Friday, July 13, 2007

TOS Rewind #2: "The Man Trap"

6/11/2015 Update:  We recorded a podcast for this episode. Listen or download here

As you may notice, it's around Midnight as I begin posting this installment.  I wanted to begin while the show was still fresh and yes, I resisted the temptation to drag out the projector and watch my faded 16mm print!.    The Man Trap:  this episode kicked off the run of the show when it premiered on NBC in the Fall of 1966.  I was a bit mystified as to why they began with this one, but it actually does a decent  job of introducing the characters, particularly Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, who gets to be the one who has to kill a monster that still has residual personal attachment.  Sure, it isn't quite the same as Kirk killing the super-charged Gary Mitchell, but it's still a bummer.  McCoy is his folksy self, but a bit subdued (Spock hadn't gotten on his nerves yet) as well as a pretty sensitive character.  We actually learn quite a bit about Spock in this episode, in particular, that his blood is different than humans (a fact that, IIRC, saves his ass in a later episode too).  There's also this interesting exchange between him and Uhura at the beginning where it seems as though she's really giving him a hard time, messing with him if you will.  Either that or she's a really unprofessional officer!  I feel like Spock is finally settling in as a character here.  Kirk, considering it's the first time he's shown, isn't really given background, but his style and personality are readily apparent.  Remember how I talked about Spock being the security toughie in "Where No Man..."?  Well, Kirk reclaims it here.  He plays it a bit like a combination sea captain and police detective. 

You know, this really isn't far off since this episode is really, story-wise, a suspense/horror show.  You've got a mystery, people being killed, and a monster.  Funny enough, none of the crewmen killed had red shirts (a later development I suppose)!  Shatner really gets into the cop mold when he's interrogating Professor Crater (seems like an unfortunate name for an archeologist) and, as another review I saw of this pointed out, he really does one impressive scream.  The guy who played Crater was actually pretty good, even if he seemed at times to be a poor man's Spencer Tracy. 

Story-wise, I liked this one a fair bit.  It had some good pacing and suspense and a monster that still looks pretty creepy.  One thing I noticed about the monster (I don't think it was given a name) was that it looked a bit like the Morlocks from the 1960 The Time Machine film (OK, so the Morlocks had beer bellies!).  Still, a great effect, especially since you don't see it until the end of the episode. 


And now we hear from Eric:

Ah, more Trek talk. And this time it’s “The Man Trap". As established
in the last review, this episode was not the pilot, but it was the
first episode aired, so it served as the pilot. As such, I’m not sure
how well it succeeded. Some regular characters, such as Scotty and
Nurse Chapel, weren’t even seen. This can be forgiven, however, since
it was the sixth episode produced and was never intended to serve as
the pilot.

So, was it a good episode? Yes. It’s not one of my favorites, but it
was still good. The acting and directing were solid and given the
time and budget, the special effects were reasonably good. Most
importantly, the story was good (if somewhat plagiarized). But before
I talk about that, a few observations: First, I really noticed
Shatner’s opening narration (“Space: the final frontier…"), probably
because it was absent in “Where No Man Has Gone Before". I also
noticed that the red uniforms had been introduced by the time this
episode was produced, but there was no “curse of the red shirt" (i.e.
a crewman wearing a red uniform wasn’t automatically a walking
corpse). In fact, the two crewmen who bought the farm were wearing
either blue or tan uniforms. And speaking of uniforms, if you look
closely, you can see some of the older uniforms from the first and
second pilot. You can also see a female crewperson in pants instead
of the insipid miniskirt. This might be a continuity problem or simply
an example of Starfleet’s inefficiency at implementing dress code
changes. Also, when Dr. Crater is shooting at Kirk and Spock, he has
an old-style phaser from the pilots, which makes perfect sense--he’s
been on this planet for years, largely cut off from “civilization",
so he’s not going to have the latest equipment. And finally, there
was some significant character development evident in this episode.
Kirk has more swagger and cockiness than in the second pilot or the
first episodes that were produced, and I tend to think that this was
due more to William Shatner than the writers and producers.
Roddenberry had conceived Kirk as a character very similar to C.S.
Forester’s Horatio Hornblower (who was neither swaggering nor
pompous), but from what I’ve gleaned from various sources, Shatner
exerted a significant influence away from this (especially later in
the series). Spock too is much more characteristically logical and
unemotional than in earlier episodes and the pilots, and I suspect
this is simply a result of Leonard Nimoy and the writers having a
better handle on the character. But enough observations--on to the

I’ve seen this episode dozens of times, but upon re-watcing it for
this review, I was amazed to make a connection I never saw before:
its plot is very similar to that of the 50s SF movie “The Forbidden
Planet". If you haven’t seen this movie (and you should), it’s set
about 300 years in the future and deals with a military spaceship
from Earth that’s traveling to a colony on a distant planet to check
up on the colonists. The ship arrives and is promptly rebuffed by the
presumptive leader of the colony, Dr. Morbius. The Captain insists on
landing, and to make a long story short, they discover there’s a
monster loose on the planet that wreaks havoc on the ship and crew.
Sound familiar? But the episode isn’t completely plagiarized. There
are several significant differences. For example, there is a love
interest in both stories, but in “The Man Trap" it’s between Dr.
McCoy and Dr. Crater’s wife, Nancy. In “The Forbidden Planet" the
love affair is between the Captain and Morbius’ daughter. And to me,
the most important difference is that the monster in “The Forbidden
Planet" is a genuine monster. The “monster" in “The Man Trap" turns
out not to be a monster at all, merely a starving, intelligent
creature (the last of its kind) that’s trying to survive. So, it is
both regrettable and sad when it is killed. And it’s this genuine
pathos that ultimately makes the story and episode a success.
Although I have one nagging question:  At the end of the episode, why
didn’t Spock or McCoy stun the creature instead of killing it?

Next time:  “Charlie X"