Star Trek: The Original Series


2.5 stars.

Air date: 10/27/1967
Written by Robert Bloch
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review Text

Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down to a planet to investigate the death of a crewman scout who beamed up from the planet, well, dead. What they find is literally a Halloween setting, complete with a ghostly greeting that seems to be straight out of a haunted house parody. Kirk & Co. subsequently locate the missing men from the first landing party—Scotty and Sulu in a catatonic state, under the command of two aliens with a great power of illusion, who have created the whole Halloween setting as a way of learning about humans.

The aliens, Korob (Theo Marcuse) and Sylvia (Antoinette Bower), slowly become at odds with each other, as Sylvia finds herself attracted to the sensations and experiences of humans—manifested, of course, through her physical attraction to Kirk. Meanwhile, the most wooden lieutenant in Starfleet (Michael Barrier) has command of the Enterprise, preventing the ship scenes from being particularly interesting.

"Catspaw" is a primarily gag-driven episode, with a hit-and-miss track record. Kirk's encounters with Sylvia are moderately interesting. But the episode is fundamentally formulaic, and lives and dies on each piece of its fragmented puzzle. As a lightweight adventure, it's okay; just don't look for much substance.

Previous episode: The Doomsday Machine
Next episode: I, Mudd

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44 comments on this post

    I grew up watching TOS, but I haven't watched all the episodes all the way through before like I'm doing now. I'm finding the whole second season to be kind of hit and miss--or, rather, swinging back and forth between brilliant and "meh." Sometimes they are just trying too hard, but when it all comes together, like in The Doomsday Machine, it's amazing. Thanks for your reviews!

    I havent watched this episode in quite some time and there is a reason; I dont want to.

    I rate 1 star only because im still high from watching doomsday mach week before.

    I just watched this. I found the first half to be almost intolerably dull -- maybe not "And the Children Shall Lead" or anything, but still pretty awful and airy and lifeless. It picks up a bit in its second half, but even then it's mostly just a series of Trek cliches. Korob's coming around is a little interesting, and it's interesting watching Kirk play Sylvia. The reveal of Korob and Sylvia's true form is a bit of a hoot as well. Still, I think this episode overall is hardly better than TNG's "Devil's Due," which has some similar elements (seductive master of illusion playing on people's fears, ship in jeopardy from below) or "The Squire of Gothos" (...master of illusion misrepresenting human society due to inaccurate info), and I'd put it below both of those. 1.5 stars, I guess.

    This is another one I liked as a kid but roll my eyes at now. But it was a cool adventure when you're 10.

    Ludicrous. How this could follow the brilliance of the Doomsday Machine is beyond me. Somesort of Halloween special? It wasnt very 'special'. I did enjoy the ending though, ive never laughed so much at the actual forms of the fat bald bloke and the cat. What was that all about???

    I gotta say this episode always stood out to me not in so much as the show but the music always stuck in my head in this one so everytime I hear the music played in other episodes I'm just looking for Kirk and spock to come around the corner with a giant black cat chasing them (mrooogh!!!) Always makes me smile :)

    A Star Trek Halloween episode. No more and no less. Scary when I was a kid but pretty dull now. No big questions asked or answered. Just black cats and castles. There was one joke though. Sulu and Scotty were catatonic. Yuk Yuk. About a 1.5.

    Oh yeah, I agree this is a weak episode. When TNG did a "horror" episode, namely Night Terrors, it worked the horror into the plot. With this one, what point was there in all the horror elements? Spock talks about how this all relates to the human psyche at the subconscious level, but A) that doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the story, and it's never explained why Karob did it, and B) explain to me why black cats and medieval castles are part of the sub-conscience when it has nothing to do with surviving the African savannah? If they were trying to create a theme in that sense, it failed miserably.

    What was the point of all of the horror? What was the purpose of Karob and Sylvia being here and dealing with the Enterprise crew? They try to warn the crew away with the curses and stuff, but then say they passed a test by still showing up. Then they ask about their technology, even though they can do far more. Also, Sylvia can apparently read their minds, so why not just learn everything from Scotty earlier? Then Sylvia starts being catty (har har) to Karob, and then starts trying to seduce Kirk while torturing the rest of the crew. OK, fine, that part works as a plot point, Sylvia falling for her new form, causing conflict between the two godlike beings. But it still doesn't explain all the riddles and mystery at the beginning. It doesn't explain what the purpose of it all is.

    That's the problem, I think. It's a collection of scenes brought together in an attempt to be a Halloween episode, but with no logic and reason through it. Couple that with cheap effects and some obvious filler scenes on the Enterprise, and this is just bad.

    Oh, by the way, what's with the most wooden engineer in the Federation (as Jammer called him) being in command? Doohan and Takei had virtually nothing to do as the brainwashed victims of Sylvia, why not leave one of them in command of the Enterprise? Kinda strange.

    A disappointing episode, especially coming after "The Doomsday Machine" - but the Hallowe'en theme is appropriate given when it first aired.
    Still, it's lots of gimmicks without much meaning; it's another twist on "The Squire of Gothos" or "Who Mourns for Adonais?" where more powerful beings that lack wisdom threaten the Enterprise crew. It's a well-worn formula; interesting soundtrack though.
    I wasn't a fan of the redshirt (LaSalle? DeSalle?) who was left in command of the ship - there was a missed opportunity. Would have been better if Scotty was left in charge rather than being a zombie the whole episode.
    Even the final scene wasn't that compelling - Why does Korob lose all his power? He has the transmuter. Then, Sylvia is pointing a phaser at Kirk who has the transmuter. Can't she stun Kirk and get the transmuter?
    I'd give this episode 2/4 stars and I think that might be a tad generous as it was quite slow paced and only really got interesting about 40 mins. in.

    I have a soft spot for this one. It's not deep, but it's fun in spots, and good for the kiddies. Given all the weird things that happen on Star Trek, it's not THAT much of a stretch to imagine that two aliens fascinated by human experience might groove on 20th Century American Halloween party stuff. I mean come on, let's not give TNG too much credit: For every "Night Terrors," you get a Sub Rosa (Crusher sleeping with a ghost?!) and a "Devil's Due." All in all, "Catspaw" is a fun little haunted house show that manages to keep its tongue firmly in cheek, and I'll give it 3 stars out of 4 on a day when I'm feeling charitable. Jammer's 2 1/2 stars seems fair. Like much Trek, there are boring stretches in this one, but I dig the Sylvia-Kirk scenes and the gag climax revealing the unimpressive true form of the two aliens. Aliens don't always need deep cosmic, humanitarian, or evil motives on Trek: Sometimes they can just be screwing around with Our Heroes, like Sylvia and Korob. It's nice to imagine a universe where some aliens just like to prank humans.

    Rewatching this episode again as I marathon the series on DVD in air date order for the first time, I really enjoyed it! I have to say it's a solid 3 or 3 1/2 stars for me. Spock has some really intriguing dialogue about how the aliens feed off the human subconscious and seem to take it for reality: Not sure how I've always missed this exchange in the past, but it really adds to the story's mystique for me, and Bloch really writes this stuff well. The mystery of the story and Kirk's final observation that it was real in one sense -- Jackson is dead -- hint at deeper ideas than the haunted house surface initially suggests. So yeah, consider me a "Catspaw" fan, even though I wish Sulu got a little dialogue -- even Scotty gets ONE line when they de-zombify!

    Perhaps not the greatest story but entertaining. The sets and effects while most definitely not perfect appear to have the improved during the second season.

    Well this was a bit buttocks, wasn't it? Vastly inferior to TNG's Night Terrors, which was legitimately frightening, and also trailing the TNG where the woman pretends to be the Devil due to that episode's fantastic villain. This episode is just another of TOS's pointless, uninspired Earth history/mythology stories. You mean to tell me that in the vastness of space there is only Earth's past?

    It becomes ever clearer why TNG, DS9 and VOY distanced themselves from TOS. Catspaw might have raised mild chuckles in the 60s and maybe scared some 8 year olds but its quality is totally unacceptable today (and probably was then). Still, if you have got literally nothing to do for 50 minutes, there are some lols, and I liked the female villain.

    @No Poet

    "Catspaw" is TOS mediocrity for sure but that's not to say TNG, DS9, VOY didn't have their shares of mediocrity as well -- their's was just different. And there was more of it given the 7 seasons. TNG's tended to be more sci-fi-ish, DS9's fillers involved crap like the Ferengi arc, and VOY's tended to be efforts at character pieces for the lesser cast members and spatial anomalies. Those are very broad generalizations on my part.

    As for bringing up Earth's past -- these aliens presumably probed the crew's minds to come up with something that would be scary to them -- why would they conjure up something scary to say the Klingons when it is mostly (other than Spock) earthlings visiting them?

    To each his own opinion but I'd hardly call "Night Terrors" vastly superior to "Catspaw" -- both are 2* episodes for me. And "Devil's Due" is a poor 1.5* ep. I suggest a better episode with the genre of scaring crewmembers / psychological terror might be something like "The Thaw".

    KIRK: Spock. Comment?
    SPOCK: Very bad poetry, Captain.
    That just about says it all.

    Had some good lines and moments, but mostly kind of plodding.

    Obligatory sexy lady is a cat!! Naturally, she melts in Kirk's hands, overwhelmed by his apparently super sensual touch. It's all downhill from there for Cat Lady and Bald Wizard.

    The ending with the strange little pipe cleaner & paper aliens made me suddenly remember that episode of Buffy with the tiny widdle demon.


    I *also* have a soft spot for this one. The Three Witches are another iconic TOS image from my childhood. Watching as an adult, I expected nothing more than a novelty Halloween episode, but this is actually a legit TOS adventure. It has a lot of great lines, which mostly come from Kirk-Spock-McCoy interaction, because for the most part it's the three of them working together by themselves. Is this actually the first time we see just the trio beam down and get to work on a planet? Anyway the image made me smile. You see them materialize and you just know it's *on*. It's TOS time. Things are gettin' *explored*.

    The aliens probing for our conscious minds and accidentally reaching the subconscious, as Spock explains, is really a nice SciFi thought. The 'universal images' that are supposed to reside there are a pop culture version of Jungian psychology, which was rather popular back then.

    Also, pipe cleaner aliens.

    "The ending with the strange little pipe cleaner & paper aliens made me suddenly remember that episode of Buffy with the tiny widdle demon."


    Good times...

    A Halloween episode of Trek sounds like a nightmare, but this episode wasn't bad. One thing I love about TOS is the sense of fun and adventure. We get that with season 2 with episode where they deal with a greek god, Vulcan mating, Mirror universe and etc.

    This is the first episode of many to feature aliens being overwhelmed by human sensation and they did a pretty good job. It was kind of fun watching the Silvia turn evil and banter with her partner in crime. Despite TOS being famous for the break three I really do like they way they use the whole cast. It would had been better if the bridge scene featured just Uhura and Chekov. it does make sense that assistance chief engineer Desalle is in charge because Scotty took command a lot as well.

    Boy was this a missed opportunity to bring Uhura along on the away mission, so she could say "Captain, I'm frightened."

    Just be grateful this didn't air on UPN like VOY, else the trailers would have screamed all week, "tune in next time for giant hairy black pussy!" No doubt strongly suggesting that Uhura would be front and center.

    Don't get me wrong, I like Halloween in my scifi.

    But this ain't it.

    One of the silliest episodes, absurd, illogical and downright pointless.

    And yet... I actually quite enjoyed watching it! It’s more of an Orson Welles Adventure story than Trek, but if you can mentally place it outside the Trekverse (“bad poetry”? Sorry 😂) it’s quite fun in parts. And Kirk gets his hands on yet another beautiful woman. I did laugh out loud at the true form of the aliens - whose concept was that!

    Who is this De Salle in charge of the Enterprise? Do we ever get to see him again?

    I think this episode was filmed before Doomsday... as Chekhov still has his silly 1967 Mickey Dolenz haircut he had when he first appeared.

    De Salle was previously seen wearing a gold uniform in both The Squire of Gothos and This Side of Paradise from the first season.

    To me this is one of the worst of all TOS episodes. I mean, witches? We're supposed to be doing science fiction here, not cliched fantasy. Even having them turn out to be little crabs wasn't an improvement. It seemed to just be trying to take advantage of Halloween which was coming up the next week, I believe. A total waste. No stars.

    “It seemed to just be trying to take advantage of Halloween which was coming up the next week, I believe.“

    Uh, that’s exactly what it was doing.

    Antoinette Bowers (original Sylvia) is memorable ...her sensuality is perfect; her vocal quality, dialect and anger presentation at Kirk are second-to-none. Theo Marcuse (Korab) also put in a good performance as a weak wizard but their contributions were weighed down by the giant cat.

    In spite of the failure, I still get sad at the end when the little clay marionettes pass away.

    This was the only episode in the entire TOS canon about which, when I was a kid (aged 6-12 maybe) I had no clue what was going on or why it was going on. It was just sort of weird random stuff and I skipped it at that age most of the time. So there's that.

    One element the episode developed was the idea that certain TOS characters were more vulnerable to mind control than others....Sulu always "went down." Scotty was apt to lose it and McCoy, bless him, could never be trusted.

    C'mon guys, this a legit 4 stars episode!

    It has everything that makes a good trek episode: facing the unknown, adventure, danger, trying to reason what the hell is going on, fight scenes between the crew itself, and funny lines. It brings an interesting concept -- aliens that have a totally different existence than ours and get fascinated by our way of experiencing existence. And even the execution of the concept was pretty decent -- the "Earthness" of the set is well justified: the aliens got it from the visitors minds. And we also get an interesting food for though on the situation: would you accept to partner with Sylvia? Maybe only a little? I mean, as Kirk points out, she really had a neck for giving dificult choices...

    F makes me want to rewatch this episode. F are you being serious? I feel a deep urge to rewatch this now.

    “A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” -- Groucho Marx.

    Come on, that was damn funny. And so is “Catspaw.” Just like “Shore Leave,” “Catspaw” (a word meaning “one who is duped and used by another,” by the way) is an embarrassing waste of time but also an entertaining one, especially if you shut your brain off, become a catspaw yourself and kowtow to the catty absurdity. Or watch it while drunk or high. I just can’t give a less-than-passing grade to this episode because it was just too much stupid fun. It’s one of those so-bad-it’s-almost-good things.

    You know you’re in for a Trick-or-TREAT when even before the opening credits sequence, you get an utterly hilarious redshirt death. The fall that guy took was astonishing. Points to the stunt guy. And soon after Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to Spooky World to investigate the death, and rescue Scotty and Sulu, they encounter Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and Dianne Feinstein floating above them and spouting their typical gibberish. Hell, I was scared! When asked for his analysis of the situation, Spock can only say, “Very bad poetry, Captain.”

    But it’s when they enter the Haunted Mansion that the “story” begins. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are literally locked in a dungeon and accosted by mind-controlled catspaws Scotty and Sulu, who mysteriously release them. Meanwhile, an adorable black cat walks around meowing and looking to be fed (I love cats; we have two cats and a dog at our house).

    Turns out everyone is being toyed with by powerful aliens (of course) Korob--played by a low-rent version of Yul Brynner--and Sylvia, played a bargain-basement version of Elizabeth Taylor in a cheap fright wig. They have the power of illusion, mind control and can kill with a single thought, and they’re allowed to get away with these fantasy trappings on a science fiction show because they’re *powerful aliens,* get it? Naturally, they’re also able to affect things aboard the orbiting Enterprise, because--powerful aliens.

    Korob and Sylvia don’t seem to have a particularly coherent plan other than Korob wants to fuck with the landing party as playthings and Sylvia wants to fuck Kirk.

    You have to love the reveal of Korob and Sylvia in their "true forms," not to mention the hysterically cheesy compilation of sequences featuring Kirk and Spock rescuing Scotty, McCoy and Sulu using awesomeness and the yowling, spitting cat stalking our heroes through the castle. Nice to see the pussy chasing Kirk for once instead of the other way around, amirite?!


    Best Line:

    Kirk -- “I don’t know what you are but you’re not a woman. You’ve tortured my men and taken their minds from them. You ask for love and return pain instead!” (I’ll let you figure it out.)

    My Grade: C-

    Theo and especially Antoinette are a lot of fun to my eye.

    Maybe we can't break it, but I'll bet you credits to navy beans we can put a dent in it.

    The best way is to watch these episodes in PRODUCTION order. I'm surprised that these episodes are not put in that order but hey, whaddya gonna do?

    ~ But I am more surprised that I have not found a single review yet that states that this is indeed the first appearance of Pavel Chekov and that horrendous Monkees WIG! It should have been called The Monkee's Paw! Poor Walter.

    First off, it’s not clear that this was created initially as a Halloween episode since they originally meant to air it earlier in the season—in line with its earlier production—and then decided to air it around Halloween for the obvious reasons. Second, I wonder how much of Bloch’s original script survived the production process because this has all the thumbprints of Roddenberry—inert pace for the first half, lots of psychobabble about human sensations and the subconscious, and no clear motivation for the whole alien mission. Are they studying us? Or are they here to conquer us—and what the hell is with those carrot legged puppets? Shouldn’t beings who are immaterial have an immaterial form rather than looking like they fell out of a ragbag? (See Trelaine’s parents.) and How do they “transmute” those sock puppets through interstellar space? It’s godawful bad but you gotta like the “special effect” of the cat’s giant shadow on the wall. That’s one you can do at home!


    "no clear motivation for the whole alien mission. Are they studying us? Or are they here to conquer us"

    I guess the episode tells us it is about the aliens, having a totally different existence than ours, being fascinated by our way of experiencing existence, so studying it is. But what I really wanted to say is: I guess being left with a little bit of "unclear motivation" (as long as they behavior stays coherent) is better than when writers put the villains to give a full report on why they're doing what they're doing, eh?

    This is one episode where I’d love to see a fly-on-the-wall style documentary of its production. The actors and crew must have had some very serious moments of deep introspection about just what the hell they were doing. The first table read must have involved a lot of side glancing and deep sighing.

    Despite its utter ridiculousness, I will say this one keeps your attention. It’s weird. And I like a little weird. But this might be a little too weird.

    1.5/4 fuzzy shrimp birds

    "The first table read must have involved a lot of side glancing and deep sighing."

    Well you see that might have been true if there was one, but I highly doubt there was a table read. I expect everyone got their sides and it was filmed out of sequence as usual, mere hours after that days rewrites got to the actors in makeup, and it wasn't until the smoke cleared months later that the cast would see the actual episode on TV and realize what had been made. I'm sure they knew it was a weird one, but they probably had that glimmer of hope that the writing and directing would somehow make something of the bizarre patchwork of scenes they had to memorize.

    Trek or treat? I suppose Catspaw works as a Halloween episode, an event that itself requires suspension of disbelief. Due to the negatives others have mentioned, and because I'm not a big fan of the genre, this ep slips into the bottom half of TOS for me. The show's limited budget is exposed more here than other episodes: the recycled dungeon, cat shadows, puppets on visible strings, etc. If I want to watch something creepy, The Outer Limits offers better options IMO. Some syndicated versions omit the Three Witches bad poetry sequence. 2 of 4 black cats

    Unbelievably bad. No real explanation as to why the aliens are doing what they’re doing. No explanation for why Kirk and Spock keep getting chained to a wall and then released. And all it took to defeat. The aliens was for Kirk to break their magic wand. Finally, the aliens become pipe cleaner puppets, and die, for no reason. The episode is an embarrassment.

    @Scott, +1 for pipe cleaner puppets. They were always hermit crabs pulled out of their shell to me.

    When I was 7 watching this episode it was fun. As an adult, I find it unwatchable and cringey.

    I loved this one when I was a kid, so I'm biased. I especially like its creepiness and as one who is fond of cats, Sylvia makes one gorgeous cat. As an aside, I though Ms Bower was great in the role.

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