|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.25 “The Devil in the Dark” – (Original air date: Thursday, March 9, 1967)

TrekDevilintheDark

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 “The Devil in the Dark.”

  • On this date in history: The Supremes hit #1 on the US charts with “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone.”
  • Also, Svetlana Allilueva, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, defects to the West.
  • The following Saturday, March 11, 1967, Pink Floyd releases its first single, “Arnold Layne.” Not one of my favorite Floyd songs, but it did feature Syd Barrett on vocals, only a year or so before he crazied himself out of the band.
  • The Devil in the Dark” is another of those iconic Star Trek episodes. I didn’t recognize it by name at first, but when I read the episode description, I said to myself, “Ah . . . the rock monster,” which is how I remembered this one.
  • It’s a monster-of-the-week episode, which, if I remember correctly, will become more common as the show budget gets cut.
  • The cold open, or teaser, takes place in one of the mine tunnels on Janus VI, and features none of our recurring cast of Enterprise crewmembers. It involves Schmitter arriving to take over sentry duty from Sam. Chief Vanderberg is there as well. The men talk about something in the tunnels that has killed fifty people already. The Enterprise is on its way to Janus VI to help them, we find out. There’s our connection to the show.
  • Vanderberg tells Schmitter that he’ll be all right and leaves him alone, because you always put one man on guard duty when fifty people have been killed. No sooner does Vanderberg leave than Schmitter is attacked and burned to a crisp.
  • Fifty-one.
  • End of teaser.
  • Opening credits, Shatner monologue, swooshing starship . . .
  • Kirk, Spock and McCoy—the Trek Holy Trinity—are there on Janus VI, which Kirk’s Captain’s Log told us is a pergium production station. They are in the office of Chief Engineer Vanderberg, who is also the administrative head of Janus VI.
  • The planet is a “treasure house” of pergium, uranium, sirium, platinum, most of which was discovered about three months before when they opened a new level. Then automatic machinery began to dissolve and corrode. Maintenance engineers sent to repair the machinery were burned alive.
  • At first the deaths were all down deep, but the last man—this would be Schmitter—died two days ago only three levels below where they are standing now.
  • McCoy wants to examine the body. That’s exactly what Scully would have wanted to do in the same circumstances (I can’t think monster-of-the-week without thinking about The X-Files).
  • Kirk and Spock meet the chief processing engineer, Ed Appel, who seems to have a chip on his shoulder. He claims to have shot the creature with one of their hand phasers, but it seemed to have no effect.
  • Spock examines a large sphere on Vanderberg’s desk. Vandy says its a silicon nodule and that there are millions of them down there, but they have no commercial value. Vandy is all about the Benjamins (Siskos, if you’re nasty).
  • This “silicon nodule” looks very much like one of those play balls you’ll find in those large bins at Wal-Mart or Target. It wouldn’t surprise me if that wasn’t what it was.
  • After examining Schmitter’s body, McCoy announces that he wasn’t exactly burned to death. It was more as if he had been thrown into a vat of extremely corrosive acid, strong enough to eat through machinery and just about anything else you could think of. I’m thinking that this thing has acid for blood like that creature in Alien.
  • Spock says he detects no life beneath the planet’s surface other than the human residents of this colony. At least, no life as we know it.
  • We cut to the colony’s power plant. The guard outside the plant is killed by the monster, reduced to little more than a smoking stain on the ground. There is a perfectly circular hole burned into the door he was guarding.
  • The lights flicker and an alarm sounds. Chief Vanderberg informs us that something’s happening in the reactor room.
  • At the reactor room, it is discovered that the main circulating pump for the entire reactor is missing. There is no replacement for it, and without it the reactor will go supercritical, which means it will issue only hurtful comments and nothing constructive. They can’t shut the reactor down because it provides heat and air and life support for the entire colony.
  • Kirk makes a weak joke to Spock that they’ve been given a choice between death by asphyxiation and death by radiation poisoning.
  • Why wouldn’t the colony have a replacement for the circulating pump, or even parts for it, if it’s that important to the survival of the colony? This is just bad contingency planning.
  • End of Act One.
  • Act Two begins with Kirk dumping the whole circulating pump problem in Scotty’s lap. Scotty says he can rig up a temporary replacement with odds and ends, but it probably wouldn’t last more than 48 hours.
  • 48 hours. The dramatic clock is ticking.
  • Spock believes the missing pump wasn’t taken by accident. The creature is trying to push the colonists off the planet.
  • Sure, I’ll buy that. But, why take the pump? Why not just barf out some corrosive acid and destroy it? That would have made the colonists leave the planet for sure.
  • Spock speculates, while still studying one of the silicon nodules in Vanderberg’s office, that they may be dealing with a silicon-based lifeform rather than a carbon-based one.
  • Kirk says that might explain why a phaser might not affect it.
  • Spock says the colonists are armed only with phaser ones. The Enterprise crew has phaser twos, and Spock thinks he can adjust them to be more effective against silicon. I think this is the only TOS episode where there is a distinction made between phasers one and two. They’re like different versions of the iPhone.
  • McCoy is skeptical about silicon-based life. McCoy does skeptical well.
  • Spock has an idea about the silicon nodules, but refuses to speculate to Kirk at the moment. He wants to “cogitate the possibilities” for a time. Maybe he wants to drum up a game of kickball.
  • When Spock finds out from Vanderberg that the silicon nodules were first discovered on level 23, he commands the Starfleet security detail to begin their search for the creature on that level.
  • After one of the redshirts is killed by the creature, Spock and Kirk have a run in with it and fire their phasers at it. The creature is burning nice round holes in the rocks like a hot knife through butter. But, their phaser shots have wounded the creature.
  • Spock says that a piece of the creature’s armor that they managed to cut off of it is very much like fibrous asbestos. A mineral. So, Spock’s hypothesis that the monster is silicon-based life seems accurate.
  • Spock says the creature may be the only survivor of a dead race, and killing it would be a crime against science. However, he quickly agrees with Kirk that killing it may be their only alternative.
  • The third act of the story is all about narrowing the search for the creature.
  • Kirk seems to doubt Spock’s resolve to kill the creature. He orders Spock to help Scotty with the reactor. When Spock points out that Scotty is much more knowledgeable about nuclear reactors than he is, Kirk says that, since Spock is his second-in-command, they don’t both need to risk getting killed by the creature.
  • Spock says the odds of both of them getting killed with over 100 men looking for the creature are 2228.7-to-1 against.
  • Kirk doesn’t say, “Never tell me the odds!” but it would have been great if he had.
  • Scotty’s jerry-rigged pump quits working. Kirk orders an evacuation to the Enterprise. Vanderberg and his crew elect to stay. This is personal!
  • Kirk and Spock take separate tunnels. Kirk finds hundreds, maybe thousands, of those silicon nodule vinyl playballs in a chamber, which Spock reminds him not to damage. Then, Kirk is cut off by a sudden cave-in caused by the rock monster.
  • The only way out is forward, to meet the rock monster face-to-cliff-face.
  • End of Act Three, and on to Four.
  • Kirk faces this episode’s monster. It approaches when Kirk lowers his phaser, retreats when he raises it. It’s intelligent.
  • When Spock finds out the creature is ten feet away from his captain, he tells Kirk to not take any chances and kill it. Now it’s Kirk who seems to want to seek a peaceful solution.
  • The creature shows Kirk where it was wounded in their last encounter.
  • When Spock reaches the cavern where Kirk and the monster are having their stand-off, he suggests using the Vulcan Mind Meld to communicate to the creature.
  • In his first attempt to join their minds, pain is all that Spock can sense.
  • The creature climbs onto a rock ledge and etches the message NO KILL I into the stone.
  • Kirk is confused. Is that a plea not to kill it, or a promise that it won’t kill them?
  • Spock learned a lot about the creature the short time they were bonded, just as the creature quickly learned how to write a message in broken Hulk English. Aside from being in great pain, Spock learned that the creature is highly intelligent, extremely sophisticated, and that it calls itself a Horta.
  • While Spock still endeavors to speak to the Horta, Kirk summons McCoy to the cavern and asks him to help treat it.
  • McCoy says, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer.”
  • If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time McCoy has used the “I’m a doctor, not a—-” sentence construction in the series.
  • Spock confirms his suspicion that the silicon nodules are the Horta’s eggs, and apparently the mining operations destroyed thousands of them. That’s what pissed off the Horta and made it begin killing miners.
  • McCoy heals the Horta by troweling thermoconcrete into its wound. Vanderberg and his crew lose their urge for revenge when they find out that they’ve been killing the creature’s children. Spock manages to work out a deal where the Horta and her children will help the humans mine for pergium and other minerals. Human and Horta will live symbiotically.
  • I’m detecting a trend of problems being solved through peaceful solutions. Spock is definitely our resident hippie and peacenik. I’m mean, what is the Vulcan salute but a beefed-up peace sign? It’s 1967, but the Summer of Love is right around the corner.
  • Witty outro banter on the bridge. Spock says that the Horta said she will have to get used to the appearance of humans, but she really liked his ears. Kirk says he suspects that Spock is becoming more and more human all the time. Spock sees no reason to stand there and be insulted. You know, the usual. Yuk-yuk, hee-hee, ho-ho.
  • End of episode.

Once again, an iconic episode of the original series. One that still stands up okay on what was probably my twentieth viewing (and that’s a conservative guess). If I were having a sleepless night and stumbled across this episode while channel surfing, I’d probably still watch it in its entirety once again. It’s familiar and comfortable, and good, solid Trek.

However, it doesn’t make my personal All-Time Best Trek list. Serviceable isn’t the same thing as superior. I gave this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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