Jun 4 2009 6:27pm

Star Trek Re-watch: “Arena”

Written by Gene L. Coon (from a story by Fredric Brown)
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Season 1, Episode 18
Production episode: 1x19
Original air date: January 19, 1967
Star date: 3045.6

Mission summary

Captain Kirk and some of his crew prepare for a fancy dinner on Cestus III, an Earth observation outpost in a largely unexplored area of space. Their host, Commodore Travers, is well known for his hospitality and they’re all looking forward to a good meal and entertainment. Instead, when they beam down they discover that Cestus III has been destroyed—and its literally cold-blooded alien attackers are still there. Since the massacre must have occurred several days before, it seems the invitation from Travers was faked to lure the Enterprise to the planet.

Kirk sends Mr. Lang and Mr. Kellowitz to check the area, but keeps the lone red shirt, O’Herlihy, close by; this might be more for the security officer’s protection than his own, given what usually happens when they wander off alone. Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and O’Herlihy discover a single survivor from the attack, but he’s in bad shape and needs more medical assistance than McCoy can offer. O’Herlihy gets ten feet away from Kirk and calls back, “Captain, I see something!” just before a disruptor vaporizes him.

Pinned down by steady bombing from their unknown aggressors, Kirk calls for transporters, but Sulu tells them the Enterprise is under attack too and he can’t beam up the landing party through the defensive screens (aka, the shields). Kirk orders him not to worry about them, just protect the ship.

The small group on Cestus III realize that their hand phasers are no match for the aliens’ superior disruptors. In what ends up being some interesting foreshadowing, Kirk tells Spock, “We’ll have to make do with what we’ve got.” They take shelter under a ramp and Kirk decides to make a break for the arsenal to get them some better weapons.

The Enterprise is also thwarted by the aliens’ superior technology; their phasers and photon torpedoes have no effect on the enemy shields, er, screens. With Kirk’s support, Sulu decides to warp out of orbit to keep the ship safe. Kirk dodges incoming bombs, confounding the attackers by falling, rolling, and crawling to the arsenal. As Spock joins him, his tricorder begins to hiss and smoke. He throws it away a moment before it explodes, and he’s impressed that the aliens managed to feed its signal back on itself and overload it.

Mr. Kellowitz reappears to help them, reporting that Lang is dead but they never got a look at the aliens. Kirk loads a launcher with uh, little blue balls, and fires in the enemy’s general direction, triggering a violent explosion at close range. All is quiet. Sulu reports the alien ship has activated its transporters and is leaving. They must have scared them off! Kirk orders him to lock onto the enemy ship and send down a search and rescue team to look for more survivors. The landing party then beams back up with the wounded man they found.

Kirk questions the distraught man and learns that the aliens who attacked Cestus III arrived with no warning and didn’t respond to any attempts to contact them, including the outpost’s surrender. It doesn’t make any sense, and the man keeps asking: “Why did they do it? Why? Why did they do it? There has to be a reason. There has to be a reason!”

Kirk thinks he knows the answer:

KIRK: The reason is crystal clear. The Enterprise is the only protection in this section of the Federation. Destroy the Enterprise, and everything is wide open.
SPOCK: You allude to invasion, Captain, yet positive proof—
KIRK: I have all the proof I need on Cestus III.
SPOCK: Not necessarily, sir. Several possible explanations
KIRK: How can you explain a massacre like that? No, Mr. Spock. The threat is clear and immediate. Invasion.

This leaves him with only one choice, to destroy the enemy ship before it can reach its home. They move deeper into unknown space in pursuit of the alien vessel, through an area fraught with tales of strange subspace signals and space legends about the beings who may live there. Their target appears to be faster than the Enterprise and Kirk pushes the engines hard with Scott’s disapproval. Warp factor seven draws looks of alarm, and the crew seems genuinely panicked when he orders warp eight, especially when he seems willing to blow them up in the process. Meanwhile, Spock tries to convince the captain to chill, urging him not to destroy the aliens. Kirk summarily disagrees:

It’s a matter of policy. Out here, we’re the only policemen around. And a crime has been committed. Do I make myself clear?

It turns out there may be other policemen around after all. The two ships approach a solar system and the alien ship changes course to avoid it while the Enterprise is scanned. Suddenly the alien ship drops out of warp and comes to a dead stop. Kirk jubilantly prepares to attack them while they’re defenseless when the same thing happens to the Enterprise. Weapon and propulsion systems don’t respond. Spock surmises that something in the nearby solar system is holding them, but Kirk says it’s impossible. Spock slaps Kirk in the face verbally with, “We are being held.”

Some pretty lights appear on the viewscreen and they hear an eerie voice:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture; we are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set.

Or something like that.

These aliens identify themselves as the Metrons and the attackers in the other ship as the Gorn. The Metrons object to the violent intentions and tendencies of both ships and say they will control them by setting up a challenge. They will transport Kirk and the Gorn captain to a planet where they can settle their score like uncivilized people, armed only with their ingenuity and brute strength. They’ll be equipped with voice recorders to chronicle the contest as a warning to other space travelers, and are told that there are raw materials on the planet with which they can create a weapon. Two men enter, one man leaves! The loser will be destroyed with his ship, “in the interests of peace.”

It is no sooner said than it is done. Kirk stands opposite a reptilian creature with beautiful eyes but questionable fashion sense and realizes that he has an “instinctive revulsion” to it. They immediately engage in close combat, but the Gorn is obviously stronger, albeit laughably slow-moving. Everything Kirk does, the Gorn can do better. He throws a rock at the creature (it bounces harmlessly off its chest), and the Gorn responds by hurling a boulder at Kirk.

Knowing that he can’t win a contest of physical strength, Kirk explores the asteroid looking for some weapon that will give him an advantage. All he finds are some bamboo sticks, diamonds, and a deposit of sulfur which are individually useless; yet it all sounds strangely familiar to him, if only he could remember... Meanwhile the Gorn lays a primitive trap for him and begins laboriously carving a dagger out of black stone. Kirk uses his recorder to recount his thoughts and efforts, unaware that its actually transmitting and translating everything he says to his opponent. Crafty Metrons!

Kirk manages to drop a boulder onto the Gorn from a cliff, but makes the mistake of checking the body. Finding the Gorn alive, Kirk runs away—right into the Gorn’s trap. He trips a vine that causes a boulder to fall on him. When the Gorn frees him to stab him, Kirk escapes, limping on his injured leg.

On the Enterprise, all Spock can do is wait and try to contact the Metrons, who eventually let them know that Kirk isn’t doing so hot and they should probably prepare a memorial. But out of compassion, they do let them watch Kirk’s final moments on the viewscreen. What they see is not encouraging. Kirk is still hobbling around, incredibly fatigued. The Gorn taunts him through the translator and reveals that they interpreted the colonists on Cestus III as invaders in their territory. Everyone is floored by this news. They were the enemy all along!

Kirk stumbles across something that Spock recognizes as potassium nitrate, even without tasting it as Kirk does. The Vulcan is one step ahead of Kirk and several parsecs ahead of McCoy, making cryptic comments to himself as Kirk revisits his previous locations like he’s in a Sierra adventure game: collecting a tube of bamboo, some sulfur, diamonds, vines, potassium nitrate, and coal. McCoy becomes more and more frustrated with Spock until the science officer explains that Kirk can use those elements to manufacture gunpowder, to fire a primitive bamboo cannon with diamond projectiles.

With the Gorn approaching, Kirk readies the gunpowder and loads the cannon. He uses flint and the Metrons’ translator to light it, just in time to strike the Gorn and incapacitate it. He snatches the alien’s dagger and is about to finish him with it when he relents:

No. No, I won’t kill you. Maybe you thought you were protecting yourself when you attacked the outpost.

He yells to the Metrons that he won’t kill the Gorn and his felled opponent disappears. A young boy materializes, which makes Kirk wary considering his ?track record with powerful children these days; but no worries, the Metron is actually 1500 years old. He congratulates Kirk for showing “the advanced trait of mercy” and tells him they won’t be destroyed. He offers to destroy the Gorn instead, but Kirk declines (or realizes they’re still testing him), and suggests that maybe they can talk through their conflict. The Metron seems pleased:

Very good, Captain. There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready.

They return Kirk to the Enterprise, which is suddenly 500 parsecs away from where they were. Spock asks what happened, since they lost the Metrons’ signal.

KIRK: We’re a most promising species, Mr. Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?
SPOCK: I’ve frequently had my doubts.
KIRK: I don’t. Not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so, we’ll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mr. Spock. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. Take us back to where we’re supposed to be, Mr. Sulu. Warp factor one.
SULU: Warp factor one.
SPOCK: A thousand years, Captain?
KIRK: Well, that gives us a little time.

This is as classic as episodes come, and it’s been referenced everywhere from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (which features the same setting as this episode, the Vasquez Rocks in California) to the film Tropic Thunder. There is something incredibly iconic about Kirk’s one-on-one conflict with the Gorn, both in the real world and in the expanded Star Trek universe; in the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” Sisko remarks that he’d like to ask Kirk about the encounter.

Simply put, this is a strategic battle between a human and a truly alien alien, even more frightening to humans because of our cultural, almost instinctual hatred for serpents and reptiles. Though Kirk wins the battle because of his intelligence, true victory comes from his display of mercy and compassion for his violent opponent. We’re meant to learn a lesson when Kirk overcomes his assumptions about the Gorn, which were based on his appearance and misinterpreted actions, and chooses a peaceful way of settling their dispute. Kirk’s description of his interaction with the Metrons at the end is a little strange, since he seems to agree easily with their assessment of humanity’s potential. Whether they’re right or not, I wondered if the Metron rewarded him with a refreshing glass of Kool-Aid before sending him back to the ship.

This transformation is all the more striking considering Kirk’s initial overblown reaction to the attack on Cestus III. He is naturally angry at the wanton murder and also needs to explain it to himself. The only way he can make sense of it is by casting the Gorn as the villains and seeking revenge, under the pretense of justice and preventing invasion. His belligerent and unreasonable response (perhaps further justified by his past experience with devastated colonies, as we saw in “The Conscience of the King” and will learn about later in “Operation—Annihilate!”) is an interesting counterpoint to his behavior under similar conditions in “Balance of Terror,” where he was reluctant to provoke a war, and his need for incontrovertible proof of guilt in “The Conscience of the King.” This might be inconsistent characterization, or he may have simply changed his mind since then; although it doesn’t seem terribly Kirk-like, it may be overlooked because of the intended effect of showing how he comes to understand his enemy. Spock alone remains true to his values, continuing to push for a “regard for sentient life” as he did in “The Galileo Seven.” Though the humans are admittedly shown in a poor light at first, the revelation that they may have been the invaders is surprising and hopefully has a similar impact on most viewers.

As long as we’re talking about contradictory characterizations, I was surprised and dismayed at Uhura’s scream when Kirk vanishes from the bridge. In the previous episode, there was nary a peep from her when both Kirk and Sulu disappeared, and Sulu’s a good friend of hers. What’s up with that? And Spock infuriated even me with his smug analysis of Kirk’s actions on the asteroid while McCoy is pestering him for answers. Finally, Kirk and McCoy’s utter disbelief that aliens could have disabled their ship from so far away shows a short memory on their parts, considering what the Talosians did, not to mention their pal Trelane. Sadly, this is not the last time an advanced race of beings will use their powers to force peace on the Federation and its enemies. Other species have clearly evolved beyond the need for a policy of non-interference.

Back to the Gorn. Though Kirk and his crew can see how they may have leapt to some hasty conclusions regarding the attack on Cestus III, whether the colonists were in fact invaders in Gorn territory might be irrelevant. The Gorn destroyed the entire outpost with no mercy, under no obvious provocation, and were completely unwilling to negotiate or accept surrender. They were as much in the wrong as Kirk, but they probably didn’t learn the same lesson to ask questions before shooting. Just because they had a reason to attack doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable for the brutality of it, does it? Or do we forgive it because that’s their way?

On the level of pure storytelling, I was impressed by the narrative device of having Kirk record his actions on the asteroid, as well as Spock’s later interpretations of the images on the viewscreen, as a means of explaining what was going on to viewers. Otherwise, “Arena” would have been largely dialogue-free, and these are much more elegant solutions than inserting a jarring noirish voiceover or having Kirk talk to himself (though it may have been even more effective as a silent piece as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Hush”).

The Gorn’s costume is really not that bad, though the creature doesn’t seem like much of a threat with its sluggish attacks. I’m sure that the addition of CGI eyelids in the remastered edition makes it even more convincing, though. This episode makes use of some interesting camera work, most notably having the Gorn walk directly toward the screen in one scene, and showing Kirk running away by beginning with an extreme close-up of his butt. I suppose this is meant to put the viewer more in the moment and increase tension. The only real nitpicks I have from a production standpoint is that when Kirk finds the sulfur deposits, his lips clearly do not match the narration, and the viewscreen goes a little wonky during the Metron transmission.

There’s also one intriguing bit of dialogue early on. Before beaming down to Cestus III, Kirk comments that “rank hath its privileges.” McCoy grins and replies, “How well we both know that.” So... what is he referring to? That seemed so odd to me. Moments later Spock accuses the doctor of being a sensualist for wanting non-reconstituted meals, and McCoy agrees, “You bet your pointed ears I am.” Are we missing an episode where Kirk and McCoy abuse their power with decadent pursuits?

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: What does this bring our space douche count up to?

I’m a little puzzled as to why this is such a memorable classic. I though the Gorn commander was visually pretty cool, a sort of Godzilla-meets-the-Kroffts creation, and you know I love me some gratuitous man-fighting, but otherwise it was a big glorious ode to hyper-masculine douchebaggery.

Kirk is practically a lunatic here, wild-eyed and war-mongering. He’s on a one-man crusade to avert a supposed invasion—a plan he literally thought up right that second with no evidence to support it—and uses the devastating loss of life as an excuse for preemptive war with a species he knows nothing about. How is this the same man who saw the destruction of Earth Outposts 2, 3, and 4, and still didn’t want to provoke a full-scale war with the Romulans? Who believed himself to be nearly destroyed by Balok and yet still tried to bring about a peaceful resolution? Spock asks him to have some regard for sentient life, and Kirk snaps back at him: “There’s no time for that. It’s a matter of policy.” Even Uhura in the background looks taken aback. He follows it with an equally chilling line: “Out here, we’re the only policemen around. And a crime has been committed. Do I make myself clear?” Crystal. He’s the corrupt sheriff or praetorian with no one watching, free to do as he pleases. Who watches the watchmen indeed. It feels wrong, very wrong.

He’s not the only one, though: the Gorn are equally violent for no discernible reason. Okay, so maybe the Federation settled in their space, but how about an eviction notice first? The man who survived in the opening scene says that the Gorn just poured in, refusing to discuss the issue or even accept surrender. If someone squats on your property, you tell them to leave before you bring in the calvary, right? The Gorn captain takes particular glee in his successes against Kirk—he’s not fighting in self-defense, he’s enjoying vengeance. I didn’t like it. Kirk mirrors this expression at the end of the episode. He looks so pleased with himself!

On a positive note, the makeshift bamboo gun was inexplicable yet pretty damn cool. What the hell kind of boy scouts troop did he join?? Stay in school, kids! You might need that chem class to fight a lizardman one day.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: McCoy demonstrates his excellent bedside manner: “He’ll be dead in half an hour if we don’t get him some decent care.”

Syndication Edits: Some shots on Cestus III after Sulu decides to take the Enterprise out of orbit: Kirk running into the armory and Spock checking on the survivor before taking a new reading; some of the survivor’s ranting that there must be a reason for the Gorn to have attacked; the captain’s log (3046.2) and Kirk’s discussion with the navigator and Spock that follows it; after going to Warp 8, Kirk ordering all phasers ready and a reaction shot of a troubled Scotty; Kirk’s thoughts on the Gorn as it rips a branch from the tree; Spock conferring with Uhura on sensor readings; part of the conversation between Spock and McCoy about what they’re going to do to help Kirk; Kirk testing out the bamboo sticks that are unfit for his purpose; Kirk breaking a stick to tamp down the gunpowder mixture, and the subsequent action.

Trivia: So much trivia. The dialogue used in the Metrons’ greeting is a nod to the narration of the series The Outer Limits, also voiced by Vic Perrin, who provided many other voices in Star Trek (including Balok from “The Corbomite Maneuver”). Coincidentally, this episode also bears some resemblance to an episode of The Outer Limits titled “Fun and Games,” likely based on Fredric Brown’s story “Arena,” which was credited for this episode though Gene L. Coon was only made aware of it after the script was already written. You can actually read the whole story here for free (in more formats than I’ve ever seen!).

Other notes: Apparently, some dialogue from the script is missing from this episode, which indicated that the Metrons intended to destroy the winner of the conflict, rather than the loser, since he would represent the greater threat. This seems consistent with their decision to spare Kirk after he defeats the Gorn.

The Metrons may be named after the angel Metatron, also called “the Youth” in the Kabbalah, and indeed the alien takes on a somewhat angelic appearance.

Bamboo cannons are real, particularly in Malaysia and the Phillippines (the author of the Nitpicker’s Guide mentions that growing up in the Phillippines they used gasoline).

Cestus III is named after a cestus, or caestus, a Roman battle glove.

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 19 - “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.

james loyd
1. gaijin
Oops, completely missed the B&T reference somehow.
Richard Fife
2. R.Fife
As I recall, the Metatron was also the Voice of God. Doubly fitting, eh? Also, amazing how with all the rocks falling and intial grappling, Torie did not get a chance to use the naked men wrestling tag. Also liked how it was a mortor shell that scared the Gorns off on Cestus, and it was a primative version that Kirk ended up using in the end.

Anywho, yeah, space-douche, I totally agree. Instead of using our god-like powers and sit you down like recalcitrent children and make you talk, we are going to tell you to KILL EACHOTHER! And, once we find that you are "advanced" in suprising ways, we will still dismiss you as vastly inferior and useless to us and banish you 500 parsecs away. Wayda go.

Destroyed colony or no, Kirk's reaction is rather vexing to me. But also is Spock's, who starts to call him down in private (the place to call down your superior), and then raises and eyebrow and more or less says "whatever". Especially after flat out saying "there are possible explanations".

Anyway, I didn't say that negative stuff just now, cause I don't, right? Positive: I enjoyed the craftiness of the voice recorders are walkie-talkies. Woulda been nice if it would have been used to make the Gorn a little more sympathetic, but still nifty. The actual progression of the plot post space-douche kidnapping was nice.

So was the action and characterizations pre-chase. Kirk is fretting over /his/ ship, Sulu is conflicted over fighting the aliens and getting his captain back, and I even loved the little exchange between Scotty and Spock where Scotty is all "Yes, I tried that, duh!" Hehe, Spock is a micromanager!

Personally, I'd split the difference and give this one a 4.
Avram Grumer
3. avram
According to Memory Alpha, "Arena" is the first episode to mention the Federation of which Star Fleet is a part. "A Taste of Armageddon", a few episodes further on, is the first to use the full name "United Federation of Planets".
Church Tucker
4. Church
Weirdly, The GF and I just watched this the other night. We're old skool, and I can see how hard it would be to appreciate whilst looking over the heads of sleestacks and whatnots.

A few things that struck us this time around:

This one seems to hew closely to the idea of "Horatio Hornblower in Space." The fancy meal for the visiting captain. The 'policeman' of this part of space. The importance of taking out an enemy before he can report a victory (information, in this case, seems to travel about as fast as transportation.)

The fact that the mortar at the beginning is effectively the same weapon Kirk ends up building. I've been watching this episode on and off over thirty years, and I only just picked up on that. I blame that one on the fact that I was distracted by the round projectiles (I read a lot about military tech as a kid.)

I LOVE the Gorn. Reptillian with insectizoid eyes (tell me they didn't really give him eyelids in the update.) Can take a diamond shotcannon to the chest and live. Perfectly alien, and as unstoppable as a zombie dinosaur. Awesomesauce.

Torie's objection to their rudeness to the inadvertent squatters is mushy. You deal with human beings that way. You don't have any frame of reference when dealing with aliens, and there's a whole slew of recent stories that make a great case that wiping out first and asking questions later is the prudent response.

Gotta give this a six.
Mitch Wagner
5. MitchWagner
IMDB says the rock-monster fight in "Galaxy Quest" is a parody (they say "mock tribute") to this episode. "Look around, can you form some sort of rudimentary lathe?"
j p
6. sps49
Torie- how is Kirk (and the Enterprise) a corrupt cop? I think he was referring to the fact that, like ship captains before radio, he is the Final Authority in practice. There is no time to wait for word from Starfleet (although the communications lag isn't consistent through the series).

I remember this episode fondly because of the action and the dramatic tension- it starts with an infantry skirmish, then a high speed stern chase (the first?) that risks the engines, then the one-on-one fight on the surface.

I think Kirk was pleased with what he takes as a compliment (on behalf of humanity and/ or the Federation) from the Metrons. And that he realized that, although Starfleet might not be done with the Gorn, he wasn't willing to kill an alien (and maybe it's ship) he had at his mercy for the Cestus III slaughter.

Good call on Kirk likely realizing the test might not be over, Eugene.

I think the episode has some anomalies but is overall Cool. 5 of 6 stars.
Eugene Myers
7. ecmyers
@ 4

Great observations. I don't think I consciously drew the comparison between the mortar Kirk uses at the beginning and the primitive cannon at the end either. I was too excited after noticing his "make do with what you have" comment.

And sadly, yes, the Gorn does blink in the remastered edition. This was even used as a selling point for the CGI effects: "Finally, you will see a Gorn blink!" Have fans been clamoring for this all these years? The thought never even crossed my mind.

@ 5
That's right, I once used this episode to show a friend what Galaxy Quest was parodying, since she enjoyed the film so much but had never seen the series. I'd forgotten that line about the lathe. Time to re-watch GQ! :)
Mitch Wagner
8. MitchWagner
Can you believe Galaxy Quest is ten years old?
Torie Atkinson
10. Torie
@ 2

Nope, they keep their clothes on!

@ 4

Hmm, the Horatio Hornblower angle is interesting--I think it makes me like the episode more.

What can I say. I'm mushy.

@ 6

I'm referring specifically to the line: “Out here, we’re the only policemen around. And a crime has been committed. Do I make myself clear?” That, to me, conveys the sense that he knows he's doing something wrong, and wants to take action while there are no witnesses. Hmm, typing that out makes me sound paranoid. Well, that's how I read it, anyway. I certainly like your explanation better.

@ 8

I love that movie. Ten years, meh. It never gets old. :)
rick gregory
11. rickg

I think you're inferring something that's not there. That quote doesn't make me think that Kirk knows he's doing something wrong, it makes me think that Kirk realizes he's out there... in the wild. Remember, these are the early days of Starfleet - there's a lot of exploration and running on the edge of the known. You can't always call in backup and chat. Plus... no witnesses? Everything we've seen makes it pretty clear that everything is logged... not only the captain's log but sensor logs etc. Kirk couldn't get away with destroying a ship and covering it up and ther's nothing to suggest he's the kind of person who would try that. You're projecting on this one.

I'm more put off by the emotionalism and the fact that he's already chosen not to react this way in earlier episodes.
Kurt Lorey
12. Shimrod
Overall. I liked the struggle mano y lagarto, but the rest of the story had enough holes to drive a starship through. I stick with a "4".
Melissa Ann Singer
13. masinger
Some things to remember, real-world-wise, when looking at these early Treks:

1. The concept was not whole from the beginning. As Tori and Eugene and others have noted, the Federation didn't exist right away, the Prime Directive was honored more in the breach than anything else, and the Enterprise's overall mission was, at this point, fairly unevolved.

2. The series was pitched at least in part as a "Western in space," and the first season particularly fits that definition, with its recurring menaces and battles between the heroes and villains whose ways we don't fully understand. This Star Trek is very much a Manifest Destiny show.

3. Look at the number of writers involved! Even with a show bible--which would have been pretty thin at this point--and with all scripts passing through the hands of Gene Roddenberry, we're already seeing the work of a large number of writers who would all have their own take on the characters. Since these characters are relatively new creations who have not yet been established beyond a few basics, it's not really surprising that their attitudes and behavior change from episode to episode, as the writers and Roddenberry are working their way into a greater/deeper understanding of who the core characters really are. I think this also accounts for the oddities in the supporting cast, like Uhura screaming in this episode.

4. The time pressure was immense. Everything I've read about production on early Trek leads me to believe that they were working at break-neck speed to turn out an episode a week. Given their tight budget and that filming had to be done more quickly than usual for a weekly series to give the special effects house time to do their part, it's kind of amazing that the show works even as well as it does.

GalaxyQuest is one of my all-time favorite movies. I own it both on tape and on disk and rewatch it at least once a year. The kid loves it too, and each time she sees it, she gets more of the jokes, since she's seen more of the things being referenced/parodied.
14. Brian3
Yes, the characterization was all off, I think because they'd set out to adapt an existing short story, and felt they needed to heighten the contrasts for dramatic effect. Kirk acting normally, as civilized, wouldn't have fit in.

Haven't seen this for, er, some years, but my impression at the time was that it too programmatic to relate to. I hadn't been keen on the short story to begin with, and it felt even more pedantic and artificial in this context. Nor could you say that it had anything to do with the characters. Kirk, for example, was being moved around by the writer like a piece on a chess board, and it would be pointless to say that he was acting well or badly, for example, because he was just doing what the writer needed him to do. It had nothing to do with his behavior before or since.

That raises some interesting questions. Something like a television show is a series of compromises. In this case, Star Trek needed a story to fill out the schedule, and the executive producer and the script editor didn't mind too much that it violated what these days would be called continuity. That's true to a greater or lesser extent with every episode, and the trick is to keep it within reasonable enough bounds that the viewer (if she or he cares) can continue to form some consistent picture of the characters. In this case, it would mean projecting a huge amount onto Kirk's motivation to force a fit with his past behavior. At the time when this came out, what seemed reasonable was just to say that it's a TV show, this was a bad episode, and you got to forget it ever happened. There wasn't the need to fabricate an airtight illusion of consistency.

As forms of story telling go, this has its advantages. You get to be a little pragmatic about things, and if you have a good story, and it doesn't quite fit in, you get to be selectively forgetful and just get on with it. On one hand, "continuity" can be a useful illusion that invites the viewer, or reader, to read in lots of things that aren't really there and thus to participate actively in the story telling, and relate to the show in a more intimate way. On the other, it can be terribly deadening -- if writers give it too much importance, they're stuck with years of short-term compromises, and often can't break with it to do something genuinely new.

Star Trek was all over the map with respect to continuity, from what I remember of it. What gave it the illusion that it had more consistency than it actually did was that the characters were generally simple and didn't change. That, too, had pragmatic value. If you're running a television show, you want characters that any writer can quickly pick up and do something with. Kirk, Spock, Scottie, and McCoy were clear enough types that anyone can easily learn their voices. (And that, I suspect, is much of their fan appeal.)

"Arena" isn't the story that Fredric Brown should be remembered for. A really interesting writer.
15. DemetriosX
I had forgotten the entire set up for the main action of this episode. All that ever really stuck in my mind was Kirk v. Gorn, but it is still one of the better action-oriented episodes. I have always nitpicked, though, that Kirk knows how to make gunpowder. Isn't that a bit like a random modern military officer knowing how to knap a flint knife?

masinger @13 covered the characterization problems pretty thoroughly. You could say, however, that Kirk does seem to have some general revenge issues over the years that he deals with varingly well. Perhaps in "Conscience of the King" he was more aware of his thirst for vengeance and accordingly wanted excellent proof. Other times, he doesn't handle it so well. "Obsession" comes to mind. Still other times, he exercises it more puckishly, say in "I, Mudd". This whole revenge aspect of his personality even gets into the movies (KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!), it's even a key plot point in "Undiscovered Country" ("They killed my son!")

And how come we never hear about the Gorn again in any Trek incarnation? They would have made an interesting addition for TNG or DS9. (IIRC, they're also great to have in Starfleet Battles.)
Church Tucker
16. Church
Oh yeah, one other thing that struck me this last time around. Kirk realizes that one of the 'raw materials' provided is the voice recorder! *That's* why he's the damn captain!
Church Tucker
17. Church
@15 DemetriosX

One showed up in Enterprise's "Mirror" episode, but it was almost unrecognizeable as such.
Torie Atkinson
18. Torie
@ 13 and 15

Of course of course. I'm sufficiently persuaded now. That said, I still think he's acting like a war-crazed jerk. Didn't like it.

@ 17

I never watched Enterprise, so you'll have to elaborate: isn't it implied that a peaceful accord was made, eventually? But they don't actually show up? How disappointing. Definitely something I'd like to see if another series ever happens...
rick gregory
19. rickg
One of my main disappointments/frustrations in ST (TNG as well as TOS) was that it never really deals with the richness of hte galaxy... you meet new aliens, then never see them again. There's a Federation of Planets, but aside from Vulcan and a couple of others we don't know what they are - are the 4 planets? 40? 400? Even the sets seem to imply there aren't many different aliens in Starfleet - think of DS9 or the various Enterprises... aside from a couple of token aliens, you don't get a sense that Starfleet routinely interactions with a dozen or more alien species.
Torie Atkinson
20. Torie
@ 19

I hate to say it, but I think the aliens really were the worst part of ST. While aliens often had creative sociological and cultural identities, they rarely looked or felt genuinely alien. It's my biggest concern about the upcoming MMO. They keep touting the character creation screen. Who cares? So you get to have this facial ridge or that one? Meh.
Church Tucker
21. Church
@18 Torie

A Federation outpost was destroyed. The perpetrators were heading out of Dodge. Destroying them before they can relay their success is a high tactical priority (and yeah, the inconsistency of subspace communications comes into play here. Won't be the last time.)

Welcome to old skool fandom, BTW. The Gorn were one of the most beloved races of the original series' fans. Gorn ship blueprints were produced. An alphabet was designed. They were a significant power in Starfleet Battles. They were one of the aliens provided by Mego. They cameoed in TAS.


I suspect that the reluctance to do the full 'Gorn suit' in TNG and later is what kept them offstage. Enterprise was able to use CGI to do a (bad, raptor-ish) Gorn, and even there I suspect they were stealing budget from other episodes. NuTrek might be able to have a proper Gorn. We can only hope.

@20 Torie

The wild thing is that TOS aliens tended to look more alien than they did in TNG. (I've always wanted to go to a con with some rubber dog shit glued to my forehead. When asked about it I would say "I'm an alien. You can tell because I've got shit on my forehead.")
Hugh Arai
22. HArai
Torie@20: I have always been of the opinion that aliens were the biggest thing that Star Wars did much better than Star Trek. I know there were all sorts of budgetary and time reasons since TOS was a tv show, but really an entire universe and every sentient being is a shapeless blur or human with bits tacked on?
Church Tucker
23. Church
@10 Torie

"Hmm, the Horatio Hornblower angle is interesting--I think it makes me like the episode more. "

After this thing wraps up, it might be interesting to have the two of you look over the whole series and see what scores you would retroactively change, and why.
24. Black -
I've got to agree with Torrie here - Kirk was a little out of control, and his 'there is no other possible explanation' spiel has never sat entirely well with me. This is frontier justice, and while Star Trek may be a "western in space", it just doesn't seem to jive with Kirk's character.

I think, perhaps, that the reason Torrie reacts to the attitude as "corrupt" is because this is an archetype we've seen before. I don't know that it is that he "knows he's doing something wrong", but that boundaries start to blur when you are not just the policeman, but also the judge, jury and executioner (which is pretty much what Kirk has declared himself). The most notable example that occurs to me is 'Touch of Evil', in which the police chief of the sleepy little border town has gone rotten. He is corrupt not because he accepts bribes or has turned criminal, but because he uses his position to frame people he is already convinced are guilty (of course things go further downhill in the course of the film as he becomes desperate).

Of course, just as the final scene of ToE is all the more powerful because the moment after the chief is shot we learn that he framed the right guy, the reveal that the Gorn were "defending the territory" wouldn't have the same impact if Kirk hadn't been so convinced he was in the right. However, I still maintain it is poor characterization in the service of the plot.I also think more could be done to make the Gorn's behavior excusable.
25. Hex168
I remember thinking, the first time I saw this episode, that it would have been inexpensive enough to stop the camera and clear the "landscape" away after the mortar fired. I didn't understand why a 23rd century mortar wouldn't do more than a WWII model.
Church Tucker
26. Church
@24 Black

Yeah, but you're forgetting that out in the frontier, a Starship IS the law as far as that concept matters. Negotiations, surrender even, were tried. Time to kill the bastards before they report how weak our intellations are.

@25 Hex168

You must be young. Good film instinct, but that would have been a hell of lot-clearing moment. And that mortar was so powerful it endangered the firing team (who then, for reasons that have confounded me since I was a lad, took refuge in the BACK of the foxhole. Hello? Wasn't anybody on set a Vet?)
27. Iain Coleman
The "Arena" story has been told and retold many, many times, but my favourite is always the Blake's 7 episode "Duel". This is based on a fight between freedom fighter / terrorist Blake and his arch-enemy, Space Commander Travis.

It borrows a huge amount from Star Trek's "Arena", but subverts it utterly. No one grows, and no one learns. The mysteriously powerful aliens are revealed as flawed and twisted voyeurs who gain sick thrills from watching living beings hunt and kill one another. Travis is too limited to learn anything from this experience, while Blake has nothing more to learn about death and violence.

Most importantly, the ending is superficially similar to the Star Trek version, but is in reality the complete opposite. Blake has Travis at his mercy, and refuses to kill him: not because Blake is too noble, or out of any sense of justice or mercy, but because Blake has figured out that Travis is an egomaniac with a subconscious death wish. So when he spares Travis's life, saying "You don't matter enough to kill", he does so because he knows this is the worst, most painful thing he can possibly do to Travis. (This does, arguably, backfire insofar as Travis goes on to deal with his psychological problems by starting an intergalactic war with the aim of destroying all humanity.)

It's a thoroughly bleak take on the basic story structure, but that's what you get when Terry Nation and Chris Boucher are writing the scripts.
Torie Atkinson
28. Torie
@ 23 Church

Good call! Like I said in my intro post, I haven't seen most of these episodes at all. It's a first-watch in most cases. I think that, having seen the whole series, I might find some much more memorable than I thought I would.
29. Sally12
That scream of LT Uhura's when they beamed Kirk off the Enterprise was too much!

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