The Enemy Within: A Daring Trek Episode

kirk yelling

“The Enemy Within” is a pretty standard episode for early Trek. It has a great premise, with solid performances by most of the cast, executes on a somewhat interesting premise by subtlety touching on a far more interesting and controversial subtext, but is hampered by two drawbacks. 

Now before I start on this review, I feel like I have to address some comments regarding my previous review on “The Naked Time.” I love Star Trek. It is, by far, the preeminent source of entertainment in my life, and as a fan I accept both the good, and the bad, that the franchise has to offer. That being said, I’m also a critic. There is this undercurrent in fandom that seems to think if you are critical of something that you must hate it, or at the very least you are tarnishing something that they love. Some fans then accuse you of “not being a real fan” (like that phrase has any meaning anymore). Being critical of something doesn’t mean that I’m saying you’re wrong in liking it, nor does it mean that I don’t like it. Being critical is about being objective to a set of standards crafted over the decades of filmmaking and millennia of storytelling and saying “this is good” and “this is bad” and letting the chips fall where they may. My ultimate objective in reviewing every episode of Trek isn’t even about comparing Star Trek to other fiction, or say judging it against the likes of Star Wars or Harry Potter. My objective is to judge Trek against itself so we can figure out what are the best episodes according to a set of ratings. The Shatner ratings aren’t just there for kicks, they’re how we will ultimately determine what is the best of Trek. And if you’re one of the fans who refuse to think objectively about the things you love, that’s fine too, just don’t expect me to stop telling you when Shatner is overacting. Anyways, back to the review.

Shatner is the main problem with the episode

evil kirk
You know he’s evil because he wears mascara

Yeah, you should have known this was coming. Generally speaking, I think that Shatner is really underrated as an actor. In a lot of ways, especially in the later years of playing Kirk, he is actually a master of subtlety. He has a way of slipping into the role, and there’s a physicality to his performance that a lot of people (in particular, Chris Pine) don’t see when they watch him (like that magnificent stagger step in The Search for Spock after he learns that “David is dead.”) All that being said, it’s episodes like this that have earned Shatner the reputation of being a overactor who … hangs. On. Every turn … of phrase. In particular, his portrayal of “evil” guy-liner Kirk is dreadful. He dials the acting to eleven like the more you shout the better the performance. That may be true when you’re acting on a stage, but in a show where every other shot is a close up, less is more.

The Plot is fantastic, with a hole you could drive a shuttlecraft through

stranded away team

In the first use of transporter shenanigans for the series, we see an alien dog and Kirk beamed up to the ship. Each are split into a gentle and aggressive half (a good and evil side). This is apparently because a crewman beamed aboard previously was covered in a native residue which messed up the transporter. The evil Kirk terrorizes the crew while they try to find some way to recombine Kirk and fix the transporter before the away team on the surface freezes to death. The team on the ground can’t get back to the ship otherwise they too will be split.

That is totally a dog in a fur suit.
That is totally a dog in a fur suit.

The possibility of the crew freezing to death on the planet is supposed to give the episode a sense of urgency, but it’s a huge plot hole. First (even though we don’t see the Galileo for another few episodes) we now know that the Enterprise carries a compliment of shuttlecraft, but even if we buy in to the idea that because they didn’t develop the shuttlecraft yet for the series we have the other bigger problem. Why didn’t they beam down survival gear, like shelters and tents and heaters? I’m going to count this plot hole as an issue of rewrites cramming something in that didn’t below. The author, Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come) wrote the episode without the B plot, and that was shoehorned in later, and it feels like something tacked on to an otherwise excellent plot.

Also, the cinematography is magnificent. The shots are well crafted, with a ton of well framed close ups, and the scenes transitioning from good Kirk to evil Kirk are just fantastic.

This is classic Trek

two kirks

Even though the episode has a couple of issues, it truly feels like an episode of Star Trek, and not just The Twilight Zone. We get our first transporter mishap, which becomes a classic Trek trope, but more importantly it delves into thoughtful territory that is explored in a very Trek way. The episode consciously steers away from using the words good and evil to describe the two Kirks, and the episode ends with the conclusion that a man needs both sides to live, that without the aggressive side he’s not quite a man, but without the docile side he’s a coward. It’s a great, and fairly unique, take on the good vs evil debate. It also touches on the evils of rape at a time in which sitcoms didn’t even show couples sleeping in the same bed.

Like, we have to stop and talk about that for a moment.

Today we too often see sexual violence portrayed on TV in matter-of-fact ways designed to both titillate and repulse the viewers. Trek doesn’t, it shows it as being gross, repugnant, and awful without any window dressing to make it more palatable. Not only this, but they actually were able to show this on TV in the 60s, a time in which people were still having to justify why racism is bad. It’s a delicate subject that, though not handled ideally, is handled far better than anything else on TV today.

Red shirt kill count: STILL. ZERO.


Assorted Musings:

  1. This episode features a TON of Star Trek firsts. It’s the first time we see the crew use phasers to heat up rocks to use as a source of heat. It’s the first transporter mishap plot and the first time we hear “He dead, Jim.” It’s also the first time we see Kirk’s wrap-around tunic, and this has to be one of the first instances of duplicating the same actor on screen. Every instance of seeing both Kirk’s on screen was done with a body double (who very obviously was not Shatner), but for the shot pictured above it was a film technique. I can’t find a good history on duplicating actors, but this has to be one of the earliest instances. If anyone knows of early ones, hit me up in the comments. Last but certainly not least, it’s the first use of the Vulcan neck pinch.
  2. Did I mention how obvious the Kirk double was?
  3. Even though Richard Matheson was a prolific Twilight Zone writer and novelist, this is the only episode he wrote for any Star Trek series. In addition, it paired him back up with the star of everyone’s favorite Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” which starred William Shatner. Also, Matheson thought Shatner was great in this episode (I hate to disagree, but I do).

    In case you're not a Twilight Zone fan...
    In case you’re not a Twilight Zone fan…
  4. I also don’t rate Star Trek based on music, especially in the first series, because it used recycled music. After an episode had a new piece composed it would be reused in later episodes, so it feels wrong to judge it against that. That being said, the score in this episode is magnificent and noticeably better than most episodes, even when compared to the modern series. Next time you watch, really pay attention to the music, it really makes an impact on this episode.
  5. Also, I am practically reduced to giggle fits that Gene Roddenberry sat in an office after reading Matheson’s work and thought, “Nah, I gotta fix this. It’s too cerebral. I need more action.” The guy that is responsible for the worst, and most boring, season of The Next Generation is rewriting the script of one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time.


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