As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of STAR TREK, geek gatekeepers and talking heads will be regurgitating a lot of the same-old rhetoric favored by the faithful. You’re going to hear about humanitarian values and technological advances, while awash in lists championing great people who wouldn’t be where they are today without witnessing the valiant efforts of the crew of the Starship Enterprise.
You know what doesn’t help toe that party line, though? The televisual evidence of all the carnage left behind when you boldly go where no man has gone before. Seriously, when the flock discusses the virtues of TREK they tend to leave out the collateral damage. Guys, we all know about the redshirts; crew members who die not too long after being introduced, usually while accompanying the real stars down to some planet on an ill-conceived away mission. (I would recommend John Scalzi’s novel REDSHIRTS as a wonderful horror-comedy and self-aware meta-takedown of this particular phenomena.)
In honor of the fallen and in celebration of TREK’s 50th, I have outlined 10 memorably gruesome deaths suffered by the crew under the command of Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Yes, I am sticking to the TOS shows and films for this list. One, I feel it’s more in keeping with celebrating the vision that led to the last 5 decades. Two, I like Kirk best.
1. Strangled by a Telekinetic Crew Member — “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (Season 1)
Filmed as a second pilot, but released as the third episode of the flagship season, WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE outlines what happens when the Enterprise crosses a strange barrier over the edge of the galaxy. You know what happens? Nine people die and two people are gifted with powerful telepathic and telekinetic powers. The first, Gary Mitchell, goes from helmsman to god-like in what seems like a matter of days. While trying to maroon Mitchell, he overpowers his fellow crew members, one of whom gets his neck stretched in another part of the building. A decade before CARRIE would hit silver screens, TREK would provide fans with a nightmarish master of ESP.
2. Sucked Dry by a Salt Vampire — “The Man Trap” (Season 1)
The first episode to ever air, THE MAN TRAP has been occasionally mocked for its featured creature, the so-called “salt vampire.” A shape-shifting monster that is the last of its kind, it has to suck the salt from living beings to survive. The crew stumbles upon it while doing a routine medical check-up on a professor and his wife living on a desolate planet, leading to a ton of dead bodies that look as if they’ve been given hickeys by a hydra-headed vacuum cleaner. This episode is proof that a silly conceit can be given weight by the performances of an able cast.
3. Turned Into a Rock and Crushed — “By Any Other Name” (Season 2)
This one, I think, more than any other death on this list bothers me most. Maybe it’s just the existential terror of not knowing how and why you just died, given even more weight by the audience’s knowledge of the very random, callous nature of your death. In this episode, the Enterprise is hijacked by beings from another galaxy that are hell-bent on returning home. When some of the crew attempt an ill-fated escape, the leader enacts punishment by reducing two of the crew to little chalk-like blocks, crushing one in his hands. Ick. And maybe this is just that extra layer of my masculinity rising to the surface, but the whole thing feels even more risible because it is a female crew member.
4. Transporter Malfunction — STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE
Speaking of existential terror, how must it feel to die mid-beaming? Especially after so many years of doing it that the very act of beaming must feel commonplace. In the first cinematic outing for the TOS crew, the Enterprise has gone through a recent refit and some of the bugs have not been worked out before the crew must journey out on their first adventure in some time. Two crew members are beaming onboard when a horrifying malfunction turns them into so much intergalactic soup. Like this article’s title says… gruesome.
5. Death by Rapid Aging — “The Deadly Years” (Season 2)
Now, when I say rapid aging, I don’t mean just-drank-from-the-wrong-grail levels of rapidity. It isn’t that horrifying. But still, aging from 30 to 90 in a matter of hours is a terrible way to go. That’s what happens to some of the members of the crew when they encounter radiation left in the wake of a comet-like object. Oh and here we are again, presented with what seems to be a most horrifying death for a female crew member, whose demise is accelerated by her metabolism. (As if being a woman onboard this ship wasn’t hard enough.)
6. Hunted and Gored by Primitive Space Apes — “The Galileo Seven” (Season 1)
When a shuttlecraft is pulled off-course, the small crew onboard is forced to make an emergency landing on an unfamiliar planet. While trying to remedy their situation, a couple of the team are sent to scout the surrounding area and run smack into the locals. Problem is, this spooky little rock is inhabited by giant apes, wielding spears so big they would make William Wallace blush. As you can imagine, quite a few of our marooned heroes meet their demise at the business end of these tree-trunks. Fucking space apes.
7. Driven to Madness and Suicide by Space Earwigs — STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Probably the one piece of TREK media everybody reading this article has seen is this now legendary sequel. So, I’d hope a lot of recounting of the plot is unwarranted. The one thing you have to remember is that our titular villain has Chekov and Captain Terrell under mind control, aided by nasty little creatures that look like the demon offspring of trilobites fucked by earwigs. When both Terrell and Chekov fight Khan’s commands, the pain created by these buggers is so fantastic that Terrell turns his own phaser on himself and blasts away into nothingness. His scream is one for the ages.
8. Disintegrated by a Self-Aware Space Probe — “The Changeling” (Season 2)
Blasted and disintegrated by phasers and lasers is pretty par for the course with this series. I mean, it is 20th century sci-fi. The moment we were able to film people with rayguns, fools got blasted on the regular. Such is the case for numerous crew members when the Enterprise encounters N.O.M.A.D., a renegade space probe that has been drifting through the galaxy for two centuries. This time adrift has made it incredibly aware and incredibly hostile to anybody who stands in the way of its mission to “find and sterilize imperfection.”
9. Chewed up And Used as Fuel for a Planet-Eating Entity — “The Doomsday Machine” (Season 2)
This episode’s titular titan of destruction consumes the debris of planets that it destroys, fueling its mysterious journey through the galaxy. In other words, it’s a planet-killer and Kirk and the gang have to try to figure how to stop it before it makes its next intergalactic pit-stop. Unfortunately they have to do this while saddled with a crazed Commodore who bore witness to one of the machine’s recent chow-downs. When the Commodore decides he is going to take matters into his own hands, he steals a shuttlecraft and tries to fly it straight into the gaping maw of the machine. (Insert half-assed TREK joke about futility.)
10. Murdered by Jack the Ripper — “Wolf in the Fold” (Season 2)
Any fan of TREK and terror worth their salt (vampire) knows that PSYCHO scribe Robert Bloch penned two TOS episodes. The first, “Catspaw,” is on the short-list of goofiest TREK episodes of all time with its silly space witches plot. Sadly that blunder also failed to yield any worthwhile deaths to discuss in my rundown. The second, though relatively goofy in its own right, manages to be effectively creepy while relying on that old horror fave, the cold-blooded murder of beautiful women. If you’re familiar with Bloch, going into this cold, you wouldn’t be surprised by the twist reveal that the killer is actually the immortal spirit of Jack the Ripper. Even three centuries into a fictional future, Bloch cannot resist trudging up his obsession with the mysterious 19th century madman, giving us Saucy Jack hiding inside of a mousy administrator (played by Piglet himself, John Fielder!) who winds up onboard the Enterprise.