Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where No Man Has Gone Before

This is Star Trek's second pilot. Picked by NBC from three scripts (the other two being The Omega Glory, and Mudd's Women) and made more action oriented at their request. So while original pilot The Cage ends with then Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike accepting fantasy is sometimes preferable to reality Where No Man Has Gone Before ends with Kirk and new God Gary Mitchell having a fistfight.

If Charlie X is The Man Trap's brainy cousin Where No Man Has Gone Before is Charlie X's knuckle dragging older brother. Charlie X and Where No Man Has Gone Before tell different stories but both could have sprung from Gene Roddenberry's one line proposal for The Day Charlie Became God “The accidental occurrence of infinite power to do all things in the hands of a very finite man.”

Where No Man Has Gone Before may be less thoughtful than Charlie X but you can see how it persuaded NBC to buy the series. As an episode it's insanely ambitious. From the catalogue of expensive production techniques all that's missing is location filming. There are matt paintings, and planet exteriors, and interior sets, and shipboard action, and unique special effects sequences -including a really unusual optical zoom in the teaser as the camera pulls back from a star field to show Kirk and Spock watching it on a screen-, and new props (I don't think Kirk's phaser rifle was ever used again), and stunts, and fights, and special make-up. Also three guest cast members get killed off. Not just three nameless non-speaking extras but proper actors with lines. That's quite expensive. If I was a producer on a budget I'd remove the doomed Lee Kelso character and replace him with one of the featured cast; probably Scotty because Sulu is still head of Astrosciences in this episode. The Doctor can come in and say “Scotty's been choked unconscious, but he'll be okay.” and you've saved the cost of an actor. Penny pinching, but we're talking about an episode budgeted at $215,644 -against the standard first season budget of around $190,000 per episode- which ended up costing $354,974 (about $2,534,841 today). Incidentally, on the other side of the Atlantic the BBC was making Doctor Who and the four part story The Time Meddler was broadcast as Where No Man Has Gone Before was filmed. In 1965 100 minutes of Doctor Who cost £7157 or about £114,297 today.

So, what did Desilu Studios get for their money? The script for Where No Man Has Gone Before is entertaining but utterly routine. A standard story of absolute power corrupting absolutely. It has some nice moments. Kelso's death comes as a surprise because of a scene in the turbolift where Kirk and Mitchell mention him when he's not on screen. This doesn't often happen to one off characters who are not also the main guest star. It establishes the friendship between the three, makes Mitchell's later killing of Kelso more shocking, and ups the stakes in Kirk and Mitchell's fight. Which is why the producers didn't cut Kelso's character in the first place. Actually, if the producers did want to save money by cutting an actor they should have removed Yeoman Smith. It's a real nothing part which doesn't serve the plot and just makes Kirk and Mitchell both look unprofessional. Kirk can't remember her name and calls her Jones by mistake. Then Mitchell holds her hand as the Enterprise tries to break through the galactic energy barrier; the ship's at red alert, both hands on the steering wheel mister. Also, because Smith is standing slightly behind Mitchell he is forced to extend his arm back at a very awkward angle. It looks stupid and unnatural and is, presumably, at the instruction of the director because having her standing further forwards would mess up the framing of his shots. Apart from that moment the direction is quite stylish. Some interesting camera angles -an unusual overhead shot of Kirk and Spock entering a turbolift- and a great moment during the fade to commercial break between act one and two. Gary Mitchell's silver eyes linger on screen shining out from the black, I don't know if this is deliberate or just a happy accident of the fade to black process.

So what does happen to Gary Mitchell? The episode implies gaining the abilities of a god simply drives Mitchell mad with power but this has happened to other Star Trek characters without similar results. Commander Riker in Hide and Q is the most obvious example, but we've also seen Charlie Evans in the previous episode, who seemed to have comparable powers, and the Organians from Errand of Mercy. As Mitchell gains in power he becomes egotistical, cruel, and emotionally distanced from the crew. Maybe Mitchell is just unstable to begin with but if that's the case why does he say “Jim” in such a saddened and regretful way when his power is momentarily drained by trying to walk through a security force field? The Enemy Within shows us a transporter accident that splits Kirk into good and evil individuals. Maybe the energy from the galactic barrier performs a similar function, massively boosting the evil side of Mitchell's personality. For all his powers, Mitchell never displays any empathic ability like Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the one telepathic power which would seem to be rooted in the good side of a person's personality would be the ability to sense what others are feeling.

Enterprise crew deaths: 12. Nine unnamed plus Mitchell, Dehner, and Kelso.
Running total: 16

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