You Can’t Know What It’s Like: TOS “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

In this second series pilot, the Enterprise encounters an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy that triggers ESP in two crewmembers.

  • Watching the current CBS blu-ray set of these episodes, here we see nicely enhanced graphics of the galaxy, the haze of the Milky Way, as the Enterprise approaches the “edge of the galaxy”.
  • Trek physics: the whole concept of the “edge of the galaxy” is ludicrous, of course; it’s like speaking about taking a walk to half a yard outside a valley. There’s no edge of a galaxy, or a valley, that is that distinct. None other than Isaac Asimov wrote an article in TV Guide, around late 1966 or so (he’d at least seen this episode of Trek, and had seen Lost in Space), criticizing this point, though of course the errors in Lost in Space were worse.
  • This was the second pilot, to NBC, after “The Cage” [which was later incorporated into “The Menagerie”], though not the first episode shown as it ran on TV. By the time the show went into regular production, things had changed, like the uniform colors and trim, the shape of the viewscreen monitor on the bridge, and so on. Spock’s make-up here is relatively crude; Scott has an oddly colored tan shirt; Spock wears a gold shirt, like Kirk, not the blue one he wore later, throughout the series.
  • The two guest stars here were relatively prominent actors: Gary Lockwood, who played Gary Mitchell, later starred in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Sally Kellerman, who played Elizabeth Dehner, later starred in the film MASH.
  • As in other early episodes, we see lots more crewman in the corridors, as well as ladders and overhead panels that weren’t bothered with in the later shows.
  • Sexism: there’s a “Yeoman”, Smith, on the bridge in the early scenes, whose job is merely to serve coffee apparently; she doesn’t do anything else. In a later scene, as the ship is endangered, Gary Mitchell reaches behind him to hold her hand, implying I’m not sure what – that they know each other? Or more likely that he feels compelled to offer comfort to the nearest frail woman?
  • (It was some years after watching Trek in its first run before I learned that the word “yeoman” didn’t automatically mean female… They always were on Trek.)
  • More sexism: when female crewmen appear (I think this is true throughout the show), they are either taken for granted as service providers (bringing lunch, or coffee, as Yeoman Rand does in “Charlie X”), or are treated an exceptional to the acceptable routine of male experts. When Elizabeth Dehner appears on the bridge to discuss ESP, Gary Mitchell asks sarcastically if her job is to “improve the breed” and then, when she says, “I heard that’s more your specialty” Gary turns away and remarks to the nearby helmsman, “Walking freezer unit”. (Because they couldn’t say the b word on 1960s TV.)
  • As Spock listens to tapes from the Valiant, the ship whose recorder they’ve picked up, which preceded them exiting the galaxy (by half a light-year!), he talks about a “magnetic space storm”. Is this a real thing? Trek repeatedly invokes such events, and Lost in Space did all the time (more often as “cosmic storms”), and I’ve never understood what they meant, if those were real things. (We do hear about solar flares that affect Earth’s magnetic field, but such ‘storms’ are surely a problem only relatively close to a star, compared to the Enterprise being out in interstellar space.)
  • It’s odd how the barrier becomes visible only as the Enterprise approaches it. Interstellar and intergalactic space is remarkably transparent — that’s how we can see galaxies a billion light years away. And why is it a band that happens to be horizontal with respect to the Enterprise’s current orientation? (Trek physics: because the writers and producers project movements and events that we experience on a subjectively ‘flat’ Earth into three-dimensional space, without thinking about it.)
  • The SFnal premise here is about ESP, extra-sensory perception. In the story, the lost Valiant had been investigating the topic, in their last hours. Now Kirk asks Dehner what she knows. “It’s a fact that some people can sense future happenings – read the backs of playing cards and so on.” This is an obsolete premise; it’s not a fact, as we know in 2017, that people can do that. ESP, telepathy, and the like, were fads in the 1950s and 1960s, when there seemed to be some reputed evidence. In SF literature, such themes were routine, even in the “hard SF” magazine Analog. But as the decades passed, reliable evidence never showed up, and modern understanding of neurology and the mind rules such powers out. There is no telepathy, no psychokinesis, no visions of the future, none of it.
  • After the Enterprise retreats from its exploration into the force field at the edge of the galaxy, its warp ability gone, Kirk comments in his log that “Earth bases that were only days away are now years in the distance.” This is a nice, and rare, acknowledgement of the difference between their warp drive, that allows fast transit between stars, and lack of warp drive, which is far less than the speed of light.
  • Watching this episode now on Blu-ray, on a big TV, I can see details I never saw before. You know those medical panels above the beds in sick-bay, with several vertical scales that display various medical conditions? Now I can see them: the scales are for Temp, Brain, Lungs on the left; Cell Rate, Blood, Blood, on the right. [Or are these enhanced graphics?]
  • Gary Mitchell, having been zapped by something in the force field at the edge of the galaxy, develops superpowers. He lies in bed in sickbay, and reads Spinoza on a small monitor that extends on an arm over his bed. To Kirk, he calls Spinoza “simple, childish”, and says he doesn’t agree with him at all. In the next scene on the bridge, Spock monitors Gary’s reading, as he reads faster and faster, a page every second. Now I can see that the pages are headed “The Ethics”. Which is in fact a work of Spinoza’s. Give the production team points for attending to such details. (OTOH I didn’t try to read the text on those screens.)
  • Dehner is assigned to monitor Mitchell. Mitchell complains to Kirk that with 100 women on board, couldn’t he do better? Point here, 100 women is about ¼ of the entire crew.
  • Sexism: Dehner tries to mollify Mitchell: “Women professionals do tend to overcompensate”. Argh.
  • Dehner challenges Mitchell’s reading retention, and he quotes a sonnet: “My love has wings, slender feathered things with grace and upswept curve and tapered tip”, that he attributes to Tarbolde from 1996 (!).
  • When Spock examines personnel records for Dehner and Mitchell, we see typewritten cards that display, among other things, dates of birth. Dehner’s is 1089.5, Mitchell’s is 1097.7. Are these… star dates? More about this below.
  • The Enterprise travels to Delta Vega, somehow only a few days away (without warp), that has an impressive lithium cracking station – impressive in the visual. At Spock’s cold advice, Kirk realizes he has to maroon Mitchell there, before his powers enable him to take over the ship, and the Earth colony they might next go to. It doesn’t go well. Mitchell escapes; Dehner develops similar powers, and Kirk chases after them. He tries to negotiate with Dehner, about the danger Mitchell portends: “You know the ugly savage things we all keep buried that none of us dare expose. But he’ll dare–!”
  • Mitchell makes tombstone appear, for Kirk, and it reads 1277.1 to 1313.7. The latter date coincides with the log entry star dates in this episode. But meaning what? I think that by this time the production staff had not decided what stardates meant. The eventual meaning was that one stardate meant one day… but this tombstone implies *years*. More about star dates in later episodes.
  • Despite Mitchell’s godlike powers, Kirk defeats him in a fistfight, with a laser rifle and a handy block of stone. Dehner, drained from fighting Mitchell, dies: “You can’t know what it’s like to be almost a god.”
  • Broad theme: would humans with superpowers be a good thing, or not? Would such beings threaten those without those powers? This theme is still very much with us.
  • Memory Alpha notes that the fistfight at the end is what sold NBC the show. -!! This was the primary way in which “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was superior to “The Cage,” in NBC’s view, apparently, and Trek TOS repeatedly staged such action scenes, in the manner of westerns at the time, since that was how real men dealt with their disputes.
    • In contrast, such crude violence went out of style in succeeding decades; did Picard ever get into a fistfight with anyone? (Not rhetorical; I don’t recall.) Steven Pinker, in his study of the history of violence The Better Angels of Our Nature, cites this diminished taste for physical violence in (certain kinds) of popular entertainment as one of many such trends of just the past 50 years.
  • We learn that “The Man Trap” was chosen as the first episode to be broadcast, because for various reasons the other episodes completed by then had issues, and the issue with “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was that it was too expository…
  • The episode ends on a reflective note, with Spock admitting that he too “felt” for Gary Mitchell, and Kirk wryly replying that “I believe there’s some hope for you after all, Mister Spock.” This is the first of many acknowledgments throughout the show, and especially in the first season, of Spock’s dual nature, though in ways that have always struck me as a tad patronizing. Spock’s heritage is one of subduing his emotions in the service of logic and rationality, and presumably this attitude has got him where he is, as science officer on a ship full of what amount to him as alien beings. (One might wonder, why didn’t Spock stay on Vulcan, or join the Vulcan starship we hear about in a later episode?) Yet those alien beings are always ready to rub in any example of his internal discipline slipping in any way. Hmm. May revisit these thoughts in later episodes.


The Blish/Lawrence adaptation (in ST 8, p85):

  • Being in a later book, this ‘adaptation’ is much more literal than those in Blish’s first three or four volumes. Discrepancies from the broadcast script are mostly incidental – a few extra or missing lines here or there, as if the adapter didn’t have the very final version of the script, or because changes were made during filming that were never documented in a script.
    • E.g. p86, reference to a “Q signal” before the Valiant’s recorder begins transmitting.
    • P108, more lines from Gary Mitchell as he and Dehner have escaped into the hills: “Soon we will fully control our bodies. We’ll never grow old. You’re woman enough now to like that. Always young, as beautiful as you desire to be.”
    • 6, Kirk’s plea to Dehner is “In God’s name, Doctor, make you prognosis!” using a phrase I think never uttered in the broadcast show.
    • P111, it’s missing Dr Dehner’s last line in the broadcast, “You can’t know what it’s like to be almost a god” in favor of “It’s—all over, isn’t it?” This seems like a last-minute inspiration on the part of the director or actor.
    • P111, and Kirk’s final line is different: as broadcast, “I believe there’s some hope for you after all, Mr. Spock” while the adaptation has “Watch yourself, Mr. Spock. Your compassion is showing.”
  • The adaptation does try to ‘explain’ the changes roles of some regular characters: how Sulu is now a physicist; how another doctor is on board because McCoy is on ‘special study leave’ p88. At the same time the adaptation retains obsolete terminology: “materializer” instead of transporter.
  • There are a couple passages in which one wonders how familiar the adapters were with the show, in odd choices of words: p105.8, after repairs the Enterprise is ready for “takeoff”.
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