Exploring the science fiction, horror, and dystopia of television over the last 60 years

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Star Trek: The Original Series: Man Trap

Star Trek: The Original Series
Man Trap
Original Air Date: September 8, 1966
Director: Marc Daniels
Teleplay by George Clayton Johnson and Gene Roddenberry
Rating: **

On September 8, 1966, as the Vietnam War raged and the generation gap widened, a cultural phenomena was born. Star Trek aired its premiere episode, Man Trap.

Kirk and his crew travel to planet M-113 to conduct a physical examination of Dr. Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy. Nancy Crater is Dr. McCoy’s long lost love. The crew arrives and Nancy greets Kirk, McCoy, and Crewman Green. McCoy sees Nancy as she was 15 years before. Kirk sees a middle-aged woman, and Green sees a woman he once knew from a “pleasure planet.”
Green ends up dead (Star Trek’s first fatality was a blue shirt – not a red shirt). When he’s found, he has skin mottling on his face. Meanwhile, Dr. Crater is quite hostile, telling Kirk to leave them a supply of salt and to leave them alone. But with a dead crewman on his hands, Kirk is determined to investigate.

After yet another crewman death (this one in a tan shirt), Nancy assumes the identity of yet another crewman she has killed and beams aboard the Enterprise with the rest of the crew. Once there, she assumes Dr. McCoy’s identity while McCoy slumbers. He has determined that the dead men have had all the salt removed from their bodies. Spock and Kirk return to M-113 and subdue Dr. Crater and bring him back to the ship.

A meeting is held in the briefing room to discuss the situation. Nancy is still playing the part of McCoy. When McCoy seems sympathetic to the creature, Spock suspects something. Nancy flees to Dr. McCoy’s quarters and begs him for protection. Kirk and Spock confront them there. Nancy attacks Kirk and begins to draw the salt from his body while McCoy looks on with a phaser. Spock demands that McCoy shoot, but he can’t, still believing the being to be Nancy.

Spock proceeds to batter the small woman about the head to show McCoy that the creature is not really Nancy Crater. The creature knocks Spock out of the way and resumes her attack on Kirk. McCoy summons his courage and shoots her, killing the creature. Upon death, it assumes its true form.

In the end, Dr. Crater tells the crew that this creature was the last of its race that once dominated the planet. He preserved it for that reason. In turn, it fulfilled his wifely needs as Nancy once did before the creature killed her.

This was the third episode filmed, but the first to air. The second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was not aired first because it didn’t conform to the standards Roddenberry set for the show after it was picked up. The second episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver” was set entirely aboard the Enterprise and Roddenberry wanted to lead off with something more action packed.

As Star Trek episodes go, “Man Trap” is okay. We’re introduced to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Yeoman Rand, and most of the regular cast. It had most of what networks executives wanted out its hour long shows. It had a shootout, an ugly alien, and comradery. But unlike most shows of its time (but very much in tune with television science fiction of that time) it had no clearly defined good and evil. The “monster” was a starving creature fighting to survive – not an evil alien.

The bond between Kirk and McCoy was established in this episode. Kirk chews out McCoy whilst he waxes romantic while a dead crewman lies dead on the table. Later, he tells McCoy he’s not counting his mistakes. McCoy eventually saves Kirk’s life.

The teleplay was penned by George Clayton Johnson whom sci-fi fans will recognize as one of the stable of excellent screenwriters Rod Serling had on staff for The Twilight Zone. He didn’t write any of the great and memorable episodes of that fine show, but he didn’t write any of the ridiculously bad either. This was his only entry in the Star Trek series, but he did some fine sci-fi writing with such entries as the screenplay for the movie, Logan’s Run as well as revising his Twilight Zone script, “Kick the Can” for Twilight Zone: The Movie.

“Man Trap” is probably not on a lot of Trekkers list of favorite episodes. But, considering the episodes in the can at the time, it was probably the best lead off option Roddenberry had.

Total Red Shirt fatalities: 0
Total blue shirt fatalities: 2
Total tan shirt fatalities: 1
Total "other crewman fatalites: 1
Total crew fatalities this episode: 4
Total crew fatalities to date: 4

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