“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is that rarest of Star Trek episodes, a good science fiction short story. And interestingly, it has only a few moments of Shatner awful acting.
The Enterprise is cruising close to the edge of the galaxy. A damaged ship’s recorder from a star ship, the Valiant, that disappeared two hundred years earlier is recovered and it is determined that traveling through the negative energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy had something to do with it. They determine that the Captain of the old ship had self-destructed the ship because of some threat that had to do with a survivor of the negative energy effect.
So, of course, Kirk decides to bring his ship through the barrier. Several crew members are killed but two of those affected but not killed, Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell and psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Dehner are changed by the experience. Mitchell now has silvery eyes that glow and appears to have inexplicable mental powers. A careful analysis of the Valiant’s recordings shows that the captain was interested in information about extra sensory perception (ESP). Comparing health records of the crew members killed and Mitchell and Dehner shows that they all had high rating for ESP with Mitchell being exceedingly high.
Now Mitchell begins to exhibit alarming abilities. He can control parts of the ship remotely using only his thoughts. He also starts to talk about himself as being almost a god. At this point, Spock concludes that the Valiant was destroyed because one of its crew must have developed powers in the same way as Mitchell and self-destructing the ship was the only way to prevent him from taking it over and going back to conquer the human race. Spock recommends that Kirk kill Gary Mitchell before he becomes too powerful to stop. Kirk rejects this but after proof of Mitchell’s power and hostility toward humanity, he decides to maroon Mitchell on a refueling planet that they are headed for.
Mitchell reads their thoughts and strikes out at them. By luck they manage to knock him out with a tranquilizer and bring him down to the planet. But eventually Mitchell’s increasing powers allow him to break loose and kill one of the Enterprise crew before escaping with Dehner into the desert. At this juncture Dehner also has silver eyes and is talking about godhood.
Kirk sends the rest of the crew back to the ship and goes after Mitchell and Dehner with a phaser rifle. Mitchell knows he’s coming and sends Dehner to talk to Kirk. Kirk tries to reason with her and tells her to use her training as a psychiatrist to diagnose Mitchell as a psychotic. Mitchell is easily able to capture Kirk and attempts to get Kirk to pray to him like a god for a merciful death. Kirk refuses and uses the situation to convince Dehner that Mitchell is completely mad.
Dehner is convinced and before Mitchell has a chance to kill Kirk she attacks Mitchell with her energy weapon. They battle back and forth. Dehner is mortally wounded but Mitchell at least temporarily is weakened which is signified by his eyes returning to normal. Dehner warns Kirk that his chance is brief. Kirk attacks Mitchell and they have a fist fight. But pretty soon Mitchell begins to recover his powers and pummels Kirk. In a last desperate attempt Kirk knocks Mitchell into the grave meant for Kirk and recovering his phaser rifle he blasts a boulder that then falls and crushes Mitchell to death. Kirk returns to Dehner in time to see her die.
This is a fun episode. Gary Lockwood who plays Gary Mitchell does an outstanding job of showcasing the transformation from Jim Kirk’s best friend to megalomaniacal monster. Sally Kellerman as Dr. Dehner is good and even William Shatner portrays the part as conflicted friend and foe of the monster with more range than he usually musters. In fact the only mockable scene is when Mitchell is forcing Kirk into an involuntary kneeling posture with his hands joined in prayer. He uses his usual spastic facial expressions to indicate his battle against the alien will. It’s awful but it’s only a brief moment.
Some notable casting details. In this pilot episode McCoy isn’t the Medical Officer but Scotty is the Engineer. Sulu is still a “physicist.” And interestingly we have a different cute blonde as Kirk’s yeoman instead of Janice Rand. Andrea Dromm plays this Yeoman Smith.
So, here I am in an odd position. I have to give this episode the highest marks for dramatic and storytelling qualities and lowest marks for Shatner mockability. If you haven’t seen this episode I highly recommend seeing it. If most of the episodes were close to this quality this would have been a great science fiction series.