Star Trek TOS: Potentially Killing One Million to Save a Galaxy

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 30


Enterprise tracked a ship aiming directly at the sun, and Kirk tried to contact the vessel for support. In an unsuccessful effort, the other ship barrelled into the sun, puzzling Kirk to the utmost. McCoy speculated “mass insanity” as the cause shortly before he popped the big question to the captain — was Kirk’s brother and family stationed on the planet from which the ship embarked?

Now, it was personal.

The planet is called Deneva, one of the most beautiful in the galaxy by all accounts. Kirk thought he heard his sister-in-law’s voice in a transmission, so he and some crewmembers beamed down to Deneva. The planet looked surprisingly modern — like a suburb in modern America — but few people were present, even though the place was thought to be highly populated. 

The first passersby were hostile, so they experienced the stun of phasers from Kirk and his posse. After that, Kirk’s brother was found dead while his sister-in-law, Aurelan, and nephew were incapacitated. 

The group returned to Enterprise for treatment of Aurelan and Peter, the nephew. Aurelan explained “things” arrived on Deneva eight months prior, sending her into a horror-filled recollection. 

In a wildly dramatic fit of panic, Aurelan warned of the “things” forcing Denevans to build ships. Then, she died — adding another extraordinarily personal touch to the episode for Kirk. 

The “things” were blobs that could not be killed by phasers. The creature-blobs puncture the host person, incapacitating the victim. Spock was the first of the crew inflicted. So, remember the mass insanity McCory mentioned at the onset of the episode? The blobs caused it.

Spock appeared to heal but went nuts when he woke up. He joined the mass insanity club. He was neutralized but soon came back to his senses, albeit in a weak physical state. Moments later, Spock decided he was recovered and beamed back down to Deneva to capture a blob for analysis. 

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And the major theme of the episode kicked in about 35 minutes in. Kirk contemplated stemming the proliferation of the blobs — even if it meant killing the one million people on Deneva. Compared to the galaxy-wide havoc the creatures would wreak, sacrificing the Denevans may be the only recourse. What a terrible decision to wrestle for one’s conscience. 

Kirk called it the most difficult quandary of his life. But he was prepared to make the call if a solution was not found to rid the blobs — and their bodily harm — from the equation. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy determined extreme light might drive the creature out. In an act of selfless heroism, Spock volunteered as a guinea pig for the trial. It worked — but Spock was blinded due to an oversight by McCoy. 

Satellites were used to blast the light at Deneva. Problem solved.

Too, Spock was not permanently blind. His Vulcan adaptation mandated only temporary blindness. Everybody won. The greater-good debate arose again, with Kirk fully committed to pulling the trigger on the mass extinction of one million folks. Yet, thanks to ingenuity, it was only a moral, theoretical parable to consider. 

Themes: Greater Good

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).