Dagger of the Mind (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

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

Everyone put your keys in the bowl and help yourself to a cocktail and a robe. This party's about to get rocking.

Everyone put your keys in the bowl and help yourself to a cocktail and a robe. This party’s about to get rocking.

Episode: Dagger of the Mind – Season 1, Episode 9 (1966)[1]

Directed by: Vincent McEveety

Written by: S. Bar-David[2]

The Enterprise drops by Tantalus V to resupply a rehabilitation colony for the criminally insane. One of the inmates, Dr. Simon van Gelder (Morgan Woodward), sneaks aboard and demands asylum. Once subdued, his rantings about the colony convince Dr. McCoy that something is rotten down on the surface, so Captain Kirk and ship’s psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel (Marianna Hill) transport down to investigate.

Noel and Kirk have something of a history, having enjoyed a flirtation at the last Enterprise Christmas party.[3] Granted, the good doctor is a Lieutenant, but for some reason this rubs me wrong. Like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce should be painted on the hull or something. Anyway, charming Dr. Tristan Adams (James Gregory) leads them on a tour of the facility, taking special time to explain the neural neutralizer – the device that caused Dr. van Gelder’s accident.

Later that night, when Kirk and Noel are playing with the thing, Dr. Adams surprises them and turns the device on the Captain. Surprise! It’s actually a torture device for implanting suggestions and erasing thoughts, and our two heroes are captured.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, McCoy and Spock are still trying to figure out van Gelder’s wild warnings about the colony when Spock says something along the lines of “Well, I could always just read his mind.” McCoy gives him the same look you gave your cash-strapped roommate that one time he said “Well, I suppose I could just pull some cash out of my billion-dollar trust fund. I mean, I have some pretty strong taboos against doing it, but I guess as long as we’re down to making soup out of the wallpaper.” Yes indeed, this is the first instance of one of the franchise’s favorite deus ex machina-s: the Vulcan mind meld. We learn that Adams has been performing hideous mind-control experiments with the neutralizer.

Fortuitously, Noel manages to boot a guard into a transformer and drop the colony’s force field so Spock and McCoy can come down with the cavalry. Kirk escapes from the neural neutralizer (with punching) but leaves Adams in his place, and when they finally get around to turning the thing off the man is quite dead.

But what kills him, exactly? The neutralizer erases the mind in such a way that the subject is left in a vast loneliness, devoid of thought but still with the capacity to experience. It’s like the opposite of those trippy sense-deprivation chambers, where your brain takes a cue from the absence of inputs to invent a surrogate experience. “Dagger of the Mind” posits the self without content as a horrifying, lethal alienation. This can’t be too far from the prevailing mid-60s worst-case-scenario fears about the effects of television.


[1] A line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 1:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?

I see thee yet, in form as palpable

As this which now I draw.

A ghostly dagger that seems to lead the way to Duncan, the guest Macbeth may or may not slay.  Also the title of a Columbo episode, in case you were wondering.

[2] Actually Shimon Wincelberg writing under a pen name.

[3] This is another one of McCoy’s bitch moves after Jim and Leonard have had a little tiff. The captain is probably fresh from the HR meeting about setting boundaries with subordinates when McCoy assigns him Dr. Noel

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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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