Star Trek: The Original Series

"Journey to Babel"

3 stars

Air date: 11/17/1967
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Spock's parents, Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) and his wife Amanda (Jane Wyatt), board the Enterprise for transport to a conference for Federation consulates. But trouble arises when a heated argument between Sarek and a Tellarite representative forms the basis for the suspicion of Sarek when the Tellarite later turns up dead—by way of an ancient Vulcan method. Meanwhile, the episode scrutinizes Spock and some of his life's choices, which has formed the uneasy rift between him and his father.

There are a lot of good uses of characters in "Journey to Babel," which has a plot that seems to go in every direction at once, yet still makes plenty of sense. In addition to the murder mystery, there's a medical emergency when Sarek suffers a heart attack and the only chance for his survival is an experimental surgery requiring a blood transfusion from Spock. Meanwhile, Kirk ends up in sickbay after being attacked by an Andorian. This puts Spock in command, who is forced to delay the transfusion because he must be on the bridge as an alien ship pursues the Enterprise with less-than-friendly intentions. Kirk slyly being a trouper and coming to the bridge to allow Spock to attend to his father is a humorous and very Kirk-like endeavor—especially after the crisis breaks out and Kirk finds he can't go back to sickbay. The murder mystery angle is maybe a bit unnecessary (Sarek is of course absolved), although it connects with the espionage angle involving the alien ship.

"Journey to Babel" probably has just a little too much plot, but fortunately this doesn't get in the way of seeing how Spock addresses his duty, his family, and the uneasy balance between his humanity and Vulcan rationality.

Previous episode: Metamorphosis
Next episode: Friday's Child

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30 comments on this post

Tue, Oct 15, 2013, 11:24pm (UTC -5)
This marks the 40th episode in the series and the best of them. Easily four stars for the plot, character development, humor, pacing and direction. This is a Spock episode while still utilizing the other main characters well.

This episode is why I personally love the Trek universe.
Fri, Apr 11, 2014, 10:07am (UTC -5)
Good last line from McCoy, as he successfully shushes both Spock and Kirk, being patients in his Sick Bay:
"Well, what do you know! I finally got the last word!"
Tue, Sep 9, 2014, 12:11am (UTC -5)
This could have been a two-parter, but they just weren't of a mind to do such things back then.

I loved it, and one reason why is we FINALLY get a real taste of the Federation. A couple of the trial episodes hinted at it, but this is the most Federation-focused TOS episode.

From this one outing, Andorians and Tellerites became Trek folklore. I don't know why they didn't develop them a bit more.
Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 10:57pm (UTC -5)
I agree with William. This is probably the only episode of TOS or at least one of a few that focused on the Federation. This was a great politic episode. It's a shame that they weren't able to show more alien crewmember besides Spock. It was also great to see different alien races. This is truly TV ahead of it's time. The only thing Star Wars had on Trek is that they were able to do it on a better budget. Tough break the fans have to wait until Enterprise to see a good episodes featuring Andorians and Tellerites. The other trek shows did a good job of defining things introduce on TOS.
Tue, Dec 23, 2014, 10:59am (UTC -5)
I concur with everyone above - a wonderfully made episode, 4 star treatment all around. This episode is so foundational, with its exploration of Spock's parents and past, so large in scope with a Federation focus that feels like an interplanetary collective with the Tellerites and Andorians, and not just some Earth-focused abstracted bureaucracy. It's also so dramatic with great tension over the murder/spy plot, Sarek's threatened life, and Spock's harrowing (and Mother-infuriating) decision based on absolute devotion to the rules and regs vs. Kirk and McCoy's clever circumvention of Spock's determinations.

I also agree that it's kind of too bad that the Andorians and Tellerites didn't get much play in later series, except for Enterprise (and the Andorians in particular were quite the highlight on that otherwise hit-and-miss, often lacklustre show).
St. Manfred
Sat, Apr 9, 2016, 1:51pm (UTC -5)
I agree with everyone, an amazing episode.

However, I am somewhat surprised that no one realized a glaring inconsistency in Spock's mother's behavior: when she first learns that Spock might die trying to save his father, she sternly opposes it, claiming that she "won't risk both of" them. But later, when Spock prioritizes his duty to the ship over the blood transfusion, she desperately tries to convince Spock to help Sarek.

3.5 stars from me.
Fri, Mar 3, 2017, 3:17pm (UTC -5)
This is terrific episode as others have said. What's fantastic is that there's so much going on, yet it all works together so well. Obviously, not a single scene wasted.
This is a very well thought out episode - the backdrop of ambassadors dealing on their way to a conference underlies murder/spying/Spock's family, and as others have said, getting a better idea of UFP (not just Earth and Vulcan) members.
In the opening scene, I would have thought Kirk knew that Sarek was Spock's father. He has egg on his face when Spock informs him.
I guess it was convenient Scotty wasn't involved in the episode (no Sulu either) -- I think Spock should be able to give command to him and go to give his transfusion initially -- but that would rob us of his mom slapping his face.
I think the challenge of Spock's mom is well portrayed and the episode continues to chip away at developing Spock's character (after "Amok Time"). Spock is a major part of Trek and probably back in the 60s, folks would have benefited from seeing his Vulcan character develop.
This is another 4/4 stars episode for me. Edge of your seat stuff - can't really find any faults with it -- it's an action-packed hour with a clever plot and all the qualities that made Trek TOS so good, including the usual bit of humor at the end.
TOS Season 2 is doing quite well thus far -- I don't think I'm generous in my ratings, but as I go through chronologically, I've given 3 of the last 5 episodes 4/4 stars! More of a coincidence than anything.
I don't know what's up with Jammer for rating "Journey to Babel" the same as "I, Mudd". Don't see how that can be the case.
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 5:36am (UTC -5)
Only thing that should have been changed, was not knowing Spock,s parents. This should be common Federation knowledge. Otherwise outstanding episode.
Sun, Mar 19, 2017, 10:08pm (UTC -5)
If the episode entertains and is well written, and has something to say, it's not really worth looking too deep into it. I agree with the vast majority of the ratings but this one's a top 5 and should be 4 stars.
Tue, May 9, 2017, 5:49pm (UTC -5)
Great episode. My only complaint is the resolution of the attackers. Pirates? Sure, makes sense... But why would pirates be so eager to die so their friends can get rich? The story would have worked just as well if they weren't on a suicide mission and got captured at the end. Ah well, great pacing, a whole bunch of sub plots that effectively intertwine and some great moments from all the characters.
Trek fan
Thu, Oct 26, 2017, 5:33pm (UTC -5)
This episode is AMAZING, one of the all-time great TOS and Trek episodes in general, setting the mold for dozens of weaker imitators across the franchise. Here we get the A-B story format with an objective peril (espionage attempts to foil a peace conference) and human drama (Spock's family) embedded in it, a style that later becomes de rigeur from TNG onward. There's so much fun world building stuff here for Spock, the Federation, and Trek in general, but we also get two great characters in Spock and Amanda -- including the universally appealing father-son tension -- as well as great character interplay between the regulars as Kirk works to save Spock and his ship at the same time. It's easily 4 stars.

The dialogue is great in this one. And I love the mutual stubbornness of Spock and Sarek, who both agree it's more logical to let Sarek die than risk the ship by taking Spock off the bridge during a crisis while Kirk is incapacitated. That's hardcore stuff, but it fits the characters so perfectly. Amanda gives us a solid human foil to the whole affair, played by the legendary Jane Wyatt, and her insights into Spock's shame over being human and his childhood teasing for it tell us a lot about him. The characters love each other and work for the common good, but always within the limits of their characters, presented so sharply.Just great stuff all around.
Sat, Nov 18, 2017, 5:41am (UTC -5)
Shouldn’t the faux Andorian have been handcuffed on the bridge? And a heart bypass on a Human is still tricky in the 23rd century?
Wed, Dec 27, 2017, 5:46pm (UTC -5)
This is a nice episode with some fascinating stuff about vulcan/human family relationships. Especially Spock's struggle between his human and vulcan sides, imagine being willing to let your very own father die and alienate your mother. Logical perhaps, but not very emotional.
Thu, Jan 4, 2018, 9:47am (UTC -5)
This episode features one of the greatest "ass punches" of all time on TV - Kirk on the faux-Andorian in the fight scene..
Mon, Mar 12, 2018, 3:22pm (UTC -5)
Brilliant episode -- but just one thing bugged me ever so slightly: Why does Kirk allow the Orion spy disguised as an Andorian to basically have free reign on the bridge as the Enterprise engages in battle with the Orion ship? Yes, he's trying to find out what he can about the mysterious ship but the way this scene plays out had me scratching my head a tad. He's hoping to engage the spy who likely would not talk if held down by security guards -- a risky game.

The Orion spy already tried to kill Kirk and is on a suicide mission (as is their ship) -- he had taken a slow-acting poison but also could have turned into a suicide bomber. He basically stands beside Kirk's chair with the 2 security guards several feet away.

Anyhow, just a minor nitpick on one of TOS best episodes.
David Lyttle
Sat, Sep 1, 2018, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
I think this is an outstanding example of what Star Trek can be. I especially the conflict between Spock and both his parents, particularly when Spock's mother slaps Spock, leaves him alone and he places his hand on the door that closed behind her. But I do have one gripe. Kirk leaves Ensign Chekov in command while Lt. Uhura, a senior bridge officer is passed over. 60's sexism in action.
Fri, Sep 14, 2018, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
Gotta love those DMSes (Dramatic Moment Sensors) on starships. The door knows it's supposed to open to let Amanda storm out of Spock's quarters, but stay closed for a slapped-silly Spock to lay his hand against it.
Vladimir Estragon
Sun, Jan 13, 2019, 1:13am (UTC -5)
My favorite moment in this episode is at the beginning, after Spock demonstrates the Vulcan salute to McCoy. Kirk introduces Sarek to McCoy, who just nods and then looks down at his hand, as though he was ready to do the salute and didn't get the chance. How about that Bones, huh?
Sat, May 4, 2019, 5:44am (UTC -5)
One of my favorites so far. Complicated plot, but it's well presented and easy to follow despite the busy-ness.

The Spock character development is great, with good dialogue and performances from mom, dad, and son.

Amanda did a plot-serving 180 (first strongly forbidding Spock from helping dad, then begging him to do so) that could have been better handled - because it was believable enough that once she truly saw her beloved husband at Death's door, her reservations vanished.

Great scene with the slap.

The whole thing just worked. Some minor inconsistencies and such, but nothing unusual for a weekly series. I can live with wondering why the "Andorion" was given so much freedom on the bridge, though I did wonder that, and why Kirk left Chekhov in charge near the end. But no big deal.

DeForest Kelly continues to be a delight. Great casting that truly helped make the show. He has a nearly unstoppable likability. He can say the most dubious or corniest of lines and still seem like your best pal.

Chekhov's hair. Oh, my. Don't really know what else to say there, but I've been noticing it all season and I thought it deserved a mention.

Some weird lighting in this ep that makes McCoy's face look green and Amanda's hair look purple, but that was kinda fun.
Harry's Swollen Throat
Tue, Oct 29, 2019, 8:49am (UTC -5)
I actually liked the episode EXCEPT for the mother. She didn't want to potentially put spock at risk but then when the whole ship was in danger didnt give a toss and kept guilt tripping spock into doing the operation. I mean YES mothers are moody like that. But I expected a bit more respect/resolve from a human woman who has been married to a Vulcan for years. She couldn't understand the logic. Really after all this time. Slapping spock was super uncalled for in my opinion.....

Oh and also McCoy not relaying Spock's important info to Kirk just before he went into the operation. I mean typical every time -.- Bones is always like "hush hush you're a patient.......who cares if the information could save the whole ship you need to rest lmao XD"

Other than that the episode was awesome and I enjoyed the story!
Jay Marks
Fri, May 1, 2020, 6:13pm (UTC -5)
Just saw this episode the other day and saw something I never noticed despite watching TOS a bazillion times. In one scene I spotted DeForest Kelley looking directly into the camera. It was when Kirk was in sickbay after being stabbed and started to sit up. As he tells Kirk, "Jim if you stand you can start to bleed again" he looks right into the camera for a split second!

A silly thing to point out, I know, but it's always neat to spot something you missed despite years of watching.
Tue, Sep 22, 2020, 7:54pm (UTC -5)
Love that moment when Spock tries to bolt from his cot alongside the operating table and Nurse Chapel calmly knocks him out with a hypo. Patient autonomy vs. health professional authority must be a pendulum that happens to swing to the same spot in the 23rd century as it occupied in the mid twentieth.
Tue, Sep 22, 2020, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
I also want to mention that even though I wasn't crazy about the premise of the Trek reboot movies ("The entire series you loved now never happened." ) , the one moment in them that rang most true for me was when Sarek answered Spock's question of why he married Amanda truthfully rather than wryly: "Because I loved her."
Thu, Dec 17, 2020, 11:09am (UTC -5)
Journey to Babel

Star Trek season 2 episode 10

"Mother, how can you have lived on Vulcan so long, married a Vulcan, raised a son on Vulcan, without understanding what it means to be a Vulcan?”

- Spock

4 stars (out of 4)

I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this episode over the past decades of my life, and yet every time I enjoy it.

Journey to Babel is for me, quintessential Star Trek. Here you see the scale of the canvas Gene was painting on. Not just humans and Vulcans. But also Tellerites, Andorians, little gold men, a beautiful woman in a purple dress with a sheer back. A pink lady with gold hair and very nice legs. 100 Federation delegates. A cornucopia of sentient life.

Yes, this is my favorite episode of The Original Series. It's been my favorite since I was a little boy.

Don’t believe what Kirk tells you (“the issues of the council are politically complex”). No sir, the political intrigue at the heart of the episode is actually fairly straightforward. It comes out in splendid detail during the verbal sparring between Sarak and Gav,

SAREK: We favour admission.

GAV: You favour? Why?

SAREK: Under Federation law, Coridan can be protected and its wealth administered for the benefit of its people.

GAV: That's well for you. Vulcan has no mining interest.

SAREK: Coridan has nearly unlimited wealth of dilithium crystals, but it is under-populated and unprotected. This invites illegal mining operations.

GAV: Illegal? You accuse us?

SAREK: Some of your ships have been carrying Coridan dilithium crystals.

GAV: You call us thieves?

At the planet code-named Babel, the Federation Council will debate whether or not to admit Coridan.

So interesting that at this time in Star Trek canon, the decision does not depend on Coridan’s culture, world government, peaceful relations, abandonment of the caste system or religion, or any of the other myriad issues that predominate such decisions in TNG, and even more so, in DS9.

No, at this time, the Federation has 1,000 planets and is growing strong, and she is refreshingly clear-eyed about what she looks for in a new member planet. If this was the perspective we got on Enterprise, I imagine that show would have lasted a lot longer. I don’t think Archer would have known what mining interests were if they stabbed him in the back and left him for dead.

It turns out that it is not the Tellerites, however, who are intent on sabotaging the meeting. It’s the Orions, the most dependable villains for 60 straight years of star trek!

The political machinations are fascinating. The battle of wits with the Orion ship is edge-of-your-seat engaging. But two things really elevate this episode for me to an all-time classic Trek affair.

The first is Kirk faking that he is well enough to get Spock off the bridge, only to get stuck there when an emergency befalls the ship. Shatner plays the whole sequence, from the moment he steps onto the bridge, right to the death of the “andorian” (really Orion) perfectly. Who ever says The Shat can’t act doesn’t know what acting is!

And the second is the entire sequence, quoted at the top of my review, between Spock and his mother, when they discuss duty and love and family and loyalty. And she slaps him.

Now for a moment just to appreciate the score to that scene.

Those strings are exquisite!

And that scene with Spock and his mother is immediately followed by a bridge scene with a version of the standard Star Trek Theme, but also done in strings!

What could be more perfect? This show truly was a labor of love. 3 stars, @Jammer?? Have you no heart?
Thu, Feb 25, 2021, 10:22am (UTC -5)
Rewatching this after Enterprise's final season, it's incredible how much ground this one episode lays, though it's a shame how little the later shows feature any of these species. This is first and foremost a Spock episode, and Nimoy is rightly praised, but I also think Shatner deserves a fair bit of credit for how he plays Kirk just barely holding himself together on the bridge. And of course, great to see the first appearance of Spock's parents. Having recently watched "The Forge", the line about Spock's sehlat also gave me a good laugh.
Bob (a different one)
Thu, Feb 25, 2021, 10:32am (UTC -5)
"Having recently watched "The Forge", the line about Spock's sehlat also gave me a good laugh."

Have you watched the old animated series episode "Yesteryear"? Spock's pet plays a big role in the episode. It's quite good.
Thu, Mar 25, 2021, 4:03pm (UTC -5)
Im watching TOS for the very first time in my life and so far it was a bit of a struggle at times. But this is by far one of the best episodes I have seen so far. Reminded me a bit of TNG and I even laughed at the final scene in sickbay. Good stuff!
Thu, Apr 8, 2021, 2:41am (UTC -5)
Classic 4 star episode. This is the first TOS episode in which you can see the seeds of the future Trek franchise, even if they didn’t at the time! Convincing alien races, murder mystery, alien attack, the first appearance of Sarek, medical drama - there’s almost TOO much here, yet it still makes a compulsive watch.

The political aspect would of course be seen again often - in TNG, DS9 etc. As others have said, I just wish the Tellurites and Andorrans had been seen again in TOS but you can’t have everything and the producers of the time didn’t have a crystal ball.

This episode was where Spock and McCoy really shone as characters, and it was refreshing to see Kirk take a (relative) back seat. I wasn’t quite so convinced by Spock’s mother; though she was well played, and added to what was written as a one-off episode, she would - as pointed out - have lived long enough on Vulcan to understand her husband and son better.

This episode is classic Star Trek and more than makes up for the weaker Series 2 episodes. If I could give more than 4 stars I would.
Thu, Sep 2, 2021, 8:46pm (UTC -5)
4 stars. Excellent acting by the guest stars, fascinating mystery plot as one crisis after another cascades onto poor Captain Kirk, action moving all over the ship, from the bridge to other decks, to sick bay and back to the bridge. Uhura has a more substantial role in the plot development than usual, and the Vulcan family dynamics are really interesting. The various alien ambassadors are interesting- especially liked the tellurite appearance and speech. Well done humor in the last scene.

One question though: Is DeForest Kelly smoking a cigarette in the first surgery scene? I could swear that’s cigarette smoke coming up from his side of the heart surgery box in sick bay. 😁
Tue, Mar 29, 2022, 8:10pm (UTC -5)
On this viewing, I find myself struck by how some of the cascading mysteries never really get solved by the end.

How does it happen that Orions, who are clearly at least somewhat known to the Federation, have a code that is utterly unrecognizable even to a highly skilled cryptographer like Spock or an experienced communications specialist like Uhura?

Assuming that it wasn't Sarek who killed the Tellarite Gav but Telev, the Orion agent disguised as an Andorian, how does it happen that an Orion agent is skilled at a traditional Vulcan method of execution?

And was the motive for the murder simple chaos?

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