by J.P. Schutz
“The Galileo Seven” is an interesting TOS episode in a number of ways. This mid-first season episode remains a favorite of many TOS fans while leaving others unsatisfied. This would be the first of many times that Trek would use the “downed shuttlecraft” as a plot device. As this was still Season 1, and Shatner had not yet forced his “star” issue on every plot, this is one of a number of first seasons episodes (“The Naked Time”, “The Enemy Within”, “Shore Leave”, “The Return of the Archons”) where Kirk does NOT lead a landing party.
According to the episode, the Enterprise has standing orders to investigate any Quasar and Quasar-like phenomenon they come across. (This is one of those times where Trek’s science did not manage to keep up; scientists now believe that Quasars are among the farthest away objects in the Universe). All well and good, except the Enterprise is on its way to Makus III for a rendezvous with another vessel to transfer needed perishable drugs for a plague that is “out-of-control” on the New Paris Colonies.
Here’s where the plot set-up gets a bit unbelievable. Having two days to “spare” in meeting the other ship, Kirk decides to stop and do some scientific research at the aforementioned Murasaki 312 Quasar. This has never made much sense. How could Starfleet, or the Federation for that matter, consider routine scientific research to be of more import than the lives of citizens being lost on a far-flung colony? Couldn’t the Enterprise have spent those additional two days at high warp moving along the path to the rendezvous ship, thereby getting the drugs to the plague victims a few days earlier? Can anyone imagine the Coast Guard on its way to rescue Katrina victims stopping for a bit of oceanographic research? Unbelievable? You bet. This is one of those times when the writing of an episode fails – setting up a “time is of the essence” situation that never would have been allowed to occur isn’t acceptable simply because this is “science fiction”.
Left with this rather implausible situation a shuttlecraft is sent out to do a survey with Spock in command of a crew of six. The shuttlecraft loses control in the quasar effect and crash lands on Taurus II – home to some extremely large Neanderthal-like hominids. We are led to believe by statements of McCoy’s that this is Spock’s FIRST experience with command. Hold on here a second – he’s been on the Enterprise since Pike’s time 13 years ago (established prior in “The Menagerie”), Second Officer, then First Officer – and he’s never commanded a survey or landing party? This makes no military sense (and contradicts several previous episodes: “The Menagerie” “The Squire of Gothos” “Court Martial”) – the First Officer of the flagship of the fleet better damn well have some command experience! Again we are creating a situation simply to enhance dramatic conflict, even though the situation makes no logical sense.
The Neanderthals attack and a crewman (not in a red shirt – a navigator) is killed. The rest of the castaways (except the stalwart Scotty) blame Spock for their circumstances, and racial prejudices against Vulcans are expressed. It’s interesting to note that in a real twist for the racially charged 1960’s the most bigotry is expressed by Lt. Boma – a crewman of African decent. The anti-Vulcan bigotry was handled better in “Balance of Terror” – here it merely appears as insubordination. It takes an unbelievably long time for anyone to call Boma on the boards for his behavior, and it is difficult to swallow the human crew members not understanding that a Vulcan would use logic to solve the problems of their crash.
Back on the Enterprise, a Federation Commissioner is aboard making veiled threats to Kirk about getting out of there and getting the perishable drugs to those who need them. As has been frequently done in Trek, the Commissioner is played as a pompous stuffed shirt, but the problem here is that HE IS RIGHT. Kirk, Sulu and Uhura are left pouting and moaning over their lost friends, not acknowledging the greater need elsewhere. This still being Season 1, Uhura and Sulu both get some good screen time, and Uhura takes over Spock’s station to lead the search for the shuttlecraft.
Back on the planet, Scott has an idea to refuel the shuttle using the energy from their phasers – but it still won’t have enough to lift off with all hands aboard. The Doctor and Scotty’s yeoman, Mears by name, hand over their phasers. (Note that this is one of the few times we see a female crewman with a phaser – did they think they couldn’t shoot?) Spock inexplicably orders Mr. Gaitano to stand guard alone some distance away from the shuttle, and he is conveniently killed, partly solving our weight problem. McCoy and Mears amazingly find enough in the tiny rear compartment to make up the rest of the weight. Lt. Boma wants to take Gaitano’s body and refuses to allow them to take off unless they do, or he has a proper burial. (I so hope this guy was up on a court martial the second they arrived back on the Enterprise). They do so, and naturally are attacked and Spock is almost killed.
The deadline for the rendezvous is approaching – the Enterprise’s sensors are still unreliable due to the Quasar, but Uhura managed to find Taurus II, and after some initial problems with the transporters landing parties are sent down. Naturally the landing parties are attacked, and many are injured with one killed, bringing our death toll to three. Finally, they are out of time, and the Commissioner demands Kirk leave for the rendezvous. Again, more protests from Kirk about their friends still being out there – but the Commissioner will have none of it. Kirk leaves Taurus II, but does not engage warp drive, with all sensors trained behind them on the planet.
The shuttle barely manages to take off, and they have only enough fuel for a few orbits before they will crash land again on the surface – a prospect none of them relish. Mears is unable to raise the Enterprise and Spock realizes they must have been ordered to leave. In an act that is the most discussed decision in the episode, Spock jettisons the rest of their fuel and ignites it. The shuttle’s orbit begins to decay, but the Enterprise spots their “distress flare” on their sensors and the five survivors are beamed aboard. Spock is accused of an “emotional act” which he denies. I agree with Spock – he would have known that Kirk would have waited until the last possible moment to leave and would train the sensors on the planet as he left the system. Without communications, this was the only way to get the Enterprise’s attention. Death by atmospheric burn-up and death by Neanderthal are both still dead – this was the only act that could have changed that outcome. To my mind, that IS thinking logically.
Despite the number of plot holes that permeate the episode, “The Galileo Seven” is actually quite exciting and watchable. Like a Dan Brown novel, its fast pace and switching quickly back and forth from planet to ship keep the viewer interest and the sense of danger heightened – so long as one doesn’t look at the story too closely or question its motives. It’s also interesting to watch Kirk deal with being powerless – we empathize with him even though, if looked at logically his decisions are morally wrong. The episode shows what tight directing and film editing can do with even a flawed script.
Full episode available on YouTube