Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Enemy Within" (October 6, 1966)

Stardate: 1672.1

The U.S.S. Enterprise crew conducts a “specimen gathering mission” on the surface of planet Alfa 177. The inhospitable planet turns deadly at night, when the temperature drops to “120 below zero.”

A crewman, Fisher, beams up to the Enterprise after taking a fall. Unfortunately, the technician’s uniform is contaminated with a strange metallic ore, and the ore damages the ship’s transporter.

When Captain Kirk (William Shatner) beams up to the ship, the damaged device splits him into two individuals. One is savage and avaricious. The other is weak and diffident.  The violent, “dark” Captain Kirk assaults Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and demands Saurian brandy from Bones (De Forest Kelley), while the other must cope with his dwindling ability to command a starship.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and his landing party on Alfa 177 must remain the night on the frozen world, pending the repair of the transporter.

While Kirk is disgusted by the sight and thought of a vicious, barbaric double, Mr. Spock sees an opportunity for study, to understand the qualities that make a person a great commander…

Penned by the great Richard Matheson (1926-2013), “The Enemy Within” is a classic episode of Star Trek (1966-1969). Matheson’s teleplay examines -- through the use of a transporter malfunction -- the dual nature of humanity. 

Inspired in art by the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Matheson has penned a story about Captain Kirk which reminds the audience that strength, leadership, decisiveness, even, may stem from a negative or dark part of the psyche.  This is a powerful revelation, and Kirk’s final, sad musing that he has “seen a part of” himself “that no man should ever see” is powerful, even haunting.

“The Enemy Within” has for a long time been esteemed as a great episode of Star Trek, but I wonder, after my recent viewing, if it hasn’t aged poorly to some degree.

For example, Spock’s joke to Yeoman Rand at the end of the episode (about the evil, assaulting Kirk having some interesting qualities) is in bad taste and insensitive, for example. What a terrible thing to say to someone who has suffered an assault from someone she cares for. Knowing what Whitney suffered on the set of Star Trek makes the remark even worse.

Furthermore, the last act is drawn out, with the two Kirks being forced to embrace each other at great length, and with great emotionality.

Much worse, in my estimation, “The Enemy Within” is an absolute mess from a visual standpoint. The editing is sloppy in some crucial instances. 

For example, early in the episode, Kirk’s uniform is missing an insignia.  In the very next scene, it has returned to its proper placement.

And in the episodes final confrontation, the bridge’s view-screen is a big white board…with no image projected upon it in post-production. This really sticks out. It’s not like we’ve ever seen the screen in “off” mode before.

Then, of course, there are all the compositions that have been printed in reverse, meaning that haircuts are parted on the wrong side and insignias appear placed the wrong side.

In toto, this is a sloppy episode of Star Trek from a visual standpoint, and the mistakes are jarring, repetitive, and frequent. The alien dog with the antennae and electronic bark is also one of the sillier aliens to make an appearance on the program.

If I were William Shatner, I would certainly have cause for complaint about the production values, editing, and shooting of this story. 

After all, he delivers not one but two phenomenal performances in this episode, and his efforts are under-cut frequently by the pervasive mistakes. When he takes center stage, however, Shatner is indeed a commanding presence.  His “dark” Kirk is a ferocious, feral presence.

Even the threat of the week -- crew members trapped on a frozen planet -- doesn’t hold up well today because in 2016 we all know that the Enterprise houses shuttlecrafts.  They should be used to rescue Sulu and his cohorts, but of course, in terms of production, a shuttle didn’t yet exist, either practically or in the imagination of the writers and producers.  

But looking back, it’s a glaring omission, and adds to the sense that the episode is sloppy, or ill-considered.

The qualities that make “The Enemy Within” stand out involve the clever observations about human nature, particularly from Spock.

Although I believe it is a mistake that he would note his “alien” rather than Vulcan half, specifically, his point is nonetheless well-taken.  He has two sides fighting a war inside of him, every single day. 

But Spock’s observation that what makes a man a leader is “his negative side,” properly controlled, is unforgettable. That’s a pretty daring observation for a young TV show, and one in the mainstream.  

It says, essentially, we derive or power and strength from dark or negative impulses. We aren’t altruistic beings. We don’t seek power for noble reasons.  But, if even tempered, we can still do good things with that power.

In terms of overall structure -- as I wrote about in regards to “Where No Man Has Gone Before” two weeks ago -- it is good to have McCoy arguing the other side of the debate.  He doesn’t see a dark side or a negative side here. “It’s not really ugly, it’s human,” he says, and that’s a good point too.

“The Enemy Within” is an important episode to Star Trek not merely for its dissection of Kirk’s leadership, but because it gives us a number of important series firsts. This is the first episode in which Spock uses the famous Vulcan nerve pinch.  It is also the first time we hear McCoy say his immortal line, “He’s dead Jim.”  We saw some of Engineering in “The Naked Time,” but this is the first episode that features an extended sequence set there, if memory serves.

I’ve always loved and admired “The Enemy Within,” but this time, while I watched, I wondered if time had finally passed it by. There is a legitimately great episode of Voyager (1995-2001), for example, called “Tuvix,” wherein Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) must examine the moral case for separating two life forms who have been blended by transporter (Tuvok and Nuvix). 

That episode works on a stronger, more advanced philosophical level, and has fewer unforced visual errors.

Of course, at the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that “Tuvix” couldn’t exist had “The Enemy Within” not arrived first.

For me, the reason to watch this episode remains William Shatner’s gonzo, totally-committed performance. Also, I love the Rand/Kirk scenes.  That is a fascinating relationship that I wished had been given the opportunity to develop more fully.

Next week: “Mudd’s Women.”


  1. John insightful review of this great episode for Kirk(Shatner) mistakes included.


  2. John,
    I'll have to respectfully disagree that "The Enemy Within" hasn't aged well, but I also can appreciate your points regarding the more dated aspects. I still enjoy the "rough around the edges" quality of this and other early first season episodes. "The Imposter" Kirk blasts a hole in an engineering tube when Spock administers the first-ever FVNP (Famous Vulcan Neck Pinch); a couple of scenes later, they're using that same hole in the wall to explain the burnout in the transporter circuits.
    However, I am in full agreement with you about Spock's comments at the end of the show. Was what he said EVER acceptable, even in the 60's? Either Spock is trolling, decades before that phrase was so used, or in context, he was trying to provoke a reaction to analyze the Yeoman's emotions.
    Okay, I'm rationalizing, in the same way I like to tell myself that the shuttlecraft hadn't been placed on the Enterprise yet, fan-explaining away their absence. I'm sure the show runners knew about this point also, but weren't about to let a great idea from a name writer slip away due to a technicality.
    Not a very air-tight episode, but colorful, provocative and Shatner-iffic.

  3. "The Enemy Within" has long been a favourite Trek of mine; I haven't seen it in years but I remember it still being impressive... even with those embedded, and distracting, production blips.

    I disagree that the episode is an "absolute mess from a visual standpoint". There are problems, of course, but hardly "absolute".

    Star Trek generally had fairly high production standards, but things did slip from time to time, with some episodes containing more sub-standards than others. (Wait till "Court Martial" rolls around: There's that standard 20th Century omni-directional mic being used as an audio tracker/scanner.)

    As a film/tv friend of mine would say: "You win some, you lose some."

    There are many ingredients for the "win" column here, such as Sol Kaplan's superb score. This episode is driven forward by Shatner, the music, and the editing. Jerry Finnerman's photography is also exemplary... as per the norm, it would seem.

    That flopped-shot reversed-facial-scratches ending, however, does pop you out of the story. It's a major blooper, no doubt about it. (Apparently the shot had to be reversed in editorial due to an action-axis problem in the original staging that had been done on the set.)

    By the way: The shuttlecraft was always in the cards, but the studio understandably did not want to spring for its (expensive) construction without assurances that the show would be picked up by NBC for the remainder of the first season. Once the green-light was given, designer Matt Jefferies' designs (interior and exterior) were realized by Thomas Kellogg, Gene Winfield, and their construction crew, at AMT's Speed and Custom Division in Phoenix, Arizona. Final cost: $24,000 (about $180,000 in today's cash... a cost-of-living adjustment, not a "production inflation" one).

    But, perhaps the Star Trek producers should have saved "The Enemy Within" for after the green-light.

    As for the episode's actual "story", the most important ingredient, is a great one. And, as you state, John, Shatner is great.

    One last point on an issue that you touch upon: Spock's 'behaviour' towards Yeoman Rand on the bridge could be considered today to be "workplace harassment". (As Spock said to Rand in "Miri", a later episode: "Think about it!")

  4. Sheri3:02 AM

    "The Enemy Within" was written by the great Richard Matheson, whose observations about humans' darker emotions and common fears were so revelatory. This was the third time William Shatner performed a story by Matheson, who wrote both of Shatner's memorable excursions into The Twilight Zone, "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" and "Nick of Time".

    I always thought of Spock's bizarre comment to Rand as an early unsuccessful attempt on his part to execute a joke, which he poorly understood. I've often wondered if that wasn't an attempt to begin a point of character progression that was supposed to unfold over an arc of episodes but never really went anywhere--although Spock did become more adept with sarcastic wit in brief moments as time went on.