“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…” William Shatner’s familiar monologue accompanied the opening credits for every Star Trek episode. The words are etched into our collective memories, recognized by everyone from die-hard fans to people who haven’t seen a moment of Star Trek. 2016 marks the show’s 50th anniversary. Now that I’ve finished blogging about Doctor Who, it’s time to move on to my first fandom.
Star Trek premiered in September 1966 in the midst of the Cold War and the Space Race. Set three hundred years in the future, Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise explore new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations. They’re members of Starfleet, a deep space exploratory and defense service for the United Federation of Planets. Most of the Enterprise crew are humans, but the science officer, Lieutenant Commander Spock, is half Vulcan and half human.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” opens with the Enterprise crew discovering the data recorder from a 200-year-old space ship, the SS Valiant. They’re shocked to learn the captain ordered the ship self destruct after encountering some sort of magnetic space storm. Kirk is intrigued and orders the Enterprise beyond the edge of the galaxy to find out exactly what happened to the Valiant. They find a strange barrier that damages the Enterprise, kills 9 crew members and injures more. Among the injured are the ship’s psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner and Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell.
Kirk sends Gary Mitchell to sickbay because he felt weak. His eyes are silver and suddenly he has psychic powers he never had before. At first his displays of power are innocent, such as reading at a much quicker pace and changing his vital signs monitor so it appears that he is dead. But Gary quickly grows hostile to the crew, even Kirk, who has been his friend since they were at Starfleet Academy. The captain and the senior staff meet to discuss what has happened to Gary and what to do with him. Dr. Dehner reveals that the energy barrier targeted herself, Gary, and the 9 crew members that died because they have high ESP (extrasensory perception) scores. Gary Mitchell had the highest score of the group.
Spock suggests stranding Gary Mitchell on a deserted planet, which Kirk refuses as Gary is still his friend. The Vulcan counters that the captain must kill Gary then, while he still has the chance before his powers become too strong. Kirk doesn’t want to do that either, but when Spock points out that hesitation is what destroyed the Valiant, the captain realizes he must abandon his friend for the good of the ship. The crew manages to sedate Gary Mitchell and beam him down to the surface of Delta Vega, an abandoned lithium processing station.
However, Gary’s powers have grown too strong already. He fights the landing party, strangling Lieutenant Kelso with a cable. To complicate matters, Dr. Dehner’s powers have manifested and she joins forces with Gary. Kirk must fight his friend, who feels so superior he taunts the captain by making a gravestone appear for Kirk. At first the fight does not go well for Kirk as Gary is able to throw him around like a rag doll. But Dr. Dehner uses her new powers to weaken Gary. Finally, Kirk uses the phaser rifle that Spock gave him to trap Gary beneath a rock slide. Unfortunately Dr. Dehner dies after the fight.
At first glance, this isn’t the Star Trek that people are most familiar with. A few of the crew members are different. Dr. Leonard McCoy, and Uhura are missing. (Pavel Chekov didn’t join the Enterprise crew until the second season of Star Trek.) The only major female character dies at the end of the episode. But there’s still some elements of Star Trek at this episode’s core. Kirk and Spock already have that familiar dynamic. They’re playing chess in the beginning of the episode, and at the end, Kirk is ribbing his first officer for confessing to having feelings. And this story definitely encapsulates the show’s spirit of exploration.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” was the second pilot for Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry had pitched a “Wagon Train to the Stars” concept to NBC. But his first pilot “The Cage” was rejected as being too cerebral. NBC did give him a second chance and they liked this episode better. But when they aired the show in September of 1966, they showed this episode third.