in Shocktober

Star Trek – “Catspaw”

Season 2, Episode 7
Original Air Date:
October 27, 1967

The only holiday special in Star Trek history, “Catspaw” was the first episode of the original series’ second season to be shot, even though it premiered seventh so that it could air close to Halloween. That means it was the first episode to include new series regular Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov, who, like everyone who isn’t Kirk, Spock, or Bones, doesn’t do a whole lot on this adventure. In fact, if you’re looking for anything else particularly novel about this episode, you’ll probably be disappointed. It turns out that even in a spooky setting, Star Trek‘s gonna Star Trek.

We find the Enterprise searching for a missing landing party on Pyris VII, an apparently lifeless planet. Kirk and Uhura try to contact the team of Scotty, Sulu, and a redshirt and eventually succeed in finding the redshirt, who is transported back to the ship. When he arrives, he instantly falls over dead and a disembodied voice tells Kirk that his ship is cursed and he must leave the planet immediately. Not one to take that sort of thing lying down, Kirk beams down with Spock and Bones to search for Scotty and Sulu.

The trio run into some real spoopy sights: unexplained fog, three witch apparitions, and a black cat all lead them to a mysterious medieval castle. They’re knocked out and awaken chained up in a dungeon, only to be released by an entranced Scotty and Sulu. Before Kirk and the others can attack their hypnotized friends, they are instantly transmitted to another room, where they meet Korob, a mysterious robed man who admits he is not from this planet. The black cat is there too, and she goes behind a door and reemerges as a woman called Sylvia, who reveals herself to have voodoo powers. She was the one who killed the redshirt and is controlling Scotty and Sulu, and she threatens to destroy the Enterprise if Kirk doesn’t cooperate.

Now that Kirk and Sylvia are alone, she reveals, of course, that she wants to experience human sensations and tries to seduce the captain. He plays along to try to get information, but she realizes his ruse and sends him back the the dungeon. However, Korob appears and frees them, explaining that Sylvia is out of control. Sylvia turns into a giant cat and attacks Korob, who drops his magic wand. Kirk recovers the wand and destroys it, ending all the hallucinations, freeing the crew, and revealing their truly hilarious real forms.

Since it’s an idiom I wasn’t familiar with, a “catspaw” is when you use someone to lure someone else, as Sylvia does here, using Scotty and Sulu and lure Kirk and the others. It comes from Jean de La Fontaine’s fable The Monkey and the Cat. The episode was written by Robert Bloch, who had the seventh episode of the first season as well, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Bloch was an accomplished writer, he based this on his own short story, “Broomstick Ride,” and he is also the author of the novel Psycho, which certainly elevated him into pulp royalty.

There’s also a fair bit of goofy fun to be had with this episode, including a very solid zinger from Spock. After the witches appear and moan their warning of doom and gloom at the group, Kirk asks Spock for comment and he says, “Very bad poetry, captain.” To which Kirk replies, “A more useful comment, Mr. Spock?” Ha. Also, Walter Koenig’s hair wasn’t long enough, so they make him wear a terrible wig. And for me, it was all worth it to have context for all the dungeon scenes in the infamous season two blooper reel.