Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Where No Man Has Gone Before: TOS Season 1 Episode 3

Plot Synopsis

The Enterprise is planning on leaving the galaxy, which is something no one has ever tried before as far as they know. Right before hand they see the wreckage of an old ship the Valiant that went missing 2 centuries ago and they recover it's black box. It turns out the captain use the auto-destruct, which is troubling as it makes them wonder what happened to make him want to go to those extremes. They try to leave the galaxy anyway and they encounter a lot of flashing lights, and in particular something happens to a few of the bridge crew. It also blew out the warp drive.

The guy who got hit was Mitchell, and he immediately has fancy blue glitter eyes, so he is obviously taken to sickbay.

While he is in sickbay he develops some really cool powers, he reads half of the ships library while he's there, he can make himself appear dead for a while, he can read minds, he saved the ship from losing it's impulse drive by reading the engineers mind and seeing that he was careless in his last inspection.

Spock says that as Mitchell gains more power he will become more than human, people will be an annoyance to him and he wouldn't hesitate kill us all if it suits him. His solution is to kill him, or perhaps maroon him on the nearby planet Delta Vega. Kirk is upset as he has been friends with Mitchell for 15 years, but ultimately seems to conclude that this is likely going to be a necessary outcome.

It turns out that there is an abandoned base on Delta Vega. I'm not sure why there is an old base so close to a place no one has ever gone, but it's a good thing it's there, because they can use the facilities to repair their warp engines.While they are there the doctor's powers eventually kick in, and Mitchell's power grows to the point that he breaks out of the cell. The two of them run off into the desolate wilderness. He turns a wasteland into a lush area with water and plants and whatnot.

Kirk feels he is responsible and chases after them, he gets in a fight with Mitchell and the doctor sees the bad side of what could happen so she helps Kirk by sapping some of Mitchell's power away. Then Kirk and Mitchell get into a pretty epic fight which eventually leads to Mitchell's death. In the fight Kirk's shirt gets ripped and he gets to show off his manliness for a while. I don't know why but this really cracked me up.

Notable Quotes

There were three quotes from this episode that I liked, the first two were about Spock's lack of emotions. In the first, Kirk asked Spock if he found something irritating and Spock responded
Irritating? Ahh yes, one of your earth emotions
The other was right after Spock suggested that the most logical course of action was to kill Mitchell before his power was so great that it would be impossible to deal with him, Kirk yelled at him
Try for one moment to feel, or act like you have a heart!
 The last quote was from Mitchell near the end when his powers were God-like. Kirk was trying to reason with him that he shouldn't abuse his power, and he said
Morals are for men, not Gods
Interesting Ideas

One of the things I love about science fiction generally and Star Trek specifically is that they use a specific and fanciful setting to tackle ideas that come up in my different setting in real life. Of course things are taken to ridiculous extremes, but that is part of the fun. In this episode there were three things that stood out to me as interesting ideas that they were playing with, the first is the idea that power corrupts. Mitchell was friends with Kirk, and presumably other people on the enterprise, for a long time. And yet, when he was significantly more powerful than them and his interests were very different he became less concerned with their perspective. I think we all like to think that we would not do this in the same situation, but it's hard to not be self-interested.

The next idea is that you should take care of a difficult problem before it gets worse. Obviously killing Mitchell was a terrible thing to do, and yet if he is likely going to get more powerful and try to kill everyone perhaps it is the right move. It turned out that Spock was right here, even though his course of action was something that we would hate to do, it ultimately would have been the right move.

And on the same topic, what lengths would you go to in order to protect those you care about? Would you do something you found deplorable if it meant you would protect your family (or crew)? Kirk found the price too high, Spock did not. Was it worth the risk if it meant giving Mitchell the chance to be good?

Seat of Their Pant Writing

Something else I was thinking about a lot while watching this episode was how the writing is a bit more loose than the Next Generation writing, which I watched a lot when I was growing up. I think in the Next Gen era they had a lot of details worked out before hand, in this series I think they were focused on the core story and just let the rest of it fall together as was necessary.

This episode started with them leaving the galaxy, obviously from the later series we see that we are restricted to the alpha quadrant, so this wouldn't be possible there, but in this earlier time it was no big deal. There also seems to be no explanation as to what happened to them when they tried to leave the galaxy. If this were a later series I would expect some explanation like there was an alien species who were trying to contain us in our own galaxy or something. Here it is just "this happened, now let's deal with it" rather than telling us why it happened.

Another thing that I found amusing was that they lost there warp engines near the edge of the galaxy, which is a place that as far as they knew no one had ever tried to go that far. And yet there was an old abandoned base on a nearby planet. It seems to me that if there was a base so old it has since been abandoned, they would have explored outside the galaxy while they were there at some point. And if people had tried that and were eventually destroyed (like the Valiant) there should be a record of it. Not that I think that is much of a knock on the series, it just shows that their writing was more focused on the broad ideas instead of the details.

One final thing that amused me, the Valiant went missing 2 centuries before, but I think the original series only happened about 3 centuries in the future. I suppose that could be optimism on Gene Roddenberry's part that we would be at the edge of the galaxy in 100 years, but I'm guessing it is more than the actual date that this is supposed to happen was not decided on at the time. In fact, I bet that's why they used star dates. "What year did this happen?" "I don't know, really far into the future, so we can do whatever we want, just make up a fake dating system". While I'm on that, at one point in the episode Kirk said it was stardate 1312.9, perhaps this was supposed to be thirteen hundred years after starfleet was founded or something. Who knows.


Something that really stood out to me was that the doctor wasn't McCoy. I think that perhaps the only true main characters at this point are Kirk and Spock. There are several other characters that recur, but those 2 are the only ones that always seem to be there. I wonder if they are trying to give the impression that it is a big ship with rotating crews for different times. It makes sense that there would be multiple people in every important role. On the other hand, the doctor had to die, so maybe that is why there was a new person there.

Spock: We see more attention given to the fact that he is logical and not emotional. He's cold and calculating, will to do the lesser of two evils which would make most of us at least hesitate.

Kirk: He demonstrates his good character. He wants to give Mitchell every chance to do the right thing, but ultimately takes responsibility for not acting sooner.



Do you agree with my rating or any of my analysis? Let me know in the comments.


  1. This was a real formative episode for TOS, but then too, it was the second pilot after "The Cage" was shot, and considering how early on the curve it was, I think WNMHGB shows some real chops.

    There's a sequence toward the end of the episode which (as an atheist) I thought was quite remarkable. Kirk is preparing to take on Mitchell when this exchange happens:

    MITCHELL: Morals are for men, not gods.
    KIRK: A god, but still driven by human frailty. Do you like what you see?
    MITCHELL: Time to pray, Captain. Pray to me.
    KIRK: To you? Not to both of you?
    MITCHELL: Pray that you die easily.
    KIRK: There'll only be one of you in the end. One jealous god. if all this makes a god, or is it making you something else?

    I would have loved to be able to listen in on any collaboration between Sam Peeples and Gene Roddenberry when this script was being put together. I don't know where Peeples stands, but Roddenberry was well-known to be an atheist, and his attitude is getting more than a little air-time here. I mean, is Mitchell any better than Yahweh when we see his petulance and megalomania? Richard Dawkins' famous quote about the god of the old testament comes to mind here!

    1. Oh yeah, that is a great exchange. I actually think I grabbed my pen to copy down the first line and didn't quite grasp the brilliance of the rest of it.

      You said that this was the second pilot, but it is episode 3, did they rearrange it later?

    2. You owe it to yourself to get into some Star Trek history. "The Cage" was the first pilot for the series, which was rejected as being "too cerebral." [Gee, do you think the execs were freaked out by the size of the Talosian's heads?]. Yet something must have clicked, because a SECOND pilot, unheard of back in those days, was ordered, and that was "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

      Something else to keep in mind is that the episodes were not released in the order they were shot, Star Dates not withstanding. You might see a bit of that when you get to "The Corbomite Maneuver."

    3. I watched the Gene Roddenberry interview attached to the cage, it was great. He said that they rejected the pilot but let him do another one, I just assumed the second pilot was the next episode, didn't realize they were aired out of order.

      Do you know a good place to look up trek history? I generally don't go poking around too much as I'd like to do it as spoiler free as possible. It would be great to see DVD extra type stuff, but since I'm watching on instant view I don't think I have those available to me.

    4. A lot of this I learned from reading Star Trek books which were published not long after the series was cancelled in 1969. Whether they're still available or not, I don't know.

      At least one book which should still be around one way or the other is Shatner's Star Trek Memories, which does a pretty good job of giving the backstory behind much of what was going on with TOS back then, as well as some of the friction which occurred between Shatner and the rest of the cast. It's worth your time.

    5. That sounds like a fun read. I'll have to add it to my reading list :)

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