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The Ambergris Element (episode)

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"The Ambergris Element"
TAS, Episode 1x13
Production number: 22013
First aired: 1 December 1973
12th of 22 produced in TAS
13th of 22 released in TAS
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 0 released in TAS Remastered  
92nd of 728 released in all
Kirk and Spock mutated
Written By
Margaret Armen

Directed By
Hal Sutherland
5499.9 (2269)
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The crew of the Enterprise explore a submerged culture on a water world.


"Captain's log, Stardate 5499.9. We are orbiting the planet Argo. Argo was once a land planet, but its surface is now almost completely covered by water. The change was caused by violent seismic disturbances. Our mission is to study the effects which the quakes and other phenomena had on its surface. This knowledge may save millions of lives on a Federation planet, identical to Argo, which will soon be undergoing similar transformation."
Aquashuttle-captured by sursnake

Captured by a sur-snake

The crew lands in a specially designed aqua-shuttle but is immediately attacked by a sur-snake and Kirk and Spock become trapped in the monster's grip.

"Ship's Log: Stardate 5504.2, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott in command. Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock have been missing for almost five days. Search parties can find no trace of them or the aqua shuttle. Dr. McCoy and I are continuing the search at a greater distance from the attack point."

McCoy, Scott, and Lt. Clayton find the missing officers, both with strange mutations.

"Medical Log, Stardate 5506.2. Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock were rescued forty-eight hours ago. They have no recollection of what happened to them after they were attacked, but medical examinations show an unidentified substance in the blood stream has affected their entire metabolism and changed them into water breathers. Their internal structure is completely transformed, and even their eyes are covered with a transparent film, like the second eyelid of a fish. So far all efforts to return them to normal have failed."
Kirk and Spock changed

"Help! Can't breathe..."

McCoy says, "We're stumped, Jim. The hormone seems to be the major factor in your mutation but we just can't identify it." Kirk asks, "Are you sure the mutation wasn't somehow accomplished naturally?" McCoy replies, "It's infused into your bodies at key structural points. It had to be done by injection." Kirk demands, "But can't you duplicate it Bones? Your medical computers have information of every procedure in the Federation's hospitals." McCoy says, "It's highly sophisticated and completely unknown to us." Spock inserts, "That implies there are intelligent lifeforms on Argo." McCoy replies, "The sensors don't indicate any lifeforms down there aside from fish." Spock thinks the readings may be incomplete. Since Kirk cannot spend the rest of his life confined to a tank, least of all command the Enterprise from inside one, he and Spock are forced to return to the planet and travel underwater to find the planet's inhabitants, whose name for themselves proves to be "Aquans," in the hope that these will be able to return them to their normal Human and Vulcan selves.

Kirk and Spock explore the submerged Argo and find a group of inhabitants who hate and fear aerobics. They want them to leave. Their young saved them once but it will not happen again. The two officers soon find a beautiful underwater city--and are promptly taken prisoner! Hesitantly, the Aquans agree to perform surgery to return Kirk and Spock to normal, but when Scotty dives down to warn of an impending quake, they become fearful of air-breathing spies. Kirk and Spock are deemed treacherous and are sentenced to death.

Rila, a water breather, agrees to help them if they will in turn help her find a buried ancient city in ruins whose archives may contain a way to reverse the mutation. They discover that the substance in their bloodstreams is similar to the ambergris of Earth whales. The reverse mutation is induced by an infusion of an antitoxin made from the venom of a deadly giant sur-snake. The Aquans help them obtain the necessary medicine, but Kirk nearly dies from the vaccination.

In orbit, the USS Enterprise uses its phasers to hit the uninhabited sections of the planet in an attempt to move the quake's epicenter away from the Aquan city and new land masses are born. Grateful for saving their lives, the young Aquans make their ancient records available to the Federation and decide to use the new found medicine to reverse their water-breathing mutations and resume life above ground. Kirk implores them not to lose contact with their underwater ancestors. The elders declare they will pass ordinance to forbid it and this time they will not ignore them.

Memorable quotesEdit

"What the devil was that thing?"
"Apparently a lifeform which previous surveys have not recorded."

- McCoy and Spock

"We've lost contact, captain. Repeat, we've lost contact. Come in, captain, come in!"

- Scotty

"Their bodies are functioning. Metabolism, heart, everything but the lungs!"
"Can't breathe... suffocating! Help! Can't breathe..."
"What happened to them doctor? What is it?"
"Something's changed their whole lung structure. They can't live in the air anymore!"

- McCoy, Spock, Scotty, and McCoy again

"Our equipment is too limited."
"We aren't limited. We can go wherever we want in that ocean."

- McCoy and Kirk

"Look at this place... a tank! I can't command a ship from inside an aquarium – I can't LIVE in here!"

- Kirk

"It is quite possible, captain, that they find us grotesque and ugly and many people fear beings different from themselves."

- Spock

"Apparently, they were exposed to a frightening geological disaster. Such hardship induces savagery and violence."

- Spock, on the Aquan's distrust of air breathers

Background informationEdit

Story and production Edit

Continuity Edit

  • This episode introduced two water-themed landing craft – the Enterprise's aqua-shuttle and the scouter-gig – for the first and only time.
  • Scotty uses a life support belt, rather than a diving suit, in this episode.
  • The NCC-1701\5A aqua-shuttle was the first armed shuttlecraft to appear in Star Trek.

Reception Edit

  • The editors of Trek magazine collectively scored this episode 2 out of 5 stars (a rating that they termed "fair"). (The Best of Trek #1, p. 110)
  • In The Star Trek Files magazine, John Peel remarked, "A particularly silly story, even for Margaret Armen. The concept of changing surface-breathers into mermen is an old one, generally discarded by serious sf writers without staggering technological innovations. Somehow, a series of injections from venom hardly seems appropriate! It's such a pointless story, just another in the line of 'let's do something you couldn't do on a live show,' without much [thought] [...] to it. Isn't it convenient that there is a way to reverse the operation? And that it works so fast on humans? Actually, there's one really silly line, where they refer to the antidote as an 'anti-toxin', showing that the production staff thought that the two words are interchangeable. An anti-toxin only works against poisons, and neither Kirk nor Spock were poisoned! One nice thing about the story is the use of yet another specialized shuttle, this one adapted for undersea work. It's [a] logical extension of the Enterprise's equipment, and very handy for exploring a world such as this." (The Star Trek Files: The Animated Voyages End, p. 21)
  • In the unofficial reference book Trek Navigator: The Ultimate Guide to the Entire Trek Saga (p. 7), co-writer Mark A. Altman rates this episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars (defined as "average") while fellow co-writer Edward Gross ranks the episode 2 out of 4 stars (defined as "mediocre").
  • In Star Trek Magazine's "Ultimate Guide" (Star Trek Magazine issue 163,  p. 26), this episode was rated 4 out of 5 Starfleet arrowhead insignia and was deemed the fifth best installment of TAS. The magazine considered, "A shuttle designed to go underwater, a tentacled sea serpent, and Kirk and Spock transformed into water-breathers... what more could you want? Perhaps Scotty piloting a high-tech motorboat for a search party and an underwater civilization of mermaid-like Aquans? Another great use of animation to tell a big Trek story."

Video and DVD releasesEdit

Links and referencesEdit



Also starringEdit

Background characters Edit


Air breather; algae; ambergris; antitoxin; Aqua-City; Aquans; Aquan ordainments; aquarium; aqua-shuttle; aquatic support apparatus; Argo; blood; "Bones"; cold; continental shelf; Denebian whale; directional marker; dizziness; drowning; Earth; exile; fern; gill; High Tribune; hormone; Junior Tribune; life support belt; logic; lung; mesh; mile; Milky Way Galaxy; mutant; NCC-1701\5A; NCC-1701/R6; power pack; Ruling Tribunal of the Aquans; scouter-gig; seaquake; skeleton; surgo-op; surgo-records; sur-snake; tribune; water breather; web

External links Edit

Previous episode:
"The Time Trap"
Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 1
Next episode:
"The Slaver Weapon"

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