Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Star Trek: "Catspaw"

Premiered October 27, 1967

McCoy: Three witches ... what appears to be a castle, and a black cat.
Kirk:  If we weren't missing two officers and a third one dead, I'd say someone was playing an elaborate trick-or-treat on us. 
Spock:  Trick or treat, captain? 
Kirk:  Yes, Mr. Spock.  You'd be a natural.

The starship Enterprise is orbiting a planet.  A landing party has not checked in, this worries the ship's captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).  A crewman named Jackson beams up from the planet and dies upon arrival.  An eerie voice emanates from Jackson's mouth, telling the captain that the entire crew of the Enterprise will die if they don't turn back.

Kirk departs for the planet's surface to investigate the matter.  He's accompanied by Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelly).

Kirk and the others detect no lifeforms on the planet, but suddenly, three witches appear in front of them, telling the men to turn back and "remember the curse!"  Spock determines that the witches aren't real, so they proceed, eventually discovering a castle.

Upon entering the castle, they encounter a black cat wearing a crystal pendant.  They follow the cat, but the floor collapses underneath them and our heroes are knocked out due to the fall.  When they come to, they find themselves in irons in a spooky dungeon complete with skeleton.

"Bones?  Doc?"
Missing crew members Scott (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei) appear.  They're alive, but somewhat zombiefied, apparently under the control of some outside force.    Kirk, Spock and McCoy try to snap their friends out of their catatonic state, but find themselves teleported to another room in the castle where they meet a man in mysterious wizard robes calling himself Korob (Theodore Marcuse) and see the black cat again.

The wizard appears to consult the cat for advice and then admits that he is not native to this world in response to Spock's questions.  Korob then attempts to ply our heroes with food, drink and gems -- all to get them to leave and not ask any questions. 

Kirk informs the wizard that he's done his research badly if he thinks they will leave without getting to the bottom of things.   Korob changes his tune and says that he wanted to test the crew and that they've proven themselves to be loyal, brave and incorruptible.

Sylvia performs some sympathetic magic on the Enterprise
The black cat leaves the room and shortly thereafter an alluring sorceress calling herself Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) appears.  She is wearing a pendant identical to the cat's. When Kirk demands that his men be released, she dangles a miniature of the Enterprise above a lit candle,  and the crew on the ship reports a rapid inexplicable rise in hull temperature!  Kirk reluctantly agrees to cooperate to save his crew.

Sylvia finds that she likes these new (to her) human sensations,  but her tastes seem to trend a bit toward the sadistic and beyond the bounds of the original mission.  She and Korob argue about this.

Sylvia takes an interest in Kirk and tells him that she and Korob are visitors from another galaxy.

They can read and control human minds using something called a transmuter.   She then realizes that Kirk has been using her to get information and transforms herself into a giant cat. 

Hell hath no fury ... 
Will Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise survive this Halloween encounter?

RigbyMel says:

Even though it's not one of the best in the original series, "Catspaw" is a fun episode of Star Trek.  I've heard quite a few people try to fault Star Trek: TOS on its relatively low-tech and definitely low budget special effects, but I think they're part of what makes the series extra fun in general.  The story for "Catspaw" takes some abrupt turns which make it not quite as great as it could have been, but it's still quite enjoyable.

I really quite like the way the aliens of the week tap into the human collective unconscious in an attempt to frighten the Enterprise crew -- that's one of the important elements of Halloween, after all, isn't it?  Additionally, Korob and Sylvia have donned costumes in celebration of the spookiest of human holidays.
Korob and Sylvia in their natural forms ... that of somewhat unconvincing marionettes! 

The title of the episode "Catspaw" refers to a person used unwittingly or unwillingly by another and is a reference to a La Fontaine fairy tale.   Scotty and Sulu are used as catspaws to lure more crew members to the planet.    Moreover the transmuter serves as sort of a pseudo-scientific technological catspaw that allows Korob and Sylvia to attempt to bend the Enterprise crew to their will.

This episode was written by Robert Bloch who also wrote the novel upon which the classic horror film Psycho was based.  In addition to writing a couple of other episodes of Star Trek: TOS,  Bloch was a big fan of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and also contributed to various pulp magazines such as Weird Tales.

Robert Bloch
This episode is also notable because it marks the first filmed appearance of Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) -- they hadn't quite gotten his hair right.  The episode was the first one shot for season 2, but did not air until around Halloween in 1967.

Observe Chekov's rather over-the-top wig on the left! 
I remember watching this episode with fascination when I was eight or nine and it was being shown in re-runs.   Little me found it fun/creepy and older/wiser me still enjoys it.

If you're a fan of Star Trek: TOS and Halloween hi-jinks,  "Catspaw" is definitely a good addition to your spooky seasonal viewing!

RigbyMel's rating:

3 jack o lanterns

J.A. Morris says:

I'll note that Catspaw does NOT take place during Halloween.  However, the fact it was intentionally aired on NBC close to All Hallows' Eve and contains lots of skeletons, witches and black cats (plus multiple mentions of trick-or-treating), it was obviously intended to be a holiday episode.


I've been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can recall.  This is basically a typical "Enterprise encounters alien of the week" episode...with the addition of Halloween trappings.  It's a fun episode and it's become part of my seasonal viewing.

"Catspaw" featured the final appearance of the character DeSalle, the Enterprise's assistant engineer.  It's the third appearance of the character and the only time DeSalle gets to sit in the captain's chair.  Shortly after this episode, Michael Barrier, who played DeSalle quit acting a became a lawyer for the U.S. Coast Guard. 

DeSalle takes command of Enterprise.
"Catspaw" is lots of fun and should be added to the list of Halloween viewing for every Trekker and will likely be enjoyed by everyone who enjoys Halloween episodes.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 jack o' lanterns.

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