Rewatching... Star Trek: The Devil In The Dark

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

"I'm a doctor not a bricklayer"

Thursday 9 March 1967

As far as boldly going and seeking out of new life and civilisations goes, mankind seems to have been doing a pretty good job of it already, judging by the number of Earth colonies we see in Star Trek. This week the Enterprise crew have been beaten to a 'new life' discovery by a colony of miners who've discovered something lurking in the caves they're working in.

It starts with a rather unconvincing painted backdrop but continues with more impressive blue crystalline cave interiors. Though judging the background painting by 21st century standards is probably a little harsh. I'm sure it would have looked more convincing on sixties televisions, especially in Britain where most people would have seen it in black and white.

The usual Enterprise away team arrive, but this time with a squad of 'red shirt' extras. The creature in the cave has been bumping off the colonists one by one and frankly they've had enough and want it dead. Spock speculates on what sort of creature this is. I must admit I cheered a bit inside when he almost, but not quite says "There's life Jim, but not as we know it"! He suggests it might be a silicon based lifeform. Quite reasonably McCoy thinks that sounds like utter tosh. There are also lots of mysterious large round stones everywhere adding to the mystery.

We learn this week that there's a 'phaser one' and a 'phaser two'. Kirk thinks that if they're dealing with a rock creature then this is going to be a phaser two job. Meanwhile in the tunnels one of the extras finds the 'monster'. And so ladies and gentlemen, I can announce after 24 episodes of Star Trek, our first 'red shirt' death! Yes, despite the cliche it took almost an entire season before one of these unnamed guys snuffed it. Flattened by a giant deep crust pizza.

Spock and Kirk both concentrate their phasers and manage to take a chunk out of it but it scurries away in the manner that pizzas usually don't. I like the way the rock based 'flesh' seems to be breathing, though I don't quite understand how. It's an alien though so what would I know? It's not breathing it just looks like that obviously.

So our team of extras are despatched through the tunnels to hunt down the devil in the dark. Gosh, there must be about ten of them. Another mini-cheer and snigger as Kirk tells the men their orders are to "shoot to kill". Spock is not happy with the prospect of killing a unique specimen and argues unsuccessfully with Kirk.

Kirk's worried about the consequences for their ship if both he and Spock are killed so he orders the Vulcan not to get involved. But Spock's a scientist and isn't going to miss the opportunity of examining a new life form, so he neatly defeats the captain with his greatest weapon: logic, telling him the odds of them both being killed!

The two of them split up and it's Kirk who finds the creature. There's a sort of stand-off between him and the alien, and it seems to demonstrate intelligence, not attacking as long as Kirk waves his gun at it. So the captain views it with new respect, and on discovering Kirk in danger it's now Spock who suddenly wants it dead.

So Spock tries to communicate with the creature by merging his mind with it, by touching it. It's a Vulcan thing. As a result the creature learns a little English and manages to burn the words "No kill I" into the rock. I like that the grammar is credibly poor. Spock learns that it's called what sounds to me like "a horda", though as I'm watching these through pretend-time-travelling-1960s-perspective I refuse to look it up using 21st century methods! These reviews aren't about accuracy; I'm telling it as I see and hear it, not from a fan perspective. Well mostly not!

So we get yet more emotional acting from Leonard Nimoy as the mind connection thing produces un-Vulcan-like responses from the man.

Kirk decides to be nice to the wounded creature and orders Bones to come and offer medical treatment to heal the chunk he blew out of it earlier. The Star Trek cliche counter is rocketing in the red zone this week, and we get the fantastic line "I'm a doctor not a bricklayer!"

Well I must admit I guessed earlier on that the large stones were eggs and that's exactly what they are. The creature isn't a monster or a devil at all and is merely misunderstood, and protecting its eggs. Hilariously, McCoy bandages the wound with some concrete from the Enterprise! So a happy, peaceful ending as Kirk persuades the miners to get along with the creature(s) as there is mutual benefit in coexistence. The creatures dig through rock, thus helping the miners.

Some more humour at the Vulcan's expense at the end, as it turns out the horda creature quite fancied Mr Spock, finding his ears particularly attractive. Kirk tells Spock that he's becoming more human all the time, and the science officer's reply "I see no reason to stand here and be insulted" reminds me of those jokes in The Munsters about normal people being ugly.

So that was basically one of those 'don't judge by appearances' sort of episodes. We see quite a lot of that kind of thing in the sixties I note. I must admit I don't normally enjoy cave-based adventures, but there was fun to be had in this one if only in cheering at the classic Star Trek cliches! And after the glorious sunshine and scenery of last week's episode I should applaud the complete change of scene.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

Now Reading
Rewatching... Star Trek: The Devil In The Dark
Read Next
Forever Love (#1)