This notion — that aliens might replicate fiction IRL based simply on telepathy — has occurred throughout the Star Trek canon. And, of course, the idea of something you’re thinking about appearing in physical form to mess with you exists throughout all of science fiction, even Ghostbusters. But, arguably, three classic episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series perfected this notion, at least when it comes to aliens.
In two episodes of The Original Serieswe saw what happens when aliens make major decisions based on human books. In “Shore Leave,” telepathic scanners create bespoke robots directing from the imaginations of the crew, which is why in the opening moments of this episode, Bones sees Alice and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. It’s an iconic moment, but just like “The Elysian Kingdom,” this episode also had one of the crew — Yeoman Barrows — dressing up as a princess when a fairytale dress suddenly appeared out of thin air.
The essential difference between “Shore Leave” and “The Elysian Kingdom” is perhaps a tale of two princess dresses. In “Shore Leave” Barrows chooses to change out of her Starfleet uniform and don the princess dress and hat. But, in “The Elysian Kingdom,” La’an, simply becomes “Princess Thalia.” Ditto for Uhura’s “Queen Neve,” and the rest of the crew getting possessed by an alien consciousness, and then acting out characters — in costume — from the book M’Benga reads to Rukiya.
The idea of a spaceborne consciousness sending telepathic signals, is, of course, nothing new in Star Trek. Hemmer equates this notion to the idea of a “Boltzmann brain,” a philosophical notion of consciousness springing out from nothingness. But the alien mind living in the Jonisian Nebula in “The Elysian Kingdom” is not V’Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And that other difference is what makes this episode so delightful overall.
“A Piece of the Action”
In the hilarious TOS episode “A Piece of the Action,” the aliens who live on Sigma Iotia II base their entire culture on the teachings of one specific book; a history book called Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. While the Iotians basically look human and lack any telepathic powers, or the ability to instantly create costumes from nothing, they are, as Spock says, “highly imitative.” The idea that aliens would imitate scenes from human books to the point of permanent cosplay is not only hilarious, it also creates a perfect excuse for bizarre anachronisms.
“A Piece of the Action” shows what Star Trek can do with hyperbole in an episode unlike any other. The completism of “The Elysian Kingdom,” takes a similar approach. The alien doesn’t just make a few choices based on one book. It makes every choice based on this book (with a bit of help from Rukiya’s imagination).