“Space, The final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Season 1, Episode 18
Original air date: January 19, 1967
Kirk and his senior officers have been invited to visit an outpost on Cestus III by Commodore Travers. Both Kirk and Bones are excited by the invitation as Travers is known to put on wonderful dinners. A quick additional message right before departing asks Kirk to bring his tactical officers with him as well and he agrees. When they beam down to the planet, Kirk discovers the outpost destroyed. They find one survivor who is badly injured as they come under attack themselves. Back on the Enterprise, Sulu reports to Kirk that the ship is also under attack from an unknown vessel. Kirk orders Sulu to fire and to protect the Enterprise at all costs. During the bombardment on the planet’s surface we get our red shirt death of Lt. Notimportant. Kirk tries to make his way to the weapons depot of the outpost, letting Sulu know he should do everything to save the ship – Sulu leaves orbit at warp. Finding a grenade launcher, Kirk fires at the location they best estimate the enemy to be firing from. The explosion stops the alien bombardment and the ship in orbit beams up its team and takes off. Kirk and his team also beam back on the Enterprise and make chase.
The wounded survivor tells Kirk, Spock and McCoy that the enemy came into orbit like a normal visiting ship and then opened fire, killing indiscriminately including women and children. Kirk deduces that this, along with the messages from the surface that must have been fakes, were designed to lure the Enterprise into a trap as they’re the only protection for this part of the galaxy. Kirk decides they must destroy the enemy vessel and orders everyone to battle stations. The Enterprise speeds up to catch the enemy, but they match speed, Kirk orders Warp 7 which worries everyone and they maintain pursuit. They pass by an uncharted solar system that begins to scan them, but Uhura picks up no ill intent. The enemy ship suddenly stops and is dead in the water, Kirk brings the Enterprise in for the kill when they too are suddenly stopped. Their engines and weapons don’t work but all other systems are unaffected.
A mix of colors and a voice come over the view screen. It is The Metrons, an advanced race that will not permit violence in their solar system. To settle the differences between the Federation and the enemy we learn are called The Gorn, they will send each ship’s captain to a planet containing the ingredients to make weapons. They will fight in single combat, the winner allowed to go home unharmed and the loser having their entire ship destroyed. Kirk suddenly disappears, Uhura screams.
On the surface of the planet, Kirk is confronted by the Gorn Captain. A lizardman who Kirk quickly learns is much, much stronger than him, able to take a boulder throw in the chest with no injuries, but also slower and clumsier. After the initial encounter Kirk puts distance between himself and the Gorn to try and figure out a plan. On the Enterprise Spock and Scotty try in vein to counter The Metron’s hold on the ship. Kirk makes a recording on the device given him by The Metron which can be heard by the Gorn Captain. He mentions the abundance of raw materials on the planet, including diamonds, but that there are no conventional weapons of any kind. The Gorn does something with some vines. On the Enterprise, Spock and McCoy argue over helping the Captain, which Spock says is simply impossible. Kirk sees the Gorn sharpening a rock into a stabbing weapon, right below a cliff face with a large, Wile E. Coyote rock resting just on the edge. Kirk pushed the rock over the cliff and it hits the Gorn, as Kirk rushes down the hill to finish him off he realizes even this massive force didn’t kill his opponent. As he makes a run for it, he gets tangled in the vine trap set for him. Unable to move the Gorn heads toward Kirk with his weapon, but Kirk’s superior agility allow him to get away just in time, although he is limping and exhausted.
The Enterprise tries to contact The Metron, they respond to the Enterprise but only to tell them that Kirk is losing and they should prepare themselves for death using whatever rituals they require. McCoy implores them to show compassion. The Metron decide to allow them to watch the end of the battle. Meanwhile Kirk has found Sulfur on the surface of the planet which triggers something in his memory. About the same time the Gorn Captain communicates with Kirk, telling him if he gives up he will kill him quickly and mercifully. Kirk asks about the mercy shown to the outpost, and the Gorn claims that outpost was an invasion of their territory. Spock and McCoy on the Enterprise wonder if this has all been a giant misunderstanding. Captain Kirk rests next to some powder he discovers is Potassium Nitrate and has a revelation. Spock mentions that if he can find charcoal or even coal, he can make rudimentary gun powder. Kirk does just that, he finds the coal, goes back to the diamonds to use as bullets and a bamboo shoot as a barrel. Kirk starts working the ingredients together as the Gorn slowly makes i’s way on his position, just before the Gorn can get too close Kirk fires his make shift cannon and knocks the Gorn down injuring him substantially. He grabs the Gorn’s weapon and is about to drive it through its neck when he stops and says he won’t kill him; thinking that perhaps the outpost could be viewed as an invasion and maybe the Federation was in the wrong. A Metron, looking like a “young boy” (really a 30 something woman) appears and compliments Kirk on his mercy telling him in a thousand years or so humans may be able to join more advanced races like the Metron. Kirk then reappears on the Enterprise which is thousands of light years away from its last position. The video feed having ended after the cannon blast, Spock asks Kirk what happened, Kirk tries to explain but admits he doesn’t really understand it either. They set a course back to Makus III.
Known to Fans As:
The Gorn Fight
Notable Guest Stars:
Bobby Clark & Gary Combs as the Gorn. Clark as long-time stunt man appeared in various Trek episodes out of costume but always because there was going to be an on-screen fist fight or he needed to fly over a Console. Clark appeared in shows like Gunsmoke and The Virginian in similar scenes, when they needed a guy in a bar fight to tumble over the bar or fall off the balcony. Combs biggest claim to fame was playing Harrison Ford’s stunt double in Bladerunner.
First mention of The Enterprise being part of The Federation
The general concept of this episode came from the very popular Fredric Brown short story of the same name, written in 1944 for the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. It was so similar in fact they decided to just pay Brown and give him story writing credit. I read Arena when I was very, very young – I feel like maybe seven or eight years old. It’s a great story, well written and you should read it.
The irony of Dathon from TNG: Darmok winning the best non-recurring character contest is that when it first aired, everyone thought at first it was simply a retread of this episode, right down to the vaguely reptilian look to Dathon. The fact that they zigged so hard showed how much TNG was moving away from TOS in later seasons and becoming its own thing.
Vulcan Nerve Pinches: Wouldn’t that have come in handy
Damn it Jim: “You bet your pointy ears I am.”
Kirk’s Shirt Off: No, amazingly – such an opportunity.
Aged the Best:
If you asked a non-fan who has maybe only seen it once or twice to name a TOS episode, this might be the one. So recognizable that they’ve used the Gorn in commercials etc. for years. Mythbusters even did an episode about whether Kirk’s cannon would have worked, apparently if it was special extra strong space bamboo it would – regular bamboo would never hold up to the explosion.
Aged the Worst:
Surprisingly nothing that terribly – you know except the Lizard suit, that awful, awful lizard suit. It looks ten times worse in the remastered HD.
A, I mean it’s Kirk vs. the Gorn how does it not get an A?
Tomorrow’s Episode: Space Seed (with my last breath…)