During a routine survey of an asteroid field, the Enterprise is fired upon by three Romulans warbirds that wrongly claim the ship is in Romulan space. The Enterprise flees into an energy cloud with strange properties and emerges safely on the other side, having eluded the Romulans.
While the crew makes repairs, the senior staff is having lunch when all of them are victims of leaky trick glasses that cause them to spill their drinks. Throughout the day, more practical jokes emerge, including Spock getting raccoon eyes from ink applied to his microscope (how did it get there?) and the captain having "KIRK IS A JERK" written across the back of his uniform.
Spock discovers all the pranks are being pulled by the Enterprise computer, which has gone mad because of the strange properties of the energy cloud. Majel Barrett pulls overtime as the voice of the computer, which cackles away at all the "hilarious" pranks it pulls, like ejecting an avalanche of food from the replicator, or covering the floor of the corridors in fog and ice. At one point, Scotty even gets a literal pie in the face.
Is this funny? I can't say so. It's tedious. As I've mentioned before, comedy rarely works on this show because there's no sense of timing, or subtlety of performance, or twinkle in William Shatner's eye, or blank reaction shot from Leonard Nimoy. (I suppose all of animated Spock's reaction shots are blank, but it's not the same.) It's just a crudely drawn comic strip pitched at a 7-year-old. And that laughter from the computer — please make it stop.
This episode is probably most notable for being the first holodeck episode in the Trek franchise. We see the "recreation room" here and it works very much like the holodeck of the TNG era. It even malfunctions like the holodeck, thanks to the ship's computer having gone mad. It drops McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu into a hole in the forest, and then turns the entire simulation into an inescapable blizzard that threatens to freeze them all to death. Hilarious!
Kirk tries negotiating with the computer, the computer cackles some more, and then turns off the gravity and floods the ship with nitrous oxide when it feels threatened. Everyone starts laughing, and then the Romulans show up again, and the ship tricks the Romulans by inflating a giant replica balloon of the ship alongside itself to pose as reinforcements. I hate it when that happens.
But we do at last get our Kirk Outsmarts the Computer™ for this series. Kirk pretends to be scared of the energy field to get the ship to steer back into it (does the computer know the difference between a prank and sadism?), which reverses the effects of the computer's madness. And then the Romulans go into the cloud and all their computers end up on the fritz! Karma!
This is something that I have no doubt sounded funnier on the page than it ends up being on the screen.
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