Stardate: 3192.1 (2267)
Original Air Date:
Writer: Robert Hamner/Gene L. Coon
Director: Joseph Pevney
They fight their war entirely with computers.”
The Enterprise is carrying Ambassador Robert Fox (Gene Lyons) en route to star cluster NGC 321 with the objective of opening diplomatic relations with the known civilizations located there. In particular, they head toward a little-known planet called Eminiar VII which was once contacted about year prior but the ship soon disappeared (the S.S. Valiant). As the Enterprise approaches, scanners reveal an advanced civilization located on Eminiar VII. The Eminians have the capacity for space flight but they rarely venture outward as they are believed to be locked in war with a neighboring planet called Vendikar. Uhura opens hailing frequencies but there is no response. The Eminians scan the Enterprise while it sits in orbit and they issue a stark warning for it to depart.
Ignoring the warning, Kirk leads a landing party down to the surface consisting of First Officer Spock, and additional security personnel Yeoman Tamura, and two security officers, Lieutenants Galloway and Osborne. The surface reveals a clean, orderly, and well-constructed civilization. They are met by Eminian representatives Mea 3 (Barbara Babcock) at the Division of Control who leads the crew to the High Council where we learn more about the situation from High Councilor Anan 7 (David Opatoshu).
Eminiar VII has been at war for 500 years with Vendikar. Each year about 1-3 million people die hence why the Enterprise is in danger. Indeed, while they are speaking a direct hit fusion bomb strikes the city, but there appears to be no explosion, no destruction, no chaos. As it turns out, Spock figures out this is actually a computer war. Per an agreement regarding the rules of this war, people are classified as “casualties” and they die by voluntary stepping into disintegrator machines in order to avoid mutual shared destruction. Otherwise Vendikar will launch real weapons causing mass destruction. And in this most recent virtual attack, the Enterprise has been classified “destroyed” by a tricobalt satellite, and so the Eminians require all Enterprise crewmen report to a disintegrator.
Anan 7 uses a voice duplicator to imitate Kirk’s voice, he communicates with Acting Captain Scotty and orders the crew to transport down. However, Scotty is suspicious. He has the ship’s computer analyze the message and confirms it is 98% fake. Scotty then orders the shields raised and when the crew fails to transport down, Eminiar fires upon the Enterprise, but the attack is deflected by the shields. Ambassador Fox, another stuffy enfeebled Federation bureaucrat, continues to maintain optimism about peaceful engagement with the Eminians. He speaks with Anan 7 who falsely claims the attack was merely due to a malfunction. Ambassador Fox, placing his full trust in Anan, beams down and is immediately taken to a disintegration chamber along with Mea 3, who was also marked as a “casualty” in the simulated war –but at the last moment Spock and the security officers rescue them, after having escaped their own predicament.
Meanwhile, Kirk invades the High Council chamber and quickly turns the tide of this war by destroying the Eminians’ super computer (this is a different mode of destruction than was found in “The Return of the Archons”). He deliberately violates the agreement with Vendikar thus forcing a hot war –unless Anan can agree to a new peace treaty. In a choice between peace and assured mutual destruction, Anan employs the help of Ambassador Fox to negotiate a peace agreement with Vendikar.
In the end, the Enterprise makes way for Organa II while optimism remains for a new agreement between Eminiar VII and Vendikar. As the Enterprise speeds away, Spock slyly remarks that Kirk makes him almost believe in luck, whereas Kirk retorts that Spock makes him to almost believe in miracles.
Created prior to the video game age, this episode is not unlike “The Corbomite Maneuver” or “Balance of Terror,” is a fascinating examination of the nature of warfare. It pits diplomats like Ambassador Fox against military men like Kirk. There is a time for peace and a time for war, but a defensive posture is generally preferred when charting the unknown. “What is the greater morality: open honesty, or a deception which may save our lives?” Diplomats have a proclivity for greater faith in mutual goodwill, and that is why he very nearly falls victim to the disintegrator.
This is a great Scotty episode. He takes the helm and then immediately butts heads with the disagreeable Ambassador Fox (“that mealy-mouthed gentleman”) only to find himself threatened under penalty of banishment to a penal colony (“my haggis is cooked!”) Leaving the Enterprise in the hands of its chief engineer was clearly the right decision in this difficult, morally ambiguous situation.
There are lots of other ideas worthy of consideration in this episode, not least of which is the absence of the Prime Directive, the Federation’s presumed imperialism, and even Spock’s strange telepathic abilities as he is capable of mind control through his prison walls. I was struck by Kirk’s “General Order 24” which instructs the Enterprise to use all means of firepower to destroy an enemy. it would be interesting to learn about the specific legal hurdles that must be crossed in order for it to be invoked. Something tells me we have not seen the last of “General Order 24.”
Robert Hamner (1928-1996) wrote the story concept for this episode before it was taken over and adapted into a teleplay by Gene L. Coon. Mr. Hamner wrote many scripts over the decades and he co-created the show S.W.A.T.
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. This was his third directed episode in the series.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Technically, this episode is the first full acknowledgement of the “United Federation of Planets” after the show fluctuated between a few different similar phrases in the first season.
- According to David Gerrold, the computer tally of the war dead in this episode was intended to be a commentary on the Vietnam War at the time. The idea that 1-3M people are killed each year for 500 years for the Eminians is an extraordinary catastrophe.
- Apparently, Scotty’s refusal to lower the shields in defiance of the Ambassador is based on an actual story from James Doohan’s military service. As a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery, he was threatened with Court Martial for saying “No sir, I will not,” to a visiting colonel when he realized a training exercise order would entail blowing the heads off some of his own men. Fortunately, his immediate superiors backed him up and, like his fictional character, he was eventually promoted to captain. I was not able to verify if this was a true story.
- The Eminians use “sonic disruptors” when attacking the Enterprise in this episode.
- At one point, Scotty states that he cannot fire full phasers while the shields are up, but that he could “treat” the Eminians to “a few dozen photon torpedoes.” These restrictions and capabilities are not mentioned in any other episodes.