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Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 9

Dagger of the Mind

Aired Unknown Nov 03, 1966 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
198 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

Kirk investigates an experimental facility for holding prisoners and finds a sinister scheme.

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  • Captain Kirk and a pretty crewmember visit a house of horrors.

    Star Trek's second horror episode works better than the first, partly because of its innovative A/B story (one for Kirk on the planet and another for Spock on the ship) and partly due to some fine guest performances.

    The first half of the episode, as a tease by the writer, is a combination of tension and release. When Dr. Van Gelder sneaks aboard the Enterprise, he keeps dropping hints (intentionally and unintentionally) that something is very, very wrong at the penal colony he came from. But each time we find out something surprising (like the fact that he's not an escaped inmate but a fleeing doctor) Dr. Adams (the king of "nothing to see down here") explains it away in a way that allays our fears... or at least Captain Kirk's. It's a clever device, because if writer Bar-David tips his hand too soon and turns the episode into a chamber of horrors from early on, it turns into another "Man Trap" where the horror becomes monotonous and tedious. Instead, it plays out more like a James Bond movie, with Kirk and the hot scientist (well played by Marianna Hill) who can't get enough of him having plenty of interesting moments (including a rare Star Trek fantasy scene) while visiting Dr. Evil's torture chamber.

    As this is all going on, Spock and McCoy spend the B story aboard the ship trying to get coherent information from Dr. Van Gelder. This includes an interesting moment: the writers need a way to get inside Dr. Van Gelder's subconscious and after considering (and discarding) Spock performing hypnotism, they invent a science fiction version of it, the Vulcan mind meld. What's surprising, looking back, is how well developed the idea is from the get go. It changes a little over the course of Nimoy's fifty year trek, but the basics of its theory and execution come fully packaged in its introduction. Meanwhile the idea of a planet-based A story coupled with a ship-based B story, of course, becomes a Star Trek staple.

    Still, as a budget saving episode there's not too much of visual interest (other than Marianna Hill's bottom peeking out from under her uniform) and the story doesn't include any turn of events too surprising, making Star Trek's first episode with a Shakespearian title a somewhat average offering.

    Remastered Version: As with "What Are Little Girls Made of?" this episode largely takes place on a planet underground, leaving little for CBS digital to do. Their work, however, is quite an improvement over the original - which to cut costs reuses shots of the Enterprise in orbit from "The Enemy Within" and reuses a matte painting from "Where No Man Has Gone Before". (In the days before reruns, video cassettes, and more modern viewing technology, this was fine. Today, however, many fans will recognize the penal colony's exterior as the Delta Vega lithium cracking Happily, the creators of the new effects choose not to honor the original with similar designs and instead give us a completely new looking planet (with a gorgeous, if improbable, ring) and a new (more basic) design for the colony's exterior.moreless
  • Not when you've sat in that room.

    "Dagger of the Mind" has definitely got to be a favourite of mines for numerous reasons but I'd say it probably has a lot to do with the show's very distinct 'casual' feel. Beginning with Kirk lecturing on how to transport cargo, to the very humerous transporter scene involving Kirk and what seems to be a victim of Kirk's natural flirtatious nature. Helen is her name, and indeed she plays quite a major role in this episode.

    Nevertheless the episode isn't all fun and games, and indeed a lot of moral play is on display here. Perhaps another reason why I adore this episode is the intelligent conversations the trio have between each other. These range from Spock's speech on the treatment of personal violence versus organised violence, and Kirk's adoration and respect for the prisons –or more appropriately hospitals- that treat the 'sick mind' of a criminal.

    Indeed, it is this latter theme that runs throughout the entire episode: the treatment of the criminally sick, or socially unacceptable. I cannot help but draw comparison to the novel 'A Clockwork Orange' written by Anthony Burgess, which also deals with such issues on the treatment and psychological reformation of criminals. As such, 'Dagger of the Mind' takes a similar stance, showing that unless the problem is treated at the root, the rug under which the problem has been hidden, can and probably will unravel. We see this unravelling first hand in some well performed and entertaining scenes with Dr. Simon Van Gelder, a seemingly insane and dangerous man who has fallen victim to Dr. Tristan Adams' memory erasing machine that 'fixes' the offenders. Morgan Woodward does a great job bringing Van Gelder to life and I'll probably never forget his over-the-top scenery-chewing that really helps inject life into the episode.

    This character also lends hand to a brilliantly performed set of scenes involving Spock and Van Gelder in the first seen Vulcan Mind-Meld which -although not as poignant as others from the series- brings the reality of the situation to McCoy and Spock in an original and dramatic way, naturally engaging on screen.

    Aside from this brilliant piece of writing, Wincelberg (a favourite writer of mines from TOS) also manages to create an episode that throughout, has a well balanced pace, that comes to climax in the last 15 or so minutes with a good mix of drama, action, intelligence and what I like to call 'scifiness' (which of course refers to something that is reeking of science-fiction). Amongst these scenes is the brilliantly performed sequence with Kirk in the treatment room where he is brain washed into believing he loved Helen. Shatner does a great job here, delivering a performance rather typical of his better episodes that I love and will always remember.

    In the end, Dr. Adams falls victim to his own machine and ends up 'erasing' his own mind and dying from loneliness. It may sound cheesy, but it works and I loved it (remember 'scifiness'?, well here it is in all its glory). Specifically well done is the closing scene where McCoy brings up the unbelievable nature of Adams' death of loneliness, where Kirk simply replies that you would believe in it if you had sat in that room. The treatment room? I don't think so.moreless
  • In "Dagger of the Mind" the "Star Trek" crew explores the problems of penal systems and the moral questions they raise. A perfect facility by reputation comes under question as it crosses paths with the "Star Trek" Enterprise crew.moreless

    In "Dagger of the Mind" the "Star Trek" crew explores the problems of penal systems and the moral questions they raise. A perfect facility by reputation comes under question as it crosses paths with the "Star Trek" Enterprise crew.

    At the time this episode aired, there was a reexamination of what prisons systems should be. Punishment versus rehabilitation was a issue. Psychology experiments were indicating a desensitization of guards to prisoner suffering. along with these issues was a expansion of sciences view of the mind.

    The latter was partly an off shoot of the drug culture, meditation, and other movements.

    This episode examines what would happen if a prison system goes off mission. What if those in control could impose their thoughts on others? Captain Kirk once again find himself with the girl and a problem of planetary proportions. "Dagger of the Mind" is a fair episode that is an example of how "Star Trek" deals with social issues.moreless
  • First mind-meld

    (First Vulcan Mind-Meld in Star Trek history between Mr. Spock and Simon Van Gelder.)

    Spock voice over: (ship external view from warp nacelles) Enterprise log. (Spock eyes closed deep in thought.) First Officer Spock, Acting Captain. I must now use an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder\'s tortured mind.

    McCoy: Spock, if there\'s the slightest possibility it might help...

    Spock: I have never used it on a human, Doctor.

    McCoy: If there\'s any way we can look into this man\'s mind to see if what he\'s saying is real or delusion...

    Spock: It\'s a hidden, personal thing to the Vulcan people. Part of our private lives.

    McCoy: Now, look, Spock, Jim Kirk could be in real trouble. Will it work or not?!

    (Spock moves over to Van Gelder\'s bed.)

    Spock: It could be dangerous. Do you understand? It requires I make pressure changes in your nerves, your blood vessels...

    Van Gelder: You must open my mind. Let me warn you, explain to you.

    Spock: This will not affect you, Dr. McCoy. Only the person I touch. It is not hypnosis.

    McCoy: I understand. (Spock holds Van Gelder\'s head with both hands. Spock looks at McCoy. McCoy looks at the bed monitor.) Good. The reading is leveling.

    Spock: You begin to feel a strange euphoria. (Spock, moving to the head of the bed, leans in closer to Van Gelder.) Your body...floats.

    Van Gelder: Yes. I begin to feel it.

    Spock: Open your mind. We move together... our minds sharing the same thoughts.

    (...returning to the scene in the Sick Bay)

    Spock: What is our name? Who are we?

    Van Gelder: We are Simon Van Gelder.

    Spock: Dr. Adams... the neural neutralizer. What did he do to us?

    Van Gelder: He can re-shape any mind he chooses. He used it to erase our memories, put his own thoughts there. He was surprised it took so much power. We fought him, remember? (Spock moves counterclockwise moving still closer to Van Gelder\'s head.) But we grew so tired... our mind so blank, so open, that any thought he placed there became our thoughts. Our mind so empty... like a sponge needing thoughts, begging... empty... Loneliness. So lonely to be sitting there empty. Wanting any word from him. Love...

    Spock: Yes.

    Van Gelder: Hate...

    Spock: Yes.

    Van Gelder: Live...

    Spock: Yes.

    Van Gelder: Die...

    Spock: Yes.

    Van Gelder: Such agony, to be empty.

    Spock: Empty.moreless
  • One of my favourites

    This episode is interesting because it punctures the pretentious idea that ST presented a glorious vision of a great future for Humanity. If that's the case, then why is Dr Adams the most evil git in ST history?

    The scenes with Kirk and McCoy questioning Van Gelder in sickbay are among the most disturbing of the whole series, thanks to Morgan Woodward's performance, and the horrible idea that Van Gelder is like this because of something that was done to him deliberately, and for no real reason, other than cruelty.

    The episode is also a bit sick and kinky, with scenes of sweaty, raving, gibering madman Van Gelder followed by Helen Noel, in her miniskirt, black tights, and blue knickers(which are clearly on view) waltzing around in a prison for the criminally-insane! Its a shame we dont see Van Gelder after the machine has been used to return him to normal, otherwise, a great, and somewhat, grim story.moreless
James Gregory

James Gregory

Dr. Tristan Adams

Guest Star

Morgan Woodward

Morgan Woodward

Dr. Simon Van Gelder

Guest Star

Marianna Hill

Marianna Hill

Dr. Helen Noel

Guest Star

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Ed McCready

Ed McCready


Recurring Role

David L. Ross

David L. Ross

Guard (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (14)

    • Trivia: For once, Kirk is wearing a black undershirt as well as his tunic. When he falls off the chair you can see a shirt instead of a bare chest. This is unusual for Kirk. Most often his uniform doesn't include the undershirt as you can tell in other episodes where it is torn.

    • The two transporter operators at the beginning are unusually unprofessional. Neither one of them knows that penal colonies have security screens, or even understand that a security screen is blocking their transporter beam.

    • When the intruder alert goes off, a security guard come to the bridge. This makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that once he makes sure there's no intruder on the bridge, he faces away from the turbolift: the only entrance onto the bridge that an intruder could come through. Sure enough, Van Gelder comes in behind him and knocks him out before he can respond. The guard fails to respond despite the fact that he should be at attention.

    • The transporter operator (Berkley) is credited as an ensign, but the uniform is clearly that of a Lieutenant.

    • When Kirk escapes the Tantalus field, he knocks out Dr. Adams and punches out another person before leaving. When he comes back only a few moments later, only Dr. Adams is on the floor.

    • Tantalus V has really lousy security. In addition to Van Gelder escaping in a box, Dr. Noel is able to easily access the ventilation system from Kirk's quarters and just waltz into the power control room and shut down the power for the entire colony, including the force field.

    • Since Kirk is down on Tantalus to investigate the incident involving Dr. Van Gelder, it seems that it would make more sense for Dr. Adams to not try to brainwash Kirk and, instead, try to get Kirk out of there as quickly as possible by appeasing him in every way possible.

    • Considering the known consequences of unsupervised exposure to the beam, one might expect the device to be equipped with a deadman switch: it can't operate without an individual at the controls, as it does. There is no reason for Dr. Adams to have disengaged or left out such a device.

    • The neural neutralizer is likely an enormously complex device -- and yet, it has only one switch, a combination on/off and power level setting. It seems highly likely that such a device would require either a programming input, or a series of configuration switches. Even now, we know that brain activity and structure differs between individuals.

    • It looks like the wardrobe department gave Marianna Hill (Dr. Helen Noel) a Starfleet mini-dress uniform that is way too short for her. The skirts are supposed to be short, but Helen's skirt is so short in the back that it does not even completely cover her matching bloomers.

    • The space sensor array wasn't spinning at the beginning of this episode.

    • In the transporter room at the beginning, they contacted Tantalus V even though they had their shields up, when Kirk beams down, he attempts to use his communicator but he gets static, the shield is turned off and he can communicate with the Enterprise, later when the shield is up, he gets through just fine.

    • Adams' plan doesn't seem to make much sense - he cranks up the neural neutralizer to supposedly convince Kirk that it works. In previous cases it's turned people into zombies. Alternately, if Adams plans to use Kirk in some manner, it doesn't seem like a zombified Kirk is going to be very effective in helping him take the Enterprise.

    • For a penal colony, Tantalus V has really poor security. Van Gelder manages to escape with ease, by hiding a box - the only box - beamed up to the Enterprise.

  • QUOTES (5)

    • Dr. Adams: Captain, you remind me of the ancient skeptic who demanded of the wise old sage to be taught all the world's wisdom while standing on one foot.

    • McCoy: It's hard to believe that a man could die of loneliness.
      Kirk: Not when you've sat in that room.

    • Kirk: But (Adams) was alone. Can you imagine the mind emptied by that thing, without even a tormentor for company.

    • Spock: Interesting. You Earth people glorify organized violence for forty centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.
      McCoy: And, of course, your people found an answer.
      Spock: We disposed of emotion, Doctor. Where there's no emotion, there's no motive for violence.

    • Kirk: One of the advantages of being a captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.

  • NOTES (5)

    • Features recycled Delta Vega matte painting from "Where No Man Has Gone Before," this time for Tantalus colony, with refinery tanks removed and entrance doorway changed.

    • This episode is parodied by South Park in Episode 24 (Production code 211) "Roger Ebert Should Lay Off the Fatty Foods." That episode is littered with references, including a mindmeld between a counselor and a student.

    • First mention and use of the Vulcan mind-meld. In Star Trek: Enterprise episode, "The Forge", Syrrann, the Vulcan who discovered Surak's katra, said "Surak tells us... (mind-melding) is the heritage of every Vulcan."

    • This is the second (and last time) that a holiday celebration is mentioned - "Charlie X" mentions Thanksgiving. One wonders if they celebrate a secular version of Christmas?

    • Writer Shimon Wincelberg is credited as S. Bar-David.


    • Tantalus:
      A Greek myth about a man who commits crimes and is punished by the gods by never being able to satisfy his thirst or hunger. The stream of water would recede when he reached for it, the fruit trees' branches would raise when he reached for fruit.

    • Patient
      The patient who has had her memories removed is named Lethe, after a river in the classical Greek underworld that appears in Dante's Inferno. The river Lethe had a unique property that whoever drank of it would lose all memory of their previous life.

    • Title:
      Referencing Shakespeare's MacBeth:
      "Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. / I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. / Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible / To feeling as to sight? or art thou but / A dagger of the mind, a false creation..."
      In plotting a murder to gain the throne, Macbeth causes himself considerable mental anguish, seeing an unreal dagger that is really a symbol of his guilt.