During the Hugo-nominated episode of Star Trek: The Original Series titled “The Naked Time,” a contagion spreads through the USS Enterprise and infects the crew with a mysterious inhibition-lowering sickness. With infected members of Starfleet abandoning their posts and succumbing to the strange effects of the virus, the Enterprise plunges into a path of certain doom as it hurdles on a high-speed collision course with the self-destructing planet Psi 2000.
What’s intriguing about this fan-favorite episode is that two supporting characters, Riley and Tormolen, are prominently featured. At the time of filming, they were both being considered for roles as series regulars, but that’s not how their stories unfolded. Tormolen didn't make it out of the episode alive, and Riley was taken into custody by the hour’s end.
During the events of “The Naked Time,” Mr. Spock and Lieutenant Joe Tormolen beam down onto the dying, frozen wasteland planet Psi 2000 to not only observe and report on its disintegration but to locate and escort a research party stationed on its surface to the safety of the Enterprise. When they find the team frozen to death, Tormolen recklessly removes his protective suit and comes in contact with an unknown liquid resembling blood, which carries the virus.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy examines the decontaminated landing party but finding nothing out of the ordinary releases them from Sick Bay so that they can resume work. A short time later, Tormolen starts to exhibit strange erratic behaviors, acting completely irrationally and openly hostile to his fellow shipmates. He rants and raves about how humankind has no business traveling through space, even threatening Lieutenants Sulu and Riley with a knife. In the ensuing struggle, Tormolen stabs himself with the blade and eventually succumbs to his self-inflicted wounds. The crew’s sanity begins to unravel soon after as the contagion takes hold of the Enterprise.
As a result of coming into close contact with Tormolen, Sulu and Riley take ill and the two go on to infect other crew members through skin-to-skin contact. The contagion spreads like wildfire throughout the Enterprise, causing whoever comes in contact with someone infected to behave as if they were drugged. The virus causes Riley to sing and continuously reference his Irish roots, believing he is the descendant of Irish kings. Consequently, Riley locks himself inside of Scotty’s engineering room and crowns himself the new captain of the Enterprise.
Since many crew members abandon their posts due to the compromising effects of the rapidly spreading illness, the Enterprise descends into chaos. As a result, the entire crew’s lives are at stake because of the ship’s increasing destabilization with no one at its helm. After some research on the blood samples obtained from his patients, McCoy discovers that the water on Psi 2000 is composed of molecules that affect humanoids the same way alcohol does. The contagion suppresses the infected individual’s nervous system, depressing the centers that regulate judgment and self-control.
Knowing this, McCoy develops a cure that will reverse the hazardous effects of the virus. Upon administering the serum to Kirk and the rest of the sick command crew, they must work fast to pull the Enterprise out of the dying planet's orbit while its hull simultaneously overheats. Scotty then confronts Riley in an attempt to take back control of engineering. Unfortunately for the crew aboard the Enterprise, Riley has turned off the engines and rerouted all command functions to his newfound station. This act helplessly sends his shipmates en route to smash into Psi 2000, unless Scotty can somehow fully restart the ship’s warp engines before they’re all irreversibly sucked into the dying planet’s gravitational pull.
This dangerously complex process proposed by Scotty and Kirk could theoretically propel the Enterprise far away from the self-destructing planet, saving everyone on board. However, the high-risk maneuver has never been attempted before. Since the Enterprise has run out of options, Kirk orders Scotty to implement the procedure. Much to the crew’s relief, the Enterprise successfully enters a high-speed space-time warp that thrusts it back 71-hours in time, keeping them out of harm's way.
Unfortunately, the events of “The Naked Time” would be the last appearance of Tormolen. However, Riley manages to turn up in the episode “The Conscious of Kings” for one final adventure. Despite him almost dying from poisoning, Riley ultimately survives the scary ordeal and is never seen again in the series. Even though these two supporting characters didn't become series regulars, their memorable appearances grew to be cherished by the Star Trek fandom, young and old alike. To this day, Trekkies sing along with Riley locked inside of the engineering room and laugh about Tormolen wielding a butter knife as a weapon. While these two lovable characters never surpassed "redshirt" status, their performances will be remembered by fans for years to come.