Studying My Predators: TOS #18: “The Squire of Gothos”

The Enterprise encounters a remote planet where a foppish ‘squire’ insists on entertaining (and studying) them and challenging them to the death when they refuse.

  • I’m fascinated in retrospect by how episodes open, about what is going on before the Enterprise and its crew encounter whatever challenge will form the basis of this week’s story. Sometimes these are just as interesting as the main story, for what they reveal about how daily life aboard the Enterprise works, or what the writers and producers imply about the ship’s mission.
  • In this case, the opening establishes that the Enterprise is crossing some kind of ‘star void’ on its way to Beta VI, which it will reach in 8 days, and that they’re 900 light years from Earth. Routine on the bridge: we see a (female) yeoman passing out coffee; we have yet another navigator, this time DeSalle (for some reason they didn’t settle on a regular navigator character – Chekov – until the second season).
  • The ‘star void’ notion is a curious one, of no particular importance (and such an idea is never mentioned in any other episode), except presumably to underscore how odd it is for the Enterprise to come across a lone planet ahead in their path, as they do. As they approach the planet, Sulu, trying to change course, abruptly vanishes from the bridge, and then so does Kirk. Spock shouts out “full reverse power!” a bit oddly since they haven’t actually reached the planet yet. End of Teaser.
  • Spock orders the ship to orbit the mysterious rogue planet, as messages begin to appear on their screens, e.g. “Greetings and Felicitations.” Spock sends a landing party down to the planet, to the one small area that seems livable – McCoy, DeSalle, and a geologist named Jaeger – and the planet we see, in this episode, is a staged planet set (unusually, featuring numerous trees instead of sand and fake boulders). Nearby is the front of a small castle.
  • They enter the castle and discover Kirk and Sulu, frozen in position, and then Squire Trelane, playing a harpsichord, a foppish chatterbox who releases the frozen men and welcomes them all as examples of the savage Earth culture he’s been studying. As he admires humans for their missions of conquest, noting them as a “predator species that preys even on itself,” Kirk and the others realize Trelane knows only what Earth was like 900 years ago, given the distance this planet is from Earth. The subtext here is in line with Trek’s progressive vision of the future: that the violent past of the human species has been overcome.
  • William Campbell is great in the role; Cushman’s book mentions that Roddy McDowell was originally considered, and he would have been good too.
  • Spock, disapproving of Trelane’s antics, has a good line: “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” To which Trelane replies, delightedly, “Why, Mr. Spock, you do have one saving grace after all—you’re ill mannered!”
  • Kirk keeps insisting they be allowed to depart, and Trelane keeps forcing them to stay, until the situation devolves into a personal duel between Trelane and Kirk, with antique pistols. Kirk takes the opportunity to destroy a mirror he thinks is the source of Trelane’s power.
  • The Enterprise departs, only to have the planet Gothos appear in their path again and again, as if by magic (or superfantastic alien powers). There’s some typically wrong intuitive physics going on here, as the Enterprise veers first one way, then another, to evade the planet, and everyone on the bridge *sways* first one way, then the other, as this happens. As if the velocities and accelerations involved have only that very minor effect on the bridge crew’s ability to keep standing.
  • A brief trial scene between Kirk and Trelane leads to a chase through the woods outside, until Kirk realizes he can call Trelane’s bluff, and simply breaks Trelane’s sword. Trelane reacts in childish hurt, and Kirk scolds him like a child. “You have a lot to learn about winning, Trelane. In fact, you’ve got a lot to learn about everything, haven’t you?”
  • Which sets up the story’s resolution, with a blatant deus ex machina that is also one of the best Trek reveals: two glowing lights appear above them, shining a light down upon Trelane, and speak as his parents, “It’s time to come in now, come along.” Trelane complains, “I haven’t finished studying my predators yet!” and the parents reply, “This is not ‘studying’ them. If you cannot take proper care of your pets, you cannot have them at all.” Trelane whines, “I was winning! I coulda won!” The parents apologize to Kirk, and let him return to his ship, as Trelane fades away.
  • This is great because it undermines the simple premise that Trelane is some powerful, malicious alien – he is that, but he’s also a child, and that explains what’s gone on so much more completely. It also echoes a recurring Trek theme, one also just mentioned regarding “Shore Leave”– that the universe is filled other powerful races whose presence only incidentally overlaps human exploration of space. It’s this repeated demoting of humanity as being the boss of outer space that gives the Enterprise’s missions their own special but limited significance, a certain humbleness to the human endeavor, and gives the show such open-ended potential. (A potential that, I think, was lost in later Trek series that devolved into politics between the Federation and the Klingons, e.g.)
  • Music notes: “Vina’s theme” underscores Trelane’s parents; the cat and mouse between Enterprise and Gothos is set to the Fesarius theme. A lengthy post about TOS first season music will soon be posted.
  • And then the episode ends with the by-now obligatory humorous note. Kirk wonders if Spock didn’t also play pranks as a boy—“Dipping little girls curls in inkwells. Stealing apples from the neighbor’s trees. Tying cans on…”, before Spock gives him a droll look. Anachronistic, too.
  • Final thought, watching the end credits of this episode: I wonder if anyone has explored the idea that the stills of scenes from other episodes, shown under the end credits, often revealed episodes that had not been aired yet. Teasers of a sort, for not just next week’s episodes, but for other episodes yet to come! In this case, the end credits show a scene from “The Return of the Archons”, four episodes on from “The Squire of Gothos” in production order, though presumably done by the time final post-production of “Gothos” got it ready to air.
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