As I was getting ready to type up my post about the third episode of Star Trek The Original Series, titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” I decided to pull up the Wikipedia article. Did you know that “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was Star Trek’s second pilot? Apparently, the owner of Desilu Productions – Lucille Ball, of all people – where the pilot was produced, convinced NBC to take a look at a second pilot. Again, this is all according to Wikipedia, so take that with a grain of salt, I guess. But anyway. I knew that episodes of TOS were not filmed in the same order in which they aired, but I didn’t realize “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was the second pilot. Based on that information, I assume this is the episode that convinced the network to pick up the show. Missing from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” are some of the characters we know and love from TOS: Dr. McCoy (who was the doctor on this episode?!), Uhura (where is she when she’s not on deck?), and Rand.
The plot of “Where No Man Has Gone Before” goes something like this: while preparing to leave the galaxy, the Enterprise discoveres the recorder for the SS Valiant, a ship that disappeared 200 years earlier. The recorder is damaged, it’s record incomplete. However, what the Enterprise is able to learn, however, is that the crew of the Valiant was trying to learn about ESP before it was destroyed.
Kirk, being Kirk, decides he needs to know more. So the Enterprise goes on and hits a field of some sort. Some of the systems on the Enterprise are damaged. Also notably, Gary Mitchell (the helmsman) and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (the psychiatrist) are knocked unconscious. Both awaken fairly quickly. While Dr. Dehner seems fine, Mitchell clearly has something wrong with his eyes and is taken to the infirmary. Spock, meanwhile, does some research about ESP. It appears both Mitchell and Dr. Dehner are predisposed to having ESP skills.
While he’s in the infirmary, we learn that Mitchell and Kirk have a history of sorts. That is to say that Mitchell was a couple years behind Kirk at the academy. I think? But in any case, Kirk has warm feelings towards Mitchell. Mitchell, however, begins developing what is described as “godlike powers”. He can read super fast, he can move a cup, he can shoot electricity, he can read minds.
Most of the crew becomes concerned that Mitchell’s ability is going to pose a threat to them and try to decide what to do. Spock suggests they either head to a nearby abandoned planet to repair the Enterprise and abandon Mitchell there or kill Mitchell. Because of Kirk’s history with Mitchell, he opts for the former.
Upon arrival at the planet, Mitchell needs to be drugged in order to be taken down. Dr. Dehner accompanies them, and offers to stay with Mitchell while he’s in his cell. While they’re left alone, Dr. Dehner’s eyes also change and she helps Mitchell escape.
Kirk realizes that he has to take Mitchell down and appeals to Dr. Dehner’s humanity for help. She ultimately decides to help Kirk take Mitchell down and also dies in the process. At the end of the episode, Spock confesses that despite suggesting that they kill Mitchell to save themselves, he had begun to feel sorry for Mitchell.
But here’s my thing. Yes, on some level the audience can understand that Mitchell didn’t ask for what happened to him. We feel sorry for what happened to him, even. At the same time, we didn’t get to spend much time with him. Only this episode, really. I don’t think his ultimate demise had the same emotional impact it would’ve had if this happened to a character we had more of an emotional connection with. If anything, Mitchell’s demise was more about creating character development for Kirk – the clear main character – than it was about anything else.
I was also frustrated by the crew’s willingness to leave Dr. Dehner alone with Mitchell. Ok, so they didn’t know everything about what was going to happen, but they did know what both Mitchell and Dr. Dehner had been impacted by their encounter with whatever they hit. And they knew that people with a propensity for ESP were being impacted. Which included both Dr. Dehner and Mitchell. So how could they not see that whatever was happening to Mitchell was probably also going to happen to Dr. Dehner?
And finally, the Enterprise is a large ship with a large crew. Are we really to believe that on a crew the size of the Enterprise, there were only two people with ESP?
So let’s discuss “Where No Man Has Gone Before” in the comments. What did you think?