An explosion of one of the Klingon’s moons is encountered by the USS Excelsior. After surviving the destructive maelstrom, Captain Sulu receives a message from the Klingons to stay away from the site. He orders Commander Rand to send a message to Starfleet Command regarding the situation.
Several months later, the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise-A is called into a meeting with the top brass of Starfleet Command, where they are given a bombshell of a mission: Escort the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon to Earth, who has sued for peace on behalf of the Klingon Empire. The negotiations were held in secret by the Vulcan Ambassador Sarek and his son Captain Spock. Kirk is extremely reticent about the mission, since he has never forgiven the Klingons for the death of his son David Marcus on Genesis. He does, however, take on the assignment and they are joined by Spock’s newest protégé, Lt. Cmdr. Valeris.
They reach the rendezvous point and the Klingon’s flagship appears. After a stilted greeting, Kirk and his crew have dinner with the Klingons and the dinner turns into an argument over species relations. Some hours later, the Enterprise crew is still hung over from the Romulan Ale they consumed earlier when a torpedo strikes the Klingon ship. The confusion only escalates when two men in Starfleet space suits board the Klingon ship and shoot the Klingon Chancellor. Quickly averting a full-scale war, Kirk surrenders and boards the Klingon ship with Dr. McCoy. McCoy attempts to save the Chancellor, but McCoy’s lack of knowledge on Klingon anatomy and Gorkon’s wounds sealed his fate. General Chang, Gorkon’s chief of staff, has Kirk and McCoy arrested.
With the Federation unable to extradite the two men, the Klingons hold a very public trial. Kirk and McCoy are found guilty, despite the best efforts of their attorney Colonel Worf. They are sentenced to the prison planet Rura Penthe for the rest of their lives. Spock focuses his investigation onboard Enterprise, and fakes malfunctions aboard the ship to stall for time. Chekov finds Klingon blood in the transporter room, and Valeris finds the gravity boots used by the assassins. Unfortunately, the crewman whose locker held the boots was found to be innocent, because his webbed feet obviously could not fit inside.
On Rura Penthe, Kirk and McCoy forge an alliance with Martia, an alien woman with a mystery of her own. Together, they forge an escape plan and break out of the mine. As the cold closes in, Kirk tells McCoy that he has a special mineral that can track their location from a great distance. This proves to be the key, as Enterprise’s scanners find them inside Klingon space. Enterprise eludes the Klingons by making their listening posts believe that the ship is simply a smuggling vessel. Back on Rura Penthe, Kirk reveals that Martia is actually a traitor who frames Kirk and McCoy into escaping in exchange for a pardon. Martia uses her shapeshifting abilities to turn into Kirk, and the two Kirks fight. The Klingons appear and the Warden shoots Martia-Kirk. Kirk gets the Warden to confess to the plot but is beamed away before he learns who the mastermind is.
Scotty finds the uniforms that the assassins used and runs to Kirk and Spock, but all three find the assassins in question, dead. Kirk sets up a ruse to flush out their killer, and Valeris appears in sick bay. On the bridge, Kirk reveals that he knew who the traitor was when the Klingons introduced his personal log entries as evidence. As Valeris continues to stonewall, Spock mind-melds with Valeris and extracts the information from her. Realizing that they would need reinforcements, Spock contacts the USS Excelsior, and Sulu gives them the coordinates to the peace conference and heads off to join them in all due haste.
At Khitomer, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey responsible for attacking the Klingon ship cloaks upon entering the system. Enterprise warps in, ready for a fight, but is unable to track the Klingon ship, nor shoot at it because of its cloaking device. Chang taunts Kirk over the comm system and begins shooting at Enterprise. Because the Klingon ship can fire while cloaked, Enterprise is at a disadvantage, and is taking a pounding because of it. At the conference, a Klingon leaves the gathering and heads for a higher vantage point, where he begins assembling a disrupter rifle. In space, Spock figures out that Klingon ship still expends fuel and can possibly be tracked that way. Uhura chimes in that the ship carries atmospheric equipment to record such anomalies. Spock and McCoy leave the bridge to modify a torpedo.
Excelsior shows during the battle and Chang begins shooting at it. Even with the brief respite, Enterprise’s shields collapse from the attacks and a Klingon torpedo causes major damage to the saucer. Spock and McCoy finish the new homing torpedo and it begins circling space. Chang watches helplessly as the torpedo homes in on his ship and detonates. Sulu orders the Excelsior to fire at the explosion, and Kirk joins in. The two ships destroy the Klingons.
On Khitomer, the Klingon assassin has finished making his rifle and begins targeting the Federation president, who is in the middle of his speech. Kirk and his crew beam down and begin making a scene, allowing Kirk to run unabated to the Federation President for a just-in-time rescue. In the confusion, the Enterprise crew takes the conspirators Valeris named into custody. Scotty kicks in the door to the room with the assassin and fires. The assassin falls into the conference area below. Admiral Cartwright, one of the conspirators, attempts to escape, but is captured by Sulu. As Azetbur, the new Klingon Chancellor demands an explanation, Kirk explains what has happened. The two of them share a moment of conciliation as it looks as if peace in the region will be assured. The Federation ships leave as Kirk’s final log entry bridges the Star Trek mantra from the Original Series to The Next Generation.
Review and Analysis:
As a final swan song for the Star Trek original series, The Undiscovered Country works to act as the bridge between the Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was in its 4th Season on television at the time.
It is in movies like this that Star Trek shows both its best side, and its worst side. On the one hand, this movie was supposed to be on the cutting edge of current events, with the backdrop of the film being a science fiction metaphor to the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. The explosion of Praxis was supposed to be an allusion to the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In the years to follow, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Yeltsin would begin working with US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to draw down nuclear arsenals and ease the aggressive stances that the two countries have been on for the last 40-plus years.
On the other, however, The Undiscovered Country continues the tradition of sidelining women and people of color prevalent in sci-fi. The women and people of color in this movie fall into one of the following roles: Incompetent at their job, Willing to Work for the Bad Guys for Peanuts, or Background Fodder to the Story. The four main role for women in this film are Uhura, Valeris, Azetbur, and Martia. And in all four cases, the women in this movie never seem to stray from their pre-conceived roles.
Traitors, Racism, and Liberism at Work:
Some of the original drafts of the Undiscovered Country‘s script called for Lt. Saavik to come back to her original role and make her the traitor aboard the Enterprise. With Kirstie Alley (Saavik in The Wrath of Khan) experiencing weight problems and Robin Curtis (Saavik in The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home) telling the producers to pound sand on Alpha Ceti V, a casting call was opened and Kim Catrall (Mannequin, Police Academy, Sex and the City) was casted. She took the role, but did not want to play Saavik. Thus, she was renamed Valeris and we are given the scene with her and Spock drinking a Vulcan concoction in the beginning.
Unfortunately, this cheapened the story that the writers may have been looking to go after here. Saavik as the traitor would have been because David saved her life at the hands of the Klingons, especially since the Klingons killed the crew of USS Grissom in an unprovoked attack. Simply throwing in another Vulcan protege in this movie derails that, especially since Spock is not known for trusting people on a whim.
Hollywood and its producers have had this fascination with showing people of color, particularly African-Americans, as being both highly bigoted and having racist tendencies. Star Trek is no exception to this rule, and Nichelle Nichols was almost the victim of such an attempt. Chekov’s line of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” which incidentally was the name of a movie starred by Sidney Poitier, was originally supposed to be Uhura’s line. Nichelle protested heavily, and eventually, Walter Koenig was given the line, instead.
Also, Admiral Cartwright’s protestations about the Klingons were supposed to be more visceral and charged than they were in the finished version, and Brock Peters also objected to this, and the commentary was toned down.
It should be noted that Admiral Cartwright, at that point the only non-White human Admiral ever shown in Star Trek past The Search for Spock, also happens to be the only Admiral who participates in the “conspiracy.”
There should have been more “bad guys” at the upper echelon of Starfleet if you wanted to make your point. And they should have been shown. As it is, not doing this one act fails the movie at this point.
Now, what does this have to do with Liberal Hollywood? If so-called Conservatives actually paid attention, they would find that most of Hollywood’s liberalness is really overblown, since many of Hollywood’s upper crust feel the same way about Blacks, Hispanics, and East Asian people as they do.
Movies like this one are the reason why I spend so much time blasting science fiction in general for their antics and behavior towards Women of Color, and Black Women especially. After William Shatner and David Loughrey takes Uhura off of the switchboard and allows her to actually participate in the movie, Leonard Nimoy, Nicholas Meyer, and Denny Martin Flinn stick her right back in the chair…and then make her suck at her job.
When I reviewed The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan, and The Search for Spock, I consistently commented that Uhura was the one who was the most ignored out of all of the cast members. The same thing happens to her in The Voyage Home. I also lamented that it took Lou Scheimer’s Star Trek: The Animated Series before Uhura was allowed to be considered anywhere near useful.
But The Undiscovered Country simply rehashes the same story played over and over in Star Trek; Uhura is simply background, until someone wants to make a phone call.
And then, we go a step farther: When Starfleet tells Enterprise to return to Earth, it is Valeris that has to suggest that “something is wrong with the equipment” before Uhura is allowed to get into the act.
When the “investigation” takes place aboard the Enterprise, the only one who does not contribute to said investigation…is Uhura.
But the most telling scene of all is this: When the Enterprise crosses into Klingon space, they are detected by a listening post that picks up their position, but cannot tell what kind of ship they are. As the Klingons demand the ship identify itself, the Enterprise crew is busy pouring over paper versions of the Klingon for Dummies books that Maltz (the last surviving member of the Bird of Prey from The Search for Spock) had written years ago. It is interesting that Nimoy chooses to play this scene for comedy, as it is the only one that could have showcased both Nichelle as an actress and Uhura as a character. But we don’t get that here.
The intended effect of this scene was to generate a few laughs about the crew struggling to talk Klingon. Instead, it served to highlight Uhura’s incompetence at doing something other than being an interstellar switchboard operator.
And, finally, watch the scene where the Enterprise crew has beamed down to Khitomer. Take notice to who gets to do…what.
Kirk saves the President. Spock barges in with the evidence. McCoy arrests Nanclus, the Romulan Ambassador. Scotty kills the Assassin (Colonel West in Klingon makeup). Sulu arrests Admiral Cartwright. Chekov prevents Ambassador Kamarag from advancing on Kirk.
Uhura…does nothing in this scene.
And she “just happens” to be the only Woman of Color in the cast.
The data rod broke again.
And The Tropes Keep Coming:
Martia, the shapeshifter, is played by supermodel Iman. However, she is introduced as a traitor, so she immediately gets tagged with Sci-Fi Women of Color Trope #2 – The Traitor.
It is not so much disgusting as it is annoying. Women of Color, aside from the occasional Asian female actress, are difficult to find in science fiction and fantasy adventures as even likable background characters. But when you simply introduce Women of Color as antagonists time and time again, it becomes clear that there is no interest in creating a following outside of an outdated marketing fallacy. And Star Trek suffers greatly from this in this movie.
Looking at George Takei’s lines in this movie, he spends the majority of his time making sarcastic quips to his crew when they attempt to confirm the orders that he gives. That is, of course, when his dialogue isn’t calling on him to berate Grace Whitney (Commander Rand) or Christian Slater.
Oh, and She’s Back:
If memory serves, she was last seen at Captain Styles’ side in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
And How Any Trial Against Cartwright Would End Without Conviction:
The “confession” that Spock extracts out of Valeris would be inadmissible as evidence in a Federation court of law. It is part of the reason that telepaths are not used as “interrogators” nor are any thoughts they received as part of the probing are allowed as evidence. It would be considered Hearsay at best, or Confession Under Duress under all other circumstances. By all rights, Captain Spock should have been censured or drummed out of Starfleet for this, but this manuever gets swept under the rug – and most of the fans don’t even bother talking about this incident.
Michael Dorn, who plays Lt. Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation, plays his grandfather Colonel Worf in this movie. Science Fiction and Fantasy love playing ancestral games like this all the time, thus the House of Mogh had a connection with the history of the USS Enterprise long before Lt. Worf steps foot on the bridge.
Brock Peters gets redeemed many years later, when he is cast as Benjamin Sisko’s father Joseph in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Rene Auberjonois, as Colonel West here, plays Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Kurtwood Smith, who plays the Federation President, shows up again in Star Trek: Voyager as Annorax.
Elements of this movie would be reused in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Flashback,” where Tuvok recounts part of his first stint in Starfleet attempting to diagnose a malady he has been suffering from. In reality, the episode was part of a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series, and the producers of Deep Space Nine and Voyager were charged with integrating elements of the Original Series in their scripts. The producers of Voyager did so, but chose to ignore and disregard what was considered already a part of established history and proceeded to make it up as they went along, even somehow managing to have Sulu in Klingon space before Spock even considers a rescue operation of Kirk at Rura Penthe AND having Science Officer Valtane die DESPITE his appearing on the bridge of the Excelsior in events which take place after the episode is supposed to.
Despite the fact that Star Trek is supposed to be a series that makes you think and reflect on the human condition, there are large sections of what the franchise perpetuates that force you to check your brain at the door. Although I have praised Star Trek in the past for its willingness to show women in command situations, there have been large missteps, and The Undiscovered Country is one of them. Uhura as a character has a final appearance here, and we learned next to nothing about her personal life or her family in about 25 years of having been graced with her presence on the screen. Although this is somewhat true for characters not named Kirk or Spock, you would be hard pressed to be able to cite any facts about Uhura other than that she is Bantu and can reach college graduate level knowledge after being mind-wiped in less than a week.
Women not named Uhura in this film are just as subordinated or traitorous. That is, unfortunately, if they have any spoken dialogue to begin with. People of color not named Uhura are all bad guys, Dorn’s ancestral cameo notwithstanding. In other words, it is debatable whether not The Undiscovered Country actually follows in the footsteps of what Roddenberry sought to do with the show 25 years ago. With no real exploration of the human condition and a very dark storyline to boot, one has to wonder how this could be considered Star Trek at all. If it is, then the venom that many Star Trek fans have towards Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are rooted in issues other than the “look and feel” of the show.
The Undiscovered Country is simply the Road Often Traveled by Science Fiction and Fantasy. And that is not good enough for a franchise that purports itself to be a different direction for science fiction in general.