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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Originally, the Trek Tuesday feature was going to be all about the Star Trek movies. However, I feel there is more life in it, so I am going to be extending it for the foreseeable future. After the brief detour last week with a look at “The Best of Both Worlds”, I will be focusing on the various pilots of the different Star Trek series. First up: from the original series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.
In reality, this is the second episode of the original Star Trek. The first did not have enough action/adventure and mainstream appeal that NBC was going for. Having enough faith in the project, the execs ordered a second pilot in which creator Gene Roddenberry was able to appease the network while still delivering what he wanted to and say.
In “Where No Man…”, the USS Enterprise is investigating the “Galactic Barrier”, an energy field surrounding the galaxy. Tempting fate, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) wants his ship to breach the barrier, but fails spectacularly. Not only is the Enterprise greatly damaged in the attempt, but Kirk’s best friend and shipmate, Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood), develops psionic abilities. As Mitchell’s abilities grow, so does his arrogance and hostility to the point of developing a God complex. Realizing he is a danger, Kirk wrestles with whether or not to exile his friend on a deserted planet, assuming, of course, Mitchell will even allow him to do so.
Overall, this episode is a fine episode. It is gripping, is engaging, and has moral dilemmas which keep it from delving into mindless schlock. I really like when stories present extreme ethical/moral dilemmas, especially when it is done somewhat subtly. There is no neon flashing sign shouting “DILEMMA!” here. For some reason, not drawing extreme attention to it makes it more believable and much more watchable. Star Trek has done a lot of that throughout its history. That is probably what contributed to its popularity.
While you can really understand what Kirk is going through when struggling to decide what to do with his friend, it is Mitchell that keeps the episode together. Mitchell, within an hour of TV, goes through a large character arc, and Lockwood really sells the audience on the character. He gives Mitchell this lovable rascal personality right at the start that you cannot help, but like him. Because of that, the audience is able to really feel the tragedy of what befalls him. It is not Mitchell’s fault that this happens to him. You see him fall and drift away from that incredibly likeable guy to a deranged megalomaniac. To pull off that arc so successfully within the episode’s time-span is a trick within itself!
Star Trek’s first season is, overall, really strong, but “Where No Man…” is among the top of that season. It is pretty rare that a first episode knocks it out of the park the way this one does. Maybe not Star Trek‘s finest hour, but it sets the tone and hallmarks for nearly everything that comes after. Specifically that of Kirk being the risk-taker while still putting his crew first, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) saying the logical (if cold) things Kirk doesn’t want to hear, but knows is true, “Kirk-Fu” with a ripped shirt, and the almost swashbuckling feel of adventure and danger the Enterprise encounters among others.
It can be difficult to watch today (TV production was so different back in the mid-1960s), but “Where No Man Has Gone Before” still holds up nearly 50 years later. Samuel A. Peeples’s script is that strong. If you have seen it before, it is totally worth a revisit. If you haven’t, then do yourself a favor and check it out.