Star Trek: The Original Series Part 13: Human paradise and the Devil By Rick Austin
The struggle to evolve has been a key factor in many Star Trek episodes. Progress has to be made in order for humanity to survive, and this requires both ambition and mutual cooperation. The two episodes covered here highlight these facts perfectly. This Side Of Paradise, originally called The Way Of The Spores, focuses as much on human stagnation as much as it does the tragically-doomed romance of Spock and Leila Kalomi. When the Enterprise crew are offered a perfect paradise free of ambition, we quickly learn how easily it is to become stagnant.
The Devil In The Dark is an episode that offers us both a mystery and the fear of the unknown. It also serves as tale of understanding and cooperation, with cooler heads prevailing over feelings of revenge. These are some of the ideals that Star Trek has always tried to promote, offering a glimpse of a future that few other shows have been able to equal.
This Side Of Paradise – Summary: The Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III to investigate a Federation colony that was established there before it was discovered that the planet was regularly bombarded by lethal Berthold Rays. Upon beaming down Kirk looks around the isolated farm and describes it to his landing party as a dream that failed. They are shocked to find the colonists still alive, and while their leader Sandoval allows his fellow colonists to be studied by Bones and the rest of the landing party explore the area, Spock meets up with a former romantic interest Leila Kalomi. Bones determines that the colonists are in perfect health, while Leila shows Spock around the farm as he tries to figure out the mystery. Leila shows Spock some strange plants, which spray spores onto him and causes him to go into convulsions… before he gazes at Leila, smiles and tells her he loves her.
Kirk meanwhile is becoming frustrated with Sandoval’s lack of cooperation and answers, and tries to contact Spock. Spock initially ignores his calls, preferring to continue his romantic time with Leila as he expresses his ability to be free to love her, but finally tells Kirk that he simply doesn’t feel like following orders. Kirk is furious and debates with Bones that this is the way the doctor has advised Spock to behave all along, before seeking out his first officer. He finds Spock, who uses the plants to infect several others in the landing party. Kirk returns to Bones, who has become infected too and has been beaming the plants to the Enterprise. Kirk beams back to the Enterprise, where he learns his whole crew has become infected.
On the planet everyone enjoys relaxing in this paradise, although Kirk learns that the spores have been keeping the people safe from the Berthold Rays. Kirk is totally alone and unable to control the Enterprise effectively. At his lowest, he falls prey to spores that a plant on the bridge sprays at him. He falls under their influence and happily packs his belongings to join his crew, but when he sees his service medals he experiences violent emotions and returns to normal. Realising anger can negate the effects, he tricks Spock into beaming up and goads him into a fight, causing Spock to revert to normal. Together they come up with a plan to use a subsonic frequency to create anger in everyone on the planet, and before long paradise erupts with fighting and arguments. With everyone returned to normal they begin to evacuate the colony, leaving Leila regretting the loss of the man she loves and with Spock sadly pointing out that for a brief time he was genuinely happy.
The Devil In The Dark – Summary: After over 50 miners at the pergium mining colony on Janus VI have been killed and their equipment destroyed, the Enterprise arrives to investigate. Kirk and a landing party beam down to talk to chief engineer Vanderberg, who tells them that an unstoppable alien creature appears to be responsible, while Spock is fascinated by a spherical silicon nodule. One of thousands recently found in the tunnels, they are of no commercial value and Vanderberg is more concerned with stopping the creature. When the creature attacks again and takes a vital reactor part it begins to fail, and with Scotty only to create temporary replacement parts the mine will become uninhabitable within two days.
Spock determines that given the details at hand the Type I phasers will be pointless and he suggests using the Type II adaptors. Spock begins to formulate theories but chooses to keep them to himself. A security team from the Enterprise starts searching on level 23 where the nodules were found and the attacks began, while Kirk and Spock study the area. A security guard is killed, and Kirk and Spock are attacked by the strange creature – that appears to be a mineral-based corrosive lifeform – and Kirk wounds it before it escapes into a tunnel it has created. Spock’s tricorder determines that there is only one lifeform matching the description but the number of tunnels would imply a colony. He believes with regret that it may be the last of its species, and that to kill it would be a crime against science and nature.
When Spock tells the security team to capture it, Kirk becomes frustrated with him and tells the security team to shoot to kill. The reactor fails and the miners are evacuated, but while still investigating Kirk discovers a chamber with more nodules and becomes trapped by the creature. Spock urges Kirk to kill it to save himself, but Kirk talks to the creature that reveals its wound. Spock performs a mind meld on it, learning that it is a Horta and it may not kill. McCoy beams down and heals the creature, while Spock understands it was merely a mother trying to protect the nodules which are its eggs. They come to an agreement where the miners will live in peace with the creatures, and in exchange the Horta and her children will create new mining tunnels for them. With the miners now finding new deposits of pergium, gold and platinum they’re happy, while Spock comments that the most attractive thing the Horta found about them were his pointed ears.
Simply put, both of these episodes are stand-outs of the first season. This Side Of Paradise offers us our first glimpse into the more romantic aspects of Spock, and his relationship with Leila is touching, sweet and genuine. However, everyone shines in this episode, from Bones getting back to his Southern roots and obsessing over mint juleps to Kirk feebly trying to retain command when all around him is falling apart. It’s well-written, well-directed, and hits every beat perfectly.
Devil In The Dark may seem like a very obvious mystery, but the performances are outstanding and it has a strong message that we should learn and understand before jumping to conclusions about appearance and motivation. William Shatner has long-maintained that this is his favourite episode ever, and it’s easy to see why. It has action, suspense, a good message, and a surprising amount of humour to it. It’s also a personal episode for him. While filming it he learned the tragic news of his father’s death, and yet his performance is still outstanding. Basically these are both episodes showing the best that Star Trek has to offer, and are highly recommended.