“The Man Trap”
Written by George Clayton Johnson
Directed by Marc Daniels
Season 1, Episode 5
Production episode 6149-06
Original air date: September 8, 1966
Captain’s log: Kirk, McCoy, and Darnell beam down to M-113 for a routine medical check on two archeologists stationed there, Professor Robert Crater and his wife Nancy Crater. The latter is an old flame of McCoy’s. When they meet, he says she hasn’t aged a day—and to him, she hasn’t. But Kirk sees her as an older woman, while Darnell sees her as a hot blonde he canoodled with on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.
When Nancy goes to fetch Crater, she goes outside, and appears to Darnell as the hot blonde again, leading him away from the base with her butt-wiggle. However, Crater shows up on his own, and is snotty and obnoxious and unwilling to accede to the required physical. But McCoy insists, and Crater actually becomes more conciliatory once he realizes that the doctor is Nancy’s old flame.
In mid-exam, they hear a scream. Kirk whips out his phaser and runs to see Nancy standing over Darnell’s dead body. She says that he ate a Borgia plant, which is poisonous, and she wasn’t able to stop him in time. McCoy, meanwhile, is bumfuzzled because Nancy now looks to him the same way she does to Kirk, with gray hair.
McCoy brings Darnell’s body to the ship. The Borgia plant is an alkaloid poison, but McCoy can find no trace of such a poison in his system, and the red mottling on Darnell’s skin isn’t a side effect of the Borgia plant. However, McCoy does discover that Darnell has no salt in his body whatsoever—and both Craters mentioned that they were low on salt tablets, though Crater says it’s to deal with the heat. Nonetheless, it’s suspicious, so Kirk leads a landing party. Crater insists that they’re just low on salt, and shows Kirk a nearly empty bottle of salt tablets to prove it.
Crater runs off before Kirk can beam him back up to the Enterprise, where he wants the Craters to stay until they find out what killed Darnell. They come across the dead body of Sturgeon, and elsewhere Nancy is standing over Green’s dead body. Nancy then changes to look like Green and reports that he found Sturgeon’s body. Nancy is still missing, so Kirk orders the landing party to beam back and has Spock search the surface using the Enterprise’s scanning equipment.
The creature disguised as Green comes across Rand holding a tray of food, and tries to grab the salt shaker before Rand smacks his hand. Green follows her to the arboretum, where she gives the tray to Sulu. (Along the way, several crewmembers leer at her creepily.) One of the plants reacts badly to Green’s presence and he leaves quickly, leaving a very confused Sulu and Rand behind.
When Uhura steps into the corridor from the turbolift, Green changes into a tall handsome dark-skinned crewmember, who speaks Swahili to her. However, Kirk summons her to the bridge before he can attack her, so instead it goes after another crewmember, Barnhart, then finds McCoy’s quarters, and then changes back into Nancy. McCoy is gobsmacked, and surprised Kirk didn’t tell him that they found her. She encourages him to take a sleeping pill and get some rest, and once he does, she changes to look like McCoy—and then answers the call for a medical team made when Sulu and Rand come across Barnhart’s body.
Spock can only find Crater on the planet, so he and Kirk beam down to find out what’s going on. They find Crater hiding behind a rock with a laser pistol, and Spock also finds Green’s dead body. Kirk orders Sulu to go to General Quarters and says there’s an intruder alert, who may look like Green. The creature now posing as McCoy goes to the bridge, and learns that Sulu, Rand, and Uhura have figured out that the creature can change shape—although it’s McCoy himself who uses the word “creature” for the first time, which surprises Sulu.
Crater uses the pistol on Kirk and Spock, damaging the very ruins he’s supposed to be studying, but they flank him and stun him. Crater finally admits that Nancy is dead, killed by the creature who is the last of its kind. It can assume any shape. Crater insists that it’s only doing what it has to in order to survive, and the creature uses McCoy’s face and voice to try to justify keeping it alive. Crater refuses to assist Kirk in finding the creature, and Spock suggests truth serum. Spock, Crater, and McCoy proceed to sickbay, but then the creature jumps them. It kills Crater and tries to kill Spock, but his blood doesn’t have sufficient salt content to be of use.
The creature returns to McCoy’s quarters, reassumes Nancy’s form, and says that they’re trying to kill her. Kirk shows up with a phaser in one hand and salt tablets in the other. McCoy stands between Kirk and Nancy, and then Nancy attacks Kirk, hungrily going for the salt tablets. Spock enters and tries to get McCoy (who now has Kirk’s phaser) to shoot her, but he won’t attack his wubby. Spock slugs Nancy several times, and she barely flinches, then she backhands Spock across the room.
McCoy finally starts to maybe think that perhaps this isn’t Nancy, but doesn’t actually shoot until the creature assumes its true (icky) form and tries to kill Kirk.
Fascinating: Spock’s native planet is identified for the first time as Vulcan—matching Mudd’s “Vulcanian” line—and his conversation with Uhura shows his value of logic over emotion quite succinctly with his confusion by small talk and unwillingness to show emotion at the news that a member of the landing party is dead.
I’m a doctor not an escalator: We get a glance into McCoy’s past, as we meet the woman who got away, whom he obviously still has feelings for. Nancy’s presence clouds McCoy’s judgment, though it’s to his credit that even when he sees through the creature’s disguise, he isn’t willing to fire on it until Kirk’s life is in danger, and even then, he does so reluctantly.
Ahead warp one, aye: Sulu is in charge of the bridge in the absence of Kirk and Spock, and he supervises the shift to General Quarters and the search for the creature on board. We also see his botany hobby, as he’s futzing around in the arboretum while off duty, including arguing with Rand over what to name the semi-sentient plant (Beauregard or Gertrude).
Hailing frequencies open: The opening shot (which is actually a reuse of a shot that will be seen in “The Naked Time”) shows Uhura at the navigation console. Also, the early scene with her chatting up Spock is Exhibit A in the argument that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did not pull the Spock-Uhura romance out of their asses in the 2009 Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.
Go put on a red shirt: High body count in this one (though, amusingly, none of them wear red; the only security guards we see are on the ship enforcing General Quarters, but they all survive), losing Darnell, Green, Sturgeon, and Barnhart (as well as Crater), and only one of those crewmembers actually gets dialogue (all of “Green’s” dialogue is actually the creature’s).
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Where to even start! We’ve got Darnell and his memories of Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet (and the creature using those memories to lure him to his doom), we’ve got two crewmembers leering over Rand like big-city construction workers, we’ve got Uhura flirting with Spock and seeing a good-looking black man, we’ve got McCoy mooning over Nancy interfering with his judgment…
Channel open: “Starship Base on Corinth IV requests explanation of our delay here, sir. Base Commander Dominguez says we have supplies he urgently needs.”
“Tell José he’ll get his chili peppers when we get there. Tell him they’re prime Mexican Reds, I handpicked them myself. But he won’t die if he goes a few more days without them.”
Uhura and Kirk in a bit of business that has nothing to do with the episode, but which adds delightful texture to it.
Welcome aboard: Alfred Ryder plays Crater, while Bruce Watson and Michael Zaslow play Green and Darnell, respectively. Plus we have recurring regulars DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, and Nichelle Nichols.
The creature is played by Jeanne Bal (image of Nancy), Francine Pyne (image of the woman from Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet), Vince Howard (image of the crewmember Uhura sees), and Sharon Gimpel (the creature’s true form), as well as Watson and Kelley.
Trivial matters: As probably everyone reading this knows, “The Man Trap” was the first episode of Star Trek to actually be aired on NBC, cementing the 8th of September as a nerd holiday for decades to come.
This is the only Trek script by George Clayton Johnson, best known for co-writing the novel Logan’s Run and for penning many Twilight Zone episodes. It’s also the first Trek directing effort by Marc Daniels who would be one of the two most prolific directors on the original series, along with Joseph Pevney.
Early drafts of the script were titled “Damsel with a Dulcimer” and “The Unreal McCoy,” the latter being the title James Blish used in his adaptation in Star Trek 1; Blish used the name Bierce instead of Crater and Regulus VIII instead of M-113, probably from the earlier-draft script he was working from. Bierce/Crater also survived to the end of the story, a change Gene Roddenberry made during his final polish of the script.
Uhura switches from a gold to a red uniform, which she’ll maintain for the rest of the series.
Sulu references “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” which was actually the nickname that Robert H. Justman coined to refer to Roddenberry. The Great Bird is later actually seen in the early New Frontier novel End Game by Peter David as an energy creature that hatched inside a planet after gestating for millennia.
This is the only onscreen reference to Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet, though it shows up in various works of tie-in fiction, including the comic book Star Trek Annual #1 written by Mike W. Barr, the FASA role-playing game, the eBooks The Future Begins by Steve Mollmann & Michael Schuster and Lust’s Latinum Lost (And Found) by Paula M. Block & Terry J. Erdmann, and your humble rewatcher’s novels The Art of the Impossible and A Singular Destiny.
Spock tells Uhura that Vulcan has no moon, though the animated episode “Yesteryear” and The Motion Picture both gave Vulcan satellites. The latter was corrected in the director’s cut, and a fan writer named Gordon Carelton proposed in 1975 that the other planet in “Yesteryear” was a sister planet, not a moon, which was dubbed T’Khut, which several tie-in writers have used.
To boldly go: “Go away, we don’t want you!” This is not an episode I’ve rewatched often—not due to the episode itself, but due to the fact that it was one of the first Trek episodes I remember watching as a little kid, and the true form of the creature gave me nightmares. Seriously, that thing haunted me for years. I couldn’t watch this episode at all again until college…
When I finally did, I realized that it was a good, solid Star Trek episode (with a very scary-looking creature finally seen at its climax). Avoiding the clichés, the creature isn’t just a monster that has to be killed—Crater and the creature itself make a good argument for why they shouldn’t commit genocide by killing the thing. The buffalo analogy is not too sledgehammery, and I like that killing it was a last resort. It’s a good vehicle for DeForest Kelley, making another in a lengthy series of cases to make him an opening-credits regular, showing McCoy’s fallibility (he’s verklempt for most of the episode mooning over Nancy) but also his underlying compassion—in the end, he won’t commit violence until he has to, as he realizes that it isn’t really Nancy as soon as the creature backhands Spock across the room, but it’s not until several seconds later, when Kirk’s about to be killed, that he shoots the phaser.
In addition, the easy rapport among the crew remains delightful. Some of it has aged really badly—Uhura’s attempt at small talk with Spock is wince-inducing and the crewmembers leering over Rand is vomit-inducing—but others are fantastic, from Sulu and Rand’s gabbing in the arboretum to Kirk’s eye-rolling at Commander Dominguez’s attempt to get his chili peppers sooner. And I must admit to loving that the creature is inclusive: appearing as a hot blonde chick to Darnell and as a sexy black dude to Uhura.
But the episode suffers from way too much padding and one antagonist who just doesn’t work. Crater is all over the map, being obdurate to start, then suddenly becoming polite when he realizes his wife’s ex is there (?), then willing to hole up with a pistol rather than go to the Enterprise, then being all nice and science-y in the briefing room (though not enough to help the crew), and none of it makes any sense except insofar as it keeps the episode moving when the plot itself isn’t doing enough of a job of that. To make matters worse, we’re never given a good reason why he’s being so conciliatory to the creature who murdered his wife, nor why he’s so uncaring about the murders of Darnell, Green, Sturgeon, and Barnhart. Alfred Ryder’s stilted and overenunciated line readings don’t help matters, as he’s less a character than he is a guy reading lines.
Warp factor rating: 5
Next week: “The Naked Time”
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of cool things coming out in 2015, including a story in The X-Files: The Truth is Out There, a new Cassie Zukav story in Buzzy Mag, a story in V-Wars: Night Terrors, the novel Mermaid Precinct, the Stargate SG-1 novel Kali’s Wrath, and the short story collection Without a License.