It’s the 28th anniversary of this issue!
For an episode that featured frank discussions about birth control and sterilization, it’s pretty remarkable that “The Mark of Gideon” didn’t have any trouble with NBC’s censorship staff. Producer Fred Freiberger rated the episode highly, saying: “One of my pet themes is overpopulation and I thought this was a good idea. We were taking a shot at something fresh and gutsy, and it worked out pretty well. That one was also shot entirely on the Enterprise. I felt that if we had to do the show under those restrictions, we had to come up with good stories and that one worked.”
Unfortunately, co-writer Stanley Adams (who played Cyrano Jones in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” was disappointed with the final product, feeling that he had let down his son, who had inspired the plot with his own concerns about global overpopulation.
Douglas Trumbull talks to The Hollywood Reporter about finishing the special effects in Star Trek: The Motion Picture under a very tight timeframe, a herculean feat that literally put him in the hospital.
You can argue that “The Man Trap” is just a monster story set in space — after all, that’s exactly what it is — but it’s easy to see how NBC and Desilu came to the decision to air it as the public’s introduction to Star Trek. The second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was deemed too exposition-heavy for the viewer’s first look at the Enterprise and her crew; the first episode shot, “The Corbomite Manuever,” was pushed back because the vast majority of its action takes place on the Enterprise, making it a bit claustrophobic as a first outing. “Mudd’s Women” was, well, “Mudd’s Women” and, weirdly, they thought “Charlie X” was “too gentle” because it featured an awkward teenager in the middle. “The Naked Time” was also ready, but was delayed because it felt more appropriate to give the audience a chance to get to know the crew a bit before showing them going mad
The script for “The Man Trap” was penned by George Clayton Johnson, a noted science fiction author who had eight Twilight Zone episodes and multiple short stories (including one that would become Ocean’s 11) under his belt before he took on the task of writing one of Trek's introductory dozen teleplays. Multiple ideas were rejected in the earliest stages of scripting, including the episode title “Damsel With A Dulcimer” (?!?) and a tractor being used on the archaeological dig (eliminated because of budgeting and the need to shoot inside) but after that, Johnson's script zipped along fairly quickly into production. In The Star Trek Interview Book, Johnson says that John D.F. Black’s only real note of import on the teleplay’s first draft was that the M-113 creature should be onboard the Enterprise sooner, heightening the tension a bit.
(There may be a reason that “The Man Trap” was easy sailing for Johnson. he’d written a story called “All Of Us Are Dying” that was adapted by Rod Serling for The Twilight Zone episode entitled “The Four Of Us Are Dying.” The plot of that episode? A shape-shifter infiltrates a group of friends and turns them on one another.)
Despite some production wrinkles (especially with the sound — when Kirk calls out “Crewman Green!” on M113, the echoes definitely sound like they’re shooting the show on a sound stage) there’s a lot to like about the way “The Man Trap” looks and feels. The lighting, like many episodes from the first batch, is moody and well-chosen. There’s a lot of care given to shot composition and the budget is used very well, even when it’s plain that Sulu’s pet plant Beauregard is puppeteer Bob Baker’s hand in a very brightly-colored plastic glove and that the alien creature’s face is a gas mask modified by Wah Chang and his fellow craftsman.
It’s obvious from the very beginning that Star Trek was a very different sort of show for the time. The characters weren’t great adventurers on a noble quest: they were people doing a job in space. In the first few minutes, Dr. McCoy is introduced as an older gentleman, someone who’d had a life previous to joining the Enterprise, immediately showing much more depth than other science fiction series of the time (especially Irwin Allen’s productions) would dare impart to their characters. Sure, “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” were science fiction anthologies for the Playboy set, but the first scenes of “The Man Trap” told a broad audience that Star Trek was going to be a series that treated its characters and setting well. Sure, it all seems a bit quaint and clumsy now, but it was a huge step forward for writing for series television, especially in the genre.
Not everyone thought “The Man Trap” was a good start to the show. Variety’s review of the episode was brutal:“Star Trek obviously solicits all-out suspension of disbelief but it won’t work. It was an incredible mess of dreary complexities and confusion at the kick-off… By a generous stretch of the imagination it could lure a small coterie of the smallfry, though not happily time slotted in that direction. It’s better suited to the Saturday morning kidvid bloc.”
The same piece also described Shatner and Nimoy as “wooden” despite “working hard to appear credible” before stating that ultimately, the episode was “dreary and confusing.” I can legitimately understand the former: it’s a strangely muted affair, even with the brightly colored uniforms and bits of humor. However, the latter of seems an odd complaint considering how straightforward the actual episode is. Maybe it’s proof that Star Trek was ahead of its time. Or, at least, ahead of one critic for an entertainment newspaper given to creating nouns, verbs and adjectives out of whole cloth.
TV Guide agreed with the assertation, saying that “the sky’s not the limit for this Trek" in a moment that I’m sure led to one writer going around the office demanding high-fives from his compatriots. (Of course, TV Guide would change its editorial tune over the years, publishing dozens of Star Trek-related covers thanks to the original series, films and spinoffs.)
Is “The Man Trap” one of Star Trek's best episodes? Not by a long shot. At the same time, however, it serves as a useful example of how quickly its voice asserted itself and how committed its cast and crew were to presenting good, smart television that celebrated certain tropes while elevating the genre.
It’s the 48th anniversary of the first time that America got to see Star Trek, with the debut of “The Man Trap,” so here’s what I wrote about that episode a while back.
Despite being a fan of both electronic pop music and Star Trek, I had somehow never been clued in to the fact Dutch synthpop/disco act Proxyon used a painting of a certain Constitution-class starship for the cover of their first LP. Curious? Go and listen to them.
James T. Kirk became Chief of Starfleet Operations when he moved into the admirality. He recommended Will Decker as his successor as captain of Enterprise. This was all depicted in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a little-known independent film that was released in 1979 by Paramount Pictures.
I miss DeForest Kelley every day, but I suspect that when Nimoy goes, I’ll need to spend a day or two off somewhere.
None of that Next Generation stuff around here, young lady!
The latter; it was originally intended to be some kind of commentary, but (as DC Fontana pointed out in her introduction to Star Trek 365) it looked terrible in black and white. Just awful.
The suits weren’t that afraid of Spock being all satany. They were good, upstanding Jews and Sunday Catholics from the coasts.
The suits were afraid of southern affiliates thinking Spock looked too demonic to suit their their hellfire believin’, judgement day waitin’ audiences in places like Mobile, Macon and Jackson. You have to remember a few things about the time:
1) There just plain weren’t that many TV stations, and losing ten out of a hundred would be a pretty significant hit.
2) Don’t get me wrong, things are still pretty bad now, but back then, loud, backwards Christians ruled the roost in a way you just can’t imagine.
3) Not a lot of precedent for somebody that looked like the literal embodiment of the dark lord on a kid-friendly sci-fi show.
It can seem silly in hindsight, but it’s understandable that the people investing millions in a new property might want to make sure that it wasn’t hobbled by bible-thumping doofuses right off the bat. Of course, it also turned out that the originally-envisioned red skin looked terrible on black-and-white TVs, which made that decision just a bit easier to follow through.
"Let This Be Your Last Battlefield" was the final episode of Star Trek associated with Gene L. Coon, who wrote the original story outline (then entitled “Portrait In Black And White”) back in 1966. It was rejected at the time by NBC programming executive Stanley Robertson, but desperation on the part of NBC and Paramount led to the outline being pulled out of cold storage and revived with an Oliver Crawford teleplay. The story was credited to Coon’s nom de plume Lee Cronin.
It was also the last episode in which Robert Justman had a role. After two and a half years on Star Trek, he’d had enough of NBC’s poor treatment of the show and the subsequent decline in quality.
According to James Doohan, Yvonne Craig (pictured here in “Whom Gods Destroy”) was among those considered for Vina in “The Cage” thanks to her fantastic dancing skills.