Captain's Blog pt. 60: Arena

When it comes to iconic TOS episodes, it's tough to beat (or even come close enough to challenge:)

Premiered January 19, 1967

Let's start with its Memorability. (20 out of 5)  Earlier this year, Shatner did a mock-up of this episode's epic Kirk vs. Gorn fight to promote the Star Trek Into Darkness videogame.

It quickly went viral (as did the Old Spock and Quinto Spock car commercial released around the same time) which isn't all that surprising. Trekkies and gamers, together or separately, are a go-viral bunch. What did surprise me, though, was how many times it was emailed to me by non-Trekker friends and family, particularly members of my parents' generation. Sure, some of them knew I liked Trek and just wanted to make sure I'd seen it, but it reminded of one particular afternoon at the VFW I used to run. Trek came up (I forget how, but it tends to happen if I'm at a loss if I'm in the room long enough) and a cross-section of customers who were otherwise not particularly pop-culture-savvy all knew this episode. And even remembered lines from it.

I asked about other episodes, and a few knew the series better than I expected and a few others remembered bits and pieces. But the only one everyone in the joint - from the WW2 vets to the Gulf War vets to the Keno-and-lottery-besotted - knew was "Arena."

And although Vasquez Rocks has been used for location shooting for a variety of productions, it's still most popularly associated with Kirk's fight with the Gorn.

In the 2009 Star Trek, it subbed in for Vulcan.
From Free Enterprise.
Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back

I guess this leads naturally enough into Visual Design (2.25 of 3) since it's mainly the episode's outdoor locations that comprise the sets for this episode.

I love the design of the Metrons, from how they initially appear

to their androgynous-angel-like appearance at the end.

Very ethereal. And of course the Gorn (designed by Bill Theiss) is fantastic.

Still looks cooler than the CGI version.
The Mego action figure dressed the Gorn in a Klingon uniform, for some reason.

The title (1.5 of 3) comes from a short story from the 1940s by Fredric Brown. According to Solow and Justman's Inside Star Trek, Gene was unaware of it and wrote the story as an original and was later told there was a similar story by the name of "Arena," so they sought out Brown's permission, who was happy to give it.

It also bears some similarity to The Outer Limits episode "Fun and Games" which aired three years earlier.

but it's a common enough theme for sci-fi that I don't think anyone was ripping anyone else off.
Speaking of TOL, if the dialogue in the Metrons' first warning sounds suspiciously like the Control Voice narration at the beginning of that show, it should. Not only is the wording similar, but Vic Perrin (pictured below, the voice behind the Control) provides the voice-over.

Guest: (4) with 2 of those for the Gorn, as well, played by Bobby Clark. TOS is to be commended for getting a diverse amount of work from its guest stars. Guest stars in one episode routinely provide voice-overs in others.

Script/ Theme: (8.5/ 8/5 of 10/10) Eugene Myers summarizes the theme pretty well: "Though Kirk wins the battle because of his intelligence, true victory comes from his display of mercy and compassion for his violent opponent. We’re meant to learn a lesson when Kirk overcomes his assumptions about the Gorn, which were based on his appearance and misinterpreted actions, and chooses a peaceful way of settling their dispute."

I hold out hope that someday this might still, eventually, be said about homo sapiens sapiens.

Mr. Herlihy is the guy in the red.
Adios, Mr. Herlihy.

Although Mythbusters was unable to re-construct Kirk's bamboo weapon from this episode:

According to Phil "Nitpickers" Farrand, he and friends constructed similar-sized bamboo "gas cannons" while growing up in the Philippines. Incidentally, he writes, "Kirk must have knocked out the segments when we weren't looking. Notice the outside of the tube. Every horizontal line represents the start of a segment. The bamboo is only hollow between these segment boundaries." I had no idea that was the case. You?

This bamboo bit is really the only Internal Logistics (2.5 of 3) "error" I found. (And I didn't even find it.) There might be a couple more little things, but nothing jumped out at me on this re-watch.

Scriptwise, there's little that could be improved. We're dropped almost immediately into the action, and the suspense is maintained through all the twists and turns that follow. Although they don't sound all that striking out of context, "Cestus 3 has been destroyed" and "I grow weary of the chasszzze" have always stuck with me. I wish my life afforded more (or, in the case of "Cestus 3," any) occasions to quote them.

What are we to make of McCoy's somewhat creepy "How well we both know that, eh?" line? (In response to Kirk's saying "Rank hath its privileges.") What twisted abuses of power do McCoy and Bones share in their past?
The script's original ending (restored in James Blish's novelization of this story in Star Trek 2) had a line about how the Metrons intended to destroy the winner of the conflict, rather than the loser, since the winner would represent the greater threat to them. Not sure why this was cut; it's a good line.
Kirk and the Gang: (25 of 10). Both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy currently suffer from tinnitus due to the close-proximity explosions while filming this episode.

Of course, when he lands, he's almost immediately on the communicator, giving orders.

Beyond the eardrum-shattering effects, Shatner's work in this episode is great, and everyone on the ship sells the scenario (both the chase and ambivalence about it, as well as the watching-events-planetside on the viewscreen) perfectly.

"Doctor, you are a sensualist."
"You bet your pointed ears I am."

Total Points Awarded: 68.25


  1. Another one of my favorites. I am at a loss as to why the Gorn weren't used again until the mirror universe episode of Enterprise. There were a few alien races I always wanted to see again and the Gorn and Tholians were at the top of the list.

    This might be Kirk's most epic fight. He's come close once or twice (Kruge and Khan come to mind) but I don't think his one-on-one with the Gorn has ever been surpassed. Great work.

    Not only was the Gorn Mego figure dressed as a Klingon, its head was the same used for the Lizard, just painted a different color. I felt ripped off back then. Wish I still had it. A MOC figure goes for quite a bit these days.

    PS I was in L.A. in 97 and I can't for the life of me figure out why we didn't go to Vasquez Rocks. Epic fail on our part.

    1. If you count TAS, the Gorn (or a least one of them) did make an on-screen appearance in the episode "Time Trap." Unfortionately I don't think he had any dialogue. It would have been cool to hear Ted Cassidy's raspy "Gorn voice" again. I can't agree more that this was one of Kirk's most epic fights, and probably a Top 5 episode of TOS overall. Just brilliant!

    2. Visiting Vasquez Rocks is high on my list. And I agree - shame they never returned to the Gorn. (Then or now.)

    3. Given how prominently the Gorn figure into the pop-cultural awareness, it really IS surprising that Trek has never gone back to that well (Enterprise and TAS excepted). Ah, well; maybe someday.

    4. Neither here, there, nor anywhere, but I just had a flash of a turtlenecked Gorn in a blazer singing "Not to Touch the Earth" from the Doors' classic "Celebration of the Lizard." It'd have made (perhaps still would) a fun video-aside at the MTV Movie Awards, or something.

      (The joke could be: the Gorn only sings songs that reference reptiles. Or by Tom Waits, whom he THINKS is a reptile.)

    5. The idea of a Gorn singing Doors songs cracks me up.

      "Mother...? I want to..."

    6. a) I forgot about this Gorn/ Doors joke and just laughed anew.

      b) I saw that "Both Shatner and Nimoy currently suffer from tinnitus," line up there in the post, and it saddened me. Nimoy was still present tense at that time. As were others, of course. Doesn't feel all that long since I did these posts. Things change. Climb the steps, Jim. Climb the steps to Mt. Seleya.