Recap: Star Trek S3E6 "Spectre of the Gun"

One day, Kirk decided he just has to see what that shiny thing just hanging there in space is. As he does, a booming voice warns him to go no further. Do you think he listens? Well, Starfleet's motto is "Boldly go where no man has gone before!" not "Soil our pants and run away!"

The disembodied brain with Glowing Eyes is not happy about being disobeyed, so he sends Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and Chekov to The Wild West. Or at least, The Theme Park Version. It looks like it's made of tossed away scraps from a Western film. (It probably was.) The buildings are little more than facades. In the saloon, there are no walls, yet a clock and a G rated version of Ingres' La Grande Odalisque are suspended where walls should be. Ed The Bartender, Johnny The Sheriff and Sylvia the Soiled Dove all seem very real, though. Kirk and co find that their phasers are now old-fashioned six-shooters! What's more, they come to find this isn't just any old west town. They're in Tombstone, Arizona and the date is October 26, 1881. And everyone seems convinced that Kirk and crew are the Clanton gang and they have a date this afternoon at 5 at the O.K. corral with the Earps.

How can they avoid this date? If they can't, will they survive? And does Chekov stand a chance of getting laid?

Tropes for this episode include:

  • Actor Allusion: DeForest Kelley (who also plays Dr. Leonard McCoy) played Morgan Earp in the 1957 film Gunfight At The O. K. Corral, as well as Ike Clanton in the educational TV show You Are There.
  • Aliens Speaking English: And Russian. And Swahili. And Vulcan. Lampshaded and justified. Kirk points out how odd it is that this alien being who has had no previous contact with any outside force knows English. Spock, Chekov and Uhura report hearing the message in their native languages. Spock concludes that the Malkotians are advanced telepaths.
  • Anyone Can Die: Played with. At first, Bones points out that yes, obviously, people in this seemingly fictional setting really can die. Just when the viewer is thinking "Yeah, anyone but the Enterprise crew central cast!" Chekov dies defending Sylvia's honor. (What little she has.)
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Or at least gets you killed. (To be brought back on the whim of the Melkotians.) It's knowing that the guns, bullets and their wielders are all but shadows of learned memories, beings of no substance, that will save the day.
  • Creepy Monotone: The Earps and Doc Holiday all speak this way, in contrast to the other spectres, who act and speak convincingly like genuine characters.
  • Deadly Doctor: Doc Holiday. He has no more scruples than the others about killing the Enterprise crew.
  • Dramatic Thunder: As the Earps and Doc Holliday walk to the O.K. Corral for the final gunfight, lightning flashes overhead and thunder rolls.
  • Gilligan Cut: It's almost 5 o'clock, but not to worry! Kirk determines that none of them will be at the corral! "We're not going to move from this spot!" They're at the corral faster than you can say "Yoo-hoo! Loco Brothers!" Justified with Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade / Historical Hero Upgrade: Wyatt Earp and his gang are portrayed as complete sociopaths, while the Clantons are Robin Hood types rebelling against their tyranny. Even if you support the view that the two sides weren't as black and white as the newspapers said, it comes off as a bit much. Perhaps justified by the fact that these aren't really the Earps; they're illusions designed to kill Kirk and Co.
    • In addition, they're based on Kirk's fragmented memories of various (possibly revisionist) accounts he's heard and read about the gunfight.
  • Honor Before Reason: Kirk insists that, no matter how desperate the situation gets, they cannot sink to the Earps' level. It ends up saving him and the others.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Sylvia the saloon girl is madly in love with Billy/Chekov and just wants him to be safe so she can marry him. She doesn't care that he's a killer and cattle rustler! She doesn't want Billy to be a hero. Not even an Anti-Hero!
  • I Come in Peace: Kirk says the line "We come in peace." but does not follow it with Shoot to kill as a certain novelty song would have you believe. He does state that he and his men will defend themselves and the episode ends with Starfleet creating diplomatic relations with the Melkotians.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: All attempts to stop the fight at the OK Corral don't work, until Spock realizes that the guns aren't real. They are real only because the men expect them to be real and, because they know this, the bullets go right through them.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink / Liquid Courage: Plan A is to knock the Earps out with a jury rigged knock-out gas. Scotty agrees to be the guinea pig, but first he needs some whiskey to "Kill the pain." Just as well, the gas was ineffective. Time for Plan B.
  • Leitmotif: A harmonica plays an "Old West" type theme in the final scene while the characters marvel how humanity overcame their desire for violence.
  • MacGyvering: They manage to make a gas grenade. Bonus points for doing this in an environment that was an illusion created by hostile aliens and is not even finished in places.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Kirk is angered at the death of Chekov, but he Just! Can't! Kill them!
  • Newspaper Dating: Captain Kirk finds a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph dated October 26th, 1881.
  • Oh Crap!: Wyatt gets a quite satisfying one when his bullets have no effect.
  • Ominous Fog: The Melkotian appears in one when Kirk and Co. beam down. Once more, Spock has to comment that the environmental climate should not induce fog.
  • Plot Hole: The bullets are dangerous because the crew's minds would kill them, thinking the bullets real. So why doesn't Scotty's mind make him pass out when he inhales what he thinks is an actual knock-out gas?
    • Because the Melkotians want the bullets to work (in order to kill the Starfleet crew) and the knockout gas not to work (which would save the Starfleet crew).
  • Power Walk: The Earps and Holliday walking to the O.K. Corral.
  • Prop Recycling: For once it was so obvious that the characters actually comment on it, noting that the town is only pieces of buildings.
  • Public Domain Character: The Earps, Doc Holiday...possibly everyone involved with the O.K. Corral shooting.
  • Quick Draw: Kirk almost unintentionally initiates one the first time he sees one of the Earps in the saloon. Kirk rises out of his seat, looking at Earp out of curiousity. The gunman draws his coat back, revealing his gun. Spock strongly suggests to Kirk that he slowly sit back down without moving ether hand.
  • Screw Destiny: It appears that the gunfight will turn out exactly as it did in history, until Chekov is shot. With some prompting from Spock, Kirk remembers that in the historical gunfight the man Chekov represented survived. This means that they can change the outcome rather than just be led to slaughter.
    • Spock straight out says 'History can not be changed' which pretty much contradicts every Star Trek time travel story from "City on the Edge of Forever" all the way up to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  • Shout-Out: A brand of whiskey mentioned bears the name Talos Lightning, a possible Shout-Out to the first time the Enterprise encountered mind altering telepathic aliens.
  • Significant Air Date: The episode originally aired October 25, 1968, one day before the gunfight's anniversary.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: Is keeping Kirk and co. from leaving Tombstone.
  • Space Western: At any rate, a Cowboy Episode on a series of space faring folk.
  • Special Effects Failure: The Dramatic Thunder and accompanying lightning cause the trees to cast shadows on the painted backdrop. However, since this is supposed to be an artificial world, it kinda works!
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Kirk refuses to kill Wyatt once he has him at his mercy, even though he killed Chekov. This impresses the aliens.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Summed up perfectly by Spock. Spock realizes the whole experience is an illusion that is only as real as their minds accept it to be, but, as McCoy says, only someone as emotionless as a Vulcan could have the iron-hard certainty required even a shadow of doubt would be lethal. Spock mindmelds with the others to make them just as sure of the illusion as he is, making them invulnerable to it.