Monday, February 09, 2009

Vamp or Not? Star Trek – The Man Trap

dvd setWhilst it was not the first recorded, this Marc Daniels directed episode of the original series of Star Trek, was the first ever episode aired (the pilot episode, The Cage, was not actually aired on TV until 1987). As such it actually has a lot in it that perhaps vanished from later episodes, little inter-crew asides that maybe later were ignored, such as Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) making small talk and practically flirting with Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

in orbitOf course, being Star Trek I trust I do not need to go into the series’ basic premise and can leap straight to the Enterprise arriving in orbit around the planet M-113. The planet is the scene of an archaeological expedition being carried out by Professor Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal).

landing partyAs it happens, she is the ex-girlfriend of Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy (DeForest Kelley) – and he is a little nervous about meeting with her again. However Star Fleet regulations state that expeditions must be medically examined by a starship surgeon once a year. So, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Bones and an unknown crewman called Darnell (Michael Zaslow) beam down. Now, of course, when this aired we didn’t know that Darnell was unknown and he wears a blue shirt – we haven’t got to the stage of red shirt = death. However, with hindsight, we know he is to be a goner and, indeed, several crewmen die in this episode.

the 3 faces of NancyWhen Nancy comes into the room Bones declares that she hasn’t aged at all – not looking a day over (ahem…) twenty five, he later says – when he introduces her to Kirk we see, through the Captain's eyes, an older lady and Darnell sees a young blonde girl (Francine Pyne). Darnell also makes a scene by mentioning that she looks like a girl he met on a pleasure planet and has to leave the room. Nancy goes to get Crater, appears to Darnell as the blonde and leads him away. It is interesting that Nancy can take the appearance of different people, but more so that it seems to be a psychic change as all three see different women when together.

finding a victimCrater comes into the room, unhappy about the tests. Just leave us some salt he suggests. We hear Nancy scream and they find Darnell dead, with some vegetation in his mouth and blotches on his face. It appears he ate poisonous plant life. However, on examination he does not have any poisoning symptoms – indeed Bones, great doctor as he is, suggests he shouldn’t be dead. A re-examination then shows that he is lacking all salt from his body. As they left the planet Nancy made specific mention of asking for salt tablets.

It is back down to the planet to ask the two occupants to leave until they discover what killed Darnell but another two crewman are killed - clearly by Nancy. She takes the form of crewman Green (Bruce Watson), one of her victims, and gets aboard the enterprise, where she kills again and starts taking on various forms including Bones. Interestingly whilst she can take the form she needs (Green or Bones) she can also take the form most pleasing – be it fantasy or real – and Crater says that she needs love as much as salt. She has decided to trade Crater in for Bones as his feelings for Nancy are stronger.

the true formThe actual Nancy is dead – killed by the creature who is the last of its race and Crater nearly killed it before working with it. The lack of salt on the planet seems to be the reason why the creatures have died out, though this isn’t explicit. Its true form shows a lamprey like mouth but the actual salt extraction is done through suckers on its fingers – hence the ring marks on the faces.

hunting KirkIt has the ability to paralyse its prey through hypnosis – something mentioned but not well explored – and clearly it leaches emotion as well as salt. I was struck by similarities between the creature and that portrayed in It! the Terror From Beyond Space, though It did not change shape and sucked all vital fluids (presumably via Its hands). We went Vamp on that. The show is sometimes known by David Gerrold's satiric nickname for it, "The Incredible Salt Vampire".

a victimClearly it is not undead – rather a living but alien creature, higher up the food chain – but we have accepted that before. What I found interesting was its need for love as well as salt. Certainly more traditional vampires have displayed a need for love/emotional contact. However, it was when I thought about it in context with this that I wondered whether the vampire's need, in some stories, for emotional contact might have a baseline archetypal connection with the folklore vampire visiting their own families as their first victims.

Putting such musing aside, however, and getting back to the task at hand, I am willing to class this as vampiric.

The episode’s imdb page is here.

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