Star Trek: The Original Series

"That Which Survives"

1 star

Air date: 1/24/1969
Teleplay by John Meredyth Lucas
Story by Michael Richards
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When a landing party beams down to investigate a planet, a mysterious woman named Losira (Lee Meriwether), armed with a deadly touch, begins attacking several members of Kirk's crew, both on board the ship and on the planet surface. The problem is magnified when the Enterprise is hurled far away from the planet and its engines are sabotaged, causing a countdown to the ship's destruction.

"That Which Survives" is as close to nothing that you can have on the screen and still have some semblance of a Star Trek episode. The familiar two-tiered story structure does nothing here, failing on both counts. The landing party's lobotomized attempts to uncover the mystery of Losira have precisely zero urgency and thought put forward. Meanwhile, the technobabble-heavy Enterprise jeopardy plot is completely insipid; not one character on the ship seems to really believe that they're going to "blow up in 15 minutes."

And on top of the uninteresting nature of the story, we have to put up with one of the most irritating utilizations of Spock ever conceived. Spock's sarcasm is entertaining when wittily and subtly developed, but here his quip one-liners are so needless, pervasive, and annoying that I simply wanted to strangle him. (Just how many times can we listen to him snidely telling Scotty to forego emotionalism and get to work?) The finale uncovers a mystery that is not remotely worth the effort required to get there.

Previous episode: The Mark of Gideon
Next episode: The Lights of Zetar

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33 comments on this review

Thu, Apr 14, 2011, 2:12pm (UTC -5)
Here's one lonely cheer for "That Which Survives". When I was a little kid watching this episode in the early 70s, it absolutely scared the bejeezus out of me. I used to sneak up on my brother and touch his shoulder like Losira. Then we'd both run away screaming.
Sun, Nov 4, 2012, 12:34am (UTC -5)
"That Which Survives" is as close to nothing that you can have on the screen and still have some semblance of a Star Trek episode."

HA! thank you
Fri, Sep 13, 2013, 9:17am (UTC -5)
I would give this episode 2.5 stars. True, Spock's rationalism was overdone, but I liked Scotty's character on this show a lot. The Jeffries tube scene in the anti-matter chamber was great, and the special effects inside it excellent. The film technique for Losira to come and go was neat - looked like a door opening and closing and for I appreciated a female leader that wasn't a romantic interest for Kirk and was strong and competent (contrast Spock's Brain). The concept of her being a computer enhancement of a person long dead was a nice surprise at the end.
Sun, Apr 27, 2014, 2:46pm (UTC -5)
The one thing not mentioned in this episode was Sulu and his child-like questions on the planet. You could make a drinking game everytime he asked Kirk a question and you would never make it around for the end. IMO, one of the worst written tos episodes for this and Spock's new cocky attitude.
Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
Where did this version of Spock come from? It seemed like they were trying to resurrect some of the story elements from the Season 1 episode "Galileo Seven", in which Spock is in command of the landing party and struggles with keeping loyalty from a crew that sees him as too unemotional and unintuitive. But instead, in "That Which Survives", Spock just ended up looking like a jerk. He was just written very differently in this episode than in any other. Didn't seem like him.

Also, how come the computer-generated Losira could exist on the Enterprise, 1000 light years away from the computer generating her?
Sun, Aug 17, 2014, 8:54am (UTC -5)
The Voyager should have gotten the Enterprise's engines... Imagine it: 1.000 lightyears in about a day? Voyager would have been back in a matter of weeks!
William B
Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 3:05pm (UTC -5)
This is one of my favourites of Jammer's "bad episode" reviews -- as usual, funny, and funny in that same kind of way that Roger Ebert's (whom I know Jammer really values) negative reviews are funny.

So, uh...Kirk suggests early on that this is a Ghost Planet, and then it turns out that the planet really is haunted, albeit by a computer-created ghost. Trek has a few episodes like this, where there's something of a gothic fantasy story justified at the last minute by some technobabble; an episode for which this works well is "The Tholian Web," and an episode for which this works terribly is "Sub Rosa." This one isn't quite at "Sub Rosa" depths, because Kirk and Sulu don't end up sleeping with the fake Losira, but it's pretty terrible. Still, I feel like this episode could have worked; the ghostly apparition leading visitors to death becomes something of a trapped spirit, with pale reflections of Losira doomed to live out on the planet for centuries to kill intruders to protect a set of people who will never come. It's sort of poignant if you think about it; the episode's failure is of course, that it fails to present this in an interesting way, and it certainly fails to portray the Losira spirits convincingly as being somewhere between computer program programmed to destroy and Real Person created. (TNG's "The Arsenal of Freedom" does something a little bit similar, this time focusing not so muh on spirits of the dead and more on the tech side of weaponry destroying civilizations and outliving them; and in general it's a far, far better episode.) But hey, it's kind of a cool idea, I think. The sci-fi explanation sort of works -- it's plausible that the computer could create Losiras, I guess, if it's sufficiently advanced -- though it falls apart, as other commenters mentioned, with the idea that it can both launch the Enterprise a thousand light years away and then project a Losira onto that ship. Nor is there an explanation of how the computer cube can produce person-specific cellular poisons and know their names, and so on.

Anyway, there is so little tension in the episode; none of the landing party seem concerned when they believe the ship blew up, nor do any of them remember that they saw Losira kill the transporter chief right when they beamed down until they see another Losira. The stuff on the ground is so inept. My favourite Sulu line is, and I can't believe this actually was said on air, "How can such people be, Captain? Such evil and so, so beautiful." My second favourite is probably his "I don't want to kill a woman!" exclamation. My favourite general concept is the idea of crew members interposing themselves between Losira and her intended victim, and then, once there are three Losiras, Kirk's exclamation, "Shift positions!" so that they stand in a slightly altered permutation of their standing in a line.

The Enterprise stuff is indeed terrible. Spock really is intolerable in this ep, isn't he? Since when does Spock correct every single calculation people say? And Spock of course shuts down anyone who "speculates" or "guesses" and then engages in wild, unreasonable speculation himself. I think the worst Spock episode in the series. Scotty's excitability I usually find cute, but it's really hard to take in this episode, too. Just overall pretty disastrous. 1 star -- mostly for the poignant idea behind the Losira "ghost story."
Sat, Feb 7, 2015, 4:34am (UTC -5)
This one really anticipates a lot of Berman-era features, doesn't it? Technobabble-heavy plot, crawling around in Jeffries tubes, ticking countdown to the technobabble destroying the ship, last second resolution via more technobabble, and of course the Vulcan is an asshole. This must have been Berman's favorite episode.
Sat, Feb 7, 2015, 1:46pm (UTC -5)
Durandal_1707: "This must have been Berman's favorite episode."

You think Berman watched enough TOS to have a favorite episode. That's cute.
Dave in NC
Sun, Feb 8, 2015, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
Grumpy: "You think Berman watched enough TOS to have a favorite episode. That's cute."

OK, that was funny.
Robert of ST-v-SW
Mon, Feb 23, 2015, 9:41am (UTC -5)
The Kalandan defense system beamed a million-ton starship a thousand light-years . . . I'm pretty sure sending in a Catwoman fembot projection afterward was a cakewalk.
Sun, Mar 29, 2015, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
Watching the TOS episodes for the first time, I immediately picked up on Spock's uncharacteristic incessant antagonism in this episode. As a heavy Spock watcher and fan, I found myself defensive at his portrayal in this episode!

I felt that Spock had often, up until this episode, been mostly unwittingly brash when he simply found a character's actions illogical; but in this episode, he seemed to go out of his way to attack the logic of other crew members of the Enterprise.

If only for the misportrayal of Spock, I was terribly annoyed at this episode! It comforts me to know that other fans of the series were similarly upset!
A fellow Kalandan
Tue, Oct 27, 2015, 3:30am (UTC -5)
Until I read your review and some of the comments, I had a high regard for this episode. I still like it but I do see that Spock is a bit of an ass in this one.
Mon, Sep 26, 2016, 2:14am (UTC -5)
You could tell immediately when they beamed down that the blue geologist was doomed, lack of red shirt notwithstanding.

Spock was at his most obnoxious in this episode, needlessly berating his crew and nitpicking at their language and mannerisms. Scotty's a saint for putting up with all that. This is just one more episode explaining why the crew has ample reasons for being uncomfortable when Spock is in charge. Dude either yells at them for no reason or sacrifices them to space cavemen. Or endangers them all because he values the life of the captain over the combined ship and crew. Maybe it was a showcase of why Dr. McCoy is so essential - if he's gone, who's Spock supposed to fight with?

The away team hiding behind each other to evade the 'ghost' was a pretty funny visual. Sulu got some dumb moments but at least he got off the bridge this ep.
Sarak of Vulcan
Sun, Oct 2, 2016, 10:33am (UTC -5)
Someone please explain to me how ejecting Scotty from the Jeffries Tube was going to save the Enterprise? The matter-anti-matter thing was fused or whatever. How does killing Scotty solve this?
Jason R.
Fri, Dec 16, 2016, 5:50am (UTC -5)
I would give this 2.5 stars. There was the foundation for a pretty neat story in there, even if it never really comes together in the end. I liked Losira's portrayal - a being with intellect and purpose but essentially no soul. There was something almost otherworldly about her, like she was some kind of vampire or ghost. I thought she was tragic, and wish (as Kirk muses) that we could have known more about who she was and how she came to this end. I also thought her method of killing her victims, coupled with that weird space "door" effect was legitimately creepy.

That said I acknowledge that the story never really came togetherbin a satisfying way and the it seemed the writers just kind of konkedbout at the end. They really squandered a very compelling premise.
Mon, Jun 5, 2017, 10:30am (UTC -5)
Wow, Spock sure put on his sassy pants this morning!
Mon, Aug 7, 2017, 5:59pm (UTC -5)
I don't think this episode is as bad as Jammer's review makes it out to be. For one, I think the premise of it is pretty good and the episode has decent potential, but the execution of it is weak. It's not at all a "shaking-my-head" hour of TOS.

The idea of an artificial planet set up and defended to welcome a supply ship being guarded by a highly advanced computer system is good. That the Enterprise crew has to solve the mystery before getting killed also works. Also, the portrayal of Losira as something of a ghost (spooky music when she disappears) who doesn't want to kill but is defending her planet is fine too. She and her race have an interesting story. The 2-tier plot is a good structure that wasn't used too much in TOS so having Kirk & co. on the planet with Spock etc. on the Enterprise also has potential.

But here's where things break down. What got into Spock in this episode? I agree with Jammer's assessment here -- you just want to strangle him! And what is that gadget he keeps fiddling with while berating Scotty and others? Sulu had some dumb lines but I thought Kirk was an a-hole toward him when he suggested some theories once they first landed on the planet. Poor writing here.

The episode requires a lot of suspension of disbelief for what the planet's defense system can do -- sending the Enterprise 1000 light years away with an earthquake? Projecting Losira that far and sabotaging the engines? If I'm not mistaken, the warp 14.1 the Enterprise travels at is the fastest it ever went in TOS. And they calculate like 11.5 hours at warp 8-ish to cover the distance. So that's like 80+ light years/hour...

I guess cellular disruption requires a bit less suspension of disbelief -- but then again the show would not want to show what a dead body would look like if all its cells were blown up. Thank God for that.

The other problem is the familiar solution of just phasering the computer. And of course Spock and redshirt arrive just as 3 Losiras are created. The crew seem to find some respect, understanding for Losira -- or at least her beauty (Lee Meriwether was a Miss America winner).

There is a good story to tell here and I still enjoyed this episode enough to give it a solid 2 stars. There are much worse TOS S3 episodes but "That Which Survives" feels like a ball dropped.
Sun, Nov 5, 2017, 2:01pm (UTC -5)
Everyone misses the obvious in regards to Spock's attitude in this episode. At the beginning when the ship is hurled 1000 ly's away, Spock hits his head on the Captain's chair. I always saw that as the reason for his strange behavior. Since the episode ends on the artificial planet's surface, it's anyone's guess what occurred on the ship after, hah. That is my theory anyway, take it for what it's worth.
Fri, Nov 17, 2017, 7:39pm (UTC -5)
The following comment by Jammer is the best summation of this episode ever: "That Which Survives" is as close to nothing that you can have on the screen and still have some semblance of a Star Trek episode."
Trek fan
Wed, Dec 6, 2017, 7:43pm (UTC -5)
Hmm, I actually like "That Which Survives," although there are times when I've disliked it. Although the execution feels a bit pedestrian in the shipboard crisis, Lee Meriwether makes a great guest star for the mysterious Losira, and I like the way the mystery resolves in a nifty high concept. I give it 3 stars.

Like many TOS episodes, TNG later lifted this concept ("crew fights planetary defense system left behind by long-dead culture") in an early episode, namely "The Arsenal of Freedom" in Season 1. Admittedly, I think TNG offers the stronger episode, mixing more action (shipboard battle with Geordi in command while the top officers fight for survival planetside) with a good character moment in Picard stranded down the hole with wounded Dr. Crusher. But "That Which Survives" is also pretty good, treating the concept as more of a Sci-Fi mystery than battle setup. And the payoff here is particularly satisfying: Lee Meriwether's final recorded monologue as the real Losira is thought-provoking and even moving. She comes across, even in the echo of her holographic ghost, as a very strong woman leader for Star Trek.

The execution is a bit pedestrian, however, and the lack of urgency about the ship blowing up in 15 minutes really leeched any excitement out of the shipboard peril. It just felt a bit too routine here, unlike early TOS where the cast and direction really sold the idea that these people feared for their life when the ship was in danger. As for Spock, he is indeed a bit tight here, but I think we can allow that even Vulcans can have bad days and bad moods. Personally, my theory is that Leonard Nimoy was the one having a bad day, either because he was fighting with the director/writers or didn't like the script, or for personal reasons completely unrelated, and his irritation leaked into the performance. Honestly, I don't think Spock's dialogue here is negative so much as Nimoy's line delivery, as he brings noticeable irritation to the story that comes from who knows what. But given Dr. Mbenga's reaction to one of Spock's snippy lines over the comm system, it seems the story is self-aware over Spock's irritation, and I admit it's a disappointment the script doesn't acknowledge or comment on his bad hair day even so far as to have someone say "he hit his head." It might well be that some of the writers wrote Spock as more of an arrogant prig in this one than usual and Nimoy doubled-down on the nastiness in protest. Whatever it may be, it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of the episode since Spock still has a lot of good reasoning scenes here, but it's noticeable.

Kudos to TOS, though, for doing some universe-building even in Season 3: It's great to see Dr. Mbenga back from Season 2's "A Private Little War" as well as the backup female helmsman from "Gamesters of Triskelion," plus a new blue shirt scientist in Lt. Yamato. Early on, Mbenga even refers to another doctor in sickbay, giving us the sense for the first time in the history of Trek that the Enterprise has a whole staff of doctors that isn't reduced to the CMO and an assistant or two.

Also good to see Sulu mixing it up on the landing party again after so many episode of him just kind of hanging out at the helm, going all the way back to Season 2 -- albeit with certain exceptions -- when he went through a whole story in "Catspaw" without a single line and then missed half the season due to Takei's movie obligations. Anyway, Sulu gets a little more to do here with Kirk and McCoy than usual, which is always welcome. Chekov is referenced by Kirk to Sulu, incidentally, but doesn't actually appear in this episode.

The little dancing around by the landing party to avoid Losira, whose avatars are programmed to take out only specific persons, is a good example of TOS working on a limited budget to do something creative that feels more impressionistic than realistic. The show obviously couldn't afford a special effects battle at this point on a part with "Arsenal of Freedom" in TNG. The shuffle dance is kind of silly, but also fun to watch, like much of TOS. So I give it a pass.

Overall, a good episode for me despite these flaws, and I'll still take it any day over more than half the Trek episodes that appeared post-DS9 and pre-Discovery.
Mon, Dec 18, 2017, 4:04pm (UTC -5)
Pointless observation: this episode invented the disco cube. Watch until the end...
Thu, Mar 22, 2018, 10:21pm (UTC -5)
"telling Scotty to forego emotionalism"

forego: to go before
forgo: to do without
Fri, Mar 23, 2018, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
"Forego" is a valid variant spelling of "forgo" -- one I happen to prefer.
Mon, May 7, 2018, 3:32pm (UTC -5)
While the idea is cool, this is the absolutely one of the worst written TV shows of any type I have ever seen. Whoever did the writing had to have been like 12 years old. Everyone cuts off everyone and insults everyone's dialogue. "I suggest" is so ridiculously overused.
Peter G.
Mon, Oct 29, 2018, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
This episode has so much I don't know where to start. On the one hand one is tempted to call it weak because of the bland, featureless planet set, or perhaps because the characterization of the "villain" is so nondescript. And yet these features are intentional and not a sign of poor decision-making. Maybe there were budgetary concerns, but only TOS could turn a lackluster set and make the scenes feel eerie. The lack of any interesting surroundings makes the place feel fake, and that entirely contributes to the atmosphere. And the intruder is so alien and weird that we don't even have the benefit of being scared or impressed by her; she's just bizarre.

But aside from these technical points here's what That Which Survives has strongly in its favor:

-Many prominent guest spots, where new actors get entire scenes to themselves. That's a great thing! And the doctor and geologist were pretty good, too.
-A lot of interactions with crew members who don't often interact: lots of stuff for Sulu, which is sorely needed in the series, and several Spock/Scotty scenes which are always nice. Chekhov seems to be missing, though, which is too bad.
-Spock is showing exceptional snark here, interpreting lines that a boring actor would read as bland facts (that Scotty sitting on the engines would be undignified) and turns them into very overt shows that Spock has been deliberately trying to employ humor in his interactions with others as part of his command style. This is a huge turn from his attitude in The Galileo Seven.

Spock's stuff is especially interesting because if the series has gone on for more than 3 seasons I bet we'd be seeing this in hindsight as a slow character arc where his behavior changes over time. Because of how things turned out this process got truncated and over 4 feature films we see that progress instead, where in TMP he begins it and says that logic is not enough.

Overall the style of writing character interactions in this one is quite lively, and stays serious despite hovering around a sense of fun. I think that several S3 episodes began to develop the exciting dynamic that this talented cast was capable of, and it's a shame that the series was in transition as these new show features were being introduced. If this could only have sustained more seasons I think we'd have seen marvelous things develop. I certainly am not one of those who thinks that S3 is weak. I think it continues to develop how this show should play, and is overall and improvement over previous seasons despite obvious production difficulties. If it had continued this would have shown as a transitional period, like TNG's S2. But since it stopped it ends up looking like a dip, while I don't think it is. Some of the show's best episodes are in this season, despite some of the plots having to make do with limited resources. But imagine if TNG ended after S2? It would look basically like the show was confused, having a few winners, many weird episodes, and overall we might have supposed it was on the decline. But not so, as we know in hindsight.
Tue, Oct 30, 2018, 9:35am (UTC -5)
@ Peter G.,

I've always had a soft spot for this episode. I totally agree with you that there is much merit to this episode (Jammer's TOS reviews/ratings are very much hit and miss and he misses it here).

"TOS could turn a lackluster set and make the scenes feel eerie." This is so true. Look at "Spectre of the Gun". The cheap-ass set works here and in this episode.

But I don't think this episode is consistent with Spock's character development, even as it relates to him being in command. He is just plain out of character here -- maybe the bump to his head has something to do with it. He has been repeatedly challenged when in command "The Galileo Seven", "The Tholian Web" come to mind but I don't think he should be more aggressive with his denouncement of others' input here. I think the character interactions for Kirk, Sulu, Spock are where this episode suffers greatly not to mention phasering the disco cube as the ending resolution. I can't see it better than a 2* episode.

The other thing is I get the sense people shit on TOS S3 far too much. I don't think it is weak either (it's not strong, though). It's really a few stinkers that drag it down. It has excellent outings like "The Empath" "The Enterprise Incident" and "All Our Yesterdays". But for me, there is a noticeable dip in quality from TOS S1 and S2 (the 2 best seasons in the Trek cannon) and S3. And (after careful consideration) I'd posit that, for example, TNG S1, S2, S6, S7 are worse and TNG S5 is barely better than TOS S3. Yes, I will always lament that TOS stopped after 3 seasons...Still remains the best Trek for me.
Sat, Mar 23, 2019, 11:23pm (UTC -5)
Fun episode, not great
UHURA: What happened?
SPOCK: The occipital area of my head seems to have impacted with the chair.
UHURA: No, Mister Spock. I meant what happened to us?
SPOCK: That we have yet to ascertain.
Tue, Jun 4, 2019, 9:27am (UTC -5)
Spock was noticeably different in this one, though I thought that was kinda fun and one of the best aspects of the episode. Sometimes people have bad days, are more irritable and critical than usual - I didn't see this portrayal as an . . . impossible version of Spock. It was cranky Spock.

I liked seeing a bit more of Sulu.

The story itself - an OK premise, not great on the execution.


(I'm truly dragging myself through these final eps. But I do plan to get through them.)
Sarjenka's Brother
Sat, Aug 17, 2019, 3:46am (UTC -5)
Lt. Raddah: "What a bunch of *itches on this ship. If we survive, I'm getting a transfer."
Mon, Oct 28, 2019, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
H&I network has been showing TOS nightly, I’m enjoying it tremendously, even after so many viewings since it was first broadcast. It’s the best show ever, with great ensemble acting, fantastic vision and smart concepts. At this point even the bad episodes seem good to me - including That Which Survives. Star Trek TOS survives, and that is great.
Thu, Apr 30, 2020, 11:27am (UTC -5)
Really one of the top ten worst TOS episodes. Thought so watching reruns as a kid in the 1970’s and confirmed now. Totally ridiculous plot and over the top poor acting. Yikes!
Fri, Jul 3, 2020, 10:56am (UTC -5)
I felt like Spock was, while certainly different, not exactly out of character in this episode. It was almost like a satirized version of him. He corrects someone's number almost every episode, we just saw it more frequently here. Same for his comments about feels and guesses, despite engaging in speculation himself.

But this was absolutely the most fun I had watching Spock. He has so many great quotes, "not only illogical, but unworthy of refute" being my favorite.

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