Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Dagger of the Mind”

“Dagger of the Mind”
Written by S. Bar-David
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Season 1, Episode 10
Production episode 6149-11
Original air date: November 3, 1966
Stardate: 2715.1

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is beaming stuff down to Dr. Tristan Adams on the Tantalus Penal Colony. The transporter operator fails his saving roll versus doofus and forgets that penal colonies have shielding. They beam the stuff down and then beam up a box labeled “CLASSIFIED MATERIAL: DO NOT OPEN.” It contains a person: Dr. Simon Van Gelder, who knocks out the transporter operator and takes his clothes. However, Tantalus alerts the Enterprise to a violent criminal who escaped the penal colony. Despite the security alert, Van Gelder makes it to the bridge, pointing a phaser, begging for asylum. He’s only willing to put the weapon down if Kirk promises not to take him back to Tantalus. Kirk not only refuses to promise such a thing, he and Spock manage to subdue Van Gelder.

He’s ranting and raving, bouncing from subject to subject, to the point where McCoy has to sedate him. He also claims to be an administrator at Tantalus, and to Kirk’s surprise, Spock verifies that Van Gelder is a doctor who was assigned to Tantalus as Adams’s associate. Adams claims that Van Gelder tested a new neural beam on himself and it went horribly wrong. McCoy’s not buying it, and he enters a doubt in his medical log that Kirk has to answer in his log, so Kirk is forced to perform an investigation.

Adams is fine with that. He’s done a great deal to revolutionize prisons, to the point where they’re more like hospitals for sick minds than cages, and Kirk is giving him the benefit of the doubt way more than McCoy is. Kirk beams down to Tantalus along with ship’s psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel. Kirk and Noel apparently have a history from the science lab Christmas party (wah-HEY!), and Kirk is grumpy about her assignment.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

They beam down and go down a really really fast turbolift deep underground to the Tantalus facility. They’re greeted by Adams, who pours a drink for a toast to visitors. Kirk and Noel meet Lethe, a criminal who was sent to Tantalus and became a therapist after her sentence ended. She’s very monotone and seems to speak in prepared sentences.

On the Enterprise, Spock and McCoy continue to try to get straight answers out of the shattered remains of Van Gelder’s brain meats. He does mention a neural neutralizer—and down on Tantalus, Van Gelder is showing Kirk and Noel the neural neutralizer. Adams says that the tranquilizing effects of the neutralizer are temporary, but they are sometimes useful with the harder cases.

Once Kirk, Noel, and Adams leave, the neutralizer is used to force a patient to forget anything he’s heard. Spock and McCoy check in with concerns about the neutralizer based on Van Gelder’s ravings, but Kirk and Noel believe Adams’s assertions that Van Gelder made his own mess. When Kirk says he and Noel will stay the night, Van Gelder loses his shit, convinced that they’ll die if they stay.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

Spock performs a Vulcan mind-meld to try to make sense out of Van Gelder’s lunacy. Spock’s mind proves a calming influence on Van Gelder, who explains that Adams uses the neutralizer to alter people’s memories. (So it’s like the flashy thing in Men in Black, only they need a whole room for it instead of a pen….)

Kirk decides he wants to see the neutralizer in action without any of Adams’s staff around. Noel operates the controls. She turns it on for a second, and Kirk goes blank and then loses that second. Next Noel turns it on and suggests that Kirk’s hungry. When she turns it off, he goes on about how he’s starving. Kirk suggests something more significant, that they’ll both know about. She suggests that instead of them just dancing and talking at the Christmas party that they instead went back to her cabin.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

But then Adams and one of his flunkies come in and Adams doubles down, saying that his love for Noel is more important than life itself—and then he tells Kirk that she’s gone. Adams makes Kirk drop his phaser and his communicator, though Kirk does try to call the Enterprise, which only results in more pain.

Eventually, Adams lets him go. Noel cares for him, and Kirk still thinks he’s loved her for years. He’s so fuzzy-brained from the neutralizer he thinks he’s in an episode of Mission: Impossible, as evidenced by his ordering Noel to crawl through the duct-work to try to find the colony’s power source to cut it off so Spock can beam a rescue team down.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

Adams puts Kirk back in the neutralizer, ordering Kirk to believe in Adams and trust him. When Lethe reports that Noel is missing, Adams questions Kirk as to where she is, and Kirk manages to resist the neutralizer until he falls unconscious.

Noel finds her way to the control room, but security arrives before she can even figure out how to sabotage the place. She manages to shut power down, and even takes out a security guard with a well placed kick. Meanwhile, Kirk subdues Adams and his flunky and leaves the neutralizer room, leaving the pair of them on the floor.

The power shutdown allows Spock to beam down (after he tells McCoy to gather a security team and beam down after him—why the security team wasn’t standing by is left as an exercise for the viewer), and he shuts off the force field and turns the power back on. This has the unintended side effect of Adams now being under the newly activated neutralizer.

Kirk returns to his quarters just as Noel comes back through the ductwork. Kirk is thrilled to see her and smooches her all to bits—just as, of course, Spock walks in. Noel insists that this is wrong, that Adams made him feel that way, and the mention of the doctor’s name gets him to snap out of it, and all three of them run to the neutralizer room to find Adams dead on the floor.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

Van Gelder later reports to the Enterprise that the neutralizer has been dismantled.

Fascinating. We’re introduced to the Vulcan mind-meld in this episode, as Spock merges his mind with that of Van Gelder. The original script called for some kind of “alien hypnosis,” but it was modulated into this, in part due to Leonard Nimoy’s insistence.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is skeptical of Adams from the start, even though Kirk keeps raving about how awesome he is.

Hailing frequencies open. Another episode in which Uhura has two or three lines involving communications. Hilariously, she doesn’t even get all of them—when Van Gelder calls at the very end, Uhura says he called, but Spock, for some reason, relays the actual message.

Go put on a red shirt. Security proves completely incapable of securing a single intruder on a single deck, allowing him to make it all the way to the bridge, where the guard specifically posted near the turbolift to protect the bridge is taken out in half a second by a crazy dude.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Kirk apparently dropped in on the science lab Christmas party and danced with Noel and chatted her up. Though it seems as though he never actually asked her name, since he doesn’t recognize it when McCoy mentions her, not recognizing her until he sees her.

Channel open. “One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”

Kirk snarking off Noel.

Welcome aboard. While he plays Adams here, James Gregory will always be magnificently ridiculous Inspector Luger on Barney Miller to me. He’s joined by Morgan Woodward as Van Gelder, his first of two roles—he’ll be back as the also-mentally-unhinged Captain Tracey in “The Omega Glory.” Marianna Hill plays Noel, John Arndt and Larry Anthony play Enterprise crew, and Susanne Wasson and Eli Behar play Tantalus staff. Plus, of course, there’s recurring regulars DeForest Kelley and Nichelle Nichols.

Finally, Ed McCready makes his first appearance, as one of the inmates. Each of his five roles on the show is a small background one, and each is in an episode directed by Vincent McEveety. He’ll next be in the following episode, “Miri,” and he’ll also be in “The Omega Glory” alongside Woodward.

Trivial matters: S. Bar-David was a pseudonym for Shimon Wincelberg. He would go on to co-write “The Galileo Seven” and also pen a script for the abortive Phase II series in the 1970s that instead became The Motion Picture.

The episode title derives from one of Macbeth’s soliloquies in Act 2, scene 1 of his eponymous Shakespeare play: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. / I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. / Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible / To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but / A dagger of the mind, a false creation, / Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?”

The uniforms worn by the staff at the Tantalus Colony will be seen again in “Whom Gods Destroy,” which takes place at a mental institution.

This episode has one of only two references to Christmas in all of Trek—the other being in one of Picard’s Nexus visions in Generations. Amusingly, the reference to the Christmas party is made by Helen Noel—Noel is French for “Christmas.”

Surprisingly, Noel hasn’t been used much in tie-in fiction, though Greg Cox’s recent The Weight of Worlds did establish that, shortly after the events of this episode, she transferred to the Reliant.

To boldly go. “A cage is a cage, Jim.” A really good episode could be made out of a guy running a penal colony who discovers a form of mind control and abuses it.

Sadly, this isn’t it. The episode spends way too much of its time on watching Morgan Woodward be binky bonkers—which, admittedly, is tremendous fun, as few people in the history of the world have played binky bonkers better than Woodward—and on the Kirk-Noel “romance,” in which neither party covers themselves in glory, even before mind-control gets brought into it. (Kirk was hugely inappropriate at the party—something Noel even works into her implanted seduction—but Noel acts pretty skeevy by placing that seduction in his head, made worse by Adams doubling down on it.)

And it doesn’t spend enough time actually explaining why Adams is acting like a bastard. From all accounts, he’s one of the most respected scientists in the Federation. Kirk practically hero worships him. Unlike other batshit scientists we’ll meet on the show (like Korby in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” or Daystrom in “The Ultimate Computer”), no reason is given for his psychosis. He’s just inexplicably evil and manipulative. James Gregory plays up his charm very nicely, and modulates it only slightly to nasty when he starts torturing Kirk, which is quite effective. But the lack of why leads to a big ol’ who cares.

Star Trek TOS Dagger of the Mind

Noel could’ve been an interesting recurring character—a psychiatrist aboard ship is a good idea, one that would be embraced more thoroughly in the first spinoff two decades hence—especially given how capable she is in the power station (though she and the script are both pretty cavalier about causing the death of that poor security guard who was just doing his job). That, like most of this episode, is a missed opportunity.

Also: one assumes Van Gelder went through the neutralizer to undo the damage, but who supervised that? And was Kirk’s deep love for Noel left intact? That should’ve been addressed. Plus, Adams’s death was spectacularly anti-climactic. And what happened to the other staffer, who was also unconscious on the floor when Kirk escaped?

Just a big ol’ mess…


Warp factor rating: 4


Next week:Miri

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Balticon 49 this weekend in Cockeysville, Maryland (just north of Baltimore). He will be doing lots of programming, and also launching his new short story collection Without a License: The Fantastic Worlds of Keith R.A. DeCandido, which will have 11 of Keith’s pieces of short fiction, including a new Dragon Precinct story and a new Cassie Zukav story.


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