Star Trek: The Original Series (1967) – The Devil in the Dark, and Errand of Mercy

Captain’s log: stardate 3196.1

The Devil in the Dark. THIS is a classic episode. Written by Gene L. Coon with an airdate of 9 March, 1967, this one takes what starts out as a bit of a scary story, definitely one vested in mystery, and turns it into a compassionate tale of understanding.

The Enterprise arrives on Janus VI to investigate a series of murders being committed by a rarely seen monster. The minerals on the planet could supply a thousand planets, but there is a force at work within the caverns that is slowing production.

Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to investigate, and soon find themselves hunting the creature. Spock begins to theorise that the creature is a silicon based life form, and that it is trying to communicate in its way with the colonists and then Kirk and company.

When they learn what is going on, from the creature’s point of view, we are given a story that deals with compassion, understanding, and the belief that there is nothing to fear in the temporarily unknown. There is a bit of an ecological theme at work as well, as the creature, known as a Horta is having its world, and its offspring destroyed by the colonists because they don’t understand and fear what they are hunting.

The character moments continue to help define the show, the big three all have great moments, and when the story shifts from a hunt to an exploration of communication and understanding Spock gets to bring in the mind meld in a wonderful sequence. McCoy, as always, gets some fantastic dialogue.

Even when I was a kid and saw this episode for the first time, I knew this was something special. It embodied some of the best of what Trek was, even to my understanding of it at the time. There are action beats, exploration, humour, the classic music cues, fear transmuted into wonder and discovery, it’s wonderful.

All of those things are at the heart of Star Trek, and became ingrained into my very DNA at a young age, and have stayed with me ever since. I remember, as a child, running around with my Lego-made phaser and communicator, swinging from playground sets and rolling across the grass (never ripping a shirt like Kirk, but definitely dirtying them) blasting away at Klingons, but when I explored the alien planets of my imagination, fear would always lead to some form of understanding.

The episode ends with a promise of mutual help between the two species, and that speaks deeply to things we face on our own planet here. The relationship leads to something mutually beneficial. Now if only we could do that amongst ourselves. I learned to do that as a child.

This is a brilliant episode.

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Captain’s log: stardate 3198.4

Errand of Mercy was an important episode, it introduced us to the swarthy looking Klingons, that as movies and series progressed, changed appearance, but remained a constant thorn in Kirk’s side.

This one was written by Gene L. Coon as well, and the episode aired 23 March, 1967.

With the threat of intergalactic war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire Kirk and company find themselves on the planet Organia. The planet is tactically important to both sides, and the seemingly peaceful, non-violent, pastoral inhabitants of the planet seem incredibly placid in the face of Klingon conquest, or joining the Federation.

Of course, we learn that these people are no where near as simple as they appear.

Kirk and Spock attempt to wage a guerrilla war on the Klingons, led by Kor (John Colicos), but when the Organians have had enough, they put a stop to all of it.

Kirk butts heads with the ruling council of the Organians. He tries to convey the danger of the Klingon Empire, the need for the Federation to protect them but, in classic Trek fashion, things aren’t what they seem.

The Organians are very powerful beings, that force a measure of peace on the Klingons and the Federation, something that infuriates both sides. They are an advanced, pacifist society, and they have little tolerance for anyone who would commit violence.

There are commentaries here on diplomacy, violence, and the concept of an enduring peace.

The little kid in me loved the space battle that opens the episode, though, honestly, we don’t see much. But it fired my imagination, and countless daydream adventures at my classroom desk.

Of course, some of the sneaking around and blowing stuff up translated nicely to playing outside when I was a kid. In fact this episode had everything that I loved in Trek as a child, space stuff, Kirk being a hero, and a theme or two running through it that I may not have gotten at that age, but recognised that there was more there than I garnered at my young age.

The other thing I loved about this episode is that Coon has the Kirk/Spock banter down pat. Actually, all the dialogue in this episode is pretty sharply written, and Colicos helps define all the Klingons that follow him.

Despite the fact that the Organians lay down the law here, stopping the fighting (everywhere, they say), I’ve never quite understood how it worked, because as we’ll see in future episodes, and even the films, the Federation and the Klingon Empire definitely have a skirmish or two.

Still, it’s a fun episode and is undeniably, Classic Trek.

And so, the Human Adventure continues…

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