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The Enterprise crew are studying and hailing an approaching alien vessel unlike any they have encountered before - it uses an ion drive, of which Scotty is jealous. A woman beams onto the bridge and taps some buttons on a control pad on her wrist, which causes the entire crew to fall unconscious. When the crew wakes up some time later, the woman is gone.
McCoy finds Spock in Sickbay, and calls Kirk down to give him the grim news: Spock's brain is missing. McCoy can keep Spock's body alive for about 24 hours with medical equipment, but after that his body will die. Kirk leaps to the conclusion that the alien woman stole Spock's brain, and he declares that they will find her no matter what. McCoy points out that even if they do find Spock's brain, he doesn't have the knowledge or skills to replace it in Spock's body. Kirk clearly figures they'll burn - I mean cross - that bridge when they get to it. I don't know how the actors managed to do this scene seriously. The situation presented in the plot is so absurd. Even the music sounds like a B-movie.
Kirk orders Sulu to follow the trail of the ion drive of the alien ship; they follow it to a planetary system with three M-type planets. From there, they can't tell which planet the woman went to. In a nice scene, Chekov presents schematics of the planetary system and summaries of each planets' civilizations. I say this scene is nice because it's a good example of a briefing a junior officer would give, and it's some nice general background for us. The visuals are pretty sad by today's standards, though.
One of the three M-type planets is at about the level of technology that Earth was in the 15th century. The second is at the level of technology that Earth was in the mid 21st century; even though this planet is the most advanced, it's unlikely it could have developed the ion-drive spaceship. The third planet is in an ice age, and the native humanoids have little, if any, technology. However, Uhura detects regular energy fluctuations from that planet - they could be due to something natural, but Uhura clearly feels they are too regular for that. Kirk plays a hunch and orders them to the ice-age planet; there are only some 8 hours remaining in the 24 hour deadline on Spock's body, so they won't have a second chance if he's wrong.
Kirk, Scotty, Chekov, and two redshirts beam down to the planet. In a telling slip of the tongue, Kirk orders "Spock" to take tricorder readings instead of Scotty. In short order, they round up some native humanoids and capture one for questioning. One might wonder why - after all, do they have a language? And if they do, why would it be ours? But never fear, the man they capture can speak English.
The man appears human, but his vocabulary and intelligence are limited. He warns Kirk about the "others" who appear and give them "pain and delight". Further questioning doesn't add much. Chekov gets tricorder readings indicating that there is a vast compound of buildings underground nearby. They find a probable entrance into the subterranean compound; food and weapons are piled near a sensor, making an obvious trap for the natives on the surface.
Kirk plans to spring the trap, but first orders McCoy to beam down to go with them. McCoy brings Spock's body, which he has somehow rigged to be controlled with a remote control. Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, and Spock's body go into the cave and set off the trap, while Chekov and the redshirts stay on the surface.
The cave is an elevator which carries them down into the underground complex. A woman is waiting when the door opens, but she is surprised to see them, so they have time to stun her with their phasers. They take her wrist controller and then wake her up. Kirk demands to know where Spock's brain is, among other things, but the woman is confused. McCoy says his readings show she has the mind of a child and doesn't understand.
When Scotty tries to contact Chekov or the ship, he accidentally runs into a frequency with Spock's voice! I ask you, how could whatever setup Spock's brain is currently in know what Spock's voice sounds like? Kirk eagerly asks Spock where he is, but Spock is unsure. He is somewhat amused by the idea of being a disembodied brain. Kirk promises that they will find him.
They encounter the woman that visited the Enterprise; she is more prepared for them and knocks them out with her wrist controller. When they wake up, they have been fitted with bands around their waists. The woman that stole Spock's brain, Kara, begins to question what they want. Kirk again makes demands about Spock's brain, but Kara is also confused. Apparently she also has a child-like mind. Kirk and the others try to make simple requests about seeing someone in charge. Kara jumps to the conclusion that they want to steal the Controller, even though Kirk says they just want to talk to it. Kirk begins to act aggressively, and Kara uses her wrist controller to put him and his men in horrible pain via the waistband devices. Kara is confused about what to do, and she and her friends leave to seek guidance, while Kirk and his men remain under guard.
Kirk and the others subdue the guards and reclaim their equipment, which Kara and the other women had thoughtfully left sitting out for them. They reestablish communicator contact with Spock. They jointly come to the conclusion that Spock's brain is currently acting as the primary controller of the computer system and all functions of the underground complex, such as air recycling. Spock's brain somehow uses the equipment to send out a signal that they can home in on.
They follow the signal to a control room, where they find Spock's brain in a black box connected to the computer system. They also find Kara, who immediately turns on the pain devices. In a laughable action, Kirk manages to use the remote control for Spock's body to make Spock's body grab Kara and turn off the pain. (My husband always says he really likes the remote control button that apparently means "go forward and grab where appropriate".) They subdue Kara and remove her wrist device.
They are running out of time to restore Spock's brain, so Kirk questions Kara even more urgently about how she managed to remove Spock's brain so carefully. She reveals that she gained the knowledge of how to do so through the Teacher, which is a giant salon hair-drier, that transmits knowledge from a huge database into the user. Spock's brain confirms that this technology, and the whole underground complex, were prepared by the former civilization that was eventually wiped out by the growing ice age thousands of years ago. The women living in the underground complex have let their mental faculties atrophy from lack of use, but the Teacher gives them important knowledge when it is necessary for them to use it.
Kara refuses to put on the Teacher to learn how to put Spock's brain back. Kirk forces her, and once she gains the knowledge, her change in demeanor is stunning. She speaks intelligently and has the cunning to use one of their phasers to try to stop them. However, she's still naive and falls for a distraction by Scotty so that Kirk can grab the phaser. Even so, she refuses to cooperate. If Spock's brain is no longer their Controller, then their equipment will fail and they will die.
McCoy volunteers to try wearing the Teacher. As Spock's brain warns, there's no guarantee that it will work for a human and not kill him. However, McCoy is thrilled with the prospect of not only saving Spock but also possibly remembering some of the surgical techniques to benefit the Federation in general. Kirk agrees, and McCoy puts on the Teacher. The knowledge transfer is obviously painful, but when it's done, McCoy says the operation is child's play. Hopefully so, when there are less than 3 hours of their deadline left!
McCoy begins operating, and at first he is confident and quick. But then he starts losing the special knowledge and becomes unsure. Kirk suggests "hooking up" Spock's vocal cords, with the notion that Spock might be able to help McCoy. This is successful, and Spock does direct McCoy in making the rest of the nerve connections. Spock and his brain are successfully rejoined.
What about Kara and her people? Kirk glibly says that they'll have to learn to take care of themselves and suggests that they move to the planet's surface to live with the men.
This is possibly the most famous bad TOS episode. It's obvious why - the plot and dialog are straight out of a B-movie. But even though it's all ridiculous, it's never really boring. The viewer can watch and laugh at the idiocy; I almost feel like this episode is parodying TOS itself.
The idea of a human brain being an effective computer controller may have some merit. But that's about the only part of the episode that does, and the use of this small bit of interesting plot is just silly. It's funny that the only person that seriously and persistently protests against Kirk's quest to recover Spock's brain is Spock's brain itself. But Kirk is not to be dissuaded.
The natives on the planet are complete caricatures. I would complain that the depiction of the women as stupid was sexist, but the men were also pretty stupid. However, we unfortunately got to see the women carry on many conversations at the level of a four-year-old, including stomping indignantly when upset.
Kirk has missed a great opportunity for knowledge: while Spock's brain was in the computer, he was able to scan the stored files used by the Teacher. Who knows what valuable things were in there? Clearly if the previous civilization had medical techniques for removing and replacing brains, they were quite advanced.
One scientific note: I'm not sure about Scotty's fuss over the ion-propulsion drive. The US has launched a couple ion-drive spaceprobes. The advantage of this drive is that it's relatively cheap and can be sustained for a long time. The disadvantage (and it's a big one), is that it takes quite a long time for the drive to push the spaceprobe up to a respectable speed. Essentially, it can't move things quickly.
I don't have too much more to say, because the silliness of this episode really has to be seen to be believed.