by Jeff Bond
It seems like whenever I come down hard on a TOS episode in one of these reviews it’s at least one reader’s favorite episode—I’ll be curious to see if anyone’s fave is “Whom Gods Destroy.” Like “Dagger of the Mind,” “Whom Gods Destroy” takes place on a Federation “insane asylum,” this time Elba II, named after the island where Napoleon was sent into exile. Elba II has its own Napoleon, Garth if Izar (Steve Ihnat), a former fleet captain who went mad and ordered his crew to destroy a race that had helped the captain recover from an accident that had partially destroyed his body and in the process given him advanced shapeshifting powers.
The story begins with Kirk and Spock arriving at the facility to deliver a medicine that will cure the last 15 “incurably insane” people in the galaxy—which is an idea so big that it deserves a book trilogy devoted to it rather than a 48 minute teleplay. One of the peculiarities of Lee Erwin’s and Jerry Sohl’s script is that it leaves Dr. McCoy on the bridge of the Enterprise to fidgit while Kirk and Spock deliver this historic medical treatment—wouldn’t McCoy want to at least observe the curing of the last 15 mental patients in the galaxy?
It turns out the real chief of the facility, Donald Kory (Keye Luke) has been imprisoned by Garth, who’s now running the show with the rest of the inmates. In addition to being a military genius and a man who can change his shape—clothes included—at will, Garth is also a master inventor who’s created a powerful explosive that he demonstrates in the episode.
“Whom Gods Destroy” is colorful in the manner of an episode of the Sixties Batman TV series—all it’s missing is the tilted camera angles. It’s impossible not to compare this to the relative subtlety of “Dagger of the Mind,” in which an apparent raving madman is actually a victim of psychiatric treatment gone wrong and a genial, reasonable administrator is really a torturing monster. Garth has exactly one level to his character—he’s a grandly eloquent egomaniac given to fits of screaming—and Steve Ihnat is no Morgan Woodward. The more interesting performance is turned in, ironically enough, by a regular from the Batman show, Yvonne Craig as Orion slave girl Marta. She at least occasionally convinces you that there’s a sane woman somewhere at the center of her twitchy (but comely) exterior, and she gets what’s probably the episode’s best line in regard to her prisoner Spock (“Can’t I blow just one of his ears off?”).
The episode is at its best when it stops taking its premise seriously. Leonard Nimoy was vocal in his dissatisfaction with this story, noting that it was just a less-than-intelligent retread of “Dagger of the Mind” and complaining that Spock’s intelligence is shortchanged in the script, particularly when he proves incapable of quickly determining which of two Kirks in front of him is actually Garth (it’s clear from one of the first scenes in the story that Garth, no matter what guise he is in, is always just a few seconds away from a temper tantrum). Spock therefore functions best in the episode when he’s calmly needling the explosive madman as in the story’s early “party” sequence that provides a thin excuse for Marta to do a sexy dance number. Garth’s “REMOVE THIS ANIMAL!!” on the heels of one of Spock’s quite reasonable dissections of his behavior is genuinely funny.
Masquerades and torture sequences are the episode’s stock in trade (it was actually banned from the airwaves in Britain for years because of the torture scenes although they’re not much different and in fact are notably less effective than the similar “neural neutralizer” scenes in “Dagger”), but while there’s some token nods toward Kirk’s anguish about one of his former heroes turning into a madman, there’s not much drama to be had either. This is Trek at it’s most cartoonish but on that level at least it’s moderately entertaining.
CBS-D doesn’t have a great deal to do here although this is a rare case where they get to create a “non-Earthlike” planet, and the look of a lifeless gray moon covered with poisonous green mists is effective. Scenes of the Enterprise under Scotty’s command firing phasers to try to break down the facility’s defensive screen involve stock shots of the ship firing phasers culled from earlier episodes and two new shots of phaser fire hitting the surface of Elba II. Not much, but then this isn’t an episode that calls for heroic efforts.
by Matt Wright
Remastered vs. Original
Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). Amazon has also discounted the Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is to $96.95 (retail is $194.99).