The Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III, a planet where it’s believed that – following a deadly bombardment of Berthold rays some years ago – the Federation colonists would have all perished. However that’s far from the case – everyone is hale and hearty and apparently living in a state of paradise. Quickly all of the Enterprise crew, apart from Kirk, fall under the spell of some mysterious flowers and the tranquilising spores of peace and love they spurt out ….
This Side of Paradise, a thinly veiled critique of the hippy movement, finds the series coming down firmly on the side of the establishment. The fact that Omicron Ceti III is as close to an idyll you could hope to find cuts no ice with Kirk, who rarely has any patience with this sort of thing (see also The Apple, if you dare, in series two).
It’s interesting to note that the spores aren’t presented as controlling or evil. They need a human host to survive, but there’s no sense of malignancy. Indeed, the fact that they’ve given Sandoval (Frank Overton) a healthy appendix back to him has to be a mark in their favour.
The way that that everybody on the planet has elected to tune in and turn on seems to be the thing which most irritates Kirk (and no doubt Gene Roddenberry). Star Trek may champion the individual, but also – especially in its first incarnation – strongly believed that the individual had an obligation towards society. So by electing to cut themselves off from the rest of the universe, the inhabitants of Omicron Ceti III have abdicated this responsibility.
Kirk’s is later given a speech which sets out his vision of the universe. “Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums”. The phrase “sound of drums” has an interesting warlike feel to it.
One of the key parts of This Side of Paradise is observing how Spock transforms from his usual totally buttoned-up persona into the loving companion of Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland). It’s – of course – a great showcase for Nimoy, especially since you realise that this could only ever be a temporary escape for Mr Spock. The series format dictates that he’ll have to be locked back into his emotional prison by the end of the episode.
In some ways Kirk finds himself cast in the role of Spock’s spurned lover, desperate to break up the relationship between his second in command and Leila. And although Kirk is aware that his master-plan to snap Spock out of his loving daydream is dangerous (due to Spock’s great strength) he still goes ahead with it. Why not target McCoy or Sulu first?
Certainly if Kirk/Spock slash is your thing then there’s plenty of interest in this episode. Not least when the pair decide to settle their differences by getting physical ….
This Side of Paradise is an acknowledgment of the way that Spock had become something of a sex-symbol by this point. Kirk might be the more conventional leading man, but there was clearly something about Spock which caught the imagination of a good section of the audience (no doubt to William Shatner’s irritation).
The original draft centered around Sulu – which would have given his character a much needed boost – but I think that re-writing it for Spock was the right decision. Jill Ireland gives a nice performance as Leila, even if her first scene rather overdoses on the soft focus.
Kirk’s master plan to destroy the spores (he realises that anger is key) is a neatly ironic twist (fighting peace with violence). And the image of Kirk alone on the Enterprise is a memorable moment. With all of his crew having mutinied and transported down to the planet in double-quick time, he briefly cuts a desolate and defeated figure.
This Side of Paradise contains plenty of interest for the Spock fan, or indeed the Kirk/Spock fan.