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Bem (episode)

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"Bem"
TAS, Episode 2x02
Production number: 22018
First aired: 14 September 1974
17th of 22 produced in TAS
18th of 22 released in TAS
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 22 released in TAS Remastered  
97th of 728 released in all
Ari bn Bem
Written By
David Gerrold

Directed By
Bill Reed
7403.6 (2270)
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Ari bn Bem, an erratic observer from the planet Pandro, secretly watches the crew of the USS Enterprise to determine whether the Federation is ready to open diplomatic relations with his advanced species.

Summary

"Captain's log: Stardate 7403.6. The Enterprise is on a series of exploratory and contact missions. Traveling with us as an independent observer is a member of a recently contacted alien species. Honorary Commander Ari bn Bem is from the planet Pandro in the Garo VII system. We have taken up orbit around Delta Theta III, a newly-discovered Class M planet. A previous scouting mission has reported possible aboriginal lifeforms here and the Enterprise is to investigate and report."

Captain Kirk says to Spock, Montgomery Scott, and Hikaru Sulu, "Sensors report several groupings of aborigines. They may be dangerous so I want all of us to avoid any unnecessary risks. But these monitoring devices have to be planted. Lieutenant Uhura will be tracking us throughout."

Kirk then instructs the landing party, "Now, if there is any trouble of any kind, beam up immediately. Don't try to be a hero." Everyone agrees. Though he has not joined the crew on previous six missions, Bem is adamant that he be allowed to accompany the landing party. Kirk is angry that he picked this dangerous mission to tag along, but he allows it. Bem (probably intentionally) sets the transporter to beam Kirk and Spock above a body of water on the planet below, so that they fall into the water. Then, Bem secretly replaces their weapons and communicators with non-functioning fakes.

Uhura reports some peculiar activity on the planet. They have been tracking a non-network sensory stasis that is an anomaly resembling a sensor field, but without a scanning grid or other point of reference. Spock thinks something else is on the planet, perhaps something intelligent. Kirk orders continued observation, the ship to yellow alert, and to be notified if there is any change.

While walking through the dense terrain, the crew scans for life signs emanating from the forest and Bem immediately runs toward them against direct orders. Kirk orders Scott and Sulu to remain with the equipment while he and Spock take off after Bem. The alien passes through the thick rain forest by splitting into several body parts and floating through the cracks. They later discover that he has been captured by a group of angry food-gathering aborigines, and the food seems to be Bem.

The Enterprise discovers a force field developing around the small village, but they cannot contact Kirk or Spock. Uhura wants to beam Scott and Sulu back. Scott wants to track the captain and Spock, but Uhura insists that it is not proper procedure and Scott agrees to beam back with Sulu. At night, Kirk and Spock attempt to rescue Bem from the natives. Bem tells them that they are interfering with his observation but Kirk doesn't think Starfleet would approve of Bem's methods. Kirk and Spock are also captured. Kirk protests that they always end up in these situations and out of curiosity asks Spock why. Spock tells him, "Fate". Kirk tells Bem that he won't be able to rescue him. Bem says Starfleet told him that Kirk was their best captain but his actions to date belie this. Kirk claims if he had his phasers and communicators they wouldn't be in this situation. Bem explains that he took Starfleet equipment because he dislikes casual violence to accomplish one's goals and wanted to see how the captain could react without such devices.

Bem escapes by making smaller pieces of his body and returns the devices to Kirk and Spock. Spock remarks, "Fascinating, a colony creature." Kirk puts Bem under arrest for trying to test them. The duo escapes only to be paralyzed by a supernatural force surrounding the area. The entity asks them what gives them the right to interfere with her 'children.' The people of this world are not for their observation. Their weapons will be "nullified" (destroyed). Kirk and Spock are again captured and Kirk says, "There are times, Mr. Spock, when I think I should have been a librarian." Spock observes "The job of librarian would be no less challenging, captain, but it would undoubtedly be a lot less dangerous." Bem tells Kirk he has mishandled the situation again and he judges him not to be an intelligent commander. He has failed everything he has attempted. He wishes Kirk "Luck," and leaves.

Kirk contacts the entity, apologizes, and tells it they will leave immediately after they find Bem. The entity will allow them to contact their ship and demands they go now. Kirk calls for a search party to beam down with a tricorder to find the Pandronian. Bem is found and he realizes that he has failed in his judgment. Having been found "wanting" or "defective," Bem says that he must now die. The entity tells him he will not be killed because people must learn from their errors. The crew returns to the ship and Kirk orders a Federation quarantine of the planet. Spock ponders the existence of such a God-like entity and how they are all really children, in relation to the universe. Bem thinks he is still an eggling. The entity contacts them and urges them to go in peace.

Memorable quotes

"Lieutenant Uhura, I'm reading increased activity on the surface of the planet. The sensory anomaly appears to be expanding."

- Arex


"How come we always end up like this?"

- Kirk, after he and Spock have been captured by the natives


"Is Mr. Spock with the captain?"
"Aye, they both went after Commander Bem."
"Lieutenant Arex, start a sensor scan for Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Landing party, prepare to beam up."
"Lieutenant Uhura, we could track the captain down."
"I'm sorry Mr. Scott, that's not procedure. We can't take chances!"
"We're talking about the captain."
"I know it, but we have to follow his orders. Stand by to beam up."
"Standing by."

- Uhura and Scotty


"Maybe we can beam him out of there. Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise. This isn't my communicator!"
"These are not Enterprise communicators."

- Kirk and Spock, after finding out that Bem switched their communicators with phonies


"Classify?! What gives you the right to intrude here? This planet is not for your use! My children are not for your tests! Your weapons will be nullified."

- Delta Theta III entity


"Take us out of orbit, Mr. Sulu. Let's go home."

- Kirk

Background Information

Title and Story

  • The title of this episode, "Bem", is an old science fiction term meaning "Bug Eyed Monster." This episode's author, David Gerrold, selected the acronym – during production of Star Trek: The Original Series – for use as both the title of this episode and an alien featured herein, simply because he believed it would be fun to have an actual Bem in Star Trek, though that wish was not fulfilled for the original series and the character of Bem was never intended to be true to his namesake. (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • As well as writing this episode, David Gerrold also wrote "More Tribbles, More Troubles", TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles", and the original premise for TOS: "The Cloud Minders". In common with "More Tribbles, More Troubles", "Bem" was originally planned as a possible episode for the third season of TOS but was discarded for that series. (TAS DVD audio commentary, et al.)
  • The episode underwent some further development during the first season of Star Trek: The Animated Series, when associate producer and story editor Dorothy "D.C." Fontana worked on the narrative with David Gerrold. (TAS DVD audio commentary) This was immediately after Gerrold finished working on the script for the animated version of "More Tribbles, More Troubles". ("More Tribbles, More Troubles" audio commentary) He later commented, "I had the 'Bem' outline, and Dorothy Fontana [...] said, 'What else have you got?' And I said, 'Well, I've got this one, "Bem".'" (TAS DVD audio commentary) Fontana herself remarked, "He came back and said, 'We could do it in animation now.' And that was true." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 16, p. 67) In collaboration, Gerrold and Fontana proceeded to develop both the story outline and the script for the episode. (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • One day at the Filmation offices, Dorothy Fontana and David Gerrold were having a meeting about the episode when Fontana asked Gerrold to meet with a group of fans who were visiting the halls at Filmation. Though he did so, Gerrold's thoughts were fixed on this outing. "I was just really a little bit distracted because I wanted to get home and get to work on the script we had just had the meeting on," he reminisced. ("More Tribbles, More Troubles" audio commentary)
  • Gene Roddenberry made several additions to this episode as, on each of many occasions when he had a meeting with David Gerrold, he made numerous suggestions about the story, to the point where the episode's writer kept wondering how to make the ideas work. (TAS DVD audio commentary; [1]) Gerrold explained, "Gene kept saying, 'Change this, change this, change this.'" (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20) The narrative's writer also recalled of Roddenberry, "His notes on 'BEM' were very confusing and he added elements that I felt pulled the story way off its original premise." [2]
  • One of these elements was the God-like entity that features in this version of the episode. (TAS DVD audio commentary; [3]) After Gene Roddenberry suggested the finding of God on the episode's planet, David Gerrold inwardly groaned, having a gut level reaction that the same plot element had been used by Roddenberry countless times before. (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20; TAS DVD audio commentary) Recalled Gerrold, "My gut level was, 'Haven't we done that one enough?' But Gene liked it, and I said, 'Well, let me see what I can do with it.'" (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • Essentially stuck with the character concept of a god-like entity, David Gerrold tried to make it fit naturally into the plot. "Once I decided I was going to do it, once I took it on, I chose to make it a logical part of the story," he reflected. The addition of the deity meant that the main characters had to solve their predicament with their wits rather than violence, a theme that Gerrold had already been wanting to use. (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • Generally, David Gerrold delighted in laboring over the teleplay. "I worked my butt off on the script," he said. "I didn't have a big problem with it." (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20) Additionally, Gerrold related that the episode was "a lot of fun" to work on and that he enjoyed writing the scenes with Kirk and Spock as well as the interactions between them and Bem, appreciating the opportunity to write little humorous lines for those characters. One of the jokes that Gerrold wrote was Spock's line, "Captain, I'm only a Vulcan," which Gerrold based on the clichéd expression, "I'm only Human." He was also aware of the episode presenting an opportunity to give the main characters some more humility for subsequent episodes. (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • As had happened with the story during the original series, however, the episode was again rejected. ([4]; TAS DVD audio commentary) Gerrold explained, "It turned out to be an extra script. They didn't need it." Dorothy Fontana had bought the teleplay as the seventeenth script of the series, although the first season had only sixteen installments, so this episode was not produced at that time. (TAS DVD audio commentary) Gerrold expressed that another reason why the episode was postponed was "because Dorothy wasn't that fond of the script, and neither was I." Gerrold's dissatisfaction with the plot were precisely due to Gene Roddenberry's frequent alterations to the story. The episode's writer explained, "I agreed with [Fontana] to some degree that 'Bem' really was not a strong episode because we had been pulled so far off the original conception of it." (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20)
  • Although discarded for the first season, this episode was ultimately picked up by Filmation (along with other Season 1 rejects) for the second season, after Dorothy Fontana left the series. [5] Concluded Gerrold, "They grabbed this one, 'cause it was already paid for. And so that's how it ended up second season." (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • David Gerrold analyzed the plot threads in this installment and the questions that the episode asks; "There are two stories in this episode. One, of course, is Bem, who's testing Kirk and Spock, and the second is the action down on the planet – these lizard-people and the God, the alien intelligence who is protecting them – and that's the action story [....] Bem represents the philosophical dilemma. Are our characters going to behave like the good guys? And the lizard people who've captured them represent the action dilemma. And how does our behavior relate to our core beliefs that we are the good guys and we are not gonna interfere with primitive peoples?" (TAS DVD audio commentary)

Cast

  • Since Nichelle Nichols had always been eager to perform more than her usual actions as Uhura and because she was very popular with Star Trek fans, David Gerrold (who likewise had a long-held fondness for the actress) felt that she should play the character of the deity in this episode. Gerrold related, "After all these years of doing these Star Trek conventions – we'd done two or three separate conventions – and seeing her in front of the audience and seeing how much the audience loved her and knowing that the audience just wanted to see more of her, I said, 'Look, let's have Nichelle do the voice of the god-creature here' [....] I was very excited to see her do the voice of the alien intelligence." (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • Ultimately, David Gerrold was very pleased with Nichelle Nichols' performances in this outing, feeling that she was the episode's "saving grace". (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20) "She was perfect because, if you listen to her, what she brings is such a marvelous quality [....] Where she's doing Uhura, she has this strength that we hardly ever got to see in the live action show. And then, as this god character she has this command over everything," Gerrold raved. "And I think this script demonstrates Nichelle's range, that she can do a lot of different things that she never got to do on the live action show." (TAS DVD audio commentary) The writer additionally observed, "She shows her range. She gets to show Uhura being a very strong voice on the bridge, but then she does the voice of the alien intelligence and there she's a whole different character. And the range there is spectacular." ("Drawn to the Final Frontier - The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series", TAS DVD)
  • Nichelle Nichols was not the only cast member whose vocal work on this episode impressed David Gerrold, he enthusing, "Leonard [Nimoy] and Bill [Shatner] did a great job." (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20)

Production

  • David Gerrold suspected that, if this episode had been done for the original Star Trek series, its production would have been difficult. "The effects for 'Bem' probably would have been tricky," he speculated. [6] He was also of the opinion that one of the potentially problematic aspects, the design for the multi-part character of Bem, was made easier with animation. "[In] The Animated Series, we didn't have to worry about building a costume or finding the actors," related Gerrold. "The animators just had Bem split apart into as many different pieces as they needed." ("Drawn to the Final Frontier - The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series", TAS DVD) D.C. Fontana likewise noted about the episode, "It was easy [to produce] with animation." (Star Trek Vault: 40 Years From The Archives, p. 32)
  • The appearance of the deity was another facet of the episode that was relatively easy to produce, as David Gerrold explained. "It was also an easy way to animate. It was just... Do an overlay." (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • David Gerrold reckoned that, although doubtful, the security officers in the landing party that appears towards the end of this episode may have been based on the look of behind-the-scenes personnel. "I don't think any of these crew members were designed to look like anybody in specific," he said of the security team, "but they could have been designed to look like animators or even folks at Filmation." (TAS DVD audio commentary)

Continuity

  • This was the first episode that revealed Kirk's middle name, Tiberius. During TOS, it was not known what his middle initial, "T," stood for. David Gerrold, who devised Kirk's middle name, recollected, "I got the name from a book I'd read about the history of torture." ([7]) The name's inclusion in this installment was prompted by an incident that occurred at a 1973 Star Trek convention that he and Dorothy Fontana attended. "Somebody asked 'What does the T in James T. Kirk stand for?'" recounted Gerrold. "And without really thinking, I said 'Tiberius.'" ([8]) At the time, he said the name as a joke, influenced by the fact that I, Claudius had recently aired on PBS. [9] Decades later, he remarked, "It got a big laugh and it became a running gag." ([10]) When Gerrold was developing this episode for the animated series' first season, he made the decision to write the name into the episode and Fontana passed it by Gene Roddenberry. ([11]; [12]) Gerrold later remembered how Roddenberry had responded; "He said, 'Sure, let's go ahead.'" ([13]) The name stuck and was mentioned again not only in Roddenberry's introduction to his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture but in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (thus making it "canon").
  • The type 1 phasers are shown to have a thumb trigger in a closeup shot, but this is inconsistent with their function in other appearances.
  • This is the second episode where Lt. Uhura takes command of the Enterprise, following the events of "The Lorelei Signal".
  • This is also the first of two consecutive episodes that feature the concept of a practical joker aboard the Enterprise; the same concept appears in the next installment, "The Practical Joker".
  • As David Gerrold notes in this episode's audio commentary, this installment's conclusion is thematically similar to TOS: "Errand of Mercy".

Reception

  • David Gerrold was ultimately highly satisfied with this installment. "It's not a bad script [....] The mechanics of this show, structurally the plot, beat for beat, the mechanics of the storytelling, work very nicely for me," Gerrold enthused. "It's just a, 'Here's your beginning, here's how you complicate the issue, and here's how you resolve it.' So, it's a very straightforward bit of storytelling [....] In a sense, I like this one more than 'More Tribbles, More Troubles' because it was a chance to do a Star Trek episode where we get to go out, meet new life forms, meet new civilizations, meet new people and make friends with them. And to me, that's always the best Star Trek story, is what they say at the beginning, 'To seek out new life and new civilizations.'" Additionally, Gerrold particularly liked the line of dialogue wherein Spock admits to being "only" a Vulcan, referring to it as "one of my favorite little jokes." Not only was Gerrold appreciative of Nichelle Nichols' work on this episode but he also liked the general effect of the godly entity, commenting that he found it "a very nice way to represent a deity." (TAS DVD audio commentary) In a 2011 interview, Gerrold remarked on the fact that his enthusiasm for the episode had withstood the changes that Gene Roddenberry had made to the script, stating, "When all is said and done, I looked at the episode again recently and thought, 'Well, it turned out better than I thought.' So I don't have a lot of complaints." [14] One complaint that Gerrold did have was about some of the animation. "The thing I disliked most was that they had the two parts of Bem's body floating around," the writer stated. (Star Trek Magazine issue 132, p. 20)
  • D.C. Fontana has repeatedly cited this as one of her favorite installments of the animated Star Trek (along with "Beyond the Farthest Star", "Yesteryear", "More Tribbles, More Troubles" and "The Magicks of Megas-Tu"). ([15]; Star Trek Magazine issue 128, p. 46) In a 2003 video interview for StarTrek.com, Fontana also remarked that she believed this outing, in common with "More Tribbles, More Troubles", "very much got across the Star Trek feeling and mode." [16]
  • According to Russell Bates, David Gerrold warned him, at one point, that this episode would be the series finale for Star Trek: The Animated Series, ending the series before "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" – an installment that Bates co-wrote – had a chance to be broadcast. "David Gerrold upset me and my co-writer by saying [that]," Bates stated. [17]
  • The editors of Trek magazine collectively scored this episode 2 out of 5 stars (a rating that they termed "fair"). (The Best of Trek #1, p. 111)
  • In the unofficial reference book Trek Navigator: The Ultimate Guide to the Entire Trek Saga (p. 19), co-writers Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross both individually rate this episode 3 out of 4 stars (defined as "good").

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Background characters

References

Brownian movement; class M; colony creature; communicator; Delta Theta III; Delta Theta III aborigine; Earth; eggling; electrical storm; Federation scout vessel; Garo VII system; geology; god; heavy-duty tricorder; Honorary Commander; librarian; Loch Ness monster; logic; mile; monitoring device; non-network sensory stasis; Pandro; Pandronian; phaser; Prime Directive; quarantine; rain forest; responder; sensor field; sensory anomaly; squad; stasis field; suicide; Vulcan; Vulcan nerve pinch; yellow alert


Previous episode:
"The Pirates of Orion"
Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 2
Next episode:
"The Practical Joker"

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