Star Trek: The Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Lorelei Signal”

The Lorelei Signal
Written by Margaret Armen
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 4
Production episode: 22006
Original air date: September 29, 1973
Star date: 5483.7

Mission summary

Enterprise tempts fate by visiting an unfamiliar region of space where Federation ships have been disappearing for the past 150 years. A hot tip from the Klingons and Romulans reveals that ships disappear like clockwork, every 27.346 “star years,” give or take.

The ship stands by on Yellow Alert. As Spock reaches the end of his countdown, Uhura picks up a subspace radio signal, as she does. She puts it on the speakers and comments that it sounds “more like music than a message.” At the same moment, the ship is probed from the Taurean system, where the signal originates–twenty light years away. Kirk and Spock claim the probe seems like a summons, but Uhura disagrees, somewhat mystified by their observation.

They set a course for the Taurean system, and the male crew’s behavior becomes increasingly odd, especially when they begin hallucinating about white-haired women. Uhura calls Nurse Chapel to the Bridge for her professional opinion; Dr. McCoy can’t be bothered because he’s too busy thinking about beautiful flowers.

Before too long, the ship arrives at the second planet and Kirk leads a landing party to check it out. Scotty’s left in command, but he and the other men aren’t good for much anymore. Uhura catches three errors in Spock’s sensor readings, a sign that something is seriously wrong.

On the planet’s surface, Kirk gets careless with protocol. Rather than collect tricorder readings, he brashly leads Spock, McCoy, and a red shirt straight to a beautiful structure, ignoring his science officer’s recommendation that they hold off until they figure out what’s influencing their behavior.

At the building, they’re met by a group of white-haired women who greet them by name. Not only are the women “psychokinetic,” which turns McCoy on, but they have “Opto-aud,” a cable television service that shows them anything they want–including Enterprise. Kirk asks Theela, the Head Female, about the signal they followed. She replies, “I will explain its meaning later. We have prepared a feast to celebrate your presence.” Uh oh.

The men can’t seem to focus on anything but the beautiful women and their delicious, uh, nectar. Kirk records a rambling log about how their hosts “radiate delight,” and when Theela tells him the men of the planet occupy another compound, he just lets it go with, “That makes sense.” Then she weeps as one by one the men pass out and are dragged away to a bedroom to suffer unspeakable horrors.

The landing party wakes up, a lot older but not much wiser, sporting flashy new headbands that they can’t remove. Back on Enterprise, Uhura’s computer scans show that the probe from the planet is weakening the male crew. She assumes command of the ship and orders female security teams to guard the transporters to prevent any men from beaming down to their certain deaths. Scotty doesn’t put up any resistance to her mutiny–he’d rather keep singing in a Scottish brogue. Uhura records her bold action in the log and promotes Chapel to Chief Medical Officer. Things are looking up on old Enterprise.

Dr. McCoy’s medical bag provides some stimulants to keep the prematurely aging men going, as well as a medical scanner that Spock uses to open the door of their comfy prison. They make a break for it and hide in a giant urn in the garden while their captors search for them.

KIRK: The headbands. Look at them.
SPOCK: I have noticed that their glow diminishes when the women are not present. They could be polarized conductors which transfer our vital energy to the bodies of the women.
KIRK: You mean they’re actually draining our life forces?
SPOCK: That would account for our rapid aging, Captain. And our weakness. If you recall, the women seemed listless at first. But as our strength has failed, they have become more energetic and vital.

Spock calculates they’re aging at a rate of ten years a day, which means they’ll be dead pretty soon and the women will need replacements from Enterprise. Since Vulcans have much longer lifespans and he’s in better shape, Spock volunteers to go find their communicators and warn the ship. He sneaks back into the women’s compound and uses the Opto-aud to locate their equipment. He contacts Enterprise and orders an all-female rescue party, just before he’s discovered and faints. As last requests go, that isn’t a bad one.

Uhura and Chapel beam down with a team of red skirts and stun all the white-haired women. (Uhura isn’t much for diplomacy.) They’re unable to find the hidden landing party, until Spock reaches out to Nurse Chapel telepathically and leads her to his bedside. She pries off his headband and he instructs her to divert the ship’s energy to the shields to block the probe.

CHAPEL: We tried that.
SPOCK: Use all ship’s energy. Everything channeled to the shields. Hurry, Christine.

Oh, well, they didn’t try that.

It starts to rain, flooding the urn, but Kirk, McCoy, and Carver are too feeble to climb out. Meanwhile, Theela uses the Opto-aud to force some exposition on Uhura:

This is the race from whom we are descended. They came to this planet when our homeworld began to die. They built this place and all surrounding it. They did not know this planet drains humanoid energy. But the women’s bodies developed a glandular secretion, enabling them to survive and to manipulate certain areas of the males’ brains, influence their emotional senses. Ultimately, it drained the men, caused them to weaken and die.

That makes sense.

So they’re immortal, trapped on the planet, and forced to steal lifeforce energy from men every 27 years. And they can’t even bear children! That’s no way to live.

They use the Opto-aud to find Kirk and the others. Uhura’s really trigger-happy, so she blasts them out of the water-filled urn. But they’re still so old! Spock suggests using the transporter to restore them to the way they were at the beginning of the episode. That ridiculous plan will never–

It works. And on the planet, the women destroy their evil transmitter.

THEELA: Tell Captain Kirk we have kept the agreement.
UHURA: A crew of women will bring a ship back. You’ll be transported to the first suitable planet.
THEELA: How quickly will we become as other women?
UHURA: Dr. McCoy says it should only take a few months.
THEELA: A life of hope. New learning. Perhaps love. Oh, it is a much better future than immortality.


This episode straddles the thin line between awesome and awful. It scores huge points for being the first broadcast Star Trek story to put a woman in charge of Enterprise, thereby refuting the idea put forth in “Turnabout Intruder” that women can’t command, and the tag team of Uhura and Christine Chapel is hard to beat.

Yet this primary strength of the episode also highlights its biggest weaknesses, which are also related to gender issues. On the face of it, “The Lorelei Signal” could be viewed as an empowering feminist story, if it weren’t undermined by the whole situation with the Taurean women. There was something distasteful about their portrayal as being “listless” until they sap men of their lifeforce, and the men in turn becoming dreamy, distractible, and weak. Another interpretation of the episode might be that the women are completely dependent on men and can only become strong and vital by sapping their energy, and what kind of a message is that? After all, why can’t they drain “lifeforce” from the Enterprise women as well?

These weird thematic undertones become much more overt near the end. This explanation for how the Taurean women work is fairly damning: “But the women’s bodies developed a glandular secretion, enabling them to survive and to manipulate certain areas of the males’ brains, influence their emotional senses. Ultimately, it drained the men, caused them to weaken and die.”  This is compounded a moment later by this gem: “We are unable even to bear children.”

The implication is clear. For all their beauty and wiles, the Taurean women aren’t women at all. Kirk and Uhura offer them a chance to become like “other women”–ie. “normal”–and they hastily correct the error of their ways. Though they claim they can now pursue hope and learning, what they’re really after is love. Which surely means babies. And there we may have the true meaning behind one of the most intriguing moments of the episode, Theela’s tear. Initially I thought she wept because she regretted the need to harm the men, but now I wonder if she’s simply lamenting not being able to build a future with one of them. Probably Kirk.

But I get it. This is also an exploration of the curse of immortality, riffing on themes Star Trek has already engaged with. Immortality is boring and stagnant, and it always comes at a price–in this case, the need to lure men in every 27 years. What isn’t entirely clear is what happens to the women if they don’t juice up. They don’t age, they don’t die–they just get kind of tired? If this life is so horrible, why not just let it kill them off?

Even with these unsightly blemishes marring the potential for a meaningful, progressive story, there are some wonderful bits in it which feel very Star Trek. I don’t know what Scott was singing on the Bridge, but it was unexpected and fun. But my favorite moment of all was when Spock reached out telepathically to Nurse Chapel, and he calls her Christine. In a way, Spock’s sending out his own “Lorelei signal,” taking advantage of the unique bond they share.

In the end I have to penalize the episode for the stunning deus ex machina that restores the landing party’s age more or less magically, which completely changes our understanding of the transporters and introduces all those niggling questions we have about whether or not what goes in is what comes out. And this episode features some of the shoddiest animation yet. When Uhura and the red skirts beam down, even Nurse Chapel is in a red uniform. I thought maybe she’d simply coordinated her outfit with the other women, but in the next frame she’s back in blue. Then I was astonishes when her left arm turns red while the rest of her stays in blue. There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes.

On the whole, I feel this episode might have been a mistake, but at least it was made with good intentions.

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

Torie Atkinson: I don’t really see a scenario where this plot could have worked.

There’s just no way to do justice to a story centered on primal sexuality when your audience is intended to be pre-pre-pre-pubescent and you have to get past the daytime censors. The men’s attraction to the planet and it’s “women” comes off as either wholly bizarre (nothing gets me hot like… flowers? What’s going on with McCoy?) or hilariously tame (yeah baby, rock that yellow jumpsuit…thing). And censors or no, once you mix in the need to make our heroes dutiful to ship and country the chance of an erotic escapade in which they succumb to their basest urges is, well, remote. I love it when Spock says “Gee, maybe we should stay away from that castle” and Kirk simply shrugs it off. It doesn’t feel like passions are broiling beneath the surface, warring with each man’s awareness that this is dangerous yet exciting–sexiness level: 10! This is more like sexiness level: boiled cabbage. Sterilized sirens aren’t compelling, so why did they even go there?

It did have some laugh out loud moments, but unfortunately I think those were unintentional. Watching Theela command things, from her lady thugs (“Obstruct them!”) to the Opto-Aud (“The past! Reveal it!”), definitely brought on a case of the giggles. So did Scotty’s singing, the “hallucination” animation (which felt like one of those soap opera credit sequences where sexy-looking people flip back their hair and turn to the zooming camera), and the fact that Theela could name the landing party dudes except for that one red shirt guy who somehow comes along, has one line, no action, and lives at the end.

I think Eugene covered the sexist aspects really well, so I’ll just add that what really kills an otherwise awesome stint as commanding officer was Uhura’s last line, that Kirk looks “more handsome than ever.” I don’t think I actually groaned until that moment.

No wait, I lied. The recurring music cues have finally taken their toll and I’m pretty sure I groaned during that DRAMATIC!MUSIC! one that overtakes Kirk at least four times. I’m tempted to watch the rest of the series with subtitles only. But then I’d have nothing to focus on but the animation…

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2

Best Line: McCoy: “First time I ever admired a body function.”

Trivia: The writer, Margaret Armen, also wrote three episodes of the original series: “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” “The Paradise Syndrome,” and “The Cloud Minders.” Is anyone surprised? So far she’s four for four, but she’ll have another chance to break warp 3 with another animated episode, “The Ambergris Element,” later this season.

Another planet is named Taurus II in “The Galileo Seven.”

This is the only time Lt. Uhura ever assumes command of Enterprise in any TV shows or films.

A similar plot was used in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Favorite Son,” which featured aliens called the Taresians, and the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Bound,” which featured three Orion slave girls.

Other notes: The Lorelei, or Loreley, is a rock at the narrowest part of the Rhine between Switzerland and the North Sea, on the eastern bank near St. Goarshausen, Germany. Because it has caused so many boat accidents, it inspired stories about a woman who bewitches men to their doom, similar to the Greek myths about the Sirens.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 3- “One of Our Planets is Missing.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 5 – “More Troubles, More Tribbles.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

But the women’s bodies developed a glandular secretion, enabling them to survive and to manipulate certain areas of the males’ brains, influence their emotional senses. Ultimately, it drained the men, caused them to weaken and die.

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.