Spectre of the Gun is the sixth episode of the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series, and it’s a very intriguing episode. It would be an understatement to define it as a simple western story, even though it uses a western setting in an original way and it’s no coincidence that it was directed by Vincent McEveety, a director who in the same year (1968) directed Firecreek, a western film with James Stewart and Henry Fonda. But what does Star Trek have to do with westerns? Theoretically very little, exactly like it has little to do with Nazis and gangsters, yet precisely these potentially embarrassing (at first glance) episodes turn out to be unexpected gems.
So let’s get to the plot. The USS Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to contact the Melkotians, a race known to be xenophobic and isolationist. Ignoring a probe’s warnings (in scenes that are very reminiscent of those with the probe of The Corbomite Maneuver in Season 1) has serious consequences for Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott and Chekov who are transported to a planet with a red sky in an approximate reproduction of 1881 Tombstone. Also, apparently they are transformed into the criminals protagonists of the gunfight at the OK Corral, one of America’s most famous shootings of the late 19th century.
They seem to be destined to revive the duel against the law representatives, a duel in which in real history they were defeated. All attempts to avoid the repetition of this historical events fail and in the end our heroes (minus Chekov, who’s killed earlier on by Morgan Earp, Rex Holman, because of a woman, the beautiful Bonnie Beecher) find themselves facing the Earp brothers (the other two, Wyatt and Virgil, are played by Ron Soble and Charles Maxwell) and Doc Holliday (Sam Gilman). How will our heroes survive?
The episode doesn’t try to reconstruct perfectly the western setting, far from it! A surreal atmosphere pervades the entire episode in which the buildings are only partially built, the characters with whom Kirk and his companions interact seem to play parts as if they were pieces of a chessboard in a game already written, and the actions of our Starfleet heroes, however brilliant, achieve no results. Why? The key clue comes from the initial probe through which the Melkotians communicated using telepathic skills… And when Spock understands how to interpret what’s going on there’s also time for some philosophical reflections on what reality actually is and what is instead produced by our minds deceiving us and showing us things that aren’t in fact there.
Of course, in the end the Federation manages to obtain a first contact with the Melkotians, but only after having ignored their initial will to remain isolated and having practically invaded their territory. However, it’s an act of peace, an attempt to resolve peacefully a difficult solution, that convinces the Melkotians to establish diplomatic relations. In short, maybe this isn’t the most brilliant episode of the season, but it’s fascinating to watch, it contains interesting philosophical reflections, and the plot is not at all trivial. It deserves to be watched, ciao!
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Next episode: Day of the Dove