Star Trek : The Naked Time

It’s the one where Sulu takes his shirt off and prances around the ship. That’s why it’s called “The Naked Time.” Or so I believed when I was a kid.

Roddenberry believed the most efficient way to introduce an ensemble of characters on a new show was to somehow strip them of their inhibitions. This early episode does just that, by means of a virus that spreads throughout the ship in a hurry. Once infected with the virus, each crewman indulges in whatever desire crosses their mind, free from social pressure. Roddenberry used the same premise (and virus, and nearly the same title) in The Next Generation.

When a person gives himself over to every desire that flashes before his eyes, are we seeing the real person? Is the true nature of the person underneath exposed by a glimpse at his temptations? In other words, is Roddenberry right to say that a person is most known when they’re behaving the worst?

My gut reaction is to say, “If the creep can think of it, his mind must be warped enough to do it. So yeah, his worst behavior reveals his true character.” Whether our every inclination is a reflection of our true selves is a topic that bears much thought; much more than this blog post. (It really really is.)

But don’t think you’re off the hook. Whether our temptations reveal our true selves may not be fully known. We do bear some responsibility for managing them. I think of myself, and my own temptations. Now it would be easy, tempting even, to chalk up nasty thoughts to demonic influence. While I’m sure many sins have been inspired by direct demonic interference, man’s own heart and mind are quite capable of inventing his own nastiness.

Our own imaginations accounts for, at least, some of the creepy stuff we come up with. Even if we are directly tempted by a demon, I don’t think we’re quite off the hook. What kind of temptation do you think would be presented to us in such an encounter? Do you think the devil would offer me grapefruit to my heart’s desire and free tickets to see Steely Dan? (The jerk is crafty; he did once trick me with the latter.) No, the devils will offer you things that people would actually want. Should any supernatural character tempt you, they will appeal to the present cravings of your heart. The sin they’ll want you to commit won’t be beneficial for you, sin never is, but it will seem like fun, or expedient, or exciting.

So whether your temptations come from within or without, your own evil heart is dictating the sinful action being dangled in front of you.

Back to Star Trek.

This episode, and it’s TNG sequel/remake, have the potential to be absolutely terrifying. The Klingons, the Borg, and the probe from Star Trek IV are all frightful in their own ways. The Klingons show us a people so similar to ourselves, but operating under a code of honor and warfare that is antithetical our human values. Clashing with Klingons is scary. The Borg are way scary because it’s terrifying to face an enemy you will probably lose against. And the Borg won’t just kill you, like other enemies would. They’ll take your identity and force you to join them. And the probe from the fourth movie is scary because it’s unstoppable and impossible to reason with.

All those famous Star Trek villains, and all the ones I didn’t mention, are scary for different reasons. But they’re all manageable for the same reason. The threat comes from without. Not from outside of the Enterprise or Starfleet. Villains have even popped up in those places. I mean, the threats come from outside of ourselves, from outside of Kirk, Spock, Picard, and everyone else.

In The Naked Time and The Naked Now the good guys are the bad guys. The good guys become the danger to the ship and to each other. And this isn’t some alien possession, or Janice Lester switching bodies with Kirk, or an ear bug from Khan. The reason the good guys become bad in this one is because they start doing whatever they want to. It is that simple. Unlimited desire, unfiltered choice.

Can you imagine what your day at the office would look like if just one of your coworkers was suffering the effects of polywater intoxication? He would wreak havoc. The job of the whole team for the whole day would be to manage him. He’d be stealing, distracting, breaking, and many other worse things. Every desire that flashed through his mind would be translated into a physical action.

Now imagine if the whole office were overtaken by the intoxication. We’re out of the realm of distraction and annoyance and into the realm of danger now. What if your family or your Church or your town was afflicted? Maybe it’s hard to answer those questions because you don’t know what goes on inside everyone’s head. They do a good job behaving. So what if it was you? You know your temptations. You know what you say no to. The life in which you could do whatever you wanted … well, it’d probably be short, for one thing. It’s chilling to even guess at what it would be like.

This kind of life is, in fact, hell.

In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis writes:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

In The Naked Time, Star Trek reveals the danger of the unchecked will of man. Better to reign in hell? We think we know what we want, but do yourself a favor. Spend a minute imagining your life if you could act on every desire that crosses your mind.

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek : The Naked Time

  1. A very interesting analysis of the episode! It’s always struck me as odd that an episode in which everyone is *so* out of character was picked deliberately to be aired early on in the series (and I can’t for the life of me figure out why TNG aped that move), and the irony of helping us get to know these folks by showing us at their worst is, to coin a phrase, fascinating. I don’t think our worst behaviors reveal our truest characters, but I do freely confess that I am a sinner like everyone else, capable of thinking and doing pretty bad stuff.

    Plus, not everyone in this episode is “at their worst” really, are they? I mean, yes: when all the inhibitions are down, everyone together contributes to the ship being in danger. But no one goes off and becomes a homicidial maniac, or a rapist, or a child molester. (I don’t know if there is a heirarchy of sin or not – theologically, sin is sin; intuitively, however, over-eating doesn’t seem as sinful as genoicde. Ah, but our initutions have been damaged in the Fall! But I digress…) I think the episode actually raises the introducing notion that inhibitions are necessary; that, contrary to much thought about “being in touch with yourself” and “being true to yourself,” if we are to live in society, we have to not go around psychologically and emotionally “naked” all the time. (I think Picard even makes this point explicit at the end of the TNG remake.)

    Good food for thought here – thanks!

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