Beat me to it.
The Man Trap
As noted, this episode was the first episode of Star Trek to air, though it was the 6th produced. The decision to air it first was a process of elimination - Mudd’s Women was too risqué due to the plot about selling women to miners; Where No Man had Gone Before was too expository; The Corbomite Maneuver was delayed due to extensive post-production, and much of the action taking place on the Enterprise was a negative mark; the latter point also stood against Charlie X, which was also deemed to be too gentle as it dealt with an adolescent. The choice came down to The Man Trap or The Naked Time, and the former won out due to having a monster and the crew visits a ‘strange new world’. In a 1983 documentary, Leonard Nimoy said it was chosen because it was “serious science fiction”, though it was the cast’s least favourite episode of the ones they had filmed at the time.
An early title for the episode was ‘Damsel with a Dulcimer’, which changed to ‘The Unreal McCoy’ before settling on the final title. The script’s first draft was submitted on 13th June 1966, with the final draft completed on the 16th. John DF Black, the script editor’s main complaint was that in the first draft the creature didn’t arrive on the Enterprise until the third act, and the crew should be in danger sooner.
The earlier draft also had more of a focus on the creature being the last of its kind, and presenting the moral dilemma of killing it. The conclusion would have had the creature, disguised as McCoy trying to reason with the crew. In this version, Professor Crater would have lived and mourned its death. Gene Roddenberry rewrote the final draft to tone down those elements and give the creature its cornered animal motif.
The original drafts had less of a role for Spock - Scotty accompanied Kirk to the planet to retrieve Crater in the pre-Roddenberry rewrite script. (this change meant Scotty did not appear in the episode at all) Roddenberry also added the creature speaking Swahili to Uhura. Translated in to English, he says “How are you, friend? I think of you, beautiful lady. You should never know loneliness”
James Blish wrote an adaptation of this episode as part of the first ‘Star Trek’ anthology under the interim title “The Unreal McCoy”. The planet is called Regulus VIII rather than M-113, Robert Crater is simply called Bierce, and Nancy/the creature is called Nancy Bierce.
The creature was designed and built by Wah Chang. He also designed the Talosian makeup and the laser pistol for The Cage, and was rehired for the regular series on the strength of is work there. In that role he designed and made the Tricorder, communicator and the Romulan Bird of Prey amongst other memorable props. He was not credited and did not claim credit for this work, apparently due to a conflict with the propmaker’s union. Chang was not a member of the union and was not allowed to join, and therefore could not be credited, even though he worked on Trek until halfway through series 2.
This is one of two TOS episodes where a female crewmember can be seen wearing trousers. In this instance it’s a woman in a gold shirt in the corridor when Sulu calls for general quarters.
Nancy/the creature is singing when she first appears on-screen, this is dubbed over from Nichelle Nichols’ singing in Charlie X.
This is the only episode in which McCoy’s quarters appear. Also in sets, the arboretum was a redress of the sick bay, and also in the sick bay, this is the only episode where it’s called the dispensary.
The arboretum scene was Grace Lee Whitney’s favourite memory from her time on Trek. She noted that the atmosphere was very light during the filming, with a lot of bawdy jokes being made. She thought the episode was quite suspenseful when she watched it though.
The episode got bad reviews from Variety and TV Guide, though a number of future writers, including TOS’ David Gerrold and Enterprise’s Chris Black noted it as a formative moment in their love of the show.
This is one of the TOS episodes I can picture very well in my mind going back to childhood,and it’s entirely because of the creature. The costume is quite good by the standards of the day, but it stays with you regardless. Like the Dalek is a salt shaker with a plunger sticking out of it, but it’s a shape that sticks in your mind.
There’s a lot of plot elements here which Trek would mine again and again - a creature stalks the crew, shapeshifting, a crewmember has to make a hard choice; and it works very well. The plot moves from element to element at a good pace, and even though we don’t know much about these characters yet, McCoy’s dilemma works well.
There’s a fair bit of early-instalment weirdness too. The Captain’s logs are as much talking about what’s to come in the story as they are what has happened - and what the hell kind of professional is Kirk if he’s talking about McCoy’s love life in his logs?
(and on weird moments, why was Rand randomly eating bits of the lunch she’s bringing Sulu?)
There’s a lot of great character work here, and Uhura especially gets an awful lot to do, which is heartening to see in 1963. It was very brave to have her coming on to Spock when the US wasn’t far removed from being worried about having black and white people of the opposite sexes together on screen alone for fear of accusations of miscgenation (and indeed,this is one of the episodes I’ve used to point out that the Spock/Uhura relationship in the Kelvin movies has a basis in canon), and giving her an origin where she’s African as opposed to a black American is the kind of thoughtfulness that Trek did very well.
Overall, this is a strong episode with a lot going for it. I can’t help but feel that the negative reviews from the day are as much a result of Trek being quite different from the SF that preceded it, and history has been far more kind to this episode than the reviewers of the day were.
Watching Farpoint: how DOES the saucer section make it to Farpoint so quickly at impulse?
The Speed of Plot strikes again!
Damned fine coffee.
The lack of basic preparation by all members of Starfleet’s flagship’s new crew on the ship and their new crewmates in the name of exposition is also strong in this one.
(I’m being needlessly picky … still remember how excited I was to get this out of the video shop!)
Loved your Man Trap analysis Lorcan. Although I think the original series will always be my third favourite of the Trek series, it has an amazing nostalgia power. Watching The Man Trap and it’s twenty past seven on a Monday night again, and I’m allowed to stay up late to watch Kirk, Spock and McCoy boldly go
Although even though I haven’t see the episode in almost 30 years, I am still stuck on Troi feeling great joy and gratitude at the end of it all. Marina Sirtis does overact pretty badly in that scene.
Troi was definitely a character they had a hard time writing, for an incredibly long time. Durango sticks out as a definite highlight, and then of course First Contact, but aside from “joy and gratitude,” “Where aaaare yooou?” is still one of my least favorite Star Trek memories. But then, I’m a huge fan of her mom.
I’ve always been a little put off by the fact that Star Trek complete season DVDs and blu-rays are in broadcast order (“Man Trap” first) and not production order. Production order just seems like a better flow.
I love that we went with “Man Trap” for this, though, because it’s a nice reminder about which episode was actually the first one fans saw.
I watched The Man Trap earlier in the week. I have seen it before but I noticed lots of little things about it this time. The lighting is terrific. And they do a great job of introducing characters and showing us what life is like on a Starship.
It has a slightly hokey premise, so I am surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did.
I watched a bit of Encounter at Farpoint this afternoon. My God, but that’s a drag. I realise that it is a pilot episode but everything is so clunky.
The Man Trap is possibly the best of the series openers, in that it really hits the deck running (sorry). It’s a pretty good template for the tone TOS uses throughout, the crew and its fledgling interactions are almost fully formed, and Kirk is well on his way to legendary Starfleet captain status (obviously, Space Seed will place him an unassailable lead).
The expositionary additional Captain’s Logs seem to be an artifact of commercial breaks, so they’re understandable; the sickening sexism isn’t - even in 1966. I blushed with no-one else in the room. Sulu’s 23rd century bonsai should have been a regular feature (especially Gertrude), there was a decent attempt at dramatic irony, though lacking a little tension, we saw some TJ Hooker sprinting, and quote of the episode is, “Stop thinking with your glands.”
This is Star Trek
The Man Trap is different from all of the others in that it’s not really a pilot in the same sense; as Lorcan said above, it was the episode from the first batch filmed that the studio thought showcased the new show the best (and I think they made a good choice - it’s very much the epitome of what was to come in many ways)
The other pilots are all much more specifically constructed to do the same things - introduce the new characters, their relationship to each other, and to set up ideas and plots for what was to come.
Farpoint is weak. It has a pretty poor story, and lots of what would become established later is not what is shown here, both in terms of character traits and relationships. It ticks some of the boxes in showing off the new ship, it has the symbolic handover in the shape of McCoy, but it misfires badly in the name of exposition. It’s a pilot that showed that while the broad ideas were there there was a lot to be done before the show reached its potential (which it did, in spades, in time). But, for all of that, it still carries with it that sense of excitement and hope about a journey renewing itself. For all its faults, it’s still something I view with affection. One of TNG’s finest accomplishments was to return to Farpoint for the season finale, and see this episode again through the lens of the seven years that followed (looking at each series’ last episodes might also be a fun thing to do!)
Of the modern pilots, DS9 is the one that works best for me, though perhaps biased by the fact i rate DS9 as my favourite overall. It works best as a story in its own right, and in setting up what was to come. Like Farpoint it echoes back to its predecessor, but in a more organic way. Picard’s hesitation and then deliberate ignoring of Sisko’s pointed comment is perfectly done.
So much of DS9’s eventual story arc is seeded here and equally, the character’s stories all make sense in a way that Farpoint failed to do for the TNG crew. It’s not perfect, but it functions on every level for me better than any of the rest. Every time I watch it now, it resonates with all that came after it.
Caretaker is functional, but the central plot is much weaker. Again, it crams a lot in, and at the time I was relatively optimistic about it. It failed in living up to the potential its pilot set out for me, which makes Caretaker become weaker in retrospect in the exact opposite way that Emissary becomes strengthened.
And Broken Bow just never grabbed me. I never really gelled with most of the crew in the same way (Trip and T’Pol being the most interesting, and not because of the um, gel scene, which seems bizarrely out of place) and, again, the story separate from the establishing framework isn’t that exciting, and the Temporal Cold War idea also fell flat.
The Man Trap
Farpoint (despite all its weaknesses, far more than some of the others, I’m still quite fond of it)
i think “Beyond the Farthest Star”, the first aired episode for The Animated Series, is one of my all-time favorite episodes out of all the series. Despite its shoddy animation and 22 minute runtime, it tell a tense story that also shows the potential of the Star Trek universe.
To be honest I forgot that was included … I know why it’s in there as a “first” episode, but it’s not a pilot in any way really - it’s a season reboot of an existing programme
Will go back and have a squizz again though for completeness sake
One of the things I like about DS9 is it picks up on the big hanging question of, so you find new worlds - then what? What happens then? What does the Federation do and how? DS9 takes aim at that and really succeeds in giving an answer.
In the original series, the crew are usually the cataylst for the story. They will turn up and deal with the situation and move on. They don’t really change much over the course of the series. In DS9, Sisko and co. have to live with the consequences of decisions.
I read The Never Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack recently (as recommended some time ago by both you and @Lorcan_Nagle), which hinges on a decision made by Sisko in a second season episode and the consquences that had for the life of a child and his parents. It looks at the idea that his decision wasn’t made out of malice but based on a very Earth-bound morality, but which ultimately was harmful to the people involed.
The series looked at that as well, the idea that the Federation (and by extension the humans) didn’t have all the answers.
It’s probably in the region of 8-9 years since I read that book.
I just finished it this week…which is why it was on my mind.
Watching All Good Things… was inevitable after that thought and it’s still both a great TNG episode, and an excellent way to end TNG’s TV run (and, to be honest, a better way to cap it than Nemesis ended up being)
Farpoint may have not been a great opening, but All Good Things… is the best finale.
(TOS never really had a proper series finale - the films had to provide that really; DS9 was a good ending (and one I like a lot!) but by that point, and even with the long lead-in in the back half of season 7, had too much to try to achieve in a single episode; Voyager was a bit like Tim from Spaced saying 'Skip to the end!" and, well, the less said about Enterprise’s finale the better probably)