Arguably one of the most unnerving episodes of Classic Trek, Where No Man has Gone Before features Captain James R. Kirk’s school friend, Gary Mitchell. They are so close that when Gary summons a tombstone, he forgets Jim’s middle name. Seriously, though, the episode is deeply unsettling. The music helps, but the eyes of Gary Mitchell really convey something otherworldly. When Elizabeth Dehner starts turning, the effect is (perhaps obviously) multiplied. They both move in very uncertain ways, like being human is a strange thing. The scene where Kelso gets killed is also extremely unsettling with a wire wrapping around his neck and choking him, while Mitchell is superimposed over the scene indicating he is responsible for the death. And back to the eyes for a minute, Spock looked best when he had the harshly upswept eyebrows. I wish they kept that look but it was deemed too scary or something. A missed opportunity.
Ok, and speaking of Spock, why is he wearing a yellow shirt? And Scotty is too! And Sulu is in blue. For the love of Spock, what’s going on here? Sulu must have changed jobs from his last appearance feeding weepers in The Man Trap. Arguably this takes place first, but considering we are taking the adventures in broadcast order, we need to find a logical way to make sense of what we see. I’m going with promotion. This might make sense too, if we consider that after Mitchell’s demise, they’d need a new helmsman and offer Sulu his old job back with a rank promotion. In other words, he was leaving a command position for a science one but after Mitchell dies, he comes back to command. (I imagine we should talk about shirt colors: Yellow is command, blue is science and red is engineering. There’s a symbol on each arrowhead to differentiate them too, but the colors do that at a glance.) Scotty’s shirt color would also make sense Kelso had on red; it might indicate that after his death, Scotty applied for that job and got it, but Kelso also wears yellow. It’s nice to finally see Scotty, for that matter, but where did Bones go? Was he on holiday? So far, I haven’t seen a single redshirt die! Thank Sarek!
Now, as much as I like this story, I’ve got a complaint. I’m a title-guy; I remember titles and I find titles can be very interesting. But Where No Man Has Gone Before is a terrible title. It should be a great one, but the whole story is about the Enterprise crew finding wreckage from a ship which, 200 years ago, experienced the same events. The ship went where Kirk’s ship is going, and the crew went through the same events. So really… where are they going that no man has gone before? If they mean evolutionarily, um, no. That’s the point; the other ship experienced the same things! Speaking of that wreckage, when they find the recording device, why does it beep? Presumably it would be floating in space and, perhaps you’ve heard, in space, no one can hear you beep! There are a few other technical gaffs… or should that be laughs. The Enterprise uses microfiche and when Gary is done reading on his bedside monitor, when he turns it off, the text is still visible, just without being backlit. And the biggest issue of all: Delta Vega, the planet that Kelso rigs for an explosion if things go wrong… yeah, it still has that button setup for some poor schlub who comes to the planet in the future. “Gee, Bob, what does this do? Maybe kicks off the refueling? I’ll press it. Oh, Tribble Crap!”
Then there’s a big plot point that got me thinking. When Mitchell knocks Kirk and Spock out, he takes Dehner on a date. They wander off into Eden. Kirk wakes up and decides to go hunting ESPer Adam and Eve. Now, I have to ask: why?? Why not just beam up to the ship and leave? Mission accomplished, Mitchell is stranded, Kirk doesn’t have to kill an old friend and since no one else was on the planet, what would they do? Well, I’m guessing divine birds and godlike bees, if you get my meaning, but you know what I mean! And to assume they’d be a threat to passing ships is folly if we consider how many other godlike entities there are out there, one of which we saw an episode earlier in Charlie X. Sure, it gives Kirk a chance to philosophize with Gary about absolute power corrupting absolutely, but it could have been avoided. And if Gary Mitchell is evolving as quickly as he thinks, Kirk should have watched David McCullum in The Outer Limits The Sixth Finger to know eventually, we evolve beyond all of that anyway. Mitchell would have been a friend again in no time. (Maybe with a bigger head, that’s all!)
So what’s left? No point talking about Spock’s ancestor who married a human. We’ll learn about that eventually. Or that Jim almost married a girl Gary set him up with. So I guess the only thing to talk about is body count. During Charlie X we learned there are 428 crewmen. 9 died in the attempt to go through the space forcefield (yeah, I’m not even going to tackle that one…). Then we lose Kelso, Mitchell and Dehner. 12 dead so far. 416 left. Let’s see how many deaths occur before a redshirt dies. ML
The view from across the pond:
“That’s enough, Doctor.”
“I don’t think so.”
I couldn’t imagine somebody answering back to Picard like that. There is an interesting vibe in the way Kirk commands his ship. A lot of people call him Jim too, rather than Captain, so there’s clearly a strong team spirit here. Although it is early days, you get the sense that this is a group of friends trekking around the stars, and in this episode Kirk has to face the loss of one of his oldest friends, a colleague he has known for fifteen years. The fact that he considers marooning him and ultimately has to kill him shows the conflict between friendship and command, and when it comes to the crunch Kirk is the sort of man to put his duty before a friendship.
It already feels like we are hitting big, important episodes with this series, and this time the Enterprise leaves the galaxy and encounters something outside it which turns Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell into a monster. But he remains a very human monster. His latent ESP abilities are brought out and empowered, until he develops a god complex. The only problem with this is we have had two very similar episodes in a row, where somebody on the ship is near-omnipotent and Kirk has to find a way to defeat him against almost impossible odds. The manner of his defeat is much better though. Whereas the last episode gave us somebody else arriving on a metaphorical white horse to save the day, Kirk actually resolves the problem himself this week, by cleverly playing off one superbeing against another:
“There’ll only be one of you in the end.”
The manner of his death is grim, and the question of whether he was crushed or buried alive doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s surprising Kirk doesn’t want to make sure he isn’t leaving a man buried alive, but perhaps he’s more concerned about another casualty of the fight: if this keeps happening he’s going to run out of shirts.
Mitchell’s death wasn’t the only scary thing about the episode, with Gary Lockwood playing the possession scenes brilliantly. There is a moment where he is being watched on a screen and he looks straight at the camera as if he can see right through it to the people watching, which is incredibly creepy, as is the moment where he conjures up a grave and gravestone for Kirk in an instant.
But in the end he’s just another addition to our Trek Tally of Enterprise crew deaths. The encounter with the cloud of whatever that was outside the galaxy resulted in nine off-screen crew deaths, and Mitchell and Dehner bring our tally so far to 15, after just three episodes. There won’t be anyone left on board soon. Mitchell of course became the first crewmember to die at Kirk’s own hands.
A quick mention for something I have been noticing since the start of the series: the special effects have impressed me very much so far. For the 60s I think the model shots of the Enterprise are exceptionally convincing, if you compare them with most other sci-fi effects shots happening around this time*. The effects guys were obviously struggling with portraying some other aspects of future technology though. Although it would be child’s play nowadays, creating a convincing miniature monitor screen in 1966 was obviously an insurmountable problem. The writing remains on the screen after it is switched off, betraying the fact that it is simply a light in a box. But as always with sci-fi it is the stories that matter, and we have had three crackers in a row to kick off this series. We are perhaps falling into a bit too much of a pattern of somebody with superpowers endangering the ship, with a big final confrontation with Kirk, so I am hoping we will break out of that pattern into something different soon, but considering I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Star Trek at all I’m a happy bunny right now with what I’ve seen so far.
“I just thought of making it happen and it does.”
Mitchell tried to make it so, all by himself, but for the second week running Kirk and his crew defeated a god-in-waiting. Trek is showing us the power of an inspired leader, with a strong and loyal team behind him, to beat any odds. False gods don’t stand a chance. RP
* OK, so nobody told me I was watching updated effects. That would explain it then…
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: The Naked Time