Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “Albatross”

Written by Dario Finelli
Directed by Bill Reed

Season 2, Episode 4
Production episode: 22019
Original air date: September 28, 1974
Star date: 5275.6

Mission summary

After Enterprise delivers medical supplies to Dramia, the grateful Dramians reward them by arresting Dr. McCoy, claiming that 19 years before he caused a plague that killed hundreds of people on Dramia II.

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice… Kirk is incensed at these accusations and distrusts the Dramian legal system. But McCoy starts to doubt himself.

MCCOY: I just don’t know. Is it possible that I really did?
KIRK: Nonsense.
SPOCK: The termination of your inoculation programme and the subsequent outbreak of plague could have been coincidence, Doctor.
MCCOY: Or a tragic mistake on my part.
KIRK: I don’t buy that, Bones.

Kirk shifts into Perry Mason mode and decides to launch an investigation of his own on Dramia II, without authorization from Starfleet. But time is of the essence since the Dramians are quick to mete out their brand of justice.

The Dramian who arrested McCoy, Demos, follows Enterprise in his own ship, and Kirk decides to set a trap for him. He instructs the crew to ignore the ship, pretending they haven’t spotted it, and orders Sulu to open the hangar doors. Demos takes the bait–he brings his ship aboard and starts sneaking around Enterprise, where he is promptly captured by Kirk and Spock. He arrests Demos as a stowaway and impounds his ship. “I have been tricked!” Demos laments.

They arrive at Dramia II and note the presence of an Aurora in the vicinity: a rainbow-colored field of intense, but seemingly harmless radiation. Demos insists on accompanying them to the planet’s surface. They beam down and are stunned by the barren wasteland.

KIRK: Not the most enchanting place I’ve ever been to.
DEMOS: Plagues seldom leave behind fields of flowers, Captain.

Demos sounds a little bitter.

They discover someone watching them and follow him to a cave, where they’re ambushed. They manage to subdue the creature, a Dramian who missed out on the plague; he returned home to find his family dead and retreated into the caves with a small band of others to grieve. Demos claims that there were no true survivors.

Oh, except for that one guy, Kol-Tai, an old man who comes forward singing the praises of Dr. McCoy for saving his life–but from Saurian virus, not the plague. While the people around him grew sick–turning blue, then green, then red–he did not die. Kol-Tai agrees to return to Enterprise to be brought to the Dramian Hall of Justice as a character witness to clear McCoy of his charges.

On their way back to Dramia, they pass through the Aurora, and Kol-Tai’s skin suddenly turns blue.

KIRK: Set up an immediate quarantine, Lieutenant.
SPOCK: He’s hardly fit to testify at the trial, Captain.
KIRK: We’ve got to save him.
DEMOS: For McCoy’s sake.
KIRK: Yes, for McCoy’s sake. And for Kol-Tai’s sake too. You see, Commander, we do place a value on life. All life.

He argues with Demos until he’s blue in the face. But when the whole crew suffers the same change in pigmentation, it’s clear they’ve all contracted the Dramian plague and they aren’t feeling too smurfy. Kirk transfers command to Spock, who issues General Order Six. Sulu uses the last of his energy on exposition: “If everyone on board has perished at the end of twenty four hours, the ship will self-destruct in order to protect other beings from the disease on board.”

Dramia hails the ship and Spock requests they release Dr. McCoy to help them out with the little medical problem on board. He explains that they have a character witness who can clear the doctor, but since Kol-Tai and everyone else is too sick to be of any use, the Dramians accuse Spock of lying.

Kirk shifts into the next stage of the disease: green. So Spock decides to spring McCoy from jail on his own. He beams down, knocks out McCoy’s guard with a neck pinch, frees him from his force field, and they beam back to Enterprise. Easy peasy.

It’s not so simple curing the plague however, which has reached the yellow stage; there aren’t any records on the colorful disease, and the nearby Aurora is interfering with McCoy’s readings. Suddenly he makes the rainbow connection: the Aurora must be responsible! McCoy is relieved that he didn’t kill a bunch of people through medical malpractice, and Spock suggests the final link. Kol-Tai was spared 19 years ago after receiving Saurian virus antibodies.

They just happen to have some on hand, and he quickly administers it to the important people on the ship: Kirk, Demos, and Kol-Tai. That Kol-Tai’s a lucky guy.

Demos changes his tune and thanks Dr. McCoy, and all of Dramia now celebrates him for the genius he is. Both sides decide to ignore the other’s indiscretions. Spock won’t let McCoy rest on his laurels though. He chastises him for failing to administer the crew’s vitamin rations.

MCCOY: Spock, you know as well as I do what we’ve all just been through.
SPOCK: Hippocrates would not have approved of lame excuses, Doctor.
MCCOY: Why, that, that. Jim, if I’m ever in jail again, don’t send that Vulcan to release me. Just let me rot.


This episode has a terrific premise, with McCoy being tried on another planet and his crew forced to work within the system, more or less, to save him. Kind of a twist on the tired court martial scenario from the original series, this setup recurs often in the later shows, and even in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The conflict feels very personal and real, and what works best for me is that McCoy judges himself so harshly and questions whether he was somehow responsible for the plague–even while Kirk is certain of his innocence. He is such a good person, who values life more highly than anyone, that he tortures himself over it and willingly submits himself to Dramian judgment.

Once again, the crew goes to extreme lengths to preserve their own, even if they have to break the law to do it. Unfortunately, this requires Kirk to be portrayed as irrational and suspicious–even prejudiced, when he tells Demos “I’ve heard about Dramian justice.” Not very tolerant or diplomatic, Captain. And he fails to acknowledge that regardless of McCoy’s good intentions, he’s as fallible as anyone and could have made a mistake, even one as devastating as the one he’s accused of.

The worst mark against the episode is how the characters are forced into action that serves the plot. Kirk’s ruse with the open hangar bay is ridiculous, but it’s even dumber for Demos to board Enterprise just after he’s seen the doors open. And it’s strange for Kirk to hold Demos as a stowaway then invite him to the Bridge and the landing party as though he’s an honored guest. The whole aurora/plague thing was also rather simplistic.

I was surprised at how grim the episode was though, with the grief-stricken cave dwellers and the post-apocalyptic landscape of Dramia II, though these just jar even more against the cartoonish restraints of the series format.

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

Torie Atkinson: “Albatross” could have been an excellent original series episode, but it manages to be only a passable cartoon. The elements are too complex and too adult. An indictment of kangaroo courts isn’t going to hit home for the under-12 set, and the kid-friendly solutions lead the rest of us to shake our heads. (Said witch hunts are entirely cured in the end by some handshaking, with no implied structural changes to their justice system. Lucky thing, huh?) It had at least one good thing going for it with the lesson that correlation does not equal causation, one of those ideas even adults need to be reminded about. The suspicions about McCoy’s presence right before the plague were entirely plausible, and I was easily led along in Kirk’s pursuit of an answer to the mystery of what happened.

While the solution (it was a coincidence in both respects! McCoy just happened to be there and his treatment of one thing just happened to treat another) worked for me, the details of how they got there were absolute bunk. When they said it was the aurora, I literally laughed out loud. Does no one actually known what an aurora is? Did the Enterprise fly through a storm cloud next, the corridors flooded with rainwater? The real tragedy here is that we’ve observed aurora on other planets–they’re planetary phenomena ripe for exploit in a science fiction story. But the writers couldn’t come up with anything about ionized particles? The best they could do was “rainbow space fever”?

And that wasn’t the only disappointing shortcut. Why would the Dramian see an open hangar bay and think it was anything other than a trap? How is it possible that the one survivor of the plague hadn’t been studied ad nauseum, for science? (Thank god Kirk and Spock wondered into the Caves of Coincidence in the first place. I should also note that the survivor’s seeming wisdom about how “a man who saves does not also kill” was disproved earlier in the franchise, with “The Conscience of the King.”) What exactly makes the cavies the “walking dead”? And why does Spock, upon kidnapping McCoy, give him absolutely no protection against the disease? Surely they have a hazmat suit lying around that would prevent the doctor from being infected himself. And finally, let us not forget the lazy, long silences as the camera zoomed in on still images–but that at least was probably not in the script.

At first I was thrilled that McCoy gets a chance to be the center of attention, but he winds up imprisoned and off-screen for most of the episode. In a shocking display of incompetence, he can’t figure out what’s going on until Kirk solves the puzzle for him. He doesn’t even get to manufacture a cure–he just uses some antibodies they already had in the vault that’ll do the trick. What’s he getting paid for, exactly?

And lastly, the writers and I need to have a serious talk about the literary implications of the word “albatross,” because clearly that word does not mean what they think it means. Assuming it refers to McCoy, it… nope, still doesn’t make sense. McCoy has done nothing wrong, and carries no burden or curse. So, what the hell? At least use the encyclopedia. It just makes me want to write a script called “Sword of Damocles” about Sulu collecting tiny swords that come in fruity drinks.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 3

Best Line: SPOCK: Hippocrates would not have approved of lame excuses, Doctor.

Trivia: None

Other notes: None

Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 3 – “The Practical Joker.”

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 5 – “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth.” 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.