|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.9 “Dagger of the Mind” – (Original air date: Thursday, November 3, 1966)



Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “Dagger of the Mind.”

  • Tantalus Penal Colony. A bit on-the-nose, wouldn’t you say? In Greek mythology, I believe Tantalus was being punished in Tartarus by standing in a pool of water with the branches of a fruit-bearing tree above his head. Every time he tried to get a drink of water, the water would recede, and the fruit remained beyond his reach overhead for eternity. Also the root of the adjective “tantalizing.”
  • Tantalus was being punished; the penal colony is a place where people are punished—I get it. I wonder where the Sisyphus Penal Colony is located? I bet it’s a rocky place.
  • The U.S.S. Enterprise beams round tubes of supplies down to the colony, then one large box back.
  • James T. Kirk is overly concerned that Mr. Berkley doesn’t have full knowledge of penal colony procedures because he didn’t know to disable the security field before operating the transporter. Berkley is not defensive at all and says he will immediately brush up on procedures. A good Starfleet crewman.
  • Kirk, however, isn’t overly concerned about checking the big box for stowaway prisoners, which you would assume would be SOP when dealing with penal colonies. Maybe Kirk needs to brush up on penal colony procedures as well.
  • Of course, if people didn’t screw up, we’d never have a story, would we?
  • Speaking of screwing up: Why wouldn’t the transporter have detected a living being hiding in the large cargo crate?
  • And—oh yeah—there’s a man wearing what looks like an oxygen mask hiding in the big crate. He’s just lucky no one inspected the cargo.
  • He climbs slowly and quietly out of the crate and then knocks out the assistant transporter operator who has his back to him. Crate Man has a wild, crazy look about him. End of teaser.
  • Back on the bridge, Kirk drops a name-bomb (which is an audio Chekhov’s Gun: if a name is mentioned, we know it should become important in the plot). Kirk, who didn’t go “ashore” (as he says in the Captain’s Log) at Tantalus Penal Colony, regrets that he didn’t get to meet Dr. Adams, whose theories regarding penal colonies have made them more like, in Kirk’s words, resort colonies now.
  • McCoy’s opinion is that “a cage is a cage.” This could be a meta commentary on the unaired original pilot.
  • The penal colony contacts the ship, saying they’ve been unable to locate one of their inmates, a potentially violent case. They think he may have hidden in the box they beamed up to the ship.
  • So, the penal colony doesn’t inspect cargo it’s sending out, and Starfleet ships don’t inspect penal colony cargo beamed aboard. It’s a flawed system.
  • Uhura calls for a security alert, condition three. In this scene, both Uhura and Spock have those stainless steel honey spoons sticking out of their ears.
  • The scene is intercut with shots of the intruder, who’s changed into the transporter crewman’s red pajamas and is wandering the ship’s corridors. He’s spotted almost immediately by someone from security in Section C of Deck 14. The red pajamas are apparently an engineering uniform, because security guy says, “Hey, you from Engineering!”
  • Now the bridge is alerted and Spock has all of Deck 14 closed off. We watch Crate Man attack one of the security officers wearing that snazzy swashbuckling weapons belt. Now the escaped prisoner has a weapon.
  • Uhura’s description of the man over the comm system is: approximately six foot four male, early forties. He doesn’t look that tall to me. I’ll compare him to others later.
  • Kirk calls the penal colony to tell them that they have their inmate on board. Who should answer at the colony but Dr. Adams himself? See, I told you so.
  • We get more of those off-camera voices that were probably added in post, saying things like: All sections, security check in progress. Report. And, Forward Phaser, Affirmative. Plus, Section operational ready. Technojargon in the name of verisimilitude.
  • There is a typical Spock-Bones exchange in which Spock goads the doctor by pointing out that it’s interesting that Earthlings glorified violence for forty centuries and then imprisoned those who employed it privately. McCoy retorts, “And, of course, your people found an answer.” Well, of course, when you eliminate emotion there is no motive for violence.
  • As far as Spock-Bones spats go, this was a weaker one. I wanted McCoy to call him a green-blooded halfbreed, or comment on his pointy ears or something. This McCoy is less racist than the one we’re accustomed to.
  • The escaped prisoner bursts out of the turbolift and onto the bridge, incapacitates the security crewman with a judo chop and demands to see the captain.
  • Crate Man introduces himself as Van Gelder, his face showing pain as he says his name, and then asks for asylum.
  • Gelder wants Kirk’s promise that he won’t take him back to Tantalus before he gives up his weapon. Kirk does not negotiate with terrorists. A one-two combo of a Kirk kick and a Spock Vulcan Nerve Pinch takes Gelder out of action. Kirk immediately orders the helm to set a return course for Tantalus.
  • Down in sick bay, Van Gelder calls Kirk a “button-pushing brass hat.” I thought he said “ass hat” at first, which made me inordinately happy. But, nope, “brass hat.”
  • In case you’re wondering, as I was, what a “brass hat” may be: It’s defined as an informal British term referring to a high-ranking officer in the armed forces. The terms “top brass” or “the brass” refer to the same thing. Now you know.
  • Crate Man reintroduces himself as Simon Van Gelder and says he was the director of the Tantalus colony. He seems to be in great pain as he says this and claims that portions of his memory have been erased.
  • On the bridge, Spock confirms the man’s identity as Dr. Simon Van Gelder, assigned to the Tantalus Colony six months prior as Dr. Adams’ assistant. He is not an inmate. Duhn-duhn-duhn!
  • It occurs to me that I haven’t seen Scotty or Sulu in this episode. Who is that crewman at the helm?
  • When Kirk contacts Tantalus, Dr. Adams doesn’t deny that the man is Dr. Van Gelder. He claims Van Gelder was working on an experimental beam meant to rehabilitate incorrigibles and he tried it out on himself because he felt he hadn’t the moral right to expose others to it without testing it.
  • McCoy has a gut feeling that Adams isn’t telling the truth and tells Kirk so.
  • Kirk is not prepared to accept anything Bones can’t explain. Dr. Adams has done more to revolutionize and humanize prisons and the treatment of prisoners than all the rest of humanity has done for forty centuries.
  • There’s that “forty centuries” Spock mentioned earlier.
  • Dr. Adams says if they are passing near any hospital facilities superior to those on Tantalus, they should take Dr. Van Gelder there. They want him to have the best treatment possible, of course.
  • Kirk asks Adams to stand by while he takes it up with the “ship’s surgeon.” Remember that one from “The Man Trap”? Ship’s surgeon. Has McCoy been referred to as Chief Medical Officer yet? Hmm.
  • McCoy says that Adams knows there are no superior facilities. He repeats that something unusual is going on down there, but Kirk cuts him off, brusquely.
  • Kirk tells Dr. Adams that he’s embarrassed, but by starship regulations, he’s required to initiate an investigation to file a proper report.
  • Adams says no apology is necessary, and that he would take it as a personal favor if Kirk will beam down and look into it himself, with minimum staff.
  • Since Kirk seems to head up nearly every away team mission, this doesn’t seem like such an unusual request. As Adams says, it makes sense that a penal colony would try to limit outside contact as much as possible.
  • Of course, it also makes sense that they would inspect all cargo boxes large enough to conceal escapees as well.
  • Kirk asks McCoy to find someone on his staff with psychiatric and penology experience to join the landing party. I don’t like the way Kirk is treating McCoy.
  • The Enterprise‘s arrival at Tantalus V again signals the beginning of our next act.
  • Both McCoy and Spock agree that Van Gelder needs to remain on board until Kirk completes his investigation. These two rarely agree on anything.
  • McCoy also tells Kirk that he’s assigned Dr. Noel as his technical aide on the investigatory team. This crewmember also has a background in rehabilitative therapy.
  • Unsurprisingly, Dr. Helen Noel is a beautiful brunette female. She reminds the captain that they met at the Science Lab Christmas party. Kirk cuts her off, rudely. Maybe Van Gelder did say “ass hat” earlier. Kirk goes out of his way to tell Spock to tell McCoy that she had better check out as the best assistant he ever had.
  • This exchange confuses me a little. I’m sure it confused me even more as a child, but in those days I would just brush away such matters as adult stuff I didn’t understand yet. More difficult to do that now. This scene seems to imply that Kirk and Dr. Noel had some sort of intimate encounter at the Christmas party that Kirk doesn’t want to be reminded of. Furthermore, Kirk’s comment to Spock implies that McCoy assigned Dr. Noel to his team with this in mind, perhaps with malicious intent in retaliation for the way Kirk treated him earlier. As I said, confusing. Maybe an explanation is forthcoming.
  • And . . . what about the whole “Christmas” party concept to begin with. Sure, we heard about Thanksgiving during “Charlie X,” but I believe this is the first mention of any Earth-based religious observance. Sure, I’ll accept that Christmas has become a more secular holiday than a religious one, but when is Christmas mentioned again on a Trek series? [editor’s note: several times according to the Memory Alpha website; look it up]
  • Besides, this episode was written by someone using the pen name “S. Bar-David.” I don’t think it would be racist to assume that this was someone of Jewish descent. Why not a Chanukah party? As no less a luminary than Adam Sandler has pointed out, both Captain Kirk and Mister Spock are Jewish as well.
  • It seems that only Captain Kirk and Dr. Noel are beaming down. That is the true definition of “minimum staff,” I’d say. Dr. Adams should be pleased.
  • Once on Tantalus V, Kirk and Noel take a very fast elevator down into the planet. Dr. Noel ends up in Kirk’s arms as they plummet downward. Oh yeah, these two did it at the Festivus party. No doubt about it.
  • When the elevator doors open, we’re face-to-face with Dr. Adams. I had forgotten that he was portrayed by veteran character actor James Gregory, who was in just about every television show ever made until he passed away in the early 2000s. Listing any of his roles besides this one probably seems to minimize his career, but I especially remember him as Inspector Frank Luger on the ’70s police sitcom Barney Miller. In 1966, he would have already been 55 years old.
  • Dr. Adams escorts the newcomers to his office. He has to deactivate the security screen so that Kirk can check in with the ship. Kirk tries to hand over his weapon, but Dr. Adams won’t hear of it. He tells him just to keep it out of sight. He knows that Kirk’s type feels as naked without a weapon as “they” do without a medikit. Then Dr. Adams pours the three of them drinks.
  • Even before the drinks are imbibed, we are introduced to a new character. Lethe, a former inmate who was rehabilitated and chose to stay on as a therapist.
  • Lethe. Hmm. I’m sure it’s a huge coincidence that Lethe was also the name of the river in Hades whose water, when drunk, made the souls of the dead forget their lives on Earth. Dr. Van Gelder claimed that his memories were erased. And Dr. Adams just said that burying the past was a big part of their cure, which Dr. Helen Noel agreed was basic to psychotherapy. All a coincidence.
  • Okay, who are we kidding? Not a coincidence. Naming the character Lethe is as too on-the-nose as naming the penal colony Tantalus. (Well, I guess Tantalus V is the name of the planet, but which came first?)
  • Dr. Adams makes a toast and then he, Kirk and Dr. Noel drink their drinks.
  • Here’s the toast: “To all Mankind. May we never find space so vast, planets so cold, heart and mind so empty that we cannot fill them with love and warmth.”
  • Dr. Adams is giving Kirk and Dr. Noel a tour of the facility. They come across the neural neutralizer at the same time Dr. Van Gelder is talking about it in the ship’s sick bay. Adams admits that the experiment has been a failure and that it was Van Gelder’s use of the neutralizer on himself that resulted in his injury.
  • Dr. Adams refers to the beam being on a high “volume,” as if it were blasting Led Zeppelin music instead of emitting a brain-altering beam of technobabble energy.
  • The zombie-like technician at the neural neutralizer’s control panel has no qualms about explaining how the controls work to Kirk. While there are many knobs and gauges, apparently only the on-off switch and the “volume” dial matter.
  • Kirk speaks to Spock again from Dr. Adams’ study, which I called his “office” earlier. Spock seems reluctant to discuss anything with Dr. Adams around. The doctor excuses himself so that the two can speak privately. Spock says that Van Gelder is warning that Kirk is in danger.
  • Dr. Noel, sounding very similar to Kirk from the earlier bridge scene, scoffs at this warning. Van Gelder, she says, is suffering from neuro-synapse damage, as if his brain were short-circuited. It’s no wonder he’s delusional.
  • Kirk tells Spock that he and Dr. Noel will spend the night at the penal colony, but agrees to check in every four hours. So much for getting a solid eight hours of sleep.
  • This news further agitates Dr. Simon Van Gelder. He’s mostly incomprehensible, saying something about how Dr. Adams will destroy. When Spock asks how, Gelder responds by saying something that sounds like (and Netflix translates as) “Right death.”
  • As acting captain, Spock makes the decision to use an ancient Vulcan technique to probe Van Gelder’s mind.
  • This is the first episode in which the Vulcan mind meld is used. Spock doesn’t say all the same words we use later, but his finger placement seems similar, if upside down in the beginning. Spock says “Open your mind,” which meant something different in the “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” ’60s.
  • Captain Kirk calls on Dr. Noel in her quarters, asking her opinion of the inmates they saw that afternoon. She doesn’t like Kirk questioning the methods of a man as revered as Tristan Adams. I believe this is the first time we hear Dr. Adams’ first name. Kirk wants to see the neural neutralizer treatment room again, to see the machine at work. He asks if that is too impractical and unscientific of him.
  • The proper response: “Yes, Captain. That is not only impractical and unscientific, but extremely foolhardy.” Instead, Dr. Noel says, “Coming.”
  • Back to the mind meld. Spock learns that Dr. Adams is emptying his patients minds in order to fill them again with whatever he wants. I thought we had learned that already. The main thing Spock seems to learn from the meld is that having an empty head is a crushingly lonely experience.
  • Kirk allows Dr. Noel to use the neural neutralizer on him. She uses minimum intensity. At first, she implants the thought that Kirk is hungry. When that works, she implants a memory of the Christmas party that ends up with Kirk sweeping her off her feet and carrying her to his cabin.
  • Apparently these two didn’t hook up at the Christmas party. I was wrong.
  • Then why the awkward reunion if all that really happened was the two of them dancing and James T. Kirk giving his usual small talk about the stars?
  • Dr. Tristan Adams barges into the neutralizer room and decides to give Kirk a full demonstration. He makes Kirk fall madly, deeply in love with Dr. Noel. Then, turning the machine to maximum, crushes him by telling Kirk that she’s gone. Kirk is now distraught.
  • Another name thing, even though I’ll admit this is a stretch. Wasn’t Tristan the Round Table Knight who accidentally consumed a love potion and fell madly in love with Iseult (Isolde, if you’re a Wagnerian)? Mr. Bar-David, it is you who are incorrigible.
  • Adams orders Kirk to drop his phaser weapon on the floor, and Kirk complies.
  • I thought hand phasers were larger during Kirk’s time. The one he drops on the floor in the neural neutralizer chamber seems smaller, like the later phasers.
  • Then Adams orders Kirk to drop his communicator. Kirk attempts to use the communicator first, even though we know it’s useless outside of Adams’ study.
  • Back in Kirk’s quarters, he is still under the delusion that he is in love with Dr. Noel. She helps him remember that this was a result of the neutralizer beam. Kirk asks Dr. Noel to crawl through the air duct to find the power supply, short-circuit it and cut off the security force field. Kirk asks the psychiatrist if she has any training in hyper-power circuits. She says no. Kirk says touch the wrong line and you’re dead. The plucky Dr. Noel says anything is better than Adams’ treatment room and disappears into the duct just before Dr. Adams’ men arrive to escort Kirk for another treatment.
  • Dr. Noel crawling through air ducts as a secret passage to other parts of the penal colony may not qualify as strictly a Trek Trope, but it is definitely an ubiquitous TV trope.
  • Dr. Noel manages to switch off the power. This results in a couple of things. Kirk manages to knock Dr. Adams unconscious, causing him to fall on the neutralizer equipment. Also, the security field (you know, the one that stupid ol’ Mr. Berkley forgot about dropping) drops long enough to Spock to beam down.
  • Spock beams down with a pistol-grip phaser, of the sort I thought all Starfleet personnel carried. I thought the flip-phone sized phaser was a creation of TNG, but it turns out I may be wrong.
  • Spock beams down alone, without a security detail. This can’t be regulation protocol.
  • When Spock comes across Kirk necking with Dr. Noel, he wears a dopey expression that I’ve seen on the face of my dog Cooper when he’s puzzled by something.
  • When Spock turns the power back on, Dr. Adams is killed by his own neural neutralizer. That, Alanis Morissette, is truly ironic. Dr. Noel says the machine was turned up high enough to kill him. The general consensus is that Dr. Adams died of severe loneliness. Or, as Dr. McCoy might say, he just lost the will to live, which is apparently an accepted cause-of-death in Starfleet.
  • Spock wears a half-smile once again when he says, “Acknowledged, Captain. Warp factor one.” I thought a smiling Mr. Spock was a rare event, but that’s proving to be untrue during this rewatch, at least early on in the series.
  • And what of the lovely Dr. Helen Noel? (Noel? As in Christmas? Names were just not S. Bar-David’s forte) She seemed to be standing in for Yeoman Janice Rand in this episode. And, we never see her again. She served her purpose and then transferred off the Enterprise after making the captain fall madly in love with her. Women.
  • I don’t think we ever saw Dr. Van Gelder standing again either. I’ll take Uhura’s word for it that he was six-four.

In spite of my issues concerning naming conventions in this episode, I think it is a pretty sturdily constructed Trek story. “Dagger of the Mind” also gets extra credit for having a cool title, the first appearance of the Vulcan mind meld, and the excellent casting of Inspector Frank Luger as Dr. Tristan Adams. The story is a typical Trek Mad Scientist one, however. This one only barely misses making my All-Time-Best Trek list.

In spite of this, it’s still a good one. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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