Its time for Star Trek Saturdays #19!
This week’s episode is “Arena” and it thrills from start to finish, introduces the Gorn, and is a remarkably tense hour of television.
We open with Kirk and McCoy excited to beam down to the Federation outpost on the planet Cestus III. They’re excited because the outpost’s commander, Commodore Travers, is famous for his hospitality and has a legendary personal chef with him due to his rank. They receive a message from Travers in the transporter room asking them to bring down their tactical teams. Kirk agrees and they beam down only to discover that the entire outpost has been utterly destroyed.
Snapping to command, Kirk orders Spock to begin searching for survivors. He locates an outpost officer, near to death, but then Spock detects strange nonhuman lifeforms. Almost instantly, they get attacked, a redshirt dies, then the others begin being bombarded by disruptor shells, turning the graveyard of the outpost into a battlefield.
Meanwhile, in orbit, the Enterprise also comes under attack by an enemy ship just out of their visual range. They struggle with that, engaging defensive screens, while on the ground, Kirk eventually locates a grenade launcher in the ruins of the armory and targets it at their attackers, eventually forcing them and their ship to step down.
Back on the Enterprise, Kirk comes to the conclusion that Travers’ invite and his voice were both faked, an attempt to lure the Enterprise there to destroy it and thus eliminate any Federation presence in this sector. He orders the helm to follow the enemy ship at all costs in order to destroy it.
Spock disagrees, saying they should hold off out of respect for sentient life, but Kirk will have none of it. He turns cold and he snaps, yelling that a massacre has been committed, and justice must be served. They pursue the ship, going faster and faster, eventually passing a nearby solar system. They eventually reach Warp 8 when Sulu notices that the other ship is slowing down. Ecstatic, Kirk has the ship close in for the kill, when suddenly, they’re stopped too, with no explanation.
The viewscreen is then taken over by what looks like a fancy kaleidoscope which pulsates and (in the voice of Vic Morrin) declares, “We are the Metrons.” It explains that, as both ships entered their space with violent intent, their respective captains must be forced to fight to the death. The winner will leave with him and his ship intact; the loser will be destroyed.
Kirk is then vanished off of the Enterprise, and arrives on a desert landscape. (It is, in fact, according to the production notes, the California desert.) He hears a strange rasping and turns around to see the captain of the other ship, a creature identified by the Metron as…
What follows is one of the most iconic episodes in Trek history and it simply rocks from start to finish. The first 15 minutes are basically a short war film, with the actors sliding into the part of combatants against an unseen force effortlessly. Due to an explosion on the set of this episode, Shatner and Nimoy, as well as the late DeForest Kelley, all suffer from tinnitus.
Speaking of Shatner, this is his episode without question, and he owns every minute of it. From his icy ruthlessness at hunting the Gorn to what happens when he’s dropped on a battlefield, he is remarkable. Simply stunning.
Also awesome: the various stuntmen inside the Gorn suit and whoever provides his voice (a translation device plays a part in the plot). That’s tough work, but they sell this rubber suit. And of course, I can’t help but praise Perrin as the voice of the Metron. Perrin was a versatile radio/TV actor, best known for being the iconic Control Voice on the original The Outer Limits, and he turns in a great vocal performance here.
Gene L. Coon’s script for this episode has an interesting backstory: he wrote the script, but it was realized after the original draft was completed that an original story also called “Arena” with a very similar story had been published by Fredric Brown in 1944 in Astounding Science Fiction. Consequently, Coon combined elements of that story, giving Brown a based-by credit, with the completed draft. The result is a tense, taut script full of clever twists and turns that never lets up with the action in a good way. Combine that with smart, engaging direction by Joseph Pevney and you’ve got one hell of an hour of television. Can’t recommend it enough.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.