Five decades and two years ago, the very first Star Trek episode ever, “The Man Trap,” aired on NBC on September 8, 1966. Though the influential sci-fi franchise would later be known for its progressive politics, the first glimpse of Trek was an almost by-the-numbers alien monster story, with just a hint of contemplation toward the end.
Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, and Sulu tango with a shape-shifting alien that sucks salt out of its victims’ bodies and is briefly disguised as Bones’ old girlfriend. In the end, Spock ends up having to punch the extra-powerful alien (the Vulcan neck pinch hadn’t been invented yet!), and then, later, Bones shoots the monster dead. Despite charming performances from George Takei and Nichelle Nichols in this episode, clearly Trek didn’t put its best space boot forward.
Savvy fans are, of course, already aware that “The Man Trap” was never intended to be the first episode of Star Trek and was in, in fact, the fifth episode of the original series filmed. It was aired first only because the studio considered it to the most straight-up conventional sci-fi story of the episodes that had been completed thus far. This is shocking when you consider that Star Trek had not one but two proper pilot episodes, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
Still, for most hardcore Trekkies, all of that is old news. So, on Star Trek’s birthday, here are six odd facts about its first episode, “The Man Trap,” that you either might not know or never noticed.
Canada jumped the phaser and aired "The Man Trap" two days early
Famously, the anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek’s first episode is September 8th, 1966 on NBC, in America. But it turns out that the CBC in Canada aired the show two days early, on September 6th. This little-known fact emerged two years ago, surrounding the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the entire Trek franchise. Larry Nemecek, Trek historian and host of the podcast The Trek Files confirms this: “I was shocked that it took 50 years to penetrate us [Americans]! It's apparently true. I’ve seen scans of Canadian newspaper TV listings that show it.”
The director of the episode came from ‘I Love Lucy’
The guy who actually directed “The Man Trap” was a veteran TV director named Marc Daniels. Prior to Star Trek, he directed 38 episodes of I Love Lucy. This connection makes sense when you realize that at first, the original Star Trek was produced by Desilu Studios, a company founded by Lucille Ball.
Hardcore Trek fans have over the years cited Lucille Ball as being one of the established TV stars who believed in Star Trek. As for Daniels, he is tied for directing the most episodes of the original Trek with Joseph Penvey at 14 episodes apiece. But if you count Daniels’s “The Menagerie Parts I and II” as two episodes, then Daniels has the most. (Fans consider the episodes directed by Daniels and Penvey to be among the very best of the classic series.)
Marc Daniels also appears, briefly, in a later episode that he also directed, called “The Changeling." (Which is NOT about the shapeshifters from Deep Space Nine, sorry DS9 fans.) When Kirk and Spock need to find the identity of an old scientist named Jackson Roykirk, they look him up in the computer. The man in the picture is Daniels.
There's a cool side effect to setting phasers on stun... that's never used again
In this episode, Spock and Kirk use “phasers on stun!” for the first time in all of Trek. The idea that Starfleet has non-lethal futuristic zap-guns is obviously a staple of Trek, but the weird thing in this episode is that it establishes that someone who has been “stunned” by a phaser wakes up with a groggy-slowed-down voice. After Dr. Crater is stunned, he talks in slow motion. This never happens in any version of Star Trek again. Usually, people who have been stunned just wake up a little bit later, talking normal, or complaining of a “hangover.” (Like Zefram Cochrane First Contact.)
When Nancy Crater sings, she's stealing Uhura's stolen voice
When the character of Nancy Crater (Jeanne Bal) first appears, she’s briefly singing. But, it’s not the voice of Jeanne Bal. Instead, a sample of Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) singing from a different episode (“Charlie X”) was briefly dubbed.
The Writer of the Episode Also Wrote Logan’s Run and a Novelization of Ocean’s 11
George Clayton Johnson wrote “The Man Trap,” thought it was known as several different other titles before that one. Johnson’s original title was the “The Damsel with a Dulcimer,” though the episode is called “The Unreal McCoy” in a 1967 book adaptation by James Blish. Blish’s adaptation also includes Dr. McCoy performing a gory autopsy on the first victim of the salt vampire.
In addition to Star Trek, George Clayton Johnson is probably most famous for co-authoring the novel Logan’s Run along with William F. Nolan. Prior to Star Trek, Johnson also wrote the movie novelization version of the original 1960 film version of Ocean’s 11.
Everything about the episode literally contradicts what 'Star Trek' is supposedly about
In the first seconds of the episode, Kirk’s Captain’s Log reveals the starship Enterprise is visiting the planet M-113 on a routine mission to pretty much check up on an archaeologist and his wife. Then, after the opening credits roll, and we hear that now-famous opening monologue, we find out that Star Trek is a TV show about a spaceship that is boldly going, and actively seeking out new life and all sorts of nifty stuff. Great!
Then, when the episode starts back up again, Kirk again uses the word “routine.” So, Star Trek undermines its own premise right off the bat. How can a ship have an awesome mission to be exploring uncharted space, boldly going places, and also be saddled with routine chores of checking up on weirdos who need more salt? The Enterprise ’s larger mission is to find alien life, and in this episode, they find a new lifeform, the last in a civilization, on a strange, old world, that they’ve totally heard of. They also end up killing this lifeform.
This kind of thing happens a lot in Star Trek. In fact, though Starfleet is supposedly all about boldly going and finding cool new things in space, they usually find these things by accident, usually while they’re doing some outer space busy work. Stumbling upon crazy alien life or uncharted space occurs by happenstance — not intention — in literally every single first episode of all versions of Star Trek, including, the most recent show, Discovery. Remember when Burnham just accidentally ran into that Klingon in the spacesuit? This is a proud Star Trek tradition!
One could argue that this isn’t the fault of “The Man Trap.” After all, this was wasn’t either of the pilot episodes, but instead, simply the episode selected to be first. And yet: the pilots of the original Star Trek, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” both feature the Enterprise going to places other spaceships had been before, listening to distress calls from the past, rather than looking to the future.
None of these oddities make “The Man Trap” or the original Star Trek any less groundbreaking. But, like the shapeshifting M-113 creature itself, Star Trek’s survival is connected to its ability to change its mind about stuff, even right at the start.