Star Trek 1.25: The Devil in the Dark

The Devil in the DarkThe Devil in the Dark” is another top notch episode. It begins with a beautiful matte painting of an underground mining operation, set in a very large cavern. From the mining crew we learn that a strange “monster” has been attacking miners, and has killed 50 men already. Another (the hapless Schmitter) dies on-screen to amplify the situation, and we learn the miners are awaiting the Enterprise and its crew to deal with the crisis.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy arrive for a briefing. Spock is interested in a melon-sized silicon nodule that mining chief Vanderberg says are scattered all over the place down in the mines. This is a clear Chekhov’s gun, though you’d be hard pressed to figure that out at this point if you hadn’t seen the episode before. They scan for life, looking for the monster, but find nothing but the miners. Spock raises the spectre of the monster being “not life as we know it”.

They leave the briefing room, and curiously Vanderberg opens the door using a button under the edge of his desk. I noticed this because he has to walk back around to his side of the desk specifically to reach the button. Why the door-opening button isn’t, say, on the wall right next to the door is a mystery. They go the reactor room, where the monster has stolen a vital cooling pump from the main reactor. Missing this part will cause the mine to become unlivable in a short time, and – for some bizarre reason – they’re using an outdated reactor for which they have no spare parts at all. For such a vital piece of equipment, you’d normally want some sort of backup system, but apparently not these guys.

Scotty beams down to do his best with the reactor, and it’s beyond even his awesome skills. He jury rigs a device made of tubes filled with coloured water, but says it won’t hold long – they need the pump back or they’ll have to evacuate everyone within hours. Kirk calls in a security detail made of 6 redshirts to hunt down the monster, which Spock is now sure is a form of life based on silicon rather than carbon. McCoy dismisses the idea as patently ridiculous, probably more to disagree with Spock than based on anything 23rd century science knows about alien life.

The creature kills a redshirt, and Spock and Kirk wound it with phaser fire, slicing a chunk off. They blithely pick up the chunk of the monster, not bothered by the fact that everyone else who has come into contact with the creature before has been instantly incinerated and dissolved by potent acid, leaving only a smoking pair of boots behind. Fortunately, neither is affected in this way.

Kirk and Spock decided to chase the creature by themselves – as opposed to gather all their security guys to form a better armed party. Kirk tries to tell Spock to stay behind, as they shouldn’t risk both the captain and first officer of the Enterprise, but Spock counters by calculating the odds that they will both die as exactly 2228.7 to 1 against. What’s more, they reach a forking tunnel, and decide to separate. They make their way through the unlit tunnels to a chamber where there are lots of the silicon nodules. Kirk finds some cracked open and realises what Spock has deduced – they are eggs! The monster is merely a mother protecting her children.

Spock uses the “Vulcan” telepathy technique – looks like we’ve finally lost “Vulcanian” for good – to communicate, learning the creature is called a Horta. Kirk calls McCoy in to treat the beat, McCoy complains it’s made of silicon – “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” Kirk tells him to treat it anyway. But it’s not quite over, because the miners still want blood, and somehow manage to overpower the well-trained Enterprise security crew and rush the chamber with Kirk and co. in it. The miners, by the way, all wear various orange, yellow, and pink shades of jumpsuits – possibly to give the mine a feminine touch, since obviously there are no women down there. In fact, the only woman we see in the entire episode is a nameless yeoman in the background on the bridge in the closing scene as the Enterprise warps out of orbit. The miners have made peace with the Horta and the babies, allowing them to tunnel while they pick up the scraps and become filthy rich off the minerals they can now extract easily.

But all kidding aside, this is an exceptional episode, with suspense, drama, engaging scientific possibilities, mystery, suspense, thrills, a moral message, and a strong resolution. It’s one of the more memorable episodes in the canon, and for good reason.

Tropes: Dug Too Deep, Chekhov’s Gun, Technicolour Science, Redshirt Army, Lowered Monster Difficulty, If My Calculations Are Correct, Ludicrous Precision, Let’s Split Up Gang, Rocks Fall, Party Splits, Hollywood Darkness, Monster Is A Mommy, It Can Think, Starfish Aliens, Last Of His Kind, I’m A Doctor, Not A Placeholder, Shaming The Mob.
Body count: 50 miners already killed before the opening scene, the miner Schmitter (pre-credits sequence), another miner (not named), 1 redshirt security team member.
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

One Response to “Star Trek 1.25: The Devil in the Dark”

  1. The Ridger says:

    Vandenberg’s door button is so the union organizer in the office can’t escape… er. Well. I don’t know why it’s like that, and I don’t even remember that detail, though this is one of my favorite episodes.

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