Written by Gene Roddenberry and George Clayton Johnson
Directed by Marc Daniels
Captain’s log, stardate 1513.1. Our position, orbiting planet M-113. On board the Enterprise, Mr. Spock, temporarily in command. On the planet, the ruins of an ancient and long-dead civilization. Ship’s surgeon McCoy and myself are now beaming down to the planet’s surface. Our mission: routine medical examination of archeologist Robert Crater and his wife Nancy. Routine but for the fact that Nancy Crater is that one woman in Dr. McCoy’s past.
The first episode aired of the landmark television series, the original Star Trek, didn’t have any fantastic space battles. It didn’t have any Klingons or Romulans. It didn’t even feature any of the classic banter between Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock or any of the quotes the series would become known for.
It did, however, introduce the audience to the concept of “the red shirt,” the transporter, and a pretty advanced concept, that of a shape-shifting alien, which would be used for decades to come throughout this universe.
The Enterprise heads to the planet M-113 to deliver supplies to the archaeological survey team there. It would seem like a simple mission, but the husband and wife team consists of an old flame of the ship’s doctor, Leonard McCoy.
The landing party consisting of Captian Kirk, Dr. McCoy and a crewman known as Darnell (William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and Michael Zaslow) beam down to the planet. Nancy Crater (portrayed by Jeanne Bal), quickly makes an appearance and McCoy doesn‘t think she looks a day over when he last saw her. What no one realizes is that each of them sees Nancy a little differently.
Darnell is the “red shirt” (actually blue here) who turns up dead. He was found by Nancy. McCoy can find no reason why he is dead, only round bruises all over his face and body. After another crewman is found dead in the same condition, as a precaution all are brought back on the ship. McCoy’s reawakened feelings for his for former lover allay and suspicions he might have of her somewhat unusual behavior.
Especially considering the time and the environment on network television, this is an excellent episode. There’s some great dialogue, with the sort of conversations that weren’t taking place at the time. Instead of the black and white world of “this thing is evil and we must kill it” there is discussion about the ethics and implication of killing something that is the last of it’s kind.
To their credit, the writers also didn’t feel the need to outline every single aspect of everyone’s character right away. However, the differences between the Vulcan, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the rest of the crew needed to be given some attention so that viewers weren’t scratching their heads. There is some great interaction and conversation between Spock and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), introducing the idea that Spock has no emotions. She tries to start some casual conversation between the two of them and is firmly rebuffed by his logical thinking.
This is also a good episode for DeForrest Kelley. He gets some terrific lines and build-up of his character in a way that wouldn’t be possible in later episodes when Shatner’s ego and reported counting of lines in the script wouldn’t allow anyone else to get the limelight the way Kelley does here. He is the focus of the character conflict and must do what needs to be done, putting aside his personal feelings and what his own eyes tell him.
The Man Trap also marks the first appearance of what would be known as “shape shifters” throughout the years. It’s a pretty advanced concept and although the technology wasn’t in place that would allow the sort of morphing we would see in shows such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it’s handled quite well here. The effects overall are primitive, but especially looking at other shows during this time, they are quite good. Roddenberry wasn’t afraid of a challenge, but he still had to stay within a budget and the result is pretty good.
Remastered, the picture is fantastic. I definitely had a new appreciation for many of the details, such as in the Life Sciences section where Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) brings a meal to Sulu (George Takei). There are bright colors and details of sharp lines, not the blurry edges I remember in the re-runs I grew up on. (There’s even a plant in there straight out of Little Shop of Horrors.) I could even see the matte makeup on Leonard Nimoy to make him look paler for the most part.
Taking into account this is the first show, The Man Trap is quite good. There may be later shows that hold up better in regard to the way it handles a similar situation, but as a starting point his is very good and very different from the offerings on television during this time. It is definitely worth seeing in the uncut version even with the bit of disappointment I had with the quality.
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Charlie X
Wow: the idea that an actor could get away with such (line-counting) behavior!
There was a lot of petty behavior back in the day that I don’t think many actors would get away with today.