The episode opens with the Enterprise in orbit above planet Psi 2000. Spock and Lieutenant Junior Grade Joe Tormolen go down to the planet in environmental suits to observe the planet’s impending disintegration. They find that every member of the scientific crew on the planet is dead in an odd position (e.g., clothed in the shower, frozen at work stations). Tormolen removes a glove to better rub his nose and a mysterious red liquid jumps on his hand.
McCoy finds nothing wrong with Spock or Tormolen during their medical exams, but Tormolen acts agitated. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy then together view images from the away mission. Though the tricorders did not find any contaminants, Spock postulates that the scientists on the planet could have suffered some sort of space madness due to an unknown cause.
Throughout the rest of the episode, numerous members of the Enterprise crew become infected with the maddening contagion at the sound of a rattlesnake. Tormolen dies in an accident as Sulu and Riley attempt to restrain him. Sulu runs crazily through the halls with a sword, attempting to protect fair maidens. Nurse Chapel confesses her love to Spock, after which Spock fails to maintain his composure and mourns the lack of love he gave to his human mother. Riley takes over engineering and, while singing Irish ballads, demands that the crew receive more ice cream while the Enterprise’s orbit disintegrates. Kirk laments that his commitment to the Enterprise keeps him from having a committed relationship with a beautiful woman like Yeoman Rand.
As the Enterprise faces impending destruction, Scotty and Kirk retake engineering but discover that Riley shut down the engines and a normal restart takes thirty minutes. The Enterprise only has eight. McCoy then discovers that the disease is caused by water “changed to a complex chain of molecules” which “in the bloodstream … acts like alcohol.” The disease was passed by perspiration. McCoy successfully develops a serum that cures the disease. Spock then proposes they attempt a full-power start using a theoretical formula to mix the matter and anti-matter. The formula works, and as the ship accelerates away from the planet, the Enterprise is sent 71 hours back in time. Deciding not to return to Psi 2000, they plan a course ahead at warp factor 1.
As in some other episodes (i.e., “The Return of the Archons”), the episode is concerned with the loss of self. As the various crew members come under the influence of the disease, they act irrationally and hysterically. In order to survive, some members of the crew must have better self-control and self-awareness. As this episode shows the dangers of the loss of self and overly irrational behavior, it may be used as a reminder of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse or negative social pressures that may lower inhibitions.
The episode illustrates TOS’s indebtedness to modern philosophy and its emphasis upon reason. While they have momentary lapses during their infections, characters like Kirk and Spock in the end decide that what they know as right through reason is more important than their emotions or desires. At the same time, this episode in particular, and TOS in general, does not emphasize reason over desire to an extreme.
This episode also reminds people that while we may have our share of personal problems, at times, we must have the strength to set those aside in certain contexts. This is particularly true in work environments.
While the Enterprise finds herself in a perilous situation, “The Naked Time” provides some laughs along the way, particularly from Sulu’s shirtless escapades with a sword. The episode highlights the problem solving capabilities and teamwork of the Enterprise crew.
Instead of seeing Kirk only interact with Spock and McCoy individually, like in the early episode “The Carbomite Maneuver,” we see all three of them interact with one another. This includes some of the earliest examples of “trash talk” between Spock and McCoy.
While it creates an interesting storyline, one wonders why Tormolen would be stupid enough to remove a glove while wearing protective gear.
Also, while those who know Star Trek well know that the members of the Enterprise crew act out of character, “The Naked Time” is such an early episode that the characters are not well established enough to do so. The episode might have been better if it had occurred later in the series.
The episode informs viewers that Spock’s mother is human and his father is “Vulcanian.” It also shows that Vulcans are not emotionless, but instead that Vulcans have such strong emotions that they have to work to keep them in check.
“Your pulse is two-hundred and forty-two. Your blood pressure is practically non-existent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood.”
“Your readings are perfectly normal for me doctor, thank you. And as for my anatomy being different from yours, I am delighted.”
– McCoy and Spock, during Spock’s medical exam after returning to the ship from Psi 2000
“Get off me! You don’t rank me and you don’t have pointed ears! So just get off my neck!”
– Tormolen to Sulu
“We’re doing everything that’s possible.”
“Bones, I want the impossible checked out too.”
– Bones and Kirk
“Have no fear, O’Riley’s here! One Irishman is worth ten thousand of you!”
– Riley to Spock
“This is Captain Kevin Thomas Riley of the starship Enterprise.”
This episode is referenced at length in the TNG episode “The Naked Now.” When the TNG crew runs into an inhibition-lowering disease, Riker remembers the incident the Enterprise faced in “The Naked Time.” They even send the medical information to Crusher so they can use the serum developed by McCoy, but it does not work. Crusher postulates that the serum does not work because the disease has mutated, so she has to develop a different serum while under the disease’s influence.
Some interesting parallels between “The Naked Time” and “The Naked Now” can also be seen in a younger crew member taking over the ship (Riley and Wesley Crusher), and characters expressing various levels of love or sexual interest in one another (Kirk and Rand, Chapel and Spock, Yar and Data, Troi and Riker, Crusher and Picard).
Also, as the episode ends and they discuss the formula that leads to their time warp, Spock points out, “Since the formula worked, we can go back in time to any planet, any era.” Kirk then responds, “We may risk it someday, Mr. Spock.” The Enterprise’s trips to the past as seen in episodes like “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and “Assignment: Earth,” as well as the film “The Voyage Home,” likely stem from their time travel in “The Naked Time.”
This episode has been lauded as one of the best of the series. As Memory Alpha notes, it was nominated for a Hugo Award for “Best Dramatic Presentation” in 1967, and is listed in Terry J. Erdmann and Paula M. Block’s book Star Trek 101 as one of the “Ten Essential Episodes” of TOS. John D.F. Black and George Takei also list the episode as their favorite of the series. The episode lives up to its praise from these sources.
(9 out of 10)
Stewart Moss as Joe Tormolen
Bruce Hyde as Kevin Riley (only appears in one other episode, “The Conscience of the King”)