Stardate: 2817.6 (2266)
Original Air Date: December 8, 1966
Writer: Barry Trivers
Director: Gerd Oswald
“Men change, memories change.”
Shakespeare makes another prominent appearance in the Star Trek saga in this most unusual murder mystery episode. “The Conscience of the King” opens with Capt. Kirk watching a Shakespearean performance of “the Scottish play” alongside an old friend named Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent). Currently, the Enterprise has diverted its regularly scheduled mission because it has been summoned to “Planet Q” (located three light years away) by Dr. Leighton. Apparently, Dr. Leighton has discovered a new synthetic food which can potentially end famine on a nearby Earth Colony known as Cygnia Minor. However, Kirk soon learns that Dr. Leighton has other plans for his visit –Dr. Leighton is convinced that one of the main Shakespearean actors named Anton Karidian (currently working in a traveling theatrical group called the Karidian Company) is actually “Kodos The Executioner,” a once-fearsome and bloody tyrant. Karidian or perhaps Kodos is played by theatrical stage actor Arnold Moss.
Who is Kodos? Research from Kirk and Spock indicates that “Kodos the Executioner” was the Governor of Tarsus IV some 20 years prior. In the midst of a vast food shortage caused by an unknown fungus, Kodos decided to invoke martial law and he slaughtered 50% of the population (about 4,000 people). Apparently, Kodos was a notorious eugenicist as well. His policies caused a violent bloodbath even though food supply ships arrived on Tarsus IV shortly thereafter. Also by the time Earth’s military forces arrived on Tarsus IV, the presumed body of Kodos was located but no positive identification could be made (it was badly burned), and thus the case of Kodos the Executioner was closed and he was presumed dead. Only eight or nine living people actually know the true appearance of Kodos, and two of those people include Dr. Leighton (whose face has been scarred from his time on Tarsus IV) and a young Capt. Kirk. However, we also learn that another Enterprise crewman named Lt. Riley is one of the only other living eyewitnesses of Kodos (recall Lt. Riley’s singing from the earlier Season 1 episode “The Naked Time”). Did Kodos actually die on Tarsus IV? Or could this Shakespearean actor, Anton Karidian, actually be the long-lost tyrant in disguise? There is little information available on the actor Anton Karidian other than his work in the traveling troupe (which coincidentally began shortly after Kodos was presumed dead) and also Karidian has a daughter whom Kirk soon meets named Lenore Karidian (Barbara Anderson).
Much of the episode concerns a budding flirtatious relationship between Lenore and Kirk while the Enterprise arranges to transport the Karidian Company from Planet Q to the Benecia Colony so that Kirk may further investigate Karidian, but Kirk soon discovers that the last remaining eyewitnesses of Kodos are mysteriously disappearing one-by-one (Spock’s research reveals that the deaths of other Kodos eyewitnesses have coincided with performances of the Karidian Company). Dr. Leighton is found dead, Lt. Riley is poisoned while listening to Uhura’s memorable song from the engineering bay, and Kirk narrowly escapes a dangerous situation in which a phaser is set to remotely overload in his quarters. When Kirk confronts Karidian, the actor all but admits of his guilt, but his voice test is inconclusive.
In the end, Lt. Riley steals a phaser and attempts to attack Karidian/Kodos during a performance of Hamlet. Lt. Riley hopes to exact vengeance for the deaths of his family members on Tarsus IV but he curiously points the weapon directly at Kirk as well –surely a serious offense! At any rate, it is revealed that Lenore is the true culprit who was killing all of Kodos’s witnesses in order to protect her father. Lt. Riley shoots and kills Karidian/Kodos and all is returned to normal. In a tragic twist, Lenore’s memory is erased and she is given medical care –Lenore likely still believes her father is out there giving Shakespearean performances. Perhaps her memory was tampered with using the neural neutralizer from the earlier Season 1 episode “Dagger of the Mind.” Either way, this is a fairly disturbing conclusion to the episode.
My Thoughts on “The Conscience of the King”
This is not a particularly beloved episode for most Trekkies, however as a lover of Shakespeare I found this to be a wonderfully underrated installment. While likely not a top 20 or 30 episode (the romance between Kirk and Lenore is unbearably hard to take seriously), I like a good murder mystery and the notion that a brutal dictator is hiding in plain sight is a compelling plot device, even if the idea that Kodos would escape from public view by starring in various public theatrical performances is wholly far-fetched. Nevertheless, I found this to be a charming Trek adventure.
Barry Trivers (1907-1981) was an Egyptian-born film and television writer. His only contributions to Star Trek included “The Conscience of the King” as well as an unmade episode entitled “A Portrait In Black and White.”
Gerd Oswald (1919-1989) was a German-born television director who directed a remarkable 14 episodes of The Outer Limits as well as two Season 1 Star Trek TOS episodes.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Kodos is the name of one of the classic aliens on The Simpsons. The other is Kang whose name is taken from the latter Season 3 episode “Day of the Dove.”
- Spock says his father’s race was “spared the dubious benefits of alcohol” to which Dr. McCoy responds that he knows why they were conquered.
- The title of this episode is borrowed from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- This episode features the last appearance of Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Janice Rand (according to production order, she did appear in the next aired episode “Balance of Terror”). She was notified she was fired from the show about a week before this episode was filmed. Of course she did reprise the role 23 years later in the Star Trek movies.
- This episode features the second and final appearance of Lieutenant Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde). We first met him in “The Naked Time.” Later Bruce Hyde became a Heideggerian scholar of ontology.
- In this episode, Uhura serenades Lt. Riley with a song entitled “Beyond Antares” while she plays her Vulcan harp. It is a wonderful little interlude.
- Arnold Moss, who played Karidian/Kodos, was a notable stage actor who played the role of Prospero onstage in Shakespeare’s The Tempest over 124 times, a record on Broadway.
- While this episode takes place twenty or so years after Kodos’s reign of terror, in reality this episode was also released about twenty-one years after the end of World War II. Allusions abound as to the atrocities that took place in World War II.
- The colony name Tarsus IV is perhaps an allusion to the Apostle Paul’s hometown, and the name Lenore may have been taken from Edgar Allen Poe.
- In this episode, Kirk refers to Riley as a “Lieutenant” in the “Star Service” –which was apparently an early name for Starfleet.
- The original ship that was scheduled to transport the Karidian Company from Planet Q to the Benecia Colony was called the “Astral Queen” under the command of Jon Daily. The name was later re-used in the 2004 recreation of Battlestar Galactica by Ronald D. Moore as a prison barge. Ronald D. Moore gave high praise to this episode. Of course Mr. Moore is a celebrated Star Trek writer across numerous iterations of the franchise.
- Three of Shakespeare’s plays are quoted in this episode: Macbeth, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar.
- The phaser overload emergency in Kirk’s quarters is the only known instance of a “double red alert” being issued outside James Blish’s novelizations.
- This episode received some of the lowest viewership ratings for the show because it contained no sci-fi monsters, aliens, nor significant action sequences.
- In this episode, Kirk’s quarters are labeled “3F 121.”
- Barbara Anderson apparently developed a cold sore on her lip during filming of this episode. Certain scenes were shot with a shadow covering the lower half of her face.
- Lt. Riley receives a demotion of sorts from communications to engineering in this episode (though his shirt is mistakenly gold colored despite not being a member of the ship’s leadership).
- In the original script for this episode the name of Bruce Hyden’s character was Lt. Robert Daiken. But since Bruce Hyden had previously played Lt. Riley in “The Naked Time” they kept his character’s name consistent. This was the last appearance of Lt. Riley.
- At the Leighton dinner party, a jazzy version of the show’s theme can be heard playing in the background.
- Dr. McCoy can be seen drinking a bottle of Saurian Brandy in this episode. The bottle is actually a re-used George Dickel 1964 whiskey bottle.
- The Karidian Company is apparently sponsored by the Galactic Installation Project.