Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Mark Of Gideon

"There is no place, no street, no house, no garden, no beach, no mountain that is not filled with people. Each one of us would kill in order to find a place alone to himself. They would willingly die for it, if they could."

The Mark Of Gideon was written at a time when overpopulation was a common subject in the media; possibly as a result of global population passing three billion in 1960. Harry Harrison's science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! was published in 1966; it was later adapted as the film Soylent Green. William and Paul Paddock's non-fiction book Famine 1975! America's Decision: Who Will Survive? came out in 1967 and was followed a year later by the best seller The Population Bomb by Professor Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich. 1968 also saw publication of the novel Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner. For Star Trek, which always liked to have an issue lurking behind the script, a story about overpopulation was as inevitable as one about the Vietnam war or racism. The script came from an unlikely source. While filming The Trouble With Tribbles actor Stanley Adams, Cyrano Jones, talked about the subject to Gene Roddenberry and suggested Star Trek tackle the issue. This episode, via some considerable rewriting, was the result.

The Mark Of Gideon may have started with a sincere desire to explore a topic but the end result is a mess. It's an episode with a lot of superficial resemblances to Wink Of An Eye (Kirk is separated from his crew and 'trapped' on the Enterprise, Spock works to locate and rescue his captain, there's a woman who has an ulterior motive for making Kirk fall in love) but of the two Wink Of An Eye is the better episode. It's more tightly written. The Mark Of Gideon suffers from dangling plot threads which encourage the audience to pick holes in the story. For example where exactly do the Gideons get plans for their exact duplicate Enterprise? If pressure for space is so acute on Gideon then how do they make room to build a full sized Enterprise? How does Gideon function as a world? If these billions of people are living toe-to-toe then where does their food come from, or their sewage go to? Why does Spock very quickly realise the Enterprise replica is completely inoperative while Kirk does not?

The more an audience is left to pick holes in the set up the less likely they are to accept the overall premise. What's frustrating about the above examples is that any of them could be fixed with a line of dialogue; although it's often difficult to pick these things up at the time with the pressure of deadlines.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield has a couple of nice lines covering plot points and helping build the universe. When McCoy examines Lokai he has the line, "the organs are there. They're rearranged to a degree, plus a few I've never seen before," which covers Lokai and Bele's ability to generate shields and electrical charges more effectively than if the audience was just left to assume these were the powers of the aliens of the week. Likewise when Bele's invisible ship approaches the Enterprise Kirk asks, "could it be a Romulan ship using their cloaking device?" This reminds the audience that there is a precedent for invisible space ships in Star Trek and takes some of the sting away from an obvious budget saving measure.

The episode has other problems. A morally dubious acceptance of mass death as a method of population control; maybe Gideon should just have asked Kodos the Executioner from
The Conscience Of The King for some suggestions. Also a sense that the scale of the story is too large for Star Trek's resources. This is not like The City On The Edge Of Forever where some stock footage and backlot filming will stand in for a couple of blocks of New York. We are being asked to imagine an entire world and for that the audience really need to see Gideon in all its horror. Odona often describes it to the audience, "thousands pressed in against me. I could hardly breathe. I was fighting for oxygen, screaming to get out," but the few glimpses we do get of Gideon's huddled masses look comic; in their body-stockings they look like the sperm from Woody Allen's film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask. Lastly, there's a sense that in the early stages of the episode the script keeps missing its own plot beats. The mystery of the abandoned Enterprise barely lasts a minute of act one before we see Spock on the Enterprise bridge beginning his hunt for Kirk. Then instead of ending act one on the sudden appearance of Odona the act carries on to finish on her more generic line, "Captain, before I said I wasn't afraid. Now I am.

The abandoned Enterprise portion of the plot, like the idea of being speeded up in
Wink Of An Eye, is something which can grab the imagination of watching children. It makes the familiar seem strange and unsettling, and it's a shame this idea is abandoned so quickly; although it probably wasn't practical to make an entire act out of Kirk alone on the Enterprise searching for the lost crew. There's also the irony of a story about overpopulation taking place on an empty starship. When Kirk and Odona hear the heartbeats of the massed Gideons outside the episode verges on gothic horror. As do the scenes of Gideons watching Kirk and Odona. These two moments come the closest to explaining how important this experiment is to the people of Gideon. They've got barely enough space to live and yet they've found room for a replica Enterprise, and once it's built they gather outside to follow the experiment and jealously watch Kirk and Odona walk the empty corridors.

Enterprise crew deaths: None.
Running total: 50

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