Star Trek (1968): S03E12 – The Empath


“The Empath” is the twelfth episode of the third season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek.

Written by Joyce Muskat and directed by John Erman, it was first broadcast on 06 December 1968.

In the episode, while visiting a doomed planet, the landing party is subjected to torturous experiments by powerful aliens.

This episode is one of a handful not screened in the United Kingdom by the BBC for many years, owing to its disturbing content (torture). It was not broadcast by them until January 1994.


The starship USS Enterprise arrives at Minara II to recover research personnel as its star is about to go supernova. Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Science Officer Spock beam to the surface but find the research station deserted. Chief Engineer Scott moves Enterprise to a safe distance to protect it from being bombarded by a solar flare.

The landing party is suddenly transported into an underground chamber and encounter a beautiful, mute woman McCoy names “Gem” who is trapped with them. The landing party is attacked by aliens known as Vians, Lal and Thann, who injure Kirk. Gem proves she is an empath by absorbing Kirk’s injuries, briefly taking them on herself before they are healed.

They search the nearby chambers and find machinery and computer systems, along with transparent cylinders, some containing the missing research personnel in grotesque poses, and three empty ones labelled with the landing party’s names. Lal arrives, but Spock subdues him with a Vulcan nerve pinch and allows the group to escape to the surface.

They are surprised to see Scott and a landing party waiting for them, but soon discover they are only a mirage. The Vians arrive and transport Gem and Kirk back into the underground complex, where they begin torturing Kirk with Gem only able to watch. During this, the aliens explain that they had tested the research personnel (Linke and Ozaba) similarly, but both men died from their fears.

Gem and a badly injured Kirk are transported back to where McCoy and Spock are held, and Gem rushes to heal Kirk’s wounds. The Vians demand another test subject, and McCoy sedates both Kirk and Spock to make the Vians choose him. When Kirk and Spock wake, they understand from Gem of what McCoy has done; they make their escape and find McCoy near death at the medical chamber after being subjected to the Vians’ tests.

Kirk and Spock attempt to help McCoy but are stopped by the Vians by a force field. They can only watch as Gem attempts to take on McCoy’s wounds but seems afraid to take all of them on herself. The Vians explain that this has all been a test for Gem as a representative of her people in this system. They have been trying to judge Gem if she was willing to sacrifice her life for that of another; if she passed, the Vians would use their advanced technology to save the rest of Gem’s people from the pending supernova. Gem attempts again to take on McCoy’s wounds but he pushes her away, not wanting her to die.

Spock observes the force field reacts to resistant force, and theorises that total calm would dissipate the field, allowing them the opportunity to overtake the Vians. Kirk demands that Gem has shown her choice to sacrifice herself, and further accuses the aliens of lacking compassion. The Vians realise their error, and agree that Gem has passed the test. They return Gem and McCoy to full health, and promise to save Gem’s people. The Vians and Gem disappear.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy return to Enterprise safely. After hearing the trio discussing the probability of meeting a woman like Gem, Scott comments that she must have been a “pearl of great price” to which they agree.

Star Trek TV Series

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Star Trek TV Series, Films, and Documentaries

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Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): John Erman.
  • Writer(s): Joyce Muskat.
  • Production: Desilu Productions (1966-1967) and Paramount Television (1968-1969).
  • Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures (1966-2006), CBS Paramount Television (2006-2007), and CBS Television Distribution (2007-Present).
  • Original Network: NBC.
  • Release Date: 06 December 1968.
  • Running Time: 50 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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