A History Of Star Trek's Silly Shore Leave Episodes

The bulk of "Star Trek" sees characters at work. Being a Starfleet officer is a difficult job, and being a senior staff member seems to be a 24/7 (or any non-Earth equivalent) position. There are frequent mentions on various shows of people's shifts ending and a night crew coming in to staff the ship or the station while others get to sleep. Anyone who has ever worked a graveyard shift can see the larger, all-day-and-all-night machinations of a starship at play. 

As such, shore leave is vital for Starfleet officers. There are several locations throughout "Star Trek" that offer pretty intense opportunities for wild relaxation — the holodecks and holosuites from "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" spring to mind. Trekkies will likely chime in with Risa, a pleasure planet popular among Starfleet officers for its sexy vacation packages (it's never stated outright, but it's implied that Risa is intended for hedonistic sexual swinging). Shore leave episodes of "Star Trek" not only allow both audiences and characters to take a load off for a bit, but they offer a few moments of character development; who are these characters when they're not buried up to their eyeballs in work? 

And since this week's episode of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is all about silly shore leave shenanigans, it's only right that we take a look at the franchise's long history of similar episodes. 

Spock Amok

The latest episode of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" — the show's fifth, entitled "Spock Amok" — is a shore leave episode wherein various characters get into amusing predicaments while trying to relax in-between their shifts. The A-story of "Spock Amok" finds the title character (Ethan Peck) accidentally swapping bodies with his fiancee T'Pring (Gia Shandhu). We also see Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) lamenting the sad state of her love life, having never dated a man or a woman for very long (it is now canonically established that Chapel is bisexual). And then there's the fun, deliberately immature "time off" scavenger hunt game played back on the ship by Commander Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) and Lt. Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), proving that they, too — despite their all-business exteriors — can relax. 

Officers are given a chance to be silly on shore leave, and "Strange New Worlds" is rolling with a Trek tradition of whimsy — a tradition not often discussed in headier conversations about the franchise at large. Officers can literally let their hair down, allowing for bonkers things to happen to them. A look back over the various shore leave episodes of Trek reveal that otherwise staid and stuffy characters find often themselves in all-new buckets of syrup when they clock out for a few days. 

'Shore Leave' and 'Once Upon a Planet'

The most (in)famous shore leave episode in all of "Star Trek" is probably the one simply entitled "Shore Leave," which first aired on December 29, 1966. In the episode, an Enterprise away team beams down to a beatific, garden-like planet as a potential site of shore leave for the crew; lounging around in a park does sound like a fine vacation for people stuck in a starship for extended periods. The planet has a secret, however: Using scanning devices to read the crew's minds, and employing an elaborate, quick-moving android construction machine, the planet is able to accurately manifest people and objects from inside their imaginations. Sulu (George Takei) finds himself firing an old-fashioned pistol (he's a weapons hobbyist), Captain Kirk (William Shatner) finds himself fistfighting an old schooltime rival (Bruce Mars), and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) finds the White Rabbit from "Alice in Wonderland." It takes the crew awhile to realize this planet was meant as a relaxation tool, and not some sort of hallucinogenic nightmare. 

The "Shore Leave" planet would be revisited in an episode of "Star Trek: The Animated Series" called "Once Upon a Planet" (first aired on November 3, 1973). In it, the Enterprise crew returns for a vacation, only to find that the planet's caretaker has died, and the mind-scanning computers have developed their own consciousness. As all computers are constructed to be tools, the machine intelligence resents that it must live to serve others as a slave, and manifests monsters to attack Kirk and co. Kirk ends up talking to the computer face-to-face, convincing it that serving as a vacation machine is a great opportunity for the computer to learn about humanoid minds. Kirk, essentially, tells the Shore Leave computer that Shore Leave episodes are a good chance for character analysis. 

'Captain's Holiday' and 'Family'

In an early episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is asked how he intends to spend some time off. He mentions returning to his quarters, flicking on his "personal reading light" (which sounds like a code of some kind), and getting lost in a novel. Picard is not an extravagant character, and his vacations would, presumably, involve a lot of theater, reading, and quaint, quiet French bistros. The episode "Captain's Holiday" (April 2, 1990) contradicts that, seeing Picard visiting Risa ... where he becomes involved with a mysterious Indiana Jones-type relic hunter named Vash (Jennifer Hetrick) and her plot to steal an artifact from the distant future. The second most uptight character in all of Starfleet (he's behind Worf in that regard) gets to have a pulp B-movie adventure on his time off. 

It's not always fun for Picard, though. In the episode "Family" (October 1, 1990), Picard — after his notorious run-in with The Borg — returns back home to spend some time with his surviving family. In that episode, Picard butts heads with his cantankerous brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp) and his wife (Samantha Eggar), and catch up with his young nephew René (David Tristan Birkin). No points for guessing that Jean-Luc and Robert will end up scraping in a very similar way to Kirk and his rival in "Shore Leave."

'Let He Who is Without Sin...'

Speaking of Worf (Michael Dorn), his recreation usually involves sparring, fighting, and losing himself to Klingon battle urges. Laying on a beach and drinking cocktails is anathema to him. Nonetheless, in the "Deep Space Nine" episode "Let He Who is Without Sin..." (November 11, 1996), Worf's wife Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) takes him to Risa in the hopes that he will learn to relax. Worf, who has no capacity for "relaxation," remains in uniform on his vacation and grumbles about the very notion of leisure, preferring to work, fight, and constantly move forward. Eventually, Worf gets so fed up of Risa's hedonism that he begins leading a minor campaign of prudishness against the vacationers, more or less becoming a Puritan Bible-thumper. Worf takes over Risa's weather-control computers, letting the planet's sunny weather go to pot. 

Worf's refusal to have fun, as he will confess to Dax, stems from a moment of childhood trauma wherein a playful game turned deadly. A good moment of insight for Worf, although one might hope that Dax would have been savvy enough to understand that Worf is a stick-in-the-mud to his very core, and shouldn't have been brought to a place like Risa in the first place. 

Voyager's holo-shenanigans

Because "Star Trek: Voyager" takes place far away from any established Starfleet vacation destinations (the ship is lost in space, 70 years from Earth), shore leave is a sort of catch-as-catch-can affair, and a lot of time was spent on the ship's holodecks. One might get the impression that shore leave begins and ends on a whim on the U.S.S. Voyager. Early in the series, officers would gather at a holographic French bistro called Chez Sandrine to unload after a long day. There is talk of rationing out the ship's holodeck time, but the thing was running pretty much all day and night, allowing officers a locale to relax. Later in the show, the bistro would be replaced by a beach resort, complete with holographic swimsuit models. Eventually, the resort would be replaced by a quaint English village, wherein Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) would create her very own rough-hewn, Heathcliff-type holographic boy toy. The village program is explicitly left running 24/7.

Oh, and who could forget the two-part episode "Flesh and Blood" (November 29, 2000) wherein the Hirogen (a species not too far removed from the aliens in "Predator") ripped out most of the ship's interiors, turning the whole vessel into a holodeck built for hunting? In that episode, the Voyager crew has their memories wiped on the regular, and are surgically altered to look like various species, all so the Hirogen can hunt them, kill then, resurrect them, and start again. Maybe not a fun vacation for the Voyager crew, but another example of the holodeck being (over)used for recreation.

'Two Days and Two Nights'

In "Star Trek: Enterprise," set about a century prior to "Star Trek," audiences learn that Risa was established long before Starfleet ever go to it. In "Two Days and Two Nights" (May 15, 2002), Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) finds a mysterious compatriot very similar to himself staying in a neighboring room in the Risa hotel. Ensign Sato (Linda Park) ends up having a very nice time with a handsome alien. T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), like Commander Chin-Riley and Lt. Noonien-Singh on this week's "Stranger New Worlds," is left on the ship in charge (she will not be having fun, thank you very much), and Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) will spend his time on shore leave hibernating (his species sleeps for several days at a stretch). 

In a bit reminiscent of "Revenge of the Nerds" or some other raunchy 1980s sex comedy, Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) and "Trip" Tucker (Connor Trineer) visit a nightclub and are seduced into a secluded back room by a pair comely alien women. The women are, in fact, criminal shapeshifters, become large male attackers, and Trip and Malcolm are robbed and stripped. Womp womp. 

What Trekkies have learned is that Risa, although a wonderful place for vacation, is lousy with criminals, Puritans, and people who would rope you into random, dangerous adventures. Which, when considered in the right light, is a fine way to spend a vacation.