One rumor surrounding Star Trek Into Darkness is that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Gary Mitchell (another is that he’s playing Khan). In “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, Star Trek’s second pilot— which sold the show to NBC— Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood, was Captain Kirk’s best friend. Kirk had to kill Mitchell after the latter gained God-like powers and proved Lord Acton’s point.
The biggest “hint” in the trailer that the film concerns Mitchell is a shot of a blonde woman with the same hairstyle Sally Kellerman wore as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” And to call that a hint is stretching things.
I’m content to wait to find out who Cumberbatch is playing. However, the Gary Mitchell rumor gives me an excuse to discuss one of my favorite Star Trek episodes.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” aired Sept. 22, 1966 as Star Trek’s third episode. Near the galaxy’s edge, the Enterprise beams aboard the ship recorder from the S.S. Valiant, which disappeared two centuries earlier. 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 some of his later actions.
As bridge stations burst into flames, Dehner and Mitchell are shocked by blasts of energy. The Enterprise limps to safety.
Dehner, a psychiatrist, appears to be fine; but Mitchell’s eye’s are now a glowing silver.
In sickbay, Mitchell exhibits extra-sensory abilities. He “shows off” to Dehner by shutting down his autonomic functions for 22 seconds; speed reads; and 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 says.
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 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 says 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. It 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 one of the high ones.
Peter David update:
Good news about writer Peter David, who suffered a stroke in late December. He’s making great progress in his recovery. He reported on this blog, www.peterdavid.net, that not only has he returned to his New York home from Florida, where he had the stroke, but also went bowling.
His website also includes information on how to help with his recovery, one of which is buying his ebooks. Personally, I enjoyed Pulling Up Stakes.
It’s good to hear he’s doing well.
Copyright 2013 Patrick Keating