Season Three - TOS

Star Trek: The Original Series – Whom Gods Destroy – Mental Illness in the 23rd Century

Written by Lee Erwin, Jerry Sohl, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

The problem with writing for the future is that the writers craft stories from the time they are in. Since the 1960s, we’ve made great strides in understanding mental health and realizing that there are many aspects to it. Of course, none of that is reflected in a story where Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) find themselves trapped in an insane asylum.

The Enterprise is orbiting a prison planet that focuses on the criminally insane. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock beam down with new medication to treat the illnesses of the 15 men who reside there. They learn a legendary Starfleet Captain is among the prisoners. Eager to see him, Governor Cory (Keye Luke) escorts Kirk and Spock to the holding cells, where they learn Governor Cory isn’t who he appears.

Captain Garth (Steve Ihnat) has figured out a way to appear as different people. He tricks Kirk and Spock into thinking he’s Governor Cory. Once they are imprisoned, he changes his appearance to Captain Kirk and attempts to trick his way on board the Enterprise.

The big problem is how mental illness is portrayed. When Captain Garth is unable to trick his way on board the Enterprise, he displays anger that’s got nothing on one of Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums. Steve Ihnat wins the competition for overacting in this episode, although he seems to be enjoying it quite a bit. It fits in what we saw depicted in terms of mental illness in the 1960s, if at all. Yvonne Craig, whom many people will recognize as being the original “Bat Girl,” also gets to overact in the role of Marta, who doesn’t know what side she’s on for most of the episode. This feels more like Arkham Asylum with its cartoonish depiction of mental illness, so maybe her role here is appropriate.

The story doesn’t work on so many levels, I have to wonder if the writers were getting lazy. There are so many instances where Spock and Kirk should be able to get out of the situation and it never reaches that far. At one point Spock is dealing with Captain Garth metamorphizing into Captain Kirk, so he has two Kirks in front of him and can’t figure out which is the real one. Instead of stunning them both or something just as simple, he turns his back and is assaulted by Captain Garth in Kirk form. Duh. There are bad moments like this throughout the story, unfortunately.

Not to mention, the idea that Captain Garth somehow “learned” how to shape-shift from one group of aliens. If it were that easy, wouldn’t Starfleet be sending their people there to learn this? It’s just so poorly written all around that it leaves the viewer with more questions about the future.

I’ll give credit to the costume department, which does some interesting things depicting the criminally insane. Apparently, they have good designers on this prison planet, although the only staff we ever see is Governor Cory. Also, the idea that there could be a medication that would cure every mental illness in every human (no to mention other species) is ludicrous.

Some interesting costume choices are lost in what is a poorly written show that seemed to be developed on “Spock and Kirk find themselves trapped in a space asylum.” Even the regular cast doesn’t seem to want to be here, especially Leonard Nimoy. At times his deadpan delivery of his lines seems to be infused with exasperation, although I don’t think it was part of the story. I’d guess this was one of those “why am I doing this?” moments.

It’s unfortunate that there’s not much in Whom Gods Destroy that works. A better-developed script might have been interesting, but unless we’ve gone backward, we already have a better appreciation of people and mental illnesses than the 23rd century do if we are to judge it by this episode.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Elaan of Troyius

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

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