Star Trek "The Man Trap" (1966.09.08) - In Review

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Star Trek "The Man Trap" (1966.09.08) - In Review

Postby Capes (Optional) » Mon Sep 05, 2016 1:36 pm

Star Trek (1966) season 1, episode 1
In Review

"The Man Trap"


AIR DATE: September 8 1966


Doctor McCoy has an expected reunion with an old love on a remote and desolate planet, but when members of the crew begin to die mysteriously their reunion is interrupted. “The Man Trap” was the first episode of Star Trek to air, although it was the fifth episode of the series (sixth, if you count the original pilot “The Cage” which won’t be televised for many years in its original form). Oddly enough, even though the official air date of the episode was September 8 of 1966, the episode was aired on September 6 in Canada on CTV. Early titles for the episode were “Damsel with a Dulcimer”, taken from the Samuel Coleridge poem “Kubla Khan” (1816), and “The Unreal McCoy”, a cleaver play on words which was used for the title novelization of the episode.

This is George Clayton Johnson’s only writing credit for Star Trek. A short story of his, "All of Us Are Dying" was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode “The Four of Us Are Dying” (January 1, 1960) which also features a shapeshifter.

The stardate is 1513.1, and the Enterprise orbits planet M-113 with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in temporary command. On the planet, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelly) and a crewman named Darnell (Michael Zaslow) materialize to conduct medical examinations of Dr. Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy Crater (Jeanne Bal), a woman with whom McCoy has a past. When Nancy arrives, things are certainly odd. Each of the landing party see Nancy in a different way: McCoy sees Nancy as she was years ago, Kirk sees Nancy as she should be today, Darnell sees totally different blonde woman. Right away, we see the problem – Nancy is not what she appears to be. She leaves the dwelling and Darnell follows.

Will the real Nancy Crater please step forward?

Kirk and McCoy dash out when they hear Nancy scream. Darnell is dead. His skin is oddly mottled and the remains of a local plant are still in his mouth. Nancy explains what happened, and the landing party returns to the Enterprise with their dead crewman.

Michael Zaslow has the odd honour of being the first character to be killed in an episode of Star Trek, but through the magic of recasting he will return in "I, Mudd" as ensign Jordan and as Eddie 30 years later in Star Trek: First Contact. By the way, no ‘red shirts’ were killed during this episode

Of the available episodes to choose to air first, it was decided that the (second) pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, wasn’t exciting enough involving too much discussion and description. “The Corbomite Maneuver” had various production was delays and took place mostly on the ship. The subject matter of selling women in “Mudd’s Women” was likely to risky (not to mention risqué) a topic to kick off the series. "The Naked Time" showcased individual characters very well but, again, took place primarily on the ship. Dealing with a troubled teenager in “Charlie X” was also passed over as being too slow. "The Man Trap" was chosen as the first to air as it had a clearly defined enemy - a mysterious alien, it had action, it took place primarily on an alien planet. The fact that the episode was almost completed was also a defining factor.
Production for Star Trek is top notch for a 1966 television series, but it had to make sacrifices in order to keep its budget down. Writing and concepts were still in flux for the sixth fifth first episode and some things were destined to change, not to mention oddities from being aired out of order.
Here are a few items of note for the episode:

To keep costs down, many scenes were recycled for use in other episodes. Planet M-113 also became
  • Tantalus V in "Dagger of the Mind",
  • both Planet Q and Benecia in "The Conscience of the King",
  • Beta III in "The Return of the Archons",
  • Janus VI in "The Devil in the Dark",
  • Organia in "Errand of Mercy",
  • The Iron-silica planet in "The Alternative Factor",
  • Mudd's planet in "I, Mudd",
  • Argus X in "Obsession",
  • and Ardana in "The Cloud Minders"

The opening scene features Spock in the captain's chair, which is expected due to the opening log dictated by Captain Kirk, but Uhura and Leslie are in the other two command chairs. This goes unexplained for the episode, which is understandable as the footage is recycled from the episode "The Naked Time".

The statue outside the Crater's dwelling on M-113 will be seen again in Spock quarters in the episode "Amok Time" among other later episodes.

When Nancy Crater first enters the dwelling on M-113 she is singing, but her mouth isn't open. The singing belongs to Uhura and is recycled audio from the episode "Charlie X"

McCoy's hand-held scanners first appear in this episode (yes, it is the first episode aired but chronologically... oh, never mind.) The items are actually salt shakers purchased specifically for this episode. Unfortunately it was decided that the futuristic design may not be recognized as a salt shaker and they were used as medical scanners from here on. Contemporary salt shakers were borrowed from the studio cafeteria instead.

Often imitated, this is the first time Doctor McCoy gives a variation one of his favourite lines, although he actually says “Dead, Jim.”

Although Scotty has appeared in earlier episodes (the episodes were aired out of order, remember), Scotty's first official appearance in the series is as a disembodied voice briefly heard over Captain Kirk's communicator.

If anyone is of the opinion that the Spock / Uhura relationship of Star Trek (2009) came out of nowhere, this scene appears to suggest otherwise. Uhura and Spock have a brief discussion which ends with Uhura waxing romantically and imagining Vulcan's full moon. Spock tells Uhura that Vulcan has no moon, although something can clearly be seen in the sky during Star Trek animated series episode "Yesteryear" and in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Although Vulcan has no moon it does have a sister planet. Oh, and if you don’t think Uhura was flirting with Spock, you may want to watch the scene again.

After Yeoman Rand takes a plate of food to Sulu, he offers her this odd blessing in gratitude. It is a phrase never heard again. The Great Bird of the Galaxy is a nickname given to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. An actual image of the mythical Great Bird of the Galaxy can be seen on a computer display in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Naked Now".

Nothing strange about Uhura wearing red, but in previous episodes chronologically she is wearing a gold uniform, specifically "The Corbomite Maneuver" and "Mudd's Women".

This is the only time we see Doctor McCoy's quarters during the run of Star Trek. On a shelf at the back of his quarters, three cylindrical items can be seen. Unlike the quarters, these cylinders will be seen again in McCoy's lab.

While roaming the decks of the Enterprise, the creature kills a crewman wearing an odd suit with numbers on it. This is a radiation suit originally used in an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Production and Decay of Strange Particles" (April 20, 1964) complete with helmet. Leonard Nimoy is also one of the stars of the episode.

When it is discovered that the creature has infiltrated the ship, Captain Kirk calls for "General Quarters Security Condition 3" and later calls for "General Quarters Security Condition 4". The more simplified "Yellow Alert" and "Red Alert" were gradually adopted over later episodes. [i]"Security Condition 3" is specifically "intruder alert" and "Security Condition 4" is an order to seal off all passageways an account for all weapons.

Some female members of the crew can be seen briefly in the corridors wearing slacks rather than the typical skirts.

Additionally, some members of the crew can be seen wearing turtle-neck uniforms. This is footage recycled from the (second) pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before".

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy developed a hearing problem known as tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) while starring in episodes of Star Trek. During "The Man Trap" and for Shatner the episode "Arena", explosions were set off fairly close to the actors.

Doctor Crater's firearm is a prop held over from the original pilot "The Cage" (which was recycled in the two part episode "The Menagerie"). The weapon will appear again (or previously, depending on your point of view) in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

The unique stun effect used to subdue Doctor Crater in this episode is never used again. The sound of the impact is the sound of a bullet ricochet sped up, and Crater's slowed speech is actually that of Alfred Ryder slowed down, then played back and lip-synced by the actor. At this time he tells the story of the M-113 creature being the last of its kind. He relates its situation to that of the passenger pigeon and buffalo which ‘became extinct’. It is true that there were estimated to be 20 to 30 million buffalo across North America at one time in history, and that they were reduced to just over one thousand by the year 1900. By 1966 the buffalo situation had not gotten any better and it was assumed that the animal would soon become extinct. Fortunately today there are approximately half a million buffalo living across North America. Is Doctor Crater wrong? No, Star Trek simply takes place in a different reality than our own.

On the way to the dispensary (a term used for the sickbay used only in this episode) the creature disguised as McCoy kills Doctor Crater and attacks Spock. Fortunately Spock's alien biology saves his life. Spock's green blood was director Marc Daniel’s idea. Gene Roddenberry was opposed to this but the idea was never completely changed. Note the wound on Spock’s head: the cut appears to have a reddish outline while the blood around it is a faint, translucent green.

The story isn’t bad overall, despite the poor reviews it received in Variety and TV Guide. It certainly has its slow points, but that is the beauty of Star Trek. The Star Trek series isn’t all about action, it is about story, and it is about the people. William Shatner gives a great performance, particularly when attacked by the creature near the end. Leonard Nimoy is equally great, primarily when attacking the creature to keep it from killing his captain and friend. Of course, highest appreciation must go to DeForest Kelly, who gives an outstanding performance as both McCoy and as the M-113 creature when it has adopted his form. In the end McCoy must kill the creature, the last of its kind, which has taken on the form of a woman he once loved. This is a powerful scene. Some may question McCoy’s actions in dealing with the enemy. Was it necessary to kill the creature, the last of its kind? Could it not have been captured? Reviewing the situation reveals something many may have missed. The creature barely flinched when being struck multiple times by Spock, who we learn later in the series is much stronger than a human. It also required two, not one, but two phaser blasts from McCoy to kill the creature. Regardless of its strength and endurance, one has to ask if the creature truly wanted to live as the last of its kind in captivity. It is more likely that this tortured creature, this lonely being’s final actions, were structured to end its own suffering. McCoy took action best suited to the safety of his captain, his ship, and in ending the torment of a sentient being.

The M-113 creature
twisted in torment, frozen in anguish
forever alone

3½ / 5

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