Star Trek: The Original Series episode 18 review

Our look back at Star Trek's maiden series - now in high definition! - visits Arena...

ST: TOS episode 18

Episode: 18Title: ArenaStar Date: 3045.6Writer: Gene L. CoonFirst Shown: 19th January 1967

If you asked many people do they remember Arena they might confuse it with at least two other stories, but if you asked about the ‘Gorn’ story, or the one with the lizard bloke, you’d get an immediate response.

By the time this one screened, fans of the show will have worked out that the universe is populated with primarily two types: sexually available aliens, and omnipotent beings who like to mess with humanity at the first opportunity. And it’s the latter variety, and not romantic entanglements, that are Kirk’s big problem in this story.

The Enterprise arrives at Cestus III Outpost. Kirk, Bones and three expendable crewmen beam down expecting dinner and instead find the outpost has been destroyed by an attacking ground force. While they’re on the surface, the unseen enemy ship turns up and attacks the Enterprise, marooning them on the surface until they pause their attack. The remaining crew members beam back and the Enterprise sets off in pursuit of the enemy ship, until they’re both held in an invisible force-field.

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They’re both run into the ‘Metrons’, a deeply paranoid race of super-beings who decide, like parents of fighting children, to settle this dispute directly. Kirk and the alien captain ‘Gorn’ are transported to an alien world where they’ll fight until one of them is dead. When one has killed the other, the victor’s ship will go free, while the loser will be destroyed along with his ship.

In retrospect, I’ve never seen this story without it raising a chuckle at one point or another. The Gorn is pure man-in-a-suit, although the teeth look formidable. Kirk must use his adaptation abilities to create a weapon from the items he finds on the planet, and implausibly build a small cannon. This whole exercise is wonderfully parodied in the film Galaxy Quest, where confronted with a similar problem, the captain is asked to look around and see if there are parts to ‘fashion a primitive lathe’.

After much running about familiar Trek desert locations (Vasquez Rocks), Kirk finally uses the cannon to disable Gorn, but refuses to kill him. This impresses the never seen Metrons, who proclaim that humans are “still half savage, but there is hope”.

We never know really what happens to Gorn, but the Enterprise is placed back around Cestus III with an uninjured Kirk onboard.

While the story is rather simple, and the creature slightly laughable, there are many interesting things about this story that support the Trek legacy. Possibly the most important aspect is that this script was created by the legendary Gene L. Coon, at the time he was also the show’s producer. This writer was responsible for introducing to Trek the concept of the Prime Directive, the Klingons, and the key characters of Khan Noonien Singh and Zefram Cochrane. Infamously he could create an entire script over a weekend, although I’ve no idea if he wrote this one that rapidly.

Sadly Coon died in 1973 after developing lung cancer, and so never saw the film versions of the show he helped create.

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It’s also worth mentioning that the remastering elves have been quite busy on this story, fixing the usual ship graphics but also providing a more convincing background for Cestus III, and even blinking eyes for Gorn.

Next up is the second D C Fontana penned episode, and the first intentional time travel story, when the crew of the Enterprise try to unravel the conundrum of Tomorrow Is Yesterday.