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Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Whom Gods Destroy”


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Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Whom Gods Destroy”


Published on September 13, 2016

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

“Whom Gods Destroy”
Written by Lee Erwin and Jerry Sohl
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
Season 3, Episode 16
Production episode 60043-71
Original air date: January 3, 1969
Stardate: 5718.3

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is bringing a new medicine to the insane asylum on Elba II, a planet with a poisonous atmosphere. The medicine is supposed to eliminate mental illness for all time—the last fifteen remaining mentally ill people in the entire Federation are interred on Elba.

Kirk and Spock beam down to deliver the medicine to Dr. Donald Cory, the colony governor, who is skeptical about the efficacy of the new medicine. (The beam-down procedure requires that the force field protecting the asylum be temporary lowered.) Cory brings the landing party to see Elba’s newest inmate, Garth of Izar, a former fleet captain in Starfleet, whose exploits were required reading at the Academy. Kirk considers him one of his heroes, and he’s disappointed that he’s gone all cluck cluck, gibber gibber, my old man’s a mushroom, etc..

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

En route to Garth’s cell, they pass an Orion woman named Marta who insists that Cory isn’t really Cory. It turns out she was telling the truth, as a rather haggard Cory is in Garth’s cell, and Cory changes shape to reveal himself to actually be Garth.

Garth lets Marta and two other inmates—an Andorian and a Tellarite—out of their cells and stuns Spock. The Andorian and Tellarite take the unconscious Spock away while Kirk is put in the cell with Cory. Garth is obviously completely binky-bonkers, and intends to rule the universe. He has destroyed the medicine Kirk and Spock brought, and plans to take over the Enterprise, having changed his shape to that of Kirk, and take revenge on his crew who mutinied—and also take over the universe, can’t forget that…

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Cory explains to Kirk that Garth was badly injured on Antos, and the Antosians taught him the skill of cellular metamorphosis. Intended to heal him, it also enables him to change his shape (and, apparently, his clothes) to anything he wants. He started his campaign to take over Elba by assuming Cory’s form and fooling the guard into letting “the governor” out.

Disguised as Kirk, Garth contacts the Enterprise and orders Scotty to beam him aboard. Scotty, following Kirk’s own security orders, says, “Queen to queen’s level three.” Garth, unaware of the security procedure, bitches out Scotty, then quickly backtracks, saying he was just testing him, ha ha. Once he ends the transmission, Garth throws a massive temper tantrum, changing back into his natural form.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

On the Enterprise, Scotty and McCoy know something’s wrong, but Uhura can’t reestablish communication, and Sulu confirms that the force field is up and won’t allow them to transport. Punching through with phasers could kill everyone down there.

Garth approaches Kirk, reiterating the invitation to dinner he made as Cory at the top of the episode. Dinner comes with a show, including the Andorian and Tellarite playing wheelbarrow, and Marta reciting her own poetry (actually Shakespeare’s) and then dancing.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

After Marta’s dance, we learn that Garth ordered his crew to destroy Antos, a planet of peaceful people, after they refused to join him in his conquest—as did his crew. He intends to renew his plans of conquest, this time with the dozen-plus inmates as his much more loyal crew. Garth is also revolted that Kirk’s visit to Axanar, long after Garth’s victory there, was a peace mission. He also condemns Kirk and Spock’s friendship, as Spock should be Kirk’s subordinate, nothing more.

Spock tries to explain logically to Garth why his plans for conquest are foolish, and Garth wants to hear none of it. He has Spock taken away, and then makes it clear that he wants to know the response to the security phrase. Kirk won’t tell him—and he won’t tell Marta, even after she slinks at him—and so Garth wheels out THE COMFY CHAIR!

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Okay, it’s not a comfy chair, it’s a redress of the rehab chair from “Dagger of the Mind,” except Garth has modified it so that now it causes pain. He demonstrates it on Cory. When Kirk refuses to provide the countersign, Garth puts Kirk in the chair, but he’s still not forthcoming.

He falls unconscious, and Marta offers instead to try to cajole the information out of him with her feminine wiles. However, she insists that she lied to Garth to get him to stop torturing Kirk, because she loves him so much. And then, just to remind us that she’s batshit, she tries to stab him with a dagger. Kirk stops her and then Spock shows up—as promised by Marta, who said she arranged it with a guard who finds her desirable—and neck pinches her. The pair head toward the control room. Spock stuns the Tellarite and Kirk takes his phaser.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

They get to the control room and Kirk contacts the ship and orders a security detail beamed down to take control of the asylum. Spock urges Kirk to return to the ship, as his safety is vital, and offers to take command of the security team. When Scotty gives the callsign, Kirk realizes something’s up and orders Spock to give the countersign.

Except, of course, it isn’t Spock, it’s Garth in disguise, and Kirk’s phaser is inactive. The whole thing, starting from when Marta tried to seduce and stab him, was a ruse to get the countersign.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Kirk tries to appeal to the captain Garth used to be rather than the self-proclaimed lord he is now, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. So Kirk tries to deactivate the force field while Garth is ranting and raving, but Garth stuns him before he can manage it.

Kirk regains consciousness in time for Garth’s coronation. Everyone kneels before Garth, and Marta hands him a crown, which he places on his own head, as no one else is worthy to crown him. He designates Marta his consort and Kirk his heir apparent.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

The Andorian and the Tellarite bring Kirk to the control room. Kirk tries to appeal to the pair’s better nature, but they’re no more receptive than Garth was. Then Garth himself shows up, displaying his latest invention, an explosive that could lay waste to the entire planet in sufficient quantity. One crystal of it is in the necklace he put around Marta’s neck when he made her consort. Garth then has Marta taken out of the dome, where she slowly chokes to death—at least until Garth detonates the necklace, and then she’s blown up, instead.

The Enterprise detects the explosion. Now with a sense of urgency, Scotty has Sulu move the ship into orbit over the force field’s weakest point on the far side of the planet. However, ship’s phasers have no effect on the field.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Since Kirk remains unmoved even by Marta’s death, Garth has Spock brought to the control room. However, Spock is smarter than the average bear—he fakes being unconscious and then double neck pinches the Andorian and the Tellarite and takes their weapon.

However, Garth is alerted to Spock’s treachery, and so he disguises himself as Kirk so Spock is confronted with two Kirks. Rather than just stun them both, which would solve everyone’s problem, Spock proposes to wait Garth out, since he would need energy to maintain Kirk’s form (a hypothesis with no basis in reality, since there’s no indication that such energy is required; in fact, since the cellular metamorphosis had its basis in healing Garth from injuries, it’s something that he shouldn’t have to concentrate to maintain, since it would be useless as a healing tool if you had to fixate on it all the time). Garth then attacks Spock, and the two Kirks attack each other for several seconds. When one Kirk urges Spock to shoot the one he’s downed, the second one urges Spock to shoot both of them to ensure the safety of the Enterprise.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

That’s all Spock needs to know, and he shoots the first one. Spock calls the ship, gives the countersign, and a medical team and a security detail beam down. McCoy administers the medicine to the surviving inmates, including Garth, who seems to have no memory of what happened on Elba.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Somehow the people of Antos can teach someone how to be a shapeshifter, which is impressive, to say the least.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Fascinating. Not a banner episode for Spock: he tries to use logic on someone who has been declared criminally insane and seems surprised that it doesn’t work, is smart enough to take out the Andorian and Tellarite in one shot, but isn’t bright enough to do so with Kirk and Garth even though he has a weapon that allows him to do so from a distance, and then he gets himself hit on the head while failing to do that.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy’s sole function is to annoy Scotty with blindingly obvious statements on the bridge. Oh, and distribute the medicine at the end. Woo hoo.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu finds the one weak spot in the force field, but is unable to punch a hole through it with phasers.

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura gets to run the science station in Spock’s absence, since Chekov isn’t in this episode, and she determines that there are still life form readings on the planet even after the big-ass explosion that killed poor Marta.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty quickly figures out that it isn’t really Kirk who calls the ship, but is utterly powerless to do anything about it.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Marta hits all over Kirk from jump, possibly in an attempt to make Garth jealous, but probably mostly because she’s nuts.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Channel open. “Queen to king’s level one.”

A phrase Garth spends the entire episode trying and failing to learn.

Welcome aboard. First Catwoman, then the Riddler, now Batgirl! Yvonne Craig plays our second Orion woman, and our first real one (the one Susan Oliver played in “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” being an illusion and all) in Marta. Craig, who played Batgirl during the third season of the Batman TV series the year before, was apparently one of the people considered for the role of Vina that eventually went to Oliver.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Steve Ihnat—who worked with both Gene Roddenberry and DeForest Kelley on a failed pilot called Police Story—plays Garth, who is supposed to be much older than Kirk, but Ihnat is actually three years younger than William Shatner, which is why they silvered his hair.

Stuntmen Richard Geary and Gary Downey play the Andorian and the Tellarite, respectively. Recurring regulars James Doohan, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols are present and accounted for.

But to my mind, the really big guest here is the late great Keye Luke, who plays Cory. No one ever went wrong casting Luke in anything…

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Trivial matters: The title for this episode derives from a Greek proverb: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

While Ihnat plays Garth is his original form, Luke, Shatner, and Nimoy also play a disguised Garth at various points in the episode.

Leonard Nimoy wrote a detailed memo to show-runner Fred Freiberger and executive in charge of television for Paramount Douglas S. Cramer complaining about several aspects of the episode, including how out of character everyone is, as well as the many similarities to “Dagger of the Mind.”

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

In the original script, Spock determined which Kirk was real via a series of questions rather than letting them punch it out. That scene was left intact in James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 5, but was changed by director Herb Wallerstein, who wanted more action.

Elba II is named after the island to which Napoleon I was exiled after he was forced to abdicate the throne of France.

Earth makes first contact with Axanar in the Enterprise episode “Fight or Flight.”

There has been considerable speculation in the tie-in fiction and games as to what the Battle of Axanar was and against whom it was fought. The FASA role-playing game had it as a climactic battle in a four-year-long war against the Klingons (which the controversial fan film Axanar has used as the basis for its plot), and several tie-in works have done likewise, including Federation: The First 150 Years by David A. Goodman. Michael Jan Friedman dramatized the aftermath of the battle involving the U.S.S. Republic, on which a young James Kirk served, in the My Brother’s Keeper trilogy, thus establishing how Kirk got the Palm Leaf of Axanar, as established back in “Court Martial.” None of these stories really follow up on Kirk’s line about how the aftermath of Axanar allowed him and Spock to be brothers, implying that the battle was critical to the forming of the Federation, or at least in Vulcan being part of it.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

A reference is made to a classic battle strategy called the Cochrane deceleration, presumably named after Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of warp drive, whom our heroes met in “Metamorphosis.” Kirk used that in a battle against the Romulans at Tau Ceti, a battle that has amazingly gone unchronicled. The strategy itself was explained in the FASA Four Years War RPG module, which also included the Battle of Axanar.

This story is followed up on in the novel Garth of Izar by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski, and in a contradictory story in DC’s monthly comic book, in a storyline collected in the trade paperback Who Killed Captain Kirk? written by Peter David. The Sargent/Zebrowski novel also has another version of the Battle of Axanar.

Alternate timeline versions of Garth are seen in A Less Perfect Union by William Leisner and Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack.

Marta claims to have written Sonnet XVIII by William Shakespeare, and later claims to have written Last Poems XIX by A.E. Housman.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Garth references Lee Kuan, a post-20th-century tyrant first mentioned in “Patterns of Force.”

Your humble rewatcher showed life on Izar, an independent human colony, in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Security (which was collected in the Wounds trade paperback), mostly from the POV of Christine Vale, a prose-original character who has appeared in multiple S.C.E. and Next Generation tales as the security chief of the Enterprise between Insurrection and Nemesis, and in the Titan novels (and other stories featuring the U.S.S. Titan) where she serves as Will Riker’s first officer.

To boldly go. “Queen to queen’s level three.” As an acting exercise for Steve Ihnat and Yvonne Craig, this is a fun little hour to watch. I like that Ihnat doesn’t overplay Garth’s insanity—it’s a very intelligent, mostly very controlled madness. In fact, the only exception is the temper tantrum he throws when he learns of the security callsign, and I’m willing to put most of that on William Shatner’s usual theatricality. His costuming is particularly ingenious, from the cape that is constantly falling off, to the medal that flies off his chest as he’s throwing the temper tantrum, to the rather pathetic crown, to the thing I never actually noticed until this rewatch: his boots are mismatched! One is silver, one is gold.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

And Craig is an absolute delight, slinking her way around the asylum: amusing, sexy, mercurial. I love her claiming old poetry as her own, I love her dancing, and I love the fact that she’s barefoot throughout (I don’t know why, it’s just a nice little touch).

Too bad they’re not performing in a better episode. It’s always dangerous to call back to another episode and do it badly, and it’s not like I thought “Dagger of the Mind” was any great shakes in the first place. But this feels like a retread of that, with a little “I, Mudd” mixed in, only the crazy people really are crazy. And as good as Ihnat is, he’s no Roger C. Carmel.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

On top of that, the story just doesn’t work. For starters, the entire plot hinges on a security procedure that we’ve never seen before and will never see again. It might not have bothered me so much, except this is an episode that’s aware of the show’s history in general—mentioning fighting the Romulans, the use of Axanar, which was established back in “Court Martial“—and to just pull this callsign out of their asses, particularly when they’ve been in far more high-security situations than this without such a callsign, just feels like lazy writing.

Also everything’s in terms of total extremes: The last ever insane asylum! A medicine that will totally cure mental illness! The most powerful explosive ever created! (And sure, Garth may be exaggerating, but it’s Cory who first declares it that.)

And finally, the biggest turd in the water closet of this episode: how the heck do you teach someone how to be a shapechanger? It’s like teaching someone how to have a big nose or teaching someone to have a food allergy.

Star Trek, season 3, Whom Gods Destroy, original series

Good guest stars, wasted on a dopey plot. Still fun to watch, though, so I’m being generous with the rating.


Warp factor rating: 6

Next week:The Mark of Gideon

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be appearing at Intervention 7 this weekend, alongside Trek actor Rene Auberjonois, and Trek writers David Gerrold and John Peel, as well as actors Robert Axelrod, Gigi Edgley, Todd Haberkorn, Alex Kingston, Juliet Landau, Jon St. John, and Dwight Schultz; musicians Thomas Dolby and Ego Likeness; director Rachel Talalay; and tons more, including cartoonists, filmmakers, bloggers, bellydancers, etc. Keith will have a table where he’ll be signing and selling books, and will also be doing lots of programming, including an Author Spotlight Sunday at 9am where he’ll be reading from one of his upcoming works of fiction. Check out his full schedule here.


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Keith R.A. DeCandido


Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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