Jan 20 2011 1:05pm

Star Trek Re-watch: “The Mark of Gideon”

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonThe Mark of Gideon
Written by George F. Slavin
and Stanley Adams
Directed by Jud Taylor

Season 3, Episode 16
Production episode 3x17
Original air date: Jan. 17, 1969
Stardate 5423.4–5423.8

Recap: Dayton Ward

The Enterprise arrives at the planet Gideon, a world that’s hoping to turn in its amateur status and sign a long-term, lucrative contract complete with endorsement deals as a member of the Federation. However, the people of Gideon seem to be rather shy, as they’ve never allowed any Federation representatives to visit their planet, nor have they even allowed sensor scans by ships in orbit. Rather than tell the planet’s government to go and pound sand until such time as they learn to work and play well with others, the Federation has persuaded the Gideon leaders to accept visitors. The Gideons put their foot down and insist that the delegation be composed of one person, and they specifically name Captain Kirk.

Now, the last time somebody asked by name for Kirk to come and beam on down, the good captain found himself fighting an eight-foot-tall lizard with a lisp. You’d think he’d have taken something away from that experience, but noooooOOOOoooooo….

Because there appears to be nobody else on the ship as Kirk and Spock walk the corridors to the transporter room, Spock gets stuck with beaming Kirk down to the planet surface. For the first and only time in the history of the series, we’re treated to the process by which coordinates are entered to the transporter process, because there’s no way—no way—those little numbers (875-020-079, for those keeping score at home) are going to end up being important at some point later in the episode.

Spock energizes the transporter and Kirk dematerializes, and rematerializes a moment later…on the Enterprise transporter platform! Understandably confused and perhaps even a bit miffed by this, Kirk tries to contact Spock to ask him, basically, “WTF, dude? You’re just gonna leave me hangin’ like that?” However, the first officer ain’t answering.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonThe captain then makes his way to the bridge only to find it completely deserted of any crew members. Calls to other parts of the ship yield no answers, and Kirk realizes he may well be the only person aboard. He goes on a walkabout, and finds the ship’s corridors looking pretty much like any third season episode. Apparently, he’s suffered some kind of memory lapse, and now he has this weird bruise on his arm. A…mark, if you will.

Things that make you go, “Hmmmm….”

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonBut wait! On the bridge, Spock and the rest of the crew are on hand to receive a message from the Gideon Council, who are dressed as though they’re ready to go on the road as backup singers for Lady Gaga. They’re apparently still waiting for Captain Kirk, who never arrived for his scheduled visit. Spock asks for verification of the transporter coordinates, and receives from the Gideons the following: 875-020-079. The Gideon ambassador, Hodin, acts all antsy and defensive, worried that Spock might blame him for the captain’s disappearance. Spock tells him to chillax, but Hodin won’t let him beam down to search for Kirk. He promises to conduct a search, do everything they can, yadda yadda yadda, and then promptly cut off the channel. Unable to simply beam down or even use the ship’s sensors due to a massive energy shield that protects the planet, Spock is left with no other choice than to call Starfleet Command for guidance.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonMeanwhile, Kirk encounters a young woman who’s dancing around in the empty corridor, as though she’s got the theme from “Aquarius” stuck in her head. Kirk confronts her, and she identifies herself as Odona. She’s thrilled at the amount of space around her, but doesn’t know how she got here. Her last memory was of standing in a large, crowded hall, with thousands of bodies pressing in around her. Sounds like the Black Friday sale at Walmart, huh? Even as his confusion deepens when he realizes that the ship is no longer orbiting Gideon, Kirk enlists Odona’s help in figuring out what’s happening here, but she doesn’t seem to know anything, not even the name of her planet. Yeah, she’s about as useful as Paris Hilton with a GPS.

Spock has his hands full, trying his level best not to tell Hodin that he’s not a lying, insufferable bastard when hearing the report of the “thorough search” conducted for Kirk, which has yielded no results. In a calm, logical fashion, he finally succeeds in backing the slimy weasel into a corner and forcing the ambassador to let him beam down as a test of the transporter system. Oh, but wait! There’s a condition: a member of the Gideon Council will first beam up to the ship. He’s even ready to provide transporter coordinates to Mr. Scott: 875-020-709.

Wait. What’s that? That can’t be…ah, nobody seems to care.

Scotty beams the Gideon Council member to the Enterprise, but then Hodin pulls a dick move and terminates contact with Spock. Now suitably irked (for a Vulcan, anyway), Spock wants permission from Starfleet to beam down to the planet regardless of what the Gideon Council says. Oh yeah, it’s on now.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonAt the same time, Kirk tries to contact Starfleet Command or anyone else who will pick up the phone. He decides that he’ll drop the ship out of warp until he can figure out where they are, and let the Enterprise continue at sublight speed. Odona remarks that the sensations of the ship’s movement feel the same to her, and a light bulb suddenly goes on over Kirk’s head. Pressing Odona for information, he finds out that Gideon is terribly overcrowded, to the point where no one is ever alone, and that its people are desperate for even a moment’s solace and privacy. She doesn’t know how or why she was sent here, but she doesn’t seem to have a problem being here with Kirk.

Kirk seems okay with it too. Boo-yah.

Indeed, he’s so busy trying to get busy, he doesn’t even notice all the weird faces staring back at them from the bridge’s main viewscreen.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonThe fade-in from a commercial break shows Kirk and Odona exiting Kirk’s quarters, where I’m sure they retired for a nice game of Checkers before she helped him organize his stamp collection. Kirk is still wondering about that mark bruise on his arm when they hear an odd, rhythmic noise coming from…somewhere. Kirk realizes it’s coming from outside the ship, and he leads the way to an external viewing port. The port opens to reveal a crowd of creepy-looking folks staring back at them. They disappear, replaced by stars, and a moment later the odd sound is gone. Kirk thinks the sound was like that of thousands of heartbeats, pressing against the ship.

Yeah, that really is as dumb as it sounds.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonOdona begins to feel ill, something she’s never before experienced since her planet is “germ-free.” She faints, and we realize that Kirk and Odona are being observed by those creepy dudes on the Gideon Council. Kirk takes the unconscious Odona out into the corridor on his way to sickbay, when he hears another door open and he’s confronted by that weasel Hodin and two goons. Odona is his daughter, and all that’s happened has been according to some weird plan. The intention is to introduce mortal illness to the Gideon people in order to curb the effects of overpopulation. Kirk is the key, as he carries within his bloodstream remnants of a virus with which he was infected years ago, “Vegan choriomeningitis.” This is the reason he was requested by the Gideon Council. Hodin saw to it that a sample of the virus was taken from Kirk, and introduced to Odona.

At this point, we’re all asking, “Bwu-hah?”

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonOn the bridge, Spock sits around patiently, waiting for everyone else to figure out that the coordinates given to them by the Gideons have been inconsistent. Of course, he’s known that all along, right? He was just playing it cool, biding his time and waiting for the right moment to pounce. Yeah, whatever. Finally deciding he’s had enough of the Gideons and their stalling, Spock opts to defy orders and beam down to the planet in search of Kirk, using the original set of transporter coordinates. Well, duh. Spock arrives on the “duplicate” Enterprise transporter pad and immediately starts scanning for Kirk.

Meanwhile, Kirk is giving Hodin the business for all the lies the Gideons spun in order to get the Federation’s attention and invitation to join. Hodin explains that the planet really was a paradise…once, but the eradication of germs and disease allowed the population to extend their lifespans, to the point that death is practically unheard of. Their cultural convictions prevent the embracing of birth control, and they believe that life is sacred from the point of conception, but those sorts of things go out the window when you’re planet is literally being choked to death by those living upon it. According to Hodin, Odona volunteered to be the test subject for introducing the virus into the population, and the Gideons want Kirk to stay and sacrifice himself in order to provide more of the virus. Naturally, the captain’s not down with that at all, but the conversation is interrupted with a report that Odona’s fever is rising. The end’s not that far off now. (A pity the same can’t be said for this episode.)

Spock arrives on the fake Enterprise bridge, quickly surmising that the replica is for show and is completely non-functional. (Aomething Kirk evidently failed to ascertain for himself. I think somebody needs to turn in his captain card.)

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonElsewhere, Odona is dying, and Kirk tries to convince Hodin that she can be saved, and the virus in her blood used the same way they were planning to use Kirk’s. Hodin needs more than the virus; he needs Odona as a symbol for the young people of Gideon to step forward and sacrifice themselves in the name of aiding their planet during this time of crisis. You’ll notice that nowhere in any of this noble diatribe is he suggesting anybody plug him with the virus, so it’s sort of a “Do as I say, not as I do” kinda thing. Yeah, that’s always the sort of thing people respect, right?

But, I’m rambling again....

Spock finally arrives to save the day, and he and Kirk beam back to the real Enterprise along with Odona so that McCoy can cure her. Afterward, she asks Kirk to stay with her, even as she states her intention to take Kirk’s place as the source of the virus. Kirk, having other things to do, places, to go, and women to woo, refuses. Odona returns to her planet, and the Enterprise warps out of orbit as we…FADE OUT.

Quickie analysis? This episode is stupid, and so is everyone in it.

Okay, a bit more, then….

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonWe have here a planet with a population so dense that people literally are walking around buttcrack to belly button (and which for some reason reminds me of the sheep-gaggle waiting to work its way through the TSA checkpoints at the airport, but without the fun of a cavity search). But there’s plenty of room to construct a full-scale replica of the Enterprise for the sole purpose of putting one over on Kirk? Did they build it from a set of those Franz Joseph blueprints from the ’70s?

Speaking of the Gideons, who are these people, and what do they have that’s so vital it prompts the Federation to open a dialogue and agree to all manner of ridiculous restrictions with respect to visiting the planet? They appear to possess nothing in the way of common sense, at least so far as managing their population is concerned.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonFrom the first moment, Hodin sounds like a political candidate or a used-car salesman: stalling, obfuscating, and twisting words as he dances around the logic holes created by his own big mouth and dumbassery. We keep waiting for Spock to go all Jon Stewart on this guy, but it never happens. That said, Spock does do a pretty decent job with his attempts at diplomacy, which as we all know is really just the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they actually look forward to the trip.

Spock’s inability to tell Hodin where to stuff it is but one failing on the part of the Enterprise crew this time around. Nobody seems to care that the Federation has just become the enabler for a planet’s government to start selectively murdering members of its own citizenry, all in the name of national security “restoring paradise.” Now THAT’s a story worth some further examination, and one worthy of the Star Trek moniker. Too bad it never comes.

Finally, the whole transporter coordinate thing is just idiotic, and makes both Spock and Scotty look like complete morons. What, the transporter system doesn’t keep a record of places where it’s beamed people? Spock should have been on the switch-up in numbers the instant it happened, but we’re led to believe that he either didn’t catch it, or was keeping that knowledge close to the vest for future use. Regardless, that’s the best deception the Gideons could come up with? It’s about three steps below “Hey! Your shoelaces are untied!” on the Cunning Strategy Chart.


Dayton’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Star Trek episode The Mark of Gideon

Analysis: David Mack

HODIN: What is it like? To feel pain?
ME: Watch this episode and find out.

In many ways—most of them unfortunate—this episode epitomizes the third season of Star Trek. It feels underpopulated, half-formed, and slow. There was a compelling idea at its core, but the end result falls far short of realizing its potential.

One of the consequences of the budget cutbacks during Star Trek’s third season was an increased demand for “bottle shows”—episodes in which all scenes take place on the show’s existing standard sets. As premises for bottle shows go, however, this one is pretty thin. Why didn’t the Gideons simply have Kirk beam down into a plain room of odorless, invisible sleep gas, take the blood sample from him, and then keep him under sedation until his participation is no longer required? For that matter, once they have the viral sample, they can grow it in a lab. Why keep Kirk at all? Hell, why even invite him? Simply invite the Federation to open a viral research lab on the planet’s surface, stage an accident, and voila—instant epidemic. (I have to admit, though—the deserted ship trope was a clever solution to the show’s lack of a budget for extras during season three.)

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonOf course, if I were a member of Starfleet or the Federation government, I would be asking a far more troubling question: how the hell did the Gideons acquire precise schematics for the Enterprise and build a replica of its interior that was so detailed that it fooled Kirk? Even if they had the specs for the ship, how could they have replicated such personal details as the contents of Kirk’s quarters? What about some random scuff on the deck near the turbolift that he sees every time he comes to the bridge? Where the hell did the Gideons get their intelligence for this massive deception? For that matter, how did they know which transporter pad Kirk would be standing on? Because he rematerializes in the exact same spot on the duplicate pad. Man—these guys are good.

The logic underpinning the Gideons’ overpopulation dilemma seems to contain a fatal contradiction: they oppose birth control or abortion and revere life too deeply to interfere with its propagation, but they seem to have no regard for their quality of life and are even perfectly willing to invite large segments of their population to commit mass suicide by allowing themselves to become infected by alien pathogens. All they need now is some Kool-Aid™ or three billion pairs of matching sneakers. (Of course, one wonders why they didn’t build cities either taller or deeper, or learn to live on oceanic platforms.)

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonOdona’s description of her world also sounds far-fetched. How could a people survive for even a day if it was literally wall-to-wall bodies on every square inch of landmass? Where would their food come from? Where would they find water? Dispose of waste? Find shelter from the weather? The episode’s premise, presented with a straight face, is a reductio ad absurdum argument. The token attempt at depicting overcrowding by having a dozen extras in body stockings bumping into each other in an empty set also did little to help sell the conceit.

The Gideons also set some pretty absurd restrictions for the Enterprise’s diplomatic visit. Only one representative? And it has to be the captain of the Enterprise? And no scans of the planet’s surface are allowed? Why the hell would the Federation agree to these terms? Is the UFP really this hard up for new member worlds? Why does it care about recruiting a world with a “jealous tradition of isolationism”? Sure, Gideon billed itself as a paradise with no germs and lovely beaches, but the UFP already has the “Shore Leave” planet and Risa, so what’s the big deal about Gideon? And why would the Federation want billions of new citizens who have no disease resistance? Who sponsored Gideon’s application, a pharmaceutical company?

Geek critiques: When Kirk “trimmed” the faux ship from warp to sublight speed, why did he do it from the engineering station rather than from Sulu’s station at the helm? And as long as we’re nitpicking here: why didn’t Kirk try using his communicator? Spock’s worked just fine. It stands to reason that Kirk’s would have, as well. If he didn’t bring one, why not? How would he have been beamed back up? How could he have signaled the Enterprise when he was ready? If his communicator was taken or tampered with, wouldn’t he have noticed that and suspected treachery?

I did enjoy Leonard Nimoy’s performance during his verbal sparring match with Hodin. He masterfully conveyed Spock’s contempt for the man, the situation, and his own predicament while simultaneously embodying and parodying diplomatic speech.

Star Trek episode The Mark of GideonOne thing that tried my patience was listening to Odona describing everything that we had just seen—“Faces! And then stars!”—as if it were a radio drama. I also didn’t buy it when the admiral suggested that Spock’s provocation of the Gideons in order to rescue Kirk might “start a war.” Is he kidding? How are the Gideons going to wage war against the Federation? They have a planet that’s wall-to-wall bodies, right? Would that be a problem if they had interstellar space-flight capability? Oh, right, they can’t leave because they have no immune systems. Yeah, this is a fearsome opponent: overpopulated, under-resourced, no immune systems, and stuck on one depleted planet. Yeah, we’d better not antagonize them, Spock.

In the end, what did the Enterprise crew accomplish in this episode? Besides saving Kirk’s skin, precious little. By permitting Odona to return to the surface of Gideon, they are, like it or not, accessories to what will likely be one of the most horrific mass suicides in galactic history. … No wonder Kirk and his crew couldn’t wait to get out of orbit.

And I couldn’t wait to turn off my DVD player.

David’s Rating: Warp 1.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 17 — “That Which Survives.” U.S. 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.

Dayton Ward has a Mark of Gideon, too. It’s from pounding his forehead against his desk until the episode was over.

David Mack is feeling a bit sick himself after watching this episode.

Kurt Lorey
1. Shimrod
It's the mark of a bad episode when neither one of you mentions the costuming choice for the "damsel in distress".
And, I'm pretty sure both of you have been complaining about 3rd season empty corridors, then when the corridors of this episode fill up, you throw up. ;)
Dayton Ward
2. daytonward
"It's the mark of a bad episode when neither one of you mentions the costuming choice for the "damsel in distress". "

Okay, so the episode wasn't a complete waste....
3. HelenS
Yeah, these poor people. It's not like they could take FTL ships and sail away to another planet or something ... oh, wait.

I had totally repressed this episode, though vague memories are now creeping back. Did it really mention birth control in so many words? Maybe that (in addition to its general sh*tfulness) means it didn't get re-run as much?
4. Bill Altreuter
Well, yeah, all of what you say is true. But the scene where all the faces appear and then disappear creeped me out big time when this aired.
Dayton Ward
5. daytonward
@Helen - Well, one of their hangups was that they'd created a completely germ-free atmosphere, so I can only guess that replicating that environment on another planet is a difficult, time-consuming process at best.

Or, they were just stupid.

Choices, choices....
David McIntee
6. Lonemagpie
Yeah this is a daft episode - the central conceit of "let's do a story about overcrowding, and the consequences of an immortal population that doesn't stop reproducing" is a solid SF one, but it's all executed in perhaps the most stupid and anti-dramatic fashion humanly conceivable.

I mean, this level of stupidity in plotting takes the sort of natural talent that no amount of training could ever match - it raises it to an art form all of its own...

But it's still a damn sight more watchable than, say, And the Children Shall Lead.
7. Kvon
I have no memory of this episode. Which seems like a good thing.
john mullen
8. johntheirishmongol
I remember this episode well. It was really dumb. But I figured they all were eating Soylent Green.
9. ChristopherLBennett
I like to think the Enterprise recreation is on a holodeck, so it doesn't have to take up too much space. Still, Dave's question of why they replicate the ship remains unanswered.

My biggest pet peeve: How can they not know what the planet surface is like from orbit? We have spy satellites that can read license plates from hundreds of kilometers out in space. Yet somehow, most writers for ST productions never remember that "sensors" would include cameras and telescopes, that you could just look down and see what's happening on a planet surface. (The only time ST ever got this right was in ENT: "Civilization.") Was Gideon's surface completely and permanently cloud-covered? Even if it were, the heat of all those kajillions of bodies and the technology required to sustain them would make the planet positively glow in infrared, an easily detectable anomaly. For that matter, if it was in a normal habitable zone at all, the waste heat would make it uninhabitably hot. Especially if there was a planetwide cloud cover trapping that heat.

Anyway, for all the episode's logic holes, it has qualities I enjoy. Sharon Acker is delightful, a strong and charming presence as well as a beauty. Spock has some good zingers ("We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis"). And it was pretty daring for a TV show in 1968 to speak out in favor of birth control and family planning.
rob mcCathy
10. roblewmac
ok this HAS to be the worst because I FORGET it completly

11. Philip Raisor
“Vegan choriomeningitis.

I knew not eating meat would make you sick.

*rim shot*
12. Edgar Governo
All of the logical flaws you pointed out are on point, of course, but I have to admit that (much like "And the Children Shall Lead") this is one of those third-season episodes that really stuck with me as a kid. The faces in the window are genuinely creepy, and this is the first story I can remember dealing with the problem of overpopulation at all.
13. CaptCalhoun
Even as a 12 year old kid watching this in a re-run, I could see the flaws in the story. Like 'if everyone's jammed together how'd they build the damn fake ship?' and 'how do they go to the can if no one is EVER alone?'
Warren Ockrassa
16. warreno
A population of people who hold the conception of life as sacred, while at the same time ignoring your welfare the moment you pop out of the womb? Hmm. I've heard of such ideologies before.

This really could have gone better than it did. When I first saw it as a kid, my benefit-of-the-doubt was that the wall-to-wall people were actually on a street somewhere, trying to get to and from places. That maybe they had small, cramped individual quarters, which gave them the privacy they needed to drop a deuce or do the happy-slap.

Of course, if the planet can manufacture worldwide shields, you'd think they could do something about offplanet travel. Or just ask Starfleet to start a bus service. Humanitarian aid.

On the other hand, if they had strong religious beliefs that drove them toward overpopulation madness, it's not too far of a stretch to let those same beliefs make them totally isolationist, to the point of crisis. Sadly, none of these angles seemed to be worth investigating. It would have made for a much stronger script.

Trek has always suffered from inconsistent quality. Actually, all the best series do. There are standout episodes, there are mediocre ones, and there are terrible ones. Then there are the ones that could have been utterly brilliant, if only the writers had gone past the first draft and really thought about what they were doing. This episode is one of those. I hate those episodes the most, lamenting for what might have been.
David Mack
17. davidmack
#16 - I know what you mean about lamenting the episodes that might have been something good with a few more script drafts. Alas, the brutal schedule of weekly television production doesn't always leave the producers time to labor over scripts the way they want to. Sometimes they are forced to go into production with the script they have rather than the one they'd like to have.
18. makeda42
In reading this, I am reminded of the planet where war was conducted by people stepping into booths that killed them. Couldn't we get these two planets together to swap technologies?
Dayton Ward
19. daytonward
^ That's actually not a bad idea, the more I think about it.
20. Arkham Girl
Am I the only one who spent the entire episode wondering why they did not just start moving to other planets once the overcrowding became uncomfortable?

Kirk starts talking about forced sterilization, and the Gideons are willing to genocide a large portion of their own population, but no one even suggests moving to some of the many uninhabited class M planets out there in the universe? In all of the brainstorming for solutions that finally arrived ay mass suicide, how did no one think of that? How did Kirk or Spock not think of it?

21. crzydroid
I had never seen this episode until I watched it on hulu last year.

This epside seemed to me to be nothing short of a feeble attack on the Catholic Church. The central viewpoint is obviously one concerning overpopulation, but as many here have pointed out, it is taken to a ridiculous extreme. Whoever thought that overpopulation could possibly reach this magnitude hasn't studied population models. With this kind of shoulder-to-shoulder population, as someone pointed out, the planet likely wouldn't have the resources to sustain them. That in and of itself is a disturbing reality to contemplate, but my point is, it would've never gotten this far. If this is the sole argument for curbing population growth, it's a pretty silly one.

But another important point seems to be the proposition and endorsement of artificial contraceptives for purposes of population control. It seems to me that the hypocrisy of the Gideons was deliberate--they claim to be against contraception because they hold life sacred, yet they are willing to introduce disease and murder millions, if not billions, of their population.

It also seems to me that there is no consideration of another possibility: that the Gideons would simply not have sex. If the planet is THAT crowded, with people bumping into each other, who is able to have sex? You'd think that people would at least willingly limit it to help the population problem. The episode gives the appearance that those behind it are of the mind, "Of COURSE they're going to keep having sex! We need the contraception because the sex is going to happen anyway!" It gives off the impression that the writers might not be able to say no to sex themselves, and thus cannot conceive that anyone else might be able to.

Perhaps the contraception thing was another intertwined concept they tried to squeeze into the general overpopulation theme, or maybe it was a central idea from the get-go. Whichever it was, and whatever the intent, it seems to have been played out very poorly. As someone pointed out, it also introduces hypocrisy into the Federation. In addition, the absurdity of this episode's extreme take makes the proponents of this view seem as fanatical and crazy as the caricature of their opponents that they are trying to paint.
22. esteefee
"The logic underpinning the Gideons’ overpopulation dilemma seems to
contain a fatal contradiction: they oppose birth control or abortion and
revere life too deeply to interfere with its propagation, but they seem
to have no regard for their quality of life"

Say hello to the Republican Party platform!

Enjoyed this review, as recent developments have made me revisit the episode and its ridiculous plotholes. Thanks much!
23. Hoarus Maximus
The only good thing about this episode (yes there is one!) is that it provided the end dialogue for Killing Jokes' Mathematics of Chaos, where the transporter coordinates and star date are used (875-020-079 / 5423.8).

I am such a music anorak!

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