by Jeff Bond
An earnest but unexciting parable about overpopulation, “Mark of Gideon” is one of those third season episodes that doesn’t linger in the memory—it’s neither bad enough to match the depths of the third year’s legendary worsts or good enough to rank anywhere near the top of the season’s output.
“Gideon” is built on one of those gimmicks that got a workout during the run of Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: having everyone on the ship seemingly disappear to leave the series star free to wander the empty sets by himself for an hour. The benefits for the show’s budget are obvious: fewer faces on the screen means hours less makeup and costume work and you can send your extras home without pay. While Star Trek’s limited use of the device was for the most part justified by dramatic purpose, it’s still a gimmick and “Gideon” is the most egregious example of its use.
The plot (one of the scripters was no less than Stanley Adams, Cyrano Jones himself from “Trouble With Tribbles”) is almost an exercise in suspending disbelief. For the first time in the run of the series we see a very big deal made out of stating transporter coordinates (although this is covered by the idea that the planet Gideon is shielded from sensors and thus cannot be scanned for coordinates by the Enterprise, necessitating Gideon officials to feed the Enterprise crew coordinates directly); in spite of, or perhaps because of, this unusual arrangement, Spock is the only one in the transporter room to beam down Kirk when Scotty’s presence, or anyone around to notice the discrepancy in coordinates, would have been helpful. The biggest plot hole of all is the story’s conceit of the inhabitants of Gideon not only having the knowledge but the sheer room necessary to construct a fully functioning recreation of the Enterprise’s internal arrangement—one authentic enough to fool Kirk. The idea butts up against the entire concept of the story, and the logic of its utility never quite registers. There has been no disease or death on Gideon for centuries, and a dormant disease Kirk carries is to be used to infect the planet: but if Kirk and Odona (Sharon Acker of John Boorman’s great movie Point Blank and wearing a rare unflattering costume from Bill Theiss), the planetary leader’s daughter, really need to be isolated together for the disease to catch hold of her, wouldn’t there have been a number of far less elaborate and costly methods to achieve that goal? Another point: true the planet is shielded from sensors, but it is visible after all, and couldn’t visual scanners note the discrepancy between the planet’s reputation as a paradise and the physical evidence of a world clogged with people and running out of resources.
Nevertheless, the episode isn’t entirely without merits, even though they’re of a cheap variety. David Hurst does a highly efficient job of being unctuous, huffy and annoying, driving Spock, McCoy and Scotty crazy on the bridge of the real Enterprise as they try to negotiate an answer to the mystery. And for the first few scenes at least there is an admitted curiousity value to Kirk’s predicament. Acker wrestles with another one of Trek’s fawn-like alien female roles, dispensing information about her planet and dancing around the empty Enterprise corridors in delight. The mystery of the planet also creates some effectively creepy moments of horror that are unusual for the series, like the pulsing sounds of heartbeats of thousands of people pressed up against the false Enterprise’s walls, and the fleeting image of Gideon inhabitants pressed up against a window of the ship (a moment oddly similar to another famous Shatner career highlight, his sighting of a gremlin pressing its face up against the window of an airliner just outside his seat in the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”).
Ultimately “Gideon” is undone by a denouement that struggles for tragic resonance but can’t make up its mind about the Gideon people—if they worship life to the extent stated in the episode, how can they truly reconcile initiating a plague on the scale that’s discussed here? The idea almost seems more like the rulers of Gideon are looking for a scapegoat for what will surely be a politically risky solution to their problems.
While there’s not a lot for CBS-D to do here, they do provide what could best be described as an “ambivalent” planet Gideon, clouded and grayish and looking neither paradise-like nor uninhabitable. There’s at least one new orbital angle of the Enterprise late in the game as well as the “rear departure angle” of the receding planet that one could argue at this point is becoming rather overused. CBS did update the chronometer which is a standard they set early on with “The Naked Time”, but this time they had the added challenge of doing it while the camera panned up. Plus they added some stars moving past Kirk’s head through a window, which was a nice touch.
Remastered vs. Original
excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, hey anyone wonder why we all look like sperm from a Woody Allen movie?
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). The Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is available now for $132.95 (retail is $194.99).