Hey, it’s another ‘Final Frontier Friday’! Yes, already. As always, thank you for joining us. We’re going back to the seventies this week for another look at ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’, this time with the second season episode ‘Bem’.
In ‘Bem’, we have another episode by David Gerrold, of ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ fame. ‘Bem’ was an idea that came about in the wake of that episode’s initial success, and an early form was pitched (alongside ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’) for the third season of the original series. Though neither sold at the time, both would be re-worked for the animated ‘Trek’ a few years later.
But in a very real sense, this episode owes its existence to an inside joke of sorts. In its earliest form, ‘Bem’ took its name from an abbreviation for that age-old sci-fi descriptor “Bug Eyed Monster”. Basically, Gerrold thought it would be fun to feature a B.E.M. in ‘Star Trek’ and hit upon the idea of using the abbreviation for both the title of the episode and the name of the character (there are conflicting accounts as to whether or not Bem himself was intended to be a B.E.M.).
Though it wasn’t actually produced until the second season, Gerrold’s pitch for ‘Bem’ was actually revisited for the first, at which point it started to take on its familiar shape. As was often the case, Gene Roddenberry gave Gerrold a variety of notes on the script, including requests that he add a variety of plot elements, an arrangement Gerrold found frustrating due to the way it altered the episode. The most notable of these Roddenberry elements is, unsurprisingly, the inclusion of a godlike entity.
Also noteworthy is that ‘Bem’ is the episode that revealed Captain Kirk’s middle name as Tiberius, though the fact that Roddenberry would later strike the series from the ‘Star Trek’ canon in the early days of ‘The Next Generation’ meant that the name wouldn’t be “officially official” until it was once again mentioned in ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’. But why “Tiberius”? It is, after all, a bit out of place with “James” and “Kirk”. In an interview with StarTrek.com, David Gerrold recalled that he first encountered the name in a book about the history of torture, of all things. As for the ‘Star Trek’ connection, Gerrold recounts a 1973 convention at which he was asked what the T in James T. Kirk stood for. As he tells it, he basically blurted out “Tiberius” without thinking, after which it became something of a running joke. When the time came to write ‘Bem’, he decided to work it into the episode. And with Roddenberry’s approval, the rest is history.
So let’s get on with that history and move on to the episode.
The Enterprise is on a series of exploratory missions, accompanied by Ari Bn Bem, an observer from the recently contacted world Pandro. The ship arrives at Delta Theta III, a largely unexplored planet where a prior scouting mission picked up signs of indigenous life. The crew is charged simply to investigate and report on the natives. To that end, a landing party consisting of Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Sulu is sent to the surface to plant a series of monitoring devices. They are met in the transporter room by Bem, who wishes to join the party. Kirk is puzzled (noting that Bem hasn’t done much observing at all), but ultimately relents. The party materializes at the edge of a small cliff – or rather most of them do. Kirk and Spock have a Wile E. Coyote moment, materializing a few meters above the ground and falling into the water below. Bem (having set the transporter controls) jumps down to offer assistance. As Kirk reassured him that they’re alright, we see Bem’s lower body separate from his torso, grow a set of arms, and proceed to pick the two officers’ pockets using the chest-high water as cover. Once on dry land, they are contacted by Uhura, who reports that the ship has detected “an anomaly,” something resembling a sensor field or scanning grid, but with no obvious source. Spock surmises the presence of “something else, something intelligent,” but Kirk points out that it could be a natural phenomena and orders Uhura to continue monitoring it. Bem detects life forms nearby and runs off after them. Kirk and Spock give chase, but Bem is able to gain a significant lead by once again separating his various body parts. When they finally catch up to their errant observer, they find him surrounded by a native hunting party