M-113 is your average sort of Star Trek planet – it has plenty of false-looking boulders and a rather red sky. McCoy, Kirk and the short-lived Crewman Darnell have transported down to the surface in order to carry out a routine medical check on Professor Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal).
You may well wonder why Kirk has tagged along to this routine assignment ….
Is it because Nancy is an old sweetheart of McCoy? It’s about the most credible reason I can think of (certainly Jim delights in ribbing Bones about his lost love – witness how amused he is when he learns Nancy’s pet name for him!)
Straight away we establish that something is badly wrong. McCoy appears to see Nancy as she was a decade ago, Kirk sees the same woman (but older) whilst Darnell claps eyes on a totally different character – a young, hip-swiveling minx.
There’s a slight lack of logic here – why does Nancy appear to Kirk as Nancy and not someone from his past as happened with Darnell? It also seems that later on McCoy views Nancy as the same middle-aged woman initially observed by Kirk. The actual reason for this is fairly obvious (chopping and changing make-up would have been time consuming) although it’s another slight story niggle.
McCoy is delightfully bashful when he first encounters Nancy (and Kirk makes full capital of “Plum’s” discomfort). However there’s a good gear-change when crewmen start to drop like ninepins – Kirk suddenly becomes rather snappy towards the lovesick Bones (although he has the good grace to apologise shortly after).
Alfred Ryder’s first scene is a memorable one. His line delivery is somewhat bizarre (especially since shortly afterwards he settles down and starts to act fairly normally). Jeanne Bal (a salt-sucking monster able to take any form – like Nancy – it desires) doesn’t have a great deal to do except look wistful as she lures men to their doom.
In one respect it’s easy to see why this was chosen as the series’ debut episode. Not only are the three main cast members well served, but the second tier (Uhura, Rand, Sulu) are also catered for.
Uhura’s doomed attempt to make small talk with a polite but baffled Mr Spock is an entertaining scene (at present, he charmingly refers to her as Miss Uhura) whilst Janice and Sulu (today he’s an obsessive botanist) also get a good crack of the character whip. Although it’s a little irritating that Janice continues to be rather objectified (two leering crewmen hammer this point home).
Once the creature beams aboard the Enterprise then the fun really starts. It’s able to shapeshift at will (even reproducing clothes – which is a neat trick) and causes a certain amount of mayhem in the second half of the episode. Especially when it assumes the form of McCoy.
It’s maybe a good thing that we don’t see the true form of the creature until late on as it’s not the most memorable creation the series ever attempted. Still, it does provide the episode with a late moment of goofy shock.
The moral of the story seems to be that if you’re an alien life form who dares to tangle with the Enterprise then you’re going to to die. Kirk is at his harshest and most implacable when sentencing the creature to death although Bones is the one who actually has to pull the trigger.
The alien might be the last of its species, but that cuts no ice with Kirk (or indeed Spock and McCoy). The Next Gen no doubt would have gone for a more conciliatory ending, but here it seems that only death will do.
Which seems slightly at odds with the show’s philosophy (or at least the version often embraced by fans). “To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations” and then calmly kill it since it doesn’t behave in a human enough way ….
The Man Trap isn’t subtle but it is a rattling good yarn with decent roles for all the participating regulars, so it gets a thumbs up from me.