Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Squire of Gothos”

“The Squire of Gothos”
Written by Paul Schneider
Directed by Don McDougall

Season 1, Episode 17
Production episode: 1×18
Original air date: January 12, 1967
Star date: 2124.5

Mission summary
The Enterprise is en route to Colony Beta Six to deliver supplies, and must first pass through a “Star Desert”—a barren section of space with no known planets or solar systems. The Star Desert seems to be a misnomer—there’s a planet right there! An iron-silica planet, totally inhospitable to life, and not shown anywhere on the star charts. Kirk doesn’t have the time to stick around and investigate, so he tells Sulu to maneuver around the planet. Sulu does so, then stumbles as if drunk, before vanishing completely. Kirk rushes to Sulu’s station and disappears himself.

As Spock and the remaining crew organize a search party, Uhura receives a visual transmission. Typed out in Gothic script the viewscreen says: “Greetings and Felicitations.” This is followed by “Hip-Hip-Hurrah Tallyho!” At least it wasn’t Comic Sans. Spock chooses DeSalle, Jaeger, and McCoy to beam down to the planet’s surface, warning them that “if those peculiar signals [the intertitles] are coming from Captain Kirk or Lieutenant Sulu, their rationality is in question.” Now that would’ve been something.

The away team discovers that they have beamed into a perfectly hospitable portion of the planet, utterly unlike the geography they had observed from the ship. They also find that communications have been severed. The men explore the area and come upon a huge castle. It’s unlocked, so they waltz right in. The place is a collection of ancient furniture and weapons, decorated in the style of 19th century European castles. (Note the salt vampire in the entryway’s niche!) Two of the pieces on display are a frozen Kirk and Sulu!
From the other corner of the room a man dressed in 19th century apparel appears playing a harpischord. Since Kirk and Sulu don’t make very good collectors’ pieces—they move too much—he unfreezes them. He announces himself as General Trelane (retired), aka the Squire of Gothos. He’s clearly delighted at having company, and assures the crew that they will not be returning to the ship any time soon (giving Kirk a taste of the planet’s true atmosphere to reinforce the point). He has created this castle and the accoutrement because of what amounts to a clerical error—900 light years away from Earth, he forgot that the images he was seeing would be 900 years old. (Note: this makes no sense, I know, because it would place the series in the 27th century, and how on earth did he think Napoleonic-era Earthmen could spacetravel 900 light years? But bear with me.) Trelane explains that he created this planet and this little pocket of habitability, and he intends for the humans to stay with him for as long as they amuse him. Just as he’s about to transport some crewwomen to the planet, Scotty is able to beam the entire party back to the Enterprise.

In a move of striking prescience, Kirk orders Scotty to get the #$@! away from there. They prepare to warp away but before they can leave Trelane shows up on the bridge! He won’t have them escaping like that, and instantly transports them all to a dining room. Kirk grudgingly introduces the rest of his crew, and Trelane is particularly transfixed by the two women: Uhura and Yeoman Ross.

TRELANE (to Uhura): Ah a Nubian prize. (he kisses her hand) Taken on one of your raids of conquest, no doubt, Captain.
KIRK: No doubt.
TRELANE: She has the melting eyes of the queen of Sheba. The same lovely colouring. And this. (Looks at Yeoman Ross.) Is this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Fair Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Disgusting, no? Like the Nazi march when Trelane spoke to Jaeger, this made me almost look away in horror. He then turns to Spock, and is not in the least bit delighted by his presence:

TRELANE: I don’t know if I like your tone. It’s most challenging. That’s what you’re doing, challenging me?
SPOCK: I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.
TRELANE: Oh, Mister Spock, you do have one saving grace after all. You’re ill-mannered.

Can’t please everybody, I guess.

As Trelane dances with Yeoman Ross (who seems to be enjoying herself rather well), McCoy, who dived right into that huge buffet (I love how shameless he is sometimes), tells Spock and Kirk that the food and wine have no flavor. Realizing that Trelane can’t possibly be all-powerful, and that he must make mistakes, Kirk believes he can win back his crew and his ship. Spock points out that he’s always near a large mirror—perhaps that’s the key to his power?

Kirk agrees, and decides to play the part of the jealous suitor to Yeoman Ross. He challenges Trelane to a duel. Trelane is more than happy to oblige, and pulls out a pair of dueling pistols “just like the pair that slew your heroic Alexander Hamilton.” (Note for history buffs: they’re apparently not at all like the pair that slew Alexander Hamilton.) Trelane goes first (what?) and shoots into the air, a display of courage. Kirk shoots the mirror, revealing a mechanical device that sputters and sparks and is destroyed. The device was blocking the radio and transporting signals, and the Enterprise takes advantage of the window to beam everyone back onboard the ship.

They are about to warp away when a large object fills the viewscreen—it’s Gothos! But how did it miraculously appear to block their path? They try to go around but it simply moves to obstruct them. Frustrated, Kirk decides to face Trelane once and for all, even if it costs him his life:

MCCOY: Captain, you’re not beaming down.
KIRK: Yes, I am, Doctor McCoy. I am going to see our playful Mister Trelane and whatever it takes to make him give up our ship. Stand by communications. Mister Spock. If you don’t receive a message from me within the hour, leave the vicinity at once. No turning back.

Kirk beams down and finds himself in a courtroom, Q-style, and sentenced to death by hanging. But Kirk knows Trelane wants more than that—he suggests something more personal, and raises the stakes. Not another duel, but a hunt: Trelane gets Kirk’s life in exchange for freeing the Enterprise. Trelane cannot contain his glee and transports them outside. Kirk flees in the woods, trying desperately to contact the Enterprise, to no avail. Despite being weaponless he makes a valiant performance fighting back against Trelane, until he is finally cornered.

Trelane had so much fun with this little “game” that he refuses to release the Enterprise—he plans to force all the crewmembers to be part of his hunt. But Kirk’s strength of will has not been broken, and it won’t be, not by this being:

KIRK: You haven’t won, Trelane.
TRELANE: I have. I could run you through!
KIRK: But you haven’t won anything.
TRELANE: On your knees, Captain!
KIRK: No! Does it still taste as sweet?
TRELANE: I order you. You’ve been beaten.
KIRK: But I’m not defeated.

But before Trelane can carry out his plan, two energy beings appear in the sky. They order Trelane not to harm the humans, and explain to Kirk that Trelane is merely a child. They assure Kirk that the boy will be punished and the three—mother, father, son—depart together.

This episode had so much potential! It’s a delightful romp, to be sure, and William Campbell delivers a truly fantastic performance, but this is the perfect example of an episode weak enough that knowing the punchline severely diminishes one’s enjoyment of it. (I hadn’t seen it, but Futurama’s spoof “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” spoiled this one for me.) I was also disappointed that Trelane (i.e. the writer) seems to only be interested in American and European history, making Trelane’s collection a most disappointing 19th century highlight reel.

There were a lot of fragmentary visions for more brilliant versions of this episode that never came into fruition. The discussion among Kirk, McCoy, and Spock on the nature of the star desert was lovely. Kirk and McCoy romanticize the idea of a desert with a nostalgia for an invented past. To them, a desert is also a place for an oasis. Within barrenness is the possibility of the extraordinary—a beautiful metaphor for space travel and scientific discovery generally. Sure most of the universe is empty, but those little sparks of life are what make it worth seeking. Even if there is no oasis—even if it’s all just a mirage, an illusion—it’s worth the journey because it gives you something so nearly magical. Spock can’t appreciate this kind of sentiment, and I liked that divide there, between the men who can dream of possibilities (however remote they may be) and the Vulcan who simply cannot.

Image versus substance comes back again during the dinner scene, where the fire has no heat and the food and wine have no taste. What they are seeing is an illusion, a fabrication, and more importantly a fabrication based on nostalgia. This glamorized British-French-American past is unrealistically ideal. Trelane is not interested in living that reality—just performing it. Things are not what they seem both within his fabricated world and without it. He can’t see past people’s races (Jaeger and Uhura) to who they really are. I loved that Jaeger told him, “I’m a scientist, not a military man.” Lord knows the man is probably from some colony somewhere, only distantly related to his ancestors. Kirk then plays the part of the jealous lover, but he, too, is not what he seems. It could have been an excellent take on Hamlet, or Richard II, or any other classic in which things not being what they appear is a central thematic element. Alas, it touched on this idea and sort of drifted away.

I was also hoping to get back to the idea of warfare and violence that Trelane brings up early on in their interactions. He finds humans “curious and fascinating,” and his image of mankind as fundamentally warlike, brutal, and committed to imperial expansion is in direct contrast to the reality imagined by Star Trek: one that is peaceful, committed to science and humanitarian relief. When Trelane comes aboard the Enterprise, he’s surprised by the difference: “Where are all your weapons, Captain? Don’t you display your weapons?” This isn’t the world he’s imagined, not at all, yet he never seems interested in that difference.

Also, where were his parents until now?

All in all, enjoyable and fun. Alas, another episode to add to the “space douche” tally. What a shame. It could’ve been so much more.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I remember this episode perhaps more fondly than it deserves. It’s always been one of my favorites, but in retrospect it suffers a bit for its lack of originality and a weak resolution, which is largely offset by William Campbell’s inspired performance as “General Trelane, retired,” aka the self-appointed “Squire of Gothos.” He does such a great job showing the alien Trelane’s manic enthusiasm for old Earth military history, his arrogant and subtly menacing demeanor, and ultimately his childish petulance (affecting a completely different manner). He is a delight to watch, and we’ll get to see him again later in the series as a Klingon in another light episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles.” You may have heard of it.

Though this episode appears only a little more than halfway into Star Trek’s first season, we’ve already seen deceptive, nigh-omnipotent beings, and childish aliens who use the Enterprise as a plaything before being reprimanded by their parents. The last minute save just doesn’t cut it anymore. The mystery surrounding Gothos is intriguing to be sure, but I’m surprised Kirk and crew haven’t been instilled with a phobia for unexplained phenemena that smacks of magic—not that they have a choice, with that whole “seeking out new life” thing. Their first escape from Gothos and efforts to get away from the Trelane is one of the few times I’ve seen Kirk cut out and run from a challenge, which was very surprising to me.

Overall the crew handle themselves admirably in this episode, especially the cool-minded Spock who effects a rescue of his captain and favorite helmsman. He easily wins the day with his entire condemnation of Trelane: “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” I was pleased to see that DeSalle has broken the curse of the navigator, because he doesn’t fall apart like his predecessors.

Once Kirk is back in the game, he is also superb at assessing Trelane’s character, recognizing his weakness, and manipulating the manipulator. It helps that he’s dealing with a child, which he’s had some experience with already. My one nitpick with his realization about Trelane’s attachment to the mirror is that the alien actually visits the Enterprise, which takes him far from the machine hidden behind it. Trelane’s powers are baffling, since he has power over matter and energy but uses it to create machines to do his bidding. Perhaps he’s still too young to maintain everything himself. Unfortunately, the cartoony sound effects that accompany the machine’s destruction also somewhat ruined the moment for me.

I’d forgotten about Trelane’s inadvertent racial slurs, which unlike in “Shore Leave” seemed intentional and calculated to make a point that he studies history and humans without really understanding them (a missed opportunity for a deeper meaning to this episode, in my opinion). Nevertheless, I winced at his parody of a Nazi march and his praise of Uhura as a “nubian prize.” Trelane is too immature to relate to Jaeger, DeSalle, and Uhura without stereotyped references to their race and ancestors, and views Yeoman Yeoman only as a pretty “nymph.” If Kirk doesn’t object as forcefully as we would like, perhaps he can be forgiven in light of how dangerous it might be to provoke Trelane. He had a few other things on his mind. Still, how did viewers in 1967 perceive Trelane? Like him, were they oblivious that he was being wholly inappropriate, or would they have been as uncomfortable as its modern audience? And while we’re on the subject, how did first-time viewers enjoy the twist ending? Is it still surprising, or just a let-down?

Many Trekkies have traced the origins of Q from the TNG-era series back to Trelane. Similarities certainly exist: his fascination with humans, his mischievous nature, his pomposity, and his power over reality. Strikingly, he also tries Kirk with him as judge and jury, the same trick Q pulls in “Encounter at Farpoint.” Though there has never been a direct link in Star Trek television canon, the novel Q-Squared by Peter David proposes Trelane is a young member of the Q continuum.

So to sum up: this is a fun episode that treads familiar ground and features some cringe-worthy moments. Though it flirts with addressing humanity’s predilection for war, it fails to deliver more than a diverting fifty-one minutes of entertainment—which sometimes is good enough.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: Spock (to Trelane): “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.”

Syndication Edits: McCoy telling Kirk what happened after he’s unfrozen; Spock’s first log entry, and his order to Scott to beam up every life form on the planet; Trelane showing off his battle flags; the conversation between Spock and McCoy over his use of the word fascinating (MCCOY: There’s that magic word again. Does your logic find this fascinating, Mister Spock? SPOCK: Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected. In this case, I should think interesting would suffice.); Spock prodding Kirk that the mirror is the key (in the syndicated version, Kirk apparently comes up with this on his own); Kirk’s delayed report before the duel; Spock’s next captain’s log entry; some shots of Kirk running around the forest; pieces of the final conversation between Kirk and Trelane about winning or losing (alas, my book doesn’t indicate which lines).

Trivia: To keep the budget low, Trelane’s castle is furnished by the Paramount prop department (specifically some Cecil B. DeMille films, including The Buccaneer).

Other notes: William Campbell, who plays Trelane, re-appears in “The Trouble With Tribbles” as the Klingon captain Koloth (and again in DS9 as the same character in “Blood Oath,” though with more facial hair/grizzle).

The final “hunt” scene is a direct play on the 1924 Richard Connell short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 16 – “The Galileo Seven.”

Next Episode: Season 1, Episode 18 – “Arena.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.