I make no apologies that I am a bigger Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. However, I am part of a retro pop culture website so, by necessity, I need to visit the Star Trek world as well and what better place to do that than with season 1, episode 1 of the 1966 original Star Trek series titled “The Man Trap”. As it turns out, it was a pretty good show and makes me want to dive deeper into the Star Trek universe.
The Man Trap episode, it seems, was actually more of a Twilight Zone type show than sci-fi. Make no mistake, The Man Trap episode takes place on a far away planet and has all the sci-fi elements you want but it also has a very Twilight Zone twist and monster in the end. On this adventure we meet Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and others for the first time and get to know their personalities a little.
The iconic starship USS Enterprise arrives at a planet called M-113 to provide medical exams and supplies for Professor Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal), who have a research station on the planet. Planet M-113 has a very ancient Egyptian feel to it and appears to be in ruins. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Chief Medical Officer Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and Crewman Darnell (Michael Zaslow) transport to the surface. Captain Kirk teases Dr. McCoy about his prior relationship with Nancy Crater ten years ago.
They arrive at the research station and each of them see Nancy’s appearance differently. Dr. McCoy sees her as she was when he first met her. Captain Kirk sees her as she should look accounting for her age. Crewman Darnell sees her as a totally different younger woman. Guess which of these people die first? Captain Kirk sends Darnell outside and when Nancy goes to get her husband she asks Darnell to follow her.
Professor Crater arrives and he is reluctant to be examined, telling Kirk that they only require salt tablets. You can tell, something is up. Before Dr. McCoy can complete the examination, they hear a scream from outside. Guess who’s dead?
They find Darnell dead, with red ring-like mottling on his face and a plant root visible in his mouth. Nancy says that she was unable to stop Darnell from tasting the plant. You can tell something is up. On board the USS Enterprise, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) analyzes the plant and confirms that it is poisonous, but the marks on his face is not a symptom. Dr. McCoy conducts a medical exam and determines that Darnell died after all the salt was drained from his body.
Captain Kirk transports back down to the planet with Dr. McCoy and two crewmen. Guess who is going to die? Green (Bruce Watson) and Sturgeon (John Arndt). They spread out to search, but Crater slips away. Kirk and McCoy find Sturgeon's body. Meanwhile, unseen by them, Nancy has killed Green; the faces of Green and Sturgeon show the same marks as Darnell. Nancy alters her shape (this is where we get confirmation that she/it is a shape shifter), assuming the form of Crewman Green, and meets Kirk and McCoy. They beam back up to the ship with Sturgeon's body.
The impostor Crewman Green roams the corridors, first following Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) into the botanical laboratory as she brings Lieutenant Sulu (George Takei) his lunch with a salt shaker. This is our first introduction to Sulu and we don’t really find out a lot about him in this episode.
An alien plant in the lab shrieks in fear at the entrance of the creature/Green/Nancy, causing alarm. The creature then moves on, attacking several crew members, killing one. It then shape-shifts into the form of Dr. McCoy. Meanwhile, Spock confirms that scans show only one person, Crater, on the planet; Kirk and Spock beam down to capture him. They find Crewman Green's body before Crater tries to frighten them away with phaser fire.
After they stun him with the phaser beam Crater reveals that his real wife was killed by the creature which is the last member of a long-dead civilization of shape-shifters who feed on salt. The creature continues to take on the appearance of Nancy out of affection for Crater, and he has been feeding it. You know, as one does when a wild creature kills your wife. Kirk informs Enterprise of the creature's intrusion, as the landing party and Crater transport back to the ship.
Crater refuses to help them identify the creature, so Captain Kirk orders the fake "Dr. McCoy" to administer truth serum. They take him away off screen so we don’t see what happens next but when Kirk arrives in the sickbay he finds Crater dead and Spock injured. Apparently, Spock's Vulcan blood made him incompatible with the creature's needs.I guess Spock isn’t as salty as we thought.
Back in its "Nancy" form, the creature goes to Dr. McCoy's quarters. Kirk arrives with a phaser to provoke the creature into attacking but McCoy gets in the way, giving the creature the opportunity to attack Kirk. The creature reverts to its natural appearance and starts to feed on Kirk. McCoy opens fire with his phaser. The creature changes back into the shape of "Nancy" to plead for its life as McCoy continues firing and kills it. Dr. McCoy clearly disobeyed orders and was outright insubordinate to Kirk but they end up friends in the end anyway. Also, Spock ridiculously slaps “Nancy” repeatedly in the face which was a little hard to watch and not something I would think would play very well today.
As the USS Enterprise leaves orbit, Kirk comments that this creature which was the last of its kind was probably not inherently evil, but simply desperate.
Overall, a pretty entertaining episode, especially for a first outing. The creature costume was very much out of 1950s-60s horror but that made it memorable. Having never really given Star Trek much of a chance before I have to admit that the Man Trap episode got me interested.
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