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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18 comments on this review

Todd
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.
Moonie
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.
Adara
Sun, Oct 13, 2013, 11:42pm (UTC -5)
Spock becomes one with the giant hamburger prop!
Jack
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.
Corey
Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
lol@ Adara and Jack.
redshirt28
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.
NCC-1701-Z
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.
Pam
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.
navamske
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.
icarus32soar
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.
Rahul
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.
Richard
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.
Cinnamon
Wed, Aug 29, 2018, 8:15pm (UTC -5)
Answers: it was an actor/monster creator crawling around on the floor.

In the 60's bricklayers were prominent among construction (I lived back then as a young 20 something) stonemasons went out with the 1200's.

The Horta's eggs had no substance in them. They were clean.

Something nice: during the cave scene with Kirk and Spock. Shatner received word that his father had died in Florida. The immediate response was to close down the set and let him leave. Shatner said no, I cannot do anything for him (now) I'll finish the day and then leave. That is what took place. So Spock is paining all over the place in days to come without Kirk nearby.

Females only counted for sex in the 60's, the Horta had no need for them. 'Course the miners would have thought different. Back then a female could be kicked in the ass for refusing a "big" man his comfort of her stuff. Even women believed that if they did not put out when demanded of them that they would be ostracized out of a job and they could. It was not a good time to live in. The law would kick your ass in a minute unless your family WUZ Masons and all THEM other wunnaful organizations in yo' town.

People, if you have qualms about the writing on this series, look up the writers and you see why they wrote the way they did. There is no intelligence involved in these scripts. Once you SEE who these men were you will the bias crap. Much of the times I just get mad a hell at the series.The majority of the writers were late 50 years old and in their 60's. No one was 18 or 20 or even 30. No one was educated further than elementary school. If someone went to college that person still held onto the idea of their parents and grandparents.

AND wonderful Starfleet! Not the Federation, that is dozens of planets....Earth people, human beings are sent into the realms of deep, dark space with no weapons (those miners and such and it follows thru with all the Star Trek stories etc ) no preparation for what they will run into------no sense at all, they just go at everything and everybody they meet with "I'll bust you up if you mess with me attitude.

Earthling's will never be capable of doing any better than they are doing in 2018 because humans are a product of the God's responsible for creating them. Read the King James bible until you can get around all the 1600's and 1700's thee and thou's language. No God ever spoke that way. Then read Zechariah Sitchin's books and you find out why human being's are what they are.

Peter G.
Wed, Aug 29, 2018, 9:05pm (UTC -5)
@ Cinnamon,

I never heard that story about Shatner's father, which is interesting to know. However I find it hard to take any of your other remarks about the series seriously when your only comment about this episode seems to remark on things not in evidence. You state indirectly that (a) the Horta is a male (has no need of females), which I don't see mentioned anywhere, (b) that it's a representation of the human miners who need no females other than as playthings, which again is not in evidence or suggested by the script, and (c) that the creature is some kind of chauvinist, even though it's portrayed as trying to communicate and being willing to make peace despite having its children murdered. I'll also throw in, regarding these neolithic writers you mention, that if indeed the Horta is a male then what you actually see is a male is a traditionally female protective nesting role, guarding eggs. That is, it's traditional in human society; some animals do have the male guard eggs, such as penguins for example.
ZITA CARNO
Thu, Aug 30, 2018, 2:55am (UTC -5)
One of the classic Trek episodes. IAnd I particularly enjoyed the sequence where the captain observes that the horta (who, by the way is a female) was not making any threatening moves against him and Spock---this tells us that this is a highly intelligent and perceptive creature in great pain, which is why she had no objection to Spock performing a mind-meld. She probably sensed that these two persons wanted to help. And Bones' remark that he could cure a rainy day---absolutely delightful!

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