Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Spectre of the Gun”

“Spectre of the Gun”
Written by Lee Cronin
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Season 3, Episode 1
Production episode 60043-56
Original air date: October 25, 1968
Stardate: 4385.3

Captain’s log. The Enterprise goes to Melkotian space, under orders to make contact with the locals, and they find a buoy which parallels the ship, adapting to every course change, and also closing in on them. When the ship stops moving forward, the buoy also stops and finally communicates: they have encroached upon the space of the Melkot (which they kind of already knew). Each crew member hears the buoy’s voice in their native tongue—English for Kirk, Vulcan for Spock, Russian for Chekov, and Swahili for Uhura. Kirk’s attempt to communicate back is met with silence, so Kirk decides to beam down anyhow.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov beam down into a region that is covered in fog. None of their instruments work, and they are confronted by a Melkotian, who says they will be punished for disobeying their buoy.

The punishment is death via a scenario pulled from Kirk’s mind: the fog disappears and they find themselves in a vague, incomplete facsimile of 1881 Tombstone, Arizona. Everyone’s phasers have been changed into 19th-century revolvers. Kirk checks a newspaper to discover the place and date, and it’s the day of the infamous gunfight between the Clantons and the Earps. Sheriff Johnny Behan appears and greets them as Ike, Tom, Frank, Billy, and Billy which means that they’re the Clantons. Both Kirk and Spock know the history well—the others not so much, and Kirk tells an apprehensive Chekov that the Clantons lost the feud.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

A quick shootout occurs outside a saloon. The landing party go in to be greeted as the Clantons (with everyone surprised that they’re still in town), with a woman, Sylvia, greeting Chekov with a kiss. Morgan Earp is also in the saloon, and there’s almost a confrontation, but Spock preaches caution, trying to avoid a quick draw.

Morgan starts something by pulling Sylvia off Chekov, but he decides not to get into a five-on-one fight and leaves. Spock believes he was trying to provoke them into drawing first.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Kirk doesn’t get how everyone can see them as the Clantons when they’re still in uniform. He tries to convince the bartender that he’s James T. Kirk and he’s wearing totally different clothes from what anyone else is wearing. The bartender doesn’t buy it, figuring it’s one of the usual Clanton jokes.

So Kirk goes to the marshal’s office and tries to convince Virgil and Wyatt Earp that he doesn’t want trouble and he isn’t Ike Clanton, but Virgil doesn’t buy it and throws a punch. Kirk doesn’t get into the full fisticuffs, throwing up his hands and refusing to draw. Then Wyatt gives him an ultimatum: be out of town by five. If they’re in town at 5:01 he won’t wait for the Clantons to draw first.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun


McCoy treats Kirk’s jaw with bourbon, and then pries Chekov off Sylvia so they can leave town. Except they can’t—there’s a force field keeping them within the Tombstone city limits. Since they’re stuck there, they try to figure out how to deal with the Earps with what they’ve got on hand, and they hit on tranquilizers made from local plants and available matériel.

Unfortunately, McCoy tries to get his equipment from the dentist, but that puts him in confrontation with Doc Holliday. However, Holliday decides to be magnanimous and let McCoy have what he needs, even giving him his medical bag—as long as his “emergency” is over by five.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Chekov bumps into Sylvia while obtaining stuff Spock needs for his delivery system. Their discussion—which includes the upcoming dance and the possibility of marriage—is interrupted by Morgan, who socks Chekov in the face. When Chekov tries to get Morgan to take his filthy mitts off Sylvia, Morgan shots him in cold blood (his revolvers are both still holstered). The landing party comes running, as do the other Earp brothers. Kirk holds Scotty back and refuses to take the bait—they still need to get their tranq guns ready.

As they’re prepping the tranqs, amidst attempts to deal with Chekov’s death, Spock points out that Chekov’s analogue from history, Billy Claiborne, was one of the survivors of the gunfight. This gives Kirk hope that they can alter history. Leaving Spock, McCoy, and Scotty to work on their weapons, Kirk goes to Behan to try to get the sheriff to stop the fight, but as far as Behan’s concerned, this is the best way to get rid of the Earps.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

The others finish their work, and they test it on Scotty—on whom it has no effect whatsoever. This, however, gives Spock an idea. He believes that this entire thing is a sophisticated illusion created by the Melkotians. Spock mind-melds with each of the others to reinforce the belief that none of it is real.

When the Earps and Holliday show up at the O.K. Corral, their bullets have no effect on the landing party. Wyatt decides to jump Kirk, but when given the opportunity to shoot Wyatt, Kirk declines—and then they’re all back on the Enterprise bridge. Chekov is alive and well, and the buoy is still in front of the ship—but then it self-destructs.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

The Melkotian shows up on their screen, surprised that Kirk didn’t kill Wyatt when he had the chance. Kirk says they use violence only when necessary. They prefer peaceful contact. The Melkotian is impressed, and invites them down to the planet for a more pleasant conversation.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Spock, McCoy, and Scotty can create gas grenades that will render someone unconscious with materials available at a 19th-century apothecary and dental office. Because they’re just that awesome. Or, rather, they would be if it had worked. 

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Fascinating. Despite Kirk being the person from whom the Melkotians took the scenario, it is Spock who acts like the expert, because Spock must, of course, be the expert on everything.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy tries to talk to Holliday doctor to doctor, but Doc views Bones as a Clanton only.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

It’s a Russian invention. Chekov is the one who starts the ball rolling on the tranq solution, as he mentions the poisonous snakes and cacti in the area. When it’s all over, he only recalls smooching Sylvia, not getting shot, which is nice for him.

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura gets to open hailing frequencies a lot.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty flies off the handle to go after the Earps after Chekov is shot. He also develops a taste for bourbon, going so far as to slug down a shot “for the pain” before Spock tests the tranq on him, never mind the fact that it’s completely painless.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Chekov justifies his multiple smooches with Sylvia by saying that Kirk always tells them to maintain good relations with the native population. He doesn’t actually waggle his eyebrows, but he comes pretty close. 

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Go put on a red shirt. Since there are no security guards on the landing party, the role of dead meat falls to Chekov. But since he’s a regular, he’s only mostly dead, not all dead, and is fine at the end.

Channel open. “Ten minutes and it’s all going to end at the O.K. Corral. Well, we’re going to wait right here until well after five o’clock—we’re not going to move from this spot!”

The last thing Kirk says before the Melkotians forcibly move them from that spot to the O.K. Corral.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Welcome aboard. Ron Soble, Charles Maxwell, and Rex Holman play the Earp brothers, Sam Gilman plays Holliday, Bill Zuckert plays Behan, Charles Seel plays the bartender, Ed McCready plays the barber, and Bonnie Beecher plays Sylvia. This is McCready’s fifth and final appearance in a small role in a Vincent McEveety-directed episode (not surprising, as it’s also McEveety’s final episode). Holman will next be seen in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as J’onn.

Recurring regular James Doohan plays both Scotty and the voice of the Melkotian buoy, while Abraham Sofaer does the voice of the Melkotian. (Sofaer last appeared as the Thasian in “Charlie X.”) We’ve also got recurring regulars Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

Trivial matters: With the commencement of the third season, John Meredyth Lucas was no longer the show-runner, and D.C. Fontana was also out as script consultant, while Gene Roddenberry’s executive producer credit was largely ceremonial at this point, as he’d moved on to other projects. Fred Freiberger took over as producer, assisted by Robert Justman and Arthur Singer.

Lee Cronin was a pseudonym for former show-runner Gene L. Coon. While he was no longer on the production staff, he did continue to write for the show, though all his third-season contributions were done under this nom de plume.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

The original title for the episode was “The Last Gunfight.” That title was used in James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 3.

The original gunfight between the Clantons and the Earps in Tombstone did indeed occur on the 26th of October in 1881. This episode conveniently aired the week of the 87th anniversary. It is also marred with inaccuracies, mostly due to the simplified and popularized versions of the story that had propagated throughout the 20th century. For starters, despite the proliferation of the O.K. Corral as the centerpiece of the gunfight, it actually occurred in the alley outside C.S. Fly’s Photographic Studio. Virgil Earp was the marshal of Tombstone, not Wyatt—though in 1966, Wyatt’s legend had been exaggerated in the popular consciousness, mostly thanks to Stuart N. Lake’s hagiographical biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal and the John Ford movie My Darling Clementine. Also the gunfight wasn’t due to an ultimatum by the Earps, it was completely spontaneous, and happened at 3pm, not 5pm.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

This was one of Bonnie Beecher’s last roles before she retired from acting. She is married to Hugh Romney, a.k.a. “Wavy Gravy” (counterculture hero and the MC at Woodstock), and changed her first name to Jahanara.

DeForest Kelley was no stranger to dramatizing 1881 Tombstone: he previously played Ike in an episode of You are There and Morgan in the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

In 1881, the Earps, Behan, and Holliday were all in their 30s, but the actors playing them in this episode were all in their 40s and 50s. (To be fair, folks aged more quickly and had lower life expectancies in the late 19th century.)

To boldly go. “Draw!” On a philosophical level, this is a good Trek episode. We have Starfleet’s mission of seeking out new life and new civilizations—Kirk’s mission is explicitly stated to make contact with the Melkotians—and we have our heroes’ desire to be compassionate. The Earps and Holliday take every opportunity to provoke the landing party, but whether it’s McCoy in Holliday’s office, Kirk in the marshal’s office, or the whole gang at the saloon and at the O.K. Corral, they keep their revolvers holstered. Even Chekov, when he defends Sylvia’s honor, remains unarmed.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

And of course in the end, the Melkotians—just like the Metrons in another Gene Coon script, “Arena“—are impressed with Kirk’s unwillingness to kill someone trying to kill him, leading to diplomacy in the place of violence.

(Oh, and here’s another nail in the Kirk-is-a-maverick myth’s coffin: even after a warning from the buoy, he goes to Melkot and beams down because that’s what he was ordered to do. The mythical maverick Kirk would thumb his nose at orders that endangered his ship, but back in the real world of the actual TV show that aired 50 years ago, Kirk is a good soldier who follows orders.)

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

While this won’t always be true in this season of reduced budgets, the financially mandated studio set and incomplete buildings for Tombstone actually works in the episode’s favor, creating a surrealist atmosphere that adds to the tension. And the Melkotians are much more alien than we’re used to seeing (which is one of the hallmarks—and virtues—of the third season, as we’ll also see in places like “The Tholian Web” and “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”).

Having said all that—man, is this episode dumb. I can forgive the inaccuracies about the gunfight in Tombstone, partly because it’s rigged for maximum kill-the-landing-party potential, partly because it’s pulled from Kirk’s memories, which are likely scattershot in the extremis, and partly because the myths about Wyatt Earp were pretty well entrenched in the popular consciousness five decades ago. But if the Melkotians are in it to kill the intruders, why such an elaborate setup? Why is Spock (the only person not native to Earth) the one providing all the historical information when it’s Kirk’s memories this is coming from? If Spock’s mind-meld convinces them that this is all unreal, how come Kirk can still get into a fistfight with Wyatt?

Star Trek, Original Series, season 3, Spectre of the Gun

And while I admire that it has the same philosophical bent as “Arena,” it also is pretty much the same story, with the main difference being that the jury-rigged weapon made with local material doesn’t work here, and it’s also made less interesting by recycling Western costumes and props lying around the Desilu lot instead of being a fight against an alien.


Warp factor rating: 4

Next week:Elaan of Troyius

Keith R.A. DeCandido has no idea how it managed to be May already…


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