22013 "The Ambergris Element"

(airdate: December 1, 1973)

Writer: Margaret Armen
Director: Hal Sutherland

Rila: Majel Barrett
Cadmar: James Doohan

Domar: James Doohan
Clayton: James Doohan

Stardate: 5499.9

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is studying the uninhabited planet Argo, a water planet that was submerged when violent quakes wracked the planet, in order to gain information to help a different planet in a similar situation. While on the surface, the aqua-shuttle investigating the ocean is attacked by a giant monster, and Kirk and Spock become separated from the others. When they're found five days later, it's apparent they've been altered to become water-breathers by a previously unknown race of beings, called Aquans, living in the water. In an effort to reverse the mutation, Kirk and Spock travel to the city of the Aquans to enlist their help. Despite initial resistance, they're able to convince an Aquan to tell them where to find the knowledge to reverse the mutation. With the knowledge and the requisite substances, McCoy is able to reverse the mutation, allowing Kirk and Spock to breathe air again. The Enterprise then diverts an earthquake that threatened to destroy the Aquans' civilization, for which the Aquans are very grateful.

Whoops!: Animation goofs: there's a shot from inside the aqua-shuttle of the ocean and a starfield instead of the sky and mountains. As Kirk and Spock enter the ruined building, Kirk is (very briefly) duplicated in place of Spock. And it's probably more a deliberate decision than an actual goof, but the long-distance shots of Kirk and Spock swimming aren't colored in. Oddly, the wrecked aqua-shuttle appears to have a registry number that ends in "012", which isn't the number it had when it was intact.
     A bit of a curiosity: the production numbers of the Animated Series move from 22011 ("The Slaver Weapon") to 22013 for this one. What was episode 22012? It presumably got far enough along to be assigned a production number, but no further than that, and no one seems to know anything about it. Was there a story outline? A writer assigned? Anything? Or was 22012 the number accidentally skipped over?

Classic Lines: Kirk, upset at his predicament: "Look at this place! A tank! I can't command a ship from inside an aquarium!"

Technobabble: The substance that caused the mutation is similar to ambergris. [So whale bile can turn you into a water-breather, apparently.]

Library Computer: The planet Argo is a white planet which was once primarily a "land planet" but which has since been nearly completely covered by water, due to seismic activity. The Federation initially believed that the planet was uninhabited, and the Enterprise was sent there to study Argo's history, to see what effect the quakes and other activity had had on Argo's surface. Argo was in fact inhabited by a race of marine humanoids, the Aquans, as well as a large red sea creature called a sur-snake.
     The Aquans are a water-breathing humanoid race, with green scaly skin, gills in the neck, vestigial nostrils, webbed fingers and toes, and fins along their heads and limbs. They also have what looks rather like a large green leaf in place of where one might expect hair on their heads. The males wear what look like swim trunks, while the females wear short purple dresses. They appear to gather vegetation from the oceans as food. The Aquans were a forced mutation; as the land masses began to sink, a number of Aquans underwent "surgo-op" to live in the ocean, and as time passed the mutations became hereditary. Some of Argo's inhabitants refused to undergo the mutation and became violent, attacking and hunting the mutated Aquans; thus the Aquans have a deep-seated distrust of air-breathers. Eventually the air-breathers died out, and the Aquans built an advanced civilization beneath the waves of Argo, with incredible architecture resembling delicate nets surrounding central towers. The Aquans are governed by a Ruling Tribunal, with Domar being the High Tribune as of stardate 5499.9, and they follow a list of ordainments, as well as consulting their ancient records for guidance. The Aquans have the ability to mutate air breathers into water-breathers, as well as to remove parts of a person's memory. After the Enterprise helped save the Aquans from a devastating quake, the Aquans decided to let go of their hatred of air-breathers; in fact, a number of the younger Aquans decided to reverse their mutation and reclaim the land that resurfaced after the diverted quake.
     The mutation of air-to-water breathers was achieved by injecting a substance, similar to ambergris, into key structural points, which affects the entire metabolism of the subject, as well as causing them to develop webbing between their fingers and a transparent film over their eyes, "like the second [sic] eyelid of a fish." Mutated humanoids cannot breathe air. The Aquans had lost the knowledge of how to reverse the mutation, but when the mutation was initially developed a reverse mutation was also developed, which involved using the venom of the Argo sur-snake; the knowledge of the reverse mutation was found in sealed containers in a "sealed place", where an entire part of the continental shelf sank within minutes, preserving the buildings. The containers with the information about the reverse mutation were marked with a symbol similar to a caduceus, albeit with a merman instead of a snake. However, the correct dosage had been lost to time, and experiments showed that too strong a dose of the antitoxin would cause an over-mutation, making the change irreversable. However, Dr. McCoy determined that the correct dosage was two small doses followed by a large one, at three-quarters strength.
     The Argo sur-snake was a large, red creature living in the seas of Argo. It looked like a large snake, with four prehensile tendrils ending in fins near the upper part of its torso. The sur-snake had a dual respiratory system of lungs and gills, allowing it to exist in both air and water, and its skeleton was similar to that of a Denebian whale's. Capturing a sur-snake was forbidden by Aquan ordainments, but its venom was required to develop the antitoxin necessary to reverse the water-breathing mutation.
     Two special Enterprise craft are seen here: an aqua-shuttle (registry NCC-1701\5A), which can travel in space, through an atmosphere, on the surface of water, and underwater, is equipped with phaser banks, and looks like a thinner, longer version of a standard shuttlecraft, albeit a bit more angular; and a type of boat (registry NCC-1701/R6) with seating for four people that could explore the surface of bodies of water. [This is the only episode of any Star Trek series to date with registry numbers quite like these, with a letter and Arabic number stacked on top of each other. The aqua-shuttle is also the only shuttle to have a backslash in its registry instead of the usual slash.]
     The Enterprise was able to develop a procedure to divert earthquakes by firing phasers at unpopulated "pressure areas", thus changing the epicenter of the quake. This knowledge was going to be useful to the Federation planet in a situation similar to Argo pre-sinking.
     The Enterprise's medical computers have information on every procedure in the Federation's hospitals, albeit not a procedure designed to change someone from a water-breather to an air-breather. There is a large water tank inside sickbay, with controls to monitor things like pressure and temperature.
     Life support belts ("Beyond the Farthest Star" et seq.) work underwater.

Final Analysis: "An undersea civilization capable of fantastic architecture. Medical triumphs unheard of in our galaxy. Why should they be afraid of us, Spock?" Another episode that would have been neigh impossible to achieve in live action, thus highlighting the advantages of animation. But beyond that "The Ambergris Element" is content to live within its restrictions, providing a story that isn't too outlandish or challenging. Neither particularly terrible nor special, this is instead a pleasant but forgettably average tale.

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Page last updated: June 20, 2018

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