So I decided to review my collection of Star Trek DVDs from the very beginning in order to make sure to have seen everything. What was my surprise when I found that the 2001 release of “Where No Man Has Gone Before” had commentaries by the Okudas that I was not aware of. Being something of a completist, I naturally had to watch the episode with commentaries on.
Also, I have repeatedly found out that, as you watch a movie or episode that you have known for a long time, it often happens that you find new perspectives, gleaning more meaning and subtleties that had been there all along, sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain sight. Thus it happened that, after watching “Where No Man…” once more, I felt compelled to share some of my impressions with my dear Readers.
After so many books, interviews and documentaries, there is a lot of known trivia about the Star Trek episodes that has become common knowledge. I choose not to comment on the tidbits that are easily found in the books or on the Web; that would only make for redundancy. Instead I will comment on new realizations that I have had upon watching, which you would not ordinarily find in the literature. I also assume that my Reader is more or less familiar with Trek history and with the books on early Star Trek.
At the opening of each paragraph, the numbers indicate on-screen timing.
02:15. They were so thin then. We can see that Kirk’s and Scott’s shirts are somewhat loose, especially the latter. This would indicate that the shirts had been made on a standard model, probably because of the tight budget.
03:48. Now this was some clever trick of set-arranging. Notice that there is no camera cut between entry into the turbolift, with a wall outside, and arrival to the bridge without it. My explanation is that that was a cardboard wall outside, with a set crew quickly removing it between the times of closing and opening the elevator’s door. The neat effect is the believability that indeed you have moved between the decks of a large starship.
03:53. In the take filmed from within the turbolift, notice the crewmember in blue who enters as soon as the captain leaves. On the next take, he enters the turbolift again, in a visible but subtle mistake of continuity.
03:54. According to the Okudas, the set painters added a warmer tinge to the bridge’s colors, as opposed to the appearance it had in “The Cage” and following a request from NBC, so as to make the series’s appearance more lively and pleasant to the viewers. Likewise there are more scenes filmed within the ship instead of on planets. As we can see, many details added to have an overall effect on the audience. Over the course of this episode, the Okudas make many other comments on the evolution of sets, uniforms and props from “The Cage” to the regular episodes, mostly with a focus on keeping costs low.
03:55. Star Trek was meant to be inclusive for a mid-60s series. Less than four minutes into the episode, you have already seen two black officers among the bridge crew. There is also an Eastern type besides Sulu. Quite an achievement for its time, considering that otherwise the actors would have been cast as stereotypes.
04:38. Kirk addresses the crew as if everyone were aware that they have found a beacon. But we have seen nothing to suggest that the whole crew was aware of anything.
05:25. Those three department heads just stand there, looking on uselessly. I have seen better usage of actors on screen.
05:41. Mitchell displays a behavior that could never be tolerated today in a character that were not some sort of bigot: he comes off as womanizing, he looks at Kirk as if Dehner behaves unexpectedly, and he makes an offensive comment to Kelso (“walking freezer unit”). Yet this attitude allows for at least two interpretations. One is that, much as Star Trek sought to promote egalitarianism, it could not completely shake off the chauvinistic mindset of its mid-60s producers. Another possibility is that, since the producers had the specific intent of not alienating the viewers from their exotic scifi show, Mitchell’s actions may have been aimed at developing a bonding feeling that the characters were common people with the same reactions as the (predominantly male) audience might have (even more so in the case of the soon-to-be-godlike Mitchell, whose shoes the producers would wish the audience to wear for sympathy).
05:52. As the Okudas note, Leonard Nimoy’s uniform differed from those of other actors: it had a sagittal snap, allowing it to open and close as a clamshell around his head. This way Nimoy could put it on without disturbance to Spock’s rubber ears. In this scene, compare Spock’s shirt with Kirk’s.
10:41. Still the department heads stand there, mute and useless. They do not behave as officers, but as redshirted fodder. One wonders why so many crewmembers had to be present for this scene. Though there is the added drama of their being on the bridge, the actors were paid for their time on stage.
11:32. “Earth bases”. At the time, Star Trek was conceived as depicting humanity in space. The Enterprise was, first and foremost, an Earth ship. The Galaxy was explored for the benefit of human beings much as the old West was for Americans in the 18th century. The high aims of demolishing prejudice were still turned to human diversity and it would have been too much to ask for the acceptance of more alien lifeforms. After all, this early in production, even the series, as it was, already brought on too much information and novelty for viewers and sponsors. The many-worlds Federation was therefore still many episodes away and Mr. Spock was just the curious, exotic element that showed humanity’s success in venturing into space.
11:52. The great advantage of the DVD over VHS is that, as we pause the video, we can actually read the text that appears onscreen every now and then. There we can now see a lot of background information that could have made it into the encyclopedias over the years. The information on Dr. Dehner is partly mentioned by the Memory Alpha wiki, but is not in the Okudas’ Encyclopedia. (Justice be made that, what with its so many omissions, the Encyclopedia is more of an encyclopedic dictionary, and a good one at that, than an encyclopedia proper.)
On the first screen about Dr. Dehner, we see that her age is 21 and her father is Gerald Dehner. The next screen brings an outline of her ESP abilities:
“ESP RATING // Esper Rating: 089. Aperception quotient: 20/100 [the same way that Americans measure myopics]. // Duke-Heidelburg quotient: 256. General knowledge quotient: 654895-109. // Esper rating and quotients are better than average in all categories. Subject officer’s history indicates an esper orientation pattern since childhood, evidenced in superiority at ‘guessing games’, reading cards et cetera. Esper-orientation and abilities are evident through both the maternal and paternal bloodlines, but in only one case does the indicated tendency toward ESP go back more than three generations. // Subject officer has been aware of the high ESP rating since secondary school days and it is, in part, the basis for interest and vocational training as a psychiatrist. Participation in tests and studies of other esper-oriented beings are the subject of a thesis now being published by this officer in association with the College of Medical Sciences of the Tri-Planetary Academy and was, in fact, the reason for this officer’s posting to the Aldebaron [sic] Colony. // It must be stressed this officer’s interest in esper-perception has been in relationship and pursuant to vocation as a psychiatrist.”
From this screen we can learn more than a description of Dehner’s medical history. The first thing that springs to mind is that the text is typed. There are even handwritten notes on the side and hand-underlined words. This shows that, despite all foresight in many things, TOS still lacked it in the representation of information storage. Spock’s “tapes” (more like latter-day diskettes) showed a marked improvement over the 60s’ magnetic tapes, yet no one could have foreseen the emergence of later, more compact storage media. Likewise with text: at the time, electronic text already existed, but the studio could not have represented it. The people’s imaginary was still connected to typed files on paper, sought and retrieved from cabinets, as opposed to electronically-stored information. The best that could be scrambled was microfilm, which seems to be the origin of the Enterprise‘s scans here.
It can also be seen that the editing was somewhat hurried, as the last sentence is a repetition of a previous statement, even if its intention was to stress a point. This hints at the stressful circumstances and tight schedules of filming.
We should note that the text mentions “beings” instead of “people”, probably because of Star Trek‘s view of transcending the human race and embracing the Galaxy’s variety of lifeforms.
We also see that there is a “Tri-Planetary Academy”, never to have been mentioned elsewhere. Likewise there is mention to an “Aldebaron” Colony, of which Dr. Piper speaks a few minutes before, to be mentioned again in DS9 “Past Tense, Part I”. “Aldebaran” (in the correct spelling) is one of many names of stars or of Greek letters to be used throughout the series, to provide us with a sense of familiarity with names known in the present. This gives us confirmation of a series set in a future where we have managed to visit every nearby star and are reaching for farther ones, of a humanity for which these stars are mentioned as a matter of course. Again, everything is consciously made to be internally consistent.
11:58. And now the screen for Gary Mitchell: “ESP RATING // Esper Rating: 091. Aperception quotient: 20/104. // Duke-Heidelburg quotient: 261. General knowledge quotient: 679532-112. // Esper rating and quotients are well above average in all categories and exceptionally high in some. On planet Deneb IV, subject officer showed a marked ability in sensing the telepathic communication used by the inhabitants of that planet. In at least three cases (see notations on rear of report), subject officer carried on long telepathic communication with selected Deneb IV natives and scored 80 percent or higher on comprehension. // History on subject officer from childhood shows a consistent pattern of esper orientation, dating back to a better than average ability at the usual childhood ‘guessing games’, some grade school interest and ability in elementary magician’s tricks, et cetera. There is also a strong tendency through the maternal bloodline toward esper-oriented abilities, dating back through at least six generations to both males and females who dabbled in metaphysical studies and, in at least one case, a female ancestor who was interested in spiritual readings.”
It is interesting to see that there is background information on the characters that would have been hidden from us viewers but which was there nonetheless. This shows a marked effort from the producers to set up a detailed reality so everything is consistent. You may not know the explanation behind everything (again: not everything is available to the viewer), but it all stems from a common origin and therefore is made to make sense.
From this description we also learn that Deneb IV’s inhabitants communicate by telepathy, a fact that is not stressed anywhere else in the literature.
On commentary, the Okudas state that it was acknowledged that the viewer did not have the time to read all of the text, but that the underlined words were meant to direct the eye towards the main meaning. Again, the artistic integrity put lots of contents there even though it could not all be retained, so it could be able to contribute to an overall impression such that, in the end, you could not tell where it had come from.
The file allows us to see that the producers have conceived a future where Earth’s bureaucracy keeps close tabs on its citizens, dating back many generations. One could consider this to be a tyrannical government in the same measure as it is efficient. Babylon 5 would have more to comment on this.
The Okudas make a note that, at this time in the 60s, ESP was researched as the cutting edge of legitimate Science. The investigation into ESP has since been demonstrated as fruitless and today this would be a common scifi theme, but, at the time, ESP would be a perfect theme choice for a series that aimed at exploring the realms of futuristic Science, showing just how advanced it was. Indeed, so far I had not made the connection myself.
12:04. As Dehner comes in, Spock quickly removes the tapes from the viewer, hiding the fact that he and Kirk had been doing research on her and on Mitchell.
13:12. Mitchell’s sickbay garment bears a Medicine symbol and an Enterprise inscription, in more visual references from early in the series.
13:36. As Kirk enters, we see a crewmember walking by outside. All the producers did was to have one extra actor, walking silently over a two-meter piece of corridor as another entered the sickbay set, and they convinced the audience that the Enterprise was a large ship with a busy crew. Thus the magic is worked.
13:51. “I’ve been worried about you ever since that night on Deneb IV.” As can now be seen, this is consistent with Mitchell’s file, which we have now been able to read. At the time, we could not, so this ended up as being supposed to hide some background information for us to be intrigued by, as part of an overall impression to be conveyed, that of a universe full of wonder, all contributing to the series’s ambiance.
16:01. As mentioned by Kirk at 15:08, Mitchell is reading The Ethics, by Spinoza. Specifically, DVD freezing allows us to see that this is a passage where the Author defines good and evil. This is another case of unnecessary artistic integrity by the producers, since we could hardly read anything in the 525i-pixel definition of the 60s, but indeed the episode’s main theme is ethics, good and evil, the certain killing of one man versus the unconfirmed risking of many, friendship versus duty, and the inherent suffering of Kirk’s tragical choice. Quite a high aim for a weekly series in the 60s, justifying the need to disguise it as an action-adventure show.
17:14. On the other hand, the disadvantage of DVD is that you see the imperfections on the wall’s finishing, which smudged away under the 1960s’ 525i-pixel definition.
23:57. Doctor Dehner’s suggestion of the birth of a better kind of human being from Mitchell’s mutation is reminiscent of Marvel’s X-Men, who are supposed to be the next step in the human evolution and yet are constantly persecuted.
25:33. Spock suggests stranding a troublesome crewmember on the desolated Delta Vega despite his friendship to the officer in command. So would Spock have the idea of stranding a troublesome crewmember on the desolated Delta Vega in 2009’s Star Trek reboot movie, despite the crewmember’s would-be friendship with the officer in command.
26:31. Quite a dramatic scene, showcasing a tormented Kirk with the strong suggestion of being forced to kill more than a fellow human, a longtime friend. This is an ethical dilemma not likely to be seen on TV, before or since.
32:42. Spock’s belt is a standard military-issue model, probably obtained from a surplus supplier as there are many in the US. For sure this pilot was filmed on a tight budget. This belt would later be replaced by others that looked less current.
33:40. In a clever avoidance of costly visual effects, the dialogue just stated that Scott had sent a phaser by transport without the need of showing it. This would be used many times over in the course of the series, as in “Charlie X” when Captain Ramar leaves the Enterprise offscreen while accompanied by the sound effect.
34:01. “Because she feels. I don’t.” As a rule, Spock speaks a formal English, theorized by Nimoy to have been learned in school (if we are to believe the Okudas’ statement at and before 23:45). Here, however, we hear him fail this rule.
37:29. Dr. Piper’s lines, even his accent, are reminiscent of a classic Western as those filmed at the time. Listen to him again and envision the main cowboy character’s sidekick, reviving him among rocks in some Arizona valley and telling him where the bad guys have gone. It is not a coincidence: first, the producers, director and actors were experienced in precisely that genre; second, this is the genre specifically chosen to be emulated by Star Trek‘s concept of a Wagon Train to the Stars. Again, many small details sum up to leave an overall impression on the viewer.
38:40. It can be seen that the scenery is the same as that of Talos IV in “The Cage”, especially of that part where Spock grabs the silvery leaves. According to the Okudas, the vegetation had to be built upon a raised platform in order to allow a pond to be set into the ground, which can be noted if you know where to look.
39:17. Mitchell and Dehner are the first two human beings, a male and a female, in their own eden on this new world. Therefore Kirk is the snake, come corrupt their godly order.
40:50. As Kirk the Snake sneaks into Eden, Mitchell and Dehner eat their apples. They are tasting the forbidden knowledge of good and evil, not to be reached by humanity.
41:20. Definitely the place where Pike and Vina would enter the Talosians’ facilities. You can recognize the ledge and the stony wall with the hidden door.
41:52. The human race will take millions of years of learning to reach this level of godly understanding.
42:05. Kirk the Snake meets Dehner and brings doubt into her heart, as the Bible’s original Snake did to Eve, and he turns her against her godly leader, Mitchell, as the original Snake did.
44:02. “Morals are for men, not gods.” This sentence is certainly an intentional contrast to Mitchell’s readings of Spinoza and ethics, as mentioned before. He rejects human views and puts himself above good and evil, as a god that has the power to do anything.
44:56. Kirk shows one of many issues approached by the series: that even a god should be accountable, refraining from using his limitless power against a universal justice that even he would have to answer to. These are serious, adult issues that hardly fit an action-adventure series of the time.
50:15. In the end credits, one can see three takes from “The Cage”: the to-be-oft-used matte depicting the entrance to the city on Rigel VII; the laser cannon hitting the entrance to the Talosians’ den; and, of course, Vina as the Orion slave girl instead of the more usual Balok’s head that would become sort of an in-joke. We also see the frozen outpost from “The Naked Time”.
After 21 years of being a trekker, after having seen this one episode so many times, I would have thought it boring and beaten to see again. Yet I find a different perspective. This is like a place that I know too well, like a home where I lived for a long while and where I come back after being absent for years. Now that I already understand the story and dialogue well, I can spend more time paying attention to production details in the sets, the mattes, the music, the dialogue lines, the edition, the pacing, the visual effects. It is a dispassionate, critical view keeping in mind that these were the mid-60s under time and budget constraints, which had to be made up for with lots of ingenuity. It is a view looking for the artistic choices made to convey the sense and the story as desired. In the end, I learn and value the techniques that have brought the magic about and made Star Trek endure these many years.