Star Trek: Season 1 Episode Twenty-Six “Errand of Mercy”

Stardate: 3198.4 (2267)
Original Air Date: March 23, 1967
Writer: Gene L. Coon
Director: John Newland

“You don’t have to be sheep. You can be wolves!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this wonderful episode which first introduces the Klingons, the Enterprise arrives in a hot situation near the planet Organia (a Class-M planet). Negotiations between the Klingons and the Federation have recently deteriorated and Starfleet Command anticipates an imminent surprise attack. We learn that Organia is a non-aligned planet near the edge of the Klingon border and it is thus vulnerable to attack. The Enterprise heads to Organia to protect it from invasion, but a lone Klingon Bird of Prey attacks. The Enterprise easily destroys the Klingon ship via phaser fire but Starfleet quickly relays a “Code 1” alert –war has once again been declared on the Klingon Empire. The mood aboard the Enterprise is one of alarm.

When the Enterprise arrives at Organia, Kirk and Spock beam down to the surface while Mr. Sulu is left in command of the ship under strict orders not to commence a solo attack should the situation go awry. On Organia, Kirk and Spock are hardly noticed by roaming bands of peasant cattle-herders amidst piles of ancient ruins. They meet a humble figure named Ayelborne (played by Shakespearean actor, John Abbott). Ayelborne, dressed in a long robe, is the Chairman of the council of elders on Organia. Even though they have no formal leaders, it soon becomes apparent that Organia is a primitive, stagnant humanoid society which prefers peace to war –even under the threat of a Klingon invasion, they still refuse to defend themselves. They will bow to anyone to avoid violence. Unsurprisingly, the Klingons arrive and easily conquer the planet while the Organians betray a certain strange religious telepathy which seems to anticipate things which are not yet visible.

Kirk and Spock disguise themselves as citizens of Organia (Kirk goes by the name “Barona”) in order to avoid detection by the Klingon troops who are led by a ruthless warrior named Kor (John Colicos). Kor storms into the Organian council chamber and demands obedience to his rules under penalty of death. Spock is taken away by the Klingons since he is a Vulcan where he is tested for honesty by the Klingon “Mind-Sifter” or “Mind-Ripper” device, but as a Vulcan, Spock is capable of blocking certain mental intrusions. That evening, Kirk and Spock decide to stage a rebellion to encourage an Organian uprising. They attack a munitions Klingon depository, but the event leads to the imprisonment of Kirk and Spock as they are seemingly unable to convince the obstinate Organians to save themselves (a familiar trope in Star Trek lore). However, while trapped in prison Kirk and Spock are surprisingly rescued by the gentle Organians who merely wish to prevent more violence. How did they dispose of the Klingon guards? The Organians do not respond right away. In response to the news of their escape, Kor issues “Special Occupation Order #4,” a violent declaration of war.

However, suddenly and without warning, all sides are prevented from fighting. The Klingons and the Enterprise crew cannot use any of their instruments or phasers, the device’s temperatures have risen radically to the point that they cannot be used at all. The humble Organians have used strange otherworldly powers to cease all hostilities. In this case, it is not the Federation which serves as the neutral arbiter of conflict, rather they are merely another bellicose player on the chessboard. Ayelborne appears before the opposing sides with the Organian council and shames both the humans and Klingons for the war. He notes that perhaps in the future the Federation and Klingons will “become fast friends who will work together…” Shockingly, we learn that, contrary to their primitive appearance, the Organians are actually highly evolved beings who have progressed beyond the need of physical bodies, hence why they are not particularly threatened by war –apparently they cannot die in the traditional sense. Hence, why they were unfazed at the thought of two hundred Organians being slaughtered by the Klingons. In a demonstration of their power, the Organians suddenly disappear in a blinding light before the group’s very eyes. Spock remarks: “fascinating… pure energy, pure thought…” He comments on the fact that the Organians stand as far above humans on the evolutionary scale as humans from the amoeba. The planet Organia has been a mere illusion devised for the benefit of simpler minds, and the Organians are semi-divine having evolved a superior way of being over millions of years –“even the gods did not spring into being overnight.”

My Thoughts on “Errand of Mercy”

In this episode, we explore the limits of peace and war, while asking what truly justifies violence? Notably, to be divine, or evolutionarily advanced like the Organians, is to pursue a path of peace unthreatened by violence. The Organians apparently have all the illusory powers of the Talosians from “The Cage” (or “The Menagerie”) along with the non-corporeal godlike existence of the Thasians from “Charlie X” or the Metrons from “Arena.” There are apparently a wide variety of non-corporeal beings existing throughout the cosmos. Perhaps this fact is humbling for the Federation and the Klingon Empire who have undone by simple beams of light despite all their sophisticated machinery and political order. The Organians actually beautifully challenge Lord Acton’s maxim regarding the corrupting nature of power.

We also learn a thing or two about the Klingons here as they make their bombastic entry into Star Trek. They are a ruthless band of warlords (a la Genghis Khan) who shoot first, ask questions later. The Klingons seek to rule their subjects via pure despotism, at one point Kor goes so far as to declare that he prefers for his subjects not to smile. The Klingons bring pure misery wherever they go in this respect. The Klingon Empire is ruled by a panopticon of sorts, living under ever-present surveillance which forces them to carry out orders. The Klingons have been in the midst of an ongoing conflict with the Federation, presumably in contrast to the cold war experienced between the Romulans and the Federation as we saw in “Balance of Terror.”

I close these reflections with some minor complaints: Why is it that the Organians only decide to use their mysterious war-ending powers at the end of this episode? Why not prevent war from the outset? Presumably, they could have stopped the early space battle between the Enterprise and Klingon Bird of Prey. Also, why is it that the Organians are unfazed by the true intent to cause violence rather than the actual act of warfare (as in the case of the Klingons claiming they have slaughtered 200 Organians in cold blood)? What is the difference between preemptively stopping acts versus intentions? Organia is another fascinating deus ex machina introduced into Trekworld.


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.

Director John Newland (1917-2000) was an Ohioan, Air Force veteran, and vaudevillian-turned television director who worked on a number of programs including Tales of Tomorrow, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to name a few. This was the only episode of Star Trek he directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode marks the first appearance of the Klingons in Star Trek beginning a lengthy and rich lore of Klingon life and culture in Trekverse. Gene L. Coon is credited as the creator of the Klingons.
  • This episode’s title is derived from The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, the quotation is as follows: “It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it.”
  • Story editor D.C. Fontana said she thought the Romulans were a much more interesting villain than the Klingons but the Klingons were ultimately chosen as the regular adversaries of the series because they did not need any special makeup like the pointed ears of the Romulans. It was interestingly enough a budgetary decision.
  • The Klingons were made to look like Genghis Khan by actor John Colicos and makeup artist Fred Phillips.
  • The Organian town featured here was modeled on a medieval English village.
  • The view of the citadel at the beginning of Act One is a stock footage shot of the Citadelle Laferrière in Haiti.
  • This was the first appearance of John Colicos as Kor. The character was also set to appear in “Day of the Dove” and “The Trouble with Tribbles”, but Colicos was unavailable and other Klingon characters were written in. A script was also written for Kor for the fourth season, but the show was of course canceled. Over a quarter-century after his initial appearance in Star Trek, Mr. Colicos reprised his role as the 140-year-old Kor in three episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It should also be mentioned that he portrayed Count Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica movie and television series.
  • The baldric that Kor wore in this episode was actually reused for Worf during TNG’s first season.
  • The Organians are seen once again in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Observer Effect” though their non-interventionist rules have been somewhat relaxed.
  • At one point Organia is compared to Armenia in this episode, presumably a reference to the Armenian Genocide.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

2 thoughts on “Star Trek: Season 1 Episode Twenty-Six “Errand of Mercy”

  1. As Spock rightly pointed out, even the Gods did not spring into being overnight. The Organians are an unforgettable example of how easily and surprisingly humbled we humans can be when we fail to fully overcome our warlike impulses.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Agreed Mike, and well said. I like episodes wherein the Federation plays the role of moral superior as neutral arbiter, but I also think moments like this with the Organians bring a needed dose of humility, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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