Sunday, August 4, 2013

Star Trek: The Devil in the Dark

The crew of the Enterprise is called to Janus VI to stop a monster that has murdered 50 colonists in the pergium mines.
One of them, Schmitter, gets wacked in the teaser before the show's opening credits.
Here's the wonderful matte painting of the pergium mining/processing facility. They made good use of it by sticking it out the office window of the mine's head guy, Chief Engineer Vanderberg, and added nice details like blinking lights.

Early on, Kirk, Spock and McCoy meet with Vanderberg and the Chief Processing Engineer, Ed Appel. Appel has seen the monster and claims to have shot it with his phaser, but it "didn't even slow it down."
Spock is skeptical. No one else has seen the monster and Spock reports that "within range of our sensors, there is no life, other than the accountable human residents of this colony beneath the surface."

Appel even seems to have a grudge against Starfleet. He says to Kirk, "You're all pretty tough, aren't you? Starship, phaser banks. You can't get your starship down in the tunnels." You would think that all of this would make Appel the prime suspect in the murders, but apparently not.

We learn that the murdered colonists were killed by a powerful acid, leaving little behind. Soon there's an emergency in the reactor room.
Another colonist is killed and the main circulating pump for the colony's reactor has been stolen. Vanderberg reports that, "without the pump mechanism, the reactor will go supercritical. It could poison half the planet. We can't shut it down. It provides heat and air and life support for the whole colony." Kirk asks if they have a replacement for it and Vanderberg says, "No, none. It's outdated, but we never had any trouble with it." You've never had any trouble with it before, so you don't need a back up for the part that keeps the reactor working? Seriously?!

Seeing as Chief Engineer Vanderberg is pretty useless, Scotty is brought in to jury rig a temporary replacement, but it wont last long.
They've got to find that reactor pump, so Kirk assembles some Red Shirts to begin the search. This can't end well.
And it doesn't. 
 Soon after, Kirk and Spock see the creature and fire at it. It escapes, but they have wounded it - breaking off a piece that Spock describes as being "fibrous asbestos. A mineral." For some time he has been working on the hypothesis that the creature could be a form of silicon-based life. He ultimately concludes they are "dealing with a silicon creature of the deep rocks, capable of moving through solid rock as easily as we move through the air."
Does this remind anybody else of James Bond?
Now we finally start to get to the crux of the episode. Spock has scanned for all life forms within a hundred miles and found that there is just one creature, yet there are many, many tunnels-- "too many to be cut by the one creature in an ordinary lifetime." He speculates that they are dealing with "the last of a race of creatures which made these tunnels. If so, if it is the only survivor of a dead race, to kill it would be a crime against science." Kirk counters that they have a mission to perform -- protect this colony & get the pergium moving again. "I'm sorry, Mister Spock, but I'm afraid the creature must die."

Spock reluctantly agrees yet in the next scene when he is briefing more Red Shirts he says that they should surround the creature and try to capture it. Kirk is not pleased and tells Spock that it is to be killed on sight. Perhaps Spock is just trying to make up for what they did to the salt vampire in The Man Trap.
Yet moments later, Kirk is the next one to see the creature and Spock is urging him to kill it. Kirk soon sees that it is wounded and when he points his phaser at it, it retreats.

When Spock joins him he has his first mind meld with the creature. He feels its intense pain and then it burns this message into the rock.
Spock attempts another mind meld, this time in direct physical contact.
Leonard Nimoy always shines during these scenes. Here we learn of the Horta's great sorrow and that the round silicon nodules that the miners have been collecting and destroying are her eggs. The Horta isn't a monster, it is an intelligent mother defending her children.
McCoy is a doctor, not a bricklayer.
The miners break through and want to kill it.
Kirk: Don't fire. First man that fires is dead.
Vanderberg: That thing has killed fifty of my men.
Kik: You've killed thousands of her children. 
Vanderberg: What?

Spock explains, "There have been many generations of Horta on this planet. Every fifty thousand years, the entire race dies, all but one, like this one, but the eggs live. She cares for them, protects them. And when they hatch, she is the mother to them, thousands of them. This creature here is the mother of her race."

They negotiate a treaty of sorts and in the end Vanderberg reports that the eggs are hatching, the "little devils" have helped them discover huge new pergium deposits, gold, platinum & rare earths and that they aren't so bad to look at once you get used to their appearance.

This is what Star Trek is all about. It teaches us that things are not always as they seem. That an ugly murderous monster might not be what we think it is. If we could just understand it, we might be able to appreciate it for what it is. We can even work with what was once an enemy to achieve a greater good. These lessons are still of value today and that is why The Devil in the Dark is such a great episode of Trek. Besides, we have an alien that isn't a humanoid - very refreshing.

Like many of the recent episodes, there was no new music written here. It was all tracked in from other episodes.

You can watch the episode at right here.

Next up, we get our first episode with Klingons - Errand of Mercy.

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