Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Cloud Minders"

***

Air date: 2/28/1969
Teleplay by Margaret Armen
Story by David Gerrold and Oliver Crawford
Directed by Jud Taylor

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When Kirk must obtain zenite to cure a deadly plague, the Enterprise stops at the planet Ardana, which is divided into two societal units—the Stratoses, artists and scholars who live in the city high in the clouds, and the Troglytes, who do all the hard labor in the mines below. Unfortunately, the political turmoil is making it difficult for Kirk and Spock to obtain the zenite. And Kirk draws the line when Plasus (Jeff Corey), the arrogant leader of Stratos, ops to employ torture on a Troglyte dissident named Vanna (Charlene Polite) as an attempt to get the zenite from her.

"Cloud Minders" is a good realization of a classic TOS idea, in which Kirk's steadfast humanism leads him to intervene in a culture's governmental operations, whether they want his help or not. There's something satisfying about seeing the wrongs of a society set right ... even if we really don't have much business in interfering (though that issue itself is confusing because the episode doesn't seem sure whether Ardana is a Federation planet bound by its values). By making everyone else in the plot hard-headed adversaries, this episode does a good job of manipulating us into feeling that Kirk has every right to impose his beliefs on others.

The resolution is idealistic to the point of shallowness (centuries of exploitation fixed within a few mere hours), but the story executes well enough that I don't care. After so many dismal third-season offerings, it's nice to see a conflict that has some fire and attitude injected into the confrontations.

Previous episode: The Way to Eden
Next episode: The Savage Curtain

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14 comments on this review

Ahem
Tue, Jan 15, 2008, 9:48pm (UTC -6)
I donĀ“t agree with giving 3 stars to "the cloud minders" because its totally out of character for Spock to be flirtatious with a lady for no reason (vs flirtatious in a very intellectual, Vulcan way and for a mercenary purpose). I am very annoyed when Spock tells the lady about Pon Farr when previously he was so ashamed of talking about such a personal issue with his best friend Kirk even risking his life for his privacy.
Strider
Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 10:31am (UTC -6)
I have mixed feelings about the Spock/Droxine aspect. Spock's "flirting" is so low-key and subtle, it is wonderful to watch. It's like with the Romulan commander--he doesn't make overtures, he receives them, he just answers questions, but he does so in that slow, deep, thoughtful voice and some serious eye contact.

And I know that Droxine seems childish and naive, but I can see why she appeals to Spock. She's intellectual and artistic, and those are two primary values for Spock--even if the Stratus-dwellers were prejudiced, they did produce good art and science. Besides that, for a man who has seen every kind of violence, horror, abuse, and flaw of nature, someone who is soft, welcoming, and likes him, in addition to being aesthetically beautiful, could be very appealing.

And I expect he's learned from Jim that there are joys to be found in the opposite sex. How many women did Kirk hook up with in the series, sometimes almost right in front of Spock? You have to think that every now and then he wonders, "Maybe I should get me some of that." In a more Spock-like way, of course.

I was also a little put-off by the "ponn-farr" conversation, but I realized that he never speaks about his own experience. He only speaks theoretically. It made me think that she was the one who asked the question and he was answering it. She's probably read about it. Bringing up such a sensitive subject is one way very young people flirt.

Besides, it isn't very clear in the whole early ST world whether Vulcans ONLY have sex during the ponn-farr, or if that's just the drive toward the specific mate that happens in that way. Weren't we all just a little curious?
Rosario
Sun, Nov 4, 2012, 12:47am (UTC -6)
It's kind of refreshing to see artists and scientists exploiting people instead of the usual capitalist/corporation/for-profit exploiters. Sometimes the idealism can be a bit blinding but then a healthy dose of reality happens by.
Jeffrey Bedard
Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 7:09am (UTC -6)
I'd go along with the 3 star rating because there is a lot of differing opinions and actions presented in this episode which does give it a bit more of a foundation than most Season 3 offerings.

1) Ardana is clearly stated to be a member of the Federation. In regards to Plasus's actions I take it as him being a rather corrupt (if that's the appropriate term) official. I don't think the Federation has been made aware of the social problems on the planet 'cause Plasus was intentionally keeping it a secret. The entire belief system that the Troglytes are incapable of learning is bunk from the outset. Clearly they are educated in some things. The mining and processing of zenite requires educated and trained workers to be done properly. Clearly the city dwellers chose to leave the Troglytes behind on the surface. It's too bad that we couldn't see and hear more city dwellers and how they feel about things. We only meet Plasus and Droxine and a few guards.

2) Regarding Droxine herself I can see how some people would be turned off by her characterization, but it makes sense to me under the story terms provided. She has lived in the clouds all her life and as daughter of the city ruler she would have all the benefits such a status would give her. Being protected from the truth of her society she would have a childlike naivete about how things work on Ardana. She would believe anything her father tells her. Yet she finds a kindred spirit of sorts in Spock and through his and Kirk's actions she is starting to question the status quo at the end of the episode, which is more than can be said for Plasus.

3) The pon farr discussion is a bit odd. Spock was very clear in "Amok Time" that it is a subject not shared with outsiders. It was all he could do to finally open up to Kirk in that episode. For him to share this information with Droxine (whom he'd only just met) doesn't seem quite in character. But this is one of those times where I just think of it as Spock's human half peeking out. I do appreciate how Droxine is attracted to Spock and not Kirk. Just as with McCoy and Natira in "For the World..." just because Kirk is in the room doesn't mean that he's the one all the women will be interested in. I would never expect a Spock/Droxine relationship to go the distance, but I can understand the initial attraction between them.

4) "We Vulcans pride ourselves on our logic." Obviously, Vulcans shouldn't be expressing pride in anything, but this line is so true to me it is definitely THE quote of the episode. :)

5) And while some people may think Droxine's characterization is not flattering to women, Vanna's certainly is. She is leading (or at least one leader) in the resistance. She can hold her own in a fight, she holds up under torture and she is able to talk one of her fellow Disruptors off from killing Kirk.

6) Probably the most interesting aspect of this particular episode is the concept of Ardana being a planet with a corrupt government gaining entrance into the Federation through deceit. Not only is the Federation (although "Starfleet Command" is mentioned more often) not aware of the social disparity, but here we have Spock saying the populace had done away with all forms of violence when that clearly isn't the case. There are phasers (of a kind) and torture devices with the rays. There is even mention of executions and Plasus's order to kill Kirk if he returns. Sometimes TOS is held up as a naive "love is all you need" type of universe, but episodes such as these show this isn't the case. Is this political subversion on the same scale as DS9? Not really, but I find it fascinating (no pun intended) that this episode seems to be making the case of Ardana tricking the Federation into becoming a member.
Paul
Mon, Mar 4, 2013, 3:47pm (UTC -6)
This episode has some corny moments. That everything, basically, comes down to Kirk getting in a fight is the definition of TOS cliche. I also found Spock's mental voiceover strange.

That said, this episode has some laudable moments. Vanna is as strong a female leader as any character in TOS (except the Romulan commander). The Stratos set design is actually pretty good, considering third-season budgets. And Kirk's actions are very Kirk, in a good way. I also like the bridge scene with Spock, McCoy and Kirk. It's a good example of Spock and McCoy arguing without the over-the-top McCoy stuff.

As for Spock at Droxine ...

Other than the direct talk of pon farr, I think Spock being more forward to women makes sense at this point in the series. He's grown as a character since "Amok Time" at the beginning of the second season, notably in "The Enterprise Incident" but I'm guessing also in the instances like "Journey to Babel", "Is There Truth in No Beauty", "The Paradise Syndrome", "The Tholian Web", and even "The Way to Eden". Not all of those episodes are about romance, but I wouldn't be surprised if Spock's thought processes had changed by the time of this episode.

It's also worth noting that the series ended shortly after this episode and "All Our Yesterdays". In the Trek timeline, the 5-year mission ended around this time, and Spock returned to Vulcan to study in the pursuit of total logic.

Maybe he was inspired to do that by what happened in this episode and in "All Our Yeterdays". Now, the creators in 1969 couldn't have conceived of that, but it makes character sense, if you spin it the right way.
William B
Sat, Apr 6, 2013, 4:57pm (UTC -6)
I just watched this episode for the first time last night -- it was the sole episode of TOS I had never seen, so it's nice that I can now officially say I've seen the whole series. (There is one episode of Voyager I've never seen, so I will probably watch that shortly as well. There are about three seasons of Enterprise I haven't seen, though, so, um, yeah, I will probably never do that whole show.)

I think Jammer's review gets it right. Within S3's total breakdown of Star Trek values and storytelling, "The Cloud Minders" shines pretty brightly, though it's not really a great episode in and of itself.

Perhaps inspired by _Metropolis_, the scenario of the workers below and the artists/scientists far above is an effective allegory for class divisions. The central "new" idea for this episode is the idea of the Zenite gas having the effect of making the "Troglytes" stupid and emotional and aggressive. While it's definitely true that people who work in mines and do heavy physical labour and the like do suffer physically from their environment, I think the idea is more about highlighting how working class, low-income parts of society produce a "toxic environment" in a figurative sense which retards (ick) personal growth. On that basis, I think the episode is largely right -- people who have to work and toil at hard manual labour every day of their lives don't have the time to educate themselves the way those with leisure time do. I think the idea that the gas literally makes people stupid and emotional, to the point where McCoy says that they are all literally below average intelligence (not just below average in terms of sophistication or refinement, but raw intelligence) is possibly a problem though -- I don't think that, in the real world, low-class/low-income/blue-collar people are objectively more stupid than the white collar types, regardless of whether they are likely to do worse on their SATs or not.

Anyway, the conclusion is especially fun in that we get to see Kirk start acting (more) like a hotheaded maniac and eventually get to see the Councilman doing the same thing. I also think that the idea of the "Troglytes" getting filters from Starfleet engineers is actually fairly believable. The greater social change implied by having Plasus' daughter going to work in the mines is hard to swallow, of course, though it might work better if it were merely that *she alone*, due to her influence by Spock, decided to work in the mines.

The episode has its share of goofiness, but I liked it overall. On the issue of Spock's flirting with Droxine, I think I like the interpretation given by Paul that Spock's attitudes have changed over the intervening episodes. I do think that there needs to be a greater emphasis on why exactly this woman caught Spock's eye to the extent she did -- maybe having Spock hear her play music or discuss some scientific principle with her and be suitably impressed with that might do the trick, even.

I do like the idea that the more intellectual Spock gravitates to Proxine, whereas the brawnier and more emotional (though not stupid, of course!) Kirk gravitates to Vanna; that Kirk and Spock form such a great team suggests a possibility of reconciliation between Proxine and Vanna and the walks of life they represent.

3 stars from me too.
Mark
Sat, Jun 15, 2013, 12:45am (UTC -6)
I think you are right about Spock growing as a character. Look at how protective and personal Spock considers the Vulcan Mind Melt in 'Dagger of the Mind', and yet in later episodes he will use it without such protest. Similar perhaps to Pon Farr in this episode.

I like this story. Not the best but above average for this Series and a 2.5/3 star episode for me.
Lorene
Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 8:35pm (UTC -6)
I really liked the concept of a city in the clouds. They did a good job with that visually. Spock's initial attraction to Droxine was artfully done in his initial voice over while Kirk was asleep, then the flirtation, and then you could see the cognitive dissonance for him when she defended her society and its class distinctions during the 4-way conversation with Kirk and Vanna in the rest chamber. Spock was struggling between his attraction to her and his dislike of her views. Very subtle - nicely done. 3 stars from me too.
Nonya
Thu, Dec 26, 2013, 3:38pm (UTC -6)
I disagree with the rating for this episode. I'm watching it now, and it's pretty atrocious. In fact, I feel more negative about it than I do Way to Eden. The outfits they put the women in are disgusting, Spock's monologue is out of place (its details should have been shown through action rather than said), and the theme is very obvious from the beginning.

Also, Spock's flirting was a no. One might argue that he's learned a lot over time, but surely he also learned that Kirk's behavior around women was a disadvantage. Seriously, Kirk gets pretty dumb around women. I highly doubt that Spock would find that kind of behavior something to emulate. And even if he did, it's not really plausible he'd be so forthright about pon farr, and it's a really creepy scene. As is the one with Vanna and Kirk in bed. Kirk was being a huge perv.

One star.
Ray
Wed, Feb 5, 2014, 1:54pm (UTC -6)
Watched it last night on Netflix and would give it 4 stars on sheer entertainment. The girls' outfits were almost shockingly sexy - no wonder Spock likes droxine. The flirting scenes were surprising and fun. I had only vague memories of this episode. Classic Kirk acting and fighting. Anti-establishment plot. Was stunned at first when McCoy details how the trogs actually are stupider, but then his apparent racism is explained with the gas theory, which was not as clever a plot device as could have been written for this situation, but works handily for a true sci-fi story. One more point on the Spock-droxine interaction - she asks him if he finds her "disturbing" (as in, too hot) after he explains the "porn" ritual, and he seems to indicate vulcans can mate between the 7-year cycles if they want, and that he finds something about her "disturbing." But the music gets louder there - what does he say he finds disturbing? It seemed to me that if Kirk had not unexpectedly called for help right then, Spock might have made his move.
Paul
Thu, Feb 6, 2014, 3:31pm (UTC -6)
@Ray: I always figured that Spock's time with the Romulan commander in "The Enterprise Incident" made him a little more open-minded. Either that, or his brain wasn't reconnected right. :)
redshirt28
Thu, Apr 10, 2014, 3:40am (UTC -6)
Notice it was a woman that stole his brain in the first place.
William B
Thu, Jan 8, 2015, 8:17pm (UTC -6)
Oh hey I already wrote about this!

The main addendum I'd make to what I wrote before is that Spock's flirting with Droxine really doesn't make sense. Out of context I could sort of buy it, but when we go back into this string of episodes, it's important to note that "All Our Yesterdays" is coming up, and that episode is badly hurt by having Spock flirt openly and be so quick to be put under the spell of a beautiful woman/"work of art" here. The biggest failure is Spock talking about pon farr, which really is hard to believe.

A problem with Kirk's plan to seal himself, Vanna and the councilman in the mine is that the mental effects from exposure to Zenite gas require...them suffocating? I mean, seriously, it's hardly a conclusive argument that the Zenite gas is hurting them when they only start to go crazy and violent and stupid when they are basically about to run out of oxygen.

The episode's allegory seemed less effective to me this time, though it has some moments, and the Spock/Droxine thing also doesn't really work. The ending feels dramatically incomplete, but maybe the vague sense that things might chance now is about all that can be expected. I think it's probably 2.5 stars -- good for season three, for what it's worth.
Jason R.
Wed, Dec 2, 2015, 2:16pm (UTC -6)
I have mixed feelings about this episode. I think that the use of the zenite gas as a plot device to explain the observable mental inferiority of the troglodytes was too easy - it offered the story a facile way to apparently erase centuries of inequality and injustice. Sorry, I'm just not buying this. Even if the gas was related to the mental inferiority of the troglodytes, it's not all that plausible that a lifetime of effects could just be reversed by removing the exposure to the gas. This is on par with Uhura relearning a lifetime of language in a couple hours after having her entire life memory "erased" in the Nomad episode.

But more to the point, I think the conclusion sidesteps the real question: is it right to enslave someone even if he happens to be inferior? Suppose the troglodytes really were mentally limited compared to the Stratoses? Does that justify their treatment? The episode isn't all that clear on that, largely because the whole question is never really addressed because of the zenon gas plot cheat.

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