Written by David P. Harmon, Gene Coon, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by James Komack
Imagine a primitive society that is visited by more advanced people. When the more advanced race leaves, they accidentally leave behind a book from their world. The more primitive society, thinking this is the key to enlightenment and wanting to emulate the more advanced people begins modeling their society on that book.
Now imagine that book is about 1920’s Chicago gangsters.
Almost a century earlier, the starship Horizon visited the planet Sigma Iota. After it left the planet, it transmitted a report and then was lost with all hands aboard. The transmission was just received by the Federation, who sends the Enterprise out to check on the planet for any signs of contamination from the Horizon‘s visit.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) beam down to the planet and find a place straight out of 1930’s Chicago, replete with gangsters carrying machine guns. Apparently the Horizon left behind a book all about the Chicago gangster era and the citizens of Sigma Iota built a society around it. Everyone here carries a gun of some kind, and most of them carry machine guns.
The landing party finds themselves as pawns in a gang war. Both would like to have more technology to fight the other bosses who want territory. They put the squeeze on the crew of the Enterprise, and it’s up to Kirk to negotiate their way out of this.
Watching this episode for the first time in a long time, I was initially horrified. It’s just hard to take it seriously; everything is so campy. The guest actors as the Iotians use so much gangster slang it’s almost a farce. The story seems to have been written as an excuse to use this setting, rather than the setting being created to suit the story. Of course, budgets were a concern back in the day and this was likely the reason. In the age before CGI, if Star Trek could use a backlot set already there instead of having to create It happens a number of times during the second season of the series.
The costumes are also straight out of a gangster film. There are women with short, frilly dresses right out of the 1920’s. There are automobiles in the streets and machine guns everywhere. The Iotians imitated absolutely everything in the book.
What saves this story in many ways is the acting. All of the actors don’t seem to be taking it seriously, and do their best to camp it up with the material they’re given. Shatner does some great acting while he’s trying to “teach” one of the gangsters a card game he’s making up on the fly. All of the Enterprise crew trying to figure out what’s going on and how to fit in make the situation a lot of fun, especially Spock and Scotty. Credit to the actors. Vic Tayback (of Alice fame for those of us with AARP memberships) makes a perfect boss.
The premise is actually a good one. The story just falls flat in so many ways. For a cheesy, escapist story, it’s fine. This is not a great episode of the series, but it has some very funny moments.