Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Classic Star Trek’s two key episodes

by Rob - December 25th, 2015.
Filed under: Star Trek.

There are two episodes key to understanding classic Star Trek. One, of course, is “The Naked Time,” in which we learn everyone’s inner secrets and motivations. But the other, I’d argue, is “The Conscience of the King,” in which we learn that Star Trek is best viewed as theatrical, as a stage play, as a bit over-the-top in terms of performance, a bit under-realized in terms of sets, with stylized dialog that would make Aaron Sorkin and Tom Stoppard proud, and, at its best, as a play within a play wherein we’ll at last catch what’s really being discussed. It’s no accident that Roddenberry hired a Shakespearean actor, William Shatner, to portray his first series star, or another, Patrick Stewart, to play his second.

In the above light, consider such episodes as “Requiem for Methuselah,” with the most Shakespearean dialog of any installment (and clearly a riff on “The Tempest”), “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the most blatant of Trek’s morality plays, “Elaan of Troyius,” which is, of course, “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Is There In Truth No Beauty?,” with its Miranda and Caliban-like Medusan, the minimal staging of “The Empath” and “Spectre of the Gun,” soliloquies such as the “Risk is our business” one from “Return to Tomorrow,” and the frequent Shakespearean references throughout right down to the title of the penultimate episode, “All Our Yesterdays.”

Most of the episodes I cite above are from the third season (although “The Conscience of the King” was the 13th episode produced and the 13th aired): the show became more blatantly Shakespearean under Fred Freiberger, and Shatner’s performances grew more theatrical, playing to the back row, as the series went on. But the Shakespearean influence is there from day one, and the theatrical quality is pervasive through the entire run.

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