Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Devil in the Dark"

3.5 stars

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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15 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.
Fri, Apr 21, 2017, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
One interesting bit of trivia.

Shatner's father passed away during the filming of this episode. He went to his father's funeral, and was not present during Spock's mind meld scene with the Horta. (If you watch carefully, you'll notice that Kirk is only filmed from the rear during this scene.) When Shatner returned, he asked Nimoy to demonstrate to him how he (Nimoy) was able to convey the pain the Horta was in. Nimoy said "pain", and Shatner asked a couple of times to say it louder and with more intensity. Shatner then grinned and said "Will somebody please get this poor guy an aspirin?"
Trek fan
Fri, Oct 6, 2017, 8:40pm (UTC -5)
This episode is so cool, so thoughtful, so iconic. I can see what "Devil in the Dark" was Gene Roddenberry's favorite episode, as its exploration of how we demonize what we don't understand is spot-on. And there are so many wonderful character bits here -- Kirk's sense of command in restraining the revenge-minded miners, Spock's mind meld with the Horta, and McCoy's amusing "surgery" to repair it. But the Horta herself is perhaps the best character, even as a "guest star," and everything from her eggs to her motives is super neat. This is definitely a 4-star episode, despite Jammer knocking it down a star for arguable reasons.

Lots of red shirts (and red shirt deaths) in this one, another TOS staple. It's cool to learn that the TOS Enterprise has a security chief of commander's rank, although we don't see him again. But kudos above all to series regulars Gene Coon's writing and Joseph Pevney's direction for delivering a well-paced and tense story: Here we have basically a Sci-Fi monster show that reveals we humans are sometimes the real monsters when we fail to recognize the harm we are causing. Credit the miners for coming around at the end when they realize the Horta had only been defending herself and her unborn children -- we really see Trekkian idealism at work here in the belief that we can learn to get along with "the Other" (or at least stop killing them) if we learn where they're coming from. The end of this episode is remarkably uplifting and life-affirming, including the classic Spock line about the Horta's reactions to his ears. Zing: This is the kind of sharp witty dialogue missing amidst the earnestness of most later Trek series and which "The Orville" grasps after without quite achieving.

There was later a similar episode in TNG Season 1 called "Home Soil" where a mining facility was accidentally killing a life form consisting of energy, as opposed to one of silicone-based life, and it's basically the same story about our response to non-humanoid life forms which don't automatically register as fully "alive" to us on a legal equitable to humans. It's not bad. But like a lot of TNG episodes that took off from themes of TOS stories, the original TOS show is better, as the characters and debates in "Devil" as well as the silicone-based Horta herself remain far more memorable story elements.

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