Where No Man Has Gone Before (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

Star Trek Gary Mitchell With Silver Contacts

“Wait: You guys were joking about the tinfoil in the eyes thing?”

Editor’s note: This review is part of an ongoing series by guest blogger, Joshua, who will view and review the Star Trek Original Series.  

Episode: Where No Man Has Gone Before — Season 1, Episode 3 (1966)

Director: James Goldstone

Writer: Samuel A. Peeples

This is the famous “Second Pilot” produced for NBC at the behest of none other than Lucille Ball. Though it features the astounding William Shatner as captain, in tone and demeanor it more closely resembles the first pilot than the series proper. It was the entry of beloved Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) into the series, though the audience would have to wait for other principals.

When the Enterprise crosses “The Galactic Barrier,” the warp engines burn out and helmsman Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) acquires psychic powers and wacky silver eyes.[1]  It soon becomes clear that Mitchell is developing these at a geometric rate, with a god-sized ego to match. Kirk and Spock, while not quite evincing the relationship that will make the show famous, demonstrate a central episode tension. Practical Spock wants to kill Mitchell as quickly as possible to preserve the ship, while emotional Kirk is constrained by loyalty and friendship to treat this more like a thorny HR issue. Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman), a psychiatrist on board observing stress behavior, becomes dangerously fascinated with Mitchell, inaugurating the Star Trek tradition of intelligent women undone by their attraction to powerful, over-masculine guys.

They limp to a “Lithium-cracking” station on Delta Vega where the plan is to improvise repairs to the warp engines and strand Mitchell on the surface. They’re successful in fixing the ship, but Mitchell breaks out of his force field enclosure with Dr. Dehner – now with psychic powers of her own.

Kirk is faced with a choice. On the one hand, he can bombard the planet from orbit with fast neutrinos until all organic life on the surface is soup. No, my mistake, there is no other rational choice. But somehow Kirk’s approach to the problem of a malevolent super-being with limitless psychic powers involves a phaser rifle and punching.[2]

Like the first “too cerebral” pilot, this episode poses an existential quandary: how do we face the growth of our abilities when there is no corresponding maturation of spirit? Gary Mitchell is in possession of psychic powers for all of 5 minutes before assuming the mantle of Royal Dick – does the fault lie in him, or in his fabulous tinfoil eyes? Is it conceivable that someone, somewhere, is suited to a life of constantly redoubling abilities? Probably not. Godhood is a curse whose danger we lose the ability to appreciate once we have it.

This episode has a wonderfully “technical” texture. The camera lingers on serious looking equipment – panels, cables, impulse engine components – and the technicians making repairs. The danger to the Enterprise isn’t immediate and dramatic, but unfolds at the leisurely pace of a ship becalmed on the ocean by engine trouble. We know the ship is in trouble, but the solutions are practical and mundane. Like the first pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is a glimpse into the less campy hard science adventure series that might have been.

[1] The contact lenses creating this effect caused Mr. Lockwood almost unendurable pain. In most of the sickbay scenes, the skin around his eyes is visibly swollen.  He doesn’t hold his head at that imperious angle because he’s a demigod; Lockwood is trying to see around the lenses.

[2] For more of this bullshit see episode Season 1, Episode 2 “Charlie X.”


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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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