When the Enterprise attempts to penetrate a space barrier, it is damaged and creates a potentially worse problem. Two crew members, including Kirk's best friend, gain psionic powers that are growing at exponentially. This leaves Captain Kirk with the difficult choice; either marooning them or killing before they get so powerful they lose their humanity and become truly dangerous. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
One of the Best Star Trek Episodes and Outstanding Science Fiction
Some writers have often made a distinction between "Sci-Fi" and "Science Fiction". "Sci-Fi" is sometimes relegated to the more escapist aspects of the genre, such as "Buck Rogers", "Flash Gordon", and "The Matrix". Sure, good space fun, but Sci-Fi is not particularly interested in deep thematic storytelling as it is with pure entertainment via action and plot. "Science Fiction" on the other hand has an aspect of deeper and more complex thematic development. Masterpieces such as "Dune", "A Canticle for Liebowitz", "The Left-Hand of Darkness" or the "Hyperion" books by Dan Simmons demonstrate the cutting-edge literary potential of Science Fiction. "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the first Star Trek episode that became the jumping-off point for the rest of the original series run, is a monumental television episode that easily fits into the latter definition of "Science Fiction".
The original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage", which was rejected by the networks, certainly has its moments (and achieved a resurrection in the superb episode "The Menagerie"). However, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is a much more tightly written story, and the episode that green-lighted the series. Briefly, the story surrounds a star ship captain, James Kirk, who must make a terrible choice as one of his favorite crewmen, Gary Mitchell, experiences a strange transformation and begins to attain god-like abilities resulting from the ship having entered a strange energy field. Should the captain let him live or destroy him?
The thematic writing of this episode is what makes the story a notch above other sci-fi offerings. What Captain Kirk must face in this episode is not black and white but a moral dilemma tinged with gray as we learn not only about Kirk and Mitchell's friendship but about their past. On one side of the argument is his first officer, Spock, who advises the execution of Mitchell. The other side is Dr Dehner, a young psychiatrist, who believes that Mitchell may not be evil. But Kirk is running out of time as his friend becomes stronger and stronger.
The result is a truly satisfying tale that does not rely on cheap stunts or obvious "good vs bad". Is there action? Yes there is. Is there suspense? Absolutely. And yet, there is something a little deeper than just a western set in space, although Rodenberry, the creator, modeled much of Star Trek after the old serial and TV Westerns. There is even a "gun fight". This is Science Fiction at its best in which the story tells us something about the human condition through a tale of hyper-reality. That I think is what Science Fiction and Star Trek are all about when they are at their best, and why there is a difference between Sci-Fi and Science Fiction. Both have their place but Science Fiction has the potential to transcend itself and its readers.
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