Star Trek and the cloud city

Enterprise in orbit around Ardana. Image courtesy Memory Alpha
Enterprise in orbit around Ardana. Image courtesy Memory Alpha

I’m re-watching old Star Trek episodes and yesterday was “The Cloud Minders“. For being aired in 1969, it seemed… sadly all too relevant to recent events in our country and specifically in Missouri.

Briefly, the episode is about Kirk and Spock trying to get a consignment of a vital mineral from rebel miners on one planet, to stop an agricultural plague on another planet. They are drawn into the politics of the world, which feature staggering inequality, racism, brutality, torture, environmental inequality, unsafe working conditions for the poor, a technologically-dependent city, and more.

The “more” is an eerily prescient story element that sounds like the recent discovery that environmental lead closely tracks violent crime. There’s no way that the writers could have known about it in 1969, but the gist is that much of the racism derived from the aphorism “All they understand is violence!” It turned out that much of the violence was caused by exposure to a toxic gas in the mines. And the rest of it, by economic desperation.

The scene where Spock ruminates on conditions there is worth the price of admission. Kirk is sleeping and Spock is… thinking. His narration:

SPOCK [OC]: “This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts. Those who receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership. Here on Stratos, everything is incomparably beautiful and pleasant. The High Advisor’s charming daughter Droxine, particularly so. The name Droxine seems appropriate for her. I wonder, can she retain such purity and sweetness of mind and be aware of the life of the people on the surface of the planet? There, the harsh life in the mines is instilling the people with a bitter hatred. The young girl who led the attack against us when we beamed down was filled with the violence of desperation. If the lovely Droxine knew of the young miner’s misery, I wonder how the knowledge would affect her.” (Chakoteya.net)

This is followed by a hilarious scene where the lovely Droxine tries to seduce Spock – and makes quite a bit of progress before they are interrupted by Kirk. I half expected Spock to say “Jim, do you mind? Can’t this wait?”

There are Star Trek TOS episodes that are just staggeringly dumb, but this one is highly recommended. I just wish it weren’t still so… relevant.

NOTES

  • My first thought on seeing the city floating in the clouds, held aloft by an anti-gravity system, was that the city was always one technological failure away from catastrophe. But there are contemporary cities no less dependent on large systems. Most of them, in fact.
  • I have seen far too many comments about #Ferguson, Missouri, that amount to “They are animals, and all they understand is violence!” The leader of Ardana said almost exactly those words about the Troglytes. 
  • Most bad-ass quote in the episode. Kirk stops the torture of one of the miners: “The only way you’ll use that device again is on one of us!”
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georgewiman

Older technology guy with photography and history background