Saturday, May 26, 2018

Episode Review - The Devil in the Dark (Original Series, Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – The Enterprise is called to Janus VI, a mining colony that is being terrorized by what they describe as a monster. Having claimed the lives of fifty miners, the creature seems intent on driving the humans off the planet. Kirk originally seeks to exterminate the creature when it takes an important circulating pump that is needed to keep the planet habitable for humans. When Kirk and Spock encounter the creature, they learn that there is much more to this silicon-based lifeform than meets the eye. Now, in a race to protect both the colony and the creature, Kirk and Spock try to discover what the creature wants and find a solution that will allow both parties to live in harmony.

Score: 9/10 – One of my favourite episode of the original series, “The Devil in the Dark” gives us a fantastic story that gives us a few surprises and deviations from the typical “monster-of-the-week” episode. We are given the Horta, one of the most interesting and unique creatures of the Star Trek world. Where life as we know it is carbon-based, the Horta is of the silicon variety. As a scientist, I was happy that they selected silicon as it has enough similarities to carbon to make it feasible and plausible to be the basis of life. I also love that the Horta is shown to be intelligent, ancient, and compassionate. It basically turns the standard “if it’s a monster, it must be evil” concept on its head, and gives a valid reason for the Horta to kill people. She is defending her eggs, her offspring, and the future of her species. The humans had inadvertently killed several of the eggs, and the Horta was doing everything she could to protect the rest. This is where Star Trek’s storytelling is at its finest, as it causes the audience to identify with and feel for a sentient life that is so different from us. In addition to suspense and action, there is some great humor to go along with the story, especially the closing scene. It is interesting to note that in hindsight, an episode that teaches us the importance of accepting diversity (in this case, diversity in sentient life forms), there are no women with speaking parts. Before anyone starts panning this episode for that, keep in mind that this episode is a product of its time.

Relevance – 3 points. This is the first time that McCoy uses the iconic “I’m a doctor, not a…” trope. In this particular instance, it is “…not a bricklayer”. This would become one of the good Doctor’s most popular catchphrases, with the other likely being “He’s dead, Jim”. That is definitely worth a mark in this section. I am also giving a point for Sulu mentioning the Horta in the third season episode “That Which Survives”. It is interesting to note that Sulu does not appear in this episode, although it is logical to assume that Sulu, a senior officer, would be aware of the Horta. This is also the first time that pergium, a valuable energy source, is mentioned. It will be referenced again in both Deep Space Nine and Voyager. While not nearly as famous as other substances that are mined in Star Trek (dilithium and latinum, for example), it is not one of those “created for an episode and then forgotten” things.

Continuity – 2 points. Story wise there was one thing element about this story that always bugged me. The various times that the Horta attacked and killed various miners and security officers, it always seemed to rise in front of the victim, who was usually armed, and in a few seconds attack them up close. When I first saw this as a kid, I wondered why nobody shot at it. Perhaps it is necessary to suspend some belief in this, but after re-watching it, I just couldn’t help but think that there is something not quite right here. I have to deduct the story continuity point for it. Otherwise, character and universe continuity work well here.

Character Development – 2 points. Kirk and Spock both seem to get the most attention in this episode. McCoy and Scotty are the only other main characters to be seen. In this episode, we see Kirk and Spock joust back and forth about the ethics of their situation. At one point, Kirk insists that the creature be killed on sight, with Spock speaking towards capture. Then, when Kirk encounters the Horta and feels inclined to spare the creature and learn more of it, Spock is the one who urges the captain to kill it. Some may think that this is an odd reaction for Spock, but as I thought about it I came to realize what was at stake. Spock has already shown how far he will let his loyalty to his captain take him with “The Menagerie”, and when it comes to the life of Kirk over the Horta, Spock makes the emotional yet logical choice to save his friend. The banter between Kirk and Spock is often entertaining, and here it delves into their friendship as they disagree on an important issue. While this is a good showcase of their relationship, it does little to move that relationship further along.

Social Commentary – 3 points. There is a lot of subtly in this episode. The episode title, “The Devil in the Dark”, originally looks as if it describes the Horta. In reality, it is what the Horta uses to describe the humans who have been destroying her eggs. Kirk and the others saw the Horta as a ruthless monster. They judged it as little more than an animal because it was so different from life that they knew. As they discover the truth behind the Horta, their attitudes change. They realize that they are more alike than different. This is a recurring theme in Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry intentionally wove this idea into the stories he created for Star Trek. The inclusion of former war adversaries (Japanese and Russian) as members of the crew is an example of this. One of the strengths of this episode is making the monster relatable. We empathised with the creature who was merely protecting her children. While we may see those who are different than us with suspicion, once you get to know them it is easy to see what you share as opposed to what divides you. In today’s world, that is something we need more than ever.

Cool Stuff – 2 points. There is no doubt that the Horta is a really cool part of this episode. Yes, it’s a guy under a shaggy colorful rock-like thing, but considering that it was done 50 years ago, it still looks unique and interesting. Having it based on a silicon basis of life was also very interesting and different. I loved everything about it. I also want to score a point for the twist on the typical monster of the week approach. Instead of being a creature to be defeated, we actually come to side with the Horta, learning that it is an ancient, disciplined, and intelligent species. I consider the truth of the Horta to be one of Star Trek’s best plot twists, and that is enough for another cool point.

Rank – Admiral (21 points). A classic episode that is a perfect example of what made the Original Series a classic. Learning to co-exist with those that are different and seeing a creature as more than a monster to be overcome is a great lesson. It is often on people’s Top 10 favorite episode lists for a good reason.

If you would like to read other reviews from the Original Series, click on the link here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

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