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Spectre of the Gun

It's amazing what a little time off can do. This episode simultaneously breaks new ground for the series while it deeply explores some very old ground. And it does so with subtlety, grace, wit, and imagination.

Start with the simple premise that our heroes, while approaching a new planet, are to be put to a test. This isn't a new idea -- in fact it has precedents going all the way back to the original pilot. But a good premise is a good premise, and it's the execution which really matters. Here the setup has some interesting quirks which set it apart. By establishing the telepathy aspect early, the teaser actually serves as sly foreshadowing of the ultimate solution. This is risky, but it works beautifully and prevents the ending from seeming like a typical quick fix. The landing party believes they have been transported in time (Kirk: "We're from the future. We haven't been born yet."), although they acknowledge that things aren't what they seem. Their reasoning always seems reasonable, in part because the word "execution" is floated so intentionally by their captors.

The script is virtually flawless in it's storytelling and character exploration. The scene after Chekov's "death" can easily sum up our characters, but it does so without belaboring their types.

Given such great dialogue, it isn't surprising that the actors all rise to the challenge. First, the guest stars are masterfully cast, and wonderfully coached by McEveety. They are evil right down to the moment when Wyatt thinks he's about to exit his world. Second, the principles seem rested but able to jump right back on their horses. Shatner does yell, but the drama supports it (as does the wind). Nimoy's Spock reveals so much in his near non-reaction to criticism over his lack of grief. This is matched by Kelley minutes later when Spock compliments him on his skills, and McCoy's reaction -- without saying anything -- wonderfully recalls and regrets his earlier harsh words.

But the entire crew is on their game. The art direction reaches new heights of imagination, and turns the episode into a living Dali painting. The musical score picks up on the surreal nature of the images and offers up matching snippets (at least one of which sounds like a Charles Ives arrangement of "Buffalo Gals"). The direction is relaxed and carefully paced to allow the actors some space in which to act. Shatner benefits especially from this. And the cinematography is uniformly superb.

The off-screen upheaval at Star Trek during this era is well-documented. But whatever stresses may have been present, this episode reaches the very top of what the series could do.

Rating: Very Top (1)


"Spectre of the Gun" was the best episode of the original series. But then I am in love with westerns. Never will forget that Kirk-Wyatt Earp fight scene.

Posted July 28, 2009 10:15 PM by Dennis Percherke

Bonnie Beecher who played "Sylvia" in "Spectre of the Gun" was a beautiful young actress. Sadly, she left Hollywood. Her name change also upsets me. To me, she will always be Bonnie Beecher.

Posted July 28, 2009 10:18 PM by Dennis Percherke