(airdate: November 22, 1968)
Writer: Meyer Dolinksy
Director: David Alexander
Alexander: Michael Dunn
Parmen: Liam Sullivan
Philana: Barbara Babcock
Captain's Log: The Enterprise, responding to a distress call from an unknown planet, encounters a group of aliens who allegedly follow the teachings of the Greek philosopher Plato. However, the long-lived Platonians have acquired psychokinetic powers and so they've become indolent; consequently, they have no medical knowledge, and even a simple cut can prove fatal. Therefore, they need Dr. McCoy's help, and once he heals their leader, they try to force him to stay by subjecting Kirk and Spock to various humiliations until he gives in to their demands. However, Spock and McCoy work out that the source of the Platonians' power is the substance kironide, and so they inject themselves with twice the Platonians' dosage; once it kicks in, they're able to counter the Platonians' powers with their own, forcing them to release the Enterprise and her crew.
Whoops!: The years don't quite work out; Philana says she's 2300 years old, but we're later told that Platonius was founded exactly 2500 years ago by these same people - and it's not the case that new members have been born or brought into their culture, as McCoy is described as being their first new member ever.
Why exactly is Alexander there in the first place? He says he was brought along as the "court buffoon", but that doesn't really seem like a necessary position for their original group. Was he originally treated the same as the others and only abused when it was discovered he didn't have psychokinetic powers? And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's a bit surprising that the Platonians instituted a system of mass eugenics and yet let someone with dwarfism into their society in the first place; and if they were sufficiently enlightened for such a thing not to matter to them, it's a bit surprising that they then subsequently turned on him.
If the Platonians left Earth sometime during the ancient Greek period, how do they know enough Lewis Carroll to force Kirk and Spock to recite a bastardized version of it? Or to force Spock to perform a flamenco dance around Kirk's head?
Classic Lines: "Alexander, where I come from, size, shape, or color makes no difference."
Cringe Lines: Chapel to Spock: "For so long I've wanted to be close to you. Now all I want to crawl away and die."
Kirk, referring to Alexander: "Mr. Scott, prepare to beam us up. I have a little surprise for you."
Parmen, possibly speaking on behalf of the audience: "How can you let this go on?"
Alien Love: Nurse Chapel and Spock are forced to share a kiss, while Kirk and Uhura are also forced into kissing. [This is frequently cited as the first interracial kiss on American television, albeit with the caveats that here "interracial" means "white and black" and that this only applies to a scripted show - for instance, Sammy Davis Jr. gave Nancy Sinatra a kiss on the cheek in the 1967 special Movin' with Nancy. It may also be worth noting that it's not obvious that they do kiss; their lips obviously get close to each other but then Shatner turns Nichols's head so that it obscures their lips. For what it's worth, Shatner states that they didn't actually kiss in the broadcast version, while Nichols insists that they did.]
Library Computer: The planet Platonius is an orange planet [Earth-like in the remastered version] that was previously unknown to the Federation. Despite appearing to contain no [intelligent] life, Platonius is in fact inhabited by a small group of people, called Platonians. Platonius has edible native foods and is rich in kironide deposits - kironide being a very rare substance which is a long-lasting source of great power, as well as unlocking certain psychokinetic powers in those who can properly break the substance down.
The Platonians were once native inhabitants of the planet Sahndara. While on Sahndara, they instituted a mass eugenics program, which resulted in a people with greatly expanded lifespans (well over 2000 years), specially bred for contemplation and self-reliance. The Platonians left Sahndara when its star (also called Sahndara) went nova, and traveled to Earth, settling among the ancient Greeks and becoming enamored with their teachings - particularly those of Plato. After the "death" of Greek civilization, they left Earth and traveled to their current home 2500 years ago, which they named Platonius after Plato. [It's not clear what the Platonians considered the death of Greek civilization; was it the death of Plato? Of Alexander the Great? Did they hold on until the Roman Empire? Whatever it was, it was, as previously noted, 2500 years ago - but this is less helpful than you might think, since, as always during the original series, we don't actually know when the episode is set; see, inevitably, "Where No Man Has Gone Before".
[But maybe we can figure this out; if they left immediately after Plato died (347 BC or so), that puts us right around 2150 - perfectly in keeping with the 22nd-century figure that tends to float around the original series. If we go by the retconned 23rd century date of 2268 (thanks to The Next Generation), then the Platonians left Earth around 230 BC - nothing around then is particularly noteworthy as marking the "death" of Greek civilization, but maybe they'd simply become sufficiently disillusioned by Hellenistic Greece that they packed up and left. Mind, this doesn't account for travel time between Earth and Platonius; if that trip took long enough, maybe they did leave shortly after Plato died.]
The Platonians (at that point a group of 38 people) settled on Platonius and decided to model their society after ancient Greece - in particular the philosophies of Plato, considering themselves his "stepchildren" (although Parmen admits that they've made some "adaptations" to Plato). Consequently, the architecture resembles ancient Greece, as well as the artwork and clothes. They initially had a difficult time building their society, with much hard toil and labor, but six months and fourteen days after they arrived (and roughly two or three months after their supplies had run out and they were forced to eat the native food), they developed psychokinetic powers due to the kironide in the food. Only Alexander failed to develop any powers, due to a deficiency of a pituitary hormone likely related to Alexander's dwarfism [so, somatotropin, or growth hormone]. The rest of the Platonians developed their powers to roughly the same level, using brain waves to levitate objects, force people to do things against their will (but only if that person couldn't resist via their own psychokinetic abilities), cause storms, and even hold a starship in orbit in place around their world. These powers can even manifest themselves while the person is asleep. They couldn't combine their powers however, as each one operated on its own power frequency. Since Alexander hadn't developed any powers, the others picked on him and made him their slave, forcing him to be their court buffoon, dancing for their entertainment and losing various games against them. Alexander greatly resents his treatment, although he's powerless to stop them.
However, because of these powers and their improved health, they ironically had little resistance to infection - even a cut could prove fatal. When their current leader, Parmen, developed a massive infection in his leg, they called for help. Dr. McCoy was able to heal Parmen by analyzing the infection and comparing it to a similar known strain; this action led the Platonians to seek McCoy's aid as a permanent member of their community, and they were willing to subject McCoy's friends to all sorts of humiliations in order to force him to stay. McCoy was to be the first new member of the Platonian community since its founding 2500 years earlier. Once McCoy agreed to stay, the Platonians claimed to be willing to let the others go, but in reality they planned on destroying the Enterprise to maintain the secret of their existence.
McCoy was able to isolate the kironide that gave the Platonians their power and injected Kirk and Spock with twice the dosage, in order to give them greater powers - although it took some time for their bodies to properly break down the kironide. Once they did, however, they were able to beat the Platonians at their own game and safely leave the planet, taking Alexander with them.
Parmen and his wife Philana were married when he was 128 and she was 117, over 2000 years ago. Philana claims to be 2300 years old and states that she stopped aging at age 30.
The Platonians have several ancient Greek artifacts, including a shield once owned by Pericles, a collection of Greek cures written by Hippocrates, and a kithara [an ancient Greek lyre].
The Platonians play a game that vaguely resembles chess, except with a pyramidal-like setup of squares and large pieces, including one called a Pan.
Spock is strong enough to crush a goblet in his hand.
Final Analysis: "Guests? You don't know the meaning of the word. Guests aren't treated like common prisoners." There's a germ of an idea about treating each other with dignity, but it's buried under an appalling story. If you choose to take this seriously, "Plato's Stepchildren" becomes a horrific piece of TV, offering up what's essentially sustained and repeated mental rape as entertainment; if you choose not to take it seriously, it's a bunch of actors throwing themselves around the set for 45 agonizingly long minutes. And not even the dialogue can save things, as most of it is incredibly clunky exposition. "Plato's Stepchildren" thus manages the feat of being both tedious and frankly insane.
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Page originally created: October 21, 2016
Page last updated: July 28, 2017