(written from a Production point of view)
On a doomed planet Kirk, Spock, and McCoy become the subjects of an alien experiment whose mysterious intention involves a beautiful, empathic woman.
The USS Enterprise is ordered to evacuate a research station on the planet Minara II whose sun, Minara, is about to go nova. Captain Kirk, Commander Spock, and Doctor McCoy beam down to the planet. They find the six-month old research station abandoned, with dust covering the floor and desks, indicating that the station has been uninhabited for some time. Informed by Scott of an imminent solar flare with high levels of cosmic rays, Kirk immediately orders Scott to take the Enterprise out of orbit, reasoning that the landing party will be protected by the planet's atmosphere during the 74.1 solar hours it will take for the flare to subside. Upon consulting a visual tape recording, the landing party discovers that the two researchers, Drs. Ozaba and Linke, had mysteriously disappeared three months earlier amid a flurry of seismic activity and deafening noise. Soon after this discovery the landing party similarly vanishes, while hearing the same noise.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy appear 121.32 meters (around 400 feet deep) below the planet's surface. They were transported by a matter-energy scrambler similar to their transporter technology. After wandering through a cavern, they encounter a humanoid woman reclining on a dimly lit, cross-shaped couch. McCoy wants to go forward because she looks harmless, but Spock reminds him that the sand bats of Manark IV look like inanimate rock crystals until they attack.
The woman awakens but does not respond to any of Kirk's questions. McCoy determines that she does not have any vocal cords, not even vestigial, indicating that she comes from a species of mutes. Kirk observes that she is very much like the naturally mute people of the civilization on Gamma Vertis IV. McCoy names her Gem.
Two different-looking humanoid aliens suddenly appear to the landing party. Identifying themselves as Vians, Thann and Lal, they make it clear that they know the identities of the landing party. They demand that Kirk not interfere, and when he approaches they stun him with a hand-held control device with a red button on the face. Kirk points out that if the Vians know who they are, they also must know that they come in peace and that their Prime Directive prohibits interference.
The Vians momentarily trap the landing party in a force field while they tend to Gem. McCoy tells Kirk not to fight the force field since it interferes with the body's metabolism. The Vians correct McCoy's hypothesis, saying that the field draws its strength from their bodies' energy and the more they resist the stronger the field becomes. They depart and the field vanishes.
Kirk has suffered a cut on his forehead and when he touches Gem to see if she is all right, she recoils in pain. Gem composes herself and then touches Kirk's wound. With a flash, the wound is transferred to Gem's forehead. A doubting Kirk touches her wound and notes the blood on his finger. Suddenly, the wound on Gem's forehead quickly heals as well. McCoy, observing, is clearly impressed by her ability to heal and surmises that Gem is an empath. Her emotional system is so sensitive that it feels the pain of another and that pain becomes part of her, before she dissipates it.
Spock finds that his tricorder now gives readings of electronically sophisticated devices elsewhere. Heading to the source of the readings, they find a laboratory with the deceased Drs. Linke and Ozaba trapped in clear tubes marked with their names, their bodies twisted in agony.
There are also tubes designated for McCoy, Kirk, and Spock. One of the Vians appears and says there is need for more testing. He blames Ozaba's and Linke's "imperfections" for their deaths. While Kirk talks, Spock sneaks up behind and gives the Vian a Vulcan nerve pinch. As the landing party walks off toward a passage to the surface Spock has located, the Vian arises. Apparently the nerve pinch was less effective than normal. He joins his companion, and they share a look that indicates they are impressed with the crew.
At the surface, Kirk tries to contact the Enterprise with his communicator, but the ship is out of range. He leads the landing party through a storm back to the abandoned research station, where it appears to them that Scotty, Lemli, and a security officer are waiting for them. Spock and McCoy go ahead with Gem, but Kirk spots the Vians watching them and stops. He moves toward them, but one uses his control unit to make Kirk move in slow motion. He remarks, "Their will to survive is great. They love life greatly to struggle so. The prime ingredient."
When Spock, McCoy, and Gem reach the research station, the images of Scotty and the security officers suddenly vanish. Gem brings Spock and McCoy back to where Kirk is confronting the Vians. They announce that they only need one specimen, so Kirk sends the others back to the ship. The Vians transport them away, and then recapture Kirk.
The Vians bring Kirk back to the laboratory. Here, where the bodies of Ozaba and Linke are displayed like specimens, the Vians chain a shirtless Kirk by his arms to the ceiling. They tell him they want to witness his courage and will to survive. Kirk asks, "Why? What is it you hope to prove? If my death is to have any meaning, at least tell me what I'm dying for!" Thann says that if Kirk lives, he will have his answer. Using their control units, they torture Kirk, as Gem watches helplessly.
Spock and McCoy have been transported to the chamber where they originally met Gem. When Kirk and Gem are also transported there, Spock and McCoy are trapped in a force field. With McCoy's encouragement, Gem heals Kirk's wrist wounds. When she finishes, she collapses. The process is physically draining and, apparently, has its limits.
The Vians return and indicate that, for their next experimental subject, Kirk must choose either Spock or McCoy. To make the decision all the more difficult, the Vians indicate that there is a 93% chance that Spock will suffer brain damage and permanent insanity, and an 87% chance that McCoy will die.
Spock analyzes the confiscated Vian hand device. McCoy, uncomfortable with the wait, comments that it's not natural for a Human to live underground. Spock points out that some Humans spend the majority of their lives "beneath the surface." McCoy responds, "I'm a doctor, not a coal miner." Spock tells McCoy that he is recording his notes of the hand device in the tricorder in the event that he is taken by the Vians so that McCoy and Kirk can continue his work and escape. McCoy further protests, adding that he's not a mechanic and doubts he would be able to make it functional; Spock assures him that the two of them together will be able to figure it out.
Plagued with symptoms resembling the bends, Kirk is caught off-guard by McCoy, who renders Kirk unconscious from behind with a hypospray. Now finding himself in command, Spock declares that he will go with the Vians at the appointed time, but McCoy sneaks behind Spock, who has been momentarily distracted by Gem, and renders him unconscious as well, intending to sacrifice himself for his two friends. All of these noble efforts at self-sacrifice are observed by Gem.
Taken to the Vians' laboratory, McCoy undergoes extensive torture. Meanwhile, now awake, Spock has come to understand the Vian hand-held devices. They are control units, not control mechanisms – they are not a mechanical device at all. They are tuned to the pattern of electrical energy of the person who uses it and are activated simply by mental commands. Being most familiar with his own brain pattern, Spock re-tunes the device to his own pattern. Kirk points out that it is strange that the Vians let them keep the device if they would be able to understand it. They must want Spock and Kirk to escape and to leave McCoy behind.
Spock completes the modifications and says he may only be able to effect one transport. He suggests there is enough energy to go back to the Enterprise, but Kirk would prefer to go to McCoy, stating "the best defense is a strong offense – and I intend to start offending right now." Spock transports Kirk, Gem and himself to the laboratory, where they find McCoy severely injured and on the verge of death. The Vians are nowhere to be found.
Spock and Kirk release McCoy from his chains. He is in bad shape; with barely a pulse. Spock scans McCoy and finds that he has severe heart damage, congestion in both lungs, and his circulatory system is in danger of collapse. He is bleeding into the chest, his spleen and liver are hemorrhaging and his kidneys have 70% failure. Spock informs Jim that McCoy is dying and the best he can do is make him comfortable. McCoy compliments Spock on his bedside manner.
Kirk suggests that Gem could heal McCoy, but he is not sure if the attempt will kill her. At least, he hopes, she can improve his condition so that McCoy can be healed on the Enterprise. Suddenly the Vians appear and trap Spock and Kirk in a force field; they demand that the Human and Vulcan not interfere and allow Gem to make her own choice without urging or forcing. It is their wish to see if Gem will attempt to help McCoy on her own at the cost of her own life – the completion of their test.
At this time they explain to Kirk, Spock, and the dying McCoy that they have been part of an experiment. They have the power to save only one species from the impending nova, and so they wished to test whether Gem's species is worthy of being saved. Apparently the Vians want to be certain that she has learned the principles of: the will to survive, the passion to know and the love of life, and self-sacrifice from her contact with the landing party. These qualities, they say, make a civilization worthy to survive.
As they speak, Gem has approached McCoy. The Vians are pleased that compassion has entered her "life-system." She moves her hands on McCoy's face, transferring his injuries to her. McCoy awakes, but Gem collapses, sobbing. She tries to help him more, but moves away in fear.
Inside the force field, Spock points out that Gem is not the only one who can save McCoy: of course, the Vians must have the power to help. The Vians respond that McCoy's life is not important, but what is important is their experiment.
McCoy starts coughing and Gem returns to his side. McCoy asks that Gem not touch him. If she touches him, she will die, and he cannot take life – even to save his own.
Spock realizes that if he and Kirk were to suppress their emotion, they would be able to escape from the force field. Spock escapes first and takes the other control device from the Vians. Kirk demands that the Vians save McCoy but they refuse, demanding that the experiment continue. Offering to give her life, they say, is not sufficient. She must sacrifice her life.
Kirk gives the Vians their control devices and reprimands them. They have forgotten what it means to feel the emotions they want Gem to experience. He scorns their lack of love and compassion, saying that they are nothing but intellect. The Vians heal McCoy and, taking Gem with them, teleport from the laboratory, presumably to save Gem's species. The landing party returns safely to the Enterprise, which has returned to orbit after the solar flare has subsided.
Back on board, Kirk says he is awed by the element of chance that brought them into contact with Gem. Scotty observes that she must have been like the 'pearl of great price' (Matthew 13:45-46 of the Humans' Christian Bible). McCoy is pleased that, in the end, it was the strength of Human emotion that overcame their captivity by the dispassionate, intellectual Vians. Scotty suggests that the Vulcans be made aware of this and Kirk asks Spock to deliver the message. Spock sarcastically promises to give the thought all the due consideration it deserves. Kirk then orders Sulu to take the Enterprise to warp factor two.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going to call her Gem."
"Well, that's better than Hey, you."
- - McCoy and Spock, after meeting Gem
"Their own imperfections killed them."
- - Lal, on the deaths of Linke and Ozaba
"If my death is to have any meaning, at least tell me what I'm dying for."
"If you live, you will have your answer."
- - Kirk and Thann, during his torture
"Some men spend the majority of their lives in mines beneath the surface."
"I'm a doctor, not a coal miner."
- - Spock and McCoy, as Spock works on the Vian control device
"Why did you let him do it?"
"I was convinced in the same way you were, Captain. By the good doctor's hypo."
- - Kirk and Spock, on McCoy's surprise injections
"The best defense is a strong offense, and I intend to start offending right now."
- - Kirk, on rescuing McCoy
"He's dying, Jim."
- - Spock, about McCoy
"You've got a good bedside manner, Spock."
- - McCoy, after his torture
"This Arena of Death that you've devised for your pleasure… will it prevent this catastrophe?"
- - Kirk, to the Vians regarding the destruction of Minara
"What could she learn from us?"
"Your will to survive. Your love of life. Your passion to know. They are recorded in her being."
- - Kirk and Lal, on Gem
"Jim, I can't destroy life, even if it's to save my own. I can't."
- - McCoy, as he pushes Gem away
"Love and compassion are dead in you! You're nothing but intellect!"
- - Kirk, to the Vians
"But from little what you've told me, I would say she was a pearl of great price."
- - Scott, on Gem
- Unsolicited script by Joyce Muskat, titled "The Answerer", early-April 1968
- Story outline by Muskat, 26 April 1968
- Revised story outline by Arthur Singer, titled "The Empath", 7 May 1968
- First draft teleplay by Muskat, late-May 1968
- Second draft teleplay, 21 June 1968
- Final draft teleplay by Singer, 22 July 1968
- Revised final draft teleplay by Fred Freiberger, 23 July 1968, 24 July 1968, 25 July 1968
- Additional page revisions by Freiberger, 29 July 1968, 1 August 1968
- Filmed, 25 July 1968 – 2 August 1968
- Day 1 – 25 July 1968, Thursday – Desilu Stage 10: Ext. Planet surface Int. Science outpost
- Day 2 – 26 July 1968, Friday – Paramount Stage 1: Int. Gem's area, Operation platform
- Day 3 – 29 July 1968, Monday – Paramount Stage 1: Int. Gem's area, Underground corridors
- Day 4 – 30 July 1968, Tuesday – Paramount Stage 1: Int. Gem's area
- Day 5 – 31 July 1968, Wednesday – Paramount Stage 1: Int. Vians' lab
- Day 6 – 1 August 1968, Thursday – Paramount Stage 1: Int. Vians' lab
- Day 7 – 2 August 1968, Friday – Paramount Stage 1: Int. Vians' lab; Desilu Stage 9: Int. Science outpost, Bridge
- Score recording, 6 September 1968
- Original airdate, 6 December 1968
- First UK airdate 5 January 1994
Story and script
- This episode was written by Joyce Muskat, one of only four fans who were able to sell scripts to the original series, the others being David Gerrold, Judy Burns, and Jean Lisette Aroeste. Co-producer Robert Justman read her unsolicited script and recommended it be bought. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 404) It was Muskat's only script sale. 
- This was one of the few episodes to quote the Bible, specifically Psalm 95, verse 4: "In His hands are the deep places of the Earth. The heights of the mountains are His also." At the end of the episode, Scotty also references the Gospel of Matthew 13:45-46: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
- "The Empath" has similarities to a 1963 Outer Limits segment called "Nightmare". In that episode, Humans are brutally interrogated by aliens in a minimalistic set. John Erman also directed "Nightmare", Willard Sage (Thann) was one of those behind the interrogations, and Robert Justman was, at that time, an assistant director on the series. (The Star Trek Compendium [page number? • edit])
- In the United Kingdom, the BBC skipped this episode in all runs of the series through to the early 1990s. An official BBC statement by Sheila Cundy of the Programme Correspondence Section reads: "After very careful consideration a top level decision was made not to screen the episodes entitled "Empath" [sic], "Whom The Gods Destroy" [sic], ""Plato's Stepchildren"" and ""Miri"" [actually transmitted in 1970, but not re-aired until the '90s], because they all dealt most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease" (BBC form letter, undated, Reference 28/SPC). "The Empath" was finally shown for the first time on 5 January 1994. It had previously been shown on Sky One, a subscription satellite TV channel. (citation needed • edit)
- This is the only episode whose first-act credits open on a completely black background.
- The preview of the episode shows Gem's healing of wounds done by jump-cuts, rather than as fades.
- Regarding the sequence of Gem absorbing the boils, Kathryn Hays had to be strapped to a board in order to be kept absolutely still while make-up was applied and stop-motion photography filmed the progression. The few moments that appeared in the scene took eight hours to film. (Starlog issue #3, p. 28)
- John Meredyth Lucas was originally hired to direct this episode (and "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"), but Paramount executive in charge of production Douglas S. Cramer vetoed his involvement, as he went over schedule and budget with "Elaan of Troyius" earlier in the season. Then, Robert Justman came up with the idea of hiring John Erman, because of his involvement with the aforementioned "Nightmare". Erman wasn't entirely satisfied with the working conditions on the show (especially [as he called it] William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy's ill-behavior towards the guest director), and decided not to return to direct further episodes. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three, pp. 240-241; 252)
- This was the final episode shot by director of photography Jerry Finnerman, who had shot every episode since "The Corbomite Maneuver" (except "By Any Other Name" and parts of "Who Mourns for Adonais?"). Camera Operator Al Francis took over primary camera duty on the next episode filmed, "The Tholian Web".
- After Dr. McCoy is tortured by the Vians, the distressed tunic that DeForest Kelley is wearing is the velour tunic used in the first two seasons, not the new double-knit version created for the third. The difference in hue between Spock's tunic and McCoy's can be noticed in certain shots.
- During the syndication run of Star Trek, no syndication cuts were made to this episode.
- Sound effects of the Vians' laboratory were previously used in the android Norman's lab in "I, Mudd".
- The footage of the sun Minara is re-used from "Operation -- Annihilate!".
- The planet Minara II appears red in some orbital shots, but gold in others.
Sets and props
- The helical staircase in the station was later reused in "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky".
- The couch itself is a gigantic version of the agonizers seen in "Mirror, Mirror" and "Day of the Dove". It was first seen as the Eymorg's table in "Spock's Brain".
- The tripodal device in the center of the Vian laboratory also appeared first in the episode "Spock's Brain" as the framework connected to the black box (by "light rays") that housed Spock's brain. It is inverted here from its position in that episode.
- The orange-red flickers that accompany the Vian transporter effect are frames of the same effect created to represent the Medusan ambassador Kollos.
- Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) do not appear in this episode.
- This was DeForest Kelley's personal favorite episode. (The Star Trek Calendar (1986) [page number? • edit])
- Though identified as Thann and Lal in the closing credits, the two Vians are never called by their proper names on-screen.
- In "Turnabout Intruder", Kirk (in Janice Lester's body) mentions the events of this episode to try to convince Spock of the mind switch.
Video and DVD releases
- Original US Betamax release: 1988
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 33, catalog number VHR 2385, 5 November 1990
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 3.3, 6 October 1997
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 32, 28 August 2001
- As part of the TOS Season 3 DVD collection
- As part of the TOS-R Season 3 DVD collection
Links and references
- Alan Bergmann as Lal
- James Doohan as Scott
- George Takei as Sulu
- Davis Roberts as Dr. Ozaba
- Jason Wingreen as Dr. Linke
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Roger Holloway as Roger Lemli
- Dick Geary as Security guard
- Unknown actors as
- Paul Baxley as William Shatner's stunt double
- Unknown stunt performer as DeForest Kelley's stunt double
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- "The Empath" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Empath" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Empath" at Wikipedia
- "The Empath" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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