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Monday, July 19, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Mark of Gideon"
As we come toward the end of Star Trek's third season, we come to a run of episodes that I've seen at one time or another but that I don't necessarily recall all the details about. One of the first is "The Mark of Gideon," a story that I hadn't sat down to watch all the way through in at least a decade.

The planet Gideon is a seeming paradise of health for its inhabitants but is rabidly xenophobic, allowing no one to beam down to the planet and no scans to be made. The inhabitants are all healthy and have extremely long life spans due to a complete lack of disease. For years they've rejected overtures by the Federation for membership, but now they want to meet and discuss it. They've decided they'll allow one representative to beam down and discuss things. Yep, you guessed it--it's Captain James T. Kirk.

Kirk beams down only to find himself materializing on what appears to be the same transporter pad. He is on board the Enterprise, but it's empty except for a woman named Odana. Kirk also has some soreness from bruising on his arm and can't account for nine minutes between leaving the ship and appearing on the deserted one.

Turns out that Gideon is hugely overpopulated due to the lack of fatal diseases around. Kirk is carrying a strain of one in his blood that the Gideons want. During the nine minutes he can't account for, he was knocked out and his blood removed. It's been injected into Odana who will become a Typhoid Mary for the planet, allowing for people to get sick and die as a form of population control. The Gideons also thinks Kirk will fall in love with Odana and stick around to give them a ton of other great diseases they call all die from. To fool him, they've built a replica of the Enterprise on the planet.

Meanwhile, Spock debates with the Gideons and argues with Starfleet about what he can and should do. He determines the transporter is working when Scotty beams up one of the council members of the planet, though it's from different coordinates than those given Kirk. Spock beams down to the original coordinates, finds Kirk and the two beam up with to the ship with Odana where she's cured.

Just as we had with "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," "Gideon" serves as a morality tale on the topic of overpopulation. Of course, the only statement it makes is "overpopulation is bad" and not much more than that. The central issue facing the Gideons is addressed (they don't believe in birth control), but there's not any resolution to it once Kirk decides he's not staying and they cure Odana. It does bring up some questions such as whether or not the Prime Directive would be in play here--by curing Odana, is Kirk violating the Prime Directive.

And while you have to respect that the Gideons' entire plan hinges on Kirk being an intergalactic Romeo, you also have to wonder how on a planet plagued with overpopulation they found the time, space and resources to build a replica of the Enterprise. Do they expect Kirk to live on it after he's decided to stay? And why is it that when we see Kirk explore the entire ship early on, why doesn't he stumble across the council chamber, which is implied to be attached to the ship.

If this were a modern Trek episode, you could see how Gideon might use a holodeck to trick Kirk since that wouldn't take up as much space. Also when he beams down, Kirk goes without a communicator, which makes no sense. How does he expect the ship to lock on to him to beam him back up when the mission is done? Of course, if he takes a communicator with him the entire episode is over in about fifteen minutes when Kirk calls up the Enterprise and they realize something is up.

Interestingly, I was flipping around the other day and came across "Unification, Part 2" on the TNG repeat and heard Spock talk about Kirk's use of "cowboy diplomacy" during the original five year mission. It's interesting to hear him discuss how he was on the front lines of it with Kirk back in the day and even more interesting to see him use it here. Yes, he consults with Starfleet about things, but when push comes to shove, Spock violates order to beam down and rescue Kirk. Of course, given that Kirk will often fudge log entries to cover up the sins of various people he's found or that have gone crazy in the line of duty, imagine he did something similar with Spock here. Again, the episodic nature of classic Trek means that we won't see or hear any long term implications to what Spock's done here, though if the story were told today we might see a short story arc dealing with Spock being in trouble with Starfleet.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/19/2010 01:30:00 PM | |
While Kirk certainly had his share of cowboy diplomacy during the original 5-year mission, I always got the impression that line in "Unification" was a reference to "ST VI: The Undiscovered Country," which was just being released (and Spock on TNG was also a convenient cross-promotion at the time) and had more to do with remembering Kirk and his way of dealing with the Klingons like Chancellor Gorkon, Chang and Azetbur.

But yes, it did apply to his whole career :)
Yes, it was a shameless plug for "Trek 6" but it really does apply a lot to many of the original missions of the original Enterprise.

I find it interesting how rapidly the ship is able to get a response from Starfeet, depending on the needs of the episode. If not for having to wait for Starfleet to get back to him, I have a feeling Spock would have beamed down earlier in the story...
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