over as producer, with Arthur Singer replacing D.C. Fontana as script consultant. According to Fontana, Singer came to the set one day, and asked "By the way, what does that transporter thing do again?" And people wonder why the scripts were so poor?

Robert Justman, who desevered to be given the Producers job was promoted to co-producer, but left the series after "That Which Survives". Gregg Peters became the new associate producer. This was another reason the stories were weak.

A most important change was the leave of cinematographer Jerry Finnerman after "The Empath", and his replacement with his former camera operator, Al Francis, which affected the visual style of the series. The overall look and feel of the show changed dramatically and this was the reason.

Probably not a big deal to some people but it bothered me a lot was the look of the uniforms in the Third Season. The uniforms were no longer made of velour (which shrank every time it was cleaned), but of double-knit polyester.

I don't own the DVD for the Third Season and never will. To me it is not Star Trek but a weak subsitute. Star Trek will always live for me in the First Two Seasons. The people behind the camera and in front of the camera were the best people to ever work in TV.

When people say the Third Season was "pretty good" I am reminded of what Spock once said, "I refuse to stand here and be instulted."

Tornado - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 6:59pm (USA Central)
I watched this episode recently--having heard of its reputation but never having seen it. I posted this brief review on my Facebook page:

So while many other Star Trek fans were gearing up to watch "Star Trek Into Darkness" (which sounds like an awesome movie--can't wait to see it!), instead, I finished watching the notoriously bad episode "Spock's Brain." Three thoughts:

1) Yeah. It's bad. Really bad. Plays out like a *parody* of Star Trek rather than the genuine article. The plot doesn't stand up to close scrutiny--in fact, it doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

2) But still--REMOTE-CONTROLLED SPOCK?? Wow, that's almost as cool as Park and Rec's DJ Roomba!

3) Nevertheless, the episode is much much better than bad Voyager or Enterprise (which is unfortunately too large a percentage of those shows). It's over-the-top campy, and I think it was meant to be taken that way. My sense is that neither the director nor the actors (particularly Shatner) didn't buy the premise, so they just hammed it up. As bad as it is--it's one of those things that's so bad I actually rather enjoyed watching it.

I'd also add that I agree with the comment above by Jeffrey that the bridge scene is a highlight of the show--almost TNG-like in its problem-solving approach. A nice touch in an otherwise rather embarrassing episode.
Nick P. - Fri, Jul 19, 2013 - 11:30am (USA Central)
Funny thing about this episode, I hated the bridge scene between Kirk, Uhura, Checkov, and Sulu....It was too dignified for this schlock! I had heard the reputation fo this episode before I saw it for the 1st time a couple years ago, and that very well done bridge scene had me thinking Netflix had skipped to a good episode. But I didn't need to worry, once they got to the planet it got stupid again!!!
jkeisari - Thu, Aug 1, 2013 - 12:17am (USA Central)
I actually have always really liked this episode. Already when I first saw this, long before internet, or reading any bad reviews for this I ranked it among my favorites.

I was impressed with the unusual story for being so different and shocking, the acting (Kelley) and the memorable alien woman and her planet, the little we get to see of it. And beside Scotty collapse scene LOL, this episode did not make me laugh as I generally only watch SciFi show for the entertainment and the story, not to debate is it technically possible to do this or that with the brain.. or the tricorder or the warp engine.

I also found many Voyager episodes exciting due to the risk factor i.e that they were willing to risk it and try things like "Twisted", "Tuvix" or "Threshold". While by no easy means realistic or believable these shows do offer something others don't!

I have seen Spock's Brain well over 50 times over the decades and it was very good episode from the start. When the first VHS releases came out it was among my most re-watched eps. It should be watched disregarding all the "is this possible" speculation and leave it at that.

Spock's Brain: 4 out of 4.
Adara - Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - 4:06am (USA Central)
The direction of this episode is positively hilarious. Granted it's a stupid premise, but they could have done something with it if a single person on the cast or crew had taken it seriously. My favorite bad direction is the dramatic surgery scene where McCoy looks like he's possessed. My favorite bad line is Chekov's Captain Obvious line in the cave when he says something like "If they capture the creatures, they'll capture us too!" There were several instances where I saw an actor crack a smile. In every case it was subtle and nicely contained but they were unmistakably holding back laughter. Definitely the bestworst episode.
SpyTV - Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - 12:56am (USA Central)
I have seen this episode at least 10 times (I grew up in the 70's, Star Trek was on every single day!) and while I thought it was a bit silly, this one is one of my favorites. You see, I liked it well before I found out it was supposed to be bad :)! Despite the premise, I thought it boiled down to Kirk and the crew trying to find and save their friend. Anyone that is a TOS fan thought of this episode when they saw the Matrix, in fact, all through medical school I wish I had a device like the "Teacher". 3 stars on my list.
stallion - Tue, Mar 18, 2014 - 3:19pm (USA Central)
It's a shame Gene left. Despite upsetting many writers he did a pretty good job polishing episodes and a lot of these episodes could had been saved with the proper polish by Gene and his team.
Grumpy - Tue, Mar 18, 2014 - 3:41pm (USA Central)
@stallion: Coon or Roddenberry? 'Cause Gene Coon was largely responsible for shaping the writing up to Season 3, so you can understand why, with this episode, he flipped the finger on his way out the door.

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