Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Eye of the Beholder”

The Eye of the Beholder
Written by David P. Harmon
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 15
Production episode: 22016
Original air date:  January 5, 1974
Star date: 5501.2

Mission summary

The Enterprise is in orbit around Lactra VII, an M-class planet where a science crew of six disappeared. A recording shows that acting commander Lt. Commander Markel went against the book and beamed down the last three teammembers, himself included, for a rescue mission and were never heard from again. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy decide to repeat history and investigate. What could possibly go wrong?

They beam down just a few feet from some deadly gaseous marshland, and… wait, what’s that doing here? This is supposed to be a lush paradise! Kirk tries the communicator to get a lock on the missing away team, and while it seems like someone picked up the receiver no one’s talking back. The marsh, incidentally, is home to a red dragon that the party dispatches with phasers. Seems like one of those dragons from Canopus III; what’s it doing on this planet? Okay… moving on, there’s a desert! That’s weird. And now another dinosaur? They phaser it and it falls on McCoy, who they have to dig out.

This excitement brought to you by the need to fill long silences.

They poke around the surface a bit more, finding pristine lakes and other signs that this place is artificially created. More creatures try to attack them because the episode still isn’t long enough without it. Finally the trio realize they’re trapped in a forcefield, and three huge snail-slug-elephant creatures wrap them in their tentacles and drag them to their sluggy city.

The humans are deposited in a holding cell, where they figure out that the complex they’re in is actually a giant zoo.

KIRK: A more important question, gentlemen, is whether or not there’s a way out of here. A forcefield. It seems harmless enough.
MCCOY: So do the bars of a jail, unless you’re on the inside.
KIRK: And we are definitely on the inside.

But before you can say “I am not a number” the snailophants return, confiscate their shiny electronics, and drag the humans to a more permanent nesting location. There they meet Lt. Cmdr. Markel and his biologist Randi Bryce, stuck in the same habitat. Markel and his team were too late to save the first landing party and their rescue attempt just got them captured by the sluggies. Attempts to communicate with the snailophants are useless–they seem to be telepathic, but even Spock can’t keep up with the speed at which they process information. He gets the occasional impression, but it’s clear these creatures are light years more advanced than any humanoid we’ve yet seen and meaningful dialogue is just not on the table.

The third missing away team member is Nancy Rudolf, the navigator, and she’s sick. McCoy’s med kit is on the other side of the forcefield as part of the prop exhibit, entirely out of reach. What to do? As if reading their minds, the snailophants offer a basket of fruit.

MARKEL: Food. But it’s not feeding time.
KIRK: They must have sensed a need and interpreted it as food.

Sure, whatever. But McCoy gets an idea–how about they all think of the medical kit, and hopefully their captors will be able to read their minds. It works! Medical kit in hand, McCoy attends to Rudolf. Kirk realizes that this limited telepathy thing can work to their advantage. He collapses to the ground and asks everyone to think hard about the communicator to dupe the Lactrans into thinking they need it to save one of their precious specimens. This works, too! A baby Lactran gives Kirk the communicator. Kirk immediately calls for a beam-out but the baby Lactan has caught on and snatches back the communicator… beaming up to the Enterprise himself.

The baby snailophant latches onto a very surprised Scotty and takes them both to the bridge. He decides to fool around with the controls and steer the Enterprise out of orbit! Meddling kids…

Back on the Lactran’s planet, though, Mommy Slug and Papa Slug are not pleased about their disappearing sluglet, and they blame Kirk. They begin to search Kirk’s mind for answers–an agonizing process that Spock believes will drive Kirk insane if he allows them full access to his brain. When he fights them, the Lactrans decide to team up and use their combined forces to break through Kirk’s psychic walls. But before the worst can come to pass, the sluglet and his pet Scotty beam down to the surface.

KIRK: Scotty, what are you doing here?
SCOTT: My young friend brought me.
SPOCK: You made contact?
SCOTT: It made contact with me.
KIRK: What did you learn?
SCOTT: It’s only six years old but it has an IQ in the thousands. It picked my brain, all the knowledge in the Enterprise computers, and sent us flying off out of orbit.
KIRK: Then how did you get here?
SCOTT: I convinced it I wasn’t a pet, and that it should bring the ship back into orbit. Then I got it into the transporter to return here.

The Lactrans, now understanding Kirk and the Enterprise, decide to release them. They make their farewells and the humans beam back aboard the ship. Markel laments not learning anything from such advanced creatures, but Spock tries to put it all into perspective:

SPOCK: There will be other opportunities, Mister Markel. I have just received their final telepathic message.
KIRK: Which is?
SPOCK: We’ll be welcome back, in twenty or thirty centuries.
KIRK: Our time, or theirs.
SPOCK: Theirs. And it will take me some time to figure out how long that is.
KIRK: Either way, Mister Spock, it will hardly be our problem.


In a Star Trek first, we meet members of an extraordinarily advanced alien race that are not space douches! I was afraid this would veer too far into territory already covered by the series (“The Menagerie,” anyone?) but it surprised me by taking a wholly different course. The space slugs do corral and threaten the puny humans, but it’s not out of selfishness (the Talosians), boredom (the Triskelions or Trelane), or moralizing (the Metrons).  The Lactrans simply don’t understand that Kirk, Spock, or McCoy are intelligent, thinking creatures. And who can blame them?

Where normally Kirk & co. would come across some kind of savage beast that turns out to be sentient and misunderstood (the Horta), this time we get to see the flip side of the coin and what that means in the context of the Enterprise’s own five-year mission. McCoy remarks after they’re first kidnapped that the Lactrans are just doing what they do when they meet something new: disinfect it and try to figure out if there’s anything intelligent in the bunch. It’s a nice twist on the usual format and cleverly makes you wonder what races our own team, in their journeys, have dismissed as unintelligent animals.

For all the rampant silliness that necessarily comes with featuring space slugs, the Lactrans unusual character design (though I’m getting sick of pink) and eerie silence throughout the episode really intrigued me. They never speak a word, and you don’t get so much as a glimpse of what Spock sees or feels. For once it seemed realistic–no more aliens that magically speak English, see in the visible spectrum, or communicate with pictograms! They remain an enigma until the end, not to be understood by humans for a very long time.

I strained a little trying to believe that these insanely advanced snailophants weren’t able to detect or understand a spaceship in orbit around their planet (No sensors? Not even telepathic ones?) or pick up even a little on Spock’s own telepathic abilities. I guess “advanced” means something different to them than it does to me. I also wish we had seen a few more attempts to communicate before everyone just gave up and tried to escape (let’s trade away all those pointless sequences of them fighting dinosaurs, yes?) but it strikes me as a solid science fiction idea: how do you communicate with aliens that advanced? Wave your hands around? Weave a tapestry? I’m willing to let it go.

This was a a keeper: interesting aliens, an honest-to-goodness science fictional premise, some nice one-liners, and a strong feel for the heart and soul of the original series. And baby snailophants!

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: Though this episode shares a title with a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, it has more in common with another of my favorites, “People Are Alike All Over,” in which an astronaut is captured and put on display in a Martian zoo. (Spoiler.) I began to pick up on the clues that this was a zoo planet around the same time Spock did, but I was only really hooked when the weird pink elephants turned up. As Torie points out, it’s a wonderful twist to turn the tables on humanity and have them make first contact with an advanced, non-douchy civilization for a change, then allow both races to come to a perfectly reasonable understanding and part ways amicably.

After Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meet the remaining science team from the Ariel, the otherwise bland episode (which literally meanders from place to place) really picks up. Their attempts to communicate with the Lactrans and escape from their prison are clever and interesting, though Scotty’s remarkable success with the child is somewhat glossed over. The animated series really shines with the creativity of the non-humanoid aliens the Enterprise crew are able to encounter, and with the grander scope of the planets they visit. This script is serviceable, but the dialogue is mostly uninspired–the banter is pitch perfect, but somehow feels flat, whether because of the recorded lines or because it just seems to be hitting the same notes as other episodes:

1. Spock corrects someone with a more precise figure
2. McCoy grumbles about something
3. Spock and McCoy make witty remarks at each other’s expense
4. Kirk lectures someone

And so on. In this case, having Kirk criticize the Ariel captain for not following orders by the book is laughably hypocritical.

There are some weak moments that creep into camp, such as McCoy being trapped under the dinosaur, it still doesn’t make sense that Kirk has to order them to set their phasers to stun everytime they use them, and the recycled sound effects are downright annoying. But overall, this is one of those middle-of-the-road episodes that doesn’t have anything particularly wrong with it, yet just doesn’t rise to the brilliant heights the show is capable of. I’m feeling generous though, and for all my McCoy-like complaining, I generally like this one.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4

Best Line: MCCOY: It isn’t every day a dinosaur falls on you.

Trivia: David P. Harmon wrote “The Deadly Years” and co-wrote “A Piece of the Action” with Gene L. Coon.

You may note that the maravel dragons look an awful lot like those swoopy things from “The Infinite Vulcan,” and you’ll see them again in the next episode, “The Jihad.” Another cost-saving measure for Filmation.

Other notes: While TNG has an episode titled “Eye of the Beholder” and A.C. Crispin’s tie-in novel is called The Eyes of the Beholders, neither has anything to do with this episode.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 14 – “The Slaver Weapon.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 16 – “The Jihad.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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.