Pain on screen and in real life: Diamond Select’s Devil in the Dark diorama

I usually write about unique or rare collectibles on this site, and there are many I have yet to cover, but looking around my Star Trek room for post inspiration I was struck by the accuracy and attention to detail in Diamond Select’s The Devil in the Dark diorama. 

Also, as it always does, looking at the scene on my shelf reminded me of a terrible time in William Shatner’s life, and of a behind-the-scenes story that illustrates both his professionalism and annoying sense of humour. 

Behind-the-scenes TOS history 

Like the company’s Space Seed diorama, this piece can be assembled to present one of two scenes: Spock standing and pointing his phaser at the Horta or a kneeling figure, grimacing in pain during the mindmeld.   

The cover of William Shatner's Star Trek Memories book, with Captain Kirk on the cover

I chose the latter because it’s a pivotal moment in the episode and because Shatner tells an interesting story about filming it in his book Star Trek Memories. He first names this episode as his favourite — “Exciting, thought-provoking and intelligent, it contained all of the ingredients that made up our very best Star Treks” — and then adds: “None of that stuff qualifies it as my favourite.” He explained:

Early in the second day of shooting this episode, I got a phone call that told me my father had died… The grief is long since gone, and just the joy of having known him and loved him and of knowing that he loved me remains. But at that moment in time, the pain was awful. My father had died.

He died in Miami, and…no matter how we juggled flights, there was just no way for me to avoid having to wait about five hours before I could get to Miami out of Los Angeles airport. It was almost lunchtime by the time my travel arrangements were finally firming up, and… I can remember hearing Gregg Peters, an A.D., saying ‘We’re going to break for lunch then shut down for the rest of the day. Everybody go home, we’ll not shoot today. Bill is leaving.’ And I said to Gregg, ‘Please don’t do that, my plane doesn’t leave until six, and I don’t know what I’ll do with myself for these remaining hours if I’m not here. Please, let’s continue to shoot.

An hour later, after we broke for lunch and after the tears and the anguish, we started shooting what we’d been rehearsing all morning… And even though I really can’t remember most of the day’s details anymore, the one thing that I recall perfectly and that I’ll never forget is the closeness that my friend Leonard had toward me. Not just emotionally, but physically as well. I mean, I’ve seen film with elephants that support the sick and the dying with their bodies, and Leonard somehow always seemed physically close to me.

Our cinematographer, Jerry Finnerman, whose father had also recently passed away, stayed close, too. And together, they kind of herded around me, assuring me that there were people close by in case I wanted to talk or just needed a friend. Between Leonard and Jerry, we were able to make it through that awful afternoon, and I was able to fly out that evening to my father, warmed by their love and affection.

That’s what makes this episode my favorite.

Shatner’s professionalism is impressive. In the episode, Kirk briefs the security detail before sending them into the tunnels to seek the monster and, according to Marc Cushman’s These are the Voyages, season 1, that is one of the scenes Shatner insisted on shooting before his flight. Cushman quotes actor Eddie Paskey: “I didn’t know at the time that his father had just passed away, and, as far as I knew, no one else on the set knew it.” No one there and no one watching the episode could see that Shatner had been weeping just before the cameras rolled.  

A scene from the Star Trek episode The Devil in the Dark, in which Captain Kirk is briefing two security guards on the search for the Horta.
Eddie Paskey (right) after Shatner got the bad news (TrekCore)

Shatner continues the story:

As I flew off to my dad’s service, the crew went ahead and shot the scene where Spock mind-melds with the Horta. Now, as you know…it’s in great pain. So, of course, as Spock taps into its mind, he too experiences the creature’s anguish. With that in mind, he gets very emotional and yells out something like ‘Pain! PAIN!!’ Still, by the time I got back to the set, this was all in the can and I had no chance to see it.

When Shatner returned, the first task was to film Kirk’s reaction shots. He asked that Nimoy replay the scene, so his responses would be appropriate. 

I kept pleading with Leonard until he finally gave in to my request, went over to the Horta costume and got ready to run the scene for me, at which point I said to him ‘Now Leonard, do this thing full out for me, will ya? Don’t just say pain, pain, let me really hear it. Do it for me!’ So now Leonard sighed, took a moment to prepare, and then launched into a full bore mind-meld.

“PA-A-A-A-A-A-A-IN!’ he howled. “Oh, PAIN, PAAAAAAAAIN!!!’

At which point I yelled, ‘Jesus Christ! Get that Vulcan an Aspirin!” 

The crew broke up laughing, Leonard shook his head at me in disgust, and all at once I felt a whole lot better.

Shatner was dealing with a lot and probably needed humour to get through his day, but he admitted in a 2016 article in the Daily Mail that Nimoy was hurt by the prank, and he details a very different crowd reaction:

When the time came for the camera to shoot my reactions, I asked him to replay the scene, which he obligingly did. He didn’t rush it — he felt the emotion and cried out from the depths of his soul: ‘Pain! Pain! Pain!’

I went for the cheap joke and yelled, ‘Hey, someone get this guy an Aspirin!’ Then I waited for a laugh that never came.

Leonard was absolutely furious. He thought I’d set him up for ridicule. He stalked off the set but confronted me later, telling me that he thought I was ‘a real son-of-a-bitch.’

My apology must have sounded hollow because he didn’t say a word to me that wasn’t in the script for at least a week.

Great value

Diamond Select’s depiction of this scene is really good, with excellent attention to detail. The package contains two heads for Spock, two sets of hands, and two tricorders, one with the top flipped open and the other closed, because Spock’s tricorder is open when they first encounter the creature but closed as he approaches for the meld. The Horta’s wound can also be hidden or visible.   

The packaging, however, is not quite as accurate. There is a notable error in the photo on the back of the box.

These dioramas are often available quite inexpensively. I paid C$15 for it at Hamilton Comic Con 2019 because the box was a little damaged. It’s an excellent piece that tells two great stories — one on screen, one behind it.

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