Stardate: None given, Kirk mentions the date is “Armageddon” (2268)
Original Air Date: November 1, 1968
Writer: Jerome Bixby
Director: Marvin Chomsky
“Federation ships do not specialize in sneak attacks!”
A landing party beams down to Beta XII-A, a distant human colony located near the border with the Klingons. However, upon arrival they quickly discover that the entire colony has mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Dr. McCoy notes that a distress call had mentioned an attack from an unidentified ship. As they walk around this craggy, deserted planet, a non-corporal ball of light is strangely hiding in the shadows, but only we in the audience are seemingly aware of its presence. Out of the blue, a Klingon battle cruiser appears followed by a landing contingent led by Kang (Michael Ansara). He claims that Kirk has illegally attacked his cruiser, which Kirk denies. In turn, kirk accuses Kang of attacking eta XII-A, but Kang denies this accusation, as well. Both Kang and Kirk accuse each other of violations of the Organian Peace Treaty (from “Errand of Mercy”) –Kang believes the Enterprise has tested a new weapon which has damaged his ship, whereas Kirk believes Kang has detonated a new super-weapon which has utterly wiped out all trace of the Beta XII-A colony. Kang threatens torture as punishment and he attempts to forcibly take control of the Enterprise.
When requesting to beam aboard, Kirk secretly issues a red alert to Spock at the helm. Once aboard the Enterprise, the Klingons are quickly betrayed and captured. Despite their fears and rumors of Federation “death camps,” Kirk assures the Klingons that they will be humanely treated. Meanwhile, the incorporeal glowing bright light also quietly boards the Enterprise and begins roaming.
The Enterprise beams aboard the remaining Klingon crew and then fires phasers upon the damaged Klingon cruiser, presumably destroying it. However, communications suddenly go down and phaser power begins disappearing as medieval swords spontaneously appear where advanced weaponry once lay –an effect which Spock deems “instantaneous transmutation of matter.” Gradually, the crew loses control of the entire Enterprise as it is mysteriously commandeered by an unknown force. The ship begins accelerating wildly outside the galaxy while 400 (later 392) crewmen become trapped beneath bulkhead doors below deck. In a spontaneous sword fight, the Klingons break away and freely roam the ship. Kang then quickly gains control of the engineering bay and he begins depriving other sections of their life support systems so that they will feel “like the icy cold of space.” The ball of light and Kang are now both working against Kirk and the crew.
Meanwhile, a general sense of hostility has gripped the crew. A raging Chekov grabs a sword and demands vengeance on the Klingon “Cossacks” for the death of his brother Piotr on a Federation outpost on Archanis IV (however, Sulu later reveals that Chekov does not have a brother, he was actually an only child). Then, Dr. McCoy also grows agitated in demanding violence against the Klingons, as does Scotty, and even Spock’s partly human side reveals a brief moment of malcontent. When Kirk briefly restores sanity, he and Spock speculate that there must be some other force at work aboard the Enterprise. Recent events have unfolded such that base hostilities among the crew have been magnified, particularly racial bigotry. They surmise that the alien force is a both a catalyst and feeder upon violent, confrontational energy.
Time is running out as the unknown alien life force begins draining the Enterprise’s dilithium crystals. The crew captures Kang’s Klingon wife, Mara (Susan Howard), and despite being filled with propaganda about the viciousness of the Federation, she soon realizes Kirk is not the brutal murderer she was led to believe. Kirk, Spock, and Mara corner the incorporeal ball of light and attempt to make peace with the Klingons in order to regain control of the Enterprise. Following another sword fight with Kang, Kirk manages to persuade him to lay down his arms in order to defeat of their mutual enemy. In the end, the alien finally flees the Enterprise out into open space amidst an eruption of laughter and backslapping between the Klingons and Enterprise crew.
This episode offers a terrific examination of hostility and racial animosity by showcasing the effects of propaganda on both sides of a war between the Federation and the Klingons. Aside from the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” perhaps there is another Cold War lesson to be drawn from this episode. Peace may be possible, even with bitter enemies like the Klingons, but only if a mutual enemy is identified. Maybe we cannot escape the existence of enemies, the possibility of peace implies some sort of enemy to contain. In the end, the true enemy of both the Federation and the Klingons is the poison of prejudice. Not unlike the famous “Christmas Truce” along the Western Front in 1914, both the Enterprise crew and the Klingons under Kang must maintain an armistice despite being aware that fighting will resume again shortly. It is also worth noting that both the Federation and the Klingons have clearly been pumped full of propaganda from both sides –in particular, the Federation “death camps” were very clearly a lie. Both sides are quick to assign blame, but they are slow to identify solutions. As is always the case, the most difficult role is assigned to the peacemaker.
What that being said, what actually happened to the colony on Beta XII-A. Was it a real colony? Or was it simply another fiction crafted by the unnamed war-loving incorporeal alien? Or, on the other hand, was it simply mere propaganda by the Federation and never truly existed? The true origins of Beta XII-A would be an interesting plot thread.
On a final note, there was a uniquely interesting moment in this episode wherein the Enterprise was essentially capable of entrapping the Klingons in limbo while they were beaming aboard. This kind of temporary technological imprisonment strikes me as important, I wonder if it will return again in future episodes.
Writer Jerome Bixby (1923-1998) was a prolific fiction writer known for his 1953 short story “It’s A Good Life” which became the basis of the classic Twilight Zone episode. He also crafted many other Western and Science Fiction novels which inspired movies like Fantastic Voyage and Alien, as well as certain writings by Isaac Asimov. Mr. Bixby died in 1998 at the age of 75. In his original draft script for this episode, the Enterprise receives a false distress call en route to celebrate “Peace Day,” the anniversary of peace through the Federation. The aliens were also described with humanoid features, though they were actually “blobs of light.”
Director Marvin Chomsky (1929-2022) was the cousin of leading contemporary linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky, and this was the second of three episodes he directed for Star Trek. As of the time of this writing, Marvin Chomsky passed away only a few months ago.
Star Trek Trivia:
- The working title of this episode was “For They Shall Inherit.”
- John Colicos was originally slated to return as the Klingon Commander Kor in this episode, however he was already committed to another project.
- Actor Michael Ansara later returns in DS9 to reprise his role as Kang (“Dead Oath”) and then again in Voyager (“Flashback”).
- A Klingon “agonizer” is used again in this episode, this time on Chekov. Previously, the device appeared in “Mirror, Mirror.”
- This episode establishes that the Klingon cruiser is capable of carrying 440+ Klingons.
- At one point, Chekov tries to attack the Klingons (again shouting “Filthy Cossacks!”) as he claims the Klingons a colony on Archanis IV. This colony reappears in the DS9 episode “Broken Link.”
- Beta XII-A is apparently explored further in the TNG expanded novels.
- This is the only TOS episode to feature a woman in the role of a Klingon.