26 "The Devil in the Dark"

(airdate: March 9, 1967)

Writer: Gene L. Coon
Director: Joseph Pevney

Vanderburg: Ken Lynch
Lt. Cmdr. Giotto: Barry Russo

Appel: Brad Weston
Horta: Janos Prohaska

Stardate: 3196.1

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is called to a mining colony on the planet Janus VI; a creature has been killing off miners, and the miners need help killing the creature before it strikes again. Kirk sends teams through the mines, but the creature attacks the colony's power plant, removing a key component. They intensify the search, and soon Kirk encounters the creature: a large, rock-like blob that can move through solid rock as easily as people move through the air. Spock tells the captain to kill the creature before it kills him, but Kirk refuses, as the creature is making no hostile moves. Spock arrives and is able to make mental contact with the creature; it is called the Horta, and it is the last of its kind. It was content to live peacefully with the miners until they unknowingly broke into her hatchery and began destroying her eggs. Once the miners are made aware of the situation, they reach an agreement with the Horta: they'll stop destroying the eggs and let the Horta free rein through the planet, and the Horta will help the miners find difficult-to-reach minerals on the planet.

Whoops!: The smooth studio floors are disguised only by strewing large chunks of rock around, rather than anything else (like sand, for instance). Giotto is called a lieutenant commander but is wearing commander's stripes.
     Do you think Chief Engineer Vanderburg removed the egg from his office before it hatched?

Classic Lines: Spock, describing how the Horta felt about his ears: "I did get the distinct impression she found them the most attractive human characteristic of all. I didn't have the heart to tell her that only I have–" Kirk: "She really liked those ears?" Spock: "Captain, the Horta is a remarkably intelligent and sensitive creature, with impeccable taste." Kirk: "Because she approved of you?" Spock: "Really, Captain, my modesty–" Kirk: "Does not bear close examination, Mr. Spock. I suspect you're becoming more and more human all the time." Spock: "Captain, I see no reason to stand here and be insulted."

Don't Wear a Red Shirt: Onscreen we see the Horta kill an engineer named Schmitter, a miner guard outside the reactor room, and a redshirted ensign, all by burning them to a crisp with a powerful chemical corrosive. We're told that offscreen the Horta has killed fifty people, but that the miners have destroyed thousands of Horta eggs. We also see the miners attack and knock out three security guards.

Library Computer: The planet Janus VI is a reddish-brown and white planet, with no current volcanic activity. It was home to a mining colony which has been operating for over fifty years. As Janus VI had no [breathable] atmosphere, the mining colony was located underground and supplied its own life support, including heat and air. Their primary export was pergium, a substance that was used by many colonies to power their reactors (Kirk notes that over a dozen planets rely on Janus VI for their pergium supplies), although the planet also contained elements such as uranium, cerium, and platinum; however, much of the elements were difficult for the miners to reach. The administrative head of Janus VI was Chief Engineer Vanderburg, an older man dressed in yellow overalls, with brown eyes and greying hair. The mining colony used a large amount of automated equipment, and the colony was powered by an old PXK pergium reactor. If the reactor were to go critical, it would poison half the planet. Scotty said that he hadn't seen a PXK reactor in twenty years.
     The Horta were the indigenous lifeform of Janus VI. Silicon-based, they resembled a large, lumpy rocky blob, with distinct orange ridges running along the Horta's skin and a fringe along its base. Its body tissue was akin to fibrous asbestos. Dr. McCoy believed that a silicon-based lifeform would be physiologically unable to exist in an oxygen atmosphere, but Spock theorized the creature could survive at least a little while in such an environment. (Subsequent events seem to bear out Spock's theory.) The Horta emitted an intensely powerful corrosive agent, which allowed it to burrow through rock as easily as people could move through air. It could exert fine control over it though, allowing it to remove the circulating pump from the colony's reactor and to write the words "NO KILL I" into the rock. They digested rock, using it for nourishment. The Horta were an intelligent, peaceful species, although they were willing to use deadly force to protect themselves and their unborn children. Every 50,000 years, the entire race died except for one; this one watched over the unhatched eggs of the subsequent generation and became the mother of the children when they hatched. The Horta were resistant to phaser fire, although a concentrated blast from a phaser [type] 2 could injure it. Thermal concrete could be used as a makeshift plaster bandage for a wounded Horta.
     When the miners broke into the Horta hatchery on level 23 and began destroying the Horta eggs out of ignorance (believing them to be little more than geological curiosities), the mother Horta struck back, killing over fifty miners and removing a key piece of machinery from the PXK reactor in order to drive the humans off Janus VI. Once it was made clear to the Horta that the miners were acting out of ignorance, and the Horta out of preservation, an agreement was reached, allowing the Horta and the miners to peacefully coexist on the planet. The mother Horta initially found the appearance of humans to be revolting, although she believed she could get used to it.
     Spock is able to join his mind to that of a Horta's, although a more effective mind meld requires physical contact. He found it refreshing to deal with such a logical mind, after having been around humans so long.
     Prior to the discovery of the Horta, no silicon-based life forms were known to exist. Consequently, the Horta didn't show up on sensors unless they had been specifically modified to look for silicon-based life.
     Phaser [type] 2 (the standard version with the pistol grip) is more powerful than [type] 1 (the little palm version). The miners only had phaser 1, but the Enterprise personnel were equipped with phaser 2.
     Mr. Scott had more knowledge of nuclear reactors than Spock.
     The Enterprise has thermal concrete on board, used mainly for building emergency shelters. It consists mainly of silicon.
     Dr. McCoy declares that he's a doctor, not a bricklayer. [This is the first appearance of McCoy's "I'm a doctor, not a..." phrase.]

Final Analysis: "We are dealing with a silicon creature of the deep rocks, capable of moving through solid rock as easily as we move through the air." The first half of the episode treats things like a standard monster story, just with a strange new monster, but the second half then completely flips things on its head by showing that the Horta is only misunderstood, not malicious, and that the problems of each side can be solved via communication. It's a great idea well told, and the commitment to the idea, both in front of and behind the camera, leads to one of Star Trek's finest hours.

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Page last updated: June 4, 2019

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