The Four Banned Star Trek: TOS Episodes in the UK

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You may be looking for the 1985 article Star Trek: The Banned Episodes published in Beta-Niobe.

For many years, the episodes "Miri," [1] "Plato's Stepchildren," "The Empath," and "Whom Gods Destroy" were banned in the UK.

Star Trek was considered a children's program and these episodes were deemed too intense for minors. The episodes' subject matter was also unacceptable "because they all [deal] most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease." [2]

The Promise in 1974

Three of the banned episodes were to have been shown at the first British Star Trek convention, something that was to have been one of its major draws.

At the last minute, Paramount England decided we couldn't have the banned episodes after all, despite the fact that they had said previously they would be available to us. However, we have since received a formal letter of apology from Paramount USA, after the visit of Mr Lou Mindling to the con, and we have been assured that we will have no such trouble next time, and that we will have their full co-operation. [3]

A Taste in 1975

According to a con report, "The Empath" was shown at the second British Star Trek convention, but only because an American fan "brought a copy over." [4]

Another Taste in 1976

From a fan's con report: "Then came the event of the day - the showing of MIRI and THE EMPATH. Remember, this was pre-video, and pre-reruns, and these two prints had been purchased by Empathy at some expense. The episodes were punctuated with considerable cheering, and the atmosphere, watching STAR TREK for the first time with other fans, was quite unbelievable. [5]

Letter Writing Campaigns

Fans were urged numerous times to write letters to television TPTB and ask for these episodes to be shown.

In January 1974, a fan urges others to write the television station. She urges fans to "be polite, but FIRM." [6]

From March 1976:

There are 400 of you receiving this newsletter. Think of the impact if the BBC received 400 letters within a week, all with the same appeal! Try to persuade your family and friends to write in too -- the more letters the better. Use plain envelopes with no slogans or stickers. We want them to look official so that they get opened and not just redirected to the Programme Correspondance section. Don't mention S.T.A.G. or any other club; we don't want to make it look like a conspiracy! [7]

The STAG newsletter in June 1976 also included a reprint of an article from The Sun from 3 April 1976 called "The Little Band of Trekkers Make the BBC Toe Their Line" about the number of letters the BBC had received from Star Trek fan clubs in the UK -- the BBC estimate: 1300 letters since 1971, the fan clubs' estimate 3000-4000 letters since 1971.[8]

In late 1977, another fan campaign was proposed:

We are hoping to start another letter campaign to the BBC... saying you would like to see the banned episodes... Those of you who know what the episodes are about (don't mention that you have seen EMPATH in Britain [9] can explain why you think they should be shown, and why it is unnecessary to ban them. Tell them that STAR TREK is an adult series and suggest they show these episodes later at night if they don't want the younger section of the audience to see them. Don't mention that you are a member of a ST organization... It is very necessary that you all write letters as there is no point in her just delivering a couple hundred. [10]

In mid to late 1980, a fan petition was sent to the BBC:

[Name redacted] wishes to thank all of the 318 people who signed the petition asking that the banned episodes be shown by the BBC. This petition has been been sent off, and [name redacted]will let us know the outcome - if any - in due course. [11]

1984 Comments by Roddenberry

These comments were made by Gene Roddenberry during an August 24th news conference in Newcastle, England where Roddenberry was asked about the controversial banning of these four episodes:

... I disagree [with the ban] very much. 'Empath' to me was a beautiful story... If someone is to say to me, 'You can't have hurt and pain', I say, 'Nonsense!' Suffering and pain are a part of life. They should be handled, and handled well. I feel the same way about violence and sex. My objection to violence and sex is on the shows where it goes on for a while and someone says, 'Well, it's going slow now, why don't you have a fist-fight, or a shooting?' Then they put it in to raise the ratings. What I hate about violence are... shows where grown men strike out and hit each other in the face with their fists... and after hitting themselves for thirty minutes with all their strength in the face, they grin and say, 'Wow, wasn't that fun!' That's not how life is! If a grown man hits another man in the face, teeth crack, bones break, knuckles get bruised. I think one of the reasons why people were willing to go into the last war, and into various wars, is that death is such a lovely thing in war, you know --- "giving my all for my country!' That's not how it is! I know! Men lie out there and scream their guts out for hours, in agony. If you're gonna do violence, do it that way. Then people will say, 'Well, yeah, we don't want our boys to do that.' And sex [is] the same way. I see nothing wrong with sex. I think copulation is a lovely thing. I think, however, you just don't bare your tits, or something, just because the film happens to be going slow at that moment... I'll tell you a story about how my feelings go. There was a convention in the United States where, to my total surprise, a young lady came out nude, and she was billed as 'The Costume NBC Wouldn't Let Mr. Roddenberry Use!' I was startled... at the same time... I was more outraged at the people who came out in costumes with zap guns, and weaponry, and those things, than a simple human body. That's how I feel about that.

Other Fan Reaction

From December 1978:
A friend of mine–not a member of any club but a fan nevertheless, recently wrote to the BBC about the re-screening, and they sent back the usual "Thank you for your interest' reply... In it, they stated that their position on the four episodes remained the same. Those episodes showed scenes of torture, cruelty, etc., entirely unsuitable for a young audience that would stay up to watch no matter what time they were shown. Personally, I fail to see how a programme recorded ten years ago, and with the American network censorship such as it was at the time, can be worse than the majority of series churned out today, and which seem to be aimed at the younger market. I feel that the stand they are taking is an attempt to justify the early decision. If they were to give in and show the episode in question, do they feel they would be admitting a mistake, losing face, or made to seem foolish? An answer to this problem eludes me. however, with a certain amount of pre-publicity they could grab themselves a slice of Friday night viewing. Imagine the viewing public discovering that certain episodes to be shown, never before seen on British TV because of their dubious content. A slightly later screening time. Advance warning that the content might be disturbing to young children. ITV would have to counter with something pretty heavy to beat that sort of package. However, I don't see that happening. [12]
From a fan in February 1985:
I believe that 'Miri' and 'Whom Gods Destroy' contain nothing to offend; but 'Plato's Stepchildren' and 'The Empath' have a certain nastiness about them, both implicit and explicit. I would not ban them, but I do believe that a later evening broadcast time would be better; certainly I do not think they should be shown in the early evening time slot of 5.10 which the BBC selected for the latest re-run. [13]
From a fan in early spring 1985:

The other night I managed to get my hands on a copy of the cassette featuring "Whom Gods' Destroy" and "Plato's Stepchildren". Td read the story of the first episode several times, but I can't find "Plato's Stepchildren" in any of my books. But I digress. I would like to skip "Whom Gods' Destroy". It was pretty average for Star Trek - a rather predictable reworking of the old story where the lunatics are in charge of the asylum. 1 found it rather strange that Kirk and Spock had gone down to deliver drugs rather than Dr. McCoy. Garth was such a comical character, that it was hard to take him seriously as a villain - on the plus side - the inmates were okay. It made a change to see real alien life forms apart from human ones. I stilt can't see why this particular episode was banned!

"Plato's Stepchildren" is, to coin a phrase, something completely different, and although I can realise why this episode has never been shown here, I feel we have missed out by not seeing it. It explains a lot about the relationships between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Although the underlying theme of the programme is meant to be sinister, I defy anyone (even the staunchest Trekkie) to sit through it without sniggering or at least crying with embarrassment.

[snipped]

The whole thing deteriorates at this point. We get a seranade from Spock (no disrespect to Leonard Nimoy's voice) and then the "seduction" begins - I was really embarrassed at this bit! At least Nurse Chapel was also embarrassed. I think we weren't very often subjected to mushy scenes in Star Trek. It was simply embarrassing to watch - I just about choked when a table appeared covered with chains, manacles and whips! But just in the nick of time, Kirk and Spock develop their powers, even more powerful than Parmens' ...

The Platonians were real villains, much more convincing than Garth of Izar, and I realise that the Sado-Masochistic overtones of this episode were the reason why it has never been shown here. [14]

Some of the BBC's Responses

the June 1976 letter is repeated almost word for word over eight years later in February 7, 1984

In June 1976, STAG #18 reprinted the letter the BBC sent out to fans in response to their letter campaign to have these that were banned in the UK shown. An excerpt:

After very careful consideration a top level decision was made not to screen the episodes entitled "Empath", "Whom Gods Destroy", "Plato's Stepchildren" and "Miri", because they all dealt most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease. You will appreciate that account must be taken that out of Star Trek's large and enthusiastic following, many are juveniles, no matter what time of day the series is put into the programme schedules. A further look has been taken following the recent correspondence, but I am afraid it has been impossible to revise the opinion not to show these episodes.
In August 1979, three fans reported receiving letters from the BBC in response to their inquiries about the four banned episodes. An excerpt from the BBC's response:
We have no plans to show the banned episodes as we have stated several times before. I am afraid every big organisation comes in for a little ridicule from time to time, but we are a public service broadcasting organisation with great responsibilities, and if after very careful consideration we decide not to show a particular programme, you may rest assured that it is in the best interest of viewers in this country. [15]

Shown at Cons

Some of the four original banned episodes were shown at cons time to time. Two examples: in 1975, "The Empath" was shown at the second British Star Trek convention, [16] and in 1979, "Miri" was shown at Terracon.

The lure of these banned episodes created was huge and certainly made some con attendance greater. Con reports for these conventions often described the showing of these episodes as a highlight. One fan writes:
Someone very kindly moved the auction on the 4.30 so we could all go upstairs to see Empath, so five minutes later about 200 people were trying to squeeze into a small room that just cculd not take them! As a result Empath was shown on Sunday as well as Saturday. Always a glutton for punishment, I watched it both times. [17]

The VCR Starts to Become a Game Changer

New technologies start to hint that fans in the UK may not always be dependent on the BBC and network television for what they want. A fan in 1980 writes:

I am researching into the possibilities of getting all 4 of the banned STAR TREK episodes on video cassette. I am sure that it can be done but it will be fairly expensive, therefore I would like to gauge the interest in them before-hand. If all those with V.C.H.s who would be interested in buying video cassettes of these episodes would write and let me know at the above address, I'll see if it's worthwhile going ahead. [18]

The BBC screened Star Trek part of the year every year from 1969 onwards and ended it's run with "Operation Annihilate" shown as a left over in 1981. The series didn't return to BBC1 until 1984. In the meantime, CIC Video released 2 episodes on tape. "Miri" and "The Empath" were available as a rental tape but during that time most video stores didn't stock anything that had already been shown on tv including movies . When the show returned to the BBC in 1984 CIC capitalised on the ban by bringing out "Plato's Stepchildren" and "Whom Gods Destroy" on another rental tape. Not sure it did the series any favours as it made the viewer wonder whether the BBC had actually banned them for being embarrassing rubbish. It would be a few more years until CIC started to release the uncut episodes on VHS for £9.99 a tape

For more, see Other BBC Censorship.

When the Episodes Were Finally Shown

Miri was shown by the BBC in 1970 and it was the broadcast that brought in enough complaints for its teatime slot for the BBC then to vet all episodes. Miri wasn't aired by the BBC again until the early 90's.

Ironically The Empath was billed in the Radio Times just 2 weeks after Miri was aired in December 1970 - one wonders whether it would have been screened had they run the series in a different order - the BBC order for all the 70's screenings was haphazard to say the least with episodes from all 3 seasons mixed together. All 4 of the banned episodes remained unshown until the early 90's.

When Sky One sub licenced the series from the BBC in 1990 they aired all episodes so Sky actually screened the 3 season 3 episodes for the first time ever in the UK. At that point the BBC had repurchased the entire Star Trek canon including the first 3 seasons of TNG which they aired before TOS. So unfortunately when the BBC had to supply Sky with TOS for broadcast they were stuck with the same poorly edited versions that British viewers had been watching for 20 years complete with incompetent edits that looked like they were made by a primary school kid gone mad with scissors. The BBC didn't get new copies until they ran the show in 1992 but there were shortcomings there too ( but that's another story).

According to B.A. News #41, as of November 1990, The Empath hadn't been shown in the UK even though it was "credited in Radio Times."

According to another fan in 1990: "I joined Endeavour just as Sky had decided to show the original Trek episodes in the correct order including the banned episodes." [19]

Banned Star Trek Episodes in Other Countries

The season two episode Patterns of Force was first shown on German free TV in 2011.

Other BBC Censorship

The four banned episodes were not the only evidence of the BBC's meddling with canon.
... [when] ARENA was cut, they removed all references to the ingredients of gunpowder. In a letter Theresa H received [from] Caroline Mackersey said, "Arena was minimally edited because it is not BBC practice to show the exact process by which gunpowder is made. This is to prevent the children emulating their heroes." We can understand the BBC' s feelings on this although they may be over-reacting as a child can probably look the info up in an encyclopedia if they are keen. ARENA was shown full in 1969 and 1972 but the cut version was shown in 1974. Other episodes which have been cut are BREAD & CIRCUSES (tho scene where Kirk gets the slave girl) ENEMY WITHIN (Part of the scene where Kirk attempts to rape Janice Rand may have been cut, we can't be sure as that scene was only shown in 1970) COURT MARTIAL (two scenes with Kirk and Cogley were out for no reason).[20]

The most reliable reference for which episodes the BBC edited was the run that started in 1984 as we all had VCR's by then.

The first season got through relatively unscathed . The only episode that seemed to be cut for violence was "The Man Trap" where the final confrontation with the salt vampire was badly edited with cuts to the attack on Mr Spock and all of the attack on Kirk which forced the BBC to edit more footage as it didn't make sense with just the attacks removed. Ironically viewers actually got to see more of that scene uncut several years before the BBC lifted the sanction as it played out in the "Leonard Nimoys Star Trek Memories" documentary which was aired on BBC2.

Cuts that seem to be purely for timing were made to "Court Martial" and "The Alternative Factor." I would also include "Arena." In the 1984 broadcast the episode began late and was going to run into the 6 o'clock news but the closing credits were faded out early - but the episode had a lot more missing than just gunpowder instructions. Most of the scenes showing the crew watching Kirk on the view screen were missing as well. "Return of the Archons" was also cut. Much of the "Red Hour" sequence was edited and it made the whole thing a complete mess. Just to louse it up entirely it appeared that the BBC's switching round the titles to the very start had affected the film print used. When it was aired in the early evening slot the film actually broke at the end of the teaser where the BBC had removed the credits from their proper place . There was a caption up for several minutes and when the episode restarted the BBC rather stupidly missed most of the Captains Log entry which explained the entire reason they were there in the first place so it made no sense. Further shots of the Red Hour orgy were removed completely. The BBC breakdown of this episode is available to watch on You Tube).

Contrary to the above "The Enemy Within" appeared to be uncut although that's not to say it wasn't edited when shown in the Saturday teatime slot. Season 2 had more episodes edited than season 1 but with the exception of "Patterns of Force" most of the cuts to other episodes seem to have been purely for timing although I guess the BBC thought the ritual for Kirk's recovery from the animal bite in "A Private Little War" was a tad too much. It's actually easier to name the season 3 episodes that were not cut as most were and most cuts seemed to be purely for timing although anything hinted at as being intense like the torture in "The Cloud Minders" or the dying woman in "Lights of Zetar" were usually shortened.

Many of the original screenings of season 3 were in a 45 minute slot instead of the usual 50 but these 45 minute versions prevailed into the mid 80's. "Mark of Gideon" was uncut as was "The Paradise Syndrome." One or two others might also have been but the majority were severely cut. "And the Children Shall Lead" had several minutes cut in a single chunk so all of the scene in the cave where Kirk becomes anxious is removed even though its referred back to later in the episode -- more careless BBC incompetence there.

UK Banned Episodes in Other Fandoms

Star Trek wasn't the only show with banned episodes. The Starsky & Hutch episode "The Fix" and The Professionals episode "The Klansmen" were also banned in the UK. The first for portraying explicit drug use, the second for its racial theme. Klansmen remains unscreened on British tv . Apparently Granada + had scheduled the episode to be aired when they started repeats in the late 90's. A fan shot himself in the foot by inquiring whether the episode would be aired which brought it to the attention of Granada + who then removed the episode and never showed it.

In 1989, a British Starsky & Hutch fan wrote: "The 'violence' that so many mundanes associate with S&H always puzzled me -- I still have the correspondence from the BBC 'explaining' why they would not be showing THE FIX or the other three 'banned' episodes. Their reasons didn't make any sense to me then, nor do they now, when the screened violence has escalated to a point when the most 'violent' S&H scene would be mild by comparison." [21]

The Star Trek: TNG episode "The High Ground" had a line censored, one that was finally restored when it was shown in the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in May 2007. The scene in question was one about the subject of terrorism and described Ireland as reunited in 2024. Broadcasters in Ireland and the UK refused to screen the episode back in the 1990s as being too sensitive and it was edited when shown on Sky One.

Regarding Star Trek: TNG: the November 1990 issue of B.A. News reported that:
On 17th October, many of the tabloid newspapers carried articles about the BBC banning or editing certain TNG episodes. This probably doesn't come as a surprise to many fans. According to the articles, the BBC carefully chose the 6pm slot in order lo attract both children and adults to TNG, but now feel that some ol the scripts are unsuitable.

The sort of thing that could be cut includes mention being made of British forces quitting Ulster in the 21st century after an IRA victory, bloody scenes showing an alien bursting from the stomach of a Starfleet officer, controversial storylines featuring drug abusers and Deanna Troi being forced to strip by aliens. Patrick Stewart apparently Insisted on cuts in some of the raunchier scripts before he agreed to film them because they were "blatantly and outrageously sexist." A BBC spokesman has said that four series have been bought as a package and that each programme would be subject to the BBC's strict political and ethical guidelines. Nothing considered offensive would be screened and if material was found to be unsuitable it would undergo strict censorship. It would seem that most of the 'controversial' episodes are from the second and third seasons.

Paramount have said that no episodes were edited in America and that "Star Trek is a family show which is reflected in the scripts. The BBC is entitled to a different view. The terrorism episode is about the 24th century and only passing reference made to Britain and Ireland, but it would never have been intended to offend.

Actually the BBC only purchased the first 3 seasons of TNG. As usual, once a free to air channel had got audiences interested Sky stepped in and stole the series from season 4 onwards where it premiered on Sky One long before the BBC got to show it. "The High Ground" was banned by the BBC but the main problem was "Conspiracy" which was always going to be a problem with the graphic shootout. That scene was cut to bits and even Sky One edited that episode for the teatime screenings.

Further Reading

References

  1. this episode was one the presidents of STAG had on loan, and in 1978, were able to show it in fans' homes during informal gatherings, see STAG #29 for more info
  2. from a letter from the BBC reprinted in the March 1976 issue of STAG
  3. from a con report by Jenny Elson in STAG #10
  4. from IDIC #12
  5. from IDIC #3
  6. from STAG #5
  7. from the March 1976 issue of STAG
  8. Some of these letters may not have been specifically about asking to see the banned episodes, but may have also been requests to have all the episodes shown in re-run again, as some fans had still not been able to view even all the "unbanned" episodes as of 1976.
  9. "The Empath" was shown at the second British Star Trek convention in 1975; it was "brought over" by an American fan, its legality is unknown
  10. from the October 1977 issue of STAG
  11. from STAG #42
  12. from STAG #32
  13. from Star Trek: The Banned Episodes
  14. from Empathy Newsletter Spring 1985
  15. STAG #36
  16. but only because an American fan "brought a copy over." -- from IDIC #12
  17. STAG #39
  18. STAG #39
  19. from Robin Edmond's Convention Site
  20. STAG #37
  21. from Frienz #7