56 "Spectre of the Gun"

(airdate: October 25, 1968)

Writer: Lee Cronin [pseudonym for Gene L. Coon]
Director: Vincent McEveety

Wyatt Earp: Ron Soble
Virgil Earp: Charles Maxwell
Doc Holliday: Sam Gilman
Johnny Behan: Bill Zuckert

Sylvia: Bonnie Beecher
Morgan Earp: Rex Holman
Ed the Bartender: Charles Seel
Melkotian Voice: Abraham Sofaer

Stardate: 4385.3

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is approaching the planet of the Melkot in order to establish contact with the reclusive Melkotians, despite being warned away. The Melkotians don't take kindly to this intrusion, and so the landing party is punished by being placed inside a surreal re-creation of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, with the landing party as the Clanton gang. Despite their best efforts to avoid conflict, Kirk and the others seem destined to die at the hands of the Earps - until Spock realizes that the entire scenario is playing out contrary to physical laws, and thus so long as they are certain the bullets can't kill them, they won't be harmed. This stratagem works, and during the ensuing fight Kirk chooses not to kill Wyatt Earp. The Melkot, surprised by this act of mercy, end the illusion and invite the Enterprise to visit their planet.

Whoops!: The version of events seen here is significantly different from the actual historical record: most obviously, the actual gunfight wasn't at the O.K. Corral but in Fremont Street near C.S. Fly's Photography Gallery, down the block from the rear entrance of the Corral. The gunfight also took place around 3:00 pm, not 5:00 pm as repeatedly stated here, and it wasn't the premeditated murder Gene L. Coon suggests here. And that's a point: why does Coon decide to make the Earps so villainous? In reality, while the Clantons had been aggravating the Earps for some time - with Ike allegedly repeatedly making threats on the Earps' lives - the Earps had still been attempting to deal with the Clantons lawfully, and right up to the shootout they reportedly weren't expecting a gunfight. They weren't itching for an excuse to kill the Clanton gang, and there weren't any ultimatums about leaving town; in fact, if anyone was itching for a fight, it was the Clantons. And there are smaller issues: Morgan Earp, seen here lusting after Sylvia, was in reality a happily-married man, while none of the Clantons would have been seen carrying guns around so openly; Tombstone had an ordinance requiring weapons to be dropped off at a saloon or livery, and in fact it was a dispute over whether all the Clantons had done this that led to the shootout in the first place.
     As Spock notes, historically, Billy Claiborne survived the gunfight - but then so did Ike Clanton, yet Spock never sees fit to mention this to Kirk.
     The idea that Chekov survived because he was so fixated on Sylvia (even though he appeared to die in the Melkotian scenario) really is astonishingly weak.

Classic Lines: Chekov, after Kirk tries to stop him kissing Sylvia: "What can I do, Captain? You know we're always supposed to maintain good relations with the natives."
     McCoy: "It's very simple. Nothing can go wrong." Kirk: "Up to now everything has gone wrong."
     Spock, after McCoy admonishes him for not grieving over Chekov's death: "Captain, it's quite all right. They forget I am half human."

Don't Wear a Red Shirt: Chekov is murdered by Morgan Earp in a dispute over the young woman Sylvia.

Alien Love: Chekov is completely smitten by the unreal Sylvia.

Library Computer: The planet of the Melkot (or Melkotians - the script uses both) is red, presumably class M [the landing party beams down without protective gear]. The Melkotians themselves were a private, xenophobic race; they have a glowing, spinning marker buoy on the edge of their space, capable of intercepting approaching vessels to warn away trespassers. They were powerful telepaths, able to give warnings in each person's native language, to create thick fog conditions (contrary to what was expected), and to reach into a person's mind to create an appropriate punishment for trespassing, and to convince them that that punishment is reality. They considered outsiders to be a disease that needed to be eliminated. The Melkot were creatures with large heads, glowing eyes, what appears to be a small nose, and a long, thick neck. [Anything below the neck can't be seen through the fog.] Due to their xenophobia, there was no recorded contact with the Melkot prior to stardate 4385.3, although Starfleet was most desirous of making contact, instructing the Enterprise to do so "at all costs". The Melkotians are able to project an image of themselves into space [or possibly just onto the viewscreen] in order to communicate face-to-face with the Enterprise.
     The particular punishment administered to the Enterprise landing party was a version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, Arizona [Territory] on October 26, 1881. This punishment was selected by the Melkot from Kirk's history, accessed via his mind; as his ancestors helped pioneer the American West, this was chosen as a suitably fitting scenario. This reconstruction is somewhat abstract, with only the bare minimum needed to play out the historical scene being created - this includes the fronts of buildings but few if any walls; tables, chairs, and benches; a handful of trees; a horse; various odds and ends; and deadly period weapons. There are also a handful of people around, including a bartender named Ed; Johnny Behan the sheriff; a young lady named Sylvia; a local barber; Doc Holliday the dentist; and the three Earp brothers: Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil. The landing party takes the roles of the Clanton gang, with Kirk as Ike Clanton; Spock as Frank McLowery; McCoy as Tom McLowery; Scotty as Billy Clanton; and Chekov as Billy Claiborne. [For whatever reason, Coon's script repeatedly misspells "McLaury" as "McLowery".] Despite their best efforts, the landing party are only seen by the others in the town as the Clantons.
     The Melkotian version of events casts the Earps as cold men, ready to kill the Clanton gang if they don't leave town by 5:00 pm but giving them plenty of freedom up to that point. This version of Morgan Earp is known by Kirk as "the man who kills on sight", and who is interested in a young woman named Sylvia - although Sylvia only has eyes for "Billy Claiborne". There is a forcefield around the town, preventing the landing party from leaving, and a refusal to head to the O.K. Corral leads to their being transported there. The Melkotians are willing to deviate from the historical record in order to execute the trespassers, with Chekov gunned down in the street and Kirk presumably slated for death, despite both of their real-life counterparts having survived the gunfight. The Melkot are creating this scenario in such a way that physical laws don't actually apply; thus, nothing here is actually real and as long as the landing party believes that, they won't be harmed - after all, if the Melkotians can change things to suit their needs then so can the landing party. The Melkot end the scenario when they see Kirk show mercy to Wyatt Earp, leading them to believe that these Federation representatives aren't as dangerous as they had feared and thus to welcome them to their planet, with a delegation ready to meet them. [The resolution of this episode, with everyone back on the ship unharmed and the Enterprise still near the Melkotian buoy, rather than around the planet, suggests that this entire drama was a shared dream played out in the landing party's minds.]
     Spock can perform a mind meld on humans in order to remove any doubt about a given situation - here, the fact that the bullets aren't real and therefore can't hurt them - from their minds.
     The Melkotian buoy begins emitting M-rays ("Who Mourns for Adonais?") at a highly unstable rate, while its energy output increases dramatically, shortly before it self-destructs.
     Kirk's native language is English, while Spock's is Vulcan, Chekov's is Russian, and Uhura's is Swahili.

Final Analysis: "The violence of your own heritage is to be the pattern for our execution." Star Trek's foray into (overt) Westerns is a surreal affair, with a deliberately stagy look and cold, passionless villains. It's also fairly slow, with a good deal of discussion of the situation and ways to avoid it. This all leads to an episode that often feels like it's intentionally trying to make the audience ill at ease. Well-acted and directed, but rather bizarre.

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Page originally created: August 12, 2016
Page last updated: May 25, 2018

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