Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Star Trek--"Spectre of the Gun"

Though not the first episode aired in the third season, “Spectre of the Gun” was the first produced. Two things are obvious. First, Gene Roddenberry was hoping for a big ratings grab right out the gate by capitalizing on the popularity of westerns. Legend has it hesold TOS originally on the premise it was going to be Wagon Train to the Stars anyway. Second, the per episode budget was cut to the bare bone. It is actually not so bad here since there is a sense of surrealism about the episode, but later on, it will become painful to witness. Almost as bad a viewing space hippies.

The interesting part is how the whole scenario begins with a brazenly unwise act on Kirk’s part. He chooses to ignore a warning buoy from the xenophobic Melkotians to stay away from their space. When he and a landing party beam down, they are trapped in a recreation of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Our heroes are, unfortunately, the Clantons, who lost the gunfight to the Earps.

Normally, I would complain that weare yet again faced with an unlikely bit of Earth history taking place out in deep space, but since this is just an illusion that requires no weird explanation such as lost book or a crazy historian or whatever the heck happened in “The Omega Glory,” I will let it slide.

Since we already know the outcome of the gun fight because even if we shamefully slept through high school history class, we all saw Tombstone (And rightfully shunned Kevin Costner’s self-serving Wyatt Earp), we know there has to be a twist to avoid the inevitable conclusion. The first hint comes when Chekov is killed while chasing skirts in his usual over the top imitation of Davy Jones. That went well beyond the shaggy hair. Chekov represented Billy Claiborne, whom Kirk notes survived the gunfight. Kirk fails to he represented another survivor, Ike Clanton. I am still in a generous mood, so I will let this slide, too.

All along, Spock insists the entire scenario is nothing but an illusion. Chekov died because he thought it was real.. If they have no fear, they will remain unharmed. There is no way humans can avoid doubt completely, so Spock mind melds with the rest of the gang to shore up their confidence. It works, as the Earp bullets pass right through them. Kirk eventually has Wyatt earp at his mercy, but opts not to kill him.

In true TOS fashion, his act of mercy impresses the Melkotians. Although they are have previously been brutally xenophobic to the point of killing trespassers in elaborate wild west scenarios, they open their planet up to the federation. Chekov is even found to be alive to chase skirts yet another day.

The episode is watchable, but there is nothing remarkable about it. As a history buff, I am irked they did not make a better effort to get the history correct. Wyatt Earp was not the marshal of Tombstone, the gunfight actually took place in front of Fly’s Photographic Studio, and the gunfight was a spontaneous affair. Maybe you can chalk the inaccuracies up to kirk’s faulty memory, but that is kind of a cop out. At glance at an encyclopedia could have cleared all that up in the scripting stage. There is no reason for the errors.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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