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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36 comments on this post
Wed, Jun 6, 2012, 9:23pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jun 10, 2012, 1:24pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 5, 2013, 6:50am (UTC -5)
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)
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 5:27pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 2:48am (UTC -5)
Tue, May 13, 2014, 8:13pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Aug 26, 2015, 5:04am (UTC -5)
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)
Mon, Aug 1, 2016, 4:52am (UTC -5)
Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Mar 8, 2017, 7:36am (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 21, 2017, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
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?"
Fri, Oct 6, 2017, 8:40pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Aug 29, 2018, 8:15pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Aug 29, 2018, 9:05pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Aug 30, 2018, 2:55am (UTC -5)
Sun, Apr 7, 2019, 12:28am (UTC -5)
Classic Trek in its sensibilities.
The creature was as bad as the Gorn, but I give TOS a pass.
Mon, Jun 3, 2019, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
But here in the Horta, you have a sympathetic creature as an alien — not humanoid in form, utterly “alien”, with no audible voice to know it was in pain until Spock mind-melds with it and then he screams “PAIN!!!” ....
That moment in the episode where Spock speaks as the creature really “got” to me as a kid, understanding that creatures without voices (like the trout I would catch when fishing, or beetles I would squish under my feet as a kid) can still suffer pain and be in anguish even though they may seem silent to our ears...that episode taught me as a kid to have greater understanding and empathy for other creatures.
Tue, Oct 22, 2019, 10:59am (UTC -5)
Next, the Chief of Security and his whole team, while armed with phasers again, are outsmarted and overpowered by a team of miners with clubs. No one even gets off a stun shot and all of them are out cold within 10 seconds and their mission a failure. Does anyone ever get in trouble...?
Fri, May 8, 2020, 10:47am (UTC -5)
Much of what we see develop in the movies as the main traits of Spock (empathy, telepathy, mind melding, logic) get their start in this episode. In fact, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home basically lifts the outline of this story and adds a little time travel and comedy to make a hit. I agree with Jammer that the mystery behind the silicon rocks was a little obvious, but it was still fun seeing Spock so engaged with them. Likewise, we get complementary scenes for the other mains like Kirk taking Spock's curiosity seriously and McCoy being a good sport and awesome doctor despite his initial skepticism. Scotty even gets a moment to shine where he jerry-rigs a life support system.
Truly a must-see TOS episode. A high 3.5 stars from me.
Thu, Aug 6, 2020, 7:15am (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 6, 2020, 8:25pm (UTC -5)
I am also struck by how the theme of different perspectives and possibilities are woven throughout the episode.
Start with the title: The Devil in the Dark. Is "the devil" the creature killing the miners or (from the Horta's point of view) is it the human invaders destroying her eggs? Both refer to the other as murders.
GIOTTO: "You mean it's impossible to kill?"
KIRK: "No. No, it might require amassed phasers."
SPOCK: "Or a single phaser with much longer contact."
SPOCK: "Captain, there are literally thousands of these tunnels in this general area alone, far too many to be cut by the one creature in an ordinary lifetime."
KIRK: "Then we're dealing with more than one creature, despite your tricorder readings, or we have a creature with an extremely long life span."
SPOCK: "Or it is the last of a race of creatures which made these tunnels."
KIRK: "No kill I. What is that, a plea for us not to kill it, or a promise that it won't kill us?"
To the miners, they were just silicone nodules with no commercial value. To the Horta, they were her eggs.
VANDERBERG: "Ed shot it."
SPOCK: "Oh. You mean shot at it."
APPEL: "No. I mean shot it. With this." (a hand phaser)
KIRK: "Mister Spock, we seem to have been given a choice. Death by asphyxiation or death by radiation poisoning."
VANDERBERG: "You know, the Horta aren't so bad once you're used to their appearance."
SPOCK: "Curious. What Chief Vanderberg said about the Horta is exactly what the Mother Horta said to me. She found humanoid appearance revolting, but she thought she could get used to it."
This is just brilliant writing all around.
Sun, Nov 22, 2020, 11:35pm (UTC -5)
Star Trek season 1 episode 25
Mister Spock, our mission is to protect this colony, to get the pergium moving again. This is not a zoological expedition.
3 stars (out of 4)
The spice must flow. One year before "The Devil In The Dark” aired, Frank Herbert’s “Dune” won the both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for best novel. There is a fascinating interview with Frank Herbert in which he explains how he came up with the ideas for the novel while researching the ecology of sand dunes. It is really a great interview, for anyone interested in the big ideas that go into writing an iconic novel,
Well, as Kirk reminds Spock, the Enterprise is not on a zoological expedition. The spice must flow. To wit,
KIRK: We must get production going again. We must have that pergium.
There is no doubt that the writers of Star Trek knew all about Dune - the biggest thing to have happened to scifi that year. Perhaps they wondered, in all the excitement about the spice, did anyone stop to ask the sandworms how they felt about things?
How does one communicate with a sand - or silicon - worm? Unlike the Frank Herbert’s universe, Star Trek does not have the Bene Gesserit. But Kirk does have Spock.
“The Devil in the Dark” marks an important step in the evolution of Spock’s mind melding ability (@Chrome touches on this). What started at a meld with a man too mad to make sense (“Dagger of the Mind”), here progresses to the mind of a being too alien to talk. But evidently not too alien to write in english!!!!!
KIRK: No kill I. What is that?
ROTFLMFA! Moving on.
Eventually Spock will take his mind melding abilities so far as to communicate with a pregnant whale in the late 20th century. (See, @Jonathan Archer, they’ll get to the women-folk eventually ;)
As I wrote in the discussion thread to DS9’s In the Pale Moonlight (https://www.jammersreviews.com/st-ds9/s6/moonlight.php),
Perfect Information, like faster than light travel, is impossible. Wouldn't it be amazing to know how things would turn out *for sure* in order to make a decision? Like Dr. Strange checking millions of possible outcomes in the middle of the Infinity War, before closing a course of action. Talk about fantasy.
There are a lot of mechanisms in scifi for achieving perfect information.
How about telepaths? Knowing what other people think is a huge informational fiction. Babylon 5 loved to use this.
The vulcan mind meld allows communication across an impossible barrier. And the result in “The Devil in the Dark” is peace.
That’s the promise of Star Trek. The more we understand one another, the more we’ll be able to live in peace together, no matter how different we might be from each other. In this episode, that means peace between the miners and the Devil. From here on out the miners and the Horta will work together to get the pergium moving again - now faster than ever.
How very enterprising.
Wed, Mar 24, 2021, 11:08am (UTC -5)
It's also the episode where McCoy first uses the "I'm a doctor, not..." utterance - in this case "..a bricklayer"!
A few gaping plot holes - when still identified as a 'monster', the attacks are so quick that a phaser can't even be fired, but slow enough when Kirk and Spock find it.
The Horta is nowhere near large enough to bore tunnels of that diameter, especially that quickly.
And though Spock characteristically dissuades Kirk "in the name of science" from killing the alien, then the tables turn and it's Spock urging a kill and Kirk who stops him.
Forget the joke production values - this is a good episode. 3 stars.
Wed, Mar 24, 2021, 11:44pm (UTC -5)
As I recall, a miner mentions that he DID shoot the "monster," but he was using a "type 1" phaser, which was not powerful enough to have an effect. The starship personnel had type 2 phasers, so they could at least carve a piece off the creature.
Thu, Mar 25, 2021, 2:37am (UTC -5)
Yes, quite right. I suppose I was just reflecting on how the values of TV overrode the plot consistency; ie establish tension first, then think about the logic of the story.
Sun, Oct 31, 2021, 10:28pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Feb 19, 2022, 1:51am (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 2, 2022, 10:58pm (UTC -5)
*When I rewatched this series last year, I noticed that there was an apparent tradition of standup-only meetings for the landing party. Not just in this episode.
Tue, May 24, 2022, 11:38am (UTC -5)
“The Devil in the Dark” reminds me of the fact that you can't blame a deer for running out into the road in front of your car. The forest didn't grow next to the road; we built the road through the forest. The Horta's motivations are comparable to the Gorn in “Arena,” but with a key difference. The Horta is only defending itself and its progeny against a clear threat, while the Gorn were eliminating a *potential* threat as a preemptive measure. The Horta is more sympathetic, but only after we learn its story. This is a nice touch--and leave it to “Star Trek” to decide that a creature movie needs a psychology and complexity in its creature. The Horta’s hokey appearance actually works as part of the argument that this episode is making--it's truly alien, almost absurdly so. It makes us see it just as the miners do at first: a massive blob of a killing machine that needs to be neutralized.
In a way this episode is almost too simplistic. Send the team down to kill the monster--probably the oldest plot in the world. But the “monster” turns out to only be protecting its eggs. The Horta and the miners make a successful agreement, thanks to Spock’s sexy ears (did you catch that line?), and everything ends well despite thousands of little Horta eggs destroyed and fifty people dead. Sometimes, even after war, both sides can attain peace, prosperity and possibly even become close allies.
Leonard Nimoy acts the hell out of the scenes where Spock is communicating with the Horta. McCoy’s healing of the Horta through a little concrete and elbow grease was damn funny. And overall, the mine sets, creature design and egg props are outstanding.
Kirk -- “Scotty, ride herd on it. Kind words, tender loving care. Kiss it, baby it, flatter it if you have to, but keep it going.”
My Grade: B+
Tue, May 24, 2022, 11:44am (UTC -5)
Visually, sitting down makes it appear that the action is being stalled. When Kirk and the others are standing up, they are all-business and ready for bear. Tension is generally lower when characters are seated, except in character-based dramas.
Wed, Sep 21, 2022, 2:54pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Nov 13, 2022, 10:51am (UTC -5)
Sun, Dec 11, 2022, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
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