Alright, here we are. Star Trek. Not the second pilot (that actually aired later). On September 8, 1966, the series that may have helped invent slash fanfiction came on the air with an episode title that, well, sure is a bit unfortunate in certain ways given how the episode in general plays out, but it actually is a pretty good first episode.
Basic plot: the Enterprise is doing a required annual check-in on planet M-113 to see that Professor Crater and his wife Nancy are doing OK as they study the place. Captain Kirk beams down with Dr. McCoy and a random guy who would be a redshirt if his shirt wasn’t blue. It turns out Nancy Crater is McCoy’s “the one that got away,” but when various crew members of the Enterprise start turning up dead with pucker marks on their face and a complete lack of salt in their bodies, it turns out Nancy has been dead for two years and a shapeshifting salt vampire has taken her place. McCoy still sees Nancy, but in the end, he will shoot and kill the creature, the last of its kind, to save Kirk’s life.
And I will say…the monster suit is actually pretty impressive what little we see of it.
So, I commented on the first post about Star Trek gender politics, and I don’t think it got any better with this one. The salt vampire appears to McCoy as Nancy when she was in her late 20s, to Kirk as the same woman only older, and to Future Dead Crewman #1 as a woman he met on a pleasure planet (um, ew). While it is true the creature can take the shape of men and even tries to make a meal out of Uhura (heck, it even speaks Swahili when it takes the form of what it assumes is her dream guy), all the onscreen victims are male crewmen. Heck, it even tries to eat Spock, but his alien physiology (complete with a bit of green blood on his face) keeps him alive.
Of course, the creature isn’t evil so much as really hungry. Professor Crater likens it to the buffalo and the dodo, so what was the status of the buffalo in 1966? I don’t know. Point is, there won’t be any more salt vampires taking the form of anyone when this episode is over, a fact that makes Kirk a little philosophical as the Enterprise flies off onto its next mission. You’d think a guy who was almost killed by the thing might be a little less wistful, but it’s not like he pulled the trigger on something that looked like his One True Love.
There sure was a lot of those sorts of love interests on the original show now that I think about it. That may be why Uhura was trying (and failing) to flirt with Spock when he had command of the bridge. Apparently, Vulcan had no moon, and with it, no romance.
As for the familiar beats, we get Kirk’s voiceover with the opening credits, the Captain’s Log with stardates included (apparently dictated after the fact as Kirk’s narration makes it clear he’s talking after the fact at one point), and many familiar members of the crew even if their roles are a little vague. McCoy is one of multiple doctors and Uhura is a communications officer, but Yeoman Rand is serving a meal to Sulu, and what Sulu’s job on the ship is is a bit unclear. Only Shatner and Nimoy have their names listed in the opening credits, and Spock is the logical man who doesn’t seem to feel much of anything. Basically, if you sat someone down and showed them this episode and they knew anything at all about the original Star Trek without ever seeing the show before, this wouldn’t look too out of place. The crew is already more racially diverse, and there was a bit of action when Kirk and Spock got into a shootout of sorts with the protective Professor Crater.
So, yeah, I can see why this might have been a good episode to air first. Everything the home viewer would need to know about the show going forward was more or less here. True, there are a few crewmembers who haven’t popped up yet, but give them time. Maybe by then we’ll know what Sulu actually does on the ship.