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Star Trek TOS - Season 1 - Episode 25

Star Trek TOS - 1x25 - The Devil in the Dark

Originally Aired: 1967-3-9

Synopsis:
An unknown monster threatens a mining operation. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 7

Fan Rating Average - 6.33

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Filler Quotient: 2, filler, but an enjoyable episode nevertheless. You can skip this one, but you'd miss out on some fun.
- There's no essential plot or exposition in this episode that renders it unskippable, but it's definitely one of the better stories of the series.

Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode firmly establishes that Vulcan mind melds can be performed without touch but are more successful with touch, a fact previously only implied by a couple prior episodes.

Remarkable Scenes
- Spock proposing that the monster might be silicon-based and McCoy's reaction.
- The hilarious looking silicon-based life form.
- Spock hypothesizing that the silicon-based life form may be the last of its kind and that they should protect it at all costs.
- Spock: "The creature is in your area. Take a life form reading." Kirk: "That's not necessary Mr. Spock. I know exactly where the creature is." Spock: "Where, captain?" Kirk: "Ten feet away from me."
- Kirk hesitating to kill the creature.
- Spock's mind meld with the silicon-based life form.
- McCoy's reaction to seeing Spock mind melding with the silicon-based life form.
- McCoy: "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer!" (Count #2 for "I'm a doctor, not a [blah]" style lines McCoy is famous for.)
- McCoy: "By golly Jim, I'm beginning to think I can cure a rainy day!"

My Review
The Devil in the Dark is a terrific story with excellent pacing, especially at the beginning. I'm not typically a fan of the horror movie aesthetic, but this episode rises well above that by delivering a narrative with a compelling moral dilemma enhanced by well crafted sci-fi texture. Stories about how human resource extraction often comes at the expense of indigenous life are nothing new, but the alien characteristics of the lasagna monster--er, I mean silicon-based life form are what make this story particularly compelling. Scientists have long suspected that because silicon and carbon share many chemical properties that it may be possible for a hypothetical type of biochemistry to exist based on silicon instead of carbon. While I have my doubts that the lasagna monster depicted in this episode is a very realistic extrapolation of what silicon-based life might look like, the episode grapples with the idea in a reasonably intelligent way for the most part, even if it may leave you slightly hungry for lasagna after you're done watching it.

One of the best details of the episode is the plot's constant struggle to reconcile the desire to protect the miners with the concurrent desire to preserve the life of the creature. At first Spock questions the need to kill the creature only to be lectured by Kirk that a murderous rampaging monster cannot be permitted to live. But later on in the story their positions interestingly reverse. When Kirk personally confronted the creature, he realized that in its wounded state it had been rendered far less aggressive and Kirk started to ponder a means of rendering it harmless without killing it. Spock by this point was quite taken with Kirk's prior pragmatic attitude and advised killing it on sight. The way both men wrestle with their duty to save the miners and their scientific curiosity about the lasagna monster was nicely done and the use of a Vulcan mind meld as a means to fully understand the creature was a nice bit of continuity. I just wish those mind meld scenes weren't so frequently poorly acted and painfully slow.

After the mind meld Spock learns a whole slew of fascinating things about the creature which is apparently an intelligent animal, possesses language, and calls itself a horta. While it was fairly obvious from some of the first scenes that the silicon nodules were in fact eggs, thankfully the plot did not hinge its entire dramatic appeal solely on this revelation. Instead the focus on forging a peace treaty predicated on trade and mutual cooperation between the miners and the lasagna monsters was an excellent idea, true to the spirit of Star Trek. Much like in The Corbomite Maneuver or The Menagerie, the alien of the week has turned out not to be an evil monster after all but instead a sensitive intelligent creature which likewise desires peace and cooperation. The idea that all life shares at some level a desire to avoid conflict is perhaps Star Trek's most inspiring theme and this episode is the best one so far to directly tackle it.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Kelli Tipton on 2008-11-20 at 2:55am:
    You have something against English Imperial Units, I take it? And are you sure they are not U.S. Customary Units instead?

    If you look at the Apollo plans, components are measured in U.S. Customary Units. Why would Roddenberry use Metric? Seriously, the only people who ever seem to care about Metric are people who feel the need to feel scientific. Meanwhile, they can't seem to use a unit that can be divided by 3. Just think of that... You can't have a third of something, nor measure out 7/16 of an inch easily. How lame is that.
  • From Giuseppe on 2009-03-09 at 9:03pm:
    I don't really mind it when they use the Imperial system, however it does make sense that they would use the metric system. After all, the Enterprise is an Earth built ship with a mostly Earth crew and the metric system is the most widespread measurement system on Earth (that was also true back in the '60s). In fact today there are only three countries in the world that don't use it as a primary system: The US, Myanmar and Liberia. Even the Brits who invented the Imperial system now use metric as the primary measurement system.
    The comparison with Apollo is forced to say the least. The Enterprise isn't an all-American project like Apollo was.
    And yeah, on a starship you'd expect that they use the best scientific measurement system around and, for the moment at least, that's metric. It's based on decimal multiples, just like our numbering system, you don't have to mess with various conversion factors when converting from one unit to another (you just have to move the decimal point or change an exponent), nor is there a need to express measurements in fractions.
  • From 411314 on 2009-06-15 at 7:12pm:
    I loved how this episode looked like a standard fight the dangerous monster episode and turned out to be completely different. I never saw the ending coming until the eggs were found.
  • From Scott Hearon on 2014-03-31 at 8:04am:
    I really liked this one. Aside from the almost comical appearance of the Horta, there was a lot of thought in this tale.

    Most of my gripes are related to McCoy's healing of the Horta. From Kirk's oddly agressive insistence that McCoy shutup and do something that he's not trained to do, to the eye-roll inducing line, "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer!", I had to cringe.

    Aside from these a few other very minor oddities, this was a great little story of rethinking initial impressions. There is, of course, the core Star Trek element of not only seeking out new life, but attempting to forge peaceful bonds with it, whenever possible. This episode took advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on this grand notion, whereas some previous episodes (such as "Arena") missed out.
  • From Alan Feldman on 2015-01-24 at 12:27pm:
    THE DEVIL IN THE DARK

    Episode is better than one would think given a synopsis (one without spoilers, anyway) of it.

    You wrote: "When Kirk personally confronted the creature, he realized that in its wounded state it had been rendered far less aggressive and Kirk started to ponder a means of rendering it harmless without killing it." Good point. I never thought of that. OTOH, Kirk earlier warns us that there's nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal. So I guess the devil is in the details. (Sorry -- couldn't resist.)

    I thought the mind-meld scenes went on for too long.

    Units again? Scientists often use non-metric units. High-energy physicists, for example, measure mass and energy in electron volts. An electron has a mass of about 511 keV, which is more convenient than 9.110x10^-28 gm, especially in relativistic formulas. A proton has a mass of about 938.3 MeV; a neutron, 939.6 MeV. In the case of calculating the binding energy of nuclei they often use atomic mass units with a table of "mass excess". They also use feet! Electrical signals travel at close to the speed of light. They take 1 nanosecond to travel 1 foot. This is useful in estimating delays due to cabling. Angular momenta of particles, nuclei, and electrons in an atom are most conveniently measured as integral or "half-integral" (0, 1/2, 1, 1 1/2, 2, 2 1/2, . . .) multiples of Plank's constant divided by (2*Pi). (In the first two cases it's a special form of angular momentum called spin.) Then there're light years and parsecs, neither of which is metric. There are many more examples. Oh, and astronomical units. Bottom line: use the right units for the job. (Similar to, "Use the right tool for the job".)

    Notice that Kirk said, "The chart says these tunnels converge a few thousand yards further." A few thousand yards?! That's a few kilometers (to put it in metric units)!

    KIRK: You take the left (points to his right); I'll take the right (points to his left). Do they really think we're that stupid?

    Notice the cave floor is just a regular floor. Not a biggie. Just sayin'.

    23rd level? There are at least 23 levels? That's a lot of levels!

    "We'll use clubs." Seriously? 30:31-30:36, 44:08-44:15, 44:25-44:28. I guess so!

    At 44:08 the miners club the red-shirts. Shouldn't they be charged with a crime?

    AEF
  • From Chris on 2018-09-29 at 3:51pm:
    I love this episode and was actually more fascinated by the reviewers!

    Kethinov - I'm often amazed at your command of the language and truly appreciate the insights you bring to your reviews and thought about these stories! THANK YOU!

    As far as unit usage goes, this show was made for American audiences first and foremost, not Europeans. As far as the U.S. usage of metric vs. Imp. measurements go, the military has used metric as far as I can remember, which is a long-assed time!

    Feldmen - You seem to be nit-picking a bit.

    I like McCoy's, "I'm a doctor, not a..."! Check that, I love them!

    Time for Lasgna!

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