The Original Series‘ “Where No Man Has Gone Before” in Review
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the second pilot episode of the original Star Trek series. Produced in the aftermath of “The Cage” (Star Trek‘s first pilot), this follow-up was written by Samuel A. Peeples and directed by James Goldstone. It originally aired on 22 September 1966.
In the episode, the USS Enterprise is on a mission to explore the galaxy, chart new worlds, and make contact with new civilizations. While passing through the “Galactic Barrier” — a mysterious energy field at the edge of the galaxy — the ship and its crew are subjected to a series of strange and dangerous phenomena. These cause damage to the starship’s systems and expose two of the ship’s officers, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner and Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell, to a massive amount of energy. Mitchell’s eyes glow with an eerie silver light.
As a result of the encounter, Mitchell and Dehner are imbued with god-like powers. While his powers grow, Mitchell becomes increasingly megalomaniacal and unstable, threatening the safety of the Enterprise and the rest of its crew. He begins to manipulate the crew and bend them to his will, using his abilities to read their thoughts and control their actions. Unlike Mitchell, Dehner is able to control her powers and helps Captain James Kirk and the crew attempt to stop Mitchell’s increasingly dangerous behavior.
Captain Kirk becomes concerned about the threat that Mitchell poses and decides to take action. Kirk must grapple with the ethical dilemma of whether to save his friend and colleague despite potentially destructive consequences or to prevent him from continuing to become a threat to the Enterprise. Eventually, the captain has to make the difficult decision to abandon Mitchell in order to protect the crew and the ship.
Kirk and his crew eventually manage to trap Mitchell on a planet, but he continues to use his powers to try to break free. In a dramatic final confrontation, Kirk fights and ultimately kills Mitchell using a makeshift grave marker, a stone obelisk that he causes to fall on Mitchell and crush him. The episode ends with Kirk mournfully recording the losses of Dehner and Mitchell, and Spock admitting sadness over the loss of Mitchell.
I think “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is an important episode in the Star Trek franchise for a number of reasons. It’s a stronger pilot episode than “The Cage” because it introduced the Star Trek universe in a more engaging and exciting way than that initial pilot. While “The Cage” is more introspective and philosophical, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is more action-oriented and dramatic. Although both pilots are important pieces of the series’ legacy, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” offer different perspectives on the Star Trek universe. The latter, despite being neither the first episode to be produced nor aired, is notable for establishing many of the key elements that would become central to Star Trek.
First, this pilot episode introduced the character of Captain Kirk, who ultimately became a fan favorite and a prominent figure in the Star Trek franchise. This installment portrays him as a competent and confident leader who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his crew and complete his mission, even putting the safety of his crew above personal relationships. Throughout the episode, Kirk shows his leadership skills by making tough decisions and taking charge of the situation. The charismatic captain is portrayed as a skilled tactician and problem-solver. His portrayal in this episode set the stage for the character’s development throughout the rest of the series and helped establish him as one of the most iconic figures in science fiction history.
Second, this episode helped to establish the central conflict of the series: the struggle between emotion and reason. In “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, this conflict is exemplified by the contrast between Mitchell, who becomes increasingly irrational and menacing, and the always calm and logical Spock.
Third, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is notable for its depiction of the USS Enterprise on a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations. This noble mission evidently requires courage, curiosity, and a commitment to the greater good. The crew of the Enterprise demonstrates their commitment to the mission, eager to explore the unknown. At the same time, they’re also prepared to protect their ship and their fellow crew members from any danger they may encounter. Overall, the episode sets up numerous themes that would become central to the Star Trek franchise, including the exploration of the unknown and the dangers of encountering powerful alien forces.
Fourth, the episode shows the Enterprise crew as a diverse and inclusive group. Characters of different races and nationalities are shown working together towards a common goal. This idea of a united and harmonious crew went on to become yet another key ingredient of the Star Trek franchise.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” explores themes of human evolution and the dangers of technological advancement. One possible subtext of the episode is the idea that the pursuit of knowledge and technological advancement can be dangerous, as it can lead to the corruption of individuals and the destabilization of society. The story also thematically touches on the dangers of hubris and the need for humility in the face of great power. The story may be seen as exploring the nature of humanity and the limits of what it means to be human, as the characters of Mitchell and Dehner are transformed by their newfound abilities and must grapple with the implications of these powers.
This episode is generally considered a classic of science fiction television and has been widely praised for its innovative storytelling and compelling character development. On the other hand, there are a few aspects that haven’t aged particularly well or that might not be to everyone’s taste. One of these is the original effects, which by modern standards can seem somewhat primitive and unconvincing. The episode also suffers from some awkward dialogue and wooden acting, which can distract from the overall viewing experience. Some viewers might find the plot to be a bit thin or predictable. While the concept of a crew member being imbued with god-like powers is certainly intriguing, the resolution of the conflict between Mitchell and the rest of the crew feels slightly rushed and unsatisfying. Similarly, the “Galactic Barrier” and the strange phenomena that the Enterprise encounters while passing through it are interesting ideas, but they’re not explored in great detail and ultimately feel like a convenient plot device rather than a fully fleshed-out concept.
Overall, I would say that “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is an important and influential episode that introduced key characters and concepts to the Star Trek franchise and helped to establish the show’s central themes. On the other hand, it suffers from some dated special effects and uneven acting, and the plot can feel a bit thin at times. Despite these flaws, I still think “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is worth watching for fans of the series or for anyone interested in the origins of Star Trek. Just make sure you have some popcorn ready, and be prepared to giggle at the sheer campiness of it all.