Star Trek 3.16: The Mark of Gideon

The Mark of Gideon“The Mark of Gideon” is the episode I was least looking forward to rewatching. Not because it’s bad, but because this was one of the most horrifying, nightmare-inducing things I ever witnessed on TV as a child. I still get creeped out thinking about it.

It’s a story about Kirk beaming down as the first ever diplomatic envoy to be allowed on to the surface of the planet Gideon. The planet is known as a paradise with no disease and long-lived natives. Kirk beams down to the coordinates given by the Gideon High Council, and finds himself apparently back on the Enterprise, only everybody else is gone. (This is not the scary part.) Mysteriously, Kirk finds a bruise on his arm, that he has no memory of receiving. (This is not the scary part.) We cut to … the Enterprise, where Spock and Scotty are upset that Kirk seems to have vanished – never arriving on Gideon according to the Council. (This is not the scary part.) Spock requests permission to beam down and search for Kirk, but the Council refuses.

Kirk, on the empty Enterprise, comes across the lovely Odona. She has no memory of where she came from or how she got there. (This is not the scary part.) Kirk notices the ship is flying away from Gideon at warp speed, so uses the controls to drop out of warp. Odona comments that she didn’t feel any change; Kirk agrees and says that’s weird. (This is not the scary part.) Odona starts remembering bits of where she came from, saying how horrible it was, always being surrounded by people, and how nice it is being on the ship alone with Kirk. (This is not the scary part.)

They notice a rhythmic thumping sound, which Kirk doesn’t recognise as normal ship operation. He says it seems to be coming from outside, but… that’s impossible… (This is not the scary part.)

Kirk opens a viewport, and they see THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE SHIP STARING IN AT THEM! (This is the scary bit!!!)

Arrrrrgh!!!! Arrrrrgh!!!! Arrrrrgh!!!! Arrrrrgh!!!! Even writing about it freaks me out.

We learn that the Gideon Council had Kirk beamed into an exact replica of the Enterprise on the planet, and that they are deliberately exposing Odona to some disease that Kirk was carrying, to reintroduce disease and death to Gideon. She falls ill and her father Hodin of the High Council enters the fake Enterprise to thank Kirk for helping them. He is dumbstruck as to why they would want this, surely Gideon is a paradise? Alas no, they explain, with no disease or death, their population has grown so much that the entire planet is shoulder-to-shoulder with people, and nobody ever gets any privacy. (This is not the scary part.) Kirk is aghast, wondering why they don’t use modern contraception, at which Hodin explains that they love life so much that it would be against their nature.

The questions that arise from this are numerous. If the planet is that full of people, what do they eat? Where do they grow food? How do they deal with waste? Basic hygiene? It’s obvious they’re still breeding… (This is not the scary part.)

Spock meanwhile beams down to the coordinates they sent Kirk to, and finds the fake Enterprise. He deduces its nature immediately, finds Kirk, initiates some fist-fighting with native guards, and beams up with Kirk and Odona. McCoy cures her so she won’t die, but her blood now contains the virus necessary to reduce the population on Gideon, so she returns there (this is not the scary part), parting wistfully from Kirk as the Enterprise flies away.

Actually, you know what, everything else about this story is freaky and horrible too, yet I still can’t get over that image burnt into the primal fear centres of my developing brain when I was a kid. Objectively, I’d say this isn’t a bad episode. It has plot holes and problems, but the suspense and mystery are well done. Just don’t make me watch it again.

Tropes: Accidental Nightmare Fuel, Ontological Mystery, Amnesiac Hero, Ass In Ambassador, Gaussian Girl, Jungle Drums, Population Control, Empire With A Dark Secret, Who Wants To Live Forever?, Nobody Poops, Depopulation Bomb.
Body count: None!

4 Responses to “Star Trek 3.16: The Mark of Gideon”

  1. The Ridger says:

    I wasn’t a kid when this aired the first time, and I remember thinking: what the hell? How do they have sex? With everybody watching???

  2. LittleCaity says:

    I am so, so glad to hear the creepy staring people scared you too! Twelve year old me did not approve.

  3. Bob Portnell says:

    “It must be acknowledged, once and for all, that the purpose of diplomacy … is to _prolong_ a crisis.”

  4. Mark Simpson says:

    Overpopulation was the other nightmare scenario in the late sixties – witness Harry Harrison “Make room! Make room!” As to the solution to where they grow food – Soylent Green is people!

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