Star Trek Re-Watch: “That Which Survives”

That Which Survives
Written by John Meredyth Lucas
Story by Michael Richards
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Season 3, Episode 17
Production episode: 3×14
Original air date: January 24, 1969
Star date: Unknown

Mission summary

Enterprise is in orbit around what appears to be a “ghost planet,” a planetary body lousy with vegetation despite the fact that it’s only a few thousand years old. Its mass and atmosphere resemble Earth’s (of course), though it’s only the size of Earth’s moon. The crew can’t turn down an opportunity to dig deeper into this mystery and explore “a planet that even Spock can’t explain,” so Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Sulu, and Senior Geologist D’Amato prepare to beam down.

As Ensign Wyatt activates the transporter, a beautiful woman in purple suddenly appears and warns the landing party on the pad, “Wait! You must not go!” As they dematerialize very slowly, Kirk and the others watch helplessly as she touches the transporter operator on the shoulder with one hand and he collapses. The team finally disappears and rematerializes on the planet’s sparse surface, which begins to shake violently. If only someone had warned them it didn’t want company…

Enterprise is simultaneously jolted, knocking everyone on the Bridge to the deck. “What happened?” Uhura asks. Spock replies, “The occipital area of my head seems to have impacted with the chair.” At least this may explain his later behavior, and by the way, Uhura’s fine except for her bruised elbow, thanks for asking. They do have more important things to worry about: the ghost planet is gone. If it was ever there in the first place. Woooooo…

On the planet, wherever it is, Sulu freaks out when he realizes Enterprise is gone and immediately assumes that it was blown up. Kirk shuts the excitable navigator up and starts looking for actual data to go on. When McCoy speculates the ship could have hit the planet, he sets Sulu off again.

SULU: Once in Siberia there was a meteor so great that it flattened whole forests and was felt as far away as–
KIRK: Mr. Sulu, if I’d wanted a Russian history lesson, I’d have brought along Mr. Chekov.

Oh, snap. Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Kirk is more concerned about where his next meal is coming from and sends the rest of the landing party off to study the planet and locate food, water, and possibly a woman for him.

Meanwhile, Spock and the Enterprise crew find some answers and more questions in the wake of the planet’s disappearance. They discover the dead transporter operator, and Dr. M’Benga reports that the autopsy reveals that he was killed by “cellular disruption”: every cell in his body exploded from within. Cool! Er, that is, horrible. Lt. Rahda also discovers that judging from a shift in star patterns, the planet didn’t explode or disappear after all. Enterprise was somehow moved a thousand light years away from it.

SPOCK: 990.7 light years to be exact, Lieutenant.
SCOTT: But that’s not possible. Nothing can do that.
SPOCK: Mr. Scott, since we are here, your statement is not only illogical but also unworthy of refutation. It is also illogical to assume that any explosion, even that of a small star going supernova, could have hurled us a distance of 990.7 light years.

It must be Ridicule Your Employees Day, which never really took off the way Hallmark hoped. They set a course for the planet at maximum warp, hoping that the planet and their crewmates are still there.

Sulu, McCoy, and D’Amato scan furiously with their tricorders, but there isn’t anything edible on the planet, nor any sign of water. Sulu finds a parasite, but Kirk gives the credit to McCoy and tells him to investigate it. Sulu also makes another important discovery that Kirk will claim as his own:

Captain, I was making a standard magnetic sweep. From zero, I suddenly got a reading that was off the scale. Then, a reverse of polarity and now I get nothing. I’ve never seen anything like this reading. Like a door opened and then closed again.

While looking for underground water, D’Amato makes an even better find: a woman. The Captain will be pleased, but strangely she wants him, not Kirk. She holds her hand out toward him.

WOMAN: Do not be afraid.
D’AMATO: I’m not afraid.
WOMAN: I am for you, Lt. D’Amato.
D’AMATO: You’re… you’re the woman on the Enterprise.
WOMAN: I am only for D’Amato.
D’AMATO: Lucky D’Amato. I want to have a conference about sharing your food and water.
WOMAN: Do not call the others. Please.

That sounds like a pretty good idea, actually. But the others already know something is up. McCoy’s tricorder suddenly reads a “biological surge of life form” which reminds Kirk of Sulu’s comment about a door opening and closing, not that he’ll ever thank the Lieutenant for giving him such a useful analogy. They try to call D’Amato, but the woman has already reached out and touched lucky D’Amato. They find him sprawled on the ground, with his cells all disrupted.

In a moment of sentimentality, or fear of D’Amato’s body decomposing and stinking up their campsite, Kirk uses his phaser to cut a grave in the ground. The weapon barely scratches the surface, revealing red rock beneath the topsoil. Filling in for the dead geologist, Kirk confidently states that the melting point must be “eight thousand degrees centigrade. It looks like igneous rock, but infinitely denser.” There’s no one alive to correct him if he’s wrong, and Sulu wouldn’t dare today. Just in case, the captain sets Sulu to studying the material to give him something to do.

MCCOY: Well, I guess a tomb of rocks is the best we can provide for D’Amato.
KIRK: Yeah. It might be the most suitable memorial at that.

Morbid much? At least they somehow etched the poor guy’s name into a makeshift tombstone.

While Kirk and the surviving members of the landing party try to figure out who or what is hunting them, Spock snaps at Lt. Rahda for rounding up their estimated time of arrival and continues to harangue Scotty when he expresses his concern.

SCOTT: Mr. Spock, the ship feels wrong.
SPOCK: Feels, Mr. Scott?
SCOTT: I know it doesn’t make sense. Instrumentation reads correct, but the feel is wrong. It’s something I can’t quite put into words.
SPOCK: That is obvious, Mr. Scott. I suggest you avoid emotionalism and simply keep your instruments correct.

Ouch. Is it time for pon farr again already, or is Spock just grumpy because he has no one to play tri-dimensional chess with? Scott takes out his frustration on his assistant Watkins, sending the engineer to manually check that the matter-antimatter reaction chamber isn’t overheating. Watkins does find something hot over there–the woman in purple. She’s real curious about the chamber, but he tries to bluff her on its function. She seems to read his mind and realizes that the unit is the emergency overload bypass, the thingamagig that prevents the ship from going boom if magnetic containment fails. Or something. Then she says those four sexy, deadly words: “I am for you.”

Never much for commitment, Watkins hollers for Scotty: “Mister Scott, there’s a strange woman who knows the entire plan of the Enterprise.” She gives him the touch of evil then disappears into a vertical line like the picture on an old tube television. Scott alerts the Bridge and they put out an APB on the intruder.

After hours of study, Kirk’s team comes to the conclusion that nothing makes any sense on their new home. An apparently impossible phenomenon, Kirk suggests it may be an artificial planet with a hollow center. They decide to get some rest and look for food and water in the morning. To ingratiate himself to his irritable captain, Sulu volunteers for the first watch. He places D’Amato’s tricorder on a rock in “automatic distress” mode, which sure sounds annoying but doesn’t appear to be particularly useful, especially when the woman who’s been stalking them simply switches it off and approaches Sulu. As before, she knows everything about the helmsman and isn’t shy about her feelings: “I want to touch you.”

Sulu doesn’t like the sound of that. He warns her: “I don’t want to have to kill a woman!” Forgetting his phaser has a stun setting, he fires into the dirt at her feet, and when that doesn’t stop her he shoots her directly–with no effect. He backs away screaming for the captain and promptly trips over a rock. She briefly touches his shoulder when Kirk intervenes. She touches Kirk to get past him, but his cells aren’t disrupted, not even a little bit. She really wants to get at Sulu though.

KIRK: How can you destroy others and not me?
WOMAN: I don’t want to destroy. I don’t want to.
KIRK: Who are you? Why are you trying to kill us?
WOMAN: Only Sulu. I mean you no harm.
KIRK: Are there men on this planet?

Nice, Captain. She’s had enough of him, too, because she pulls the same vanishing act as before; he wonders if she might be a ghost after all. McCoy tells him Sulu is all right, except for the disrupted cells in his shoulder where she made contact.

SULU: How can such people be, Captain? Such evil and she’s so, so beautiful.
KIRK: Yes, I know.

Huh? Maybe Sulu’s a little touched in the head too…

The situation worsens on Enteprise. Scotty detects a power surge and the ship begins accelerating out of control, as it does. The engineer reports that the “emergency bypass control of the matter-antimatter integrator is fused” which is sort of not-good. They have fifteen minutes–sorry, Spock, 14.87 minutes–before the ship blows up, for real this time. Always an optimist, Scotty adds, “And there’s nothing in the universe that can stop it.” Everyone should probably just duck under a console then…

Kirk, McCoy, and Sulu ponder the great mystery of why Sulu is still alive and even more importantly, why the captain is alive too. (Kirk has his priorities.) Spock and Scott ponder how the bypass circuits were fused, using words like “foolproof” and “interesting,” which clearly don’t mean what they think they do. While checking Twitter on his new handheld device, Spock devises a plan to crawl into an access tube and manually stop the flow of fuel to the matter-antimatter reaction chamber with a magnetic probe. “You’ll be killed, man!” Scott protests, then offers to do the job himself. Spock agrees and decides on a much less dangerous task for himself: running a diagnostic on Enterprise to compare its present state with the way it should be.

The boys on the planet continue to speculate about the woman’s strange powers, theorizing that she can only attack one of them at a time–which means they can protect each other. They must be getting close to the truth because Kirk’s phaser spontaneously begins to overload. He tosses it away just before it explodes. She seems to be trying to tell them something, but it’s all so unclear.

Scotty shoves some tools down the front of his pants and climbs into the service crawlway, which crackles with electric energy near the reaction chamber. As Enterprise‘s speed dangerously exceeds Warp 11, he slowly removes the access panel. He has only ten minutes to stop the power flow, and he’s rigged explosives to jettison him from the ship if he screws up and breaches the magnetic bottle. He proceeds very carefully, narrating his excruciating progress while Spock counts down the seconds for him.

On the planet, the woman reappears, and this time she’s here for Captain Kirk. Finally! She seems chattier too. At his badgering, she tells him her name is “Losira, Commander.”

KIRK: Commander of what?
LOSIRA: Of this station.
KIRK: Station? Station? Where? How do you feel about killing me?
LOSIRA: Feel? Killing is wrong.
KIRK: Stay between us.
LOSIRA: You must not penetrate this station. Please, I must touch you.
KIRK: You want to kill me?
KIRK: Then why do it if you don’t want to?
LOSIRA: I am sent.
KIRK: By whom?
LOSIRA: We defend this place.
KIRK: Are there others on this planet?
LOSIRA: They are no more.
KIRK: How long have you been alone? Are you lonely?

Well, that clears things up. Losira turns into a dwindling black line again and leaves them. Kirk follows the power signature of the opening and closing door with his tricorder and discovers… an actual door, hidden behind a fake rock, on the fake planet. That’s not suspicious at all. “I’d rather be on the Enterprise,” Sulu whines uselessly. Kirk tells them all to suck it up, because there’s probably food and stuff in there and he’s hungry. They enter a strange, purple night club with a disco…square…filled with flashing lights.

On Enterprise, the computer spits out some numbers that somehow tell Spock exactly why the ship felt “wrong” to Scott: “The Enterprise was put through a molecular transporter and reassembled slightly out of phase.” He suggests that reversing polarity on the magnetic probe should make it all hunky dory again. With the ship at an obscene Warp 13 and only twenty seconds left on the clock, Scotty has no time to argue. But he does have time to fumble with the probe and get it stuck, until he frees it at the last second and fixes the ship as it reaches Warp 14–and dropping. Phew. But not even a thank you from Spock.

Still inside the hidden chamber, Losira makes another appearance. The men surround her until she chooses one of them–Kirk again. “You are my match, James Kirk. I must touch you. Then I will live as one, even to the structure of your cells, the arrangement of chromosomes.” Right… The doctor and helmsman bravely stand in front of him, and another Losira enters, this time for McCoy. Oh look, Sulu gets one, too. This planet is looking better and better, except for the whole thing about killing its visitors.

KIRK: That computer must be programming these replicas.
MCCOY: The women match our chromosome patterns after they touch us.

Which causes their cells to explode? Anyway. Unable to protect one another after all, the Starfleet officers shuffle around a little. Fortunately Spock beams down at just that moment with a security guard. Kirk orders Spock to destroy the computer. (Surprise, surprise!) The red shirt is quick on the draw and he destroys the glowing cube, causing the Losiras (Losirae?) to disappear.

Now that the danger has passed, an image of Losira appears on the wall to dump some exposition and explain what the hell has been going on:

My fellow Kalandans, welcome. A disease has destroyed us. Beware of it. After your long journey, I’m sorry to give you only a recorded welcome, but we who have guarded the outpost for you will be dead by the time you take possession of this planet. I am the last of our advanced force left alive. Too late the physicians discovered the cause of this sickness that kills us. In creating this planet, we have accidentally produced a deadly organism. I have awaited the regular supply ship from home for medical assistance, but I doubt now whether it will arrive in time. I will set the outpost controls on automatic. The computer will selectively defend against all life forms but our own. My fellow Kalandans, I, Losira, wish you well.

It all makes sense now, at least to them. They realize that the computer copied Losira’s image to fulfill its mission, but it mimicked her too well, taking on so much of her personality that her replica felt regret for her destructive actions. It’s as good a theory as any. “She must have been a remarkable woman,” Kirk muses. “And beautiful,” McCoy says. Oh, McCoy.

SPOCK: Beauty is transitory, Doctor. However, she was evidently highly intelligent.
KIRK: Kirk to Enterprise. Five to beam up. I don’t agree with you, Mr. Spock.
SPOCK: Indeed, Captain?
KIRK: Beauty survives.

That is so deep. Or is it shallow? One of those.


This episode actually has a somewhat interesting plot–it’s just too bad that it’s mostly saved for the last two minutes. Despite several obvious, potentially devastating flaws, I rather enjoyed this one, partly because I barely remembered having seen it before and it was a pleasant surprise to see Lee Meriwether as Losira, continuing the string of Batman guest stars–she’s the second Catwoman to appear on Star Trek. It’s a shame that her talents were largely wasted on an, ahem, two-dimensional character, whose chief trait is her beauty. Nonetheless, the weirdness on the planet, the strange deaths, and the mysterious problems facing Enterprise kept me interested throughout–only to fall flat in the last act when the explanation is revealed.

So the biggest issue, which plagues many a Star Trek episode, is it doesn’t really make any coherent sense. The Losira replicas attack people by touching them to bond with them and this somehow destroys the cells in their bodies from the inside? Huh? Perhaps it touches them to see if they are Kalandan, and responds strongly if they aren’t, but she’s also telepathic-ish… And they can teleport entire starships and affect systems remotely and… it’s all just so convenient. How can she know everything about the crew and the ship? If she knows their identities, shouldn’t she also know that they mean no harm? And why can she only set herself to kill one person at a time? That’s just ridiculous.

All of that aside, Kirk and Spock are absolute jerks to their subordinates through the entire episode, for no good reason. I liked most of the bantering and dialogue, but it was also a bit wince-worthy whenever Kirk insulted Sulu, and Spock’s insistence on specificity and emotionless observations just became irritating and repetitive. It’s strange and disappointing to see their great relationships undermined with such uncharacteristically mean behavior. In an episode about how things sometimes feel “wrong,” it appears that the writers, producer, and director missed the episode’s wrongness, or couldn’t do anything about it.

Although some of the questions in this episode were answered all-too-thoroughly at the end, some things are never addressed. What the heck is that handheld unit Spock keeps fiddling with? It resembles his remote control from “Spock’s Brain,” which probably is a good thing for him to hold onto just in case McCoy tries to have some fun at his expense to liven up the office parties. What does “automatic distress” on a tricorder do, anyway?

But you know what? I loved a lot about this episode too. The return of Dr. M’Benga! The idea of the entire ship being transported across space with an actual transporter. The earthquake effect on the planet was neat (better than just shaking the camera) and Losira’s disappearing animation was at least inventive, and suggestive of her origin as a projected image. It was neat to see a female officer at the helm, which I don’t think has happened before–and an Indian woman at that. Sort of. There was also a callout to the Horta, which is a rare nod to series continuity. I just… I don’t know what to make of the whole “beauty” thing, and how it survives, and why that’s somehow the moral of the episode. I mean, what? Cool episode title, though.

By the way, is this the first instance of “reversing the polarity” to solve a problem? What a legacy, Star Trek.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: I have to confess that after seeing the episode, reading the summary, and reading Eugene’s comments on it, I still don’t have a clue about what exactly was going on. The planet’s defense network was like a planetary Norton Anti-Virus–recognizing completely innocent things as threats and then discombobulating them for your own protection. I get that, I’m a PC user. But then why can the computer-generated Losira only focus on one person at a time? Why is there only one of her until the end when suddenly, hello!, she can replicate? What exactly did she do to the Enterprise? And my personal favorite question, would she have attacked a woman?

I honestly liked the conceit, but I feel like they missed a real opportunity by having Kirk and the others beam down long after everyone was gone. I know they can save on extras that way, but what if they had actually found Losira? She seems strong, courageous, and kind of mournful all at once. I would have liked to see her interact with Kirk. He would have respected her, much like the way he respected the Commander in “The Enterprise Incident.” I don’t understand why the planetary defense would, given the enormous amount of information it has, pick off this landing party. The fact that it feels guilty about it didn’t really redeem the idea for me.

The other big problem here is structural. The landing party story that actually involved the Losira ghost seemed like the B plot, a kind of time-filling aside, while the thematically weaker Enterprise plot seemed like the main story. Part of that was the embarrassing scene-chewing of Mr. Nimoy, who relishes the opportunity to play a jackass boss and whose every appearance gave me the same deeply uncomfortable feeling that I get from The Office or Extras. I don’t find it remotely funny to watch people belittle, berate, and degrade others. It was tasteless and frankly does a disservice to the whole essence of Star Trek. Where’s the cooperation and the empathy the show has so frequently touted? They sacrificed it at the altar of mediocre one-liners. Cheap shots, all of them. Scotty should have been praised as a hero, and Kirk’s treatment of Sulu was way out of line.

That said, I really liked Scotty’s central role in this one. He gets to be competent and confident, and I enjoyed the entire sequence in the crawlway. I felt a little silly (it’s not like the Enterprise was actually going to blow up), but I actually felt tense during the whole sequence and the plasma effect was really neat. His willingness to sacrifice himself for his fellow crewmen with absolutely no hesitation felt truer to the spirit of the show than anything else I saw that hour, threatening computer programs and sexy ladies included.

Speaking of effects: I loved the TV-like effect of Losira’s disappearances. Creative and creepy.

My favorite moment, though, was the burial of D’Amato. (That makes me sound morbid, but hear me out.) D’Amato got more screentime than most doomed landing party crewmen, and he really shined as sweet and funny in those few scenes. I immediately liked him. His response to Losira’s appearance (“Lucky D’Amato, but I want to have a conference with you about sharing your food and water.”) was one of the best lines in the episode.  His death was inevitable but still sad, and watching our heroes try to give him an appropriate burial seemed very human. Kirk’s remark that the rock pile “might be the most suitable memorial at that” (D’Amato was a geologist, after all) was touching and bittersweet.  McCoy then says that it could be worse–D’Amato could have company–and Sulu is offended by the remark. “How can you joke about that?” McCoy, of course, wasn’t joking. Each character is perfectly himself, and it was one of the most realistic and moving exchanges in the series, (let alone the third season).

As for the moral message (and the title), it’s lost on me and I only have questions. Are we supposed to understand that Losira will be remembered only for her beauty and not her obvious intelligence and strength? Is that supposed to be a good thing or a tragic thing? Why did they underutilize Lee Meriwether? (Meriwether is, by the way, as beautiful as ever.)

I’m sure if D.C. Fontana had been able to tackle this solo with more time and network support, there could have been a great episode here. As it stands, it’s not quite mediocre.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2

Best Line: SPOCK: You have eight minutes, forty-one seconds.
SCOTT: I know what time it is. I don’t need a blooming cuckoo clock.

Syndication Edits: Spock calls Lt. Rahda to the Bridge to replace Sulu; the landing party talks about the earthquake; damage reports on the ship and Spock orders and autopsy on Ensign Wyatt; Sulu leaves to study some rocks while Kirk and McCoy talk about D’Amato; after Kirk says, “We have only questions. No answers,” some reaction shots from McCoy and Sulu, a shot of Enterprise, and Scotty wandering around Engineering; after an act break, McCoy and Kirk discuss Sulu’s injury; the landing party enters the cave, a shot of Enterprise, and Spock requests a computer report.

Trivia: D.C. Fontana’s (credited as Michael Richards) original outline for this episode was titled “Survival,” and Losira was more violent with the ability to create illusions to turn the crew against itself–causing Sulu to hallucinate someone as a monster and Kirk to nearly stab himself.

This was Robert H. Justman’s last episode as co-producer. He reportedly left because of its declining quality and poor treatment by the network.

Matt Jefferies designed a special “rocker stage” composed of moveable plates to simulate the earthquake on the planet. He also designed a new “Jefferies tube” to show the access crawlway for the matter-antimatter chamber, and the Kalandan chamber and lighted cube.

The episode also featured a new “geological tricorder,” an adapted prop with a glowing panel and sensor tube.

Other notes: Lee Meriwether (Losira) is a former Miss America, whose genre credits include The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The 4-D Man, and the 1966 Batman movie.

This episode is expanded on in the first Star Trek: Gateways tie-in novel, One Small Step, by Susan Wright.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 16 – “The Mark of Gideon.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 18 – “The Lights of Zetar.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

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 fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. 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.