This episode was the second pilot for Star Trek, so as with The Cage, you can tell that there was a lot still up in the air as compared to the rest of the series. But even though the actors had not yet quite settled into their parts, and there are still a few notable main characters yet to be introduced, it does feel very much like Star Trek.
While Spock is carried over from The Cage, we start to see him becoming more like the Spock we will eventually come to know and love. His half-human heritage is mentioned, as well as his embracing of logic- though his remark about irritation being “one of your Earth emotion” is delivered with a bit of snark, so it’s still a work in progress.
I consider this episode a very good representation of what Science Fiction, as a genre, is best at: using the incredible to teach a lesson about the mundane. In this case, it’s a take on the adage that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Gary Mitchell begins the episode as Kirk’s old friend, and by the end is trying to murder him. Along the way, he kills a random crewman and begins corrupting Dr. Dehner as well. The part I find chilling is how even Gary admits that Spock’s recommended course of action – killing Mitchell before he becomes too powerful – is the right one.
I’m also fascinated by the character of Elizabeth Dehner. Gary Mitchell basically calls her an ice queen because she rebuffs his sexual innuendo at the beginning of the episode. Then, as the story progresses, she seems intrigued by his growing power. At times, I almost get the feeling she’s so swept along by the power he exudes – and begins to share with her – that she almost can’t control herself. Even though she doesn’t really put up visible resistance, once he gives her his shiny-eye, she almost seems dazed, following him without really understanding why. It isn’t until she sees him trying to kill Kirk that she finally comes to herself and uses her slice of the power to distract Gary enough that Kirk can take him down. When she dies, it’s almost as if she simply gives up the will to live. I’m frankly not sure what to make of this, to be honest. I just find the character’s descent very interesting, and very sad.
On a side note, this episode also marks the first of many times that Kirk gets his shirt ripped during a fistfight. Just thought I’d throw that in there.
While canonically the source of Gary Mitchell’s power is never explained (did it leech out of the barrier at the edge of the galaxy?), I’d like to point out as a note of interest that there is a novel (which of course is not canon) that claims it came from Q. Exactly how it happens, I won’t spoil, because it’s a great story that you should read.
Considering that The Cage was rejected for basically being too “cerebral” with not enough action, I admit I’m a little surprised that Where No Man Has Gone Before was accepted. Though it does have a bit more action, it’s also a character-driven episode with a lot of meat to it. That’s not a bad thing, either. Personally, I place it among my favorite episodes of TOS. It’s a solid entry and a great example of the Sci-Fi genre at its best.