The Cloud Minders is truly explicit regarding the message it wants to convey. The episode deals with class struggle and social injustice in a setting that reminded me of many other books and films, from Metropolis (1927) to Elysium (2013) to mention just a couple. There’s yet another pandemic on a Federation planet and the Enterprise is on it. In order to do so, it must recover a load of zenite on planet Ardana. Once there, however, the cargo is nowhere to be found and Kirk and Spock are attacked by some people in miner’s suits led by a woman, Vanna (Charlene Polite). After a brief fight, here comes the local administrator, Plasus (Jeff Corey), who brings our heroes to his palace in the city on the clouds, Stratos, where we also get to know his scantily dressed daughter Droxine (Diana Ewing).
Little by little the situation is clarified: the inhabitants of Stratos are all artists and free thinkers who exploit the inhabitants of the planet surface, the Troglites (I suppose that to be a contraction of troglodytes, or cave dwellers) who work in the underground zenite quarries. And that material is the pillar of the planet’s economy! A rebellion led by Vanna is ongoing as the Troglites claim more rights. But those of Stratos don’t want to hear anything about that because they consider the Troglites inferior beings unable to think like they do.
The plot couldn’t be clearer, couldn’t it? In the best Star Trek tradition, there are various twists and fights and in the end Kirk saves the day using strong manners. I had a lot of fun watching The Cloud Minders, but I noticed a few plot issues and, more importantly, I didn’t particularly enjoy the final solution which seemed to me too easy and escaping some potentially interesting moral dilemmas that could have been developed more.
First of all, it’s not clear why a planet like Ardana was admitted into the Federation since a racist upper class unjustly oppresses an entire category of people and even uses unacceptable practices such as torture! But this could be considered as a negligible detail, maybe, it’s plausible that these facts had been hidden from the negotiators of the Federation (difficult, but plausible).
The real missed opportunity of the episode lies in the fact that McCoy puts an end to the intellectual differences between the two social classes: the Troglites are less intelligent due to the odorless and invisible miasms of the quarries and the good doctor can simply create gas masks to render anybody immune to those. Wouldn’t it have been better if the inhabitants of Stratos had been forced to change despite the differences with the other inhabitants of the planet? I think that the episode would have been much more powerful… In the episode the integrations happens all too easily, as the oppressed become equal in all respects to their oppressors overnight!
Despite my criticism, as I mentioned above this is one of the best episodes of the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series and it’s a welcome entry after a series of sub-par stories! Ciao!
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Next episode: The Savage Curtain