Platos Stepchildren

Plato's Stepchildren

"Plato's Stepchildren" is a third season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, first broadcast November 22, 1968. It is episode #65, production #67, written by Meyer Dolinsky, and directed by David Alexander. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of an inter-racial kiss on United States television (between Kirk and Uhura).

Overview: The crew of the Enterprise encounters a mischievous race of humanoids.

Plot

On stardate 5784.2, the starship USS Enterprise, after receiving a distress call, arrives at a planet that is highly enriched with rare kironide mineral deposits. Captain James T. Kirk, along with his first officer Mr. Spock and chief medical officer Dr. McCoy, beam down to the planet to investigate.

Once there, they are greeted by a friendly dwarf named Alexander, who wears clothing reminiscent of Earth's Ancient Greece. Alexander leads the landing party to meet the rest of his people who call themselves Platonians in honor of the Greek philosopher Plato. The Platonians indicate that they had spent time on Earth during the golden age of the Greek civilization and modeled their ways after it. All of the Platonians, except for Alexander, seem to possess telekinetic powers.

The Platonians explain the reason for "luring" them to their planet centers on their leader Parmen, who has contracted an infection in his leg. The resulting fever caused by his injury has made him delirious and his psychokinetic powers are running haywire. In one outburst, he causes objects such as urns and large chessmen to fly about the room. Parmen's fit also rattles the Enterprise up in orbit. Interestingly enough, despite their telekinetic powers, the planet's natives suffer from impaired immune systems which cannot fight off even marginal infections or injuries.

After Dr. McCoy treats Parmen, he demands that McCoy remain on the planet permanently in case something similar happens to him or someone else in the future. Naturally, Captain Kirk deems this unacceptable, so he is punished with the Platonians' powers. They humiliate Kirk and Spock as Dr. McCoy watches, forcing them to do little songs and dances like foolish court jesters. Parmen forces Spock to laugh, then, when McCoy objects, makes Spock cry. The Platonians then use their powers to send down other Enterprise officers to the planet for their entertainment, namely Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel.

Once on the planet, the officers quickly get their bodies usurped by Parmen who proceeds to make Kirk, Spock, Chapel and Uhura perform for the gathered Platonians and a captive McCoy. Spock is prompted to sing about sex to the women as Alexander plays a harp, then Parmen pairs off Spock with Chapel and Kirk with Uhura. He makes the couples kiss, then when Parmen's wife gets bored he has the men threaten the women with weapons, Kirk with a whip and Spock with a hot poker. Alexander becomes angry after watching the humiliating tricks played upon the crew by his Platonian masters. He tries to attack Parmen with a knife, but Parmen stops him in his tracks with his power and forces Alexander to turn the knife onto himself.

Earlier however, Dr. McCoy had managed to isolate and identify the substance that provides the inhabitants with their special powers: the kironide mineral itself, which is abundant in the natural food and water supply of the planet. McCoy is able to prepare a serum and inject Captain Kirk and Spock with doses of it. Kirk uses his new found telekinetic powers in a contest of strength with Parman, and the two fight for control of Alexander's knife.

Kirk's willpower wins out. The Platonian admits defeat and begs for mercy where he promises to mend his bullying ways. Kirk warns him that the events encountered here will be reported to Starfleet and if Parmen goes back on his word, the powers can be recreated by anyone whenever they wish in order to defeat him.

Kirk promises to send appropriate medical technicians to the planet as long as the Platonians behave themselves. Alexander, who would not internalize the empowering substance because he did not wish to "become one of them", is released from his duty as serving the planet's denizens as a slave and jester, and requests to go with the Enterprise to start a new (and presumably happier) life elsewhere in the galaxy.

40th Anniversary remastering

This episode was re-mastered in 2006 and was first aired June 16, 2007 as part of the remastered 40th Anniversary original series. It was preceded a week earlier by the remastered version of "Spock's Brain" and was followed a week later by a re-air of "Miri" which was followed a week later by the remastered version of "The Omega Glory". Aside from remastered video and audio, and the all-CGI animation of the Enterprise that is standard among the revisions, specific changes to this episode also include:

  • The Platonian world was given more realistic Earth-like detail.
  • Animation of the Enterprise as it struggles against Parman's psychokinetic pull has been redone.
  • In a short close-up the display on McCoy's Tricorder is given a more realistic graphic.

Notes

The kiss

The episode is often cited as the "first interracial kiss" depicted on television, between James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), but the reality is not so straightforward. William Shatner recalls in Star Trek Memories that NBC insisted their lips never touch (the technique of turning their heads away from the camera was used to conceal this); moreover, the episode portrays the kiss as involuntary, being forced by telekinesis. However, Nichelle Nichols insists in her autobiography Beyond Uhura (written in 1994 after Shatner's book) that the kiss was real, even in takes where her head obscures their lips.

The term "interracial" is used in this context to mean between black and white actors. There had been a number of interethnic kisses on American TV before this, most notably the two leads of the long-running American sitcom I Love Lucy (white and Hispanic). Star Trek itself had also previously featured such interethnic kisses between white and non-white actors (specifically Madlyn Rhue with Ricardo Montalban in "Space Seed", and William Shatner with France Nuyen in "Elaan of Troyius") but had drawn no comment. Furthermore, the 'taboo' of white and black actors kissing had already been broken by child actor Buckwheat from the The Little Rascals (though that first aired as films) and NBC itself: Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. kissed in the 1967 TV special Movin' with Nancy (though on British television the event had happened even earlier, in the 1964 hospital drama Emergency Ward 10). And, finally, the statement applies to actors, not characters: stage productions and television presentations of Othello featured white actors in blackface kissing white actresses.

Despite this, when NBC executives learned of the kiss they became concerned it would anger TV stations in the conservative Deep South. At one point during negotiations, the idea was brought up of having Spock kiss Uhura instead, but William Shatner insisted that they stick with the original script. NBC finally ordered that two versions of the scene be shot -- one where Kirk and Uhura kissed and one where they did not. Having successfully recorded the former version of the scene, Shatner and Nichelle Nichols deliberately flubbed every take of the latter version, thus forcing the episode to go out with the kiss intact. As Nichelle Nichols writes:

'Knowing that Gene was determined to air the real kiss, Bill shook me and hissed menacingly in his best ham-fisted Kirkian staccato delivery, "I! WON'T! KISS! YOU! I! WON'T! KISS! YOU!"
It was absolutely awful, and we were hysterical and ecstatic. The director was beside himself, and still determined to get the kissless shot. So we did it again, and it seemed to be fine. "Cut! Print! That's a wrap!"
The next day they screened the dailies, and although I rarely attended them, I couldn't miss this one. Everyone watched as Kirk and Uhura kissed and kissed and kissed. And I'd like to set the record straight: Although Kirk and Uhura fought it, they did kiss in every single scene. When the non-kissing scene came on, everyone in the room cracked up. The last shot, which looked okay on the set, actually had Bill wildly crossing his eyes. It was so corny and just plain bad it was unusable. The only alternative was to cut out the scene altogether, but that was impossible to do without ruining the entire episode. Finally, the guys in charge relented: "To hell with it. Let's go with the kiss." I guess they figured we were going to be cancelled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed.'

There were, however, few contemporary records of any complaints commenting on the scene. Nichelle Nichols observes that "Plato's Stepchildren" which first aired in November 1968 "received a huge response. We received one of the largest batches of fan mail ever, all of it very positive, with many addressed to me from girls wondering how it felt to kiss Captain Kirk, and many to him from guys wondering the same thing about me. Interestingly, however, almost no one found the kiss offensive" except from a single mildly negative letter by a white Southerner. Nichols notes that "for me, the most memorable episode of our last season was 'Plato's Stepchildren.'

British transmission

In the United Kingdom, the BBC skipped this episode in 1970s and 1980s runs of the series, though not due to the kiss between Kirk and Uhura (as noted, that "taboo" had already long been broken on British TV). The reason was that Star Trek was shown in the very early evening (initially in the Saturday "teatime" slot also held by Doctor Who), and there had been viewer complaints about "sadistic violence" in the first season episode "Miri". The BBC reviewed subsequent episodes and dropped (amongst others) "Plato's Stepchildren" on the grounds of Alexander's degrading treatment. However, the episode was released on home video in the 1980s together with the other untelevised episodes, and was finally broadcast on British television in 1993.

References

External links


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