Stardate: 3045.6 (2267)
Original Air Date: January 19, 1967
Writer: Gene L. Coon/Frederic Brown
Director: Joseph Pevney
“We’re a most promising species, Mr. Spock,
as far as predators go…”
This legendary episode will always be remembered for its lengthy and campy battle scene between Capt. Kirk and the Gorn creature. It begins when the Enterprise pays a visit to a remote Federation outpost called Cestus III. The crew is eager to see Commodore Travers and his reputation for hospitality, particularly Commodore Travers’s personal chef, however once they beam down it is revealed that Cestus III has been reduced to little more than rubble. Kirk announces a red alert.
After a battle on Cestus III, in which the crew rescues an injured man named Lt. Harold (Tom Troupe, born in 1928 and still alive to this day), Kirk makes use of a discarded grenade launcher, and while on a tricorder Spock identifies the shelling aliens as cold-blooded and non-human. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is also attacked in orbit. Sulu guides the ship away from Cestus III before quickly returning to rescue Kirk and the remaining crew on the surface.
In sickbay, Lt. Harold reveals details of the surprise invasion –the attack was likely a trap to lure the Enterprise to Cestus III. Thus Kirk orders a risky chase of the alien ship at “Warp 7” and then “Warp 8” into an unexplored region of the galaxy. Soon however, the ship’s sensors reveal that the Enterprise is being scanned by an unknown planet in a nearby solar system. Both the Enterprise and the pursued alien ship are then slowed to a sub-light stop in dead space –they have been paused by an unknown third party: a powerful god-like race of extraterrestrials known as “Metrons.” The Metrons scold humanity for being calloused and violent, and they declare a battle of hand-to-hand combat between Kirk and the opposing captain (who is actually a reptilian creature known as a “Gorn”) in order to settle the dispute in a faux arena, a suitable planet fashioned by the Metrons.
Kirk and the Gorn engage in a melee while the Enterprise crew watch on the screen and appeal to the Metrons in the name of civilization to stop this duel –but to no avail. The Metrons are convinced that humans are a savage, brutal race. The fight between Kirk and the Gorn is terribly dated and downright silly, the combat sequences are just painfully bad, and it lasts for half the episode’s run-time. Eventually, Kirk hides in some rocks and he gathers potassium nitrate, diamonds, and a lump of coal to create a rudimentary form of gunpowder (good thing this planet is a “mineralogist’s dream!”) After a lengthy scene with minimal tension, Kirk builds a makeshift cannon and blasts the Gorn, but when given the chance he refuses to kill the creature, demonstrating his charitable, merciful, and civilized disposition to the Metrons. A Metron then appears in the form of a 1,500 year old angelic figure (played by Carolyne Barry, a trained dancer who also appears as an engineer in the TNG episode “Home Soil” and voiced by Vic Perrin, the famous radio personality who provided the “control voice” for the opening of The Outer Limits). Kirk elects to take the path of diplomacy with both the Metron as well as the Gorn. Perhaps there is hope to reach an agreement with the Gorn in the future. The Metron, impressed by Kirk, claims their species will contact humanity whenever the time is right in the future (though they do not return in TOS). This may take thousands of years for humanity to fully shed its evolutionary cloak of barbarism. Kirk is returned to the Enterprise which has been placed about 500 parsecs away from the Metron solar system. The Enterprise make way for Cestus III ostensibly to begin peace talks with the Gorn.
My Thoughts on “Arena”
While this is an absolutely essential, iconic episode, it does not rank among my favorite episodes of Star Trek. Or at least, it is not an episode I might fondly revisit. One question from this episode concerns the possible missteps made by the Federation –was the Gorn justified in its attack on Cestus III? Did the Federation arrogantly or perhaps ignorantly overstep its boundaries and place a colony directly inside the Gorn’s region? To what extent do the fundamentals of politics remain the same in this futuristic space world?
This episode was written by producer/writer Gene L. Coon (1924-1973), a key member of the creative team in the first and second seasons, though this episode was actually based on a 1944 short story of the same name by versatile 20th century writer Fredric Brown (1906-1972).
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. This was his first directed episode in the series after being brought onboard by Gene Coon. He completed the episode in six days, one day ahead of schedule, and as a result he earned a $500 bonus.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Gene L. Coon wrote this script thinking it came from his own imagination, however the Business Department at Desilu noted the striking similarity between this story and another script idea submitted by Frederic Brown, so Desilu offered Mr. Brown a fair price for the story and he was ultimately given credit for the episode.
- Several key ideas for the Trek franchise were first introduced in this episode: the Federation (later the “United Federation of Planets”), photon torpedoes, and the Gorn species.
- This episode was filmed at the Vazquez rocks location in Southern California where other episodes were also filmed, including “Shore Leave.”
- Standing too close to an explosion during the filming of this episode caused William Shatner and also Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley to contract tinnitus in their ears.
- The plot for this episode bears similarity to an Outer Limits episode entitled “Fun and Games” in which advanced aliens known as Anderrans “electro-transport” humans and other intelligent beings to a moon called “Arena” in order to do battle with one another.
- The recording/translating device Kirk and the Gorn were given in this episode later appeared as a universal translator.
- Wah Chang designed and built the Gorn suit; but the Gorn’s clothing was designed by William Ware Theiss.
- Technically four different men played the Gorn: stuntmen Bobby Clark and Gary Combs, William Blackburn wore the Gorn head for close-up shots, and Ted Cassidy provided the voice dubbing throughout. Ted Cassidy (Lurch on The Addams Family) previously appeared as the voice of Balok in “The Corbomite Maneuver” and the ancient android Ruk in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” This episode was his final Star Trek appearance.
- After production finished on this episode, the two Gorn costumes were placed in Robert Justman’s office to frighten newcomers.
- The Metrons were named after Metatron, a high-ranking military solder in Michael’s army according Biblical mythology.
- A “Cestus” was a Roman glove used as a weapon, and an “Arena” was a Roman word referring to sand on the floor of gladiatorial games such as the Coliseum.
- Apparently, Ben Stiller is a big Star Trek fan and currently owns the original Gorn costume head.