|Still from 'The Neutral Zone' (1988)|
Story Outline by Robert Bloch (undated)
Review, analysis, and report by David Eversole
Originally Posted at Orion Press
Four people beam aboard the Enterprise as it orbits Argelius II--Doctor Henning, Nancy Turner (handsome, late-30s), Jim Comstock (rugged, 40), Michael Oakes (a bright teenager) and Lou Jackson (squat, 50). While Doctor Henning is dressed normally, the other four all wear clothing styles of "today." (1966).
Kirk chastises Scotty when he makes a remark about their strange attire -- "No more of that. I want them treated with the utmost respect. Just remember -- all of them have been dead for over two hundred years."
We soon learn that Argelius II is the last of the old Cryogenics Centers, and Doctor Henning is a cryobiologist. In the late-20th Century, suspended animation was perfected, and patients at the point of death could be frozen, hopefully to be revived at some future date. Social upheavals and the population explosion on Earth lead to the moving of those preserved to Argelius. In this move, most of the records and case-histories of these people were lost, but the knowledge of how to revive them remained. Of the sixteen people in suspended animation, these four survived being brought back to life, and the Enterprise is to ferry them to a transfer point, where they will board a ship to Earth.
Mr. Spock is interested in observing how these people react to their new environment. "Doc" McCoy is interested in the medical details of their cryogenic freeze. Kirk warns them both to stop thinking of these people as guinea pigs. He goes to meet the uneasy four. Nancy puts on a front of charm; Comstock is cynical; Jackson, flippant, and young Michael Oakes is very interested in the scientific marvels of this "brave new world."
Kirk asks them to go to their assigned quarters, where they will be served dinners. He mentions that later he is going to talk to Doctor Henning about their cases. All react somewhat oddly to this request, especially the fact that Kirk is going to discuss them with Henning, but they do as he asks.
Later, in the "Medical Area," Kirk and McCoy await Doctor Henning. He stumbles in, falls, dead, to the floor, a knife stuck in his back!
The knife is a dinner-knife. One of the four revivees must have killed Henning. A Yeoman tells Kirk that she saw Doctor Henning visit each of them before he was to meet Kirk and McCoy. Knowing that whoever killed Henning will be missing their dinner-knife (their dinner plates have not been collected yet), Kirk decides to visit each of them to see whose knife is missing.
First he visits Nancy Turner. She is in a bit of a huffy mood because no one in this time recognizes her. She was a famous actress back in the day. She is shocked to hear that Henning is dead. Or is that just acting, Kirk wonders. Since Kirk knows that she was promised revived youth with her suspended animation, he doubts she would have killed the man who could have given her that. And her knife is on her plate.
Young Michael Oakes is shocked to learn of Henning's death. The doctor removed the brain tumor that was threatening Michael's life when he was revived. And like Turner, his knife is there on his dinner plate.
Jim Comstock is agitated when told of Henning's death. The doctor repaired his damaged heart when he was revived. He's even more agitated when Kirk demands to know where his dinner knife is. It is not on his plate. Finally, to Comstock's relief, Kirk sees the knife. It has simply fallen to the floor.
Lou Jackson doesn't care a whit that Henning is dead. No big deal to him. See, he's only interested in getting home and getting the loot he stashed away before he was frozen. To make his points more forcefully, he jabs at the air with his dinner knife.
When Kirk tells Spock of his lack of findings, Spock informs him that he has discovered that Henning was killed with the knife from his own dinner tray.
A killer is loose on Kirk's ship!
(And in a margin note on this investigation, Gene Roddenberry or John D. F. Black, or D. C. Fontana, or whoever, wonders why the hell Kirk didn't think of that before wasting all that time in endless talky scenes!)
Kirk now conducts in-depth psychological interviews with each of the four. He goads Nancy Turner. She was lied to. Suspended animation can't restore her youth. She will now grow old and die like everyone else. Didn't Doctor Henning tell you this when you were revived? Didn't it anger you enough to kill him, he wants to know. Nancy weeps uncontrollably. Yes, he told her the bad news. Poor thing will grow old and withered, and... but she insists she didn't kill him.
Jim Comstock enters and tells Kirk to give the poor woman a break. Soon we learn that Comstock hated his former life. He hated the world of the late twentieth century, with its wars and hatred, but since his revival he has found the future to be just as bad. Today, you conquer worlds, not countries. Kirk asks if he was angry when Doctor Henning told him of the wars of this century. Yes, Comstock admits, he was angry, but not angry enough to kill him.
Spock goes to visit Michael Oakes. The teenager asks pointed questions about Spock's alien heritage, which embarrass him somewhat, but he gamely answers them. Spock gets Michael to admit he had a terrible childhood in an orphanage, but other than that he's just a normal kid. No clues here.
Kirk talks with Lou Jackson --
(Editorial intrusion: More margin notes complain that this outline is just one talk scene after another, with no action whatsoever! Give it some action, the notist begs, maybe have Jackson and Kirk slug each other.)
-- and discovers that he was a gangster who stashed loot everywhere before he was frozen. With the compound interest he hoped to be rich when he awoke two hundred years hence. Were you angry when Doctor Henning told you that your money did not accrue as you hoped it would due to the "statute of limitations on savings," Kirk asks. Sure, Jackson admits, he was angry, but not angry enough to kill him.
Kirk, Spock and Bones compare notes. They realize that they better find something out fast, for tomorrow they meet the transport ship which will take the four back to Earth. Bones declares that he wants to do things his way.
While giving Jim Comstock a medical examination, Doc leaves a scalpel within easy reach of the man. Comstock slowly picks it up... and hands it back to McCoy. He hates violence.
Nancy doesn't even notice the scalpel Doc leaves in easy reach of her during her examination. Doc does discover that she has given birth in the past. It was a baby boy, she admits, it died at birth.
Lou Jackson grows angry during his exam, grabs the scalpel and waves it about. Has Doc discovered the murderer? No. Jackson calms down, tosses the scalpel aside. He's clean, wants to stay that way. Yeah, he's angry about losing all his dough, but he reckons he can start over. He's smart, can play the barely legal rackets in this century just as well as he did in his.
Doc examines Michael's brain tumor scar tissue. Through gentle questioning, he learns that Michael wasn't in an orphanage, he was confined in a mental institution. Michael stares at the gleaming scalpel. McCoy induces a hypnotic state in the young man and questions him about the killing of Doctor Henning.
Suddenly a hand grabs the scalpel.
Nancy Turner wields it in McCoy's face!
The lights go on and Kirk is there. He subdues Nancy and we discover the truth. Michael is her son. She did not want the burden of a mentally disturbed child to detract from her career. When it was discovered that his behavioral aberrations stemmed from a brain tumor, she decided to have him frozen in suspended animation. A delayed maternal instinct caused her to be frozen with him. She killed Doctor Henning because she didn't want him to tell Michael the truth.
Jim Cromwell comforts Nancy. She will have to stand trial, but she takes comfort from Doc McCoy telling her that Michael is totally cured. And, she is told, today criminals are not punished; they are rehabilitated.
From the outline:
And the Enterprise goes on, carrying its strange cargo to meet varied fates in the world they've come to from the past...I love the works of Robert Bloch, from his novels, to his short stories to his various teleplays and screenplays. He almost never fails to entertain... "almost never." This is not a very good outline. There's little mystery, little incentive -- (Editorial Intrusion: If I go down tomorrow to see my investment counselor, and he tells me solely because of my own stupidity I am broke, wiped out, skint, I'm gonna be angry. I may scream, throw things, drop the "F Bomb" at the top of my lungs, but why the hell would I kill the messenger of the bad news I brought upon myself? Likewise, if someone points out that there is an unjust war going on in Country X, I'm not going to stick a dinner knife in her back for informing me of this...) -- for any of the suspects to kill poor Doctor Henning. And as the writer of the marginal notes pointed out at least twice, it's all talk. And the title is bad as well.
Image Courtesy of Trek Core.
Review originally posted at Orion Press.
Editor's Note: Marc Cushman's These Are The Voyages claims this outline was written "on spec" by Robert Bloch after he finished work on 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?' There's no source for this claim, and since the outline itself is undated, it is probably speculation. If anyone has access to an interview with Bloch where he talks about this story outline, I'd love to read it. Cushman also claims that this outline was nixed because it "was in conflict with 'Space Seed,' that other sleeping beauty story in the works." I suspect this is also speculation on Cushman's part, since nothing in the archival collection at UCLA suggests this, and Cushman doesn't cite a source. It seems more likely, based upon the hand-written notes found on the draft in the Roddenberry collection, that the outline was rejected because it was talky, made Kirk reactive rather than active, and had little action. Beyond the suspended animation angle, the outline bears little resemblance to 'Space Seed,' anyways. Today, I suspect Star Trek fans will find it has more in common with 'The Neutral Zone' from Star Trek: The Next Generation than it does with any episode of the original series.