Monday, January 30, 2012

Star Trek TOS S1 Ep9: Dagger Of The Mind

Star Trek: The Original Series returns in all its glorious and vibrant splendor. The remasters continue to be something to truly behold. A documentary on the Season One Blu-Ray set discusses returning Star Trek TOS to its intended glory.

It was no small order and the folks involved from the re-scoring of the music to the clean-up on prints and modifications of contrast really can't be thanked enough. Purists might be a little chaffed by the effort in spots, but without it Star Trek would never have looked this astounding. The breathtaking science fiction series is made all the more beautiful by the upgrade. It is one of the science fiction series that was truly deserving of the technical overhaul. It looks out of this world. There really is no series, for me, that has captured science fiction ideas, adventure and character the way the writers, directors and actors pulled it off here. The series was far ahead of its time and remains a marvel to watch. Thanks to the high definition restoration this series received it could run head to head with anything on television today. It really is like seeing it new for the first time.

Following the unsettling adventure of Miri, pre-dating an atmosphere reminiscent of the ghostly world of Charlton Heston's The Omega Man [1971], we return with Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 9, Dagger Of The Mind. Captain's Log Stardate 2715.1.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is delivering Infra-Sensory Drugs to the Tantalus penal colony and the attention of Dr. Tristan Adams.

Captain James T. Kirk enters the transporter room and finds the red shirts are unable to beam down supplies to the penal colony. The problem is obvious to Kirk. The security shield around the colony must be lowered.

Kirk kindly suggests his men brush up on "penal colony procedures." As Kirk exits, one box of Classified Material arrives. Inside is a man – an escaped prisoner.

Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise simply depart the penal colony airspace following delivery of the supplies. Kirk admits he would have enjoyed meeting Adams.

Kirk and Dr. Leonard Bones McCoy discuss the concept of the penal colony as something of a "resort" by the standards of the contemporary Trek universe. Bones begs to differ, but Kirk tells Bones he's "behind the times." The content of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic might describe me in a similar manner. Well into the Season One now, there is a natural rapport developing between the key cast members that adds to the pleasure factor of each episode even when the entry isn't entirely successful.

The Tantalus penal colony transmits to Kirk that a violent inmate is missing from their facility. The ear pieces that allow communications for both Uhura and Spock are notably large and despite the advancements in sizing down technology there's something infinitely cool and stylish about Star Trek tech. While unlikely such devices would be that large in scale today, you have to submit the look of Star Trek TOS really never disappoints and somehow manages to look as advanced today as it did in the 1960s. Space suits, phasers, communicators. Yes, nothing seems to age to the point of criticism when it comes to Star Trek technology. Consider the films and television series that have come and gone that feature gadgetry that seems positively dated and utterly laughable. It's a credit to the imagination of the creators and the designers that they laid the groundwork for timeless tech.

A red shirt arrives on the bridge for additional security. Only keeping his back turned to any who might enter is not a sound policy, but then, of course, this is a red shirt. So, as expected, the red shirt goes down in a heap as the prisoner, Simon Van Gelder, arrives demanding asylum with Kirk at phaser point. He pleads for Kirk's assurance that he be protected. Kirk replies, "No promises."

The sneak attack of the always reliable Vulcan neck pinch and Spock quickly takes control of the situation. Kirk reroutes back to Tantalus.

In sick bay, Bones is performing a physical. Van Gelder attempts to speak his own name to Kirk, but something neurally prohibits him from speaking it without undergoing great internal pain and duress. Gelder was a director of the colony and worked with Adams. Gelder refuses to go back, but his tirade is eventually sedated by Bones.

One of the many successes of Star Trek TOS was its casting. Whether over the top or not in its dramatic underpinnings, the long list of guest contributors really do their part to sell the story no matter how improbable the idea. Van Gelder is played with mad relish by Morgan Woodward and the concept of suppressed or concealed memory is certainly not outside the scope of possibility.

When Kirk returns to the bridge Spock informs him the man in sick bay is indeed Dr. Simon Van Gelder, an associate of Adams, assigned to the colony six months ago. Curious?

Kirk contacts Tantalus whereby Adams insists the Doctor was performing neural experiments on himself prior to attempting them on the prison population. Bones enters and whispers to "Jim." "That doesn't quite ring true." You know things are going well with cast chemistry when Bones refers to the Captain as Jim. Bones dubs the penal colonies – "cages." Bones can't put his finger on it, but after examining the patient he simply does not believe Adams.

Kirk reminds Bones that Adams revolutionized prisons over the course of twenty years and wonders why he would lie. Spock steps into the debate, an always logical choice for the voice of reason between the classic sci-fi triumvirate. The Superego, the ID and the Ego. "I suggest you ask Dr. Adams if he wants Van Gelder returned."

Adams is clearly a polished manipulator and suggests to Kirk that Van Gelder receive the best medical attention should there be a location closer than Tantalus. Bones is basing his assessment on a hunch and years in the medical profession.

It's worth mentioning that this particular sequence, although meager, between Kirk, Spock and Bones is one of the true highlights of the installment. It's a symbolic moment regarding the evolution of their relationship as it develops throughout the series.

This extended passage from author David Gerrold's The World Of Star Trek really speaks to the moment and the many exchanges that occur between the holy sci-fi trinity of colleagues and friends throughout the series. "Understand the contrast here: Spock prefers logic over emotions. McCoy prefers emotions over logic. But each is in a position where they must stifle part of who they are in order to fulfill their duties aboard the ship."

He adds, "Perhaps each of these characters recognizes the dilemma that the other is in, and more than anything else, this could be the reason for the unspoken affinity between them." Without question there is a mutual respect and affection for one another even after heated debates and battling at loggerheads over a given crisis or subject. Together, the trio often hammers out the best possible solution. The tension and the spark is what results in the best option weighed by the Captain.

Gerrold continues, "They are united also by a deep-seated regard for the Captain." This is evidenced as Bones backs down from his emotion in the aforementioned scene. Bones' relationship with the Captain "is one of deep affection and warmth-an old, tried friendship." Also in evidence is Spock's "strong feelings of loyalty and respect for Kirk. The Vulcan betrays himself in this respect time and time again."

The Freudian analogy has certainly been discussed ad nauseum throughout the history of Star Trek. I don't pretend that's a new thought, but it remains forever fascinating to me. Gerrold adds to this thinking. "McCoy and Spock are symbolic opposites." He points out, as evidenced in the bridge scene, "Kirk's job is to be a decider." Spock and Bones are his "chief advisors." "As such, they will represent the two aspects of every decision he will have to make - especially the difficult ones that will affect other people's lives."

Gerrold's conclusive thoughts in this train of thinking are sound. "Spock represents Rationality, McCoy represents Compassion.... They symbolize Kirk's internal dilemmas." Gerrold is spot on. Spock and Bones "dramatize" and articulate these internal struggles for Kirk and the crew. The World Of Star Trek is an insightful book and worth seeking out in any viable second hand bin you might find.

But, yes, respect and loyalty are indeed at the core and central to the established relationship of Kirk, Spock and Bones throughout the series. Politically and socially, the series and these incredible characters continue to have much to influence. Their impact is profound as they continue to remind us and inform our culture of these important attributes.

Kirk and Dr. Helen Noel prepare to beam down to Tantalus. When Kirk sees Noel he pauses. There is a history. There is the suggestion she is but one of his many sexual conquests. She is a red, hot smoking babe with a body built like a Cadillac. Funny thing is Kirk never placed the faced with the name when Bones first mentions her. This was clearly nothing more than a fleeting physical exchange following a chance meeting at the science lab Christmas party. I give you Dr. Helen Noel.

I must say that women have been liberated substantially since these good, old days and it's a crying shame too [from a purely selfish perspective]. The producers and creators knew how to cast these women and pick their outfits better than any casting department on the planet. By God, if Dr. Noel isn't proof that there is a God then I just don't know.

Arrival on the planet and a speedy elevator to the colony below ground sees Kirk and Noel fall quickly into one another's arms. Gosh, William Shatner had THE job of a lifetime.

Kirk discovers communications to the Enterprise will be limited if the security shield remains active. Noel, Kirk and Adams share a drink. Kirk is introduced to one of Adams' assistants, Lethe [played oddly by Susanne Wasson], who describes herself formerly as "malignant" and "hateful." There is something almost automated about her behavior. Her emotions are suppressed in much the same way her bad past memories have been erased. Something more has also been altered in the brain pattern rendering the woman cold and somewhat unresponsive. It's a bit like a mental ward given heavy doses of medication to suppress emotion a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest [1975].

It's worth noting that Lethe is a perfectly appropriate name for the woman as she represents the overarching theme of the entry as penned by one very smart S. Bar-David.

Through the use of the name Lethe, the writer weaves in the concept of Greek mythology as noted in a recent Cult Faces post at John Kenneth Muir's Reflections On Film/TV. Lethe, one of the five rivers of Hades, the river of forgetfulness, not only suggests the decent into Tantalus as akin to a descent into hell, but also speaks to a mental descent into madness. Lethe is literally defined as concealment or forgetfulness. This is a central, operating theme on Tantalus for all who submit to the journey into Adams' world.

Director Kurt Wimmer took a similar idea and ran with it for the film Equilibrium [2002] and the concept was handled beautifully in Babylon 5, Season Three, Episode 4, Passing Through Gethsemane [1995] guest starring Brad Dourif and, believe it or not, directed by one Adam Nimoy.
On the Enterprise, in sick bay, Dr. Van Gelder mentions a neural neutralizer that piques the interest of both Spock and Bones. Meanwhile on Tantalus, Adams takes Noel and Kirk to the neural neutralizer room that neutralizes brain waves. As he exits he asks the operator about the machine. The near lifeless, stoic-faced operator is clearly the recipient of its effects exhibiting little emotion. Adams refers to Kirk as the "ancient skeptic." Noel is captivated by Adams' work and makes every effort to excuse any interest by a suspicious Kirk to learn more. She even tells Kirk such efforts have been experimental for some time and that Adams has "not created a chamber of horrors here." Her assessment is clearly unscientific and based solely on her affection for Adams and a reputation that precedes him.

Adams explains Van Gelder was harmed in the neural neutralizer room while self-administering his own experiment.

Later, Spock reports to Kirk that he may be in danger. Adams leaves the room just prior to Kirk's communique to offer Kirk the continued illusion of trust. Noel scoffs Spock's suggestion they might be in harm's way. Kirk and Noel will spend the night and investigate [each other] further.

Spock probes Van Gelder's tortured mind using the Vulcan mind-meld. This is the first official implementation of the Vulcan technique. The Vulcan mind-meld is a terrific storytelling device that requires very little visual overhead, technical production or budget. Van Gelder submits calmly to Spock's methods. He explains how Adams can reshape the mind with his device. Spock's mind-meld is always so intimate, almost sensual as a rush of emotion floods through his own mind through the link.

In The World of Star Trek, Gerrold describes the event as a Vulcan technique that required "physical contact" or to be a "short distance away." The greater the distance "the less clear and distinct the impressions received."

Kirk visits Noel requesting her technical expertise on the inmates' behavior. Instead of behaving like a science professional, she suggests Kirk has visited her room for extracurricular activities. Noel is certainly a looker, but she also has a bit of the black widow in her.

It is late and Kirk submits to a neural probe with only Dr. Noel as his monitor and filter for safety. He can only hope her expertise behind the knobs is as impressive as her expertise between the sheets. Of course, my assessment is pure speculation.

With Noel's aid, Kirk commences testing under the neutralizer. Noel suggests he is hungry and when the device powers down he's famished. Kirk is concerned regarding the effectiveness of Adams' device Adams.

Kirk and Noel test further but the unit is sabotaged by Adams while Noel is restrained.

Adams penetrates Kirk's mind suggesting he would sacrifice his career for Noel out of love. Adams turns up the intensity like a dagger to the mind.

Returned to his room Kirk has been reduced to a love slave. But Kirk inexplicably [because he's Kirk] pulls it together and suggests Helen take the air duct so they can turn off the security field. Kirk is taken for another mind "treatment" by Adams' henchmen. Somehow Kirk manages to avoid a vegetative state.

On the Enterprise, Spock is more than alarmed thanks to the information obtained by the Vulcan mind-meld coupled with the fact he has not heard from the Captain.

Fortunately, Noel turns off the master voltage long enough to shut down power so that Kirk can leap into action with a quick karate chop to Adams' neck. Power is restored, but damage to the electric grid allows Spock to beam down.

When Helen finds Kirk she is greeted by some significant make face time. Spock stands amused.

Adams is now dead, a victim of his own devices. Unattended he is destroyed, while Van Gelder returns.

Bones muses with Spock and Kirk. "It's hard to believe that a man could die of loneliness."

After such a remarkably strong start to Star Trek: The Original Series, the show hits its first speed bump with Dagger Of The Mind. The entry is less the dagger and more like a soft butter knife. Director Vincent McEveety seems to have agreed.  "That (Dagger Of The Mind) was the most forgettable one I've done.  It's so forgettable I can't remember anything, except where I shot it.  You get 'em in every series and you can't say, 'Look I'm sorry, but I don't want to do this one.' They say, 'Tough, buddy.  It's yours.' The story seemed awfully forced and hokey to me" (Starlog Magazine #144, p.90).  McEveety may be a bit harsh, because despite its shortcomings and with the gift  of time, Dagger Of The Mind still has its moments. We do get the wonderful character triumvirate discussed with razor-sharp precision by Gerrold earlier. Nevertheless, the sum of those compelling moments cannot compensate for a less than convincing tale. We do get an extremely worthy female guest and some Vulcan mind-meld, but a good mind-meld, a smoking set of legs with an ass that won't quit aside it's simply not quite enough to raise the bar on S. Bar-David's script. In good conscience and with sound mind this may be my least favorite of the first season to date particularly hot off the heels of Miri also directed by Vincent McEveety. But again, it's Star Trek: TOS and there's plenty of science fiction that has come and gone that would be envious all things being relevant.

Dagger Of The Mind. Writer: S. Bar-David. Director: Vincent McEveety.

Dead Crewman: 0./ Dead Crewman To Date: 10./ Babe Alert: 1./ Babe Alert To Date: 10.

Babe Alert: Marianna Hill [1941-present]. [Dr. Helen Noel]. Hill was born Mariana Schwarzkopf and is a cousin to General Norman Schwarzkopf, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the 1991 Gulf War under President George Herbert Bush. She appeared in the Elvis Presley film Paradise, Hawaiian Style [1966], the same year the sex kitten appeared in Dagger Of The Mind. Hill also filmed with Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter [1973] and The Godfather II [1974]. She is also notable for the wonderful TV series My Three Sons, Hogan's Heroes, Batman and Love American Style.

Writer footnote: S. Bar-David [1924-2004] was the pen name for Shimon Wincelberg. Wincelberg is best known for penning The Reluctant Stowaway, the pilot for Lost In Space. He established the substantive tone that was the first season of Lost In Space. He scripted or co-wrote the first five episodes including The Derelict, Island In The Sky, There Were Giants In The Earth and The Hungry Sea as well as Invaders From The Fifth Dimension. Along with Dagger Of The Mind, Wincelberg penned Season One, Episode 16, The Galileo Seven, one of my childhood favorites from Star Trek: TOS. According to Wincelberg in Starlog Magazine #159 (p.72) he was not happy with the end result here and once again employed his pen name. "I found the finished production unpleasant, mainly due to the direction." He also added apparently there was some hostility toward Lost In Space. "While I was waiting to meet Gene, his secretary mentioned that some agents had the nerve to suggest writers who worked on Lost In Space!"


John Kenneth Muir said...


A very entertaining look back at the episode of TOS that first brought us the Vulcan mind-meld.

I'm with you in appreciating the character interplay and the, uh, visage, of Dr. Helen Noel, but also agree with you that the episode isn't one of the best of Treks.

I like the idea that the series was beginning to explore the concept of life in the future (in the Federation), and they wanted to explain how criminals/crimes would be treated in this new society. That's an interesting concept, and I always get a kick out of Lethe.

But the episode does make you wonder why clearly "sick" men like Dr. Adams aren't detected earlier...

Great job on this retrospective. I love your line about Dr. Helen Noel being proof of God's existence! Funny stuff...and she is, certainly, drop-dead HOT!


le0pard13 said...

I echo John's thoughts on this, SFF. Well done, as usual. Note to self: must save up and acquire ST:TOS on Blu-ray ;-). Thanks, my friend.

SFF said...

Thank you both.

L13. It's essential to your collection my friend! Just a beauty! In fact, the colors are so vibrant they actually saturated the images to a degree that I took for this post and many were unusable unfortunately, which is why there are so few of them.

John. Great point about the series weaving its mythology before our very eyes re the Federation.

If I had to sum it up in highlghts:
-Dr. Helen Noel
-The Kirk/ Spock and Bones component.
-The Federation information.
-Lethe. She's a truly odd little touch, but gives Star Trek it's strangeness in this episode.

Cheers friends,

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

A good fair review of Dagger of the Mind, Sci Fi Fanatic!

The only part of this episode that stuck in my mind is the climatic scene where Dr. Adams is subjecting Kirk to the neural neutralizer. I re-watched this episode on Netflix recently and I’d forgotten that it was Helen Noel that saves Kirk from the “mind dagger” by cutting the main power switch (she needs two hands to shut the huge bar switch off). It is amazing how many women Kirk is “involved” with over the course of ST:TOS’s three season run.

I agree with you that the re-mastered Star Trek: The Original Series looks amazing! I’m only watching the Netflix stream at 720p and it still looks so sharp and colorful that the images jump right off my HD TV! It does unfortunately bring more attention to some of the camera tricks that were used on the show. The ‘soft focus” lens is used on nearly every close-up of every woman on ST:TOS and even on Kirk himself; particularly during his romantic entanglements. The colors look even more garish by today’s TV standards, but I must admit I still love its unique look.

I look forward to your review of episode 11 “The Carbormite Maneuver” which is a step up from “Dagger of the Mind”.

SFF said...

Hello Doc! Thanks for your always valued Star Trek input!

Boy Kirk was "involved" as you say.

I completely agree that I absolutely adore the look of Star Trek. There's just nothing like it really.

I don't mind the imperfections noted through the hiugh definition. In fact, I sometimes never notice unless I'm really looking for it. But, it doesn't bother me at all.

I also like the soft focus because it's part of the charm of the era. But yes, they used it quite a bit for those vanity shots. : )

Cheers Doc!