The unlikely episode that launched Star Trek: “The Man Trap” (1966)…


When fans today think of the ‘first’ Star Trek episode, they tend to (not incorrectly) think of the pilot episodes “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” but neither of those pilots were broadcast first. In fact, “The Cage” wasn’t broadcast in full until 1986 (the same year I bought it on laserdisc—don’t laugh).  Parts of “The Cage” were, of course, incorporated (in Kirk’s words) as “strange images from the past” in the two-part episode “The Menagerie,” which aired much later in the first season. 

Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Pike, with Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock and Majel Barrett’s Number One in “The Cage” (1964).
The first Trek produced, but not the first broadcast. This version of Star Trek finally launch with “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

57 years ago, at 8:30 pm on September 8th, 1966 (a Thursday evening), Star Trek would debut with a monster-loose-on-the-ship story right out of drive-in sci-fi flick (or as a forerunner of 1979’s “ALIEN). That episode was called “The Man Trap,” with writing credits to the legendary George Clayton Johnson (“The Twilight Zone,” “Logan’s Run”) and direction by Marc Daniels.  

While not one of Star Trek’s best, “The Man Trap” did introduce a few elements that would become series staples later on…

“The Man Trap”

Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in command, with Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) filling in at the navigation console.

The episode begins with the familiar captain’s log narration from Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) telling us that the starship Enterprise—under temporary command of First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy)—is orbiting planet M-113 (catchy name), where a landing party will perform a routine resupply/health-check of a married archeological team working there; one of whom is an ex-lover of ship’s surgeon, Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley).

Note: Yes, the very first person seen occupying the captain’s chair of the Enterprise in the debut episode is none other than Mr. Spock. Odd that Spock would call “The Galileo Seven” his ‘first command’ later on, since he takes the captain’s chair many times before that episode.  Also odd is seeing communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) at the navigation console, instead of her familiar communications board, which she occupies shortly after. 

Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and “Crewman Darnell” (Michael Zaslow) beam down to the colorfully named “M-113” for a routine health check on the archeological expedition stationed there.

We then see the landing party of McCoy, Kirk and “Crewman Darnell” (Michael Zaslow) beam down to the hot, arid surface of M-113, where the ruins of an ancient, lost civilization are the focus of Robert and Nancy Crater—a husband-wife archeological team who’ve been on the planet for the past five years. 

Note: This was the first time viewers saw people ‘beam down’ to a planet; a familiar enough sight to Star Trek fans today, but this was all-new on September 8th, 1966—a good three months before I was born, in fact.  I would discover Star Trek TOS in reruns later on, during the early-mid 1970s. Around the same time I used to catch the the Animated Series, too.  As a kid, I simply thought of TOS and TAS as two sides of the same show.

McCoy is nervous at the prospect of reuniting with ‘the one that got away’…

As they search for Professor Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal), the landing party enter one of the many nearby ruins, where the Craters have set up quarters. Kirk gives McCoy a handful of weeds, teasingly suggesting he might “pick some flowers” for his ex-girlfriend Nancy.  McCoy is clearly anxious over seeing his former flame Nancy once again, despite her marriage to Crater.

Note: An interesting piece of McCoy’s backstory is established here with former flame Nancy. In the TOS Series’ Bible (a reference book for would-be writers of the show), McCoy was supposed to be divorced; an idea rekindled for 2009’s “Star Trek” movie reboot.  He was also to have an alienated adult daughter named Joanna, who appeared in earlier drafts of season 3’s “The Way to Eden” as one of the rebellious ‘space hippies,’ but that subplot was nixed in favor of creating a love interest for navigator Chekov. 

L’Oréal… because she’s worth it.
McCoy sees a much younger looking Nancy Crater (Jeanne Bal) than Kirk, who sees a more age-appropriate version…

Speaking of the devil, Nancy Crater is heard singing before she walks in. To the astonishment of McCoy, she looks exactly as he remembers her; a young woman with smooth skin and raven-black hair.  Kirk however, sees an appropriately middle-aged woman, with a few lines in her face and graying hair.  Meanwhile Darnell sees a stunning, 20-something blonde (Francine Pyne) who looks exactly like a girl he’d “left behind on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.” A confession which draws a sharp rebuke from McCoy.  An embarrassed Darnell is then excused by Kirk, and he steps outside.  Kirk jokingly suggests he’ll step outside too, as Nancy mockingly asks, “What? And let Plum examine me all alone?” Naturally, Kirk teases McCoy about his nickname of “Plum.” A flustered McCoy then suggests conducting both medical examinations when the Professor is back at base camp.

Note: As a longtime married geezer, I’m not sure how I’d feel about my a clearly pining ex-boyfriend conducting my wife’s physical…

The Many Faces of Nancy…
Meanwhile, Crewman Darnell (who isn’t even wearing red) sees yet another woman altogether (Francine Pyne).

As Nancy walks outside to find her husband, she once again appears as the blonde bombshell Darnell remembers. Looking Darnell in the eye, she suggestively remarks, “Quite warm here, isn’t it?” before tossing a handkerchief in his direction, which he picks up… and follows her.

Note: Before there was TNG’s Risa, there was “Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.” I wonder if that was a reference to Catalina Island, off the coast of California, a once-popular celebrity vacation spot for many decades which was heavily invested in by William Wrigley Jr. (and later his son) of the famous Wrigley’s chewing gum empire.  Despite being part of the state of California, Catalina Island has been owned by the Wrigley family since 1919, and is where my wife and I honeymooned, in fact (at Wrigley Mansion). Lovely place.

Cater to the Crater.
McCoy meets someone who easily out-curmudgeons him; the prickly Professor Crater (Alfred Ryder).

After “Nancy” (who’s clearly not quite human) leaves, Professor Crater arrives.  The ill-tempered archeologist immediately resents the presence of the Enterprise personnel, and demands that they leave ‘his’ planet—asking only for additional supplies of salt. Both Kirk and McCoy cite regulations, and the Professor reluctantly consents to the physical.  Realizing the doctor is the same Leonard McCoy spoken of by Nancy, Crater is intrigued and wonders if he’s ‘seen’ Nancy.  When McCoy remarks on her unexpectedly youthful appearance, both Crater and Kirk kindly suggest the good doctor might be seeing her through the filter of his memories. Ever the Southern gentleman, McCoy politely disagrees, and continues with Crater’s checkup until a scream is heard from outside…

Note: Crater almost lets the cat out of the bag when McCoy remarks on her appearance, suggesting that when “she lets—when you see her again she will be of a believable age.” The word “lets” implying that “Nancy” controls how she appears to others. This also implies that whatever “Nancy” is, she isn’t a true shapeshifter, either—she controls her appearance by telepathic suggestion, modulating it to whomever is looking at her (it?).

Darnell has really cut back on his sodium intake…

As Kirk, McCoy and Crater rush towards the direction of Nancy’s scream, they find her standing near the dead body of Darnell, who has gruesome red rings all over his face, and a piece of a plant wedged inside his mouth. “Nancy” is shaken, and has to compose herself before explaining that she wanted to apologize to Darnell over what happened, and when she saw him, he’d already taken a bite of a local “Borgia plant” before falling to his death.

Note: The ringlike scars all over Darnell’s face look very much like the telltale sign of those infected with parasitic ringworm; a fungal infection.  Making Darnell’s attacker a “salt vampire” (as is later revealed) is also an effective way of bypassing network censors at the time, who might’ve objected to seeing bloody fang marks on people’s necks during a “family show” on early Thursday evening.  Not to mention that blood-sucking space vampires had already been seen in Mario Bava’s “Planet of Vampires,” aka “Terror in Space” (1965) and in Roger Corman’s “Queen of Blood,” aka “Planet of Blood” (1966); both of which were heavy influences on Ridley Scott’s “ALIEN,” some 13 years later.

The Craters, McCoy and Kirk see the results of the sprung “Man Trap”…

A confused McCoy now sees the seemingly shaken Nancy as she appeared to Kirk and Crater earlier; as a graying, middle-aged woman.  An angry Kirk demands to know what happened, not buying the Craters’ implausible explanation that crewman Darnell somehow took a random bite of a local poisonous plant.  For their safety, Kirk asks that the Craters beam back to the ship, but they refuse. “Nancy” then mentions their need for more salt tablets, to which her husband suspiciously replies, “I’ll take care of the provisioning, Nancy.” 

Note: It’s not a great mystery of who, or what killed Darnell, nor is it any wonder of the motive—salt.  This episode isn’t so much a murder mystery as it is a monster show. In that way, it reminds me of 1974’s short-lived TV series “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” where much of the episodes’ running times were spent setting up the monster’s unique modus operandi before intrepid reporter Carl Kolchak would slay the creature.

Spock and Uhura enjoy a flirty moment before getting some bad news.

Aboard the Enterprise, we see Spock reminding Lt. Uhura of an error in her frequencies’ column, to which she kiddingly tells Spock that if she hears the word ‘frequency’ again, she’ll cry. The half-Vulcan Spock doesn’t understand.  Uhura then teases Spock, asking why he doesn’t tell her she’s beautiful, or what his planet Vulcan looks like under a full moon?  Once again, a clueless Spock drily states, “Vulcan has no moon,” to which Uhura quips, “I’m not surprised, Mr. Spock.” This flirtatious moment of theirs is broken by an urgent message from the transporter room—the landing party is beaming back, but with a fatality.  Spock simply acknowledges the message, which offends Uhura.  She reminds Spock that Kirk—his only friend—might be the fatality.  Spock coolly reminds her that the transporter room is well-staffed, and they’ll call if they need him.  Spock out.

Note: To those who think the Spock-Uhura romance in 2009’s “Star Trek” movie was implausible, this scene is a reminder of the flirtatious history between these two characters. Aside from this moment in “The Man Trap,” there’s also Uhura’s serenade of Spock in “Charlie X,” and other brief moments of closeness suggested between them throughout the series.  I’m not saying that they had a relationship in this timeline, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility, either (see: Spock’s retconned romance with Nurse Chapel in the recent Strange New Worlds episode “Charades”). Spock gets around…

Kirk is a bit fed up with McCoy’s pining over lost love while a man lies dead in his sickbay.

Having returned to the Enterprise, Kirk and McCoy are in sickbay, standing near the covered body of Darnell.  McCoy is puzzled; according to all the tests, there’s nothing wrong with Darnell.  Kirk isn’t satisfied, asking about the poisonous plant found in Darnell’s mouth, but McCoy insists it wasn’t swallowed, or it would’ve been found in the autopsical scans. A tired McCoy then shrugs, saying that perhaps his eyes are playing tricks on him, since he saw Nancy “through a romantic haze.”  Angrily, Kirk snaps, “How your lost love affects your vision doesn’t interest me, doctor.  I lost a man.  I want to know what killed him!”  Taken aback by Kirk’s fury, McCoy meekly replies, “Yes, sir.” 

Note: A key difference between Kirk and most other captains in other Star Trek shows is his very unprofessional tendency to lose his cool with his senior officers. Normally, Picard, Pike or Sisko would find a private moment to discreetly express disappointment with their officers, but not Kirk—he just rips right into them, often on the bridge, or some other open spot. Not cool, captain.

“He was a-salted, Captain…”
Spock has made a fascinating discovery about Crewman Darnell’s cause of death.

On the bridge, Kirk gets a relayed request through Uhura from a ‘Captain Dominquez’ regarding the Enterprise’s delay at M-113. Kirk smiles and asks Uhura to “tell Jose he’ll get his red peppers.” With that, Kirk is summoned to sickbay for a startling discovery; a full autopsy revealed that Darnell died from a sudden, total depletion of all salt in his body.  Something so improbable, it was overlooked. McCoy admits to it being an error on his part, and Kirk apologizes for his outburst earlier.  McCoy tells him to forget it. Kirk then mentions the one request both Craters went out of their way to mention—salt tablets. 

Note: This is one of those mysteries where the audience is one step or more ahead of the characters, and we have to wait and watch them solve what we’ve already guessed; “Nancy” is some kind of salt-depleting creature with the power to assume illusionary forms to lure her prey.  

Is Crater worth his salt as an archeologist?

Kirk and McCoy then beam down to M-113 with two additional crewmen for backup, Green (Bruce Watson) and Sturgeon (John Arndt). Kirk means to interrogate Professor Crater about his coincidental requests for additional salt.  An irate Crater then shows Kirk a glass container containing their nearly exhausted supply of salt tablets. McCoy confirms that it’s salt, and Crater then asks what’s so “mysterious” about needing salt on a hot and arid planet like M-113?  Kirk tells McCoy and Crater that he doesn’t like mysteries, because they give him “a bellyache.” With Kirk and McCoy momentarily distracted, Crater runs off with a handful of salt tablets…

Note: I assume “Crewman Sturgeon” was named for author/screenwriter Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985), who is credited with writing the TOS episodes “Shore Leave” and “Amok Time” as well as many sci-fi novels, such as “The Dreaming Jewels.” When I interviewed author/screenwriter Marc Zicree, aka “Mr. Sci-Fi” (TNG, “First Contact,” DS9, “Far Beyond the Stars”), he told me that Sturgeon was a friend and mentor of his as well.  Actor John Arndt, who played Crewman Sturgeon (sans credit) only recently passed away in 2021 at age 92. Arndt made five total appearances on Star Trek TOS in various background roles.

She’s looking a bit Green today, isn’t she?
“Nancy” assumes the identity of the late “Crewman Green” (Bruce Watson).

Kirk and McCoy go off in search of Crater around the ruins of the base camp. Meanwhile, Crater is trying to call “Nancy” out with an offering of salt, but runs when he hears Kirk and McCoy coming his way.  McCoy then finds the lifeless body of Sturgeon, with the telltale red rings on his face.  Kirk, worried for the safety of Green, shouts for him to report back at once.  “Nancy” is now standing over Green’s equally lifeless body, as she assumes his form and reports back to Kirk and McCoy.  Once there, “Green” tells Kirk that Sturgeon was already dead when he found him, and he was circling back to find whatever was responsible. Worried for Nancy, McCoy repeatedly calls out for her as well, but Kirk angrily tells McCoy to “stop thinking with your glands,” reminding him they’d have better luck locating both of the Craters using sensitive equipment aboard the ship.

Note: As the first episode of Star Trek broadcast, “Man Trap” is an atypical introduction to the character of Dr. McCoy, since the crusty old ‘country doctor’ was rarely so lovesick during the course of the series (that ‘honor’ usually went to Kirk).  However, season 3 saw McCoy enter into a brief ‘marriage’ to the high priestess “Natira” from the asteroid-world of Yonada in “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.” “The Man Trap” sees McCoy acting like a hormonal teenager. 

Star Trek history is made with the first broadcast appearance of the transporter room. Still an excellent visual effect.

Kirk, McCoy and the imposter “Green” beam back to the Enterprise, and Kirk orders the transporter chief to beam Sturgeon’s body back up, as well.  He also advices the agitated McCoy to get some rest.  On the bridge, Spock is continuing to scan for both Craters, but only finds the heat signature of Professor Crater, whom he notes is circling, as if searching for something.  Kirk orders him to increase the scanning radius. 

Note: This marks the first broadcast order appearance of the famed (or infamous) transporter room, and its appearance is placed in a matter-of-fact moment, which is exactly how Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned such futuristic devices on the show to appear; as everyday, workable technology that would call no more attention to themselves than a station wagon in the Brady Bunch’s driveway. 

“Go chase an asteroid…”
“Crewman Green” loves Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and her salty attitude…

We then see Kirk’s yeoman, Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) bringing a tray of food to Mr. Sulu (George Takei), who’s currently off-duty in his botanical lab (botany is a hobby of the Enterprise helm officer).  Nibbling on Sulu’s celery stalk (shame!), Janice encounters “Green,” and asks him what happened down on the planet.  Ignoring her question, “Green” looks hungrily at the salt shaker on the food tray.  As “Green” reaches for it, Rand slaps his wrist, “Who do you think you are?” she scolds.  As Rand walks away, “Green” skulks through the corridors, pursuing Rand and the food tray…

Note: This marks the first broadcast appearance of Grace Lee Whitney’s Yeoman Rand as well, who was a semi-regular before the character was sadly dropped midway through season 1.  However, Rand was not forgotten by the fans, prompting her return in cameos throughout the Star Trek movies, which ended with her appearance as the comm officer aboard the USS Excelsior under Captain Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and in Star Trek: Voyager’s “Flashback.” Whitney and costar Takei also appeared together in the “Star Trek: Phase II” fan film, “World Enough and Time” (written and directed by the aforementioned writer Marc Zicree). Whitney had a hard life after her time on Star Trek TOS, turning to prostitution and drug abuse before eventually getting clean. I met Whitney at one of my first conventions back in 2002. Sadly, the actress passed away in 2015.

Sulu (George Takei) enjoys lunch, courtesy of his friend (and future communications officer aboard the USS Excelsior) Janice Rand.

Rand then delivers the food tray to Sulu, who’s hard at work off-duty in his botanical lab, where he keeps a variety of alien flora, including a somewhat animated plant he calls “Beauregard.” Rand is a bit creeped out by some of the plants, which she thinks might grab her.  As the two friends chat, “Green” awkwardly enters without saying a word. Rand tells Sulu, “He’s not talking today.” As “Green” passes Beauregard, the five-fingered plant (an unconvincing hand puppet) reacts violently—like a caged bird in the presence of a natural predator.  Sulu struggles to calm the plant, by gently stroking the pink buds along its tendrils. “Very sensitive,” he says. The mute “Green” leaves, and Rand wonders aloud if he’s gone “space-happy.”

“Go Green” (no really–GO, Green. Now).
Sulu’s alien hand puppet–er, plant Beauregard, is terrified by the presence of “Crewman Green.”

Note: A nice character-establishing scene between Rand and Sulu that was often cut for time when I used to watch TOS in syndication during the 1970s and 1980s. I first saw this scene sometime in the late-1980s or early 1990s during a rare uncut airing, and it was quite an eye-opener.  This is also the first and only time we hear the term “Great Bird of the Galaxy” (which Sulu uses to bless Rand’s planet for her generosity).  That was series creator Gene Roddenberry’s affectionate nickname on the convention circuit before he passed away in 1991.  Clearly Rand and Sulu were being groomed for more significance in the series, however, this failed to happen as Rand was written off and Sulu’s prominence diminished. TOS became less of an ensemble series as Kirk, Spock and McCoy began to emerge as the series’ triumvirate.

Uhura meets a fellow Swahili speaker (Vince Howard); someone other than Dr. M’Benga, of course.

Elsewhere on the ship, we see Lt. Uhura chatting with an admiring technician about the ‘rattling door’ to her quarters.  As she walks away, “Green” spots her and changes into a handsome crewman (Vince Howard) in technician’s coveralls. The “Crewman” then approaches Uhura. Struck by the tall man’s handsome features, she asks, “Crewman, do I know you?” The “Crewman” replies that she was just thinking of someone like him, before speaking to her in her native Swahili.  An intrigued Uhura stares into the the stranger’s eyes, just before the “Crewman” assumes a menacing stance—his hands reaching for her face.  In the nick of time, Uhura is then paged by Captain Kirk, requesting her presence on the bridge.  The interruption breaks the mysterious, hypnotic hold of the stranger, as Uhura rushes to the bridge…

Note: Once again, another nice character moment for an underused member of the TOS cast. We learn that Uhura’s native language is Swahili (we’d later learn in “Strange New Worlds” that the character hails from Kenya, like Enterprise’s former chief surgeon Dr. M’Benga). Uhura would later be seen speaking Swahili in season 2’s “The Changeling” after the Nomad probe erases her memory, including her education and linguistic abilities, forcing her relearn English. I recently read an interesting online fan theory that suggested Uhura’s memory erasure in “The Changeling” explains her forgetting the Klingon language in “The Undiscovered Country,” after both 2009’s “Star Trek” and “Strange New Worlds” established the character as a linguistics prodigy who was fluent in Klingon. The late Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022) shines in such moments, and I wish she had more of them. 

“Nancy” makes no bones about her jones for Bones…

The “Crewman” is once again frustrated in its quest for a salty human to snack on, and it comes across the quarters of Leonard McCoy, where it assumes its default form of Nancy Crater.  The door opens, and McCoy eagerly welcomes “Nancy” in, telling her he’s been worried sick about her.  Avoiding any discussion of how she managed to beam aboard the Enterprise, “Nancy” takes McCoy in a passionate embrace—causing the good doctor to fret about being hit upon by a married woman. “Nancy” tells McCoy she prefers him over her husband, but Southern gentleman McCoy has no appetite for adultery, as he offers “Nancy” refuge without hanky-panky. “Nancy” then tells McCoy that he looks so tired, and suggests he take some of the sleeping pills that Kirk offered to him earlier.  Soon, “Nancy” tucks McCoy in bed, using his quarters as a safe space from which to plot her next move…

Next: In a nice bit of continuity, the Salt Vampire always bites its knuckles in whatever form it assumes.  Each actor who plays the role includes this telltale mannerism.

Sulu and Rand find another example of Ol’ Salty’s handiwork…

As Sulu and Rand exit his botany lab, they come across the corpse of a environmental systems technician, who has the same rings on his face as the other victims of the Salt Vampire. Sulu immediately reports the casualty to the bridge.  Frustrated by a lack of information on the force that’s been killing Enterprise crewman left and right, Kirk and Spock beam down to M-113 once again for answers.  When news of the technician’s death reaches Kirk, he orders the ship to intruder alert status.  As the alarm klaxon wails, McCoy is sound asleep from the sedative, as the Salt Vampire assumes his form to answer the alert.  Coming to the bridge, “McCoy” offers his help in locating ‘the creature.’  Sulu is puzzled by the characterization of the intruder as a ‘creature,’ since this hasn’t yet been established. Nevertheless, Sulu briefs “McCoy” on their progress so far…

Note: I once read in Stephen Whitfield’s “The Making of Star Trek” (an excellent book) that the working title for this episode was originally going to be “The Unreal McCoy.”  While “The Man Trap” isn’t exactly a gem of a title, “The Unreal McCoy” sounds more like something from the original “Lost in Space” (1965-1968).  Not that my opinion matters, but I would’ve preferred a title such as “The Last of Its Kind.” 

Break out the phasers.
Spock and Kirk have had just about enough of Crater’s crap.

On the planet, Kirk and Spock locate a desperate Crater, who’s wielding a hand laser to ward off Kirk and Spock. Crater blasts a nearby stone archway, as Kirk and Spock use the ruins and natural topography as cover. Crouching low to avoid being detected (and fired upon), Kirk orders Spock to set his phaser at one-quarter, and he’ll leave his on stun. Kirk realizes that Crater is trying to scare them off, not kill them.  The two Enterprise officers split up; Spock provides a distraction, and Kirk stuns Crater. 

Note: The hand laser that Crater wields is a leftover prop from the original pilot “The Cage,” and was also used in “What Are Little Girls Made Of” a few episodes later. 

Crater finds Kirk and Spock simply stunning

Rushing over to the stunned Professor Crater, Kirk and Spock find him conscious but shaky. As he slowly comes around, he begins to answer their questions (you can hear actor Alfred Ryder’s voice electronically pitched down after he’s ‘stunned’ by Kirk’s phaser). Crater confirms that the real Nancy was killed by the creature over a year ago, and that the creature has assumed her form since then.  Crater resisted killing the creature, which he recognized as both intelligent and the last of its kind, comparing it to Earth’s “passenger pigeon, or the buffalo.” Eventually, he and the creature formed a symbiotic relationship, which the intrusion of the Enterprise disrupted. While Crater suggests there is no difference between this creature’s right to survive with the extinct creatures of Earth. Kirk angrily responds, “There’s one difference, professor. Your creature is killing my people!” 

Note: One of the many issues I have with this episode is its colonialist attitude. Kirk, Spock and even Professor Crater are all strangers to M-113, yet they assume control over the fate of the last surviving member of the indigenous population. Crater wishes to protect it, while the Enterprise crew wishes only to hunt and destroy it. This episode is like “Devil in the Dark,” but without the revelatory breakthrough in understanding that made that episode a classic.

“McCoy” (ahem) sits in on a briefing with Kirk, Crater and Spock.
“The Unreal McCoy” was an actual title once considered for this episode–no joke..

Beaming back to the ship with Crater in custody, Kirk and Spock hold a briefing which is attended by the intruder “McCoy,” as the actual McCoy remains sound asleep in his quarters.  Spock tells the assembled officers that supplies of salt have been left as lures throughout the ship, but nothing has approached them yet. Kirk then asks “McCoy” for his medical report, and “McCoy” suggests they could simply leave salt for the creature without tricks.  Both “McCoy” and Crater are now oddly simpatico in their championing of the creature’s right to survive (they’re not entirely wrong, either). Kirk then asks Crater if he’s learned to see the creature in whatever form it assumes. Crater answers yes, but refuses to cooperate in the creature’s destruction.  Spock suggests “truth serum” to force the professor’s cooperation.  A reluctant “McCoy” is then ordered to administer the drug, with Spock volunteering to accompany “the doctor” for the interrogation…

Note: When the Salt Vampire assumes human form, it’s clearly able to communicate with humans, and even read human thoughts.  The briefing scene would’ve been a perfect opportunity to simply ask how they could help the creature survive without murder.  In McCoy’s guise, the Salt Vampire even suggests leaving salt without subterfuge.  And why not?  Why not simply leave the Salt Vampire on its native planet with a ton of salt (or a replicator), and go in peace?  I find the resolution of this episode deeply frustrating in its narrow-mindedness.

Spock’s copper-based green blood leaves a bad taste in the creature’s suckers.

Not long afterward, Kirk gets an emergency summons to sickbay, where he finds Spock, lying on a diagnostic bed, bleeding green blood at his left temple. Spock confirms that “McCoy” was the creature and it attacked him.  Fortunately, the half-Vulcan’s body chemistry was sufficiently different from a human’s to be useless to the creature, and it went off in search of other prey. In the next room, Yeoman Rand finds the corpse of Professor Crater as well. 

Note: Clearly the creature is facing great food source insecurity, and is feasting on the Enterprise crew as a starving person would after walking into a pizza parlor or a candy shop (probably overeating to its own detriment).  Again, if only they would just TALK to the creature while it’s in human form and let it have as much salt as it wants… 

Salt of the Earth.
“Nancy” wants a little FaceTime with Captain Kirk…

Once again assuming the form of “Nancy,” the Salt Vampire retreats into McCoy’s quarters with Kirk not far behind.  A groggy McCoy awakens and offers “Nancy” his protection. Kirk enters McCoy’s cabin with his phaser trained on Nancy, and salt in his free hand. “Nancy” hungrily gazes at the salt, while a genuinely confused McCoy wonders aloud if Kirk has gone insane.  As “Nancy” creeps towards the captain’s salt, McCoy struggles for Kirk’s phaser.  “Nancy” then casts her telepathic spell over a disarmed Kirk, immobilizing him instantly.  McCoy, still holding Kirk’s phaser, watches disbelievingly as “Nancy” then reaches for Kirk’s face…

“Suck on THIS!”
A reluctant McCoy takes aim and fires at the Salt Vampire.

A bandaged Spock then enters McCoy’s cabin and watches as McCoy is standing motionless while “Nancy” is touching the captain’s face! Spock shouts at McCoy to fire, but McCoy refuses to shoot his beloved “Nancy.”  Spock runs up to “Nancy” and begins repeatedly hitting her in the face with his combined fists, shouting “This is not Nancy! If she were Nancy, could she take THIS?” McCoy, horrified at the sight of Spock beating the crap out of his former flame, screams for him to stop.  The unfazed “Nancy” then effortlessly knocks Spock into a bookshelf.  The exhausted Vulcan asks, “Is THAT Nancy, doctor?”  As “Nancy” once again advances towards Kirk, McCoy holds his phaser and shouts, “No!”  With that command, “Nancy” turns to face McCoy and dissolves into her true form as the Salt Vampire (Sandra Lee Gimpel). The creature then resumes its attack on Kirk, who screams in agony as it makes contact. Hearing Kirk’s scream, McCoy stuns the creature and it briefly recoils before changing back into “Nancy” and begging for McCoy’s mercy.  McCoy, knowing his Nancy is long dead, says “Lord forgive me,” and kills the creature. “Nancy” then crumples to the deck, and reverts to her true form.  As McCoy looks on in shock and grief, Kirk humbly offers his condolences, “I’m sorry, Bones.”

Couldn’t they have just given the poor hungry creature some salt??

Note: The Salt Vampire design was another masterful creation from the late Wah Chang (1917-2003), the brilliant prop maker who’s credited with designing the show’s phasers, tricorders, communicators and other iconic props. Chang also had a career in feature films, having also designed the iconic titular prop for 1960’s feature film production of H.G. Wells’ novel, “The Time Machine.” Chang’s Salt Vampire is a hideous, snout-faced creature with shaggy gray hair and suction cups lining its large hands; its withered, pathetic appearance suggests an ancient, starving creature on its last legs. 

The unused redesign of Wah Chang’s original Salt Vampire for the deleted Rura Penthe sequence of 2009’s “Star Trek.”

The creature would also make an appearance as a display piece in the collection of the godlike being “Trelane” (William Campbell) in the episode “The Squire of Gothos.”  A redesigned Salt Vampire was also designed for the Rura Penthe Klingon prison sequence of 2009’s “Star Trek,” but that entire sequence was cut from the final film. What a waste… 

The Buffalo Shot.

Back on the bridge, Kirk and Spock are ready to leave the nightmare of M-113 behind.  Spock observes that Kirk seems to be lost in thought.  When asked, Kirk quietly replies, “I was thinking about the buffalo, Mr. Spock.” With that, Kirk orders the Enterprise to get underway…

Note: Kirk’s expression of regret over the creature’s loss feels more like a shoehorned-in afterthought than a genuine feeling of remorse, despite Shatner’s nice line-reading. One of the problems I have with rare ‘bug-hunt’ stories like this in Star Trek’s canon (including the redesigned Gorn in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds) is that they feel so out of step with the mission statement of the series; “To seek out new life, and new civilizations…” For that reason, “The Man Trap” will forever remain an average episode that lucked into being the ‘premiere’.  Personally, I think “The Corbomite Maneuver” would’ve been a far better choice for a debut offering, as it’s more in line with the series that would follow. 

The End.

Summing It Up

In all honesty, “The Man Trap” is not Star Trek’s finest hour. The morality of this story is somewhat retrograde from the series that’d follow. On the plus side, there is a nice space-horror mood established, even if it’s not typical for the show. Composer Alexander Courage’s score is eerie, lonely and moody—also not typical for a show lauded for its brash adventure and optimism. Production values for the time are impressive, as is the late Jerry Finnerman’s cinematography—he was TV’s answer to Italian horror maestro Mario Bava when it came to colorful lighting setups. 

DeForest Kelley (1920-1999) is highlighted in the episode.
It’s a shame his name wouldn’t be added to the main title credits until the second season.

Sound effects and other bits of series iconography aren’t quite ironed out yet. The communicators sometimes make their customary chirping, other times they don’t. The turbo-lift makes a really loud, siren-like noise.  McCoy’s medical gear makes unfamiliar sounds. Spock’s scanning equipment on the bridge sounds like a cartoon Martian’s antennae rising from its head.

The episode gives spotlights to Uhura, Sulu and Yeoman Rand, who would lose prominence as Kirk, Spock and McCoy came to dominate the ensemble. Other than Uhura, the women on the Enterprise are seen carrying trays of food to male crew members (yikes). Sulu’s botany hobby, which is referenced later on in the series, is shown in full bloom here (excuse the pun). Effective guest performances by Alfred Ryder as the prickly Professor Crater and Jeanne Bal as “Nancy” (the Salt Vampire’s default disguise), along with a creepy Bruce Watson as “Crewman Green” (also the Salt Vampire). 

The Salt Vampire had as much right to exist as the Horta in “Devil in the Dark,” or the Gorn captain in “Arena.”
All it needed was a condiment the Enterprise crew would pour on their lunch without a second thought…

It’s disappointing to see Spock so gung-ho about killing the desperately hungry Salt Vampire. As we see later on, he should be the character most sympathetic to an endangered species (“Devil in the Dark,” “Metamorphosis” etc). I also can’t understand why the Enterprise couldn’t just leave a ton of salt behind on M-113 using the ship’s manufacturing abilities?  And since the Salt Vampire could both verbally and telepathically communicate with humans in its various guises, why wasn’t any attempt made to negotiate with the creature when it was in human form?  There are missed opportunities could’ve elevated this episode into a true classic.

Both Kirk and Spock would later handle desperate aliens much better than they do in “The Man Trap.”

Some of the best moments of “The Man Trap” are the little details; Uhura mentioning the rattling door to her quarters, Kirk consoling a despondent McCoy, Yeoman Rand chatting it up with Sulu in his botanical lab, and Kirk telling Uhura that his fellow captain Jose Dominguez “will get his peppers” even if they’re a little late. These bits of dialogue make the Enterprise feel like a thriving space community. That same space community would still be ‘boldly going where no man (no one) has gone before’ 57 years later (see: “Strange New Worlds”). 

While I personally think “The Corbomite Maneuver” might’ve made a better proof-of-concept for the series that followed (superior, misunderstood alien tests humans and is impressed), “The Man Trap” serves as an interesting reminder of just how far the franchise has come since its inauspicious debut on that Thursday evening of September 8th, 1966.  

Where To Watch

All three seasons of Star Trek TOS are available to stream on Paramount+. Star Trek TOS can be purchased digitally on Prime Video and YouTube (prices vary). The series is also available to own on physical media (DVD/BluRay) and can be purchased on (prices vary by seller).

Images:, Paramount+,

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    It’s fascinating to look back now at this point where Star Trek started. I remember watching re runs of Star Trek when I was a kid, it was virtually on a loop it seemed, and always in a different order. It was years later until I realised this was where Kirk’s adventures began. First episode I ever saw was the Corbomite Manoeuvre, as a kid I always thought that was a first episode LOL 🙂

    1. “Corbomite…” would’ve been my choice for the debut since it has all the key Star Trek ingredients, including the hopeful resolution.

    2. scifimike70 says:

      The classic Treks were in a different order to begin with for me too. Learning about their original orders and certainly when they resorted back to that order in much later reruns surprised me a bit. It’s all the more interesting to know when we think about the kind of pilots for later Trek shows, like Encounter At Farpoint for TNG or Emissary for DS9. And thanks to appeal of Star Trek over time, certainly when getting into sci-fi at the youngest ages, it’s easier to have sufficient regard for episodes like The Man Trap.

      Because to be a quite natural sci-fi fan is to effortlessly appreciate its unique dimensionality, even if they may somehow include sci-fi horror which as The Man Trap proved had its place even in Trek. Of course Roddenberry’s own father after Trek was first on the air was openly outraged to the point of apologizing to all the neighbors for it immediately afterwards. So it can be said that The Man Trap as a ‘first’ episode didn’t quite do the trick for everybody. It’s still in its own right though a fine example of the chances that the 60s sci-fi TV was prepared to take to get on the air.

      1. It’s also not the only Trek series to get off to a rocky start. 😉

      2. scifimike70 says:

        Happy Star Trek Day! 🖖🏻🖖🏼🖖🏽🖖🏾🖖🏿

      3. Happiest of Star Trek days to you, my friend 🖖🏼😉

  2. Nancy says:

    Great detailed review of this episode! While I have watched a majority of TOS, it has been very piecemeal- I keep on telling myself I need to watch them start to finish.

    1. I watched them out of order in syndication, so technically I’ve never watched them in order, either. 😉

  3. firemandk says:

    Nice write up: I got back from 2-1/2 months in the Philippines and had to deal with some health issues ( everything is fine, don’t drink the water…lol) but take your salt tablets there ! (Haha, bad joke) I also read your write up on the Pilot episodes , I don’t think I read those before, but may have : it’s like an episode of Star Trek TOS, even if you’ve seen it before, you’ll watch it again ( and again and again) .

    1. So glad you’re feeling better (drinking bad water can be as nasty as a Salt Vampire), and I appreciate your taking time to read (and re-read) my old posts on the pilots. Thanks again!

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