Saturday, December 7, 2013

Unseen Trek: 'Untitled' by Robert Sheckley

Still from 'The Man Trap' (1966)
Story Outline by Robert Sheckley (undated)
Review and analysis by David Eversole
Originally posted at Orion Press

NOTE: As this outline contains no character names (the ship isn't even referred to by name), and is at odds with most of the technology we saw on Star Trek (the ship lands and blasts off, etc.), it is obvious that it was written before the show aired, perhaps before 'The Cage' or 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' were filmed. Sheckley, it seems, was working with very very little knowledge of the Trek universe. I will review his outline, using his terms and his story breaks.

Referring to the first officer as "the Martian" indicates that it may have been written as early as 1964.


The captain and first mate ("the martian") are exploring a barren planet, hitherto unknown. We see them from an "alien viewpoint" -- but we never see what the observer looks like. The captain thinks he saw something move but when they investigate, its just a big boulder, nothing more.

All crewmembers return to the ship, and the "viewpoint" follows. The martian becomes suspicious -- he can't put his finger on it, but he senses something is wrong. At his request, all crewmembers are decontaminated at the entry port. They then go to their stations, and the ship blasts off.

In the now empty entry port, a piece of the decontamination equipment -- a large tank with a nozzle -- begins to move as if alive. It turns toward us, rolls forward.


The martian remains uneasy, but everyone dismisses his worries, tells him he is just trying to show off his special senses. All go about their jobs. A crewmember enters with a report. The captain asks his name. "Seaman Dougherty," the fellow says and quickly leaves. A crewmember remarks that it really is one huge ship they're on.

Why do you say that, someone else asks.

I thought I knew everyone onboard, but I can't remember ever seeing Seaman Dougherty before.

No one recalls Seaman Dougherty!

A check is made of the ship's rolls. There is no Seaman Dougherty listed. And since they have been gone from Terra for three years "real time," with no crew additions, he must have come onboard from the planet they just surveyed.

A search is initiated to find him. TV scanners are turned on ship-wide, every nook and cranny is searched. No sign of the erstwhile Dougherty.

The captain confers with the ship's alien anthropologist, who informs him that this might be a being who is capable of assuming any form, or perhaps a being who uses hypnosis to make others see it as whatever it wishes. The anthropologist doesn't want to prejudge the being -- its intentions may be peaceful and friendly, or...

The captain isn't taking any chances. He has every single crewmember checked again. All are accounted for. Suddenly the captain asks if anyone checked the cook. 

Yes, one crewman says, I checked him. He's in the galley.

No, he's not, says another. I checked him, he is in the provisions locker.

The captain checks the TV scanners. Sure enough the cook is in both places at once. One of them must be the intruder!

The captain orders both cooks captured, but not to shoot either unless in danger. The anthropologist orders the captain to rescind this order. We must not capture it, he says. Don't you see, it has already captured us.

Both cooks are captured. The captain shows up in person to countermand his previous order, but in a moment's inattention, the alien turns into a duplicate of the captain and escapes.

Conflict grows between the captain and the anthropologist. The captain commands all ship's functions and business. But the anthropologist commands all areas having to do with alien life encountered. The ship's very mission was established to fulfill anthropological research. The anthropologist feels that since they are facing a superior lifeform, they must follow its orders, do as it wishes. The captain disagrees. The conflict between them grows.

The captain is prepared to issue a ship-wide order. He reaches to punch a button on a switchboard. The switchboard sprouts arms, pushes him away, then bolts from the room.

Now the anthropologist, afraid of the abilities of the creature, advocates full out resistance, but the captain decides not to do so. He has been pondering the nature of this beast, wondering why it is doing what it is doing. He outlines a plan.

A room is set aide. In it is a table, covered with food and water and a small heater. After a moment, the anthropologist enters, warily sits down, begins to eat, drink and warm his hands at the heater.

In the control room, the captain, the martian, and the anthropologist stare at a TV screen. On it they see the faux anthropologist eat the food.

The captain has realized that the creature never once made an offensive move against them even though it had several opportunities. Not the behavior of a superior entity. Furthermore, the creature could only mimic other forms, could only say a few words. It never initiated conversation or set any plan in motion. Again, not the behavior of a superior entity. Furthermore, it went to the one place on the ship that was very warm and filled with food -- the galley.

This is not a superior being, the captain tells the anthropologist, this is a simple animal.

But, the anthropologist says, it has such superior abilities. Kirk notes that humans will never have anything approaching the built-in radar an Earth bat has, but we are superior and the bat is just an animal. Highway engineers have never surpassed the road-building abilities of ants. Dolphins have senses beyond what humans have, but they are all just animals.

The scientist admits his error, and they go down to meet the creature. Kirk speaks softly to it, urges it to relax and return to its natural form. It does so, and looks like a cross between a bear and a dog. It lumbers forward, towers over the captain... then bends and begins to lick his hand.

And there the outline ends, save that Sheckley appends this note to it:

Explanation for the alien's previous actions: The world they explored is one that has suffered a recent cataclysm. A solar body passed near causing floods, earthquakes, etc. Destroying the possibility of life, even altering the seasons, turning a normally temperate zone into a frigid horror. The creature came aboard to save its life.


First, get rid of the anthropologist. Two good reasons. One, a-n-t-h-r-o-p-o-l-o-g-i-s-t is hard to type, my fingers get crossed up. Two, Spock and McCoy could better fill his role. Spock, the coldly logical counterpoint to Kirk; McCoy, the impassioned voice.

This is a first-timer's stab at TV outlining. Sheckley's two parts come across, to me, as a Teaser and one forty-five minute act. But that's easy enough to fix. I suspect that this story may have been dropped because of George Clayton's Johnson's 'The Man Trap,' which covers all its bases in a far superior story.


Images courtesy of Trek Core.

Review originally posted at Orion Press.

Read about Robert Sheckley's unproduced outline 'Sister in Space' here and here.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see this very early script, from back when Spock was "the Martian," and it hadn't been solidified that the captain was in charge of everything. An interesting idea, though, that a creature can have some abilities that are superior to those of people without being sentient.