Who could forget that beautiful line that makes me cry... It is said by Odana who is answering her father's question about what pain is like "It is like when you see that people have no hope of happiness. You feel great despair. Your heart is heavy because you know you can do nothing. Pain is like that. How interesting that she describes mental pain when Hodin was asking about physical pain. I still get spooked out when Kirk turns on the viewing port and all those people are looking at them. Nice scene, director.
This is one of those mystery episodes where they come up with a cool (and in this case budget saving) premise, but they don't know where to go with it and end up tacking on an ending that doesn't make any sense.
The story itself, conceived by Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones in "The Trouble with Tribbles"), cleverly contrasts being alone with the claustrophobia of overpopulation (both being something Cyrano Jones would know about). But the story is crying out for a holodeck-like twist (as teased in TNG's "Future Imperfect") and Star Trek isn't far enough along for that yet; instead, as the mystery starts to unravel, we get answers with plot holes you could drive a starship through.
Kirk gets the A story, sharing it with Odona (Sharon Acker) on an empty Enterprise. Moving at a snail's pace, the first half of the show lays out the episode's main ideas and issues as the two converse and the script throws in some super creepy (and effective) reminders of the hell of over population. Acker is okay, though her bizarre bikini print pantsuit makes it clear the wardrobe department is mailing it in, knowing cancellation is around the corner. Shatner is fine as well, though it's interesting to ponder how well this could have worked as an Uhura or Sulu story, with these interesting characters too often overwhelmed by others that they wouldn't have to share the screen with here.
Along with Spock and Scotty, they instead get the predictable B story, the search for the lost captain, but this time it has a clever twist: instead of having to zip around the galaxy or fight battles to find Kirk, they instead have to fight their way through bureaucratic red tape and play a game of semantics with a planetary leader, played by a hammy but hysterical German named David Hurst. Though it's all dialogue, it's actually a lot of fun and, anchored by Nimoy, uses the ensemble well.
About three quarters of the way through, however, the episode hits the wall because it has no good conclusion to go to.
In literal terms, the episode is probably a failure. In thematic and poetic terms, however, it's somewhat interesting... for a while.
This is mostly your basic "new Enterprise and new planet" remastering effort (replacing the original's reuse of "The Deadly Years" footage) - but they do tweak a few other shots. Most notably, they update the chronometer to match the "The Naked Time", which here requires some fancy work due to a panning camera.
Beaming down to a planet that the Federation is trying to secure diplomatic relations with, Kirk finds himself on an Enterprise completely deserted, except for one mysterious young woman. An episode that should be far more intriguing that it is...
The first few minutes of this episode, with Kirk arriving on board a deserted Enterprise, looked to make for a very interesting and mysterious episode. Sadly, things soon really plummeted – the story was weak and awkward, with some real nitpicks and plot holes, and lacked the intrigue that should have gone with such a story.
This episode in many ways sums up why the third season is widely regarded as the weakest of the Original Series; In the first or second season, this would probably have made for an interesting if slightly filler episode, but here it is handled with little flair, and is not very engaging for the viewer as a result.
[Minor spoiler] The Enterprise, which turns out to be a duplicate, could be an interesting concept, but – as other reviewers have also picked up on – how could the people of Gideon create such an exact duplicate? It just wasn't believable. [End of minor spoiler]
Likewise, there is little real spark between Kirk and Odona, and by now the whole "Kirk and guest female of the week get romantically involved" device was getting very overused and worn out.
This episode holds little rewatchable value. While other episodes (such as the infamous "Spock's Brain", for example) may be even worse to watch, "The Mark of Gideon" certainly ranks amongst the Original Series' weakest episodes.
Like many third season episodes, the writers try to go for an "alien" culture. While the people are humanoid, the fact that they are essentially immortal, and that their own love of life has driven them to become immortal, is... well, unique. It's not necessarily understandable from a human viewpoint.
On the other hand, it's not clear where you go for there. So they value life... but they use Kirk's blood as a virus. Again, this might be some alien-type rationale ("Hey, we're not killing her: we're just injecting Odona with a deadly virus from someone else.") but it strains credulity just a bit too much.
Then there's the fake Enterprise, which makes no sense in this or any other context. Besides the improbability of being able to make such an exact duplicate... why do they care if Kirk is happy? Knock him over the head, put him in a cell, take blood as needed. The Gideonites also seem awfully confident that the Enterprise will just fly away and figure the captain is lost in a transporter accident.
Like other third-season episodes, the director tries to get alternately spooky and artsy. Granted, there are a few creepy moments, but those don't make sense either. Why is the ship silent, and then they hear the heartbeats, and then they stop? Did a circuit blow out? And why are people standing around peering through the viewports.
The writers get in a few stabs at diplomacy and bureaucracy, but Spock disposes of two guards and rescues the captain. For a planet filled to overcrowding, it's amusing he only has to deal with two people.
I'll give it a B for effort, and a C- minus for coherency.
Kirk is used as a pawn to carry disease to a planet cursed with long life and over-population.
When I look at a program, I ask two questions. 1 - Is the story grand or unique and does it say something powerful about people and the human condition? Is some of the dialog unforgettable? 2 - Is the script competent and believable? If one fails and the other doesn't, it still has some merit to me. "The Mark of Gideon" fails both tests. Hard.
The planet dynamics make no sense, no world could be so populated that it teems on every surface with one species. If one accepts the premise, why would birth control be so repugnant? The writers struggle with this by putting in non-sequiters that essentially say that the people love life so much that they long to die. How in the world can Gideon be capable of making a fake Enterprise so precisely that it simulates every single function of the real ship but they can't figure out how to make the view screens any better than cheap one-way glass? Other episodes make a strong point that one man cannot pilot the Enterprise, Kirk seems unconcerned about it. Aside from some of Spock's dialog with the planet, the writing quality is not sterling here either. Kirk says goodbye to his love interest with, "you are needed everywhere." Good grief, THAT'S on-topic.
Aside from wanting to deal with a serious issue like over-population and 30 minutes of dramatic mystery (what the fake Enterprise is), this episode could contend for the worst of the worst. It may be in the bottom five.
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