Season One - TOS

Star Trek: The Original Series – Errand of Mercy – Are We Really That Different?

Written by Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by John Newland

The Star Trek episode Errand of Mercy is a wonderfully written episode that has a deeper message beneath the seemingly benign story that is aired.

This is the episode that introduced us to the Klingons for the first time. A trivia answer is here in that John Colicos (of Battlestar Galactica fame) portrays the first Klingon ever in Star Trek. He is one of the best villains in Star Trek, especially in this piece. At conventions, I’ve heard him say that he worked with the makeup men to create the Klingon look of the original series. Done with a limited budget, I understand they were doing the best that they could. Still, the Klingons in the later shows are a much better creation. These look like guys with Fu-Manchu mustaches who have been in the sun a bit too long.

But the episode is still one of the best Star Trek ever had to offer us. In it, Captain Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet Organia after talks between the Organians and Klingons break down. Their mission is to somehow convince this seemingly primitive culture to side with the Federation of Planets in the war that is about to break out between the Federation and the Klingons. The planet Organia is in a strategic location for both sides.

The deeper part here comes when I listened to Kirk’s arguments to the Organians to persuade them to align with the Federation. He keeps insisting that aligning themselves with the Klingon will leave them with no choice – their culture ripped apart and under martial law. Yet, what he proposes from the Federation is exactly the same. He is essentially not allowing them to choose not to align themselves with the Federation – essentially telling them that the only right choice would be to choose to do what Kirk says.

So either way, the Organians are looking at never having their world be the same again.

Star Trek was great in the early years of hiding messages like this. Gene Roddenberry had learned to be cryptic, lest the network censors catch on. Thinking that the Klingons were synonymous with the Russians during that time in history, what does this say of the general opinion of the United States? A very good question to ask and very difficult to answer. Did we act the same way Kirk and the Federation did here and try to ram our way of thinking down everyone’s throat?

At the end of Errand of Mercy, both Kirk and the Klingon commander Kor (Colicos) do not get the war they seem so eager for and learn a bit about the Organians and that all is not always as it appears.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series: The Devil in the Dark

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Alternative Factor

12 replies »

  1. Nice: I’m dying to see this episode, now, Patti. I didn’t realize that the networks were overtly censoring TV at the time, except for curse words and the “one foot on the floor” rule. Interesting.

      • I didn’t realize that the censors were supposed to be looking at the story lines. Wow, sounds like what they told us about the Soviet Union’s censoring anything that would criticize them. I guess this was a hold-over from the McCarthy era?

      • Yes and no. I think the main thing they were looking for was profanity at that point. They weren’t thinking as much about curbing what could be considered controversial dialogue. It’s also the reason MASH got away with so much – it was couched in being about the Korean War but it was very much about Vietnam.

  2. I used to have a wonderful book by David Gerrold, the writer of ‘The Trouble with Tribbles,’ called The World of Star Trek. He pointed out that essentially, not only was Capt. Kirk based on Capt. Horatio Hornblower (a character I know you’re acquainted with) and that the Klingons were Star Trek’s analogue to the USSR, but also that the Enterprise’s basic mission was to be seen as U.S. gunboat diplomacy.

    He also likened the Enterprise’s diplomatic missions to a comic strip series called “Mary Worth.”

    I read that book so often in the 1980s and `90s that it literally fell apart. It’s out of print, though, sadly.

      • And a lot of Americans don’t understand – or care to learn – that many of the things they are scared about or don’t want to know about (immigration from Central America, China’s resurgence as a world power, Russia’s antipathy toward the U.S.) – are consequences of our past policies in international relations.

        Just as worrisome is the fact that isolationism is making a huge comeback, especially in Trump-supporting circles.

        “Star Trek” truly holds a mirror to American society. That’s why, I think, some fans hate the new CBS All-Access series.

        I keep on hoping someone will republish The World of Star Trek!