The ‘Star Trek’ Initiative: Review of ‘The Man Trap’ from ‘Star Trek: TOS’
“Attractive Woman A-Salts Our Senses”
The Man Trap, Season 1, Episode 1
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, DeForest Kelley, Grace Lee Whitney
Guest starring Jeanne Bal, Alfred Ryder
Original air date: Sept. 8, 1966 — Stardate: 1513.1
The Man Trap is not the first produced episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, but it was the first episode to air on NBC and is featured as the first entry in the Series 1 DVD collection.
The episode is a strong start for the highly influential sci-fi series. The plot and characters are not overly engaging, but there’s enough intrigue and clever originality in these 50 minutes to make The Man Trap worthy of rediscovery more than 45 years after its initial showing.
Interestingly, this first episode has less to do with Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and more to do with Dr. “Bones” McCoy (the great, late DeForest Kelley). It’s the good doctor’s former girlfriend, Nancy Carter (the lovely Jeanne Bal), that provides the episode with its action and drama.
On a routine stopover at a distant planet, Kirk and company find Nancy and her husband, Robert Carter (Alfred Ryder). They’ve been stationed in these outer reaches for years, and the only need they seemingly have is for more salt.
Strange things begin to occur when Nancy appears in different forms to the various people in her presence. To Kirk, she appears older and grayer, while McCoy envisions the woman just as he last remembered her, young and beautiful. A crewman who accompanies the captain and doctor on the planet’s surface sees Nancy as an attractive blonde with intoxicatingly swinging hips. It’s obvious from the get-go that this woman is a strange shapeshifter, a creature hidden underneath a beauteous facade.
After crewmen corpses start stacking up (a lot of people die in these early Star Trek episodes), the Enterprise crew begins to suspect foul play. Perhaps it’s because The Man Trap is the unofficial first episode, but it seems like Spock, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei) and Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) are a little slow to connect the dots. But that’s one of the charms of this hallmark sci-fi series. Gene Roddenberry and his team of writers knew how to wink-wink at the audience, letting us know the episode’s hidden secrets before the characters were able to discover the truth. The smartest person on the Enterprise is not Spock, but us, the speculative viewer.
Both Bal and Ryder are near-perfect guest stars, but nothing can match the evolution of the Nancy Carter character. As much as I found Bal’s performance memorable and spot-on, it still doesn’t beat the hokey creature effects of the salt-sucking vampire she turns into. This circular-mouthed creation is one of the best aliens of The Original Series and must have been thrilling to behold back in the 1960s. Even in 2012, the creature impresses. It’s obviously a man in a suit, but it seems to fit the nostalgia of the show.
The Man Trap is not Star Trek at its best, but it serves as a nice entry point into the world of Roddenberry and his ever-interesting creations.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com