Star Trek: The Animated Series

“The Eye of the Beholder”

2 stars.

Air date: 1/5/1974
Written by David P. Harmon
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Review Text

The Enterprise arrives at a remote planet to investigate the whereabouts of a six-member science crew, which went missing after beaming down to the surface six weeks earlier. When three of the team had gone down and didn't return, the mission's captain attempted a rescue mission with the remaining three (against standing protocol) and also went missing.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, where they arrive just meters away from a lake of boiling water which contains a sea monster. They follow the signal from the missing team's communicator (which is transmitting static but doesn't answer hails) and are attacked by a second monster, which Kirk and Spock phaser, causing the monster to inexplicably land on Bones, who becomes trapped under it but is otherwise unharmed, in a turn of events that almost classifies as "so bad it's good." The planet, aside from having the usual creatures who exhibit the same three stock creature sound effects used throughout this series (two different roars and the "screeching air creature" sound), exhibits strange properties, like a desert right next to a rain forest. Spock notes that the water is "too pure" and theorizes the planet was manufactured via terraforming to conform to its visitors.

Eventually, the landing party is captured by large, strange, slug-like alien creatures and taken to a nearby city/facility where they're put in a cell for apparent study. Spock notes that everything on the planet has been taken from other worlds and theorizes that they are actually the subjects of an alien zoo, being held in cages and observed for the amusement of the alien civilization. The three members of the missing science team are also being held here (the captain says the other three members did not survive, but it's not explained what exactly happened to them).

There's a certain appeal, I guess, to how the mystery slowly plays out here, starting with the strange and hostile properties of the planet, before moving onto the captivity scenario and the bizarre aliens. The aliens are telepathic, so the crew's thoughts while in captivity help get them the things they need, like a medkit, which the aliens grant. The aliens are not barbarians; they simply see humans as lesser lifeforms worthy of being imprisoned in a zoo for amusement, I guess? (The aliens never speak; Spock merely theorizes their motives.)

This is where things get hazy and the show falls apart. The aliens are telepathic, and yet they don't realize that what they're doing with this zoo is negatively affecting sentient life? Or don't care? At one point, after what plays like a comedy of errors, an alien child is beamed aboard the Enterprise, at which point Scotty inexplicably takes the thing to the bridge, where it appears to seize control of the ship in what can only be described as "really goofy and poorly staged." (Little of this is animated, of course, because TAS doesn't have the resources for that. We simply cut to the alien on the bridge, and it's a jarring non sequitur.)

Then, with the child missing, the parents start probing Kirk's mind to find out where it went. It's not a gentle probing, either; it's pretty invasive and painful. All of this happens while Spock provides exposition using assumptions and leaps of logic that could only be arrived at because the script said so. If these beings are telepathic, shouldn't they know a lot more than what Spock says they seem to know? And, really, wouldn't this whole zoo thing not really be a thing?

Spock and the script go to great lengths to explain how advanced and super-intelligent these aliens are — thousands of centuries beyond humanity — but it's all telling and no showing. And based on what we're told, I sure don't believe it.

Previous episode: The Slaver Weapon
Next episode: The Jihad

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3 comments on this post

    I have always liked this episode. This is another one (like ENT Carbon Creek) where I think Jammer got out of the wrong side of his bed the morning he viewed and reviewed. The whacky planet was fun, and obviously created artificially for some reason. The elephant/slugs were interesting aliens, not unattractive in a weird way, and considering the huge and obvious differences between them and humans, it's not surprising that, telepathic or not, they had trouble understanding the crew. I perceived them as being somewhat pleasantly benign, and on a quest for more understanding. The child elephant/slug was beamed onto the Enterprise by mistake. The story certainly didn't fall apart--it made perfect sense to me. I think Scotty took it up to the bridge to figure out with the rest of the bridge crew what they should do with it. Anyway, it ended up back on the planet with its parents, with an "All's well that ends well." conclusion. The elephant/slugs are far too intelligent for a relationship with humans, but they are not evil or anything like that. A pleasant episode, probably leaning more toward science fantasy than toward science fiction.

    Good episode with a building mystery for the big 3 in search of lost personnel from another ship and then the predicament of being in a zoo. They understand that their captors would not want to see them harmed and use that to try to escape. Spock and McCoy contribute a fair bit to the dialog about their predicament and the analysis from both is decent.

    The unpredictable twist is the young Lactran getting beamed aboard the Enterprise but actually acting responsibly. It's a bit odd that the Lactrans would initially think the humans are just like some of the other zoo specimens they had collected and are prepared to treat them similarly. But ultimately, it takes a Trekkian turn when the little Lactran is able to fully learn about the Federation personnel and probably like in "The Menagerie" realize that humans/Vulcans should not be kept in captivity.

    2.5 stars

    I say 3 1/2 stars. This memorable episode finally reduces the crew to actual animals in a futuristic alien zoo, an oft-parodied Trek idea that never in fact appeared quite so explicitly in TOS other than The Cage/Menagerie. I love the depiction of the big telepathic aliens, who look like sloths/animals but are so sophisticated that we never even hear them talk directly.

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