Star Trek: The Original Series episode 23 review

Ready for A Taste Of Armageddon? Our Star Trek original series retrospective reaches episode 23...

Episode: 23Title: A Taste Of ArmageddonStar Date: 3192.1Writer: Gene L. CoonFirst Shown: 23rd February 1967

Before talking about this episode, I want to set the context of when it was made, and the issues that presented themselves to those living in America at this time. The Vietnam War had been going since 1959, and a year after this the conflict would peak in the Tet Offensive. Given that the decade prior to this has seen the Korean Conflict, and the one before that World War II, everyone was heartily sick of war even if they weren’t fought on US soil.

In that light A Taste Of Armageddon makes a general and thought provoking critique on the futility of war and the loss of people and cultures within those conflicts.

The Enterprise turns up at the planet Eminiar VII with Ambassador Robert Fox onboard despite being told to stay away, looking to establish diplomatic relations. Kirk, Spock, Yeoman Tamura and two guards beam down to the planet to be met by the attractive Mea 3. She takes them to the High Council where they’re told that they’ve beamed into a war zone and they should leave. It turns out that Eminiar VII and its sister planet Vendikar have been at war for 500 years, although Kirk can see no obvious signs of destruction in their cities.

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It turns out that in many respects the war they’re fighting is virtual, in that the attacks are calculated, WarGames-like, by computers, and then those people who are determined to have been killed in each attack then have 24 hours to turn themselves in for disintegration. This conveniently leaves the infrastructure intact, even if thinning out the population.

Unfortunately, in the next attack not only is Mea 3 determined to be a casualty, but also the away team. Kirk won’t go along with this and the leader Anan 7 ensures compliance by imprisoning them all and using a voice duplicator to try and lure the remaining crew on the Enterprise down to the surface. Scotty doesn’t buy this deception, and realises the away team are in trouble.

Meanwhile, down below Spock does something I’m pretty sure he never repeats, which is to remotely plant the idea that they’ve escaped from their cells in the mind of the guard outside. He runs into their cell and is overpowered. Realising they’ve escaped, Anan 7 tells the planetary defences to open fire on the Enterprise.

The real star of this story is Scotty, because left in control of the orbiting Enterprise, he’s crucial to keeping the ship safe and understanding what’s occurring on the surface. Up to this point the Scotty character had been mostly used in a peripheral way, but here he’s given some prominence.

He’s ready for the attack, and he also then refuses to ignore the orders of the envoy they’re carrying to lower shields. His refusal to follow orders is a great scene, and is apparently based on a real one that actor James Doohan experienced while in the Royal Canadian Artillery, where during an exercise he refused a direct order to fire on his own men. Doohan’s military experience included being part of the contingent of Canadian forces that landed at Juno Beach on D-Day, where he was unfortunately shot six times by friendly fire and among other more serious injuries lost the top of a finger from his right hand.

He has some great lines in this episode including, “Diplomats! The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!”

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Scotty is relieved of command by Ambassador Fox who then beams down to be arrested directly. After lots of escaping, capturing, escaping, blowing up stuff, Kirk eventually gets a message to Scotty to execute General Order 24, a planetary attack which will commence in two hours if they’re not released.

He then proceeds to destroy the war game computers, which creates a situation where the next Vendikar attack won’t be a simulated one. Scared of the possibility of a real war with all the associated horrors, the Eminiarians are forced to consider a peaceful settlement, which Ambassador Robert Fox is conveniently on hand to help negotiate.

Along with Scotty, the best aspect of this story is the appearance of David Opatoshu as Anan 7, an actor who appeared on American TV from 1952 until 1991. His acting style is quite theatrical but suitably tempered for the small screen, and he manages to give the bureaucrat he’s given here substantially more depth than we should really expect.

What I never actually bought in this story is that the two sides could be sufficiently coordinated and trusting to set up this mutual destruction system, but couldn’t actually come to a peaceful settlement. And the rules governing the system would clearly never allow either side to win, and the only motivation that usually keeps nations in conflict going is the notion that at some point they’ll triumph. Take that away and surely it wouldn’t take long for people to realise it was all pointless. And, if either side could win, then surely the side who was failing would stop killing their own people as a means of rebalancing things.

My other complaint is that the hats that the Eminian guards wear are hilarious, and look like they were designed for coneheads.

Overall, this story is strong on symbolism, and has an interesting underlying concept but never quite translates that into classic Trek. The remastering has added some stylish backdrops to the city on the planet Eminiar VII and its view from orbit, but it’s relatively unmodified in other respects.

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In terms of the Trek legacy, this marks the first story where they actually make reference to the ‘Federation’, having called the arrangement of systems that Earth is a part a whole manner of different things before this point.

Next up is another distopian story where an odd plant has peculiar effect on the Enterprise’s crew in This Side Of Paradise.