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Star Trek TOS - Season 1 - Episode 09

Star Trek TOS - 1x09 - Dagger of the Mind

Originally Aired: 1966-11-3

A new treatment for the criminally insane has deadly results. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 4.4

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 52 5 55 22 23 36 45 31 19 20 15

Filler Quotient: 2, filler, but an enjoyable episode nevertheless. You can skip this one, but you'd miss out on some fun.
- It's worth noting that this is the first episode to feature a Vulcan mind meld. However, none of the exposition revealed here about that requires that this episode be seen before any of the other episodes featuring mind melds.


- This episode establishes that Vulcans are capable of telepathy when it is focused on an individual through touch.

Remarkable Scenes
- McCoy and Kirk arguing over Gelder.
- McCoy forcing kirk to launch an investigation.
- Kirk annoyed with McCoy's selection for his assistant.
- Adams' toast: "To all mankind. May we never find space so vast, planets so cold, heart and mind so empty that we cannot fill them with love and warmth."
- Noel planting hunger in Kirk's mind.
- Noel planting fond memories of a romantic encounter between them in Kirk's mind.
- Adams' death, nasty!

My Review
An escape attempt by a criminally insane man that isn't what it seems. Certainly an original plot for Star Trek so far and during the first twenty minutes of the episode the plot is well paced and intelligently constructed. It's unclear whether or not McCoy's suspicions will be validated until almost halfway through the episode. Unfortunately, once it becomes clear that Adams is up to no good, the pacing of the episode crashes as the episode begins to focus solely on slowly revealing the exact nature of what specific evils Adams is up to. Of particular note are the frequent, lengthy scenes where Spock and McCoy attempt to access Gelder's memory. Likewise, I would have preferred fewer and/or shorter Kirk-in-the-brainwashing-chair scenes.

Kirk's interactions with Noel were considerably more interesting. While her character was a bit annoying at times for being all too eager to defend Adams even after the originally all too trusting Kirk had moved on from that attitude, the rest of her characterization was well done. I'm amused that Kirk and Noel apparently had some sort of fling at a Christmas party and that while she clearly wishes it had been more than that, she's a great deal more comfortable with the reality of those events than Kirk is. Their sexual tension is well played, tasteful, and relevant, unlike similar scenes in some previous episodes.

What doesn't play as well are Adams' motives. Since the episode offers us little to go on, we can only conclude that he somehow went mad with the power to enslave people with his beloved brainwashing machine. While it's never made clear just what his plans for Kirk and Noel were once they discovered what he was doing, it stands to reason that he was attempting to wipe their memories of what their investigation had revealed. But if that was what he was trying to do, then why was he wasting his time planting so much other nonsense in Kirk's mind when he could have just planted the memory of an uneventful investigation and sent him on his way? Once again we're forced to just accept that another dignified Earth celebrity suddenly went inexplicably crazy. This is already becoming quite a cliche.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From rhea on 2008-04-27 at 12:16pm:
    just a polite request: could you maybe give it a rest with the pacing? People in the 60s weren't as used to sensual overload as we are today. Just because an episode seems slow to a person who is used 20 cuts per minute does not mean it is bad - I keep thinking that the fault, if you will, is the audience's. I wish things like intelligent detail, good dialog, character revelations or daring experiments (for the time, acknoledging that this is a classic/cult show) would count more in your reviews.
  • From tyrannorustus on 2008-07-08 at 3:18am:
    I'm currently working my way through TOS with your reviews and for the most part find myself in agreement, though I disagree on your comments concerning the pace of the episode. What makes preceding episodes so agonizingly slow paced is the fact that the viewer clued in at least 20 minutes ahead of the crew (e.g. "The Man Trap" and "Charlie X"), making the reaction shots of Kirk's pensiveness and Spock's eyebrow furrowing nearly insufferable. This episode doesn't have that same feel because the viewer is learning along with the crew. For example, there is no obvious music cue to let the viewer know too early that Adams is up to no good. While I don't agree with the previous poster that people in the 60s weren't used to visual over-stimulation (This is the decade that brought us "2001" and "Lawrence of Arabia" after all) I agree that criticizing the show on pacing is inappropriate. Every scene contributes to moving the plot forward and the dramatic build up is very well done. In particular, the parallel climax of Spock's mindmeld with Gelder and Adams' assault on Kirk's mind is well done. A very good episode from the early days of the show.
  • From CAlexander on 2011-04-10 at 4:04pm:
    I basically liked the episode. Dr. Adams does a good job of being a creepy sociopathic sadist. My only complaint is that it is excessively foolish of him to lock Kirk and Noel in a room with such an obvious escape route. But at least his behavior is consistent – he let Van Gelder get away too!

    As far as the question of Adams motives, it is true that they don't reveal much to us, which is too bad. But what we do see of his personality seems internally consistent to me. Here was my impression of Dr. Adams:

    Dr. Adams has always been an egotistical, sadistic sociopath. He has probably covered up many crimes, and took up penology in the same way that, in other TV stories, an arsonist might take up firefighting. He wrote some good papers and used his manipulative charm to trick the well-meaning but stupid Federation bureaucracy into giving him a penal colony where he could be all powerful. And it worked, until Van Gelder escaped. Being an egotist, he assumed he could bluff Kirk into leaving him alone with Van Gelder, just like he bluffed all the other Federation officials. But when he finds it didn't work and realizes Kirk and Noel have figured out what is up, he can't resist the perfect setup for a little sadism. Then he locks up Kirk and Noel and tries to figure out what to do. Given what we see of Van Gelder, it is clear that while the neutralizer is pretty impressive in the short term at making post-hynotic suggestions, it is far less effective in the long term. He can't just wipe Kirk's mind and let him return to the ship – without constant re-use of the neutralizer, Kirk is bound to recover his memory. Adams knows he is in big trouble, but his ego tells him there must be a way to regain command of the situation. It fits his sadistic style to try to turn the neutralizer on full bore and try to torment Kirk until he can break him down completely. Hard to know what exactly he was thinking, since the plan doesn't get too far. Perhaps it involves brainwashing Kirk into "loving" Dr. Adams and working with him. Perhaps he hopes to drive Kirk insane so the crew will leave him at the penal colony.
  • From Mike Meares on 2012-02-24 at 9:56pm:
    This was a very good episode and a good review by Kethinov. Although I agree with the remarks by CAlexander.

    I did notice a couple of minor problems with this episode.

    The box that is beamed aboard from the Tantalus Penal Colony and the one Dr. Marcus Van Gelder is hiding in is labeled Classified Material - Do Not Open. But the box is clearly unlocked and Van Gelder opens it from the inside with ease. Would the Tantalus Colony really send off Classified Material without checking to see if it is locked down properly?

    When Van Gelder reaches the Enterprise bridge, he attacks and knocks out a security guard. Even after Van Gelder is subdued by Kirk and Spock, Dr. McCoy makes no effort to check and see if the security guard is all right.

    When Spock does the mind meld on Van Gelder there is a slight problem. Van Gelder is in great pain but at no point does Spock show any signs of pain himself. Strangly this is in direct contridiction to Spock's mind meld with the Horta in "The Devil in the Dark." Spock took on the pain the Horta was feeling, why doesn't Spock take on the pain Van Gelder felt?

    This has gotten me thinking too. Would the vulcans have developed a technic whereby you take on the feelings of others? Especially since the Vulcans work so hard to suppress their own emotions?

    All in all though "Dagger of the Mind" was pretty good. The acting by Morgan Woodward and James Gregory were really good. I think it would have been a nice touch to show a painfree Van Gelder at the end of the episode. Woodward did such a great job showing the pain Van Gelder went though, it would have been wonderful to see Val Gelder "healed."

    I also liked the build up in this one too. The story kept you guessing for a long time. However, I do think they could have made it last longer. When Kirk and Helen are first introduced to the neural neutralizer there is a tech operator in the room. After Kirk leaves the tech operator begins to tell the patient in the chair that if he tries to remember any part of the discussion he will feel teribble pain. I think that gave away the plot way to early.

    I wasn't crazy about the "romance" angle thrown into the story. How many ex girl friends does Kirk really need? However, I did enjoy how they handled this one. At first you can actually feel how upset Kirk is about the whole ordel of working with a woman that he had some contact with outside the ship. It was a different approach than they normally did or since and one that was very refreshing.

    And I said it before and I will say it again: I love having two people man the transporter room. I wish they had kept that up.

  • From Schreck on 2013-05-23 at 4:35pm:
    I wonder how many episodes of TOS had to do with insanity of some kind. It seems it is where the writers keep going to it with almost always negative results…I give it a 6.25 and my brother a 7.25
  • From Alan Feldman on 2014-05-31 at 12:53am:

    Morgan Woodward is awesome in this episode. He said playing Van Gelder was the most physically and emotionally exhausting acting job of his career. Also, it took 3 weeks for him to return to normal after playing the role, during which he was anti-social.

    Re your comment about seeing a normal Van Gelder at the end, what would bring him back to normal? Can the machine be used to undo the damage?

    If the machine empties your mind, and Kirk had a dose at full blast -- twice, even! -- how could he have any mind left? He'd be a vegetable. At the end, Noel says it wasn't set high enough to kill when Adams was there. So why didn't it kill Kirk?

    Whenever the power is out, the emergency lights are awfully bright!

    OK, when the force field is down, Spock says, "Get some security people and follow me down." Why aren't the security people _already_ there? Moreover, why don't they have "security people" there 24x7? Seems like a no-brainer.

    To Mike Meares:

    Helen was not an ex-girlfriend. There was just that single incident at the Christmas party, and it's not clear at all exactly what happened.

    Kirk had four ex-girlfriends:

    Ruth in Shore Leave
    Areel Shaw in Court Martial
    Janet Wallace in The Deadly Years
    Janice Lester in Turnabout Intruder

    If I missed any, please do tell.

    Hey, Helen _Noel_ at a _Christmas_ party. Coincidence?

    AEF, aka betaneptune
  • From gee on 2014-12-06 at 9:05am:
    There is a glaring continuity error regarding the security screen of the penal colony. Selected script excerpts below.

    Berkeley: energize
    Kirk: having trouble, gentlemen?
    Berkeley: I just don't understand the problem, sir
    Kirk: you're beaming cargo down to a penal colony, Mr. Berkeley
    Berkeley: Their security force field, sir.

    Kirk: ...might lead to the power supply, short-circuited, it would cut off the

    security force field

    Dr. Noel turns off the master power switch

    security guard turns it back on, after a struggle with Noel

    Noel kicks him into high voltage circuit, killing him

    Berkeley: Mr Spock, force-field is gone, I can send you right to the source of

    the interruption
    Spock: get some security people and follow me down

    Noel escapes back through conduits
    Mr Spock beams down, turns off 4 switches next to "Security Screen" and lights

    go off
    Spock "Enterprise, this is Spock, force-field has been eliminated"
    Spock flips another switch (apparently the same master voltage switch) which

    re-enables power to the mind chamber
  • From Zita Carno on 2018-08-09 at 10:50am:
    A lot of credit has to go to Dr. McCoy who, for all that he called himself "an old country doctor", was light-years ahead of everyone else. He was the one who pushed the reluctant Spock with the urgent "Will it work---or not?" Spock actually performed a quieter version of a powerful Vulcan mind-fusion, coupled with telepathic hypnosis, in which he delivered two suggestions in a half-whisper---one of well-being and relaxation, the other of weightless suspension. Van Gelder was not in any pain at the time, having been pumped full of tranquilizers, and the combination exerted a calming effect on his mind so he was able to describe his ordeal. And this was not the last time Spock would use this particular technique; it was a lifesaver in many instances.
  • From Chris Long on 2018-12-09 at 8:40pm:
    This episode was really awesome in some parts and truly inconsistent in others...
    The force field inconsistencies go even further than others observed! At the start, they had no problems communicating with the ship back and forth but couldn't send cargo. Then once Kirk and Noel are on the planet, the force field prevents commo. minor, perhaps, but still bugged me.
    Why prevent Lethe from joining the toast? And why the stupid toast anyway? It seems to me as I think back to the 60s, that people on TV were toasting all the time! Perhaps that is why but today it seems unnecessary and stupid.
    As far as Spock's melding compared to the Horta, in this case, he completely calms Van Gelder from the get-go. He couldn't do that with the Horta.
    I agree that Morgan Woodward's acting was awesome and he should have gotten an Emmy for it. Very emotional to watch. Maybe he did!
    Noel, planting the hunger notion should have been enough for her to know she was playing with fire by trying to plant all the Christmas BS in his mind afterward.
    I agree that it would have been a much better conclusion to see Van Gelder sane and well.
    Maybe also not destroy the machine. It did work and surely could be modified to have safeguards in place. Perhaps a set-up where two people are required to activate it so that no one person can get evil with it.
    And why were the security forces in the place on board with the obvious insanity? I suppose Adams could have used one of the insane criminals to pin a guard in the chair one by one until they were all in with the madness.

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