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.