43 "Bread and Circuses"

(airdate: March 15, 1968)

Writer: Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon [from a story by John Kneubuhl]
Director: Ralph Senensky

Merik: William Smithers
Septimus: Ian Wolfe

Proconsul Claudius: Logan Ramsey
Flavius: Rhodes Reason

Drusilla: Lois Jewell

Stardate: 4040.7

Captain's Log: The Enterprise discovers the wreckage of a ship called the SS Beagle, which leads them to the fourth planet of system 892 - a planet much like Earth, except that there Rome never fell. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to look for survivors but are quickly captured. They find the captain of the Beagle, Merik, working with Proconsul Claudius Marcus; Claudius knows that Merik is from another world, but, worried about cultural contamination, he persuaded Merik to send everyone down to the planet so that they could keep their existence a secret. Claudius wants Kirk to do the same thing, and tries several ways to convince him, including forcing Spock and McCoy to fight in televised gladiatorial games. Scotty arranges a diversion that allows the landing party to escape, although Merik dies while aiding them.

Whoops!: This society hasn't made first contact yet, so there's a strict non-interference policy in effect, with no identification of the landing party or their mission. Yet Kirk, Spock, and McCoy choose to beam down in full uniform and with all their equipment. (Compare with "A Private Little War", broadcast six weeks earlier.)
     There are a couple minor inconsistencies: there are two unrelated characters named Claudius Marcus [probably related to the fact that the proconsul was originally named Marcellus], and the policeman instantly recognizes that Spock's ears make him a "barbarian" - yet Claudius Marcus acts as if he's only heard of Vulcans, rather than seen any for himself. It might also be worth noting that Merikus and Claudius are eating and drinking in regular chairs, rather than reclining on couches in the Roman fashion. And why is their TV show called "Name the Winner" if there isn't any audience participation, and determining who lives and dies is in the hands of the proconsul, not the viewers?
     This culture matches Roman culture in nearly every regard (well, extrapolated to the 20th century at least) - to the point where McCoy comments that "Rome had no sun worshippers. Why should they parallel Rome in every way but one?" (Actually, Rome did in fact have sun worship, with worship of Sol Invictus made an official cult in 274 AD by the emperor Aurelius, but this isn't what we're quibbling with.) Yet everyone speaks English instead of Latin - they even make a point of commenting on it. On Earth, English only became widespread because the British went around colonizing and conquering half the planet, so by this same logic this would make Latin (or the equivalent) the dominant language on 892-IV, and English should have been more or less wiped out after 2000 years of Roman rule and Latin speech. (After all, Old English was heavily influenced by the French ancestor language Old Norman, such that Middle English took on a great number of vocabulary and grammatical features from it, and that only took a couple hundred years or so.) [This all might be to disguise the sun/son homophony, as the words are very different from each other in Latin (sol/filius) - except wouldn't the universal translators have created the same homophony when converted to English? So why do they need to be speaking English? After all, it's not like the natives are confused by the homophony.]
     And while we're on the subject, the shot of the building near the beginning (in actuality the Palace of the Legion of Honor, in Paris) has a motto in French, not Latin.

Classic Lines: Flavius (gesturing at Spock's ears): "What do you call those?" Spock: "I call them ears."
     Spock: "Doctor, if I were able to show emotion, your new infatuation with that term would begin to annoy me." McCoy: "What term? Logic? Medical men are trained in logic, Mr. Spock." Spock: "Really, Doctor, I had no idea they were trained. Watching you, I assumed it was trial and error." Flavius: "Are they enemies, Captain?" Kirk: "I'm not sure they're sure."

Don't Wear a Red Shirt: Kirk appears to kill a guard with a sword (admittedly in self-defense, but still).

Alien Love: Claudius Marcus lets Kirk spend his last night alive with a blonde slave girl named Drusilla (because he sees Kirk as a "man" deserving of such treatment before his execution).

Library Computer: The SS Beagle was a small class 4 stardrive vessel operated by the Merchant Service. With a crew of 47, the Beagle's captain was one R.M. Merik (a tall, slender Caucasian male with blonde hair and blue eyes), and its flight officer was William B. Harrison. Merik was friends with Kirk in the Academy, but in his fifth year Merik failed a psychosimulator test and so was dropped from the Academy; he joined the Merchant Service instead.
     Six years ago the Beagle sustained meteor damage near the fourth planet of system 892; Merik and a landing party went ashore to look for iridium ore for repairs. They discovered a planet incredibly similar to that of Earth, except that here Rome had never fallen: this society was the equivalent of a 20th-century Roman Empire. Merik encountered a man named Claudius Marcus, who convinced him that this planet should remain unknown, to avoid cultural contamination - since the Beagle was the first Federation vessel to survey the sector, no other vessels had discovered 892-IV - and so Merik had his crew beam down to the planet, abandoning their ship. [This is pretty weird; Merik would have surely known that the Prime Directive would have forbidden the Federation from interfering with this planet's culture, so the contamination argument doesn't seem like a strong one. Perhaps the meteor damage was severe and there was no way to fix it without help, and so Merik was forced to have his crew beam down to save them, and the rest of Merik's story is after-the-fact justification.] Those crewmembers who could handle life on the planet survived, but the rest were sent to the gladiatorial arena as "barbarians" and died there. [It's possible that everyone was sent to the arena, but some did better than others; the dialogue is a bit unclear here.]
     The fourth planet of star system 892 was a class M planet very close to that of Earth, with a density of 5.5 [g/cm3], a diameter of 7917 [miles] at the equator, an atmosphere that is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, and a proportion of land to water that is identical to Earth's. The planet's civilization had developed television and radio communications (both amplitude and frequency modulation), fine carbon steel, excellent roads, and power transportation - although they hadn't developed atomic power yet. Their atmosphere was moderately polluted, with large amounts of carbon monoxide and partially consumed hydrocarbons (in other words, smog). This planet had a Roman empire, but unlike Earth, here Rome never fell. Consequently, this society has all the trapping of Rome, but with a 20th-century mindset: gladiator matches are televised; magazines called Elite and The Gallian, which touts the new heavyweight champion gladiator; and products are named after their gods (with cars named the Jupiter 8, toothpaste named after Mars, and bath salts named after Neptune). The main language is English, rather than Latin. According to Merik, there's been no war for over four hundred years. The people of this planet are generally unaware of the existence of other worlds, or that the stars aren't simply lights in the sky.
     This Rome has a large slave population, marked by their wearing rough grey t-shirts with a chain symbol on the front. They've had slaves for over two thousand years; initially there were rebellions that were suppressed, but as time went on the slaves gained more rights, including medicine and old-age pensions. However, at some point the slaves heard the word of the Son, that all men were brothers, and they began to grow discontented again. The word of the Son had been around for a very long time, but knowledge of it had been suppressed and kept from the slave classes. Followers of the Son called themselves Children (or Brothers) of the Son, and they believed in peace and brotherhood. Uhura notes that the Son in this case is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. [Thus appearing to answer, at least in the Star Trek universe, the question of whether Jesus would need to be crucified on other planets in order to save them.] The local leader of the Children of the Son is an older man named Septimus, who was once a senator until he began to follow the word of the Son.
     There were a number of televised gladiator events, including a show called "Name the Winner" ("brought to you tonight by your Jupiter 8 dealers from coast to coast"). Although they appeared on TV as broad, expansive affairs, they were in fact small studio-bound productions, with a cheap painted backdrop for the arena and a single technician adjusting various audience sounds for the benefit of the broadcast. These arena games consisted of a number of events, including an "amateur" version where petty thieves fought each other, as well as more professional displays; this included the gladiator Claudius Marcus recently killing the last of the "barbarians", Flight Officer Harrison. One of the most successful gladiators in the province was Flavius Maximus; for seven years he fought in the arena, but then he heard the word of the Son and His message of peace and freedom; for that he was made a slave. Flavius was killed in the arena while saving Kirk's life.
     The lord of the games was Captain Merik, now going by Merikus; he became First Citizen nearly six years ago, and had a reputation as a butcher. ["First Citizen" was the Roman term for the Emperor, although it doesn't look as though Merikus actually wields that much power.] The proconsul was named Claudius Marcus [no relation to the gladiator, presumably]; he was a shorter, stouter man, with short dark hair and blue eyes, who dressed in fine clothes. He'd never personally encountered a Vulcan before Spock. Claudius killed Merikus while Merikus aided the landing party's escape.
     Spock states that 37 million people died in the third World War. [He also states that 6 million died in World War I and 11 million in World War II, which are both significantly conservative estimates, so it's likely that the actual casualties for World War III are also much higher. Incidentally, the dialogue here refers to the "first three world wars", which suggests there were others.]
     This society's similarity to Earth is apparently an amazing example of Hodgkins' law of parallel planet development.
     Starfleet regulations are designed to circumvent a captain ordering his entire crew to beam down to a planet.
     The term "condition green" means that the landing party is in trouble but that the ship is prohibited from taking any [overt] action to rescue them.
     Kirk tells Claudius that he's seen forms of entertainment that make these Roman arena games "look like a folk dance."
     Spock knows how to sword fight. Dr. McCoy does not.

Final Analysis: "Fight, you two! You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you." Highly underrated. A neat concept, a relatively straightforward plot, and loads of sparkling dialogue make this something special. And the sardonic look at television production, with epic fights staged in a cheap, tatty studio, and lots of knowing winks ("We've preempted fifteen minutes on the early show for you. In full color") just adds to the flavor of the piece. All this and a great cast too.

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Page originally created: April 27, 2017
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