EPISODE SIXTY-ONE: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
This is one of the more beautiful episodes they’ve had this season and one that ties nicely into the Superman mythology, of all things.
After discovering that Dr. McCoy is terminally ill, the crew discovers an asteroid that launches missiles and is nuclear powered. Upon beaming down, they find a planet-like atmosphere and are ambushed by hilariously dressed soldiers wielding the swords that the prop department acquired for Doves. Taken below the surface, to a race that worships ‘The Oracle’, a malicious tablet that likes controlling people, they quickly discover that the inhabitants believe themselves to be on a planet, not a ship, and have no idea they are traveling through space. This is particularly unfortunate, as a programming malfunction has set them on a collision course with a heavily populated planet. And so, Kirk and Spock set out to find out how to divert the massive ship without breaching the Prime Directive and telling these people their life has been a lie.
McCoy meanwhile falls in love with the high priestess, even going so far as to decide to stay on the ship (until the end of the episode, of course, where he determines he must continue his mission through the stars. This is actually on of the better love stories on the series so far, as McCoy points out (after his lady asks him to marry her after one conversation) that they’re basically strangers (true of every instant romance in the show to date) to which she replies, “But isn’t that the way with all men and women? Aren’t we always strangers to each other, at first?” Point goes to the Priestess.
As to the Superman parallel; the reason they are on this ship made to look like a planet is that their sun exploded long ago and their ancestors gathered the best and brightest and launched them into space, with a tome containing all the race’s knowledge to be read upon arrival. To prevent the madness of being stuck on a fake planet (I guess) they created a religion around this Oracle to keep them on track until at last they reached a new planet. Unfortunately, Oracle went all dystopian on their asses and decided to electroshock or kill anyone who discovered the truth of the planet (like the awesome, crazy old seer who gets to deliver the line, “For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky” which has got to be one of the best 60’s scifi poetry titles I’ve ever heard- Bradbury in particular has a real knack for these). In a way, this entire race is Superman…but if Ma and Pa Kent were tyrannical supercomputers. Superman’s mythology shows what happens when the ‘jettison the race’ thing goes well, this shows what happens if it doesn’t. Instead we get a Truman Show level of wackiness, which is all kinds of good.
Solid sci fi at work, and got me rethinking the possible outcomes of Superman’s parents’ attempt to save the race. Awesome.