It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #27!
This week’s episode is “Errand of Mercy” and it introduces the Klingons, the number one enemy of Starfleet, in a story that’s exciting and innovative while also having some interesting possible allegory thrown in.
We open with the crew learning that negotiations with the Klingon Empire are on the verge of collapse. This comes as the Enterprise is heading to Organia, a peaceful planet in the area of space currently under dispute, to warn the natives about the Klingons. They encounter a Bird-Of-Prey, but destroy it easily. Uhura then receives a message labeled, “Code One,” meaning war has been declared on the Klingons.
Arriving at the planet, Kirk and Spock beam down, with Kirk putting Sulu in charge, telling him to get out and join up with a nearby fleet of starships, as his duty to Starfleet is more important than his duty to them. They materialize in a rural village setting and meet Ayelborne (John Abbott) who says that while there is no official ruler of Organia, he is temporary chairman of the Council of Elders and that he will listen to them.
Kirk lays out their case and explains that the Federation is willing to provide protection for them against the Klingons, but Ayelborne and the others tell him that they have no need of his help. While they withdraw to further discuss his offer, Spock tells Kirk that, according to his tricorder, Organian civilization and culture have been stagnant for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.
The Council returns and tells Kirk that no, they really don’t need any help. Suddenly, Council member Trefayne (David Hillary Hughes) declares that there’re eight ships approaching the planet filled with many men carrying many weapons. Spock confirms it with his tricorder and Kirk orders the Enterprise to depart orbit immediately.
The Council disguises Kirk as one of them and Spock as a Vulcan merchant using some native clothing, and the double doors of the Council room to reveal the head of the Klingon army, Kor (John Colicos).
And will Kor see through Kirk and Spock’s disguises? And how did Trefayne know the Klingons were coming…?
This is a terrific episode and a great introduction to the alien race most associated with Trek, the Klingons. According to Trek story editor D.C. Fontana, the Klingons weren’t intended to be a recurring nemesis but were made so because, unlike the Romulans, no elaborate makeup was needed. Of course, if you’re familiar with how later Klingons look, this seems an odd statement.
But originally, the Klingons were meant to invoke the Mongols, and Colicos himself suggested that Kor look like Genghis Khan (the resulting look is potentially racist in a way but this ain’t the place to discuss that). The show ran with it and the rest is history. Really, though, the appearance is purely secondary; Kor and the others are Klingons through and through, with Kor every bit as battle-hungry and conniving as later Klingons were. He is however slightly different which I’ll get to in a bit.
Here, we have an episode that takes the usual dynamic–Kirk, Spock and others get seperated from the Enterprise–and changes it up, stranding only Kirk and Spock. This gives us remarkable insight into the camraderie the two men have and show just how much they depend on each other. We also get some really funny exchanges between the two, like here when they debate the odds of their escaping Klingon captivity:
“What would you say the odds on our getting out of here?”
“Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7 to one.”
“Difficult to be precise?”
In a way, the situation here is also a heightened one of the one in “The Galileo Seven,” although instead of just Spock in jeopardy, the Enterprise‘s two most important officers are in danger. I suppose there is some Cold War allegory to be had in how both the Federation and the Klingons are desperate to sway a neutral planet to their respective sides, but for the like of me, I couldn’t suss it out.
Beyond that, Gene L. Coon gives us once again a stellar script that proves he really gets this characters and this concept, offering up a fantastic pulpy adventure while also giving us a lot to think about. The director here is John Newland and while he’s no Joseph Pevney, he does a fine job, giving us the right camera shots we need to keep abreast of the situation, except for one weird fish-eye close-up of Kor.
The cast is hands-down terrific. Shatner and Nimoy are at their finest proving just how much Kirk and Spock can bounce off of one another. As Kor, John Calicos is terrific; this is in part because he embodies something I haven’t really seen in any other Klingon actors: an element of sleaziness. Even the scheming Gawron in TNG was still very much a standard, blood-thirsty Klingon; Kor, by contrast, is malevolent and somewhat maniacal. Calico’s bearing delivery put me in mind of the famed actor Jose Ferrer, who had a similar way of taking a villain and really making you believe in their villainy.
Speaking of Klingons, before we go, I should quickly pay tribute to Michael Ansara, who died this past Friday. A working character actor, Ansara played the legendary Klingon Kang in the original Trek, as well as Deep Space Nine and Voyager. While I haven’t seen any of his appearances yet, I look forward to them. Ansara is best known to me and many other nerds of my generation as Mr. Freeze on Batman: The Animated Series; it was that show that famously rewrote Freeze from a joke into a tragic villain and Ansara’s somber, distant vocals helped nail that beautifully. He will be missed.
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.