“The Mark of Gideon” is an episode that suffers from many of the frequently occurring problems with TOS Season 3: slow pacing, obviously slashed production budgets, and massive plot holes. It’s also a bizarre attempt to discuss the issue of overpopulation.
The episode starts with Kirk attempting to beam down to the Planet Gideon, except he finds himself instead on a replica of the Enterprise (only he doesn’t know it’s a replica yet). The rest of the crew doesn’t know where he’s gone, resulting in long, drawn-out negotiations between Spock and the Gideons’ leaders, and many exasperated faces from Uhura:
“I can’t even with these people.”
And of course the look she gives when Spock spocksplains her job to her:
SPOCK: Lieutenant Uhura, has Starfleet honoured our request with a reply?
UHURA: There has been no response as yet, sir.
SPOCK: Did you advise them the captain’s life is at stake?
UHURA: Yes, sir. They insist that the matter must be referred to the Federation.
SPOCK: What department?
UHURA: Bureau of Planetary Treaties.
SPOCK: Contact them directly.
UHURA: I did, Mister Spock. They insist that we must go through Starfleet channels.
Meanwhile on the Enterprise replica, Kirk runs into a beautiful woman who’s literally dancing around the corridors like she accidentally wandered out of the Space Hippies episode.
Her name is Odona and Kirk’s first reaction is to grab her arm and demand answers.
Kirk doesn’t seem to know whether to interrogate Odona or make out with her. There are only two appropriate reactions to pretty women apparently: fear them or bone them.
So how about a bit of both?
Then it turns out…they’re not alone! In fact they’re being watched by what appear to be the disembodied heads of sullen green space monks:
Odona starts freaking out, Kirk starts interrogating her again, and then she collapses. Finally we get to the point of the story: the planet Gideon has an overpopulation crisis. Literally it is like the worst bus ride you have ever taken. Do not think too hard about how they keep reproducing when there doesn’t seem to be room to lie down, much less get a little privacy. The phrase: “get a room” does not exist on Gideon.
In order to tackle this crisis, the planet’s leader, who’s also Odona’s dad, decided to build a replica of the Enterprise on the planet (not sure where there was room) and abduct Kirk to steal a disease, Vegan choriomeningitis, which Kirk is immune to but carries in his blood. Their plan is to spread this disease around their young adults to alter the life spans on their planet. Odona has volunteered to be the first to be infected and die.
Now this episode is most remembered, especially by feminists, for a particular scene where Kirk asks the Gideons’ leader, Hodin, WTF is up with them not using birth control. This is, indeed, a big deal, and was very ahead of its time for when the show first aired. Actually even today.
KIRK: Then let your people learn about the devices to safely prevent conception. The Federation will provide anything you need. (Republican foreign aid policy this is not)
HODIN: But you see, the people of Gideon have always believed that life is sacred. That the love of life is the greatest gift. That is the one unshakable truth of Gideon. And this overwhelming love of life has developed our regenerative capacity and our great longevity…We are incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which we love so deeply. Life, in every form, from foetus to developed being. It is against our tradition, against our very nature. We simply could not do it.
KIRK: Yet you can kill a young girl.
Unfortunately, the message is somewhat undermined by the conclusion of the episode, in which Kirk decides he is pretty much okay with them spreading the disease to others on Gideon, just as long as the pretty girl survives.
When Spock finds Kirk, Kirk seizes the opportunity to beam Odona up to the ship and have Bones cure her. Once she is well Odona says to Kirk: “You are no longer needed on Gideon. I can take your place there.” Kirk asks her if that’s what she wants to do – to return and serve as a source of the virus to help kill her people. She says she must. So it’s cool if she wants to go kill other people, but not cool that she wanted to die herself. Oh Season 3.