Gold Key issue 2 (March 1968), “The Devil’s Isle of Space,” finds a landing party including Captain Kirk trapped on a prison asteroid where the condemned are about to be executed en masse when the planet-sized unstable rock explodes.
It’s not a bad concept for a story, and it raises Prime Directive issues even though the term isn’t used. But it includes some classic WTF gems of the Gold Key series. First off, the asteroid is found “on the outer fringe of the Galaxy Nabu.” So that’s the second galaxy the Enterprise has visited in as many issues. Next, the ship enters orbit at “altitude five thousand feet” . . . if I’m doing my maths correctly, that’s less than a mile above the surface. Then when they encounter turbulence—which is not a surprise at that altitude—Kirk orders “up the infra-red periscope”!
The turbulence was caused by the Enterprise being caught in a force field surrounding the asteroid, which is why Kirk leads a landing party, to find a way to shut down the field. On the surface they get the runaround from the inmates, who are hoping to escape by lying to Kirk about their circumstances. The landing party maintains contact with the ship via Kirk’s “radio”—which is clearly a tricorder. Didn’t any of the writers or artists ever watch the show?
The situation soon goes from bad to worse when Spock discovers the asteroid has “an internal volcano that will blow the planet into a super nova within twenty-four hours.” Uh . . . the planet will go super nova? Although Spock has used “counter energy”—shades of reversing the polarity—to break free of the force field, he can’t use the transporter for fear of also beaming up the violent inmates. He has Scotty create a diversion with a decoy ship made to look like a prison transport which they land on the asteroid. In all the hullabaloo, the crew are saved shortly before the prisoners meet their fate.
Kirk acknowledges feeling bad about leaving all the prisoners to die, but Spock notes that it’s “the way of their society” and they “had no other choice,” a classic Prime Directive dilemma, and certainly a step up from the genocide he committed in issue 1.
Favorite exclamation: Spock’s “Shades of Pluto!”