Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Infinite Vulcan”

The Infinite Vulcan
Written by Walter Koenig
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 7
Production episode: 22002
Original air date: October 20, 1973
Star date: 5554.4

Mission summary

The Enterprise has come across an unknown planet on the galaxy’s periphery, so they’ve beamed down to investigate. The planet is a vaguely nauseating shade of puke green, and life signs are “confused.” Sulu discovers a little koosh ball in the grass but when he picks it up it pricks him. Dick. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy discover a nearby building emanating energy readings, but before they can investigate they hear a bass scream: it’s Sulu. He’s been poisoned, and only MacGuyver can save him now because he’s got one minute to live.

Luckily, a posse of green-stalked friendlies approaches. The leader introduces himself as Agmar and injects Sulu with an antidote. He explains that the Phylosians are peaceful, animate vegetables, fearful of aliens because the last human who came to the planet brought waves of death and destruction thanks to some kind of disease.  Yeah, blame the human, why don’t you. As if I’m supposed to know how much water to dump in there. What the hell does partial sunlight mean, anyway? It was the bees! I did everything I could!

Anyway, Agmar offers to give them a tour of the old greenhouse, where they find the husked-out ancestors of the Phylosians. They were indeed killed by plague, but they also read some kind of bacteria not native the planet. This doesn’t seem to merit any kind of investigation, though (ho-hum), so the crew is taken completely by surprise when a bunch of wyverns descend from the ceiling and coil the crew in their planty (?!?) tendrils. But it was just a diversion! They’ve taken Spock! They have good taste.

AGMAR: He has been chosen to serve a greater cause. The Master has searched many years to find a specimen like Spock.  And now, all the worlds of the galaxy will share in the beauty of peace and harmony.

Before Kirk can inform them that we’ve already been forced to watch Spock the Space Hippie in this life, a jolly but not-so-green giant appears. The plants worship him as their “master” and “savior.” He goes by Dr. Stavos Keniclius V, though, and he doesn’t tolerate visitors. He tells the little not-green men to get their asses out of the biosphere before he sends another wyvern attack. Kirk complies, and they beam back to the ship without their friend.

Some library research reveals that Keniclius was a scientist during the Eugenics Wars, bent on creating a master race, and then he disappeared from history. (Shoddy record-keeping from this era, huh?) It seems he came to Phylos and has been cloning himself to continue his work. They have to get Spock back before he becomes Miracle-Gro for a super race. Since phasers don’t work within the botanical garden, McCoy has drummed up some of his grandfather’s old weedkiller, and they don masks and return to the planet armed for some crop-dusting.

No one seems to notice their arrival, so they investigate a bunker just lying around. It’s full of spaceships, but they’re covered in ivy and seem unused. Whatever nefarious plan the greenies had was weedwhacked way back when. They find Agmar uncovering the ivy, though, and Kirk tries a little of the old charm on him–by choke-holding his head-appendage-thing and pulling him offscreen.

Agmar once again defends Keniclius:

AGMAR: The Vulcan-human blend of wisdom, sense of order, durability, and strength is the finest the Master has ever found. We are pleased Spock will carry on our work.
KIRK: Carry on your work?
AGMAR: We are the last of a dying people, Captain. Once we had a great mission. Then disease decimated us. We few are the frail remnant of what survived. Our spore cells have been destroyed. There will be no more of our kind.

If only they knew someone with extensive expertise in cloning…

But greenie does feel for our soft, squishy heroes, and offers to take them to Spock to show just how fine he is. They go through some tunnels until the lights go out, so Kirk, Sulu, and McCoy run as fast as they can toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily this version has a happy ending–they see Spock! But he’s enclosed in some kind of glass case, near death. Wyverns swoop down but McCoy’s family weedkiller manages to fend them off, for a while. Keniclius arrives and tells them to give up. Spock’s fine! He’s living on as… Spock Two!

A giant Vulcan appears. It seems Spock’s consciousness has slowly been transferred to this Gigantor clone, and the real Spock is dying because of it. Kirk tries to appeal to Spock 2’s logic (i.e., THIS MAKES NO SENSE), but the B plot onboard Enterprise manages to make use of itself. Uhura breaks through the communication blockade to tell the landing party about Keniclius’ evil scheme: peace! The damn hippy wants to create a UN peacekeeping force to “impose” peace around the galaxy.

When Kirk tries to explain that peace has already spread across the galaxy–peacefully, mind you, without any imposition–the giant Keniclius doesn’t believe him. He smashes Spock’s incubator and delights in the death of the original Vulcan. Kirk tries one last appeal to what, if any, bit of Spock exists in the giant clone:

KIRK: If you have Spock’s mind, you’ll know the Vulcan symbol called the IDIC.
SPOCK 2: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Symbolizing the elements that create truth and beauty.
KIRK: Could an army of Spocks impose peace and Phylosian philosophy on any other beings in defiance of the IDIC concept?
SPOCK 2: I do not believe so.

This seems to reach Spock 2, who chastises Kirk for his ridiculous attempts at winning the giant Vulcan over and shortcuts the resolution with a handy Vulcan mind touch. The original Spock wakes up, cracks a joke at Kirk’s expense, and suggests tying up the loose ends by leaving Gigantor-Spock on the planet with Keniclius to rebuild the animate vegetable planet and prepare it for entrance into the Federation.

But before we can safely turn this one off, Sulu has to make it weird for everyone:

KIRK: By the way, Mister Sulu, any chance of teaching me that body throw? Could come in handy sometime.
SULU: I don’t know, sir. It isn’t just physical, you know. You have to be inscrutable.
KIRK: Inscrutable? Sulu, you’re the most scrutable man I know.

And winks. What.


What fresh hell is this? I can’t begin to imagine what compelled Mr. Koenig to mix the best of the series (“Space Seed”) with the worst of the series (“Spock’s Brain”). We finally get to see another “augment” (that’s good!), but unfortunately his superior intellect gets channelled for the same purpose as the  Others (that’s bad!). He has the advanced knowledge and technology to successfully transport himself to the periphery of the galaxy, clone himself ,and transfer his own consciousness (all cool!), but hasn’t gotten a newspaper or even picked up a passing HAM radio signal in 200 years to know that the war is long over (lame!).

I feel sort of stunned by this episode, as my muddled brain tries to make sense of what happened. I could barely keep track of what was going on, and kept getting sidetracked by what seemed like GLARING PLOT ISSUES that none of the characters ever notice. How exactly do you stun a building? If it doesn’t photosynthesize, and it does move around–like, say, a pink flying wyvern–is it seriously still supposed to be a plant? Forget the handwavy science, though. It was the arbitrary tension (“He’s only got one minute to live!”) and nonsense plotting (“Sure, I’ll show you where Spock is… as soon as I flip lights out in this tunnel of love!”) that drove me crazy.

It’s not until the very end of the episode that we get a morsel of a good idea: what happens to a warrior who becomes obsolete in an age of peace? Well, we’ll never know, because the giants are going to become consummate gardeners and forget that whole silly obsession with the master race. As it turns out, gardening is a lot like fighting! What with the sharp objects, rank filth, and general degradation of spirit as the living creatures you’ve sworn to protect die off one by one…

Hand me the weedwhacker.

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

Eugene Myers: I was actually looking forward to this episode. I rather liked the title, and I was excited to see what Walter Koenig had come up with. But the script misfires right from the start, with some of the most bizarre dialogue we’ve heard yet on the series and some odd characterization. (Sulu’s an experienced botanist, but he tries to pick up an ambulatory alien plant?!) I was baffled most of the time, from the moment Kirk utters the line, “We always encourage our officers to make friends with the natives,” to the very last lines of the show: “Inscrutable? Sulu, you’re the most scrutable man I know.” And then Sulu breaks the fourth wall and actually winks at us! Clearly he knows we’ve just been had. I wish I could laugh along with him.

I found the sentient plant life forms interesting–I loved the shot of the giant husks of their previous generation moldering in the great hall. The tragic story of their first encounter with humans and the devastating outcome does tug at the heart strings, and of course the situation is evocative of real history. But so much of the episode just doesn’t hang together–it’s a patchwork of ideas (a “modern Diogenes,” cloning, and a “master race” imposing its idea of peace on the universe) linked by increasingly random plot developments. Some of these possibilities should have been explored in a more thoughtful script, one that doesn’t involve a giant Spock.

I mean, let’s think about this for a moment. Agmar and his people are dying off. If only there were some way to preserve them, maybe through…cloning? The implications of the process, that life must be destroyed in order to create new life, is compelling, but then of course Spock proves that it mustn’t be so–at least not for him–thanks to the good old “Vulcan mind touch.” Meanwhile, I’m disturbed by the fact that giant Spock has all the memories of the original, but must stay behind on this wacky planet with an obsessed genius to fight for a cause that was imposed on him. Do you suppose Kirk ever visits his old friend again? What a miserable fate, even if he is able to accomplish some good in the end.

I liked the numerous callbacks to the original series, with references to the Eugenics War and the Vulcan IDIC, but Spock’s kidnapping was also an uncomfortable reminder of “Spock’s Brain”–especially when McCoy says, “He’s dying. Something’s happened to his brain.”

“The Infinite Vulcan” seems like the most cartoony of the animated episodes yet, with a really goofy story that is simultaneously faithful to Star Trek and wildly off the mark. As previous episodes have established, the episode doesn’t fail because of limitations of the form, but because it panders to them. That, and the poor writing. Sorry, Mr. Koenig, but I hoped for more from you.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2

Best Line: MCCOY: “Well, how ’bout that? Great-granddaddy’s weed spray still works!”

Trivia: Koenig’s script was picked up when he tried to hire Roddenberry’s assistant to type it for him. Roddenberry saw it, read it, and invited Koenig to contribute it to the series. It was one of his first sales as a writer. He was asked to write additional episodes, but declined out of, he says, bitterness at not being included in the cast.

Koenig says the premise came to him from contemporary newspaper articles about cloning. He also came up with the galactic peacekeeping force. It was Roddenberry, however, who suggested the talking plants, to take advantage of the animated format. As a result the episode went through a dozen drafts, an experience Koenig described as “miserable.”

Koenig read for the part of Keniclius, but he later learned the show had no intention of hiring him.

The “retlaw,” the plant that attacks Sulu, is “Walter” spelled backwards.

Other notes: This episode re-affirmed (until it was uncanonized…) a few events in Federation history: the Federation’s founding date  in the 22nd century; Augments; and the Eugenics Wars. It also mentions the Kzinti.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 6 – “The Survivor.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 8 – “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.” 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.