Star Trek: The Original Series episode 25 review

Mark looks back at The Devil In The Dark...

Episode: 25Title: The Devil In The DarkStar Date: 3196.1Writer: Gene L. CoonFirst Shown: 9th March 1967

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.

The Devil In The Dark is one of the most memorable episodes of the original series, because for once Kirk, Bones and Spock aren’t up against super-beings or obvious men in suits. I also like it because it has a simple but effective message about fearing the unknown and the irrationality of that. Along with that there is also a subtle message about respecting the environment and the creatures in it, even if the plot surrounds a mining operation.

The Enterprise arrives at Janus VI following reports of deaths and sabotage caused by an elusive creature. Beaming down, Kirk and Spock find out that fifty miners have died and soon an important part of the colony’s reactor is stolen. The landing party start to search the level where most of the attacks have taken place, and hope not to die in the process. In this section of the mine are a large number of perfect silver purple spheres, a curiosity but of industrial use.

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Spock and Kirk are approached by a weird creature that looks like solidified magma, and when it attacks them they use their phasers to drive it off. The alien retreats through solid rock, which it can easily cut paths through using a powerful corrosive acid it exudes.

Examining a portion the phaser cut from the creature, Spock determines that this is a silicon-based life form, and the very last of its kind.

Scotty improvises a pump, but it’s only a matter of time before the mine must be abandoned. The turning point comes when Spock proposes a mind-meld to better understand the creature and its motivations.

But the creature is in such pain from the wound, Spock can only determine it’s in great pain, unsurprisingly. After this connection the creature burns the words “NO KILL I” on the mine wall.

Given the information the first attempt provided, Spock decides to undergo a second sharing of thoughts and the full story of the ‘Horta’ is revealed. Every 50,000 years they all die, except one brood mother who looks after an entirely new generation of offspring, as the spheres are eggs. The miners had inadvertently broken into the hatchery, at which point the Horta took action to avoid complete annihilation.

Kirk then involves Bones to try and help the creature, and he uses that iconic line, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” when he discovers his patient is primarily made of rock. With Doctor McCoy’s masonry skills, the creature is soon well, and Bones is even impressed with his own abilities in this respect.

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After initially being hostile, the miners soon come to the conclusion that working with the Horta might be beneficial, as they can make tunnels easily and seek out mineral deposits for them. Quite how they’re going to communicate without Spock on hand isn’t discussed, but it’s a remarkably happy up-beat ending for a story that started with lots of dead people.

On reviewing this episode what I liked most about it was that it gave the opportunity for each of the main three characters to perform their functions. Kirk is allowed to be dashing and impetuous, Spock logical and ethical, and Bones to be compassionate.

Yet along with that it also allows them to oppose these positions, with Kirk convincing Spock not to kill the creature. It’s all quite cerebral for 60s American TV, and what starts as a rather shallow monster hunt turns into something more interesting.

Historically, it’s Bill Shatner’s favourite episode. He says because his father died while he was making it, and both Nimoy and Roddenberry were very supportive to him during production. Which suggests that, despite what other cast members have said on occasion, Shatner is actually a big softy at heart.

The remastered release has quite a few altered effects shots, including a whole new planet, an underground refinery and even some miners playing with a baby Horta in the background of one scene.

One curiosity I noticed was that when we first see the miners, before one of them is fried by the Horta, amongst their number is an actor who looks remarkably like Robert F. Hoy, who played Joe Butler in The High Chaparral, but I could be wrong.

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Next up we see the very first appearance on the Klingons in Star Trek, when the Enterprise has an Errand Of Mercy.