Warp Factor Trek

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This was the first Star Trek episode ever broadcast, commemorated annually with “Star Trek Day” on 8th September. But is the episode any good?


Imagine encountering an alluring young blonde woman on an alien planet. Would you pursue her, even if she’s an old flame of your ship’s doctor? Crewman Darnell does so, amidst ancient ruins on planet M-113. Unbeknownst to the landing party — also including Kirk and Doctor McCoy — each sees a different Nancy Crater, wife of archeologist Robert Crater. Darnell recognises her from Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet and follows her when she leaves to fetch Professor Crater.

Darnell and the attractive blonde woman

Without Nancy, the professor meets Kirk and McCoy, who realise a discrepancy in their perception of Nancy’s age. Her scream draws them all outside, finding Darnell dead with red mottling on his face. Nancy attributes it to a poisonous borgia plant. Uhura chats with Spock on the bridge but is disturbed by his apathy. Investigating Darnell’s death, McCoy rules out poisoning, leaving Kirk eager for answers.

Kirk postpones chilli pepper delivery to a base. As McCoy reports, Darnell’s body is drained of salt. Both Craters requested salt. Kirk defies the argumentative Robert Crater, ordering a search for Nancy due to safety concerns and organising for them to stay aboard the Enterprise until cause of death is determined. The professor sneaks outside and finds another dead crewman, Sturgeon. Seeking Nancy, he calls out that he has salt. She’s unresponsive, with yet another dead crewman, Green. Kirk and McCoy find Sturgeon’s body. Actually a shapeshifter, “Nancy” assumes Green’s appearance.

Sturgeon’s corpse, Kirk, McCoy, and “Green”

“Green” feigns ignorance about Sturgeon’s death. As a search for Nancy commences, “Green” boards the Enterprise with Kirk and McCoy. Kirk encourages McCoy to sleep. “Green” acts oddly toward Yeoman Rand, trying to steal salt from a meal she delivers to Sulu in the biology department. The intruder follows her there but, startling a lively plant, he then flees. Meeting Uhura, he transforms into a Swahili-speaking sweet-talker and sinisterly corners her briefly. He watches an engineering crewman, then goes to McCoy’s quarters as Nancy. Rand and Sulu discover the engineering crewman dead.

“Nancy” sedates McCoy and adopts his appearance. Beaming to the planet, Kirk and Spock find Green dead, prompting an intruder alert. They try to detain Professor Crater but he shoots at them, craving solitude. Captured, he admits “Nancy” is “the last of its kind,” killed the real Nancy Crater, and needs salt to survive. As Kirk retorts, it’s unlike the buffalo because it’s killing his crew.

Kirk consults Professor Crater… then Rand and Uhura

Kirk questions Uhura and Rand about the creature, unaware it’s listening, disguised as “McCoy”. With Professor Crater, Kirk debates its fate, determined to defeat it.

Later, Kirk learns “McCoy” assaulted Spock and killed the professor. Assuming Nancy’s form, it begs McCoy’s help. Kirk and Spock arrive; they strive to make McCoy realise “Nancy” is deadly. Its superhuman strength shows McCoy the truth. The beast adopts its true appearance and starts killing Kirk. McCoy fires his phaser, exterminating it. Kirk is apologetic.

The salt vampire, dead


I have a small confession to make. Due to the salt vampire’s hairy appearance and net-like attire, I’ve always thought of it as “the spaghetti monster”!

The captain, his log and starship, Spock left in command during Kirk’s absence… Immediately, this episode establishes the show’s tone. It must have been eye-opening to have seen its debut.

Filming the ruins of M-113 — actually cardboard boxes sprayed with gummite

The planet’s ruins are impressively extensive and the salt vampire’s backstory is thought-provoking. As represented here, the creature — the first Star Trek shapeshifter — combines the illusory seductress concept from “Mudd’s Women” with the imposter-disguised-as-crewmember idea from “The Enemy Within”. There’s often a subtextual link between vampirism and sex, a trend continued here.

Jeanne Bal slightly overacts her role of “Nancy Crater”, Alfred Ryder delivering a more believable performance. This is likely deliberate, since Bal is portraying the salt vampire impersonating Nancy, not Nancy herself. The costuming for both performers is excellent, suiting their roles as colonists on a desolate planet.

The initial three iterations of the salt vampire

The differences between the creature’s various forms are fantastic. It’s implied — by the creature, disguised as the Swahili crewman — that it can use telepathy, possibly explaining how the transformations are done. A knuckle-to-mouth gesture is very effective at reminding us that the creature’s alter egos are manifestations of the same being.

McCoy tells Robert Crater, “What you want is unimportant right now. What you will get is what is required by the book.” There’s an amazingly similar line in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when Spock tells Valeris, “What you want is irrelevant. What you have chosen is at hand.

Before redshirts, there were blueshirts (Darnell and Sturgeon, the latter named after TOS writer Theodore Sturgeon) on M-113. The only exception is Crewman Green, in gold, and he’s the only one replaced by the salt vampire. Is it coincidental that, given his uniform colour variance, his name is also a colour?

Filming the deceased Green on the second day of the episode’s production

Uhura’s character development excels in her chat with Spock. Strange New Worlds reveals that, by this time, they’re already quite familiar with each other. This scene inspired the romance between Spock and Uhura in JJ Abrams‘ Kelvinverse movies.

The act breaks in this episode are unsatisfying. Kirk keeps angrily declaring the obvious — that he wants to know what killed Crewman Darnell and later that the creature is killing his people.

The Enterprise delivering chili peppers is peculiar, as cargo ships would surely be more appropriate. The dialogue involving the peppers is definitely intriguing, though!

Sulu’s presence in the botany section connects well with his introduction as an astroscientist in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. He mentions “the great bird of the galaxy,” Gene Roddenberry’s nickname. Creating an extremely lively plant was probably challenging, but the result is fairly good.

George Takei with one of Sulu’s plants

Yeoman Rand asks “Green” about Saurian brandy, linking him to the angry Kirk from “The Enemy Within”. In a bizarre and humorous moment, Rand suggests “Green” might be “going space-happy.”

Spock quickly assumes the masquerader is a creature. Why? Sulu finds it strange when “McCoy” calls the killer a “creature,” so why doesn’t Kirk react similarly to Spock’s assumption?

In a terrific prop reuse, Professor Crater wields a phaser type from the pilots “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. After being shot by a phaser, his voice deepens, electronically altered — an illogical and unnecessary effect.

Filming the salt vampire’s attack on Kirk

Spock repeatedly hits the salt vampire, demonstrating its strength to McCoy. As with “The Enemy Within”, this male-on-female violence is horrific.

McCoy shooting the salt vampire, as it impersonates his ex while attacking Kirk, represents him choosing the Enterprise lifestyle over former attachments. His commitment inspires audience investment.

Director Marc Daniels with actors William Shatner and Jeanne Bal
Rating: 4/5

This truly is a classic TOS episode and a great pick to have begun the show. It features a memorable villain and an intriguing plot, with McCoy and Uhura given some fantastic character development.

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