Stardate: 4385.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: October 25, 1968
Writer: Lee Cronin (Gene L. Coon)
Director: Vincent McEveety
“The violence of your own heritage is to be the method of our execution.”
The Enterprise is on a mission to make first contact with a reclusive alien race known as the Melkotians. As the ship approaches the planet Melkot, the Enterprise discovers a mechanical device of unknown properties. Spock conducts a reading which reveals no life forms aboard, however the strange glowing object appears to be tracking the Enterprise. Then a booming voice echoes out: “Aliens, you encroached on the space of the Melkot, you will turn back immediately, this is the only warning you will receive!” It speaks in every available human dialect (Kirk hears English, Chekov hears Russian, and Uhura hears Swahili).
Kirk decides to ignore the warning and the Enterprise proceeds forward toward Melkot. A landing party of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekov, Scotty beam down to Melkot where they find a planet entirely encased in a thick fog with no communications availability. Then, a terrifying alien beast appears through the fog. He reminds Kirk of the buoy’s warning, and since it has been ignored, “you are outside, you are disease, and disease must be destroyed…” Suddenly, the landing party are transported into a surrealist representation of an old western town, complete with a dusty road under a bright red sky. A nearby newspaper reveals it is Tombstone, Arizona and the year is 1881.
The situation quickly becomes clear –the crewmen are being punished by the Melkotians for trespassing and they are condemned to relive the shooting at the O.K. Corral. Kirk and crew are to play the role of the Clanton gang in their battle with Wyatt Earp (Ron Soble) and Doc Holliday (Sam Gilman), and though Kirk (or Ike Clanton) attempts to stop the fight, the tension continues to build for a 5 o’clock showdown. Along the way, Chekov (a.k.a. “Billy Claiborne”) engages in a romance with Sylvia (Bonnie Beecher), but it is stopped short when Chekov is sadly gunned down by Wyatt Earp. Could this be the end of Chekov?
Attempts to flee the town prove fruitless as the Melkotians have erected a forcefield. Spock and Bones try to create a hand grenade and a tranquilizer, but both efforts fail. With time running out, Spock persuades the others that this whole simulation is merely a figment of their minds. If they simply believe they will not die in the shootout, it will be true. With Kirk and Bones being unable to avoid creeping fears of death, Spock performs a mind-meld on his fellow crewmen just in time before the shootout begins. And just as predicted, the bullets do not kill the Enterprise crew. When the ammo runs out, Kirk tackles Wyatt Earp to the ground, but instead of killing him, Kirk shows mercy. Moments later, they are returned to the bridge of the Enterprise –and Chekov has been restored to perfect health! Because Kirk has proven Starfleet’s peaceful intentions, the Enterprise is now properly invited to Melkot, and this time they will be welcomed by a Melkotian delegation.
“I wonder how Humanity managed to survive.”
“We overcame our instinct for violence.”
My Thoughts on “Spectre of the Gun”
Why does Starfleet order the Enterprise to make contact with the Melkotians? A little backstory would have been helpful here because otherwise it seems odd that the Enterprise is so aggressive as to ignore hostile warnings. Are there valuable minerals on Melkot? Or will the Mellkotians serve as key allies against the Romulans or Klingons? Perhaps their unique telepathic powers could prove useful (their limitless telepathy seems to echo the Talosians from “The Cage”).
There is a subtle theme replete throughout this episode which contemplates mankind’s optimistic future as it overcomes its’ own violent impulses. Whereas Kirk’s ancestors once violently conquered the old west, he is capable of breaking the curse by declining to murder Wyatt Earp. In doing so, he earns the respect of the Melkotians (thankfully they do not respect the honorable death a la the ancient warrior’s code).
This episode offers another fun and slightly surrealist side quest for the Enterprise. It delivers a nod to the prevailing Western genre (i.e. shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke, as well as movies like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West which was released that same year) and also this is perhaps a wink at Star Trek’s own creation as “Wagon Train to the stars.” This episode is a bit of a guilty pleasure, right down to the partially completed set pieces, but it is hardly peak Trek. In a way, it reminded me of episodes like “Bread and Circuses” or “Patterns of Force” or even “A Piece of the Action.”
Originally titled “The Last Gunfight,” this episode was written by former show producer, Gene L. Coon (albeit under the pseudonym “Lee Cronin”).
This was the sixth and final episode directed by Vincent McEveety.
Star Trek Trivia:
- This was the first episode produced for season 3, but the sixth to air.
- James Blish’s novelization was entitled “The Last Gunfight.”
- The date in which this episode takes place is October 26, 1881.
- In one amusing scene in this episode, Scotty tries to order scotch at the saloon but the bartender reminds him that they only carry bourbon –“unless you want corn whiskey!”
- In this episode, Kirk says his ancestors pioneered the American frontier.
- This episode aired one day before the 187th anniversary of the true gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
- DeForest Kelley had previously played Morgan Earp in the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
- This episode was shot on a studio stage with partially completed sets in part due to budget constraints but also to give a fragmentary view of Kirk’s mind. The sets were designed by Matt Jeffries.
- According to later interviews, James Doohan despised his back-combed hairstyle as featured in Season 3. Apparently, it was not his choice.
- Bonnie Beecher (1941-present) who played the role of Sylvia in this episode, appeared in a variety of other popular shows, including in The Twilight Zone episode “Come Wander With Me.” She had previously dated Bob Dylan in college and there have been speculations as to whether or not Dylan wrote the song “Girl From The North County” in her honor. She and her husband run a youth camp in Mendocino and they have one son together. She is still alive as of this writing.
- The booming Melkotian voice was performed by Abraham Sofaer in one of his two appearances in the Star Trek series.
- Other actors in this episode also appeared in popular Western shows: Ron Soble, Charles Maxwell, Rex Holman, Sam Gilman, Charles Seel, and Bill Zuckert.
The most serious thing to clearly take away from this episode is to appreciate what McCoy calls ‘the harsh reality’ which was the Wild West. It was quite the profound change from how the Enterprise encountered Earthlike history on other worlds in the previous season. For once we didn’t need any previous Star Fleet visit violating their Prime Directive. We just saw these ETs seeing fit to find that one era in our history from within Kirk’s legacy that could serve an exclusive idea of justice. It may give Kirk and his crew a great deal to re-examine about themselves as human beings, which is most dramatically interesting when our killer instinct is so easily discussable. Quite down to basics for a Trek story and it helped shape how sci-fi would often variably revisit the Wild West. Thank you for your review and trivia.
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The matrix before the movie 30 years later. Spock was brilliant in figuring out they were in a matrix, my favorite episode!!!
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Indeed. Spock’s wisdom was most appreciable in episodes like this one. It would have been very interesting to see Spock in a Matrix movie.
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