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The Mark of Gideon

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 1, 2006 - 8:11 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Mark of Gideon' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise visits the planet Gideon hoping to convince its council to join the Federation. Only Kirk is permitted to beam down to this idyllic, germ-free world...and he disappears during transport. While Spock attempts to discover why the captain did not appear in the council chamber, Kirk finds himself on an Enterprise where the whole crew is missing and where a seemingly amnesiac woman is his only companion. Kirk soon discovers that he is not on the ship but on an exact duplicate built on Gideon to deceive him, and his blood has been taken to infect Odona, for germ-free Gideon is suffering from horrific overpopulation. Spock discovers the ruse and finds Kirk and Odona on the duplicate Enterprise with the planetary leader. He and Kirk summon McCoy to cure Odona, whose near-death means that she will be able to bring an end to life to Gideon.

Analysis: About the nicest thing I can say about this episode is that, buried somewhere in one of the most boring, badly executed stories in all of science fiction television, there seems to be a warning about global overpopulation, the sort of message that a really good Star Trek episode would have presented in a clear and moving manner. Instead we get this atrocious story about a muddle-headed captain and a woman with a death wish who plays on his weakness for wide-eyed, swooning women. Like Deela in "Wink of an Eye", Odono is really only after Kirk's bodily fluids, even if she is more polite about stealing them, letting her father do it and threatening only the captain himself rather than the entire crew with lifelong imprisonment.

Two seconds of thinking about the concepts in this episode make it laughable. The population of Gideon has risen so dramatically that people are packed in together, barely able to breathe - "Gideon is encased in a living mass who can find no rest, no peace, no joy," as the council leader says - yet somehow they're apparently still mating like bunnies, and they refuse to practice contraception because it would be anathema to their life-affirming philosophy, though they are willing to commit mass suicide via a deadly plague. Where is all this mating and childbirth going on...standing in the packed streets? More importantly, where is food grown to feed these people? Why aren't they dying off of starvation, or just as likely, killing one another for food, air and space?

And then there's the problem of their solution. Somehow the council cleared space on the planet to build an exact replica of the Enterprise which even seems to work...though Gideon is not in the Federation or part of Starfleet and shouldn't have a clue what the sensitive parts of the ship look like, let alone how they appear to function. If they were willing to use kidnapping to get the disease from Kirk, why not just snatch him and put him in a pretty padded cell with Odona as fellow "victim"?

Clearly the council does not expect the disease to become airborne, since they want to keep Kirk permanently as a supply of germs, but setting up death stations around the planet doesn't exactly fit in with a life-affirming philosophy any better than birth control. And what if it proves to be sexually transmitted? We're told that the people of Gideon will be allowed to choose freely whether to live or die, but once the lethal germs are introduced, how does the Council expect to control its spread? I notice that none of them have volunteered to die along with Odona.

This is already more thoughtfulness than the episode really deserves, but there's really nothing else to talk about. "Spock's Brain" and "And the Children Shall Lead" often get lip service as the worst episodes of the original series, but having watched them recently, there are some genuinely funny moments in both (intentional, even!) and some nice moments of crew interaction. In "The Mark of Gideon" there's only a single, halfhearted bit of snark between Spock and McCoy, and no meaningful interaction between Kirk and anyone...watching him with Odona, who pretends first to be a wide-eyed girl-woman in need of his comfort, then a martyr who will get the honor of serving as Angel of Death to her people, is repulsive, not revealing.

A few episodes back, in "Elaan of Troyius", Spock pointed out to McCoy that a starship was a cure for obsession with a beautiful woman. Here, however, a beautiful woman would seem to be a cure for a starship, for Kirk spends almost no time worrying about the fate of his crew; once he determines, based on her sweetly batted eyelashes, that Odona is not the cause of their disappearance, he spends far more time chatting with her and trying to protect her from the Very Scary Things Outside The Ship than using the sensors or other equipment (which presumably he should notice much sooner isn't really working). Maybe the disease he had made him crazy in the head.

I can't really bear to go on about the long, tedious debate scenes between Spock and the council members in which they quarrel about who is responsible for the transporter malfunction and debate semantics about who should get to beam where, nor to take seriously Kirk's wandering about his ship alone, trying to log philosophical thoughts at a moment a non-altered Kirk would be a man of action rather than introspection. No, this may not be the "worst" episode of Star Trek, but it's painfully boring and somehow the fact that there is a germ of an idea beneath the storyline makes it worse. The producers could probably have produced a more tolerable bottle episode just filming crewmembers going about their business on the Enterprise with no "plot" at all.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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