Dagger of the Mind is the tenth episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. Captain Kirk and Doctor Helen Noel visit Tantalus penal colony and discover a dangerous mind altering device.
The title of this episode comes from Macbeth – you can see more information from the episode link above but here is the relevant passage:
Is this a dagger which I see before me
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
This would not be the only Star Trek episode to draw inspiration from the works of Shakespeare – there is The Conscience of the King, in a few episodes time, Requiem for Methuselah in the third season, and of course Picard, over on TNG, is also a great admirer of his works.
You’re here to learn about the human condition, and there is no better way of doing that than by embracing Shakespeare.Captain Picard (Star Trek TNG: The Defector)
The episode opens in the transporter room. The Enterprise is beaming down supplies to the Tantalus penal colony.
The name Tantalus comes from Greek mythology. Tantalus was a king made to stand in fresh water that would recede every time he attempted to take a drink. It is where we get our word tantalise.
This seems like an odd choice for a rehabilitation colony as it suggests that the rehabilitation is always something out of reach and never attainable. Perhaps it is a suggestion that the struggle itself is worth it?
From a lore perspective this scene is interesting as it establishes you can’t beam through shields.
The Enterprise receives some cargo from the colony – and when the transporter operator’s back is turned a man climbs out, knocks him out, and as danger music plays the teaser ends. This is a very effective cliff hanger and, unlike the previous episode, it does pay off.
Security alert. Condition 3. All sections go to alert condition 3. We may have an intruder aboard.Uhura (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind.)
The Enterprise is alerted to the problem, goes to full alert, and the intruder, Van Gelder, is spotted. The crewman spotting him calls it in immediately. Which is great – I am sure we are all aware of the trope of characters not doing that!
It is all for nothing though as the intruder is still able to get a phaser and get to the bridge.
Yes that is the wrong type of bridge but a play on words still works!
I mention the security effort to apprehend the intruder because security is something Star Fleet kind of sucks at – which is often a narrative necessity. Here I feel it works a little better and we are only ten episodes in so it is not so much of a cliche yet – although five of the preceding episodes have had a security failure of one sort or another.
A question… – shouldn’t the security guard on the bridge be faceting the turbo lift?
Well he doesn’t and is quickly jumped from behind with ease – I take back what I said – Starfleet security sucks.
My name is…Van Gelder. I want asylum.Van Gelder and Captain Kirk (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
Van Gelder is clearly terrified of going back to Tantalus. He is subdued by some Kirk-fu and a Vulcan nerve pinch and taken to sickbay.
There are a couple of intersting exchanges I want to comment on before we contiue.
Have you ever been to a penal colony since they started following (Dr. Admas’) theories?Kirk and McCoy (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
A cage is a cage, Jim.
You’re behind the times, Bones. They’re more like resort colonies now.
I find this interesting because of the Norwegian attitude to crime and punishment. They have the attitude of turning criminals into good neighbours rather than it being purely punishment.
Norway seems to be doing now what Star Trek is saying is a new idea. That by no means is a criticism of the episode – you can’t always predict the future.
We disposed of emotion, Doctor. Where there is no emotion there is no motive for violence.Spock (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
I disagree with this statement. Vulcans may not have emotions but they are still biological beings with a survival instinct. This can lead to violence. If your group lacks something another group has – we do see next season that Vulcans fight over their mates – there is the possibility for violence without emotion. I think Spock has a tendency to feel superior to humans and that sometimes that is unwarranted – that may, after all, be the point.
McCoy can’t identify what is wrong with Van Gelder and wants to study the case. Kirk tells him it is not their problem.
You smart, button-pushing brass hat. Wash your hands of it. Is that your system? You’re both quite sure of yourselves aren’t you? Quite expert. Take him back. Let someone else worry about him.Van Gelder to Kirk and McCoy (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
Spock discovers that Van Gelder is not a patient but a member of staff.
Dr. Adams says that Van Gelder was testing an experimental procedure on himself and something went wrong. However McCoy has his doubts and since he logs that Kirk is required to investigate the penal colony.
This episode does a good job in building up the mystery. I unfortunately don’t remember the first time I saw the episode – so this is only coming from this re-watch – but we start with a stowaway, we find out he is a member of staff and not a patient, and then there is a question mark as to how this happened to him.
We are introduced to Doctor Helen Neol. She and Kirk have some history having met at a Christmas party – although how long ago that was we can’t know.
Mr. Spock, you tell McCoy that she’d better check out as the best assistant I ever had.Kirk (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
I am not sure why this plot point was necessary but it seems to be a common feature of Trek that female characters must have a romantic link – as the they have in many of the previous episodes.
So they beam down to the planet and a scary elevator quickly finds Kirk and Noel holding each other. That seems to happen a lot too! I don’t mean the scary elevator I mean women being scared and wanting to hold Kirk.
On the planet’s surface they meet Doctor Adams. Kirk follows regulations and is about to hand over his weapon but Adams tells him that that isn’t necessary – which leads me to two questions: Why did Kirk bring it if he knew this regulation? Why did Adams let him keep it since he is up to no good?
Adams offers the landing party a drink. (Is it still a landing party if it is just two people?) And Kirk decides there is nothing wrong with drinking on duty. I suppose it could be argued that he wants to keep Adams on side.
One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.Kirk (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
Kirk and Noel arrive at the Neural Neutralizer Room. Dr. Adams claims that it is a failed experiment but as the conversation goes on we find that this is the room where Van Gelder had his accident. The device is quickly shown to be evil as, when Kirk and company leave, the patient in the room is told he will experience great pain if he tries to recall any of the conversation that occurred between Adams, Noel and, Kirk.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Spock and McCoy are continuing their investigation. Spock calls Kirk and makes sure he can speak freely. Dr Adams leaves the room and Spock makes his report.
Van Gelder is Extremely agitated, Captain, and warns that you are in danger.Spock (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
Noel believes there is no cause for concern and Kirk decides that the two of them will stay on the surface over night. This seems like a rather strange decision as, with the transporters, being on the ship is functionally the same.
Spock decides that the best solution to the puzzle is to perform a mind meld. This is the first appearance of the mind meld in the the Trek universe.
(Dr. Adams), can reshape any mind he chooses. He used (the neural neutraliser) to erase our memories. Put his own thoughts there. He was surprised it took so much power.Van Gelder during the mind meld (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
The mind meld scene is very effective. It introduce us to another aspect of Spock’s people, it is just a little creepy, and it gets out the necessary information for the story. We find out that Adams is using the device to manipulate people’s minds and mould them into something new.
Meanwhile, on the planet, Kirk and Noel slip away to investigate the neural neutraliser. They test the machine and Noel plants the suggestion that Kirk is hungry – and Kirk feels hungry!
To make doubly sure that the device is indeed working Kirk asks for a more unusual suggestion.
At the Christmas party…we met. We danced. You talked about the stars. I suggest now that it happened in a different way. You swept me off my feet and carried me to your cabin.Helen Noel (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
I am honestly not sure why this connection between them needed to be here. It is certainly a pretty big coincidence that they had this, admittedly small, connection. It could just be McCoy having fun with Kirk – that is always possible. So we get a brief scene of a romantic encounter – at least what could be shown in the 1960s.
The jig is soon up and Dr. Adams and his lackey step up to the controls. He reinforces what Noel was saying that Kirk is in love with her. Then he orders Kirk to drop his phaser – the phaser that Kirk was prepared to surrender to him at the beginning. In the chair though Kirk is powerless to resit and drops the weapon. When it comes to his communicator Kirk tries to call for help but is unable to do so and collapses on the floor.
The next part is a little disappointing. Kirk awakens in his room with Noel taking care for him. He briefly expresses his neural neutraliser induced feelings for her but is able to shake it off very quickly. I think they could have spent a little longer on this to further show the effect it was having.
They open a vent on the well leading to the ducts, which are huge because they are in TV land, and Kirk orders Noel to go through and cut the power.
Megavoltage. Touch the wrong line and you’re dead.Kirk (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
And as Noel crawls into the duct all I can think of is: ‘This sounds like a Crystal Maze game from hell’.
Meanwhile the guards come to take Kirk back to the chair.
Kirk is in intense pain because of the chair but manages to resit and Noel shuts off the power.
The guards enter the power room looking for Noel. It is not entirely clear, at least not to me, if Kirk gave up the information or if the guards made an educated guess.
With the power off Kirk is able to get free. The unfortunate Adams is left in the room with the neural neutraliser and when power is restored he is left in there with no one at the controls.
Noel defends herself and is and is forced to kill a guard, kicking him into the live electricity. Doing this brings down the shield meaning Spock can beam down to the surface.
Spock finds Kirk kissing Noel, it is Kirk after all, and by this point McCoy and the security personal have beamed down.
They find Adams and McCoy declares him dead. Which is his thing. According to Google he declares someone dead in twenty-five percent of the episodes.
Adams mind has been emptied by his own device.
Can you imagine a mind emptied by that thing? Without even a tormentor for company.Kirk (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
As the episode comes to an end Van Gelder is restored to health. The neural neutraliser equipment has been destroyed.
It is hard to believe that a man could die of loneliness.McCoy and Kirk (Star Trek TOS: Dagger of the Mind)
Not when you’ve sat in that room.
And the Enterprise heads off to its next mission.
Overall I find this to be a good episode. It starts well as we slowly learn what is happening on the planet and Kirk and Noel are also a good team. My problem is in the pay off as it is never explained why Adams is doing this. Nevertheless it is an enjoyable outing.
I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.
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