It’s interesting that “The Naked Time” was only the fourth episode of Star Trek aired, as it’s an episode where the entire crew of the Enterprise are in the thrall of a mysterious virus that causes them to lose control of their emotions. This means that various characters were baring their psyche before they were well-established in the average viewer’s mind as people. John D.F. Black’s script assumes that the audience has some kind of knowledge about the crew. However, network schedulers were paying more attention to whether or not it was a “ship show” or “planet show” than whether or not it made sense to air an episode like this so early in the series’ run.
Black, by the way, was the Executive Story Consultant for the show’s early episodes, so he may have had some ideas about how they were presenting the show to audiences. A week after it was handed in, though, it was heavily rewritten by Gene Roddenberry without any kind of consultation or notice, an action that he’d repeat on the “envelope” script for “The Menagerie.” These two actions (and a Writer’s Guild squabble over credits on the latter) pushed Black to accept a job offer from Universal Pictures midway through the first season. He’d come back to butt heads with The Great Bird again in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
(“The Naked Time” still remains Black’s favorite episode.)
Another person who ranks this as their favorite episode is George Takei, who devotes an entire chapter of his autobiography to it. It’s one of the very few shows where Sulu is given something to do other than sit at the helm and his virus-addled performance shows a man with no small amount of charisma, physical dexterity and a weird sort of perverted charm. He also chose the fencing foil as Sulu’s weapon when given a choice between it and a samurai sword.
“The Naked Time” also introduces the sorely underused character of Lt. Kevin Riley (played by Bruce Hyde), who’d only appear in one other episode, “The Conscience Of The King,” and a handful of novels. It’s a real shame that he was sidelined so quickly, as Hyde’s performances in both stand out.
The real star of the proceedings, though, has to be Leonard Nimoy. Spock was originally going to maintain his cool compusure throughout the episode with a gag shot of a crewman painting a mustache onto his face being the only possible crack in his facade. Nimoy wanted to show that Spock was suffering as well and improvised an unscripted moment that showed his human and Vulcan halves fighting one another amidst the infection. HIs breakdown and recovery was shot in one take at the end of a day of filming and was deemed worthy of inclusion.
Trivia 001: A couple of different sources have reported that, at least in the writer’s room, “The Naked Time” was originally going to be the first part of a two parter that led into “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.”
Trivia 002: Black states that Riley and Stewart Moss’s Joe Tormolen were being considered as regulars at the time of filming. Roddenberry’s script revisions killed Tormolen on McCoy’s table.
Trivia 003: Those enviromental suits that Spock and Tormolen wear down to the surface of Psi 2000? Yes, they’re shower curtains.
Trivia 004: Censors didn’t catch Uhura’s “Sorry, neither” response to Sulu’s calling her a “fair maiden” until the episode actually aired. Since NBC received exactly zero letters complaining about a character saying that she wasn’t a virgin, nobody was fired.
Trivia 005: How creepy is the bit where Kirk talks about how he wants to bang Yeoman Rand but can’t because he’s the captain? Jesus, that’s creepy. Stop being so creepy, JTK.
This episode seems especially relevant right now.
Take care of yourselves and each other out there.