Season Three - TOS

Star Trek: The Original Series – Spectre of the Gun – No Phasers at the O.K. Corral

Written by Gene L. Coon, Arthur H. Singer and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Vincent McEveety

Ever feel like you just want to be left alone? I have those moments. It’s one of the reasons I love where I live, surrounded by second homes. Lots of peace and quiet and I really don’t have to have a conversation with anyone if I don’t want to. I think I’m part Melkotian.

Who are the Melkotians? They are a race of beings who just want to be left alone. However, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is determined to make contact with them. The Enterprise is nearing Melkotian space when it happens upon a warning buoy of sorts, which he ignores, of course.

As punishment for intrusion on territory, the landing party from the Enterprise, consisting of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley), Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Scotty (James Doohan) are sent to the old west at the time of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. They are seen by the town residents as the Clantons, the men who died in the shoot-out there.

No matter the argument, nothing changes the opinion of the townsfolk – and Wyatt Earp (Ron Soble) – that they are the Clantons. Knowing the history, the landing party knows they will die in a shoot-out with the Earps at 5PM. They try to leave town, only to learn there’s a force-field keeping them in.

Chekov, meanwhile, catches the attention of Sylvia (Bonnie Beecher) who seems enamored of “Billy Claiborne.” They flirt and at one point she proposes getting married. Chekov is smitten with her, and then is gunned down by Morgan Earp (Rex Holman) who is jealous of Billy.

Is it a surprise that Chekov isn’t really dead? Is it a surprise that the landing party figures a way around all of the obstacles in front of them? No, it isn’t.

This episode is mixed in many ways, and what really hurts it is the budget. The setting of the western town of Tombstone is cheap. They didn’t even spring for the money to go film on one of those western backlots every studio had back in the 1960’s. Instead we get a “town” filled with false-fronts and nothing behind them in most cases.

The story, however, is a good one that suffers from being set in what seems like an unreal setting. The idea that the Melkotians take a snippet of a story in Captain Kirk’s memory and build what is essentially a “test” around it is a good one. The follow-through is decent too. When you look at the townsfolk not as really representative of the Old West but rather as products of the Melkotians interpretation from a memory, it works much better. Kirk cannot reason with them because they aren’t human; they have no sense of reason. The problem is, to the casual viewer it just looks like a terrible interpretation of the Old West.

To the Melkotians, this was how they would execute the intruders, by making them a victim of their own violent tendencies. It is the presence of Spock that will allow them to survive, yet the humans are given credit for growing beyond those violent tendencies. Captain Kirk never does correct that misinterpretation.

The problem with Spectre of the Gun is you really have to look at it deeply to enjoy it, otherwise it looks like a cheap, schlocky western episode. It’s one of those that gets better as you realize this, but it’s a hard place to get to.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Day of the Dove

5 replies »

  1. “Kirk cannot reason with them because they aren’t human; they have no sense of reason.


    Ah, I was about to say that logic should be a common sentient trait, given mathematics, but I see that your review beat me to the punch: they lack human reason, or perhaps logic mixed with emotion, but they do have pure logic, and Kirk is smart enough not to correct their misinterpretation of our growth.
    bringing me back to Ivanova’s “we’d still be human, and…” Russian point of view on human growth: but I have to believe that it is possible for us to educate ourselves enough to come to a point at which every human being is aware of those tendencies, and taught how to rise above them.

      • Likewise, on both, but all we can do is work for the good of those who come after us, as Delenn said…
        (ok, as the B5 script writer, whom I suspect was JMS for that episode, said!)