Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Devil in the Dark"


Air date: 3/9/1967
Written by Gene L. Coon
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A mining colony desperately seeks help from the Enterprise in finding and killing a monster that has been tunneling through the mines and killing men. As Kirk, Spock, and a security team track the monster, they learn that it is not inherently hostile but rather misunderstood. Spock mind-melds with it (mind-melding with a rock?), and learns the nature of its existence.

With the intriguing encounter with the Horta, "The Devil in the Dark" represents some of Trek's best ideological values: tolerance for all forms of life, the search for intelligence in unlikely places, and communication with the unknown rather than simply destroying what we fear. And as an action show, the episode works well, too.

Alas, this episode also tends to show some of Trek's unavoidable plotting hokiness—including a painfully obvious "mystery" involving silicon spheres that turn out to be—gasp!—the Horta's eggs! It's perhaps idealistic to a fault, but this episode epitomizes the hopefulness and anti-cynical nature for which Trek is partly known, and for that reason I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and then some.

Previous episode: This Side of Paradise
Next episode: Errand of Mercy

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13 comments on this review

Wed, Jun 6, 2012, 9:23pm (UTC -5)
In rewatching this episode, thought for the most part, it was reasonably creative and interesting. It falls apart a little on production value (honestly, the Horta looks like little more than an actor crawling on the floor with a decorated blanket over his head) and some hokey dialog with Spock (ridiculously talking Kirk into taking him into danger by quoting some made up odds of them both being killed and later complaining about being insulted on the bridge in a sloppily written ending).
Paul York
Sun, Jun 10, 2012, 1:24pm (UTC -5)
I really liked this episode because, as noted above, it demonstrates the Federation values of respect for other life forms. Now, if only humanity could embrace this philosophy with regard to other intelligent life forms on Earth, we would be in a better position (morally) if and when we encounter them beyond this particular planet. As for the mining operation, I thought it would have been more consistent with Federation policy to force them to evacuate rather than continue to endanger the Horta. But the show was written in the '60s, and thus mining was considered a good thing - a form of "progress" - rather than its true face: an activity that destroy eco-systems.
Sat, Oct 5, 2013, 6:50am (UTC -5)
I liked this episode a lot, too. I wonder though what would have happened to the Horta if they would have been peaceful, but useless? Also knowing human nature, I don't really think the arrangement will work for the Horta in the long run.

It would be beautiful if things did work out that way, though. But, we don't even treat different "life forms" on our own planet with respect and care. Sometimes Star Trek really highlights what the hell is wrong with us. :(

I also didn't quite buy the transformation of the pitchfork carrying villagers (aka the miners). Guess I'm very cynical with regards to human nature.
Sun, Oct 13, 2013, 11:42pm (UTC -5)
Spock becomes one with the giant hamburger prop!
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 5:27pm (UTC -5)
It used its acid organ to write letters, apparently out of its butt...that's some precision squirting.
Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
lol@ Adara and Jack.
Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 2:48am (UTC -5)
I always thought horta looked more like elementary school pizza. This comedy episode gets 3 slices from me.
Tue, May 13, 2014, 8:13pm (UTC -5)
For me, this episode, "Day of the Dove" and "The Empath" are the three TOS episodes that best epitomize the Trek philosophy and idealism as Gene originally envisioned. Whenever someone asks me what I see in Trek besides phaser battles, I simply point them to this episode.
Wed, Aug 26, 2015, 5:04am (UTC -5)
I couldn't help but think that the Horta greatly resembled Pizza the Hut, and I kept thinking that they probably could have healed her faster if they had just put her pepperoni back on.

Spock's initial attempt at the mind meld was highly reminiscent of Troi's little performance in "Encounter at Far Point," when she taps into the creature that basically IS Farpoint Station. I wonder if they told Marina Sirtis to study that scene in preparation. The wailing of "Pain!" over and over again was no more attractive from Spock than from her.

All that having been said, I did enjoy the episode, and the spirit of the message they were attempting to convey. One little nit, though... Shouldn't Bones have said, "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a stonemason!" instead of "bricklayer"?

Whatever. I agree with Jammer, three and a half stars.
Wed, Jun 29, 2016, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
The question that came to my mind while watching this episode was, If multiple generations of Horta have been tunneling through rock on that planet for eons, why is there any rock left? There is one plausible explanation, but it depends on the notion that in tunneling around, the Horta are consuming the rock, as opposed to just creating passages with their industrial-strength acid.
Mon, Aug 1, 2016, 4:52am (UTC -5)
Just rewatched this on DVD this afternoon, a rainy winter's day in Melbourne, with my 25-year old daughter home from uni. Classic. Classic. Classic ST. On every level. The Spock-McCoy thing is really subtle here." I'm a doctor,not a bricklayer" is a Hall of Fame legendary line. The pace is crackling, those frontier miners are gritty, and even Shattner doesn't chew any scenery here. The man could act when he put his mind to it. And I've wanted one of those silicon balls since I first saw this as kid in the 60s. Beyond stars and ratings. Eminently rewatchable on a loop.
Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
One of the best Trek TOS episodes for me - conveys the respect for other lives, no matter what they look like or have done. Very well conceived, written and acted. Took the crew a bit of time to figure out the silicon nodules are eggs but that may be because McCoy ridicules Spock for his initial suggestions about silicon-based life.

In any case, there are the iconic scenes of Spock and the Horta in mind-meld, the "No Kill I" and McCoy's initial scepticism for healing the creature. Kirk's lines are great in convincing McCoy to heal the Horta.

The episode moves at a good pace, there's no down time - everything is done with a purpose. Great how the episode starts not with the Enterprise approaching the planet but with the situation with the miners getting killed. Good to start differently.

No question, this one's 4/4 stars for me - what Star Trek TOS was all about with good acting, a good plot/suspense, and establishing a moral principle.
Jonathan Archer
Wed, Mar 8, 2017, 7:36am (UTC -5)
Did anyone notice that except for the Horta, there are no female cast members in this episode... anywhere.

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