Tue
Apr 14 2009 5:54pm

Star Trek Re-watch: “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Written by Samuel A. Peeples
Directed by James Goldstone

Season 1, Episode 3
Production episode: 1x01
Original air date: September 22, 1966
Star date: 1312.4

 

Mission summary
On the outskirts of the Milky Way, the Enterprise discovers the recorder marker of the S.S. Valiant, a ship that has been missing for over 200 years. The disaster recorder contains a wealth of exposition, which Spock haltingly “interpolates” from its memory banks. It seems that the Valiant ran into “some unknown force,” which badly damaged the ship and killed six crew members. Another crewman was injured but recovered, after which there were urgent requests for information on extrasensory perception. Then the ship apparently self-destructed by order of its captain, which Spock finds hard to believe.

Kirk decides to resume his mission to uh, probe, where no man has gone before (aside from the dead crew of the Valiant, of course), hoping that they will find answers to the mystery ahead. The Enterprise soon encounters a strange force field at the edge of the galaxy, an unknown force, if you will, which may or may not actually be there—the ship’s deflectors and sensors disagree. The only way out is through, so they head straight for the barrier. A pretty light show blows some fuses in the ship—and in Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, a visiting psychologist, and Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell, the chauvinistic navigator. Dr. Dehner seems fine after her little shock (fortunately, Dr. Piper, the chief medical officer, was standing right next to her), but when Mitchell regains consciousness, his eyes have turned bright silver. To make matters worse, nine of the crew are dead and the Enterprise has lost warp power. Could they be about to suffer the same fate as the Valiant?

Mitchell recovers in sickbay but he’s developed a bad attitude along with his new look. Kirk and Spock keep Mitchell under observation and discover that he’s reading through the ship’s library at an alarming rate, even the books he didn’t like before. Spock realizes that the nine dead crewmembers, Dehner, and Mitchell have the highest ESP ratings on the ship.

Kirk is worried about his friend Mitchell, who’s the kind of guy who would take a poison dart for him, but Spock points out that the man’s new abilities make him a threat and recommends killing or ditching him while they can. Unwilling to kill his friend of fifteen years, Kirk decides it would be all right to leave Mitchell alone on the barren planet Delta Vega, which hosts a lithium cracking station that can help repair the ship’s damaged engines. Meanwhile, Dehner is becoming fascinated with Mitchell and his transformation into a “mutated superior man,” which is apparently exactly her type. She’s a woman, so she’s Mitchell’s type, too.

When Mitchell makes a cup float across the room, Kirk knows they’re in trouble. Mitchell zaps Kirk and Spock with electric bolts, then Kirk knocks him out the old-fashioned way with fists and drugs. They transport him to a holding cell on the planet where Mitchell struggles against the force field and, temporarily weakened, his eyes briefly return to normal. But he’s getting stronger. Dehner decides to stay with him on Delta Vega, claiming that he isn’t evil. He immediately proves her wrong by removing the force field then zapping Kirk and Spock again. A moment later, Dehner’s eyes are silver like Mitchell’s and they realize they’re meant for each other.

Kirk goes after Mitchell and Dehner alone, armed with a phaser rifle. Mitchell gloats about his burgeoning godhood and taunts Kirk as he draws nearer. Unable to harm Mitchell physically, Kirk fights with words. He appeals to the remnants of Mitchell’s humanity and tries to convince Dehner to help stop him:

You were a psychiatrist once. You know the ugly, savage things we all keep buried, that none of us dare expose. But he’ll dare. Who’s to stop him? He doesn’t need to care.

Kirk convinces Dehner that Mitchell will eventually kill her, and they soon turn on each other. While Mitchell’s weakened and distracted, Kirk struggles with him, but luckily Kirk’s shirt suffers the most damage. He finally gets the drop on Mitchell and buries him under a pile of rocks. Dehner, whose power was much weaker than Mitchell’s, also expires. Kirk has lost both his shirt and his friend all in one day.

Analysis
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” was the second pilot for the series, though NBC opted to air it third. It’s fairly obvious that this was meant to be seen first, from the slightly different crew (notably absent of McCoy and Uhura, with Sulu in Astroscience), the earlier style of uniforms used, and the fact that the Enterprise is leaving our galaxy for the first time—seemingly the first time any ship has attempted such a trip. We don’t even have the benefit of the title sequence narration to explain what this spaceship is called, or what it’s mission might be.

The story is surprisingly sophisticated for such an early effort; it’s no wonder the series finally got the green light because of it. I was really impressed with the little touches in this episode. There’s a neat bit of foreshadowing early on, when Mitchell attempts to flirt with Dehner:

MITCHELL: Improving the breed, Doctor? Is that your line?
DEHNER: I heard that's more your specialty, Commander, ‘line’ included.

The silver eyes are eerily effective at making Mitchell both human and alien; one of the most chilling moments is when Kirk watches Mitchell on a monitor and his friend slowly turns to stare directly at him. They aren’t the only makeup used to show Mitchell’s transformation—his hair also subtly grays as he becomes more godlike.

The writing and acting in this episode completely sell these characters’ relationships in the way they interact with each other: Kirk and Spock’s camaraderie is evident in their banter during their three-dimensional chess game, Kirk’s long history with Mitchell adds the necessary emotional attachment to his changed friend, and we even see the friendship between “Mitch” and the soon-departed helmsman Lee Kelso (whom Mitchell telekinetically strangles with a cable on Delta Vega, showing how far gone he really is).

If “The Man Trap” contrasts Kirk with McCoy, this episode ably sets up his relationship with Spock. The Vulcan’s unfeeling logic tells Kirk what he must do to protect the ship, but Kirk’s emotions make him hesitate until nearly all is lost. At the end, Spock (rather unconvincingly) says “I felt for (Mitchell), too,” to which Kirk replies, “I believe there’s some hope for you after all, Mr. Spock.” But since Kirk ultimately does take the hard road and kills Mitchell, maybe what he should have done all along, there may be some hope that Kirk can one day find the balance that will make him such a good captain. The show and movies constantly waffle in the debate over whether “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”—because there is no easy answer, an absolute answer, for every situation.

Yet this episode deals in absolutes. They must kill Mitchell or abandon him, but there’s no talk of attempting to cure him. In Kirk’s place, those brief moments when the silver fades from Mitchell’s eyes and his friend is once again in control should encourage him that his friend is still in there somewhere. That maybe he can be saved. This episode also asks questions about morals, the place of compassion in command and in godhood, the idea of power (“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”), what it means to be human and what it might mean to be a god. Heady stuff.

And there’s a bit of symbolism here as well. Mitchell, preparing for a life with Dehner on an inhospitable planet, creates a kind of garden. They are the first two of their kind, humans become gods, and with the words, “Let there be food,” he conjures a (Kaferian) apple tree out of nowhere and offers her one. She never gets to taste it, but they already have all the knowledge they need, of both good and evil, except for the truth Kirk has to teach them: that they still have their human frailties, which with all of their power, makes them something other than gods.

I’m beginning to think we need to add a “Sexism” section to these reviews. Even for a product of its time, this episode astonished me. At least Yeoman Smith looks annoyed when Kirk gets her name wrong, but a moment later she’s fearfully holding hands with Mitchell while he uses his other hand to...pilot the ship through the barrier. The womanizer Mitchell is a real jerk, calling Dehner “a walking freezer unit” when she fails to fall for his unique brand of charm (prompting amused responses from Kelso and Dr. Piper), but after putting up such a good fight, she later admits that “women professionals do tend to overcompensate.” Et tu, Elizabeth? At least the ladies are wearing pants. (It would be another twenty years before we get a Star Trek episode titled “Where No One Has Gone Before,” in the more politically-correct The Next Generation.)

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: One thing that I noticed this second watch-through (this, too, is one of the few I’ve seen) are the fantastic horror elements, from the setup to the minutiae. When the ship passes through the barrier it becomes irreparably damaged: the warp drives are completely gone, and all they have left is impulse power—making even nearby space stations years away. Nine men have died, they’re stranded in space, and there is a very real possibility of dying alone in the void and disappearing into oblivion, to perhaps be stumbled upon 200 years later like the Valiant. The stakes are very high; the threat is very real. It has a gravitas both in form and subject that the other episodes I’ve seen didn’t parallel.

The episode is full of wonderfully creepy little details, from the silver eyes to the graying hair. All throughout Mitchell’s conversation with Kirk in sickbay you hear his heartbeat in the background—Poe would be proud. Mitchell then says farewell with the warning: “Didn’t I say you’d better be good to me?” That gave me chills. Those light touches, rather than huge dramatic transformations, perfectly capture the feeling that Mitchell is human, yet not human—that he is “more than” a man, yet still just a man.

The two big things that I just didn’t get were 1) as Eugene mentioned, no one ever considered, y’know, curing him and 2) why Kirk went to chase Mitchell down on the surface. At that point everyone has beamed back to the ship except Kirk, and he’s given orders to completely irradiate the planet. Does he really think that his phaser rifle is a better solution than irradiating the planet? Is he trying to reason with Mitchell one last time, to avoid killing him? It’s still not clear to me what he was trying to accomplish in that.

Lastly, I keep thinking to myself what a better god-like creature Dr. Dehner would have been. Her interest was never in shedding her humanity, but embracing that and taking it to the next level. When she tries to protect Mitchell she doesn’t defend the god in him, but the man:

Don’t you understand? A mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing. The forerunner of a new and better kind of human being.

In contrast, Mitchell tells Kirk: “Morals are for men, not gods.” If she had turned first, instead of Mitchell, perhaps something entirely different would have happened—something good, even?

Fun continuity error: during that final confrontation, when Mitchell conjures the Kirk gravestone, the captain’s name appears as “James R. Kirk.” Guess they hadn’t picked a name yet.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: Mitchell: “Hey man, I remember you back at the academy. A stack of books with legs.”

Syndication Edits: Unknown. But check out this compilation of alternate and deleted scenes from the unaired version of the episode, as it was presented to NBC executives:


Trivia: The bright colors used on the Enterprise interiors were at the request of NBC, which used the show to sell color television sets.

Other notes: Both of the guest stars in this episode should look vaguely familiar. Sally Kellerman, who plays Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, later starred as the original Major Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan in the M*A*S*H feature film. Gary Lockwood, who plays Gary Mitchell, is probably familiar to many sf fans for his role as Frank Poole in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which in turn influenced Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture, for better or worse.


Next episode: Season 1, Episode 4 - “The Naked Time.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.

27 comments
Alan Stallings
1. astacvi
Despite the entirely ridiculous "energy barrier", this is one of my favorites among the very early episodes. There's a lot of tension and real drama here, culminating in two surprisingly moving deaths, considering the short time we've known these characters.

I'm sure this episode must have been pretty baffling when first aired, though. It's one thing to have some cast changes and continuity problems between a pilot and the regular series, but to just stick this oddity into the initial broadcast run must have confused the hell out of the audience. This episode's exposition of the mission and functioning of the Enterprise would surely have helped out a 1966 viewer, especially that bit about nearby destinations suddenly being years away without the warp drive.

The inherent sexism of some of these scenes doesn't bug me that much; you have to remember the kind of world they were filmed in. Heck, the first two pilots had strong female characters in pants; it was negative audience reaction that put them back into miniskirts. So a little credit where due, please. They were trying to shake up some sexist and racist attitudes of the day; if they failed to be as progressive as we'd like from 40 years on, we can hardly lay all the blame on them.
C C
2. Hatgirl
I love the interesting subtitle facts on the DVD for this episode. Like, at the time, ESP was seen as "futuristic yet possible" as space travel.
Richard Fife
3. R.Fife
One thing I noticed: not a single redshirt. Wow. All blue and gold.

Also, anyone else find it a little jarring how Sulu talked about money in his penny-doubling example? I guess the "original" story about rice and a chess board wasn't kosher for the asian crewman to talk about. Either that or they didn't completely grasp the "moneyless" civilization yet.

Oh, I noticed Spock at one point had a really retro (even more retro than usual) phaser on his belt. I want one! Almost looked a bit steampunky.

For some odd reason, I was really really impressed with the mat-painting of the planet surface. The refinery looked amazingly cool, even by today's standards.

OK, now, to respond to actual commentary. Yet again, Torie, I see a different progression of our antagonists. In particular, I don't think it was Mitchell's inherit jackassary that turned him into a dark god. I think it really was a bit of a twist on Dr. Manhatten, so to speak, and that Dehner would have been just as bad. Heck, look how quickly she was acclamating to "Godhood" once she did get the silver eyes. When Mitchell was at her early-on phase, he still retained alot of his humanity and was scared of what he was becoming, too.

So while yes, I agree that she had more humanity in the end, and a brighter outlook on things, perhaps she also knew she was changing before hand, and was looking for rationalization that godlike humans could peacefully exist. (I know, I'm giving the writers too much credit again, poor salt vampire).

Oh, also, didn't Mitchell, in his nearly "super enlightened" (or super en-gray-ened) form shout out about how they should have killed him, that god-like humans should not exist? The scene was when he waa fighting the brig's shield, I think. Or possibly when they were drugging him.

Oh, to the "cure", perhaps that they quickly ruled it out as "not enough time". They have no clue what even happened, really, and as stands, they had a limited timescale for a solution, especially with the spector of the Valiant hanging over them. Could also be the writers just didn't want too much plot complexity. Or, as the Dr. Demento "Star Trekkin'" song says "We come in peace, shoot to kill."
MadMardigan
4. MadMardigan
The sexism is blatant - just like it was in the general culture of the time. I am more surprised that anyone is shocked by it than that it exists.

The fact that there are multiple female characters who have, at least during some scenes, strong roles is more impressive to me for a show made during that time period.

Going to be a long slog through the season if we have to have a paragraph on it every episode...maybe just a "Most Sexist line: " thrown into each commentary?
C.D. Thomas
5. cdthomas
NBC was deep into promoting its TV sets (through RCA) since the 1950s, and they were desperate to get people to switch from B&W to color, partially due to their fighting to develop the ruling American transmission standard in competition with CBS. Even though the NTSC standard won, We have NBC's craven drive for monopolistic profit to thank for making ST one of the most beautiful shows on television back then.

Sure, you had the sweat due to the hot lights, but look at the soft-focus shots; those were from the tradition of Karl Freund, who was responsible for Miss Ball's closeups from the I LOVE LUCY days. Remember, ST was a Desilu Production.
Torie Atkinson
6. Torie
@ 1 and @ 4

On the topic of sexism, I'm pretty sure I speak for both of us when I say that we're neither shocked nor upset by it. But just because it was commonplace doesn't mean it's not worth noting. In fact, that's all the more reason to be reminded of it.

@ R.Fife

I think Mitchell was definitely supposed to have an element of jackassery that was amplified once he became godlike. He's got an arrogance and selfishness to him (from his early interaction with Dehner to him telling Kirk that Kirk's college love was a set-up, YIKES) that I think the audience is supposed to pick up on as, pardon the expression, all-too-human. Perhaps Dehner wouldn't have been any different, but it's an interesting idea to think about.

Re: the should've killed him remark, I read that entirely differently. He tells Kirk that if he were in the captain's place, he would've killed him. But that's followed pretty closely by a statement by Kirk that Mitchell now lacks compassion, and that what a god needs most is compassion. So I'd argue that the statement isn't supposed to express a feeling that god-like men shouldn't exist, but rather demonstrate that he lacks compassion, even for himself.
Alan Stallings
7. astacvi
@3

If you look closely, Scotty and others are wearing red shirts, but the colors are so muted they come out as a soft pink, and are very difficult to distinguish from the gold. The blues are a little better, but you can tell they really went for color saturation when they took the series into production.

For that matter, the "gold" was actually green, but for some reason never showed up that way on TV. Publicity stills from the promo material clearly show Kirk wearing green shirts, but only his "lounge jacket" (or whatever that thing was called) actually looked that way on the broadcast. I have noticed that the remastered episodes now in syndication show up the green tone considerably better.
Alan Stallings
8. astacvi
@6

Yes, the sexism definitely is worth noting, especially in the context that this show was consciously trying to do something about it. That they meant well, tried hard, and still came off as patronizing, says an awful lot about the culture of their day.

As for your comment about Mitchell's "jackassery", I think you're right as far as it goes, but there's definitely an element of "absolute power corrupts absolutely" in the script. Dehner is only a couple of steps behind him when Kirk pulls her back from the edge just long enough to save the day. (And yes, the script is a little bumpy getting him down there alone to face the gods, but they had a series to sell, and the hero needs to be heroic, and damn the logic if it's in the way.)
Bill Siegel
9. ubxs113
Anyone else notice how the first three episodes all involve some sort of psychic power?
Melissa Ann Singer
10. masinger
@9: Lots of TOS episodes involved psychic powers because they were inexpensive to produce. No fancy special effects needed.
Eugene Myers
11. ecmyers
@6 @8

As Torie mentioned, it's not that I'm shocked or upset that sexism exists in a show made in the 1960s... I think I'm more surprised that I didn't notice it much when I saw these for the first time. Then again, I was still in junior high back then.

Incidentally, there's a rumor that Roddenberry cast Andrea Dromm as Yeoman Smith because he wanted to sleep with her, but I only found one mention of that online which seems to have been perpetuated through other sites, and Dromm denies any "problems" with him. Knowing his reputation, this wouldn't be too surprising though.

@7
I caught the slight color difference, but the "reddish" shirts seemed more beige to me, and I couldn't be sure I wasn't just imagining it.

@9
The psychic powers are definitely a trend. I was also struck by the fact that many of the early episodes deal with the Enterprise being taken over fairly easily.
rick gregory
12. rickg
@8 "Yes, the sexism definitely is worth noting..."

But please, not every single post of the entire rewatch. At some point, the point's been made - try as they might, they were a product of their times. I mean on episode 38's rewatch, do we really need to hear that, yep, there was some sexism in the show?
Torie Atkinson
13. Torie
@ 12

I'll note it when I feel it's, well, notable. This show was very much about an ideal, progressive future, and examining the ways in which that vision succeeded is, in my mind, a valid point of criticism. Likewise, the ways in which those ideals failed (despite concerted attempts to the contrary, as astacvi points out) is of interest to me. It speaks volumes about the culture that created the show.

Removing a show like Star Trek from its place as an artifact of (sexist) culture does a disservice to it. If I were to ignore or downplay what the show reveals about that culture's inherent prejudices, it would make the truly progressive acts less powerful and less meaningful.
Eugene Myers
14. ecmyers
@12

Don't worry! Many episodes are entirely devoid of sexism!
MadMardigan
15. bookworm
@14 ecmyers.

Name one. lol
Torie Atkinson
16. Torie
@ 14

*wipes away a tear*

You're too funny.
stephen Banks
17. rosenkrantz@me.com
Trek TOS was a product of its time but it had some truly inspiring moments. In the pilot we had a female first officer, Kirk and Uhuru's pseudo kiss, the multicultural crew - it was a show to make people proud. Growing up in the south in the 60's & 70's - it would have been easy for me to adopt the same prejudices I saw in some of the adults around me, but I like to think that shows like Trek showed me how people "should" treat each other and what we had to look forward to.
rick gregory
18. rickg
torie - that's reasonable. I was actually more referring to Eugene's paragraph on it than anything in your section of this one. I just don't feel it's useful to say 'hey, more sexism!' every single review whether the sexist incident is a minor comment or a major gaffe unless there's some analysis that springs off of mentioning it.

At some point those of you doing the rewatch will have gotten the point across that the show has sexist moments in some/many/most/all of the episodes. We get it. Noting it in every single episode review for 3 seasons does not add anything really.

I guess what I'm looking for are insights that spring from noting the sexism vs. "And here's another sexist comment."
Torie Atkinson
19. Torie
@ 18

Well, I think it's useful. Sexism is dangerous precisely because it's so pervasive, persistent, and seemingly minor.
Eugene Myers
20. ecmyers
@18

What I intended, which didn't come across, is to point out that Dehner's character started out as a strong female but mostly disappointed me in the end. She shuts Mitchell down when he hits on her and walks away, while the Yeoman is grabbing for his arm. Then later she apologizes, claims that she was "overcompensating," and starts falling for him. But yes, just having her there at all is gratifying for the time.
Alan Stallings
21. astacvi
I, for one, cannot wait until we hit "Turnabout Intruder" and can discuss Shatner's portrayal of Kirk as a woman.
Mitch Wagner
22. MitchWagner
My $0.02 on commenting on the sexism: Don't overthink whether to comment on it. If it looks noteworthy, comment on it. If it's not particularly interesting, then ignore it. I come here to read the bloggers' takes on old Trek episodes, and if the bloggers find the sexism interesting, I'll go along with that.
Richard Fife
23. R.Fife
I musta misheard Mitchell at one point. I could have sworn that, perhaps right after he had fought the shield in the brig, "You should have killed him, men were not meant to be gods."

Alas, busy preping for Jordancon, so no time to go hunting for it. So, for a funny mental exercise, if Dehner had changed first:

She would have used her godlike powers to turn everyone on the Enterprise into white lab-mice and chinchillas and taught them to perform Rent. She was a shrink, after all. My sis-in-law is a shrink, and I've seen her make chinchillas do crazy things.

On a (sexist?) note, it was interesting that the Garden of Eden/Fall scene was gender-roll reversed, with Mitchell offering the apple, etc. I guess that is fairly progressive, heck, even today.
Avram Grumer
24. avram
R Fife @3, the "'moneyless' civilization" you refer to is the one that Picard, Riker, and Troi live in. Kirk, Spock, and Sulu live in a civilization where Cyrano Jones haggles over the price of tribbles.
Rajan Khanna
25. rajanyk
I thought this was a solid episode, though my attention wavered toward the end as I'd seen it previously. I also didn't like the uniforms - much prefer the colorful ones. But not much to dislike in this one.
Rei Shinozuka
26. shino
This "rewatch" is a pretty novel little project. I just got the first two seasons on Blu-Ray so I'm in a bit of a rewatch myself.

As to the title, "Where No Man has Gone Before" is the more logical construct for a science-fiction series. "Man" here indicates mankind, whereas "one" is the much broader category and ostensibly applies to any sentient being. Therefore a show about "where no one has gone before" would be devoid of not only all humans but any and all intelligent life forms. Space astrophysics, geology and maybe botany. Not such great drama.
Eugene Myers
27. ecmyers
@ 26 shino

Thanks for joining our rewatch! Your observation makes sense, especially in the context of TNG where the crew also included Klingons, Vulcans, and androids, which made "man" much less inclusive.

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