“The Gamesters of Triskelion”
Written by Margaret Armen
Directed by Gene Nelson
Season 2, Episode 17
Production episode 60346
Original air date: January 5, 1968
Captain’s log. The Enterprise has arrived at Gamma II, an automated communications and astrogation station on which they are doing a maintenance check. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov arrive at the transporter room, but before Scotty can even activate the transporter, the landing party disappears. They arrive on a planet that definitely isn’t Gamma II—the sun is wrong, and they seem to be in some kind of arena. They can’t contact the ship—and then they’re confronted by four people carrying spears and knives. Their phasers don’t work, so they try hand to hand. Chekov takes on the biggest one, and is quickly subdued, while Uhura gets stuck fighting two women at once and is also captured. Kirk, meanwhile, takes the easy way out and goes after the smaller man, and does fine until one of the women subdues him.
Back on the Enterprise, Scotty reports that there’s no equipment malfunction on their end, the landing party just disappeared, and Spock scans Gamma II to find no sign of them, nor of anything else, on the planet or in the solar system. Ensign Jana Haines at the science station does detect a fluctuating energy reading in a hydrogen cloud, which Spock identifies as an ionization trail. It’s the only lead they have, so he has Haines set a course following that trail.
A man named Galt appears in the middle of the arena. He knows everyone’s name, and says they’ll be invaluable here. Galt is the Master Thrall of Triskelion. The trio are taken to a cell and shackled to a wall. Collars are placed on their necks, which are similar to those on the other four combatants, and Galt as well.
The landing party is taken to their quarters: cells that are labelled with their names (in English!). They try to make a break for it, but Galt stops them by activating the collars, which light up and cause great pain.
One of the combatants from earlier, whose name is Lars, identifies himself as Uhura’s drill thrall and enters her cell. He attacks her, and she screams, though she appears generally unhurt when Lars angrily leaves, saying she can’t reject being chosen.
The two women are the drill thralls for Kirk and Chekov. Shahna brings Kirk food and a significant amount of attitude, while Tamoon is much friendlier to Chekov. Kirk learns from Shahna that the colors of the tabs on the collars indicates which Provider owns the thrall who wears it. For now, the landing party’s collars are white until they’re purchased by a Provider. Kirk tries to get more information out of Shahna, and also flirts with her, but she isn’t very talkative.
The landing party is brought out to the arena, where they are trained with spears that also can be used as staffs (and also look like they can be used as coatracks…). The training is interrupted by Galt, who brings out a thrall who reacted too slowly and now gets to be the practice dummy for training. Uhura refuses to attack a defenseless person, and so she is to be the practice target instead. However, Kirk insists that he suffer any punishment, as he is responsible for his crew. He is bound and put in the arena with Kloog, the big guy, who is armed with a whip and a net. Kirk manages to loosen his bonds enough to get his arms in front of himself and go on the offensive, eventually choking and subduing Kloog.
Suddenly, the Providers are heard from, in voice only, as they start to bid on the newcomers. Provider 1 gets the high bid of two thousand quatloos, and Galt changes the tabs on their collar to red. They’re now full-fledged thralls.
Shahna takes Kirk running. Kirk is now shirtless (since his uniform was shredded by Kloog’s whip). On a rest, he tries to question her more, but she remains unhelpful. He tries to explain about freedom, a concept utterly foreign to her, and about love, which is even more foreign. When she gets all nervous, Kirk changes tactics and asks about the Providers. When she tries to answer, her collar lights up and she writhes in pain. Kirk yells to the sky, taking responsibility for her behavior. The Provider is intrigued by this whole “compassion” thing and explains that Kirk better learn obedience, and quick.
Kirk comforts Shahna, who is surprised and confused by Kirk’s willingness to take responsibility for her suffering. And then they smooch, because of course they do. Any further nookie is interrupted by Galt who says there won’t be punishment this time because the Providers find him interesting.
On the Enterprise, McCoy and Scotty complain to Spock about the wild hunch he’s playing, even though Spock insists it isn’t a hunch but the only course of action available given the beam that was directed at Gamma II and the complete lack of any other evidence to explain what happened to the landing party. Spock reminds them that he’s in command and that what he says goes. McCoy and Scotty back off—they’re not interested in mutiny, just a rational discussion—and Spock also agrees to go back to Gamma II and do a new search if this lead doesn’t pan out.
Shahna brings Kirk food, and she’s very uncomfortable with what happened between her and Kirk. So of course Kirk knocks her unconscious and takes her key, quickly freeing the other two. Chekov subdued Tamoon, and Uhura got rid of Lars, but they only get as far as the arena before Galt appears and punishes them.
The Enterprise arrives at Triskelion, detecting a concentration of life forms in the lower hemisphere. Spock and McCoy intend to beam down, but the Providers take control of the ship. Even as both the Providers and Kirk provide a huge mass of exposition to Spock and the others to explain what is happening, Kirk challenges the Providers to show themselves. So they teleport Kirk down to a facility beneath the surface, where he meets three colored brains in a jar. They used to have bodies, but they evolved beyond that. Kirk points out that gambling on arena fights is unworthy of their superior intellect.
Once the Providers announce their intention to destroy the Enterprise, Kirk changes tactics. He says that humans wager on everything, and that it’s in their nature to win. Kirk wagers that his landing party can win a fight against an equal number of thralls with weapons of their choosing. If Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov win, the Enterprise goes free, the thralls are also freed and will be educated and made into a self-governing society, with the help of the Providers (when they balk at that, Kirk points out that humans have been doing that for centuries, and is there really something humans can do that the Providers can’t?). If the thralls win, then all four hundred-plus people on the Enterprise will become thralls. The Providers say those are high stakes, and Kirk snottily replies, “Not for true gamesters.”
The Providers have one change: it must be Kirk alone against three thralls. Kirk says 3-1 are pretty long odds, and one Provider snottily replies, “Not for a true gamester.” Thus firmly placed on his own petard, and given that the alternative is death for him and his crew, Kirk accepts.
Kirk is sent to the arena, armed with a spear, facing Kloog, Lars, and an Andorian. Kirk must stay on the yellow parts of the arena floor, while the other three have to stay on the blue parts. The fight is to the death. If Kirk only wounds an opponent, that thrall will be replaced by a fresh one.
Kirk does fairly well (though he steps on the blue parts of the floor more than once without comment), killing Kloog with the Andorian’s spear, then ducking in time so that the Andorian’s spear toss impales Lars rather than Kirk. Kirk then takes down the Andorian, so he must be replaced; Galt chooses Shahna, who’s pissed that Kirk lied to her. She subdues Kirk, but hesitates to strike the killing blow. Kirk then subdues her, but does not kill her. However, despite this totally violating the terms of the wager, the Providers say that Kirk has won.
The collars are deactivated. The Providers promise to abide by the terms of the wager and educate the thralls. Shahna asks if Kirk can take her with him to the “lights in the sky,” but he says she has too much to learn on Triskelion first. They beam back, and Shahna looks up at the sky and promises to follow him some day.
Fascinating. Spock mentions that they have to hope they can track the landing party down, and McCoy points out Spock’s always said that hope is a human failing. Spock’s rejoinder: “Constant exposure does result in a certain degree of contamination.”
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy insists that Spock is wrong to track the energy trail when it’s far more likely that they’re somewhere near Gamma II. Spock’s aggressive embrace of logic and rationalism prevents him from actually doing an I-told-you-so dance when they arrive at Triskelion.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura rather unfairly has to take on two opponents when they first beam down, and Shahna and Tamoon are able to subdue her. She’s also defiant to Lars in her cell and to Galt when he orders them to attack another thrall.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty stands right by McCoy in saying that Spock is wrongity-wrong-wrong-wrong when he is in fact 100% right.
It’s a Russian invention. Where Kirk flirts with his drill thrall, and Uhura fights hers off, Chekov just sorta sits nervously and stammers around his.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Kirk wastes no time in hitting on Shahna, whose outfit is hilariously skimpy even by the high standards of a William Ware Theiss costume.
Channel open. “I would welcome a suggestion, Doctor, even an emotional one, as to where to look.”
“First time you’ve ever asked me for anything, and it has to be an occasion like this.”
Spock showing how desperate he is, and McCoy totally forgetting that Spock asked him for something in “Amok Time.”
Welcome aboard. The late great Joseph Ruskin makes the first of several Trek appearances as Galt. He’ll return on Deep Space Nine as Tumek in “The House of Quark” and “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” and as a Cardassian in “Improbable Cause“; on Voyager as a Vulcan master in “Gravity”; on Enterprise as a Suliban doctor in “Broken Bow”; and in the movie Insurrection as a Son’a.
The Providers are voiced by Bart LaRue, Walker Edmiston, and Robert C. Johnson. LaRue previously did the voices of Trelane’s father (“The Squire of Gothos“) and the Guardian (“The City on the Edge of Forever“) and appeared as the games announcer in “Bread and Circuses“; he’ll be back in “Patterns of Force” and “The Savage Curtain.” Edmiston did the voice of Balok, dubbing Clint Howard, in “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and did various voices in “The Return of the Archons,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” “This Side of Paradise,” “Friday’s Child,” and “Amok Time.” Johnson is best known as the voice on the tape at the top of every Mission: Impossible episode, and he also did voice work in “The Cage,” and upcoming in “The Immunity Syndrome” and “Assignment: Earth.”
B-movie actor Angelique Pettyjohn plays Shahna, the textbook example of the Alien Babe Whom Kirk Seduces. Stunt coordinator Dick Crockett plays the Andorian, while Steve Sandor plays Lars, Jane Ross plays Tamoon, Mickey Morton plays Kloog, and the Enterprise crew are played by Victoria George and recurring regulars Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig.
Trivial matters: This is the first of several Trek scripts by Margaret Armen. She also wrote or co-wrote the third-season episodes “The Paradise Syndrome” and “The Cloud Minders,” the animated episodes “The Ambergris Element” and “The Lorelei Signal,” and a script for the abortive Phase II series, “Savage Syndrome.” This episode received uncredited rewrites by both Gene L. Coon and John Meredyth Lucas.
This is the first and only onscreen mention of the monetary unit known as the quatloo, though it has taken root in Trek fandom as a joke currency.
Phaedra M. Weldon wrote a sequel to this episode in Strange New Worlds, “The Lights in the Sky,” which takes place around the time of the Generations prelude, in which Shahna is Triskelion’s ambassador to the Federation.
This episode was parodied on the “Deep Space Homer” episode of The Simpsons.
To boldly go. “A hundred quatloos on the newcomer!” There are a lot of reasons why I wish this misbegotten piece of crap didn’t exist, but mostly it’s because the vast majority of the dismissive criticisms and stupid clichés that have accreted regarding Star Trek over the past five decades come from this damn episode.
We’ve got that old standby, our heroes placed in an arena where they have to fight other folks for the enjoyment of some manner of overseers. We have the “highly evolved” beings who toy with lesser life forms for sport. We have those same evolved beings conned by Kirk’s verbal trickery. We have our shirtless hero (with manly manly scars from being whipped) defeating three foes at once. For good measure, we also have lots of Spock-McCoy arguing, which doesn’t serve any useful purpose except to fill time and give them something to do, since in fact Spock’s course of action actually makes perfect sense.
And, of course, we have our hero and the green-haired woman in the skimpy silver outfit, who has her entire view of the universe changed because James T. Kirk kissed her.
It’s not all bad—I do like the casual use of a female officer to run navigation and the science console in Chekov’s absence. There are some great voices at work here, as Joseph Ruskin, Bart LaRue, Walker Edmiston, and Robert C. Johnson are among the finest vocal stylists ever to grace a TV screen. And, uh—well, Angelique Pettyjohn sure did look good in the shiny silver outfit!
Yeah, I got nothin’. Just a blight on the Trek landscape.
Warp factor rating: 1
Next week: “Obsession”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at First CON-tact this weekend at the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott in Queens, New York. He’ll be doing a panel on genre fiction alongside fellow author Ilana C. Myer and also have a table where he’ll be selling books and signing autographs.