TOS: S1E18: “Arena”

In which the Enterprise doesn’t bother to use sensors and nearly loses the entire command staff, we see 23rd century defensive weaponry, and what the hell, I’m watching Star Trek not MacGyver.

Kirk and the team are beaming down to a Commodore’s redoubt on an isolated planet for some as-yet-unexplained purpose, and we get the first hint of how food actually works in TOS. Replicators don’t exist yet, but they appear to have a halfway point – they have astronaut food that gets reconstituted. This is apparently not as good as real food, because let’s face it, industrial food never

"Okay, who left the settlement in the oven?"

“Okay, who left the settlement in the oven?”

is. Later, we’ll also hear comments about how replicated food is never as good as the real thing either, and there are a couple of reasons why not, but since that’s not a part of this episode, I’ll leave it for now. I’m sure I’ll remember to pick this up later.

It’s not important anyway, because the commodore’s home has been destroyed some time between him talking with them in the transporter room and them beaming down. Presumably, someone is either impersonating the Commodore or messing with time. We just had a god-being and even it was terrible at time, so let’s hope it was merely an impostor. Spock is getting a reading of cold-blooded creatures, and someone vaporized a redshirt and started shelling the landing party while attacking the Enterprise. Good thing both the captain and the first officer are away from the ship, so Sulu is pretty much in command.

The Enterprise phasers are not having an effect, so Kirk orders Sulu to bust out the Photon Torpedoes. This marks their first use in the series. Presumably, photon torpedoes have a higher energy yield than phasers, otherwise there would be little point in carrying them around, other than to

"I've been pretending this whole time. I have no idea how this thing works. I'm such a fraud!"

“I’ve been pretending this whole time. I have no idea how this thing works. I’m such a fraud!”

fire while at minimum power consumption. The Enterprise is also unfamiliar with the configuration of the enemy ship, and it appears impervious to the torpedoes anyway, so Kirk orders Sulu to leave orbit. Things are so desperate on the ground that Spock can’t even spare the time to pretend he needs to look at his tricorder. It turns out the enemy can even remotely overload a tricorder. Fortunately, Kirk has found a mortar. A mortar that 1200 yards is considered inside the minimum safe firing distance. Ye gods, that’s a man-portable photon torpedo launcher! No wonder we never see this in later series – at just over a kilometer it has enough yield to knock the away team on their asses. By the 24th century, there’s really no such thing as a border planet anymore – colonies have been settled and the Federation is either on friendly terms or stable unfriendly terms with all its neighbors, and I can’t think of a situation the crew of the Enterprise D has ever faced where that would be useful. 1km may not be all that big in the grand scheme of things, but in terms of anti-personnel ordinance? I can only presume the colony even had that around because they didn’t have the power generation facilities for phaser turrets.

Kirk orders a search party of 30 medical personnel beamed down – the entire crew compliment is only 430-ish, that must be every crew member with first aid training, on-duty and off. Apparently though, nothing came of it. Apparently the enemy ship came in under pretense of peace and then shelled the crap out of the colony with weapons that melt flesh. These guys are jerks. They lured the Enterprise into an ambush, somehow knowing that the Enterprise is the only military ship in the entire sector. Talk about overstepping your boundaries. It seems very… human… to send out colonies so far ahead of any competent protection. It’s not surprising that this is very reminiscent of the conception of the Wild West, where people would just go out and settle anything where the natives didn’t protest hard enough, regardless of how far behind the official protection of the Federal government was. When Roddenberry pitched the idea, it was as a Western in space, so it’s very fitting that a lot of the setting points toward a lawless frontier where people get killed by the unknown a lot. I do mean a lot.

More about the Enterprise’s combat capabilities – Warp 6 appears to be maximum cruising speed. They’re attempting to chase down and exterminate the alien vessel so that it can’t report the weaknesses of the Federation to its

As they close on the aliens, Kirk is inspired to start dancing.

As they close on the aliens, Kirk is inspired to start dancing.

homeworld, and to do that they need to both outrun and outfight it. They’ve already shown they can’t outfight it, and it can apparently match their maximum cruising speed. We’ll see if the engines cannae take the strain, cap’n. Spock once again steps up to advocate indiscriminate murder. This is very laudable and clearly becoming a core character trait, but he’s really not good at making the argument in a persuasive manner. Passing a planet, the Enterprise is being scanned, and the aliens drop out of warp. And then something hits the Enterprise as well.  Nothing is working except the life support and comms.

The Metrons apparently do not like violence in their space, and decide to make Kirk and these “Gorn” aliens fight it out. They have ‘prepared a planet.’ Great. Another species with godlike powers. “Balance of Terror” was a great episode. It had everything – history, suspense, a realistic gritty feeling, and antagonists who we could actually get a feeling for as sentient beings. Do we really need more super-powerful creatures who use the Enterprise as a

Going into this episode I thought I was going to have some fun with how ri-god-damn-diculous this costume is, but this whole Metron thing just has me bummed out now.

Going into this episode I thought I was going to have some fun with how ri-god-damn-diculous this costume is, but this whole Metron thing just has me bummed out now.

plaything. Maybe it’s just the sheer density of these episodes so far but it stops being compelling after a while.

So anyway, Kirk gets insta-teleported down to the planet and the Gorn starship captain just goes for a stick and starts clubbing away incredibly slowly. The Gorn can outfight Kirk in any contest of physical strength, as demonstrated when he throws a really big rock. Kirk is taking the time to write a diary entry, and apparently the Gorn gets to hear it, including Kirk insulting its intelligence. Fortunately, it appears too stupid to pick up on the insult. It is now that we meet the true star of this episode, the Vasquez Rocks.

You have seen these rocks before.

You have seen these rocks before.

Kirk sees some bamboo and some alluvial diamonds. I think mythbusters did an episode on the plan that Kirk is slowly piecing together. As the Gorn tries to chip a hand-axe despite the fact that he can already outmatch Kirk in a physical fight, Kirk tries to drop a bounder on it, and succeeds. This is apparently insufficient, however. Good thing Kirk ran all the way down to check and is now right next to an extremely pissed-off dinosaur-man. Make that ‘trapped in a deadfall by a pissed-off dinosaur-man. Apparently, Kirk was correct about it not being that smart, because it let him out from under the rock he was trapped under in order to stab him, when about 80% of him was eminently stab-able. I have no idea how these people managed to build a spaceship. Maybe they have a caste system, or their starship captains are trained to be bold rather than smart.

Kirk’s ill-spent youth must be coming back to him. With the sulfur and potassium nitrate, bamboo and diamonds, Kirk is going to make a mortar like the one they used on that planet in Gorn space that they had beamed down to. Good thing Kirk remembers the correct proportions. His cannon works and Kirk refuses to deliver the coup de grace, which compels the Metrons to show up and explain how benevolent they’re being. It’s so wonderful that we can all come to an agreement, despite the fact that the Gorn just didn’t respond to any hails previously. 

Also of note – the Metrons just teleported an entire starship 500 parsecs – approximately 1600 light-years. The distances in TOS simply don’t correspond to any of the distances in any other series, and it bothers me.

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