STAR TREK At 50: The Enemy Within

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary, every week throughout 2016 we'll be looking back at a Star Trek episode picked out as a favourite by one of our team or by a guest contributor. To get things underway Matt Donabie goes all the way back to 1966 for The Enemy Within.

My favourite episode from the original series of Star Trek comes from the first season, and just 5 episodes in - The Enemy Within. It moves along at a great pace, it's suspenseful and witty, it's also a real challenge for William Shatner and one he pulls off admirably. It was the first story to show the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, and the first for Dr McCoy to utter his immortal phrase "He's dead, Jim".

The Enemy Within has a brilliant premise. A transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk into two separate people with opposing personalities. The first Kirk contains all his good personalities, the second has the negative side and arrives moments after the rest of the crew have left the transporter, meaning they are initially unaware that there is an evil Kirk on board the Enterprise. Through this yin/yang writer Richard Matheson examines man's duality. The whole concept is ingenious, because it really is a look into, not only Kirk's but, our own human nature.

The transporter malfunction storyline would go on to be used, and overused in subsequent episodes and further Trek series', but this one really is the best, and not just because it's the original. I think it's quite amazing that so early on in the series we explore the potential hazards of this fictional technology which we're supposed to be looking at with awe. It's the whole "Yeah, with got this cool tech. But it ain't all perfect" that helps to ground Star Trek a lot more than any other sci-fi show from its era, and it likely helped to make the show so enduring.

The Enemy Within has some pretty intense moments. Evil Kirk attempts to rape Yeoman Janice Rand (poor Janice, she was the crew member who would often be the victim of whatever was wrong that episode, especially in the first season), this is only made worse by having good Kirk deny the attack and attempt to convince her that she must be mistaken. Spock deduces that a second Kirk must be on board the Enterprise, and fortunately (for story purposes) Janice had managed to scratch evil Kirk's face, making him easy to recognize.

The fact that we are only at the end of act 1 and the crew have already figured out what has happened adds to this episode. With so many stories this kind of discovery is left too late into the episode meaning that we as an audience are so far ahead of the characters, and the writers themselves have very little time left to wrap up the plot convincingly. The premise here is strong, and the awareness of the 'hook' does not detract in one bit.

As act 2 gets underway good Kirk is growing weak and losing the ability to lead, and we enter into a great exploration of humanity: man's duality of nature. Kirk is split between yin and yang, masculine and feminine, base and nobility, and he finds that neither side can function without the other. A bold move for a 1966 television series to openly acknowledged that hostility, lust, and violent nature are essential qualities in a leader.

With good Kirk deducing that evil Kirk is hiding in engineering a showdown between the two takes place. Evil Kirk is close to killing his good half, and it is here that the Vulcan Nerve Pinch is unleashed for the very first time - which was an action suggested by Leonard Nimoy himself. The script had called for him to hit evil Kirk over the head, something Nimoy considered out of character, he felt that Spock was too dignified to resort to that. When he suggested the nerve pinch to the director, Leo Penn, Nimoy explained to him that Spock was a graduate of the Vulcan Institute of Technology. Nimoy theroised that his character had taken a number of courses on the human anatomy and that Vulcans have a kind of energy that comes off their fingertips, which when applied to certain points on the human neck renders the human unconscious. Nimoy said then that Penn looked at him blankly and had no idea what he was talking about, but William Shatner understood him completely and got it immediately, and so Nimoy himself credits Shatner's reaction as to what sold the idea of the neck pinch.

In the scuffle a phaser discharged and disabled the transporter leaving Sulu and the landing party trapped on a freezing plane, and it's here that the episode develops something of a plot hole, you think to yourself "Why not just send a shuttle down for them?". But this plot hole only exists thanks to repeated viewing and the shows further development, because at this stage in the series (and remember we're only 5 episodes in) the hangar-bays and shuttle-crafts had not been established. It's a minor point but one that slightly tarnishes this amazing episode.

Good Kirk realises that he needs his evil side to be complete, and Scotty and Spock believe they have found a way to combine them using the now repaired transporter. A test run takes place with an Alfa 177 canine animal, that had been previously split, if it can be successfully combined and reintegrated then both Kirk's can. The two halves of the canine become one, but when the animal rematerialises Dr McCoy declares "He's dead, Jim".

Eventually the two Kirks have the inevitable confrontation on the bridge, which leads to evil Kirk collapsing, the pair taken to the transporter and combined into one. Shatner really seems to relish the idea of exploring his new character, often accused of hamming it up or overacting, there is none of that evident here just a vivid and powerful duel performance.

The Enemy Within stands above many other episodes for me because it actually shows rather than tells, something that I do understand is difficult to do within the confines of a weekly television series. Clearly it was not an entirely original concept, and owes a lot to Jekyll and Hyde, but it's a bold move for a show which was still in its infancy. To so openly show what a man is made of - a fractured man and his reconstruction. Even if viewed purely from a psychological point of view it's an interesting character study. The Enemy Within, and Star Trek in general has never shied away from examining deep human issues on all levels, emotional and scientific, and it has never been afraid to explore or seek the truth, even if the truth is less than rosy.

Which is your favourite Star Trek episode (from any series)? If you'd like to share your love for a particular story, and would like to write about your favourite (either a paragraph or two, or a full blown 500-1500 word article) then please contact us at and put Trek@50 in the subject bar. We'd love to hear from you.
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