When Kirk and Spock beam down to the asylum on Elba II to deliver a medicine that should cure the fifteen criminally insane inmates there, little do they know that they are walking into a trap. Garth of Izar, once the greatest starship captain in the fleet, has effected an escape and now rules as an insane lord over his tiny empire. But he craves the Enterprise, and he intends to torture and manipulate Kirk and Spock until they give it to him.
Remember Dagger of the Mind, when Kirk got captured and tortured in a penal colony? Well, this is a very similar episode, and one that comes off a little worse in the comparison. Aside from its cavalier attitude to mental illness, which we’ll revisit a little later on, the episode features a lot of scenes which feel like padding, Spock being unable to tell Kirk from an impostor, and all round generally poor pacing. I still quite like it for its big personalities and range of alien characters, but all in all it’s an average season three episode, i.e. not terrible, but not even up to the standard of a decent season one episode.
It’s worse than that, he’s crazy, Jim!
- Elba II is said to be the last mental asylum in the galaxy, containing fifteen criminally insane inmates. The medicine that the Enterprise is bringing (which McCoy is easily able to synthesise more of after the first batch is lost), is meant to cure them, and thus eliminate mental illness throughout the galaxy. Because, er, mental illness is like smallpox, and can easily be vaccinated against? Anyway, we continue to see plenty of unstable people in Star Trek from hereon in, so it clearly doesn’t work.
- The fifteen inmates include Captain Garth, an Orion animal woman named Marta, an Andorian, a Tellarite and various other humans. Even under such circumstances, it’s good to see a variety of familiar aliens.
- Captain Garth was once a great starship captain, and appears to hail from a time when Starfleet was more militaristic and less about peaceful exploration (for some value of peaceful). Clearly the pressure got to him, as he then tried to order his crew to assist him in committing genocide. Nonetheless, his early exploits are required reading at the Academy.
- The inhabitants of Antos IV taught Garth the art of cellular metamorphosis, which lets him take on the appearance of another person – not because it makes any sense whatsoever, but because it’s required for the plot. Did they completely change his DNA so that he could achieve this feat?
- Previously, Spock has claimed that there has never been a mutiny in Starfleet, but Garth says his crew mutinied when he ordered them to commit genocide. Perhaps this doesn’t count, as the crew were clearly right to refuse the orders of their mad captain.
- If Spock cannot tell the difference between Kirk and Garth-as-Kirk, why doesn’t he just stun them both? Garth will then revert (as he does when he’s stunned minutes later), and if a light enough stun is used, Kirk will be up again in moments. It’s a life-or-death situation, so I’m sure he won’t mind a little headache.
- For an asylum containing fifteen criminally insane people, Elba II has pretty lax security. Yes, no one can get out thanks to the poisonous atmosphere, but that doesn’t preclude the events of this episode.
- Garth claims to have invented an explosive that is more powerful than anything seen before, i.e. more powerful than matter-antimatter explosions. Which makes little sense, unless it somehow defies the laws of science.
- At various points in the episode, Marta appears to be specifically lit with a green light – to make her more green? To reduce makeup costs? This is probably in one of the episode guides I’ve read, but I can’t immediately recall it.
- Garth’s torture chair is designed to transmit pain without causing physical damage, therefore removing the limit of how much pain can be applied. Except presumably there is a limit, because if the pain receptors are continually being stimulated, they will become numb to further pain until they recover. Unless Garth’s device also resets the synapses immediately after administering pain, so that the nervous system is immediately ready for more.Summary – Whom Gods Destroy: A poor man’s Dagger of the Mind.