Star Trek Re-Watch: “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
Written by Rik Vollaerts
Directed by Tony Leader

Season 3, Episode 8
Production episode: 3×10
Original air date: November 8, 1968
Star date: 5476.3

Mission summary

With Spock in the captain’s chair, six archaic, sub-light speed missiles are headed straight for the Enterprise. Kirk quickly takes command (where was he, exactly?) and orders the missiles destroyed. Easy enough, but where did they come from? Sulu plots a course to the missiles’ origin to answer just that question.

Meanwhile, Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel are having it out in sickbay. Kirk arrives just in time to break up the fight–but Chapel looks sad, not angry, and McCoy asks her to leave.  Kirk notes tactlessly that that “was quite a scene” (lack of subtlety will be a hallmark of this episode) and wants to know what the emergency is:

MCCOY: I’ve just completed the standard physical examinations for the entire crew. […] The crew is fit. I found nothing unusual, with one exception.
KIRK: Serious?
MCCOY: Terminal.
KIRK: What is it?
MCCOY: Xenopolycythemia. It has no cure.
KIRK: Who?
MCCOY: He has one year to live.
KIRK: Who is it?
MCCOY: The ship’s Chief Medical Officer.

McCoy knows he can do his job with the time he has left, but insists that this be kept a secret from the rest of the crew. Kirk agrees.

The Enterprise arrives at the missiles’ point of origin, and it’s an asteroid. That’s weird. The asteroid has independent power, as if it were a spaceship: also weird. It’s got a hollow core with a breathable atmosphere: Weird Factor 5.

But the real doozy is that it’s headed straight for Daran V, a world inhabited by over 3 billion people–all to be killed by the asteroid if it doesn’t change course. Though Spock detects no life signs aboard the asteroid, Kirk decides to beam down with a landing party and find out firsthand. He recruits only Spock, but McCoy shows up in the transporter bay anyway insisting that he’s fit enough to join them.

They beam down to the surface and find giant tubular columns but not much else–until a dozen natives in colorfully checkered tunics and condom hats leap out at them from the column. (Someone really needs to upgrade those ship sensors, which seem to only find life by chance.) Some man-fighting ensues, but a woman steps out and tells them all to stop. She is Natira, the high priestess of Yonada. All are taken down, underground, to meet the Oracle. Given Kirk’s previous interactions with beings that seem to be gods, though, you can probably expect how this is going to play out. They are told to kneel before the Oracle, and they “whisper” (which for Kirk means to SPEAK VERY LOUDLY) about the fact that these fools don’t even know they’re on a spaceship.

Kirk tells the Oracle that they come in friendship and the Oracle responds:

ORACLE: Then learn what it means to be our enemy before you learn what it means to be our friend.

He then zaps them with some kind of lightning/energy beam until they all fall unconscious. That Wizard sure knows how to throw a tantrum.

Kirk and Spock awake on comfy beds, but McCoy is still out cold. Spock knows something is up–there’s no other explanation for why the doctor hasn’t recovered yet–so Kirk spills the beans about the xenopoly-whatsit. When McCoy finally comes around Kirk confesses right away, which I guess is the right thing to do even if his secret-keeping ability is about on par with that of a middle schooler. They decide that Kirk and Spock are going to have to find the control room to change the asteroid’s course, and McCoy’s “mission” is to distract the high priestess while they do this. (I’m sure if he had known the pity missions were this great he would’ve contracted the disease earlier.)

An old man enters and offers them an herb to recover from the shock, which they all eat immediately and without question despite the fact the last time they trusted these people they were zapped unconscious. There’s something a little twitchy about this old man, though, and he winces with almost everything he says. He asks where Kirk, Spock, and McCoy came from–and doesn’t seem surprised by the answer. He explains that once, he climbed the mountain that was forbidden.

MAN: But things are not as they teach us. For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky.

And then he collapses, dead. They find that some kind of pain device has been implanted in his skull.

Natira arrives and wants to know what a dead guy is doing on the floor of their recovery room (wild party?), but Kirk says he doesn’t know. She says that they are now to be treated like honored guests, because gods are fickle like that, and two women bring some snackies. While the ladies fuss with the food and drinks the three men hatch their plot (again, the lack of discretion! These women aren’t more than five feet away!). McCoy is going to be the bait–hello, laaaaaadies–while Kirk and Spock scout out for the control room. The women return to the scene (but they were right… there… how does this work that they don’t hear?!) and bring them the food and drink. Like real men our heroes take the drinks but not the food. Kirk asks if he and Spock can go exploring (TOTALLY INNOCENTLY, of course) around the complex. She agrees, and seems delighted that McCoy isn’t feeling well enough to join them, successfully executing their own plan.

McCoy wants to know what killed that man, but Natira won’t tell him–it seems that everything she says or even thinks is monitored (and, if necessary, punished) by the Oracle. But she has something else on her mind anyway, and cuts right to the chase:

NATIRA: Is there a woman for you?
MCCOY: No, there isn’t.
NATIRA: Does McCoy find me attractive?
MCCOY: Oh, yes. Yes, I do.
NATIRA: I hope you men of space, of other worlds, hold truth as dear as we do.
MCCOY: We do.
NATIRA: I wish you to stay here on Yonada as my mate.

McCoy’s smile disappears at this line. He paces anxiously. Commitment?! That’s not in the good doctor’s playbook!

MCCOY: But we’re strangers to each other.
NATIRA: But is not that the nature of men and women? That the pleasure is in the learning of each other?

Er, yeah, whatever you say, baby. She explains that a new chapter is beginning for her people and she’d like him to share it with her. He could rule over them with her, together. McCoy admits that he’s led a lonely life and is receptive to her message. But he has to come clean: he tells her about his illness and his prospect of no more than a year to live.

NATIRA: Until I saw you, there was nothing in my heart. It sustained my life, but nothing more. Now it sings. I could be happy to have that feeling for a day, a week, a month, a year. Whatever the creators hold in store for us.

Awwww. They, unsurprisingly, make out.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock have found the room with the Oracle inside. Spock recognizes the engravings around the entrance as Fabrini–a race that died out thousands of years ago. Their sun went nova, and before they died they lived underground to escape the radiation. They must be the creators and sent out this ship full of people to find a new world. The people of Yonada today are the descendents of those original voyagers.

Spock figures out how to open the door and they enter. The Oracle doesn’t seem to know they’re there, though–it must not be activated unless someone kneels on the platform the way that Natira did. They see a monolith with an illustration of a sun su rrounded by eight planets–the Fabrini system. Spock asserts there’s no question that these are the people descended from that civilization. But someone’s coming, so they hide behind the monolith. It’s Natira! She kneels on the platform and asks the Oracle if it approves of McCoy as a mate for her:

ORACLE: He must become one of the people, worship the creators, and agree to the insertion of the Instrument of Obedience.
NATIRA: He will be told what must be done.
ORACLE: If he agrees to all things, it is permitted. Teach him our laws carefully so he commits no sacrilege, no offence against the people or the creators.
NATIRA: It will be done, oh most wise.

But as she leaves the Oracle zaps Kirk and Spock where they stand. Caught red-handed! The Oracle makes it clear that the punishment for that kind of sacrilege is death.

She returns to McCoy, who begs her to reconsider the punishment. At first she resists, but once he explains that he’s decided to stay with her on Yonada she agrees to do this for him, and for them. They can return to their ship.

On the planet’s surface, Kirk and Spock are ready to beam up. McCoy explains that he won’t be joining them. I don’t know why Kirk is so surprised–he orders McCoy to come back, but the doctor refuses. (I mean really, what’s he going to do, fire him?) Kirk’s worried–if they can’t find a way to course-correct the asteroid, they’ll be forced to blow it up in order to save Daran V. But McCoy knows all this–he has little time left and he wants to spend it with Natira. His friends seem to understand, and reluctantly, they leave him behind.

McCoy and Natira get married in the eyes of the Oracle. He agrees to have the pain device implanted in his skull and become one of them, one of the Yonadans. They take their vows:

NATIRA: May I give you the love you want, and make the time you have beautiful.
MCCOY: We’re now of one mind.
NATIRA: One heart.
MCCOY: One life.

They kiss. Now that he is one of them, Natira shows McCoy something very special–not that–a secret hidden beneath the monolith. She touches three of the planets on the diagram and it opens, revealing a white book: the Book of the People. It explains her people’s history and why they must seek out a new world, or at least she thinks so–no one’s allowed to read it until they arrive. McCoy insists she must be curious, but her faith is confidence enough in what it contains.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk has reluctantly contacted Starfleet command and been taken off this assignment. He is instructed to continue his previous mission and abandon the asteroid and his friend.

McCoy, however, knows that book has the key to getting the asteroid back on course. He uses his communicator to hail Kirk and explain about the Book of the People. The Oracle, however, is listening in, and uses his obedience device to hurt McCoy until he can no longer speak from the pain. Natira enters as he collapses on the floor, and she can hear Kirk on the other end of the communicator. She knows this is their doing.

Kirk and Spock beam into the room immediately, but Natira flies into a rage:

NATIRA: You are killers of your friend! I will have you put to death! […] Until you are dead, he will think of you and disobey! I will see you die!

Spock goes for McCoy and removes the pain device. This upsets Natira even more and she says they have separated him, irreparably, from her people. But Kirk decides enough is enough and drags her into a back room to tell her the truth. He explains that they are on a ship, not a planet, and tells her the history of the Fabrini people–her people–and why they need to get to the control room before it’s too late to save them. She doesn’t believe it (“Why would they keep the truth from us?”), but Kirk has planted the seed of doubt. She runs to the Oracle for answers.

The Oracle isn’t very helpful:

ORACLE: The truth of Yonada is your truth. There can be no other for you. Repent your disobedience.
NATIRA: I must know the truth of the world!

The Oracle sends some pain rays her way until she collapses unconscious.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy catch up with her at this point and McCoy tends to her. She believes them now (that Oracle is a dick), and agrees to let Spock remove her obedience device.

Kirk tries one more time to reason with the Oracle but he insists their presence is sacrilege, and the punishment is death. Suddenly the panels with writing on them glow red, heating the room. The Oracle is about to boil them! McCoy explains how to open the monolith and they find the book as the temperature keeps rising. Inside it is a diagram, with an instruction to press the center of the Oracle’s altar. They do so and the whole structure slides forward, revealing a door behind it. Kirk and Spock dive back there and disable the toaster coils before focusing on how to redirect the asteroid.

Natira is, despite everything, glad that Kirk and Spock returned and will be able to set things right. She releases McCoy from his obligation to her. McCoy offers to stay, but she won’t deny him “life and the fullness of years.” He wants to find a cure for his disease and invites her to join him–but she knows she has an obligation to lead her people to this new world and declines.

NATIRA: This is my universe. You came here with a great mission to save my people. Shall I abandon them? Perhaps one day, if it is permitted, you will find Yonada again.

Kirk and Spock manage to effect a course correction, but they find something else, too: a huge knowledge database that the Fabrini amassed for their people. They won’t miss a few medical logs, will they?

And with that knowledge they extract a cure for McCoy’s disease and promise that one day, when the Yonadans have reached their new destination, he might want to pay them a visit at their new home.


Best. Title. Ever. I’m a little disappointed that the title is so literal, but it’s a beautiful idea that perfectly encapsulates the main conflict of this episode: faith.

It is Natira’s crisis of faith that provides the episode’s climax. Here we have a culture entirely predicated on absolute faith and acceptance. For those who question the belief or try to test it, there is punishment and pain. But I get the impression that few here bother to do that and most accept the world as they see it. It seems real; it is real. On faith alone the Yonadans have sustained a culture for 10,000 years, unchanging, because none of them desire (or dare) to prod and feel the boundaries and limitations of their knowledge. They live in a bubble, and not just literally. The consequence of that life had Kirk and the others not intervened would have been the deaths of billions of innocent people. All because they were not brave or curious enough to seek knowledge. When everything is destiny, why bother?

In a way, McCoy’s story mirrors this. He accepts his fate without question. He does not moan or despair, but he doesn’t make any attempt to change things, either. How many times have they faced impossible situations or incurable diseases, and how many times have they come through? He has given up on himself, and meeting Natira is the one that seems to inspire him. By the end of the episode, his goals have changed. He wants to explore what he can of the universe and find a cure for himself and others like him. He will no longer accept the limitations of his own knowledge, of his own truth, as the universal truth–he needs more than that. To stand by and let this happen to him would be the worst kind of defeat: it would be accepting ignorance as the only truth worth knowing.

DeForest Kelly does a great job in this episode. He’s practically unrecognizable from the hammy, scene-chewing guy we saw in our last outing, “Day of the Dove.” The scene where he rebuffs Chapel and tells Kirk about his illness  is a nice one. He wants to preserve his dignity, yes, but he’s also in a kind of denial. He can hide behind the blind acceptance of his fate rather than challenge his circumstances. I felt a twinge of sadness when Kirk and Chapel try to get him kicked off the landing party–they’ve already begun to treat him differently because of his illness.

This episode also includes some of the sweetest moments of the series so far. The way that Natira describes love as this great awakening within herself was beautiful, as were their marriage vows: “May I give you the love you want, and make the time you have beautiful.” Who could ask for more? How perfectly and poetically expressed. I even liked the way they dodged the “But I don’t even know her!” objection: “But is not that the nature of men and women? That the pleasure is in the learning of each other?”

But like so many Season 3 episodes it just doesn’t hold up to closer inspection. Why would the Fabrini created such an elaborate ruse? Was there a mutiny? The lengths to which obedience to superstition and the Oracle are enforced seem completely out of proportion to the necessity. I can see that perhaps the people had forgotten the original purpose of their journey, but the episode makes it pretty clear that all of this was designed to keep the people in ignorance. What were the ancestors afraid of, exactly? And how did they not plan for something in a machine as complex as a spaceship to break?

Other oddities: why do Kirk and Spock know so much about a civilization that was apparently wiped from existence 10,000 years ago?

Budget cut roundup: I love that the inhabitants look like they’re late to Woodstock, decked out in dizzying psychedelic colors and weird vinyl condom hats. I think my favorite nit, though, was when one of the guards on the surface who attacks Kirk and the others upon arrival leans over to pick up his weapon before returning underground. He picks up the sword by the blade. I bet the prop master had a conniption. I do love the sets, though–the geometry is really beautiful and the alien writings are a nice, eerie touch.

And lastly, please don’t tell me I was the only one who giggled when the Oracle said that McCoy had to agree to “the insertion of the instrument of obedience.” Hehehehehe.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 4  (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I barely remember having seen this episode before. (For some strange reason, it seems like I watched season 3 episodes of Star Trek much less often than any of the others.) The asteroid-ship Yonada only seemed familiar because they recycled the effect from “The Paradise Syndrome” and I was surprised at both McCoy’s fatal illness and the romance with Natira. That said, “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is probably my favorite episode title of any Star Trek show, even though I wish it hadn’t been directly referenced in the episode not once, but twice.

I love the idea of the asteroid-ship and found it to be one of the most intriguing set designs I’ve seen in the series–once they get below ground. The corridors are visually interesting and the sound of echoing footsteps as people walked through them reinforced the idea of it being an enclosed space. It felt like people actually lived inside the asteroid, as we see plenty of them wandering about, and their culture was nicely implied with all the markings and the rituals observed by Natira. There are broad shades of dystopia here, with yet another controlling computer intelligence guiding the development–or stagnation–of its people, but overall I found the Fabrini settlers fairly well-realized. There was also at least an attempt at interesting cinematography in this episode, with one standout shot of the stairs as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy descend inside the asteroid.

What I liked best was the classic pairing of a big story with big stakes (the asteroid-ship in danger of destroying itself and Daran V) with a much more personal one. Though the doctor handles the news of his impending death calmly, we get he’s putting up a brave front for the sake of his friends and because he doesn’t want special treatment. Kirk’s feelings for his friend are evident in Shatner’s every expression and gesture, and it’s terrific that McCoy realizes Spock knows about his disease because of the Vulcan’s gentle touch. Their close bonds have never been clearer than when Kirk and Spock have to leave McCoy behind.

It’s also a pleasure to see Dr. McCoy have his rare moment in the spotlight, and Kelley turns in his best performance yet in one of the most affecting love stories since Kirk and Edith Keeler; his relationship with Natira is honest, and Natira herself is a refreshing change from the show’s latest female roles. The musical score evokes romance films of the 1940s, and the gradual feelings that she and McCoy develop for each other fall just short of cheesy or over-the-top, though the same can’t be said for her accent. Still, her line “The pleasure is in the learning of each other,” and her desire to be with McCoy for as long as they have together is touching. Similarly, her outrage at Kirk’s apparent betrayal is entirely believable and justified when she tells him he has no right to treat them like children and sneak around when they were more-or-less welcomed as guests. She has a fair point: they’ve already decided to abandon the Prime Directive, this time legitimately, so why not try to explain what’s at stake earlier on?

There are a few low points of course. The clown costumes that all the Fabrini but Natira wear are ludicrously bad, and of course Spock’s discovery of an alien cure to the disease we hadn’t heard of before was awfully convenient… But this is a character piece, pure and simple, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5

Best Line: NATIRA: Is truth not truth for all?

Syndication Edits: None.

Trivia: The Book of the People is also The Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, as seen in “A Piece of the Action.”

In the original draft, Scotty was the one dying of an irreversible blood condition brought on by radiation exposure. Kirk and Scotty beam down to the ship and are warmly received. He had three years to live and was allowed to choose wherever he wished to “retire,” so Scotty chooses Yonada. When Kirk tries to talk him out of staying because it’s going to blow up an inhabited planet, man-fighting ensues. Later, when they confront the Oracle, the walls close in on them (too expensive?) and Kirk phasers through a wall to the control room. Then the Oracle apologizes and exchanges information banks, giving them the cure for Scotty.

Though Spock claims the Oracle room gets to be 120° and they only experience some slight discomfort, that would probably leave them all with serious burns.

This episode adds a little to the McCoy canon backstory. According to The Star Trek Writers’ Guide, McCoy was married before he joined Starfleet, but when the marriage ended in divorce he left behind his daughter, Joanna, who was studying to become a nurse.

Other notes: Jon Lormer, who plays the old man, appeared in “The Menagerie“/”The Cage” as Theodore Haskins and in “The Return of the Archons” as Tamar.

Catherine Woodville, who plays Natira, appeared in dozens of contemporary shows. Perhaps most notably she was in the first episode of The Avengers–it was her character’s murder that gave the show its name. She married Patrick Macnee, who starred on the show, though they’re divorced now.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 7 – “Day of the Dove.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 9 – “The Tholian Web.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

A salt vampire threatens the Enterprise, attacking innocent salt shakers and crewmembers alike.

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.