Written by Margaret Armen and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Gene Nelson
This is one of those episodes that begs the question “where to begin?” There’s so much to digest here. On one hand, it’s got many negatives going for it. However, it also manages to take a few risks that simply can’t be dismissed.
The Enterprise is in orbit above the planet Gamma II, which is supposed to be uninhabited. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Mr. Chekov (Walter Koenig) start to transport to the surface, but find themselves in a strange place that they know is not the planet Gamma II. They are soon greeted by a variety of humanoid characters, ready for combat. Neither their phasers nor their communicators are working.
The three soon find themselves prisoners, intent on being trained as “Thralls” to act in battle similar to the gladiators of Rome as entertainment for “The Providers.” They wear collars which control them when they resist efforts to be trained. The other humanoids there are in the same situation, but seem to be much less disturbed by their situation. Kirk teams up with Shahna (Angelique Pettyjohn) and attempt to sway her to his way of thinking. The Providers fight back against this tactic.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Scotty (James Doohan) sees them vanish before his eyes on the transporter pad. They have no clue as to where the three missing crewmembers are. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) was left in command, but there is no indication as to what happened or where the landing party is. Spock orders the Enterprise to follow a possible clue away from the planet Gamma II. However, McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) and Scotty vehemently disagree with this course of action and it almost comes to blows – or a possible mutiny – between the three.
Eventually, Kirk convinces The Providers to let him speak with them in person. He is beamed 1000 meters below the surface, to the energy source of the planet. There he finds three brains in and enclosed dome, which are “The Providers.” He negotiates with them to the point that he gambles the lives of the crew of the Enterprise that he can beat three Thralls in combat. If he wins, “The Providers” must free the other Thralls and educate them.
There are many cliches here with three of the Enterprise crew battling like gladiators. It’s been done many ways over the years where characters in various scenarios are forced to combat each other even when they don’t want to. There’s no doubt eventually Kirk will free them from this situation, and the way he does is a bit contrived. Really, the Captain battling three Thralls who have been doing this for a long time and he seems to take them out entirely too easily.
There’s a pretty intense scene where Uhura’s “drill thrall” Lars (Steve Sandor) comes to her. We hear him in her cell and her screaming, but no visual. From the sounds of it, it sounds like he was trying to rape her. That’s never confirmed, of course. It was a big deal back in the day for this to happen between Uhura and a white man, rather than a black one. Now the scene is more disturbing for a different reason and there’s less concentration on the different races.
There aren’t really any special effects here, and the three “providers” – brains under glass look obviously like rubber creations with lights in them, likely manipulated to “throb” by pumping air into them. To a 10 year old who watched this, though, the effect was pretty cool. To someone 40+ years later, it’s pretty pathetic. Shahna is in a costume that is barely there and probably held on with a lot of glue. I’m sure that was a big attraction of this episode as well.
McCoy: It’s been nearly an hour. Can people live that long as disassembled atoms in a transporter beam?
Spock: I have never heard of a study being done, but it would be a fascinating project.
Of course, we would learn many years later that this can happen, thanks to Scotty in the Next Generation episode Relics. They didn’t know they were foreshadowing that at the time.
I would have liked to have seen a follow-up on this story. Apparently there are some stories that have Triskelion eventually joining the Federation with Shahna as Ambassador. I’d like to think there were more than a few Thralls around that they could build this society, but there aren’t any clues to it.
Time has not been kind to The Gamesters of Triskelion. It doesn’t hold up as well as other episodes from the original series. There are some bright spots, but mostly this one can be missed.