Hello Dwellers and Welcome To The Basement…
Today, being September 8th, is the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, because on this day in the United States way back in 1966, ‘The Man Trap’ first aired (it aired on September 6th up in Canada)
So I figured, why not talk about this particular episode, since it was the first one to air.
The Enterprise arrives at planet M-113 to provide medical examinations for Proffers Robert Crater and his wife Nancy, Capt Kirk, Dr. McCoy and a red-shirt named Darnell all see Nancy different… for you see Nancy is a ‘creature’ that lives on salt… and since Darnell is not a main cast member and is wearing the colored red, he is promptly killed off by the creature. Spock and McCoy learn the cause of Darnell’s death, but there’s a problem the creature ends up on the ship and with the ability to shape shift, it is able to sneak about the Enterprise… all while building towards a climax that sees McCoy being conflicted about killing the creature because he sees it as Nancy, who was someone he once had affection for.
That may not be the best summary of the episode… but of course I’m wanting to give my opinions about this episode itself… for one… it’s a very strange choice of a first episode to air, as you’re kind of thrown into meeting all of the characters with no real ‘formal’ introduction like we would see with TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise… second… this is basically a ‘McCoy’ episode, yes that’s right, the first aired episode of Star Trek focused on Doctor Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, it’s his anguish that we the viewers end up realizing we’re going to see the second we know that Nancy is the creature, keep in mind the Hippocratic Oath of ‘First do no harm’… and yeah, McCoy is put in a no win situation he is basically killing the last creature of it’s kind…. And a woman he loved, sure she been dead for some time, but think about it… McCoy ends up being the first character all audiences can instantly identify with, that you’d feel some something for… Not Kirk, not Spock or any of the others… it’s the simple country Doctor.
No question comes down to, was this the best episode to air first… well legend has the choices were The Man Trap, Mudd’s Women, The Naked Time and Where No Man Has Gone Before…. And of those four… yeah, The Man Trap was the ‘best’ choice, Where No Man has Gone Before was a great pilot, but it didn’t have any real passion to it, Mudd’s Women was basically about ‘believing in yourself’ and ‘hookers in space’…. And the Naked Time… considering the revelations made about the characters, it would make them all seem insane, much like how the Naked Now did for the Next Generation because it aired too ‘early’, so The Man Trap, was the best choice.
Of course the next obvious question, does the episode still hold up… well… thanks to the passage of time, yes it does, considering the mediocre reviews it got back in the 1960s, The Man Trap certainly is more than the ‘cheap plodding sci-fi monster plot of the week’ that many critics called it back then, you got a creature doing what it can to survive that provides a moral dilemma in the story’s climax. Does the Salt monster looks cheesy, a bit, but it’s still a great design and much better than some monsters we’ve seen designed in recent years for big television and movies.
So in closing I’ll say this, The Man Trap may have been an odd first step… but it was the first step that launched a franchise that has lasted 50 years.