Star Trek: The Enemy Within

Star Trek Opening TitlesThere’s a lot to be said about the themes classic Trek tackles, but The Enemy Within is, to my reckoning, one of the first important ones.  It’s not about whether its good or bad, but the idea it puts forth.  Let’s be fair and talk plot first…

Starfleet sends Kirk a poke and says, “Jimmers, we need you to go on a Specimen Gathering mission to a planet that gets so cold that you won’t be able to use those Shuttlecraft you have in the hanger.  Beam down and get us rocks and dogs.  Post them on Fleetbook and we’ll Like them.”  And so Jim and crew go down to the planet of the cute horned dogs.  (No, stop thinking like Kirk… think like Spock!)  Then Private Putz slips, cuts his finger which needs immediate medical attention as all cut fingers do, and gets covered in Colonel Mustard’s Magnetic Powder.  Private Putz beams up to the ship and the powder gets into the transporter.  Kirk beams up next, followed by Kirk.  Yes, that is what happened!

The second Kirk is the evil Kirk that appeared in the Saturday Night Live skit saying we fans have no life.  Bastard!  But this leads to some very disturbing stuff.  First, he goes for Brandy and almost gives McCoy whiplash.  Then bad Kirk goes in search of Janice Rand and waits in her quarters.  This is where Kirk snatches her and forces himself on her.  First, some rough kissing, but then throwing her to the floor and climbing on top of her in that super-short skirt.  It’s nearly a rape scene and let’s not forget this was 1966 that this episode was broadcast!  This is both shocking and very hard to watch.  Coming off their recent mission in The Naked Time, where Kirk says he doesn’t have the luxury of looking at the women on the ship that way, this hits home.  He hasn’t been on a Wife Gathering Mission yet, so he’s feeling like that aforementioned dog!  (I guess they could have called this The Planet of the Horned Dogs!)  Nothing else evil Kirk does comes close to the savagery we see in this moment.  (Well, maybe the way he abuses the word “you” when he tells Good Kirk “I don’t need youuu!”)  Yes, you’re a very clever reader – I am adding some levity to detract a bit from an otherwise horrific scene!

So the question is, what makes this an “important” episode?  For me, it’s a seriously interesting look at human nature.  Am I being too much like Spock?  The dark side of our nature is attributed to making a good leader.  But it also holds lust and violence in its grasp.  Meanwhile our light side is the love and tenderness that make us good people.  McCoy is the one to notice that it’s also the positive side that gives us courage.  This ends up being the saving grace for good Kirk.   Don’t get me wrong, this is no definitive guide to human nature but it is an interesting speculation that in all the years since I first saw this story, it has never left me.  We all have to be a bit like Spock, battling two sides, logic and emotion.  I know I do, as a parent and as a manager.  I have to show discipline but also want my kids, and my team, to be happy; to enjoy coming in each day.  That requires balance.  So isn’t it funny that Kirk is balanced by the devilishly logical Spock and the kind, caring Doctor McCoy?  Which brings us to the truth that is never explicitly stated in this story.  We are probably 3-part people, not two.  There’s the violent side, the kind side, and there’s the balance; the ability to know when to let either side have control.  I think that realization is an important one.  It’s the sort of revelation classic Trek could make us realize.  Not two halves but three parts.  You might say, the three who are one.  I can almost hear my old friend Zathras chuckling as I make this realization!

Well, that about wraps it up.  We’ve got one “he’s dead Jim” but barring the dog, of whom Dr. McCoy is referring, no crewmen die.  (I guess only horny things die in this episode!)  It is surprisingly survivable.  The only thing that bothered me at the end was Spock’s jibe at Janice.  What the hell was he getting at asking Janice what she thought of Kirk’s “interesting qualities”?  She was nearly raped by her Captain.  Hardly time for a joke.  But then, for all his logic, Spock doesn’t have the temperament to know when to make such a quip, does he?  ML

The view from across the pond:

When we had our nameless Doctor Who movie in 1996, the fans were frustrated at the lack of a title. I remember reading some time afterwards that Philip Segal suggested the title “The Enemy Within” could be used, which I think is nicely symbolic of the lack of imagination that went into that movie in general, because it’s just about the most boring title ever. The excellent TV Tropes website has a list of “Stock Titles” which are used again and again in different television shows, and apparently there are at least 28 examples of “The Enemy Within”, so the title of this episode of Star Trek is not exactly inventive. Thankfully the same cannot be said for the plot. I thought writer Richard Matheson had come up with a great story when Kirk got duplicated in the transporter, but when it turned out that there was more to it than that I was even more impressed. The idea of somebody being split into two halves of their personality is fascinating, especially as it was handled so thoughtfully, acknowledging that Kirk would be unfit to command without his “bad” side.

With the transporter malfunction we are ticking off the Trek clichés of the future, but this is the first of its kind. Kirk is not the only victim though. Who dressed up that poor dog with a horn on its head? We didn’t have any additions to our Trek Tally of minor crewman deaths this week, but instead we had something worse:

“He’s dead Jim.”

That’s McCoy’s professional opinion as a… vet? So I suppose we have to accept it, but it was hard to take. That dog was cute. Inexplicably not added to our Trek Tally was Sulu and his friends, who somehow survived temperatures of 117 below freezing. I’m no expert, but surely that’s not possible? They didn’t even have any shelter. That was actually the part of the story that fell down, in my opinion. It wasn’t just the improbable survival, but the lack of any other means of getting them off the surface of the planet. Don’t they have shuttle-crafts or something? Either way, wouldn’t it be better to beam them up in two personality halves like Kirk and worry about reassembling them later rather than just let them die? Kirk had a lucky break this week. Maybe it was reflective of his bad command decisions after his split, but nobody else suggested it so I’m not so sure.

Our Screaming Woman Trek Tally increased by one this week to four, and it wasn’t a new screamer. Seeing the doppelKirker try to force himself on Janice (who seems to be Trek’s go-to victim for sex pests) was hard to watch, but Shatner played the dual role brilliantly throughout the episode. We were certainly never left in any doubt as to which Kirk we were watching at a given moment, and Shatner sure does crazy well. The handheld camera work for “bad” Kirk added to the effect, but the big showdown on the bridge was clearly straining the limits of technology at the time. There are some major lip-synching issues with the over-dubbed dialogue, and apparently nobody has a back-of-the-head that looks exactly like Shatner’s. The man’s unique, even the back of his head.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Star Trek: The Enemy Within

  1. scifimike70 says:

    One thing science-fiction does best is dramatize how our SF heroes must sometimes confront their own evil selves. We’ve seen Kirk do so for The Enemy Within, Dr. Who in The Trial Of A Time Lord, the Red Dwarf crew in Out Of Time and Kira Nerys when she met her parallel-universe counterpart in Star Trek DS9. Jekyll & Hyde may have started it all and the fun part for the actor, certainly in Shatner’s case, is the opportunity to break away from the good guy and play the villain.

    We may each have our own dark side that longs for release into the outside world and all the stresses, as we know from the media, may make it easier for that happen in some people. It therefore makes The Enemy Within’s emotionally rewarding resolution one of the best in Trek because, quite realistically, its message that good can always prevail when evil is clarified for everyone to see is the message we all need more than ever now.

    Thank you both for your timely reviews on The Enemy Within.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Reflecting on how down-to-basics some of the earliest classic Treks were in the beginning of its first season, and how it built up to its more dimensional second season and even the circumstantially difficult third season, the classic Trek series reminds us how much can be fully achieved for a series in a small space of time.

      With Dr. Who, The X-Files and Stargate SG1 on the other hand, it was of course different as it can be for any SF classic. But one can imagine how astonished the NBC was when Trek, even if some executives saw fit to call it a failure, became so successfully repetitive for decades via syndication. So Star Trek reminds us how repetition is a good thing and, depending on how refreshed the subject matter might get between Treks (both films and shows), it made specific repetitions equally acceptable throughout SF ever since.

      Dr. Who had the Cybermen and Star Trek TNG had the Borg. So that may say a lot and especially for how they motivated the Trek/Who crossover Assimilation in the comics.

      Liked by 1 person

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