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TOS Rewind #44: "The Immunity Syndrome"

OK, back in the saddle with a real classic from Season 2: The Immunity Syndrome (1/19/1968)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast for this one. Listen or download it here.

I'm starting things off this time:

This episode falls into the classic formula where the Enterprise finds something out in space and has to deal with it. For me, this kind of story line is one of the core narratives in Star Trek and also one of the most appealing. This exploration narrative has some real science fiction meat to it; the ideas here are quite compelling. One of the aspects of Trek that I have always been attracted to is the idea of the Enterprise being out there in space, just exploring and sometimes they find some very bad things. In this case, the menace is a totally mindless and yet very deadly life form that must be destroyed before it gets too far into populated space. On the surface, this has some similarities to the challenge presented in "The Doomsday Machine," back in Season 1. Hell, there is even a prior failed attempt by another Federation starship. However, the way the crew goes about handling the creature in this episode is different.

Having the Intrepid, first ship to encounter the creature manned entirely by Vulcans is an interesting twist. The way the Intrepid is portrayed in the episode makes it a good addition to Spock's character and the entire Vulcan development on the show. When the crew of the Intrepid dies, Spock feels them die, even from a relatively vast distance away. This sense of connectedness is nicely used in the dialogue when Spock explains this to Kirk and McCoy with a comment about how humans just might have had fewer bloody wars if they had this kind of sensitivity; humans care deeply about individuals, yet can be quite indifferent to mass suffering. George Lucas would later use this idea in the first Star Wars movie when Obi Wan Kenobi (hey, did you know that MS Word recognizes "Obi Wan Kenobi" in its dictionary?!) feels the people of Alderaan cry out before they are blown to smithereens; Vulcan Jedi mind tricks indeed.

The pacing of this episode from when the Enterprise is trapped in the void of the creature is very effective. It is established that the crew is already tired and due for some down time. The fact that the creature saps energy from the ship and the people aboard is nicely integrated into the story and the way the characters act as the story plays out.
Perhaps one of the best things I see in this episode is the way that the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic is used, especially between Spock and McCoy. The way that the two fight about which one of them is more suited to go on the shuttle mission, which is sure to be a one-way trip, is handled very well. Not only are both of them driven by their scientific curiosity, but also in a last way to one-up the other and go out in a blaze of glory. Spock's human side is on full display this time. The most effective scenes are when Spock asks McCoy to wish him luck before he gets aboard the shuttle; McCoy says nothing, but wishes him luck after the doors have closed. Later, when it looks like Spock is doomed, he makes a last jab at McCoy, "Doctor, you should have wished me luck." Wow, that is actually very powerful stuff for those two. Between those lines and the reaction of McCoy and Kirk packs quite the emotional wallop. The character dynamic of these characters really didn't get much better than that.

This episode has always been a favorite of mine, even when I was growing up. There isn't any real space combat, but the dramatic tension, sense of danger, and space exploration ideas really worked for me. The addition of weird creature shots in space combined with the ships being menaced by a humongous space amoeba-like thing did the trick.

I once again watched the BD version with the new effects shots. I was pretty happy with the way they did the new shots although I always felt that the original effects worked remarkably well on this episode so I don't know how much there really was to improve upon. As always, the image quality was top notch.

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Now let's see what Eric has to say on this one:

When I saw that "The Immunity Syndrome" was coming up, I felt a bit of trepidation. It had been years since I'd seen it, and I had to wonder if the premise of a giant space amoeba would hold up or be unbearably campy. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised.

All the usual plaudits apply: good story, acting, direction, and production. But what puts this episode in my top 20 (maybe top 10) is that it has heart. The script manages to be genuinely dramatic (no cliché or self-parody), and the character interactions, particularly those between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, are poignant and touching without being maudlin. My favorite line is Spock's: "Tell Dr. McCoy he should have wished me luck."

Another aspect of "The Immunity Syndrome" I appreciate is that it introduces some really cool SF concepts in an intelligent, believable way. My initial concern about the "giant space amoeba" element of the story was unfounded. The way McCoy describes the creature is simply to compare it to an amoeba as the closest analog in our science. And the idea that there could be an entity so huge that to it we're nothing more than microscopic particles is a delightfully mind-bending concept.

Thanks to John, I got to see the remastered version of this episode, and unlike some of the other remastered episodes, this one is a worthwhile improvement over the original. The new special effects of the creature and its interaction with the Enterprise are subtle but impressive.

For me, there are no real negatives associated with "The Immunity Syndrome." As fas as I'm concerned, we can chalk up another home run for original Star Trek.

Next time: "Return to Tomorrow"