The Enterprise is on a mission to find and aid a missing starship, the USS Defiant. They locate the ship but it appears to be slipping in and out of some kind of interface between our universe and another. So, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Chekov beam aboard the Defiant wearing space suits. They find the ship filled with dead crew. It appears that they went mad and killed each other. But the ship begins dematerializing so Kirk tells Scotty to beam them back to the Enterprise. But only three of the transporter stations are functioning so Kirk stays while the others are beamed over. When Kirk’s turn comes, he is halfway to being beamed over when the Defiant completely vanishes into the interface, never to be seen again in our universe.
Now Kirk is trapped between universes and won’t be close enough to rescue for a couple of hours. Meanwhile Chekov goes mad and attacks Spock on the Enterprise bridge and has to be restrained in sick bay. He is suffering from the same madness as the crew of the Defiant. McCoy theorizes that the distortion of space-time where they are located is slowly damaging the brains of the humans exposed to it. And one by one members of the crew go insane and have to be restrained. McCoy begins trials to find a medicine that will halt and reverse the effects of the space-time rift on the crew.
A ship of the Tholian race approaches the Enterprise and informs them that they are trespassing. Spock explains that they are waiting to retrieve a crew member who is trapped in an interface between universes and the rescue won’t occur for about two hours. The Tholians agree to wait exactly that amount of time before attacking the Enterprise. When the estimated time occurs, the transporter attempts to lock onto Kirk but he’s not there. Spock speculates that the appearance of the Tholian ship disrupted the local space-time and offset Kirk’s location. Spock speculates that it will be twenty more minutes before Kirk shows up. Meanwhile the Tholian ship begins attacking the Enterprise and Spock orders a phaser bombardment. This forces the Tholian ship to break off its attack. Now a second Tholian ship shows up and docks with the first ship. Afterwards it is seen that the two ships begin spinning a web between their ships to form a cage around the Enterprise made of energy. Spock estimates that the cage will be complete at exactly the time that Kirk might show up again.
Not knowing if Kirk would return from the other universe to be rescued Spock convenes a ceremony for the crew to memorialize Kirk’s life. Afterward McCoy berates Spock for not moving the ship out of the area before the Tholians attacked. Spock basically tells him to mind his own business and find a cure for the madness. But McCoy insists that before anything else he and Spock were duty bound to listen to a recording that Kirk had left for them. It was instructions to them on the occasion of his death. In the recording Kirk counsels Spock to go to McCoy whenever pure logic is insufficient to determine the right decision in a desperate circumstance. He tells Spock to listen to McCoy’s advice and use his own judgement on its soundness. And Kirk tells McCoy to advise Spock but never to forget that ultimately the captain had the responsibility to make the command decisions.
Now Kirk starts appearing inside the ship as a sort of phantom. When Uhura sees him in her cabin she runs out and tells McCoy. But he assumes that the madness is starting to affect her mind. Shortly afterwards McCoy comes up with a cure for the madness and gives it to the crew. Now Scotty has a similar sighting of Kirk and based on this Spock prepares to enact a plan to lock a tractor beam onto Kirk and then throw the Enterprise into the time-space rift in order to escape the Tholian Web. And it works. The Enterprise is hurled blah, blah parsecs into space and when Kirk’s phantom appears in the bridge viewscreen Spock orders the transporter to capture Kirk. And that works too. McCoy is there to give Kirk an emergency oxygen blood boost and he quickly recovers his usual Shatnerian presence. When he asks them afterward about listening to his “death tape,” Spock and McCoy lie and say they were too busy to listen to it.
Okay, so what about all that? Well, for season three this has to be considered a pretty good story. Sure, there’s some hokey stuff. But the story is relatively coherent. There actually is some dramatic tension around the menace to the ship versus losing Captain Kirk. And the relationship between Kirk and his friends Spock and McCoy is handled in a clever and somewhat moving way.
The goofier aspects should be noted. Chekov’s berserk attack on Spock and the howls he lets off once he’s restrained in sick bay are pretty weird. And the phantom images of Kirk floating around the Enterprise in his space suit making spastic faces at the crew is pretty dopey looking.
But all things considered this is a solid episode and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I’ll give this one a 7 // 5.