Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Mark of Gideon"

2 stars

Air date: 1/17/1969
Written by George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams
Directed by Jud Taylor

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Upon beaming down to the planet Gideon, Kirk finds himself on a duplicate of the Enterprise, where he meets a woman named Odona (Sharon Acker) who yearns for a chance to live far away from her vastly overpopulated world—a world where no one dies.

The subject of the story is overpopulation and the need for extreme measures to combat the problem, as the Gideons hope to introduce into the population a rare disease carried by Kirk, allowing their people to age and die as they once did centuries ago. Unfortunately, the plot tackles its message in such a roundabout way that it's hard to swallow a lot of it. For one, I find it highly unlikely that the Gideons would build an exact duplicate of the Enterprise just to fool Kirk into helping them—an approach they should know is destined to fail.

Then comes the idea of billions of people literally piled up together upon each other because of overpopulation, which strikes me as somehow implausible. (How does anything in society function given this sort of problem? The idea of urgent overpopulation is fine, but the absurdity of showing crowds of people unable to move is simply unnecessary.) There's also far too much time spent on the plots where Kirk ponders the nature of being on an empty Enterprise while Spock attempts to locate the captain ... although I somewhat enjoyed the contest of semantics between Spock and Gideon Prime Minister Hodin (David Hurst).

It's a watchable episode, but there are too many dubious ideas, and the moral questions are not presented in a way that allows any realistic debate or analysis. There's a much better story lurking beneath some of the concepts inefficiently jammed together here.

Previous episode: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
Next episode: That Which Survives

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28 comments on this review

Thu, Aug 18, 2011, 1:35am (UTC -5)
Just finished watching the third season and I have to say it's not as bad as I previously imagined. The thing with Trek, at least TOS, is that it can be very very good, or very very bad. Both are entertaining. However, what it can't be, and what most of the third season was is boring. For me, the Mark of Gideon has to be the worst episode because it is incredibly boring. If I was flipping the channels and that came on, I would perhaps watch a little bit and then change the channel, and probably not give Star Trek a second chance.
Sat, Jun 30, 2012, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
It definitely moves a little slowly. And the plot points are extremely far-fetched, stretching credibility to the breaking point. Also, I want to know why Spock beams onto Fake Enterprise unarmed. He KNOWS there are hostile forces up to no good! Of course, I've always wondered why they walk around the Enterprise unarmed, when we know that hostile aliens can show up on the ship at any time.

But there are some good scenes. Spock dealing with the'd think that being Sarek's son he'd have picked up some tricks! And he did do pretty well, actually, until he had to deal with Starfleet. I liked seeing the crew get so upset about Starfleet and Federation red tape and the intransigence of the Gideons.

I also thought that Spock was pretty funny at several places, and imho, there's nothing better tan Spock's wry, don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it humor. Best line of the whole show: "Please do not try to interfere, Your Excellency. I already have one serious problems with the upper echelons."
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 10:49am (UTC -5)
What troubles me is the fact that letting many people of Gideon die of a horrible disease is supposed to be the "good" ending... I mean really, it would be better to simply execute them - at least that would be a quick death.
How killing people is better than birth control also eludes me.
And why not simply start a new colony on a different planet, if overpopulation is such a huge problem?
The plot doesn't make any sense.
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 4:14pm (UTC -5)
Sel nailed it. This episode is just epically boring. Other than 'And the Children Shall Lead', I think I'd rather watch any third-season episode that this one, even 'Spock's Brain' or 'The Way to Eden.'

It's also just really dumb. An exact duplicate of the Enterprise was clearly done as a way to save money and make this a bottle show.

Fri, Sep 13, 2013, 9:31am (UTC -5)
"There's a much better story lurking beneath..." Perfect analysis. Only 2 stars is too high. 1 star at most for this episode. Maybe 0.5...
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 11:37am (UTC -5)
Someone really needs to get these people a guillotine.
Sat, May 10, 2014, 2:02pm (UTC -5)
Two stars?? This must be the TOS bonus.

Awful, boring, terrible.
Sun, Aug 17, 2014, 8:00am (UTC -5)
I seem to be the only one who really enjoyed this one. I remember that the first time it was a big mystery to me why there was this duplicate. And even now I find the idea to infect Kirk interesting. Sometimes an interesting story is worth at least some logical flaws, as this duplicate certainly was. The effect was nice.
William B
Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
After spending a while writing about "LTBYLB," I am glad that this and the next episode will be extremely quick. In "The Mark of Gideon," we learn that extreme overpopulation would be so devastating that people will want to die. We get a glimpse of what overpopulation looks like -- a bunch of people in one-piece suits with their face cut out wandering around bumping into each other, but never quite moving away from each other, like they're a bunch of molecules in a liquid. As for why overpopulation is such a problem, we helpfully have this exchange:

HODIN: And so it was! A long, long time ago what we described was true! The atmosphere on Gideon has always been germ-free. And the people flourished in their physical and spiritual perfection. Eventually, even the life span increased. Death became almost unknown to us. It occurred only when the body could no longer regenerate itself, and that happens now only to the very old.
KIRK: Those are conditions most people would envy.
HODIN: But Gideon did not find it enviable. The birth rate continued to rise, and the population grew, until now Gideon is encased in a living mass who can find no rest, no peace, no joy.
KIRK: Then why haven't you introduced any of the new techniques to sterilise men and women?
HODIN: Every organ renews itself. It would be impossible.
KIRK: Then let your people learn about the devices to safely prevent conception. The Federation will provide anything you need.
HODIN: But you see, the people of Gideon have always believed that life is sacred. That the love of life is the greatest gift. That is the one unshakable truth of Gideon. And this overwhelming love of life has developed our regenerative capacity and our great longevity.
KIRK: And the great misery which you now face.
HODIN: That is bitterly true, Captain. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the truth which shaped our evolution. We are incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which we love so deeply. Life, in every form, from foetus to developed being. It is against our tradition, against our very nature. We simply could not do it.
KIRK: Yet you can kill a young girl.

Well, I think it's weird that Kirk *started* with sterilization and then moved to contraception. Also, I think that someone should explain to Hodin the difference between contraception and abortion. And also, it occurs to me that sex among the people of Gideon must be quite the affair, if the whole planet is as tightly packed as we saw it. Must be rough without privacy! No, but really, it's very, *very* hard for me to find Hodin sympathetic when he pretty genuinely seems to believe that introducing a virus to kill off large segments of the population is a far better long-term solution than teaching people about barrier methods.

Why, exactly, is introducing a virus any better than just taking a gun and shooting people in the head? About the only thing I can think of is that the people of Gideon just LOVE LIFE SO MUCH that they view a virus as a living entity, with just as much right to exist and kill the host, as anyone. This is not stated in the episode, but it's the type of argument I suspect Hodin as written would make, and the type of thing that would fit this episode as written. I'm willing to accept a fair amount of silliness from this show but something of this episode just passes my limits.

And that is a shame because there is something interesting in the idea of a planet so overpopulated that a virus must be introduced into the system to allow for a higher quality of life, or indeed long-term survival of the species. There are ways in which this idea can be examined, but this is not it.

Some of the Spock/Hadin scenes are fairly fun, though I think that Hadin's slippery use of words is a little overrated by the episode -- Hodin's statement that Spock requested a "most thorough search" is treated by the characters as if Hodin is technically telling the truth, but missing the meaning behind the words Spock used, but that's not actually true, since Hodin was the one who used that phrase the first time. This subplot lacks the grace of the similar subplot between Picard and the Sheliak in "The Ensigns of Command," but at least there's some fun to be had.

As for Odona, I think there is something a little bit wistful about Odona's joy at being able to be alone with Kirk; the emptiness of the Enterprise does actually work to create some of the atmosphere required to convey the horror of the overpopulation by contrast. So some points for that. Still, I don't find her love for Kirk, which I think we're meant to see as "real," believable, except maybe if we're meant to see this as the first time she's been alone with a suitor.

The episode isn't really actively painful but it's boring and silly. I guess 1.5 star, though I could go down to 1.
Lt Yarko
Fri, Dec 4, 2015, 2:16am (UTC -5)
Terribly boring.
Sun, Feb 21, 2016, 9:44pm (UTC -5)
Seeing all those green faces in the view screen, outside the windows was very creepy. I'll give it that.
Tue, Apr 19, 2016, 5:43pm (UTC -5)
Definitely one of the weaker entries of Season 3 and TOS in general.

The most glaring plot hole in this entire episode is the existence of a duplicate Enterprise on Gideon. It's not enough that they recreated the bridge or a basic bedroom. No, they copied the ENTIRE vessel. Forget even explaining how this construction took place. How did the Gideon government get the construction blueprints for Constitution class vessels in the first place?

From what we're told the Gideons are extreme isolationists. No Federation member has ever set foot on the planet. The Enterprise crew have to be given coordinates because they can't scan the surface themselves. If Gideon is so cut off how could they replicate any part of the Enterprise with such precise detail? I can only guess some kind of spy.

It's a tremendous plot hole that serves no true dramatic purpose except to artificially extend the mystery surrounding Kirk. I think it would have been much more effective to simply beam Kirk to a medical bay holding him hostage and getting to the crux of the episode much more quickly.

One definite high note is Spock's dealings with Hodan. The diplomatic hoops that Spock has to jump through are well written and preformed by both actors.
Sat, Oct 1, 2016, 11:21am (UTC -5)
The Mark of Gideon was good because of the issue of overpopulation, and Odona is/was so very attractive. I wouldn't have minded and empty ship with her.
Wed, Nov 9, 2016, 1:43pm (UTC -5)
I think I must've been in a generous mood when I watched this, because I quite enjoyed it. The highlight is definately the scene when Kirk opens the viewing port to reveal the faces bunched together, staring in. It creeped me out and gave the dialogue a bit more weight for me.

A bit like Wink of an Eye's off-canter camera angles and lighting for the sped-up timeframe, I like Trek at its best when it uses striking visuals to bolster the story, so I guess that's why I like it :)
Tue, Nov 15, 2016, 12:50am (UTC -5)
I enjoyed this one because it sets up a solvable mystery. The coordinates given by Gideon 825-020-709 (repeated twice) to which Kirk is beamed. Later the coordinates given by the Gideon council 825-020-079. The mystery plot is set up and paid off to the viewer if they are paying attention. It would have been all too easy to just say the Gideon council diverted the transporter or sabotaged it w/ some technobabble explanation. Instead, a simple subterfuge based on language (which is also set up when Spock and the Gideon council talk about the importance of clarity in language and science).
Sun, Mar 19, 2017, 9:52pm (UTC -5)
I am very forgiving in letting go continuity errors such as using meters and miles interchangeably, or suspending belief in things like beaming people anywhere, anytime. I am a big fan of the story over the science fiction. But asking a viewer to think that the only way for this virus to spread is to have Kirk have sex with the daughter of the high official is just plain stupid. And then what does she do, have sex with everyone else? From the standpoint of dialogue, sure it is entertaining in spots. (And that's why I like the show so much). But please, don't give this crappy episode, clearly the worst of the series, any merit.
Tue, Apr 18, 2017, 7:33pm (UTC -5)
I think 2.0 stars is about right. To me, this show isn't great, but isn't terrible either. Also, I don't think it's boring (although it is not terribly exciting either). I think the main problem is the implausibility. Granted, a certain amount of artistic license has to be allowed for these shows to work. Still, there are some issues that just don't make sense. If Gideon is so crowded, where did they get the space to make such a duplicate of a large vessel like the Enterprise? Also, as pointed out above, why not just move some people to another planet? (I have to admit, I hadn't thought of this, but it makes real good sense.)
Fri, Jul 7, 2017, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
Like many other commenters, my main reaction is that this is a very boring episode. Way too much time with Kirk spent aboard the duplicate Enterprise and with Odona - just tedious after a while.
The good parts are Spock dealing with Hodin and trying to be diplomatic. I enjoyed that exchange and how the Scotty, McCoy and others were reacting.
The big problem with this episode is the premise is ridiculous: Overpopulation to such an extent that people can't could it come to such a state? Hodin spouts some BS about the love of life. Kirk talks about contraception. It's just silly.
And then building an exact duplicate of the Enterprise?? Really?? How could this even be undertaken by such an isolationist people. And of course, Kirk gets a girl but also seems to have some genuine affection for her.
And further, the solution is for Odona to get infected and have more people die a slow death. Actually the solution was to hold Kirk -- like the Federation would allow that. All it took was Spock just beaming to the right coordinates and putting an end to the nonsense.
Can't rate this more than 1.5 stars -- poorly conceived, poorly executed with slow pacing and emphasis not placed on the more important parts of the issue (overpopulation). Would find it very difficult to make it through "The Mark of Gideon" again.
Sun, Jul 9, 2017, 4:06am (UTC -5)
Wow, an episode where characters read off transporter coordinates and consistently talk about how they cannot find the captain. Meanwhile... Kirk has meaningless conversations with a terrible guest actress. Riveting stuff.

At least the "bad" Season 3 episodes (Spock's Brain, etc.) have had SOMETHING to make them worthwhile/enjoyable up to this point... Mark of Gideon is essentially worthless. I seriously feel like this episode should have been a one star *at most*. Maybe even zero, because I can't think of anything redeeming that ended up on screen.

One of the few Star Trek episodes that I will never watch again. Woof.
Mon, Oct 9, 2017, 5:36pm (UTC -5)
In TNG's "Attached", Riker told Prytt that they could either let the Enterprise search for Picard and Crusher, or an armada of Starfleet vessels with countless away teams would come along. That's the threat they should have used on Gideon.
Tue, Nov 7, 2017, 10:52am (UTC -5)
Season 3 has a number of great premises. This one - overpopulation taken to the point of planetary absurdity - is excellent, but the script is unfocussed, unpolished, and doesn't milk a great premise. It's a shame, because Kirk having righteous monologue-battles with a planet of uber-procreators could have led to something fascinating.
Trek fan
Tue, Dec 5, 2017, 5:49pm (UTC -5)
I used to hate "Mark of Gideon," but now I kind of dig it, as it explores the question of overpopulation resulting from medical advances allowing people to live longer (still relevant today) and offers some delightful Spock diplomacy that fits his character's family background and future role as ambassador in ST VI/TNG. Ever-patient Spock and the oily Spock-baiting Hodin are genuinely fun to watch in their diplomatic chess game, the duplicate Enterprise is another clever (albeit implausible) TOS budget-saver, the gradually unspooling mystery of Kirk's location/fate, the unclear purpose of Odona, the ominous wound that appears on Kirk, and the creepy green faces in the window are all highlights. I give it 3 stars.

On the negative side, the episode does move slowly, as some scenes (especially between Odona and Kirk, who endlessly tries to operate the fake ship) feel like filler. Their romance is a nice example of Kirk's schtick, but plays out as a bit obligatory. The elaborate villainy of Odona and her people feel a bit forced here, as if the story feels obliged to make us side against them even though their solution to overpopulation is not demonstrably the worst one possible.

The writers seemed to intend this episode as an argument for contraceptives, holding up the silly image of the immortal Gideons crowded shoulder-to-shoulder on their overpopulated planet to invite our ridicule of their belief in the absolute value of life. Indeed the Gideons' insistence on re-introducing a terminal disease through Kirk, and their isolationism that presumably keeps them from settling off-world, is intriguing. But I actually ended up sympathizing with the Gideons more than Kirk here: By the strict rule of the Prime Directive and general respect of the Federation for warp-capable cultures not yet accepted into its ranks, they are free to solve the population issue in their own way, without the Federation imposing its values on a non-member planet. While the Gideons must be faulted from our perspective for using Kirk without his informed consent to reintroduce morality into the population in a highly suspect way, this episode gives us an example of the Federation trying and failing to reach a common understanding with a planet of very different values which are perhaps irreconciliable. As such, it continues the Season 3 trend of giving us a fresh tone and story for the series, but the execution and plot beats feel just tired enough in spots to keep it from being one of the best.
Sat, Apr 14, 2018, 9:27pm (UTC -5)
This episode was so stupid. If the entire planet is covered with people how do they grow crops, let alone enough to feed everyone? Do they sleep standing up like cattle? Do they shower; I bet this is the smelliest planet in the galaxy. How do they do anything really and how are they having so many babies? Do they do it while standing up, right in front of everyone? They could have done a story about overpopulation without making it completely ridiculous. The solution was just as dumb though. Spread a virus that causes the population to die in terrible pain. That's the plan they came up with. Wow.
Mr. Gene Dynarski
Tue, Oct 23, 2018, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
A truly inspired episode. The premise of Kirk being responsible, though indirectly for introducing a death sentence to an entire world is thought provoking. Also, the trick with giving the wrong beam down coordinates was a nice add- on to the story.
Sun, Jun 2, 2019, 10:01pm (UTC -5)
Very weird premise, not particularly well done. They hold life in such reverence they don't even believe in birth control, but they're willing to artificially introduce a killer virus to kill off thousands.

Thank goodness humans are perfectly consistent in these matters.

Sarjenka's Brother
Sat, Aug 17, 2019, 3:12pm (UTC -5)
A planet so overcrowded that they must press up against the duplicate Enterprise? How did they ever make room to construct it?

Give them the name of a good 21st century skyscraper architect.
Sleeper Agent
Fri, May 8, 2020, 11:49am (UTC -5)
I very much agree with @Trek fan above, who gives a spot on summary of the episode. Although I have to mention the scene on the bridge when Scotty is one second away from cursing the Gideons, which in my humble opininon is one of the funniest in Trek history.

(Rock solid) III of IV
Fri, May 8, 2020, 12:15pm (UTC -5)
@Sleeper Agent

Your comment reminded me of the time Scotty called Mudd a jackass ("Mudd's Women"), which had me LOL. Then Kirk also refers to Harry as such. Hilarious. Scotty had some great lines.

You don't see TOS hardly ever use quasi-coarse language. Maybe Kirk's "Let's get the hell out of here!" might have even pushed it back in the 60s.

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