Fifty-two years ago today, on Thursday, November 3, 1966, the ninth episode of Star Trek’s ground-breaking first season debuted on NBC. While The Monkees were at number one in the hit parade with “Last Train To Clarksville” (and influencing the Trek upper brass to bring in a Davy Jones lookalike in season two in the form of Walter Koenig), Trek fans were watching “Dagger of the Mind,” which took the U.S.S. Enterprise to the Tantalus Penal Colony on the world of Tantalus V.
After initially failing to transport down supplies to the colony due to the security force field still being in place, a consignment of cargo traveled in the opposite direction to the Enterprise marked for delivery to the Central Bureau of Penology in Stockholm. As Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Berkley left the transporter room the cargo opened, revealing a stowaway who knocked out the assistant transporter operator before leaving the room.
On the bridge, the command crew were contacted by the colony, learning that an inmate was missing from the colony and may well have hidden in the cargo that was beamed up, a missing patient who was potentially a violent case. That suspicion was borne out as the stowaway got hold of a phaser and headed for the bridge, asking for asylum and revealing that his name is Simon Van Gelder. Spock used a Vulcan nerve pinch to incapacitate him and he was taken to sickbay. Suspicious, McCoy asked Kirk to investigate further, and soon after the captain beamed down to the colony along with Enterprise psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Noel.
Meeting Dr. Adams, they were introduced to the oddly emotionless Lethe and the experimental neural neutralizer. Adams claimed that van Gelder had tested the device on himself, causing his agitation and that the machine was harmless at low frequencies. Noel accepted his explanation, but Kirk was still suspicious.
Back on the Enterprise, Van Gelder was increasingly frantic, writhing in pain when trying to explain to Spock about the neural neutralizer. A mind-meld revealed that the machine emptied the mind of all thoughts, replacing it with only loneliness. Spock assembled a security team, but the force field was once again up and enveloping Tantalus V.
On the planet and unaware of the revelations, Kirk decided to try the machine. Noel implanted harmless tweaks to his short-term memory until Adams seized control of the device and increased the intensity, convincing Kirk of his love for Noel. The two were confined to quarters. Fighting off the urges implanted in his head, Kirk ordered Noel to crawl through the air ducts and disable the security force field. The doctor found the power control room for the entire colony and deactivates the field long enough for Kirk to escape the machine and for Spock to beam down a security detail and take the colony.
Adams was killed by the machine, but not for the obvious reasons. Near enough to the machine to be exposed to its effects, he died "without even a tormentor for company." Dr. Van Gelder resumed his responsibilities after being cured, dismantling the neural neutralizer. Back aboard the Enterprise, McCoy remarked that, "It's hard to believe that a man could die of loneliness." To which Kirk replied, "Not when you've sat in that room."
The eleventh episode produced and the ninth screened during the show’s first season, “Dagger of the Mind” is notable for a number of reasons. Becoming ubiquitous in the world of Star Trek during the following half century, the episode marked the very first appearance of the Vulcan mind meld. Sixteen years later the meld would become a key element in the final scenes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, as Spock transferred his memories/katra to a prone Dr. McCoy.
The name of the emotionless Lethe would also be used decades later as the title of the sixth episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season, the name referring to Greek mythology and the River of Forgetfulness. The role of Dr. Helen Noel was originally written for Grace Lee Whitney and the character of Janice Rand, but the decision was made to not have Kirk become too emotionally involved with a crew member. Instead, a psychologist was introduced, a forebear of Deanna Troi 21 years later.
The title of the episode is one of the first nods to the takes of the Bard, coming from Macbeth Act 2 Scene 1, a tradition which would continue through TOS and on into the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and beyond. “Dagger of the Mind” was also the title of the fourth episode of the second season of Columbo, the legendary detective series which guest starred a number of Trek alumni over the years, including Leonard Nimoy in “A Stitch in Crime” in 1973, Ricardo Montalban in "A Matter of Honor" (another shared episode title) in 1976 and William Shatner in "Fade in to Murder" also in ’76 and "Butterfly in Shades of Grey" (almost) in ‘94. Theodore Bikel, Clive Revill, Laurence Luckinbill, Julie Newmar and Dean Stockwell would also feature.
He may have come to a sticky end, but Dr. Adams gave one of the most-positive statements in all of Star Trek when he said, "May we never find space so vast, planets so cold, heart and mind so empty that, that we cannot fill them with love and warmth." Regrettable – for him – that he couldn’t follow the wisdom of his own words, and fortunate for the crew of the Enterprise that they did.
Mark Newbold has been an avid Trek fan since the 1970's, when TOS was shown on UK TV, but it was the original cast movie series and TNG era that sealed the deal. Mark is a writer for Star Trek The Official Magazine, is editor-in-Chief of Star Trek: The Neutral Zone and was a stage host at Destination Star Trek Germany in 2018. At heart, he's a Niner. Follow him on Twitter.