Shore Leave is a highly enjoyable slab of fantasy. It’s best not to worry too much about the plot specifics, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Star Trek had ventured out of the studio a few times by this point, but mainly the location work hadn’t gone any further than the readily accessible back-lot sets. So this makes the glossy visuals of Shore Leave appear especially startling (no doubt the viewers appreciated the sunny vista just as much as the tired Enterprise crew). It’s certainly a change from the series’ more regular diet of identikit studio-bound planets.
Although Star Trek is probably fixed as a science fiction series in most people’s eyes, it wasn’t afraid of a touch of fantasy (although Shore Leave goes further than most stories in this respect). Eventually a rational explanation is given for all the weirdness (it’s the work of a highly advanced civilisation who conveniently live off-screen in a massive underground complex) but that’s a fairly cop-out resolution.
If the network been prepared to embrace the fantasy concept it would have been interesting to have left the story resolution a little more opaque.
Very early on we’re primed to expect the unusual today. Bones’ encounter with a large bunny rabbit checking his watch is one of those magic Trek moments whilst Sulu has an entertaining tussle with a Samurai warrior. But the meeting between Yeoman Barrows (Emily Banks) and Don Juan feels much more problematic.
It’s easy to believe that Barrows’ part was originally written for the now departed Janice Rand, who was often at the mercy of predatory men. Barrows is discovered in a dishevelled state with her clothing ripped, explaining that “it was so sort of story book walking around here, and I was thinking, all a girl needs is Don Juan”. We’re left with the uncomfortable implication that on some level Barrows had invited this assault.
Kirk needs to be cajoled by both Spock and McCoy to partake of some shore leave, even though his iron constitution is feeling the strain. There’s a gorgeous comic moment during the pre-credits sequence where we see a weary Kirk receiving a massage from (he thinks) Spock. But it was actually Barrows doing the work (which Kirk seems oddly disappointed about). There’s so much slash fiction fodder there ….
When he does beam down, Jim quickly embraces the planet whole-heartedly (casually dismissing the fears of another member of his away team). This is mainly because he runs into one of his old flames, Ruth (Shirley Bonne).
No doubt he finds that meeting up again with the cocky Finnegan (Bruce Mars), the bane of his Academy days, to be much less welcome. Finnegan is (or more accurately, supposed to be) Irish, which means that the incidentals suddenly go into diddly-de overdrive. This is not a good thing. But as compensation there’s a spot of classic Kirk shirt-ripping when he slugs it out, man to man, with Finnegan.
Bones is also having a fine old time, strolling through the woodland with the rather attractive Yeoman Barrows. He seems keen to replace Don Juan in Barrows’ affections, but his advances come to an abrupt halt after he’s impaled by a lance wielding knight on horseback. This sudden explosion of violence is very jarring – could McCoy really be dead?
Maybe he was, but the amazing restorative powers of the mysterious aliens who run this planet-sized theme park are able to patch him back together with very little fuss. As mentioned before, you have to embrace this sort of plot contrivance in order to get the maximum enjoyment out of the episode.
McCoy seems no worse for his brush with death – squiring two lovely young ladies with a beaming grin on his face, it’s not difficult to work out what he’s going to be doing with the rest of his leave. And if not with them then maybe with the obliging Yeoman Barrows.
If you like your Star Trek grim and serious then the frivolity of Shore Leave might not appeal. Personally, I’ve always been partial to a bit of whimsy so it’s always a pleasure to revisit this one.
It’s just a shame that William Shatner’s rash offer to wrestle a tiger (he felt it was just the sort of thing to add a little spice to the story) wasn’t taken up. If he’d avoided being mauled to death, it would have made the episode just that little bit more special ….