The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Man Trap

Even though “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the Kirk pilot of TOS, the DVD set begins with this episode, so that’s where we’ll begin our TOS journey proper. In this episode, the Enterprise stops off at M113 so that Dr McCoy can do a routine medical examination of resident researcher Dr Crater and his wife Nancy. Nancy and McCoy have a romantic past that is sure to make things awkward, but it’s up to McCoy to put aside his romantic feelings when a crewman dies on the planet’s surface.

It’s easy to look back on TOS and think of it as pretty awful or lame, but actually I really enjoyed this episode. There’s some nice character pieces woven in here, particularly for McCoy, who has to deal with his romantic feelings whilst also dealing with the fact that doing his job will inevitably lead him to discover that she is involved in the murders of the unlucky Enterprise crewmen. The other characters get some time to shine too – Kirk teases McCoy about his romantic past; Spock’s logical nature defeats Uhura’s attempts to make conversation with him, and even Yeoman Rand gets to be sassy.

At its heart, the storyline may be “monster of the week”, but it’s monster of the week done well – the monster being the last of a race of salt-sucking vampires that can take on the form of anyone its beholder remembers. It kills to survive, but it’s also desperate for companionship, so much so that after killing the real Nancy Crater, it impersonates her and lives with her husband. Kirk gives a great speech about how Dr Crater now has the ideal companion – someone who can take on the form of any friend or family member. Even though Crater claims to be too absorbed by his research to care about being practically alone on an alien planet, it was clearly too attractive a prospect to pass up!

Technology-wise, we are now on firmer ground than in the pilot, with more familiar looking phasers and communicators, “warp speed” instead of “time warp”, plus the trusty medical tricorder.

Now that we’ve got a more established set of characters, I’m going to go into a little more detail about what we learn about them in each episode. I reserve the right to pick, choose and even omit this section as I feel about it.

  • Sulu: mostly we only remember that he loved fencing in The Naked Time, but here we see him as a keen botanist. Flying the Enterprise must be a high-stress job, so it’s no wonder he likes to immerse himself in hobbies.
  • Spock: Unlike in The Cage, we now know that he is a logical Vulcan, who remains calm even at the news that a crewmember has died – no sense in getting stressed prematurely or unnecessarily. One thing I’m going to be stressing in this blog is that being Vulcan isn’t about having no emotions, it’s about being able to master them. Emotions are important to us humans, but how many of us would love to be able to control our nervousness before a big interview, or stay calm in a tough situation? Of course, Spock still gets quite shouty and emotional when it appears that the Nancy salt monster is about to kill Kirk, but we can put this down to both the heat of the moment, and that it was the logical thing to do to try to stir McCoy into action.
  • Yeoman Rand: Her main job in this episode is to get leered at by male crewmen and deliver a meal to Sulu, but still she was more forthright than I remembered.
  • McCoy: The good old country doctor prefers checking tonsils to his advanced medical equipment.

Summary – The Man Trap: Part murder-mystery, part monster-of-the-week, with lots of good character exchanges. Still not enough Kirk-Spock-McCoy banter, but highly entertaining nonetheless.

A few things I forgot to write about The Cage…

These really go with the last blog, but by the time I remembered to include them, the post had already gone out into the world. You’ll recall that in The Cage, the Talosians were trying to populate their planet with human slaves by breeding them from Captain Pike and their captive human Vina. One wonders why they wanted a single Adam and Eve, instead of taking a wider gene pool from the Enterprise crew. Still, it was said that, while the Talosians could reward and punish with imagined pleasure or pain, they couldn’t actually directly force anyone to do anything against their own will, so maybe a more extensive breeding plan seemed like too big an effort. Or maybe they just didn’t understand human physiology well enough to think of such a plan – all they had to work with was Vina’s own dreams of a husband and children.

The other point is that Vina didn’t want to return to the Enterprise because her true appearance, whilst functional, was horribly deformed (well, not really all that deformed from what we saw, but still). It’s likely that the medical technology of the 23rd century could have mitigated some of that, plus of course future humans are clearly too enlightened to discriminate against Vina on account of her looks, so on those grounds, she likely could have gone back. Then again, having spent eighteen years on that planet, the prospect of leaving probably felt too alien and frightening to Vina.

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