Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Sixteen “The Mark of Gideon”

Stardate: 5423.4 (2268)
Original Air Date: January 17, 1969
Writer: George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams
Director: Jud Taylor

“Diplomats and bureaucrats may function differently, but they achieve exactly the same results.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Enterprise is orbiting the planet Gideon which is not a member of the United Federation of Planets because they have a tradition of isolation from contaminating contacts with the “violent nature of planets of other systems.” Negotiations have been difficult between the Federation and Gideon because Gideon refuses a delegation on its soil. Furthermore, they prohibit any surveillance of their planet by ship’s sensors. According to physio-cultural reports submitted to the Federation, the planet Gideon is a planetary paradise. After much deliberation, Gideon finally agrees to meet with a “delegation of one” –naturally, they will only meet with the captain of the Enterprise. However, when Kirk attempts to beam down to the planet, a seeming error occurs and he finds himself back aboard the Enterprise, only now he is entirely alone. Where has the Enterprise crew gone? Has he fallen into an alternate dimension? Kirk wanders the ship in search of answers while looking for a medical kit to cure his bruised arm which has become mysteriously injured.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Hodin of Gideon (David Hurst) issues a communication to Spock stating that the council on Gideon is still awaiting Kirk’s arrival. The coordinates are verified (875-020-079) but still no sign of Kirk. Spock requests permission to beam down to conduct a search himself, but his request is denied. Frustrated with stagnant negotiations, Spock explores other options with Bones, Chekov, and Scotty –they all lament the frivolous nature of bureaucrats and diplomats alike. In time, Ambassador Hodin relents and allows one member of the Enterprise to be swapped with one member of Gideon to test and see if the Enterprise transporter has been malfunctioning. However, Gideon immediately backs out of the deal. Tension continues to mount.   

Back with Kirk, as he meanders through the empty Enterprise in search of crewmen, he stumbles upon a strange woman named Odona (Sharon Acker) who is also wandering through the Enterprise, apparently in a daze. Her memory is hazy but she has never heard of the planet Gideon. She merely longs to be alone having previously been stuck in a crowded auditorium filed with people, and rather suddenly Kirk and Odona fall in love. However, they soon hear strange noises and discover they are being watched –crowds of people are packed in near the ship’s windows to watch Kirk and Odona. As Kirk soon learns, this whole situation has all been a ploy by Ambassador Hodin to infect his daughter, Odona, with a disease called “vegan choriomeningitis.” First, Kirk was infected (and his memory was erased?) and his infection was then spread to Odona. Why? Because Gideon is desperate to address its out-of-control overpopulation problem. A long time ago, the planet Gideon was a germ-free paradise, but after having no contact with other planets, the people of Gideon stopped dying and the whole planet has become unbearably overpopulated. Why have they not sterilized their citizens? Because the bodily organs of the Gideonites are actually regenerative so sterilization would be impossible. But then why not allow contraception and birth control on Gideon? Because Gideon believes in the proliferation of life, almost in a religious fashion. Therefore, their only chance is to apparently introduce a disease which will kill off portions of their population. However, Odona volunteered to serve as an example to others so they might wish to contract the disease, as well.  

All this time, Kirk and Odona have been stuck inside a gigantic replica of the Enterprise, albeit completely inoperative. And despite the Federation’s order to Spock to vacate Gideon and abandon the captain, Spock disobeys the Federation and discovers that Admiral Hodin has not been honest (the coordinates initially provided by Gideon were not consistent with later coordinates). He recovers Kirk and, together, they bring Odona to the Enterprise where Dr. McCoy rescues her from certain death resulting from the disease. She begs Kirk to return to Gideon with her, but despite his romantic inclinations, Kirk declines and simply returns to the Enterprise while Odona beams down to Gideon intending to introduce the disease herself.


My Thoughts on “The Mark of Gideon”

For this unfortunate but quintessential “bottle episode,” we are given an interesting meditation on the nature of diplomacy, as well as an exploration of a serious bioethical quandary facing a planet that has grown dangerously over-crowded. Filled with allusions to popular theories in the 1960s regarding overpopulation a la Malthus and Ehrlich, addressing “the population bomb” was undoubtedly a bold choice for Star Trek at the time, but now this episode stands out as one of the more frustrating, eyebrow-raising adventures for the Enterprise.

The romance here between Kirk and Odona is awkward and forced, and the idea that Kirk would simply accept his situation aboard the faux Enterprise is remarkably out of character. How is it that Spock only discovers the discrepancy in location coordinates provided by Gideon at the end of the episode? If Gideon is so brutally overpopulated, how are they able to find enough space to construct a gigantic model of the Enterprise that is entirely empty? And if Gideon has never had any communication with the Federation, how are they able to construct a replica of the Enterprise that is convincing enough to fool its captain? Why does Spock realize it’s a replica when Kirk does not? And why make the replica screens clearly show the Enterprise is not orbiting Gideon? Wouldn’t this simply raise unnecessary questions for Kirk? Are there truly no other options for Gideon to control their bloated population rather than this plan?

While touching on a few intriguing ideas, I found this episode to be mostly a frustrating mess –filed with plot-holes and constrained by budget cuts. Personally, I would rather return to the campy fun of “Spock’s Brain” than puzzle through this one again.    


Writer/Director

The episode was co-written by George F. Slavin and actor Stanley Adams (1915-1977) who portrayed Cyrano Jones in the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” The Original working title was “No Place to Die.”

Director Jud Taylor (1932-2008) also directed “Paradise Syndrome” and “The Wink of An Eye.” He directed a total of five Season 3 episodes, more than any other Season 3 director.


Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode features rare internal monologue from both Kirk and Spock in this episode.
  • When speaking with Odona, Kirk claims the Enterprise has enough food to feed a crew of 430 for 5 years.  
  • Apparently, producer Fred Freiberger was satisfied/proud of this episode.
  • Frequent Star Trek background actor William Blackburn is among the Gideon citizens visible on the fake Enterprise viewscreen in this episode.
  • This episode frequently ranks among the worst of TOS.
  • This episode was completed for almost $12,000 under budget.

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

1 thought on “Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Sixteen “The Mark of Gideon”

  1. I could easily empathize with Odona in wanting to be alone, having found great comfort in being alone a lot during my childhood. An interesting contrast to how scary being alone can usually be. Thank you for your review and trivia.

    Liked by 2 people

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