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: 1×01
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.

“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.

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 2 –  “Charlie X.

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

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About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

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 fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. 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.