Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Fourteen “Whom Gods Destroy”

Stardate: 5718.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: January 3, 1969
Writer: Jerry Sohl and Lee Erwin
Director: Herb Wallerstein

“I’m afraid that subjugating you won’t be enough. You must be confined.
And all the people of the galaxy who do not bow to me must be confined, or be destroyed.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Enterprise is orbiting Elba II, a planet with a poisonous atmosphere where the Federation maintains an asylum holding a few remaining incorrigible criminally insane people. The Enterprise is transporting a revolutionary new medicine which might permanently eliminate mental illness and thereby cure the inmates on Elba II.

Upon arrival, Kirk and Spock beam down to meet with the governor of the colony, Dr. Donald Cory (Keye Luke), who invites them to dinner despite his skepticism of the new medicine. Apparently, the rehabilitation program has not been going well. A new inmate arrived named Garth (Steve Ihnat), bringing the total population of the colony to fifteen. Garth was a former starship captain, a man whom Kirk once considered a hero at the Academy, but he has since lost his mind when trying to destroy Antos IV, a race known for practicing benevolence. As such, he requests to see Garth but the situation is quickly interrupted by another prisoner, a green-colored Orion woman named Marta (Yvonne Craig). She alludes to a dark plot on Elba II. The real Dr. Cory has been tortured and imprisoned inside a cell –the Enterprise has been tricked! The faux Dr. Cory reveals his true identity: he is none other than Garth, a maniacal leader of the facility who demands to be called Lord Garth of Izar. He intends to become ruler of the galaxy. He has learned the techniques of Antos which involves cellular metamorphosis to restore the destroyed parts of his body to recreate himself and assume any form he wishes. Now, he claims to possess the most dangerous weapon in the galaxy.

Garth then assumes the form of Kirk in an effort to overtake the Enterprise but when he fails to return the captain’s secret countersign to Scotty’s prompt “queen to queen’s level three,” Scotty grows concerned and orders an armed detail to the transporter room. Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock join Garth at a dinner filled with ridiculous entertainment as Garth and Marta bicker with one another until Marta is forced to recite poetry (she claims to have written a poem by Shakespeare and later a poem by A.E. Housman) and then she performs a seductive dance. The dinner abruptly ends as Spock is led away and Kirk and Dr. Cory are threatened with torture while sitting in a sadistic “exquisitely painful” chair as Garth attempts to learn the correct answer to the code Scotty uttered. Marta then attempts to seduce Kirk in order to learn the answer, but she then irrationally tries to stab Kirk, only for him to be rescued by Spock (who was apparently released by Marta).

Meanwhile, back aboard the Enterprise, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Dr. McCoy weigh their options. The forcefield around the asylum is weakest on the far side of the planet, thus the Enterprise could send down a few crewmen in protective suits to overcome the planet’s poisonous atmosphere, but they would need to travel thousands of miles and then attempt to break into the dome surrounding the asylum. This is not an ideal option for Scotty. Down on the facility, after escaping confinement, Kirk and Spock make contact with the Enterprise. Kirk requests that a security detail immediately beam down, however when Scotty asks for the correct countersign to “queen to queen’s level three” Kirk suddenly grows suspicious and Spock is forced to reveal his true identity –he is actually Garth!

Garth then fanatically professes his own desire to rule the galaxy, not unlike Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lee Kuan, or Krotos. He stages a silly coronation ceremony for himself (as “master of the universe”) attended by his band of criminally insane crewmen. He dubs Kirk the heir apparent and Marta as his consort, but then Garth shockingly murders Marta in a cruel and unpredictable outdoor explosion demonstration to Kirk. Spock then escapes imprisonment only to find two Kirks (Garth has once again transformed into Kirk). After a couple of tests, Spock discovers the true Kirk, stuns Garth, and then offers the correct countersign to Scotty aboard the Enterprise: “queen to king’s level one.”

All inmates are then given a dose of the new medicine which successfully repairs their brain cells, though Garth apparently remembers nothing of the whole incident. In the end, Kirk playfully asks Spock what took him so long to discover the identity of the true Kirk, and then he jokingly suggests Spock may have been hit in the head (something which King Solomon would not have approved of).


My Thoughts on “Whom Gods Destroy”

With echoes of Season 1’s “Dagger of the Mind” (indeed the torture chair and many of the costumes are re-used from “Dagger of the Mind”), “Whom Gods Destroy” is an episode which starts out with an enticing, albeit familiar, premise. A criminal megalomaniac named Garth has developed unique alien powers in an effort to take control of the galaxy, while the Federation remains steadfast in its faith in science to cure the problem of his mental illness. Unfortunately, this episode wanders a bit in the third and fourth acts. Garth takes control of the asylum on Elba II and assumes the visage of Kirk, but once he is unable to deliver the countersign to Scotty aboard the Enterprise, the story devolves into a mostly meandering, redundant narrative.

There are more than a few lingering plot holes, as well: When Garth transforms into Spock, how is he able to perform the Vulcan nerve pinch on Marta? Or is Marta simply party to the ruse? Also, why does Garth cruelly murder Marta in a bomb explosion? Would it not have made more sense to use Marta as leverage with Kirk to learn the countersign? Skeptics might suggest that Garth is purely insane with little rhyme or reason to his actions, and while that certainly seems to be partly true, Garth still has enough sense to put this whole elaborate plan into motion, so why brutally end the life of Marta in this manner? And also, since the Enterprise has run into this situation of duplicate Kirks before, why doesn’t Spock have a better foolproof test to discover the true identity of the real Kirk? This is not the sharpest version of Kirk we have seen –he is far too trusting of the likes of both Marta and Garth disguised as Spock. Lastly, what happens to the mental illness drugs? The medicine provides an extraordinary cure for mental illness and yet never seems to reappear in the future. Admittedly, I found the notion that a single medicine could provide a universal cure for evolving forms of mental illness to be a bit far-fetched.

Despite these criticisms, I am quite surprised at how much I am enjoying the bulk of these episodes in Season 3 of TOS, a season which is often panned by many Trekkies/Trekkers.


Writer/Director

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) wrote the script for this episode. In the initial draft, “Garth of Titan” maniacally tosses all the asylum guards out into the poisonous atmosphere where they meet their grisly demise. Jerry Sohl also wrote “The Corbomite Maneuever.” In addition to Jerry Sohl’s outline, screenwriter Lee Erwin (1906-1972) also worked on the teleplay.

This was one of four TOS episodes directed by Herb Wallerstein (1925-1985). He directed a number of other shows including The Brady Bunch, Gunsmoke, and I Dream of Jeannie. Mr. Wallerstein was horrifyingly being beaten to death by his housekeeper one evening in 1985. She was then controversially found not guilty after claiming self-defense.  


Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode was one of four episodes of Star Trek TOS not aired by the BBC due to sadistic plot elements and a risqué dance performance.
  • At one point in this episode, Spock and Kirk note that the maneuver the Enterprise used to defeat a Romulan vessel near Tau Ceti was the “Cochrane deceleration maneuver,” apparently a common maneuver in Starfleet.
  • The title for this episode is borrowed from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “The Mask of Pandora (1875).” The quote reads: “whom the gods would destroy they must first make mad” and it is derived from an anonymous Greek proverb which has been often wrongly attributed to Euripides.
  • The planet Elba II derives its name from island where Napoleon was exiled.
  • Both Andorians and Tellarites are among the inmates on Elba II.  
  • Kirk refers to Spock as his “brother” in this episode, a phrase which is later echoed in Star Trek V: The Final Fronter.
  • At the end of the episode, Spock says, “Captain Kirk, I presume?” –a nod to the famous question by Henry Morton Stanley to Dr. David Livingstone.
  • James Doohan later stated that Yvonne Craig was once considered for the role of Vina in “The Cage” as a result of her dancing skills. Her character Marta in “Whom Gods Destroy” bears striking resemblance to Vina.
  • The music accompanying Marta’s dance routine is entitled “Arab Hootch Dance” and it was composed by Alexander Courage.
  • This was the first episode without co-producer Robert Justman, who had been involved in producing Star Trek since its origins with “The Cage.” According to several accounts, Mr. Justman broke his contract with Paramount and did not set foot on another Paramount set for decades until the advent of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  
  • This episode marks the last live action appearance of the Orions until Star Trek Enterprise (though they did appear briefly in the Animated Series).
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country pays homage to this episode. In it, Kirk and Dr. McCoy must escape a penal colony run by a shapeshifter named Martia.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

1 thought on “Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Fourteen “Whom Gods Destroy”

  1. Whatever Trekkers would have personally taken away from Whom Gods Destroy over the decades, its best acclaim is how it has now, and certainly through the character of Garth of Izar, inspired the fan series based on the history of Axanar. First hearing that name in this episode when I was a kid was a fascination by itself because I was easily fascinated at the time by how sci-fi came up with all these interestingly sounding planet names. For a Trek episode to try and explain how insanity and appetites for absolute conquest usually go hand in hand, and with the possibility for a medical cure finally and miraculously ending that kind of insanity as it heals Garth, Whom Gods Destroy made it seem for this one episode like there’s nothing that Trek’s optimistic future can’t achieve. But it may not feel particularly realistic in its portrayal of insanity despite all the excellent acting by Steve and Yvonne. Thanks for your review and trivia.

    Liked by 2 people

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