Broomstick Ride vs Catspaw

a comparison between Robert Bloch's original short story and his Star Trek teleplay
report & analysis by Dave Eversole

In December 1957, Robert Bloch's short story "Broomstick Ride" was published in Super Science Fiction magazine. Ten years later, he would draw upon it for his second filmed teleplay for Star Trek, "Catspaw."

The similarities are slight, but worth noting. The following will concentrate on the published story and then note the similarities.

The story opens on a "blasted heath," straight out of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, on the planet Pyris. Spaceship Commander Forbes and crew have been sent here by the director of their service to make a preliminary survey of this world. It is a Class-I planet, Earth-like in vegetation, atmosphere, etc., but is approximately 900 "spans" behind Earth in the level of its technology. Forbes is here to see if it is a worthwhile world to exploit for its minerals.

As Forbes and his technicians set up audio and video recording devices around the desolate crater, we soon learn that this world is inhabited by natives whose language is somewhat like Earth’s English, circa 1500-1700 "Oldstyle." This line establishes that the story takes place somewhere in the 2400-2600 AD range.

Upon landing on Pyris, Forbes had paid a visit to the "Kal," or ruler, and had sued for permission to visit, bartering gifts in exchange for the privilege. After these courtesies, Forbes had left most of his crew onboard his landed ship and taken a few technicians with him into the desert to study the native villages. It was here that he heard stories of the wrali, or "witches", from the native peasants. Though skeptical, he was intrigued enough to set up recording devices to see if there was any truth to their superstitions. He had scanned his ship’s data tapes about Oldstyle Earth witches, and had encountered the famous scene from Macbeth.

Suddenly one of Forbes’ technicians shouts, "Voices. Voices in the sky!" Forbes looks upward:

"They rode on broomsticks to the Sabbath, swooped from the skies—witches and warlocks, wizards and sorcerers, coming in coven to adore Satan, the Black Master of the Flock."

The hag-like witches land, disrobe, light a pyre and begin dancing about it in ritualistic fashion, chanting and calling upon the dark powers. They are led by a "Master of the Sabbath," dressed in a costume which includes the horns of a kort, a beast of burden native to Pyris. He brings a live kort into the midst of the whirling witches, cuts its throat, and all drink of its blood and eat its raw flesh.

Suddenly, they are interrupted by the arrival of temrars, soldiers of the Kal. The temrars slaughter the witches, mainly through the use of bows and arrows, smash Forbes’ recording equipment, and take him and his men captive. They are to be taken to the Kal, he is told. He and his men ride kort-back across the desert, back to the Kal’s castle-like citadel.

There Forbes discovers that the men he left on his ship have been taken captive too.

Forbes is taken before the fat little Kal, who informs him that he and his men have been brought to the citadel to protect them from the wrali. The ceremony they witnessed earlier was just their preliminary step in destroying the visiting Earthmen, Kal insists. Forbes is skeptical, but the Kal continues to insist that the wrali see the Earthmen as a threat to their way of life.

Kal then reveals that the wrali have a legend. It is believed that Satan himself brought the wrali from Earth to Pyris via broomstick through the dark depths of interstellar space to save them from persecution on Earth.

Forbes offers a rebuttal to this superstitious legend. What if advanced scientific men of old Earth had actually been able to build a spacecraft to bring Earth natives to Pyris? Does this scientific explanation not make more sense than the wrali nonsense? Forbes has no doubt that the broomsticks he saw the wrali ride upon earlier contained individual power packs, enabling them to fly.

Kal agrees with Forbes, he is probably right, he says. He asks that Earth not visit Pyris again as it may upset the efforts of Kal’s scientific government, which, he insists, is trying to help the backward natives rid themselves of the wrali superstitions. Forbes agrees, and he and his men are escorted back to their spaceship, which blasts off.

Once they are gone, the Master of The Sabbath enters, unharmed. He tells the Kal that he is now reading Forbes’ thoughts. Forbes plans on initiating an official inquiry into matters on Pyris. Earthmen will be back!

Kal notes that he told Forbes the truth about how Satan brought the first settlers of Pyris through space on broomsticks, but he chose not to believe. Earth must never learn that the government and the wrali are working in conjunction to keep the Pyran natives in ignorance. For if science ever does take root on Pyris, worship of Satan would cease, and that must not be.

The Master agrees, lights a small brazier, says that he senses that the Earth spaceship is a thousand miles away from Pyris, climbing into space.

Kal nods, hands a small silvery object to the Master. The Master takes it -- a miniature silver pendant-like spaceship -- thrusts it into the hot coals of the brazier. Soon it glows red-hot.

A thousand miles over Pyris, Forbes’ spaceship explodes, melts into nothingness.

 

So, we have the name of the planet – Pyris, an antagonist who lives in a foreboding castle, a loose retelling of the witches scene from Macbeth, powers that appear to be magical ("Catspaw"), and are indeed born of the Dark Master ("Broomstick Ride"), and a spaceship miniature which is burned in effigy.

Bloch obviously drew upon his story, but jettisoned 99% of it in the process.

As this review is between the story and the aired episode, I have no way of knowing what was changed in the rewriting process of Bloch’s first draft script. Perhaps the similarities between the two were more pronounced, originally, but toned down in order to air on 1967 prime-time television.

I do not own a copy of the script. Should that change, I’ll update this essay.


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