Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Naked Time”

“The Naked Time”
Written by John D.F. Black
Directed by Marc Daniels

Season 1, Episode 4
Production episode: 1×06
Original air date: September 29, 1966
Star date: 1704.2

Mission summary
The Enterprise is in orbit around the planet Psi 2000, an ancient world in its “death throes” that has frozen over into an inhospitable wasteland, sort of like Hoth. The ship’s mission is to recover the science crew on the surface and observe the final disintegration of the planet. Mr. Spock and LTJG Joe Tormolen beam down to the surface and find that all of the scientists are dead: one woman strangled, another frozen at his post, and another frozen standing in the shower—fully clothed. (Note: If it looks like they’re wearing shower curtains instead of hazmat suits, it’s because they actually are.) Joe, in a moment of truly inspired stupidity, removes one of his gloves to scratch his nose. He bends down to take a reading and when touching the surface of a workstation comes into contact with some kind of red liquid. None the wiser having been infected with a space contagion, he replaces the glove and they beam back to the Enterprise.

McCoy inspects both Spock and Joe and pronounces them freakily weird and just fine, respectively. Something’s not right, though, and Joe begins to scratch his hand and sweat nervously. He then flips out, totally distraught over the deaths of the scientists in the labs down below. McCoy tells him to go rest, dismissing his distress as your run-of-the-mill post-traumatic emotional trauma. You know, that stuff that’s better left ignored.

The rest of the bridge crew get together for a meeting on the situation. Kirk demands answers—how did all those people die, and why? Could it spread to the Enterprise? His advisers prove unhelpful, but they all agree that she’s a tough ship, and she should be able to make it through the planet’s disintegration without any danger to the Enterprise. Oh naivety!

Joe decides to take the edge off with some hot steaming synthesized food. His brooding is interrupted by a cheerful Sulu, who is trying to persuade Riley that fencing is totally awesome. A delightful dialogue follows:

SULU: Foil. It’s a rapier. A thin sword.
RILEY: All right. So what do you do with it?
SULU: What do you mean, what do you do with it?
RILEY: Self-defense? Mayhem? Shish kebab?
SULU: You practice.
RILEY: For what?

I guess you don’t need much sword-fighting in space, eh? Being polite and hospitable people, Sulu and Riley try to include Joe in the conversation—and Joe erupts in an angry, emotional outburst. He rages about the foolishness of mankind, attempting to monopolize space—something we know nothing about, that’s dangerous and terrible and unknowable. Humans, he says, aren’t meant to be in spaceships, or stranded on cold, lifeless worlds. Pushed to the brink, he picks up a mess hall (butter?) knife, pointing it first at Sulu and them himself. Sulu and Riley try to stop him, and wrestle him to the ground—but it’s too late, he’s lanced himself, and Sulu calls sickbay for emergency medical personnel. Despite a swift response and fairly minor wounds, Joe dies in sickbay. McCoy believes that he simply lost the will to live.

Meanwhile on the bridge, the infected Sulu and Riley get the jitters, sweating and scratching themselves, as if something’s under their skin. They lose focus, and Kirk has to step in and make a minor course correction himself. When Kirk leaves the bridge Sulu gets an idea of just what will take the edge off: some exercise. He darts towards the turbolift. Once Spock notices that the helm is unattended, he asks Riley where Sulu went, and Riley adopts an Irish accent and talks back to Spock, as if…well, drunk. “Have no fear, O’Riley’s here!” he sings. Spock is not amused (this should be a lolcat, don’t you think?) and demands Riley report to sickbay.

Riley does as asked, reporting to sickbay seemingly only to flirt with Nurse Chapel before darting off into the hallways. Meanwhile, in perhaps the greatest scene I’ve ever witnessed on television, Sulu behaves as if he were a musketeer and starts threatening crewmembers! This here folks is like the Kirk in tights image—it’ll stay with you forever, whether you want it to or not (but don’t worry, you’ll want it to). George Takei is seriously ripped and his performance is nothing short of brilliant and delightful. He makes his way to the bridge where he believes Kirk to be Cardinal Richelieu (snicker) and attempts to “rescue” Uhura, a “fair maiden” (“Sorry, neither!” she responds). He is only subdued thanks to Spock’s absurdly OP race bonus, the Vulcan nerve pinch (to which Kirk famously responds: “I’d like you to teach me that sometime.” No kidding! Sign me up, too!).

At this point something has taken over the ship completely: Riley. Riley proceeds to lock out any attempts to regain control, despite the fact that the Enterprise is spiraling to its inevitable doom, ready to hit the planet’s atmosphere in only twenty minutes. He uses that precious time to broadcast a nearly nails-on-chalkboard version of “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and otherwise issue absurd decrees to the crew as their “new captain.” Scotty and the engineering crew scramble to get through the bulkhead, release the door control, and retake engineering, but by now the entire ship has descended into chaos. Rand can’t seem to get by suitors, and Spock turns up in sickbay—to discover Sulu tranquilized and strapped to a bed, and a lovesick Nurse Chapel. She declares her love for Spock, saying that

the men from Vulcan treat their women strangely. At least, people say that, but you’re part human, too. I know you don’t, you couldn’t, hurt me, would you? I’m in love with you, Mr. Spock. You, the human Mr. Spock, the Vulcan Mr. Spock.

Treat them strangely? Wonder what that means… To be honest I found the most unrealistic part of this scene not to be her love, which sounds entirely sweet and genuine, but the fact that she went after Spock despite having a half-naked Sulu strapped to the bed next to her! Come ON, Nurse Chapel! There’s just no understanding some people.

She caresses Spock, infecting him, and he high-tails it out of there before completely losing control of his emotions. Devastated by his inability to express his feelings, he hides in the briefing room and breaks down into tears. This scene was apparently unscripted and done in one take.

Scotty and Kirk break back into the engine room and remove Riley, only to discover that Riley has turned off the engines. They’ll require thirty minutes to fully heat up and allow the ship to get out of the spiraling deathtrap of their current orbit. Kirk demands they try something, even if it means mixing matter and antimatter cold, despite Scotty’s protestations that “I cannot change the laws of physics!” There’s only one man humanoid who can save them—Spock—so Kirk sets out to find him.

And find him he does, curled up like a baby and sobbing that he never told his mother he loved her. The two of them then proceed to have a crying manfight, as Kirk, clearly emotional and losing control himself, hits and tries to provoke Spock. They have two entirely different conversations, beautifully interwoven such that each morphs into the other over the course of the exchange:

KIRK: You’ve got to hear me! We need a formula. We’ve got to risk implosion!
SPOCK: It’s never been done! Understand, Jim. I’ve spent a whole lifetime learning to hide my feelings.
KIRK: We’ve got to risk implosion. It’s our only chance.
SPOCK: It’s never been done.
KIRK: Don’t tell me that again, Science Officer! It’s a theory. It’s possible. We may go up into the biggest ball of fire since the last sun in these parts exploded, but we’ve got to take that one in ten thousand chance!

KIRK: I’ve got it, the disease. Love. You’re better off without it, and I’m better off without mine. This vessel, I give, she takes. She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.
KIRK: I have a beautiful yeoman. Have you noticed her, Mister Spock? You’re allowed to notice her. The Captain’s not permitted
SPOCK: Jim, there is an intermix formula.
KIRK: Now I know why it’s called she.
SPOCK: It’s never been tested. It’s a theoretical relationship between time and antimatter.
KIRK: Flesh woman to touch, to hold. A beach to walk on. A few days, no braid on my shoulder.

It’s fantastically well played-out as Spock’s initial obsession with the subject of love infects a weakened Kirk, and the gravity of the present situation that Kirk first tried to impress brings Spock out of his delirium. By the end they’ve reversed roles: Spock is steady and sober, committed to saving the ship, and Kirk is a mess of emotions, feeling trapped by his relationship to the Enterprise.

Meanwhile, McCoy has discovered that the infection is passed by perspiration and devised a serum that he tests (successfully) on Sulu. Sulu returns to the bridge, followed by Kirk (to whom the doctor promptly administers an antidote via an entirely unnecessary shirt rip). Still struggling with his emotions, the captain reaches his hand over to Yeoman Rand—and withdraws it, anguished, before giving the order to Spock to try to save the Enterprise. Just as the ship is about to be consumed by the planet’s atmosphere, the cold matter and antimatter mix in an explosion. They travel faster than is at all possible, and slowly wind down power, only to discover that the chronometer has been going backwards. It’s three days earlier, and they have three days to live all over again…

Wow. This episode completely blew me away. It’s smart, it’s thoughtful, it’s action-packed, tense, even funny! I think from here on out it will be the episode to which I measure all others, whether I mean to or not. Let’s start with talking about the firsts in this episode: we get see the Vulcan nerve pinch and time travel, which seems like little more than aside at the end, but is absolutely huge. The abrupt ending is due in part to the fact that this episode was intended to be a two-parter. The second half eventually became “Tomorrow is Yesterday.”

“The Naked Time” posed a question that has always nagged me about the possibility of space travel: even if we can, why is it that we should? Space, here, is a dangerous, empty, inhospitable place, and it’s not meant for men. The idea of the terrible unknown is a recurring theme, from Spock summarizing the madness phenomenon as “like nothing we’ve dealt with before,” to reminding the captain that “instruments register only those things they’re designed to register. Space still contains infinite unknowns.” This is actually repeated in sickbay: “Bones, I want the impossible checked out, too.” The dangers they know of in space—aliens, disintegrating planets, vast swaths of unpopulated emptiness—are insignificant compared to the great threat of the unknown. So why go? Why do it at all? Even in the pursuit of knowledge the cost—the emotional cost of devastating loneliness, and the very human cost of lives lost on these planets and in these missions—is so great. This threat has always weighed on the minds of the men and women onboard, particularly Tormolen. I thought that his speech on men in space was poignant:

We’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Sticking our noses into something that we’ve got no business. What are we doing out here, anyway?….We bring pain and trouble with us, leave men and women stuck out on freezing planets until they die. What are we doing out here in space? Good? What good? We’re polluting it, destroying it. We’ve got no business being out here. No business….If a man was supposed to fly, he’d have wings. If he was supposed to be out in space, he wouldn’t need air to breathe, wouldn’t need life-support systems to keep him from freezing to death…. We don’t belong here. It’s not ours. Not ours. Destroying and watching. We don’t belong. I don’t belong. Six people died down there. Why do I deserve to live?

He has a point, but, if you ask me, the fact that the Enterprise is orbiting Psi 2000 is no coincidence—Spock describes the process it’s going through as “Earth’s distant future.” Men go into space because they must. Because knowledge, expansion, and exploration are the only way to ensure a future for the human race. Because the Earth will not always be there for us, even if we are there for it.

And what is man, at his basest? We see men and women, stripped of their inhibitions, acting only on their tumultuous hearts. Tormolen self-destructs under the weight of his own doubts. Riley’s self-aggrandizement jeopardizes the entire ship and its crew. Sulu, the quiet science officer, secretly harbors a passionate desire to be a hero. Nurse Chapel declares her love for Spock, but it’s not a sexualized or even idealized love; she accepts him for what he is. Spock is filled only with regret and self-loathing, wishing he had had the courage to love his mother and not be ashamed of his friendship with Kirk. Vulnerable, threatened, and lacking the emotional maturity to make sense of it, Spock breaks down. And Kirk, well Kirk is tied to his Enterprise, his relationship to her necessarily limiting (if not entirely suppressing) all other emotional attachments. He can’t “notice” Yeoman Rand because he has a responsibility as the captain to transcend those kinds of attachments. His needs are trumped by the needs of the crew and the ship. Yet the thought of losing the ship is one he can’t possibly bear. “Never lose you. Never,” he whispers to the Enterprise. To Kirk, love is something he’s “better off without,” bringing only suffering and longing. It can only remain unfulfilled. Man doesn’t need space to be lonely—he can do it all on his lonesome.

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

Eugene Myers: This is a weird episode, with enough uneven elements that it probably shouldn’t work. But I find this is still a lot of fun and thoughtful, and it’s one of the episodes I usually think of as quintessential Star Trek.

The alien virus is a clever, if sometimes clumsy, way to set up a lot of character background in a really short period of time. This episode clearly shows us Spock’s conflict over his human and Vulcan sides, literally displaying the warring emotions he bottles up with logic. It’s very touching when he says, “My mother. I could never tell her I loved her.” He doesn’t make the same mistake with Kirk when he admits: “Jim, when I feel friendship for you, I’m ashamed.” Through the same mechanism, we see Kirk’s slavish devotion to the only real woman in his life, Enterprise. The last shot in that scene, when he says, “Never lose you. Never,” completely defines him and resonates all the way through to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when (SPOILER!) he is forced to sacrifice her at last. Most notably, this is Nurse Chapel’s first episode (she’s only called Christine in the episode and the credits) and we already know that her love for Spock is a key aspect of her character. There were also some light touches I enjoyed: McCoy’s Southern accent is more noticeable when he says “His wounds were not that severe.”

The episode is overall a pretty serious one, especially when Joe starts voicing his doubts over whether humans should be in space at all. I was particularly struck by the messages scrawled on the Enterprise’s walls: LOVE MANKIND and SINNER REPENT in blood red paint. But the somber tone is balanced with humor, as this has some truly funny moments. When Spock subdues the swashbuckling Sulu with a Vulcan neck pinch, he orders the crew to “take d’Artagnan here to Sickbay.” And as Riley continues to serenade the ship with “Kathleen,” Kirk reacts with visible pain and mutters, “Please, not again.” There are some overly melodramatic and silly moments (such as the dangerous butter knife Joe tries to kill himself with, and McCoy tearing half Kirk’s sleeve off to use the hypospray), but they don’t diminish the effectiveness of the whole.

The strangest thing in this episode is the resolution, when they inadvertently discover the ability to travel through time. Introducing the concept of timewarp in the last few minutes feels like they’re laying the ground work for later episodes (and, perhaps a film…) which seems unusual for a weekly show that “resets” at the end of the episode. As Torie pointed out, that’s exactly what they were doing.

Overall, this is a terrific episode which far surpasses its fairly embarrassing sequel on Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Naked Now.”

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

Best Line: Sulu, brandishing a foil: “Richelieu, beware! Stand. No farther. No escape for you. You either leave this bois bloodied, or with my blood on your swords. Cowards!”

Syndication Edits: They cut some of the sillier Riley stuff, like sauntering through the corridors and blowing on the sickbay doors to open them. The most upsetting cut is certainly Sulu playing with the rapier and accidentally poking himself. The mixed expression of surprise and delight is just unmissable.

Other notes: Wikipedia claims that Sulu was originally going to play with a katana, but that the idea was tossed to avoid racial stereotyping. If that’s true, that’s spectacular! What an easy pitfall they could’ve fallen into, and yet they didn’t! The result is a truly remarkable scene, one that Takei remembers as his favorite on the show. Who wouldn’t want to be an 18th century swashbuckler?

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 3 – “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 5 – “The Enemy Within.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

This post originally appeared at

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.