Fifty years ago, an unusual TV pilot went before the cameras. Unusual in that it was the second pilot for a proposed TV series. Potential TV shows don’t usually get more than one chance to make it on the air.
This pilot was called “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and it sold the series in question—Star Trek— to NBC. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is one of my favorite episodes of that series. It concerns Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood), Captain Kirk’s best friend. Kirk is forced to kill Mitchell after the latter gains God-like powers and proves Lord Acton’s point.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” aired Sept. 22, 1966 as Star Trek’s third episode. The characters’ uniforms and the ship’s instrumentation were different from the rest of the series, but I doubt any of the powers-that-be at Star Trek gave that a second thought. The pilot had sold the series; why not air it as an episode?
Star Trek even incorporated large portions of its rejected first pilot, “The Cage” into the two-part episode “The Menagerie.”
The episode opens with the Enterprise, near the galaxy’s edge, beaming aboard the ship’s recorder from the S.S. Valiant, which disappeared two centuries earlier. Tapes from the recorder reveal that after the Valiant encountered an unknown force, the frantic crew sought information from the ship’s computer about ESP. Later, the captain gave an order to destroy his own ship.
Kirk decides to leave the galaxy because other ships will have to know what’s out there. As the Enterprise approaches an energy barrier, Mitchell takes the hand of Yeoman Smith (Andrea Dromm). A simple act of humanity that contrasts with many of his later actions.
As bridge stations burst into flames, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman) and Mitchell are each shocked by blasts of energy. The Enterprise limps to safety.
Dehner, a psychiatrist, appears to be fine; but Mitchell’s eye’s are now glowing silver.
Kirk visits Mitchell in Sickbay. Mitchell is facing away from the door, but knows it’s Kirk who’s come in. He also says he feels better than he ever has before.
We also get the first indication that Mitchell might not have been a true friend to Kirk after all:
Mitchell: “If I hadn’t aimed that little blonde lab technician at you…”
Kirk (surprised): “You what? You planned that?”
Mitchell: “Well, you wanted me to think. I outlined her whole campaign for her.”
Kirk: “I almost married her.”
Mitchell (smiling): “Better be good to me. I’m getting even better ideas here.”
He then shows Kirk what he’s been reading on his bedside monitor. Spinoza. Whom Mitchell describes as “simple; childish almost. I don’t agree with him at all.”
Later in the scene, when Mitchell says “didn’t I say you’d better be good to me?”, there’s an undercurrent of threat.
Speaking of the “little blonde lab technician”, whether by happenstance or as a deliberate nod to that line, a blonde actress, Bebi Besch, was cast as Dr. Carol Marcus, mother of Kirk’s son, David, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982.
Mitchell “shows off” his extra-sensory abilities to Dehner by shutting down his autonomic functions for 22 seconds; speed reading and demonstrating that he remembers everything he’s read.
But he also “plays” with bridge controls. Spock reports that Mitchell smiled each time it happened.
“As if this ship and crew were almost a toy for his amusement.”
Sulu (a physicist rather than the helmsman he’ll later become) reports that Mitchell’s ability is increasing geometrically. “That is like having a penny, doubling it every day. In a month, you’ll be a millionaire.”
Spock says that in less time than that, Mitchell will regard the crew as an annoyance. He recommends that Kirk either strand Mitchell on the uninhabited planet Delta Vega or kill him while he still can. When Kirk asks him to at least act like he’s got a heart, Spock says the Valiant’s captain probably felt the same, but waited too long to make his decision.
“Set course for Delta Vega,” Kirk orders.
Mitchell, who says he’ll be able to do what a god could if he keeps getting stronger, has other plans. Kirk and Spock overpower him and Dehner injects him with a hypo spray.
Mitchell recovers on the transporter platform.
“You fools! Soon I’ll squash you like insects!”
Dr. Mark Piper (Paul Fix) gives him another injection.
On Delta Vega, Mitchell reminds Kirk he’d once taken a poisoned dart meant for the captain.
“Why be afraid of me now?”
Kirk cites his comments in the transporter room.
“I was drugged then.”
When Kirk points out that Mitchell said he’d have killed a mutant like himself in Kirk’s place, Mitchell says Spock is right and Kirk’s a fool if he can’t see it.
Mitchell tries to get through his cell’s force field barrier and his eyes change back to normal. He says “Jim” in an almost hesitant tone.
Whether that was a script direction or Gary Lockwood’s own decision, the delivery of that single word suggests we’re getting a glimpse of a very human, uncertain, scared, pleading, even apologetic Gary Mitchell.
Mitchell’s eyes become silver again. He stands and says he’ll keep getting stronger.
The contrast between “Jim” and that line is interesting. Almost as if Mitchell were “possessed.” Peter David addressed that idea in his novel Q Squared.
Mitchell subsequently kills Lt. Lee Kelso (Paul Carr) and escapes, taking Dehner— whose eyes have also begun to glow silver— with him.
Kirk pursues them; and when Dehner confronts him, he both appeals to her humanity and urges her to “be a psychiatrist for one minute longer.”
When she says she and Mitchell will soon be where it would’ve taken mankind millions of years of learning to reach, Kirk asks what Mitchell will learn in getting there.
Kirk argues that as powerful as Mitchell gets, he’ll still have his human frailties.
“What do you see happening to him? What’s your prognosis, Doctor?”
Mitchell appears, creates a grave for Kirk and makes Kirk pray to him.
“Do you like what you see?” Kirk asks Dehner. “Absolute power, corrupting absolutely?”
Dehner and Mitchell exchange blasts of energy. Kirk overpowers him, but hesitates about killing him.
Mitchell’s power returns and when he lifts a large slab of granite, Kirk tackles him. They fall into the open grave. Kirk scrambles out and fires his phaser rifle at an outcropping of rock. The rock crushes Mitchell in the grave.
A dying Dehner apologizes, saying, “you can’t know what it’s like to be almost a god.”
Kirk records in his log that Dehner and Mitchell gave their lives in the performance of their duties.
“I wanted his service record to end that way. He didn’t ask for what happened to him.”
“I felt for him, too,” Spock says.
In Starlog #124 (Nov. 1987), “Where No Man Has Gone Before” writer Samuel A. Peeples said, “we were intrigued with the corruption of power theme manifesting over the ordinary individual.”
In that same issue, episode director James Goldstone said, “Star Trek’s characters and dramatic conflicts, albeit within science fiction, were really human conflicts.”
He’s right. Kirk is forced to make painful decisions about his best friend.
Lockwood, for his part, said, “if you turn on Star Trek, something of interest will cross your mind that night.”
Prior to its broadcast, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was shown at “Tricon”, the 1966 World Science Fiction Convention. In The Star Trek Compendium, Allan Asherman described the audience’s reaction: “There was nothing childish about the show; we waited for a kid or a wisecracking robot, but they never arrived.”
Keep in mind that prior to Star Trek, U.S. science fiction programs aimed at adult audiences were anthologies like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Shows with continuing characters were either aimed at children or had scripts which became sillier over time.
Star Trek had its high and low points. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was definitely one of the high ones.
Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.