Star Trek: Dagger of the Mind   Rewatch 
September 20, 2014 3:09 PM - Season 1, Episode 10 - Subscribe

While on a routine cargo drop to the Tantalus Penal Colony, Kirk and psychiatrist Helen Noel are trapped on a maximum security penal colony that experiments with mind control and Spock must use the Vulcan mind-meld to find a way to save them.

"Dagger of the Mind" is a first season episode of the science fiction television series Star Trek. It is episode #9, production #11 and was broadcast November 3, 1966. It was written by Shimon Wincelberg under the pen name "S. Bar-David," and directed by Vincent McEveety. The title is taken from a soliloquy by the title character in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Memory Alpha Link

The episode can be viewed on CBS, Hulu, and Netflix
posted by Benway (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The episode stands out for the first (I believe?) use of the Vulcan mind meld. Notable about it, was that I think, if my memory serves me, the hand/finger positioning was off, and Spock didn't recite the mantra, " mind to your mind...your mind to my mind..." He also claims he had never used it on a human before, either. It very much felt like a writer's plot device that, like the nerve pinch, found a lasting home in the Star Trek bible.

The actor who played Vangelder, he did a fantastic job playing crazy and frantic, and expressing an appearance of someone struggling mightily to communicate through a mental and pain filled barrier.

Worse part of the episode? The entire Dr. Helen Noel subplot. The Christmas Party (yes, apparently they still celebrate that in the future - and love that last name joke), and the fact that while we can have a woman psychologist in the future, she has to wear the shortest skirt on the set. I think the role could have been done in a much better way with better results all around.

As for the going ons at Tantalus (Boy, these writers and their names, just killin' it), it was interesting. We're faced with another storyline of one of the galaxy's best doctor/scientist at X and the premise that their fervor to find the best solution ends up reducing its victims to robots, real or psychologically. It's another callback, as well, to the Manchurian Candidate, and the premise that technology existed which could change one's very memories and thoughts. The technology aspect alone is an important subject, as the 50s and 60s kind of ran with a great amount of "look what great things technology will bring us!" and at the same time, warnings of what it could also bring us.

I did enjoy McCoy challenging Kirk, and likewise, Kirk's respect for McCoy and the rules to proceed with his investigation. I liked this episode better than Miri, but it had some flaws which pull it down for total enjoyment.
posted by Atreides at 12:00 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

the first use of the Vulcan mind meld. . . . Spock claims he had never used it on a human before. . . .

And has to point out (for the viewer) that "this is not hypnosis".

Boy, these writers and their names, just killin' it

Sure. Did you pick up on the one assistant ("I love my work"), named Lethe?

Lethe is, in Greek Mythology, the personification of forgetting, of oblivion.

I believe you will search in vain for a similarly freighted connection with "Tristan" or "Adams", though. Sometimes, Anna, a cigar is just a banana.
posted by Herodios at 4:11 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing that annoyed me most about how the show treated Dr. Noel is during the initial tour of the facility, when Kirk and Adams are talking and she tries to get a word in edgewise and is just ignored/interrupted/talked over constantly. Why did Kirk even bring her?

And then when she does get a chance to speak, she seems completely incompetent -- just spouting off about how great Adams' work is without analyzing it critically at all. This is after even Kirk (who had a hard-on for the guy) is starting to get skeptical.

I can deal with her having a crush on Kirk, I can deal with the two of them having had a brief fling with in the past (which makes Kirk uncomfortable -- he knows he's not supposed to be romancing the crew). I can almost even deal with McCoy's smirk as he hands her off to him (assuming of course, that she is the most qualified person on the ship to fill the role). Maybe I'm just spoiled by Picard at least wanting his women to have brains (and giving them a chance to use them).

Otherwise, the episode was fairly predictable, almost from the moment the human-sized box got beamed onto the ship (hmm...I wonder if there's an escaped prisoner in there, I wonder if he's not really as evil at he's been made out to be, I wonder if head science dude has let the science go to his head). I'll forgive that because this is my first watch of these episodes but I've watched so much media that was influenced by it, so the trope seems lazy now but was maybe more innovative then?
posted by sparklemotion at 8:04 AM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll forgive that because this is my first watch of these episodes but I've watched so much media that was influenced by it, so the trope seems lazy now but was maybe more innovative then?

I haven't had a chance to listen to the Mission Log podcast for this episode yet, which I think would probably discuss how typical this storyline was for the time or not. My guess is that the idea that someone is experimenting in a prison/hospital in a nefarious way probably isn't that original to the time. We have the mad scientist in Frankenstein and the Island of Dr. Moreau decades before this episode aired (or dare say, before its writers were even born). My estimate would be that it wasn't the first, but obviously, not the last in a long line of shows and movies relying on this trope. I have a lot to do today, so I don't dare venture over to tvtropes to confirm anything.
posted by Atreides at 9:05 AM on September 23, 2014

Yeah, I can think of examples -- a sort of deus ex machina as plot trigger -- from other shows of the era, like Mission: Impossible or The Wild Wild West. The basic issue is that you have 47-ish minutes to tell a story so getting in medias res as quickly as possible is crucial. Like many stage conventions, you're not meant to think about it too critically (in our era of over-analyzed television, this seems a bit strange, I admit).

I was a little struck by the take on mental illness and treatment in this episode. It seems to call back to 1950s electro-shock therapy, possibly influenced by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which was a hit play on Broadway in 1963-64 (with Kirk Douglas as McMurphy; eventually his son Michael would produce the film). A long time ago I read a sort of objection to the film that EST was big in the 1950s when the book was written, but was already waning and vilified by the time of the play, and completely outdated as a depiction of psychiatric treatment by the time the film came out (and this film very much influenced the de-institutionalization phenomenon, which was in theory to be replaced by widely available community health services that never materialized or were only severely underfunded). In any case, I found the idea that we still hadn't solved at least some mental illness conundrums by the time of the Federation to be rather unsettling (and a generation later, quite ahistorical as well). There's also a stigmatizing heaping serving of madness = violence and danger that looks very outdated today.
posted by dhartung at 12:47 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a short update, at the beginning of the relevant podcast, I learned that the role of Dr. Noel was originally going to be Yeoman Rand until the actress left the show for "reasons." (I haven't learned them and the podcast hasn't really gone into them, either). That sort of helps to explain the minimal role the doctor plays in the episode, and also indicates another flirtation with the attraction between the captain and his yeoman.
posted by Atreides at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2014

This is a penal colony, so you'd expect precautions, like the force field, but you'd also expect people to check inside boxes or USE THE SENSORS. I would also expect the transporter to have some sort of program allowing it to lock onto, say, a given person, plus the person's clothes and equipment, while not beaming up flies or gravel or grass stains. I'd expect that sort of transporter to beam up the box and leave the hidden person behind.

Well, that takes care of the first 30 sec of the episode, I'll skip all my other complaints except to ask: he died of "loneliness"?? Loneliness? In the last episode people were dying of puberty, which was OK as a metaphor for how crummy becoming an adult can feel. But nothing else in this episode supported the "loneliness" metaphor. Yes, the mentally ill were being kept on an isolated planet deep underground, but everyone looked happy in their plaid pants or paisley muu-muus. Had the neutralizer made them lonely? Could we discuss this? It seems like there could have been an indictment 1960s prison systems, or mental hospitals or something buried in this plot that, however banal it might be, would have been an improvement over this bare-bones Dr. Frankenstein treatment.
posted by acrasis at 2:11 PM on October 23, 2020

Yeoman Rand until the actress left the show for "reasons."

She was sexually harassed by an executive she’s never named—a lot of people have assumed it was Roddenberry, but I don’t think there’s any hard evidence for that.

She was also struggling with alcoholism and would come to set drunk. She’s been very open about that period in her life and her regrets about it.
posted by EarBucket at 2:53 PM on May 31, 2022

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