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Star Trek: The Conscience of the King

Lenore: "All this power surging and throbbing and under control. Are you like that, Captain?"

Not a very good episode. But it's nice to think that live theater will make it to the stars.

A colony planet with eight thousand inhabitants, food stores unexpectedly destroyed, supply ships that wouldn't turn up for awhile, no subspace twenty years ago (one assumes) – what to do? Kodos obviously regretted that his daughter had turned into a monster, but other than that, he still seemed to think that killing four thousand of the "less important" people was the right move, and that he would have been a hero if the supply ships hadn't come early.

Unfortunately, the focus of the story wasn't an exploration of the evil of eugenics; it was psychotic, nineteen-year-old Lenore. Were we supposed to feel bad that Kirk got emotionally involved with a very young woman that he was seducing for information? It was obvious pretty early on who the murderer was (especially these days when television is a lot more subtle); the real mystery was why Kirk didn't see fit to tell his senior officers about Kodos, something nearly any sane person would have done. But that would have eliminated several scenes of Spock figuring out the situation and annoying McCoy, which was the best part of the episode.

It's a shame that the Shakespearean theme wasn't better used, too. Arnold Moss, who played Kodos/Karidian, gave an overly dramatic interpretation of the part and treated every line as if he were projecting it to a large audience. And Lenore (Barbara Anderson) closed the episode with a veritable Shakespearean word salad as she overacted her way into a padded cell. (At least she gave it her all, and had rather amazing eyes.)

What was a teenage James Kirk doing on Tarsus IV? We never did find out. Were his parents there, and if so, how come they survived the massacre while Kevin Riley's didn't? And Riley, who was such a hoot in "The Naked Time," was pretty much wasted. Too bad.

Ben says...

It's funny how we are always fighting the last war. It's easy to forget that the Second World War was about as far away from Star Trek as the first Gulf War is from us. It looms so large over many episodes (we'll get to the actual Nazi episode soon enough).

In this episode, the Nazi... I mean Tarsian war criminal is on the run after his eugenics-driven culling of his colony's population. This brings me to my most important thought on the subject of this episode. If you are a hunted war criminal, then lead actor in an interplanetary acting troupe... maybe, just maybe... not the best choice. Perhaps you should go on So You Think You Can Dance in Zero-G, or maybe Federation Idol (Spock as judge, "I find your performance illogical... dawg"), or maybe run for school board on the planet of lawyers and bounty hunters. But I digress.

This is also one of the episodes that establishes the Star Trek obsession with all things Shakespearean, another element that runs through the whole series so strongly that the swan song movie for the Trek Classic crew is The Undiscovered Country, which is itself a Shakespearean reference. Personally, I have always preferred the Bard in the original Klingon. But again, I nerdishly digress.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 2817.6. Cygnia Minor earth colony. The massacre twenty years ago took place on Tarsus 4. The Astral Queen was supposed to take the troupe of actors to Benecia. I seem to remember a ship called the Astral Queen on the new Battlestar Galactica.

— Half of Tom Leighton's face was gone. What's the state of plastic reconstructive surgery in the future?

— We saw the Observation Deck. And learned that the Enterprise duplicates Earth conditions; it's darker at night. What about people on the graveyard shift? Do they have to work in the dark?

— We got the red alert whoop whoop whoop.

— Some of the crew were watching Hamlet on view screens. I thought that sort of made having a live performance pointless.

— Why was Riley alone in Engineering? Why was he left alone in Sick Bay, too, considering Kirk knew someone was going to try to kill him? Because it made for better drama, I suppose.

— Uhura sang "Beyond Antares" for Riley. In "The Naked Time," Riley was also alone in Engineering and singing. It seems to be his thing.

— More bright pink walls, and a purple sky on Cignia Minor.

— Loved Lenore's blue furry mini. Janice Rand looked affronted. Or possibly jealous.

— DNA testing would have blown the entire plot out of the water. Comparing photographs and voice prints? So twentieth century.

Two out of four bad Shakespearean actors,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Shakespearean themes abound for sure in Trek, and their reach certainly exceeded their grasp in this one. Not really being cutting-edge in their depiction of acting, either -- though I can't say the treatment of plays/drama got more sophisticated in Next Gen. Maybe it's too immediate for trenchant tv self-reference? (Though OTOH, check out Buff, Will And Xand forced to perform Oedipus Rex over the end credits in Puppet Show -- now THAT'S true life!)

    Anyway, the more they tried to replay WS, the more ham-handed it could be... whereas I think the most truly Shakespearean efforts are going to be those that don't try to recreate the plays, or Main Themes, but that are honest to the complexity of people and life, humor and strife. (Ok now I want to write a paper on the neat structural comedic WS parallels in The Trouble With Tribbles. Or hmm, am I late for my medications again?)

    I like your callout about crew members using viewers when the play is live. It does hearken to current watchers of the big screen while at the game or concert; or Internet use in classrooms; or picture in picture TV; or being on the cellphone/texting while at dinner with someone... clearly Trek was dialed into something real about us here and now, where the media is Better Than Reality! :-)

    Ben, your comment about always fighting the last war is a great one. Applicable too in the manner of Trek battles being portrayed as two-dimensional most if not all of the time -- when there's three dims (at least) -- I mean, check out the chessboard in the lounge, Captain! And c'mon NewFormsOfLife (pat pend), walls of power grids sure aren't going to keep the Enterprise from just flitting around them. But oh well, we'll burn that wormhole bridge when we cross it later on I'm sure...

  2. Kevin Riley's character in "Conscience" was supposed to be named "Daiken", and remains as such in the Blish novelization of the episode. When Bruce Hyde was cast for the part, somebody (probably Justman) realized he'd already been on the show as Riley, and they simply changed the name in the script rather than pretending it was a different person he was playing (as they did later on when Barbara Baldavin appeared as Angela Martine in "Balance of Terror" and then as someone else a few weeks later in "Shore Leave", or the actor who played Joe Tormolen in "Naked Time" and who later appeared in "By Any Other Name" as one of the Kelvans - and we won't even mention Diana Muldaur).

    Personally, I liked what they did with Riley; taking a character who'd been used in a comedic manner in one episode and treating him as a serious character in another, to me, made the character more real and interesting. Too bad we never saw Riley again.

  3. I really enjoyed watching this episode again; in fact much more than when I was a teenager. I now teach Shakespeare for a living and so I 'get' the references and I find a fair bit of pleasure in the over-acting. I always knew TOS had many allusions to the Bard, his plays, and sonnets but re-watching the entire series as an English teacher is just so damn fun on so many levels. I may not agree with you 100% on the effectiveness of this episode but I sure do love your reviews, so thank you.

  4. I for one thoroughly enjoy this episode because of the new light it casts on Hamlet. No matter the oddities found in this episode, it was actually quite well written, as it is supposed to parallel Hamlet and sheds new light on the original play. The themes of madness, revenge, guilt, and sacrifice run through both of the works, and by having the episode pair off characters to represent various characters of qualities of them, the original play can be read in a very different way. I think the only way someone can truly appreciate this episode is to read, analyze, and thoroughly understand Hamlet.

  5. Almost s een odd but l kind of Space Age and Shakespear her in their wardrobe with Phaser in their hands just before she kills her father and loses her marbles totaly

  6. I don't recall this one all that well, but echo the points about fighting the last war and how it reflected Hamlet in its own way from what I do remember.

    Let's face it, a large chunk of the fun of the show is how Spock and McCoy interact. It's so good. It mirrors the highlight of the 3 Doctors in that despite its wobbly space jellies, the interaction between Pertwee and Troughton was fantastic.


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