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Star Trek: Spectre of the Gun

"It's just bits and pieces. It's incomplete."

Definitely an entry in the bizarre category. You gotta give them credit for a creative leap, dropping the officers of a starship into a minimalist theater recreation of the old West.

There are things I like about this episode. Scott trying to inhale the smoke from the gas grenade. Spock's pedantic explanation of a fast draw. The force field at the end of town. The mind meld sequence and the final shoot-out with the thunder and lightning as the bullets impacted the fence behind them was also cool. Note that they didn't test Spock's theory by firing a gun at him before the shoot-out. It would have made sense, but might have seriously lessened the dramatic impact of the final gun battle.

But... (and you knew there would be a but) the basic premise was that Kirk and company were being executed for trespassing, they were forced to be the Clantons in 1881 Tombstone, and that there was no escaping their fate. And yet, it was obvious in every scene that they were NOT in 1881 Tombstone: the red sky, the lack of walls, the floating paintings, the wooden actors. (Okay, they weren't actually made of wood, but that seems to be what the director was going for.)

This episode might have had more of an impact if they had actually filmed it in a realistic old West set. I believe there are, and were, a whole bunch of them in the Los Angeles area. (I know, I know, budget restrictions prevented it, but really.) The gradual realization that the scenario was unreal might have worked a lot better if the Tombstone scenario had appeared to be the real thing, if they thought they were truly back on Earth in 1881.

The result? They acquired a possible new ally for the Federation. But shouldn't Kirk have respected their wishes and just left the Melkots alone? Can't an alien race just refuse contact? Lives were nearly lost. Just saying.

Ben says...

This episode was the dream Carl Jung had while vacationing in Santa Fe with Freud and Georgia O'Keeffe. Also I think they may have eaten a spicy anchovy pizza and smoked a Cohiba or two. Oh, and mescaline may have been involved.

But you know what really classes this episode up? The British spelling of "specter" in the title. Uh oh, clearly I am grumpy. I guess that's mostly because I expected this episode to be so much better than it was.

"Really," you ask, "why would you expect the O.K. Corral episode to be better?"

Well, I am glad you asked. This should have been about the collision of American archetypes: a mash-up of Joseph Campbell, frontier spirit, the space age and the Age of Aquarius. The crew doesn't appear as the Earps, they are the outlaws alluding to every outlaw from Robin Hood to Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. In this they are driven by a quest for freedom and understanding not by violence (particularly the structural violence of "the law"). It could have been bold and really gone places where Trek hadn't gone, archetypes talking to archetypes.

It had its bright points. They made lemonade from lemons with the Tombstone set. They apparently had no money for a full set and instead did this suggestion of Tombstone. It's probably the thing that works the best in the episode and further suggests we should be seeing the bold outlines of meaning on the frontier.

Sadly, the story and the resolution never quite bring the whole thing home and it just muddles along to a conclusion. Kirk still gets to kick Wyatt's butt, even though he knew he wasn't real with absolute certainty. Chekov is protected by the singularness of his horn-doggery. And we are left casting around for the point of it all. *sigh*

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 4385.3. Melkot planet.

— I really liked that when the Melkot beacon "spoke," everyone heard it in their own native language. Although why did Kirk's version have an English accent? Maybe that's where the British spelling of "spectre" came from.

— Spock mind melding with Scott looked pretty funny. Kelley and Shatner sold it better.

— Apparently, there were a ton of inaccuracies about the gunfight at the OK Corral in this episode. I guess that's okay, because it all supposedly came out of Kirk's head.


Sheriff: "They're a bunch of hot air, if you ask me."
Spock: "Are they really?"

Spock: "Is this a dead man, Doctor?"
McCoy: "Very dead, Mister Spock."
Kirk: "That's one thing we can be sure of, then. Death is real."

Spock: "Captain, since we have seen that death is the one reality in this situation, I seriously suggest you reseat yourself immediately without moving a muscle of either hand. If I remember correctly, that would involve you in what was called 'the fast draw.' It initiated unfortunate events."

McCoy: (re the dead Chekov) "There's nothing I can do, Jim."

Scott: (taking a drink) "It's to kill the pain."
Spock: "But this is painless."
Scotty: "Well, you should've warned me sooner, Mr. Spock."

There are better episodes, but there are certainly many that are worse. Two out of four fast draws,

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


  1. I've always liked this episode.

    A few tidbits - it was indeed budget problems that forced them to use the minimalist set. Apparently Justman came up with the idea to do that.

    The original title of the episode was "The Last Gunfight". Don't know when or why it was changed.

    Nice point about Kirk's fight with Earp, after they've just made a big deal about the bullets not being real. I read once a description of this scene suggesting that Kirk should have just told Spock, "Just eliminate the bullets, so I can have a big fistfight with the Earps."

    Cross-casting notice: Rex Holman, who played Morgan Earp in this episode, also played J'onn in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. And I remember seeing Ron Soble (Wyatt Earp) around 1971 in a Shasta Root Beer commercial set in the Old West, dressed much as his Earp character.

    I should point out that it was cool seeing a presentation where the Earps are the bad guys; usually, in dramatic presentations of Tombstone and/or the O.K. Corral, the Earps are the good guys.

    Speaking of dramatic presentations... DeForest Kelley was in the 1957 "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", playing Morgan Earp. He once said he wished the crew had been put into cowboy suits for this episode, so he could have worn a white hat at least once in his career (DeForest made a lot of Western movies and was inducted some years ago into the Western Movie Hall of Fame (or some such organization).)

    Finally, speaking of Tombstone... I visited Tombstone back in 1980, when I was visiting my parents in Tucson. There was a marketing class from the University of Arizona there that day, doing a survey, and one of the questions was "Why did you come to see Tombstone"?

    I answered, "because of the Star Trek episode." The student laughed and said, "You have no idea how many people have told us that today!"

  2. Oh - I forgot to mention Chekov's large presence in this episode.

    When Star Trek was renewed for a third season, after the famous Million-Letter Writing Campaign, the show was going to be aired at 7:30 Eastern Time on Mondays, right between "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Laugh-in".

    With that in mind, the producers decided they were going to put more emphasis on Chekov, since the audience at that time of the evenign was going to skew younger. There was even some talk of elevating Walter Koenig to co-star status along with Bill, Leonard, and DeForest.

    This episode was clearly written with Chekov's "star status" in mind. It was, in fact, the first episode produced in the 3rd season, although of course NBC opened with "Spock's Brain" instead.

    Unfortunately, "Laugh-in" refused to be moved from 8 to 8:30 to accomodate Star Trek, and had a lot more clout, being a top-rated show at the time, so NBC reneged on the 7:30 time slot and put Star Trek on Friday nights at 10:00, a time slot which Bob Justman pointed out was watched only by "Aunt Ida, who wouldn't watch Star Trek if we had performed it live in her living room."

    So much for Walter's co-star status, and so much for Star Trek's third season. Sigh.

  3. Loved this episode when I was younger. Best line now I am an adult?

    "You shouldn't have come back to town, Billie. Morgan'll kill you because he wants me."

    (Snigger) "With his outdated weapon?"

    I enjoyed the staged facades and. let's face it, when Lars von Trier tried it with "Dogville" using Nicole Kidman in 2003, it was called 'avant-guard cinema. When I watch that film, I always think of this episode.

  4. I kind of file this one with the first Doctor story, The Gunfighters, although this one isn't a musical comedy like the Doctor's was. I'm not a huge fan of the old west, despite it being more prominent in my childhood than it is these days, but this one had an interesting concept that elevated it a bit for me.

    Middle of the road to be sure. A few tweaks (and a bigger budget), could have elevated it a bit higher, but the ideas are both sound and interesting, and I do love me some cross-genre stuff when it's done competently or better, as it is here.


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