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

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

Season 3, Episode 16
Production episode: 3×17
Original air date: January 17, 1969
Star date: 5423.4


Mission summary

The Federation has been trying to negotiate the admittance of Gideon, a secretive and isolated planet that assures us it has absolutely nothing to hide. In the spirit of mysteriously acquiescing to terms it should never otherwise agree to, Central Command has consented to allow only one delegate to beam down to the planet: Captain Kirk. But don’t worry, the planet doesn’t have any dark secrets. They’re a veritable paradise, say secondary sources. Phew.

Kirk beams down to the coordinates the council leader, Hodin, gives them. But when he arrives… he’s in the transporter room. Still. Only Spock’s not there anymore. In fact, no one’s there anymore. Kirk uses the transporter console to try and contact Spock or the bridge, but his first officer is nowhere to be found. In fact, no one responds. Kirk searches the ship and doesn’t find a single soul anywhere.  I’m sure his party invitation just got lost in the mail, right? Even more strange is that his arm hurts and he can’t remember the last ten minutes–which for anyone else might indicate something pretty awesome happened, but for Captain Kirk probably points to foul play.

When Kirk fails to appear in the council room on Gideon, Hodin rings up Spock to find out what’s taking so long. They repeat the coordinates and sure enough, they were the right ones, yet no one seems to know where the captain could have gone. Spock asks to be allowed to search the planet himself, but Hodin was squeamish enough about having one Federation delegate poking around, nevermind two. They refuse the suggestion but promise, cross their hearts, that they’ll search for him themselves.

Spock checks all the machinery and doubles down for a long search:

SPOCK: Institute a sensor scan 360 degrees, one degree at a time.
MCCOY: You mean you’re going to scan space for him?
SULU: But, sir, that could take years.
SPOCK: Then the sooner you begin, the better.

On the empty version of the Enterprise, Kirk runs into a dancing queen–a vacant-looking blonde named Odona who also seems confused about where she is and why. She doesn’t think she’s from Gideon, but she probably also couldn’t tell you how many toes she has. Kirk thinks that they’ve been engineered to meet in this place, but Odona is utterly useless and offers no clues about their situation. Must be a coincidence.

Spock, meanwhile, is having a hell of time playing diplomat with the council leader.  Hodin says they’ve completed their search of the planet and Kirk is nowhere to be found, but Spock still wants to do things the old-fashioned way: in person. He tries to get Starfleet to intervene, but the bureaucracy is so ineffectual he’s left twiddling his thumbs waiting for an official Federation response. In the meantime he proposes an exchange: one Gideon will beam aboard the Enterprise, to prove the transporters are functioning, and Spock in turn will beam down to the planet. But once the Gideon arrives Hodin refuses to allow Spock to beam down!

HODIN: Forgive me, Mister Spock, but I overstepped my authority when I made that agreement. However, your request will be taken up at the next full session of Gideon’s council.

He hangs up.

Kirk is just as frustrated, trying desperately to get in touch with Starfleet (or anyone, really). Odona, meanwhile, seems oddly gleeful at the whole ordeal. She says her people dream of being alone like this in the vastness of the universe.

KIRK: Odona, can you remember why your people dream of being alone?
ODONA: Because they never can be.
KIRK: Why? What makes it so impossible to be alone?
ODONA: Because there are so many of us. So many. There is no place, no street, no house, no garden, no beach, no mountain that is not filled with people. Each one of us would kill in order to find a place alone to himself. They would willingly die for it, if they could.

Huh. That’s sort of interesting but clearly irrelevant to the current situation. Mm-hmm. I mean, I tell people I’m not trying to manipulate about things I would die for all the time. Just to mix things up. The two kiss, and as Kirk leads Odona away the viewscreen they had been looking out is filled with creepy, condom-hatted faces. That’s normal, in space. Right?

But the engine seems to be making strange noises, and Kirk begins to feel like maybe things are not what they seem. He knows every sound the ship makes and that’s not one of them. They go to a viewing port (what viewing port), but when they open it they discover dozens of condom-hatted people pressed against one another, shuffling futilely in a confined space. Kirk demands to know what’s going on, but Odona isn’t feeling so great:

ODONA: Is this the way one looks when one is developing a sickness?
KIRK: There’s no sickness on your planet, remember?
ODONA: Now there will be. There will be sickness. There will be death.

She collapses in Kirk’s arms. Cue Hodin at the door, explaining that his little experiment has gone perfectly. Kirk has successfully infected his daughter with vegan choriomeningitis (which sounds like a terrible fad diet), a rare and deadly disease that Kirk once had long ago. It has a cure (which is why Kirk is still here), but Hodin has no intention of curing Odona–his daughter. He means to use her as patient zero for a mass infection of his planet to cull the population down to a more manageable size. That’s why Kirk’s arm is sore, and he’s missing ten minutes. They harvested his blood for a mass infection.

Odona seems excited all of this, but is bedridden with her illness. Her father thanks her for what she’s done.

HODIN: What is it like to feel pain?
ODONA: It is like, like when you see the people have no hope for happiness, Father. You feel great despair, and your heart is heavy because you know you can do nothing. Pain is like that.
HODIN: Your courage gives me great pride.

Ladies and gentlemen, Father of the Year!

Spock, meanwhile, has finally managed to get through to Starfleet. But the Admiral has no patience or sympathy for his situation. He doesn’t want to start a war, and orders Spock not to provoke the Gideons and beam down in search of the captain. This is obviously the wrong decision and so our Vulcan friend decides to tempt a court martial and beam down anyway. The coordinates that the Gideons had given Kirk, however, don’t match the coordinates they gave Spock when their own man beamed up to the ship. Clever. So Spock beams down to the coordinates Kirk went to and finds the empty Enterprise. He sets off in search of his friend.

Kirk doesn’t seem to be enjoying his time on Gideon. He tries to tease some meaninging out of Hodin’s seemingly senseless plan. But, well, the thing about senseless plans is that they make no sense.

HODIN: The people flourished in their physical and spiritual perfection. Eventually, even the life span increased. Death became almost unknown to us. It occurred only when the body could no longer regenerate itself, and that happens now only to the very old.
KIRK: Those are conditions most people would envy.
HODIN: But Gideon did not find it enviable. The birth rate continued to rise, and the population grew, until now Gideon is encased in a living mass who can find no rest, no peace, no joy.

Okay, well that makes sense. But they why didn’t they just…?

KIRK: Then why haven’t you introduced any of the new techniques to sterilise men and women?
HODIN: Every organ renews itself. It would be impossible.

Ah, gotcha. But couldn’t you…?

KIRK: Then let your people learn about the devices to safely prevent conception. The Federation will provide anything you need.
HODIN: But you see, the people of Gideon have always believed that life is sacred. That the love of life is the greatest gift. That is the one unshakable truth of Gideon. And this overwhelming love of life has developed our regenerative capacity and our great longevity.
KIRK: And the great misery which you now face.
HODIN: That is bitterly true, Captain. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the truth which shaped our evolution. We are incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which we love so deeply. Life, in every form, from fetus to developed being. It is against our tradition, against our very nature. We simply could not do it.
KIRK: Yet you can kill a young girl.


Kirk doesn’t understand this reasoning (AND NEITHER DO WE), but before he can think about it too much, a man comes in to let them both know that Odona is near death and crying out Kirk’s name. He goes to her to try and persuade Hodin one last time to allow him to save her life, while there’s still time.

It doesn’t matter, though, because Spock is a ninja and has managed to nerve-pinch his way into Odona’s quarters. With his communicator, he tells Scotty to beam them up–with Odona.

Later (and cured), Odona lowers her head at Kirk, who has come to check on her. She thinks he should be angry with her for what she’s done, but Kirk doesn’t seem to harbor that kind of grudge. The good news, of sorts, is that Kirk is no longer needed on Gideon. With Odona’s antibodies now matching Kirk’s, they can use her as the death merchant–a position she seems outright eager to accept.

ODONA: Are you going to stay on the ship?
KIRK: Yes, Odona, I have to.
ODONA: As crowded as my planet is, I could wish for it to hold one more person.
KIRK:  Kirk to transporter control. One to beam down to the planet Gideon.
ODONA: I will miss you, Captain James Kirk.


The plague spreading idea is supposed to be a difficult, unimaginable, but ultimately necessary solution. Unfortunately it makes absolutely no sense and comes off as the workings of a deranged leader willing to sacrifice his own daughter in a grossly misguided sense of purpose. There isn’t one iota of this plan that doesn’t sound like it came from a weekend bender, from Kirk’s magical antibodies1 to the blatantly imaginary lack of options that Hordin presents. How is it that the Gideons are superlatively regenerative, and yet not immune to this particular disease? If they’re so overpopulated, how did they never confront a lack of resources–food, medicine, shelter–necessary for the survival of their species? What do they live on? How could a place with such a premium on space afford to create an Enterprise-sized empty zone? How did they get the blueprints for the ship in the first place?? And why is the Federation sharing the medical histories of its Starfleet captains with anyone, let alone non-member governments? Doesn’t the Federation have HIPAA laws?

But really, nothing comes close to Hordin’s bone-headed assertion that they can’t control their population. Even if they have no technology of their own, Starfleet could easily help them colonize local planets to ease the burden on Gideon. And, okay, so they’re not hot on abortions and life is sacred–fine–what the hell is wrong with birth control?! This entire episode can be summed up by a Monty Python song. How is it even remotely moral, in any conceivable sense of the word, to import death to their world rather than encourage birth control? They’d rather let existing life die en masse than allow anything to jeopardize a possible fertilization. Who’s in charge here, the space pope? There’s absolutely no regard for quality of life over quantity of life. The bizarre fertilization worship at the cost of actual compassion is just mind-boggling.

Anyone who thought about actual overpopulation for more than five minutes would immediately recognize two things: a dearth of resources is the greatest threat in that situation; and with space technology, it can be solved with relative ease. This episode wouldn’t be nearly so stupid if it hadn’t aspired to address real issues. “A Taste of Armageddon” is a superb example of how this kind of story can be done right. Take an interesting idea to a possible extreme. What if we were constantly at war, with no hope of peace? What if our world were being laid waste by this war? The solution on Eminiar VII is eminently reasonable given the state of affairs; it’s just appalling to those of us at home who don’t face the situation they’re in. Star Trek has even done the aging thing well, in TNG’s “Half a Life.” There, people commit suicide at age 60 as part of a public ritual. They celebrate their lives, say goodbye to their families and friends, and die with dignity. There’s no uncertainty about when they will go, no fear of leaving things undone or forcing your children to care for you in your infirmity. It’s awful to think about but, in its own way, makes sense. If, say, the people of Gideon had instituted a similar policy–some kind of forced suicide that became a necessary part of their culture–one could see that as, again, ghastly on its surface, but reasonable to the people involved, and the conflict between that seeming ideal and the horrible reality would be a great reason not to admit them into the Federation. But there’s nothing reasonable to this particular plot.

This is another one of those episodes, much like “A Piece of the Action,” that relies on everyone in it behaving like a complete tool. Kirk wanders aimlessly around the Enterprise and yet doesn’t notice that none of the instrument panels work. He decides to walk the length of the ship rather than simply conduct a sensor sweep.  He meets a strange woman and never even asks if she’s from Gideon. He somehow doesn’t have a communicator when he beams down (but of course Spock does when he goes, so that they have a way back). On the bridge, there’s no log of transports that could tell Spock and company where Kirk got to, and they can’t manage a single scrap of information persuasive enough to convince the admiral that something terrible is probably going on?

The whole diplomacy game was filler, a repetitive and tedious dick-waving contest thrown in to meet their 50-minute quota. Bureaucracy sucks, yeah yeah. Why are the Gideons even being considered for membership in the Federation? Do they have anything to offer? They don’t seem to want anything, either. I can’t imagine what situation prompted these negotiations to begin with.

Highlight: the game of Catan going on on Hodin’s jacket. Lowlight: the least sexy outfit I’ve ever seen on Star Trek, courtesy Odona. Summary: not worth the price of admission, and it’s free. Final thought: why the title? There’s Gideon, who had too many soldiers… but that doesn’t even seem remotely related to this story aside from a sloppy keyword match. What mark?

1 First, ANTIBODIES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY. Second, if anyone Kirk ever came into contact with that hadn’t had the disease suddenly contracted the disease… wouldn’t everyone on the Enterprise be infected by now?

Torie’s Rating: Impulse Power (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I suspect any success this episode can claim hinges on its reveal that Kirk is on an “exact duplicate of the Enterprise,” but if you already know the surprise, the episode is largely tedious. The rest of the plot isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s certainly ludicrous; the Malthusian fear of overpopulating the planet must have taken a strange hold in the 1960s, judging by Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room, Make Room, which was adapted into the classic science fiction film, Soylent Green, seven years later. As in last week’s episode, this intriguing concept is pushed to laughable extremes: the images of people in colored jumpsuits bumping against each other in tight spaces should be chilling, but at best it comes off as utterly improbable.

And yet, Odona’s yearning for a place to herself on a crowded planet, for even a moment, is somewhat moving–especially resonating with modern city dwellers who are used to living in cramped quarters. There are fleeting glimpses of real sentiment, such as Odona’s touching farewell to Kirk: “As crowded as my planet is, I could wish for it to hold one more person.” The episode also manages to sustain a fairly unsettling tone, with Kirk’s confused wanderings on an empty starship, his mysterious arm injury, and Spock’s frustrated dealings with recalcitrant and arbitrary bureaucracy on every side. The horror lies in the familiar turned unfamiliar: the Enterprise devoid of its crew, a ship with only a captain and no purpose.

I would have liked it more if we had stayed with Kirk’s perspective, focusing on his wandering the ship looking for an answer, perhaps considering making a life for himself alone. If only the episode had allowed him time to despair over the imagined fate of his crew, which is implied only briefly with Shatner’s understated but powerful reactions, especially when Odona says, “I want to ease your feeling of dread, your fear that all your crew no longer exists.”

For this viewer, some of the ominous nature of the episode comes from the obviously religious mindset of the inhabitants of Gideon, itself an overt reference to the Bible. Their complete reverence for life, which ironically dooms them all, again shows an extreme, negative outcome of embracing a particular belief. It seems a bit strange for Star Trek to openly criticize religion, but it may simply be a warning against blind faith of any kind. For all his adherence to Starfleet protocol and regulations, Spock is willing to act against nonsensical orders when logic dictates it.

At the heart of it, this episode just doesn’t make any sense, and I found myself thinking that several times while watching it–never a good sign. The plot to cause a worldwide epidemic via a rare disease that is dormant in Kirk’s blood is too elaborate and far-fetched to be believed, and too silly to work. Perhaps it’s just quibbling over semantics, but in my opinion, artificially introducing a deadly virus and then refusing treatment is tantamount to committing suicide, so why not just start installing the suicide booths and lining people up? Or maybe they could start a war–that’s proven pretty effective in clearing out excess population.

Paradise or no, what does Gideon have that makes Starfleet bend to its whims so completely? They have the technology to recreate a Starfleet vessel down to the tiniest detail, not to mention the room to hold it on an already burdened planet, but they don’t have spaceships of their own or a means to colonize other worlds? Did they buy the Enterprise Technical Manual from the Starfleet Gift Shop online? Why can’t they just ask the Federation to help them offload people to colonies on other worlds? Why haven’t they exhausted all of Gideon’s natural resources and food sources by now?

Ultimately, the most entertaining aspects of the episode were sparkling lines of dialogue like, “Can you make it last a long, long time?” Fortunately it doesn’t go on forever–all bad episodes come to an end.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2


Best Line: SPOCK: We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis.

Syndication Edits: None

Trivia: In the original outline, Kirk, Spock, and others had their blood harvested by the locals for use as immortality nullifiers. This involved even more handwave mumblemumble SCIENCE!, in which the crew’s antibodies “canceled out” the regenerative power of the nearly immortal Gideon physiology. Once they got the antibodies, the Gideons used Odona and two others to create deadly germs. Somehow.

Other notes: We should all remember Stanley Adams, the episode’s co-writer, as Cyrano Jones in “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Richard Derr has played a bureaucratic douchebag twice now: here as Admiral Fitzgerald and previously as Commodore Barstow in “The Alternative Factor.” Gene Dynarski, who plays Krodak, appeared in “Mudd’s Women” as Ben Childress.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 15 – “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 17 – “That Which Survives.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.