Star Trek 1.9: Dagger of the Mind

Dagger of the MindThis is the first episode for which I couldn’t recall anything about it from the title, before watching it again. So I figured “Dagger of the Mind” probably wasn’t a very memorable episode. And it took me several minutes into the story before I suddenly remembered the important plot elements.

The first notable point is that the Enterprise is beaming supplies down to a penal colony planet. This seemed jarring. Given the premise that the Federation is an enlightened society, the idea of penal colonies sounds horribly outdated. Later on, this is tempered (slightly) by the revelation that such colonies are very humane and indeed pleasant places, where criminals are rehabilitated with the best care that the 23rd century can offer. Still, it would be more humane if the treatment wasn’t combined with interplanetary exile.

In a ridiculous case of a prisoner “hiding in the laundry van”, an inmate is beamed aboard the Enterprise and, thanks to a moment of inattentive stupidity on the part of the transporter chief, escapes to wreak havoc until captured by a handy Vulcan nerve pinch. The escapee turns out to be a Dr Simon Van Geldar, who displays graphic symptoms of raving madness.

Kirk takes Van Geldar back to the prison world (Tantalus V, by the way). But McCoy and Spock, in a rare case of working together against Kirk’s opinion, are suspicious that Van Geldar’s ravings contain a horrific truth about the colony administrator, the renowned criminal psychiatrist Dr Tristan Adams. Sceptical, Kirk arranges to beam down to investigate, and asks McCoy to assign him a psychiatric expert from the medical crew. McCoy assigns Dr Noel, who turns out, to Kirk’s surprise, to be a woman he flirted with at the last on-board Christmas party (no, really). This is rather weird – you’d expect the captain to know all the significant members of his crew, especially one of the medical staff who he’d previously flirted with.

The two of them beam down to Tantalus, which looks eerily like the lithium cracking station on Delta Vega we saw back in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. They re-used the same matte painting, with a few of the details modified – in particular the head-banging-danger pentagonal doorway is now triangular! Dr Adams introduces them to Lethe, a former inmate, now rehabilitated and staying on as a therapist, who has wonky eyes and is named for the river of forgetfulness. The significance of this becomes clear when Kirk and Dr Helen Noel are shown the “neural neutraliser” – a spinning light thingy that erases thoughts and makes the subject highly susceptible to suggestion.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock uses the Vulcan mind meld for the first time in the series to get the horrible truth from Van Geldar. Dr Adams has gone nuts and is abusing the power of the neutraliser, and used it on Van Geldar to silence him. We cut back to the planet, where Kirk is curious and gets Helen to use the neutraliser on him on a low setting. Dr Adams interrupts the sexual tension and subjects Kirk to more than he bargained for, suggesting to him an unstoppable lust for Helen. This leads to the inevitable kissing scene, but Kirk manfully gets a grip on himself long enough to have Helen crawl through the air ducts to disable the colony’s force field and allow Spock and a bunch of security guys to beam down and save them. Spock manages to arrive amidst more kissing, while Dr Adams is subjected to the full force of the neutraliser and has his brain sucked dry.

This episode raises some niggling unresolved questions. We never see Dr Helen Noel again, yet we know that Kirk has what seems like a permanent and very effective suggestion in his mind that he is madly in love with her. There’s no back-story I can find that explains how this is resolved. I could speculate that Helen finds Kirk’s attentions unbearable and transfers to another ship within a week, but this is not supported anywhere. And finally, there is the question of Dr Adams: What caused him to go so deranged that he took pleasure in erasing people’s minds, and why on Earth did he risk being found out by attacking Kirk? As far as Adams knew, he could have shown Kirk around and Kirk would have left, satisfied that Adams was doing a great job. His motives, or non-motivated madness, are never adequately explained.

Body count: one nameless inmate of the prison planet electrocuted, Dr Adams killed by the neural neutraliser.
Tropes: Literary Allusion Title, The Alcatraz, Plot Induced Stupidity, Large Ham, Recycled Set, Meaningful Name, Mind Probe, Mad Doctor, Mind Control Device, Agony Beam, Laser Guided Amnesia, Air Vent Escape
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

3 Responses to “Star Trek 1.9: Dagger of the Mind”

  1. Monica says:

    I’m a fairly recent fan of Star Trek, having only started watching it in the last couple years. I’m struck by how often I think, “They stole that idea from (some other work)”…and then realize that Trek did it first. In this episode, I was intrigued by the device because it reminds me very much of the device from Joss Whedon’s show “Dollhouse,” right down to the design of the chair. The characters in “Dollhouse” can have their entire personality erased and replaced with someone else’s. It’s a very elaborate and convincing form of brainwashing. This episode was what convinced me that Joss Whedon is a Trekkie.

  2. I guess that calls for a link to Older Than They Think! :-)

  3. Robyn says:

    He attacked Kirk because Kirk, through experimentation, has just discovered that the neural neutralizer is a potent suggestion machine. He attacks Kirk to cover up his crimes.

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