This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe. An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
back to Character Insight! This week, we review another recurring character from the early movies, Lieutenant Saavik from The Wrath of Khan,The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home.
("Kirstie Alley is the best Saavik, or maybe the second best")
Saavik is first seen in the beginning of The Wrath of Khan undergoing the Kobayashi Maru test, with Admiral Kirk and his crew serving as mentors to the class of cadets. Like everyone else, she fails and questions the logic of the unwinnable test.
Saavik: I do not believe this was a fair test of my command abilities.
Kirk: And why not?
Saavik: Because...there was no way to win.
Kirk: A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face. Has that never occurred to you?
Saavik: No sir, it has not.
Nonetheless, Saavik is the best in her class, which leads to her assignment to the Enterprise as a navigator during the Khan mission. Despite being half-Vulcan, she cries during Spock's funeral, a real moment that hammered home the impact of that moment. However, the actress who ad-libbed that moment, Kirstie Alley, could never come to successful contract negotiations to reprise this role. That led to a couple quirks making this character unique in Star Trek history.
The first quirk is that two different actresses played this role in major performances, a rarity in Star Trek. Robin Curtis was chosen to take over the role for The Search For Spock, and she admirably provided her own spin on the character without trying to force it to be like Alley's Saavik. One of the notable changes was led by Leonard Nimoy's work as director of the next two films, as he wanted the Vulcan side of Saavik to be more clear than the emotional side shown by Alley's Saavik.
That helped Curtis carry a critical scene where she helps the young reborn Spock get through Pon Farr, a scene which could have easily gone too cheesy to lose its effect. It is posited that original scripts of The Voyage Home confirmed she was impregnated by Spock in this process, which is why she gets left on Vulcan before Kirk and company time travel in the stolen Bird of Prey, but this confirmation was left on the cutting room floor. Just one of many interesting aspects of this character.
The second quirk is that the ongoing struggles to bring back Kirstie Alley led to a couple more re-writes of later scripts. The most important of these was the changing of the minor villain traitor role in The Undiscovered Country movie from Saavik, as originally written, to Valeris. Granted, Kim Cattrall played the Valeris role well, but the original series movies would've had a much better story arc had Saavik either birthed Spock's child or turned into a traitor after being the bright up-and-comer in her first two movies.
The second rewrite was during the TNG episode Cause and Effect, where Alley's Saavik was to appear as first officer on screen beside Kelsey Grammar as Captain Morgan Bateson, which would've been a callback to their Cheers days. But once again, it just couldn't happen.
One other quirk is that Saavik was the first female Vulcan to have a name that started with S instead of a T, but that happened likely because the character was originally written as male.
Saavik was an interesting addition to the case for the movies that failed to live up to full storytelling potential thanks to contract negotiation failures. Even Star Trek is not immune to such annoying real-life failures.
Curtis only had minor roles through 1999 outside Star Trek, the most notable coming on the soap opera General Hospital. Alley is still a significant actress today, having had roles ranging from Look Who's Talking to starring roles in more recent TV series like Veronica's Closet and Kirstie.
Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...