Plato's Stepchildren

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"Plato's Stepchildren"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 10
Directed by David Alexander
Written by Meyer Dolinsky
Featured music Alexander Courage
Cinematography by Al Francis
Production code 067
Original air date November 22, 1968 (1968-11-22)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Plato's Stepchildren" is a third season episode of the original science fiction television series Star Trek, first broadcast November 22, 1968. It is episode #65, production #67, written by Meyer Dolinsky, and directed by David Alexander. This episode is one of the first scripted American television broadcasts to depict an inter-racial kiss between a white man (Kirk) and a black woman (Uhura).[1][2] This episode was withdrawn by the BBC in the UK because of 'sadistic plot elements' during the initial run in 1971 and was not shown until a repeat run in January 1994.[citation needed]

In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise encounters an ageless and sadistic race of humanoids with the power of telekinesis and who claim to have organized their society around Ancient Greek ideals.

Plot[edit]

Captain Kirk, along with First Officer Spock and Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy beam down to a planet (highly enriched with rare "kironide" mineral deposits) to investigate a distress call.

Once there, they are greeted by a friendly dwarf named Alexander (Michael Dunn), who leads the landing party to meet the rest of his people, who have adopted classical Greek culture, and name themselves Platonians in honor of the Greek philosopher Plato. All of the Platonians, except for Alexander, seem to possess telekinetic powers.

The Platonians explain that they "lured" the Enterprise to their planet because their leader, Parmen, requires medical help. After being treated by Dr. McCoy, Parmen demands that McCoy remain on the planet to treat other Platonians. When captain Kirk objects, the Platonians use their powers to punish him. They humiliate Kirk and Spock as Dr. McCoy watches, forcing them to sing and dance like court jesters. Parmen forces Spock to laugh and, despite the strong objection of Dr. McCoy, to cry. Later, the Platonians use their powers to force two other Enterprise officers to the planet for their entertainment: Communications Officer 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, all forced to wear Greek garb, perform for the gathered Platonians and a captive McCoy, including forcing Kirk and Uhura to kiss. Alexander becomes angry after watching the humiliating tricks played upon the crew by his Platonian masters. He tries, unsuccessfully, to attack Parmen with a knife.

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. Furthermore, since Alexander tells them that each person has a different and incompatible psionic frequency, they will not have to deal with a massed attack. As a result, Kirk uses his newfound telekinetic powers to defeat Parmen, for Alexander's life.

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.

Production and reception[edit]

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is the first white and black interracial kiss portrayed on US television

The episode features a kiss between James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) which is often, incorrectly (see Emergency – Ward 10), cited as the first interracial kiss depicted on a scripted television series.[1][2] Similarly, over two years earlier on The Wild Wild West, James T. West (Robert Conrad) and Princess Ching Ling (Pilar Seurat), shared a white and Asian interracial kiss ("The Night the Dragon Screamed", aired 1966 Jan 14). In the same year on I Spy, Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Sam (France Nuyen) would also share a white and Asian interracial kiss ("The Tiger", aired 1966 Jan 5). However, Plato's Stepchildren was the first white and black interracial kiss produced on US television, drawing critical and negative attention where the white and Asian interracial kisses did not.

The episode portrays the kiss as involuntary, being forced by telekinesis, perhaps to avoid any hint of romance that would risk outrage among some sensitive viewers. As one TV critic put it, "The underlying message was, 'If I have to kiss you to save my ship and crew, by God, I'll do it.'"[3] Also, 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). 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.[4]

When NBC executives learned of the kiss they became concerned it would anger TV stations in the Deep South.[5] Earlier in 1968, NBC had expressed similar concern over a musical sequence in a Petula Clark special in which she touched Harry Belafonte's arm, a moment cited as the first occasion of direct physical contact on American television between a man and woman of different races.[6] At one point during negotiations, the idea was brought up of having Spock kiss Uhura instead,[7] but William Shatner insisted that they stick with the original script.[citation needed] NBC finally ordered that two versions of the scene be shot—one where Kirk and Uhura kissed and one where they did not.[8] 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.[9][10]

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.'[11]

There were, however, few contemporary records of any complaints commenting on the scene.[12] 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. However, almost no one found the kiss offensive" except from a single mildly negative letter from one white Southerner who wrote: "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it."[12] Nichols notes that "for me, the most memorable episode of our last season was 'Plato's Stepchildren.'"[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Malik, Tariq (September 6, 2006). "After 40 Years, Star Trek 'Won't Die'". SPACE.com. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Molloy, Tim (April 9, 2009). "Shattered TV Taboos: How Bea Arthur and Others Broke Barriers". TV Guide. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  3. ^ Melanie McFarland (February 13, 2006). "Interracial romance now the norm on TV, but real-life issues are ignored". SeattlePI.com. 
  4. ^ Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, G.P. Putnam & Sons New York, 1994. pp.195-198
  5. ^ Nichols, p.195
  6. ^ "Harry Belafonte 'Speaking Freely' Transcript". First Amendment Center. Retrieved May 13, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Star Trek and History: Race-ing toward a White Future - Daniel Leonard Bernardi - Google Boeken". Books.google.com. Retrieved August 15, 2012. 
  8. ^ Nichelle Nichols bio at NNDB.com
  9. ^ Nicholls, p.195-196
  10. ^ Nichelle Nichols also claimed this to be fact in an August 2006 Comedy Central online interview, recorded the day of her participation in the network's roast of Shatner.
  11. ^ Nichols, p.196
  12. ^ a b Nichols, pp.196-197
  13. ^ Nichols, p.193

External links[edit]