>“Spectre of the Gun”
A few months into my original journey through the classic series, my local station aired a month or so of “best of” episodes hosted by George Takai and Walter Koenig. One evening, Koenig introduced us to “Gun,” citing it as one of his favorites because Chekov gets the girl.
That’s it. Nothing more. Just simply that instead of Kirk getting to make out with the girl in the episode, it was Chekov.
Nothing made about the minimalist sets or the attempted homage to the popular Westerns of the day.
“Spectre of the Gun” was the first episode produced for the third season and one of the first victims of the budget cuts. The budget was slashed when NBC moved the show to Fridays at ten and then Roddenberry threatened to step down as day-to-day producer if they wouldn’t move it to a different time slot. Neither side blinked and the writing was on the wall. Trek was a dead show walking, so the studio and network slashed the budget. It’s why you see a lot of studio-bound stories in season three and little, if any location shooting. (We don’t even visit the famous Star Trek rocks during the season).
Interestingly, “Spectre” is one of the few episodes that decides to take the limitation and try to stretch the budget as far as it will go. The minimalist Western town is visually more interesting that various sand and rock planets we’ll see throughout the season and at least we get some new snippets of incidental music to help build the atmosphere.
The script is another by Gene Coon, written under his pseudonym of Lee Cronin. In many ways, it feels like a greatest hits of other shows he wrote and it also feels like he left it behind before he’d had a chance to do enough revisions to it.
The Enterprise is on their way to the Malkotians homeworld under orders to make contact with the people there no matter what the cost. The ship comes across a buoy in space that warns them to stay away, but Kirk ignores it. They arrive and a landing party beams down to a planet of mist. A Melkotian confronts them and says that since they’ve ignored their wishes and are a violent group, that they will be destroyed by the pattern of their own past. The Melkotians reaches into Kirk’s mind and pulls out a scenario of the gunfight at the O.K. Coral and casts the crew members in the roles of the Clantons.
This leaves our heroes in a dilemma since the Clantons are all killed, except for Chekov’s role as Billy Clanton. (At least in Kirk’s recollection). They try to leave town, create a tranquilizer and reason with the Earps. None of it works but before they get to the battle, Chekov is killed in a fight over the girl. Spock reasons that the physical laws the crew is used to operating under only work if various people believe they will. He mind melds with Scotty, Kirk and McCoy to convince them that the bullets aren’t real and can’t kill them. They go to the shootout, aren’t harmed and Kirk does his famous flying kick to Wyatt Earp. Kirk is tempted to kill, but doesn’t.
This impresses the Melkotians who send them back to the ship and agree to let the crew come by for negotiations.
There are a lot of similarities to other Trek entries in this one, including the crew being enlightened enough to overcome the urge to kill and a society that really, really doesn’t want to be bothered. It’s interesting to hear that Kirk is pretty much going to have to go in and visit the planet, whether they want to be visited or not under orders. No explanation is given of why this is. At least in “A Taste of Armageddon” we could understand that the Federation lost two ships and the two planets were at war last time we heard anything. A line of dialogue saying this was near a border and it might make more sense and fit in with the Western theme.
And while the minimalist sets are nice at first, “Spectre” really drags once its established the setting and waits for the inevitable gun fight to occur.
It’s got some good ideas, but the script feels like it needs another revision or two to be a really great one.