Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 9

Dagger of the Mind

Aired Unknown Nov 03, 1966 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (9)

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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A stowaway alerts the Enterprise crew to an undercover practice on a prison planet, where the criminally insane are subjected to a devastating brain washing machine. Although there are a couple of niggles, I really like this episode...

    This episode has the odd niggle here and there, which seems to stop some fans from liking it so much, but personally, I found this a really good story.

    Marianna Hill puts in a good performance as guest character Dr. Helen Noel, the token 'guest crew member' of the episode. Apparently, the original pitch for the episode had Yeoman Janice Rand accompanying Kirk in Noel's place.

    The set of the mind torture room is very basic, something that often occurred in 'Star Trek'. The device itself is just a light that flashes and 'spins' at different speeds. But that doesn't matter to me – in many of these episodes, it's as much about imagination as anything. While later incarnations of 'Star Trek' might well have brought such things to life with better effects, they often lacked the sheer likableness that is present in the original series here.

    The episode is also notable for the first even time that we see a Vulcan mind meld. It is one of the more convincing times that it is used in the series.

    I really like this story. It does have some 'convenient' moments, but it doesn't bother me too much; it's just a great adventure.
  • Despite flaws, an enjoyable and overlooked classic.

    This episode has its share of flaws, no question. We get possibly the worst instance of the Magical Air Duct Escape ever. Dr. Adams' motives are never really gotten into. And so on.

    Still, this is one my favorites. The Kirk torture scenes are effective and Dr. Adams makes a good villain. The first mind meld is pulled off quite well -- more effectively than it would be used later in the series.

    Of course, my favorite aspect of this episode is the lovely Dr. Noel. Marianne Hill's luminous guest performance makes the episode. You really see how Kirk could fall for her. All in all, a classic example of why the series was so wonderful in its first season.
  • Kirk gooses one of his crew women while in an air vent

    I enjoyed this one. I was impressed with the range of the actor who played Van Gelder (crazed and tortured) compared to his role as Captain Tracey (Bad egg) in "The Omega Glory". There was a great line in this episode near the end that Shatner delivered quite well. "Can you imagine a mind emptied by that thing, without even a torment for company." As an amateur poet, I have to break down and confess that I changed this line around a bit to make one of my poems about personal pain work. It did.
  • There's better episodes!

    Not one of the best of the early STAR TREKs, but not one of the worst either. Some amusing back story is on display with Kirk probably guilty of hitting on one of his medical staff, Dr. Helen Noel, at the Christmas party (itself a reference to a 20th Century Earth holiday that has all but disappeared from our calendars!)

    There's some dodgy "future" science on display - you'd think it'd be harder to shut off the power in a prison - but it has something to say about the treatment of those diagnosed as "mentally ill" and there's obvious parallels with the controversial electro-convulsive therapy which was, incredibly, still in use until just a few decades ago!

    My main niggle is that we never find out who the imposter psychiatrist Dr Adams is, but what the hey ...