arrives at the Tantalus V penal colony to drop off supplies and pick up a box of research materials. After the box is beamed up, a desperate looking man emerges, knocks out an engineering tech, and steals his uniform.
Kirk orders the ship out of orbit and laments that he didn’t get a chance to meet with Dr. Tristan Adams, the foremost expert on penal reform. They get word from Tantalus that a prisoner has slipped on board the ship, and Kirk orders a red alert. However, the prisoner gets to the bridge and holds them hostage, demanding asylum. Spock and Kirk manage to disarm him and he’s taken to sickbay.
They head back for Tantalus while Adams apologizes over subspace radio for underestimating the prisoner and letting him escape. Meanwhile, the prisoner is raving wildly in sickbay, followed by brief lucid periods where he claims to be Dr. Van Gelder. Spock confirms that he is a doctor assigned to the penal colony six months ago. They contact Adams who confirms that Van Gelder was once sane but used an experimental process on himself. McCoy doesn’t believe it and asks Kirk to conduct a formal investigation, and the captain agrees, telling him to find a medical officer with psychological and penal experience. Adams agrees to let them come down but says that only two are allowed to prevent excessive contact with the inmates.
Kirk discovers that McCoy has stuck him with Dr. Helen Noel, who he flirted with at a Christmas party. They beam down to the planet once the security force field is dropped, and go to the underground facility where Dr. Adams greets them. Adam introduces a reformed inmate, Lethe, who now works on staff, then gives them a tour of the facility. He finishes with the room containing the “neural neutralizer,” the device that Van Gelder tested on himself. Although Adams dismisses its therapeutic effects, it does work as an effective tranquilizer simply by projecting a beam that quiets brainwave patterns. He notes that Van Gelder experimented without anyone on hand and the machine simply emptied his mind, leaving him in his current state.
Aboard the Enterprise
, Van Gelder warns McCoy and Spock that Kirk is in danger. Spock has no choice but to enter into a mind meld with the doctor and determines that he’s telling the truth. On the planet below, Kirk decides to stay the night then gets Noel to go back with him to the test chamber and run a few experiments. She first temporarily blanks his memory, then implants a hunger urge on him. She then tests the machine further by implanting a memory of Kirk taking their relationship at the Christmas party beyond simple flirting, with them ending up in his quarters. However, Adams steps in and starts torturing Kirk with the device. He implants memories of Kirk being desperately in love with Helen, then tells her that she’s gone. He then increases the pain, forcing Kirk to remove his phaser, then his communicator. The captain tries to signal the Enterprise
and passes out from the agony.
Kirk and Noel are locked up and she tries to get him to overcome the false romantic memories. He manages to snap out of it and helps her into the ventilation system, telling her to get to the power room and deactivate the force screen so that Spock can beam down. She leaves and Kirk is then taken back to the neutralizer for another session. Adams continues to experiment on him until he gets word that Noel has escaped. He tortures Kirk for her whereabouts but he resists and is rendered unconscious.
Noel has made it to the power center and shuts down the circuits. Guards rush in and she struggles with one of them. Up above, Kirk recovers, knocks out Adams and the guard, and leaves them in the neutralizer chamber. Noel shoves her guard into the circuits, killing him, and then she shuts down the entire power and escapes. Spock manages to beam down, disable the force field for good, then restores the power. The neutralizer comes on, trapping Adams in the beam. Kirk goes back to his quarters to meet Noel and briefly kisses her, before Spock comes in. They discover that Adams is dead, his mind totally drained by the neutralizer.
As the Enterprise
leaves orbit, Van Gelder assures them that the neutralizer will be dismantled. Kirk notes that thanks to the machine, it’s possible for a man to die of loneliness brought on by the machine, as he recently experienced. Share this article with your friends