(airdate: March 7, 1969)
Story: Gene Roddenberry Teleplay: Arthur Heinemann and Gene Roddenberry
Director: Herschel Daugherty
Lincoln: Lee Bergere
Col. Green: Phillip Pine
Zora: Carol Daniels DeMent
Voice of Yarnek: Bart LaRue (uncredited)
Surak: Barry Atwater
Kahless: Robert Herron
Genghis Khan: Nathan Jung
Yarnek: Janos Prohaska (uncredited)
Captain's Log: The Enterprise is investigating a planet associated with a number of "space legends" when President Abraham Lincoln appears in front of the ship in space. Beaming aboard, Lincoln invites Kirk and Spock to a habitable part of the planet below. Upon accepting the invitation, Kirk and Spock learn that a race of rock-like beings, the Excalbians, want to run an experiment to determine which is stronger, good or evil; thus, they've taken a group of "evil" beings from Kirk and Spock's minds and set them against the "good" guys of Kirk, Spock, Lincoln, and Surak, the founder of Vulcan philosophy. The two sides engage in primitive fighting, which ultimately ends with all the illusory people either dead or fleeing. The Excalbians, unable to determine a difference between good and evil, allow the Enterprise to leave in peace.
Whoops!: Approximately 25 minutes 45 seconds into the episode, there's an obvious flipped shot of Kirk. (The hair is parted on the wrong side and the top of the arrowhead on his uniform is just about visible on the wrong breast.)
Why does Colonel Green ask Kahless if he can imitate Lincoln's voice, if they're just going to send Lincoln out to die in front of Kirk and Spock in the very next shot?
Lincoln is said to have died three centuries ago, which dates this episode to the 22nd century (once again, see "Where No Man Has Gone Before" for more on when Star Trek is set). But Colonel Green is both from the 21st century and said to have died "centuries ago", which seems like an odd thing to say if it's only been one century. (A possible way out is for Green to have died in the early 21st century and for this episode to be set in the late 22nd century, which means Green may be rounding to multiple centuries when he's talking to Kirk. Or possibly he doesn't have any idea when he currently is.)
So the Excalbians want to know the difference between good and evil, and their approach is to force the two sides to fight it out for supremacy, like some sort of deadly professional wrestling match; never mind the fact that one of the sides is objecting to the basic premise of the experiment and is only participating under duress. Then, once the battle is resolved, the Excalbians have the nerve to claim no difference between the two sides, even though that's because their experimental set-up virtually guaranteed that would be the outcome. Kirk even points this out, and the best Yarnek the Excalbian can come up with is, "Eh, you could have done something different; it's not our fault." The whole affair would frankly make more sense if Yarnek were lying to them and this has all just been arranged to entertain the other Excalbians like some form of reality TV, rather than genuine scientific curiosity, but, alas, there's no evidence for that being the case. We therefore have to conclude that the Excalbians are bad scientists.
Classic Lines: Lincoln: "There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending."
Cringe Lines: Some of the more "right-on" dialogue, while good-intentioned, hasn't aged very well - particularly this exchange between Lincoln and Uhura: "What a charming Negress. Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know in my time some used that term as a description of property." "But why should I object to that term, sir? In our century, we've learned not to fear words."
Library Computer: Excalbia is a bright red planet, with a poisonous atmosphere and a surface consisting of molten lava. The planet was the subject of old space legends which suggested that life existed on Excalbia, despite the fact that no carbon cycle lifeforms could exist on the planet's surface. The source of these legends were the Excalbians, who were not carbon-based but instead mineral-like [silicon-based, perhaps, like the Horta from "The Devil in the Dark"?]. The Excalbians had an advanced civilization, with power being generated in factor seven quantities. Physically, they were lumpy rocky beings, vaguely bipedal, with two arms each ending in two large, heavy fore claws, and a large head with five orange lights scattered haphazardly across the surface, which glowed in time with the speech patterns of the Excalbian. [The effect is rather like the dome lights on a Dalek from Doctor Who.] They were also very hot to the touch, and they let off a decent amount of steam. The Excalbians could control matter and rearrange molecules into any form they desired; this included changing large parts of their planet to accommodate human life, creating a thousand-square-kilometer area with a perfect oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere; this area was quite rocky, but with a decent amount of vegetation. The Excalbians could quickly scan the Enterprise with a deep probe, and they could disable the Enterprise, causing the matter and antimatter to go to "red zone proximity" and the shielding between them to begin breaking down. The Excalbians could also pluck people out of the minds of the people aboard. They could then change their own physical appearance into that of others, with the same expected physical readings for the forms of those they took, as well as mannerisms and personalities. In addition, they could broadcast the events on the planet to the Enterprise's viewscreen.
The events of this episode were the Excalbians' first chance to experiment with humans - something they did to increase their own knowledge - and so they devised a survival test between two factions: what humanity considered good and evil. They did this in order to determine which philosophy was stronger, so they created two equal sides: on the side of good were Kirk, Spock, American President Abraham Lincoln, and Surak, the founder of Vulcan society. On the side of evil were Genghis Khan, Colonel Green, a woman named Zora, and Kahless the Unforgettable, the founder of Klingon society. The Excalbians then had the two sides fight it out while the rest of Excalbia (and the Enterprise) watched, which left Surak dead when he refused to fight and Lincoln killed when he attempted to rescue Surak; subsequently, Kirk stabbed Kahless and forced Green onto his own short spear, causing Khan and Zora to run away. This made the lead Excalbian [Yarnek, according to the script] conclude that good and evil use the same methods and achieve the same results, and so there's no discernible difference between the two. [This whole affair suggests that, by human standards at least, Excalbians suck at scientific inquiry.]
Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States. He was a tall man with a chinstrap beard, wearing a suit and a stovepipe hat. He was reputed to be a gentle man, but he presided over the four bloodiest years of American history [the American Civil War, in case you don't know]. He's pleasant and charming, and is willing to fight even though he doesn't believe war is a good thing. He was one of Kirk's very personal heroes. [This version of Lincoln, as was common at the time of broadcast, is a bit more of an idolized version than the current, more flawed perspective. But this can be easily explained as being Kirk's version of him.]
Surak is the founder of Vulcan civilization, considered by Spock to be the greatest Vulcan who ever lived and respected as a father figure. He is a tall man, with dark hair and blue eyes, wearing a simple yet brightly patterned long tunic, cinched at the waist with a small elegant silver belt. When on the verge of another war (after earlier wars that had nearly destroyed the planet), Surak and other like-minded individuals sent emissaries to the opposing sides to promote peace; despite initial setbacks, they were eventually heard, ushering in an age of peace that has lasted since then. [It's not explicit, but the clear implication is that Surak is the founder of the Vulcan philosophy of logic and the mastery of emotion.]
Colonel Green was the leader of a genocidal war on Earth in the early 21st century. He had short, wavy dark hair and dressed in a red jumpsuit, adorned with a few unidentified emblems. His manner was outwardly charming and pleasant, but this disguised a ruthless nature; Green was in fact notorious for attacking his enemies while in the midst of negotiations with them. Green believed that overwhelming and devastating his opponents was the best way to gain and hold on to power. [For more on Colonel Green, see the Enterprise episodes "Demons" and "Terra Prime".]
Kahless the Unforgettable was the founder of Klingon society, setting "the pattern for his planet's tyrannies". In this version, he looks like a standard Original Series Klingon, with short brown hair, dark skin, and a large goatee, and he's dressed in a standard Original Series Klingon uniform. He was a reasonable mimic, able to sound like both Surak and Lincoln. [There are some major discrepancies with this version of Kahless and the version given in subsequent Star Trek series - the most obvious being his physical appearance, as Enterprise established that the smooth-foreheaded Klingons - the result of a Klingon augment virus gone awry - didn't come into being until 2154 (see "Affliction" and "Divergence"), which was well after the time of Kahless. The simplest explanation is that, as this version of Kahless is drawn from the minds of Kirk and others, ridged-foreheaded Klingons generally weren't known about by humanity at the time, and Kahless was made to look like the other Klingons the Enterprise had encountered.]
Zora was a scientist who experimented with the body chemistry of subject tribes on Tiburon. She had huge dark hair that connected up with bushy eyebrows, and bony ridges under her eyes. [These were presumably inhumane experiments, given that she's on the side of "evil" here. There's also no evidence that she herself is from Tiburon - for instance, she doesn't look like Dr. Sevrin from "The Way to Eden", who was also said to be from Tiburon.]
Genghis Khan was (apparently) an evil man, with dark skin and hair, wearing a lot of furs, including a tall fur hat. [The script assumes the audience knows who Genghis Khan is, so this is about all we're told here.]
Ancient Vulcans devised a weapon rather like a boomerang.
The philosophy of "nome", meaning "all", is basic to the Vulcan way of life, and indicates the combination of a number of things to make existence worthwhile.
The Enterprise is orbiting Excalbia at a height of 643 miles.
The nacelles of the Enterprise can be disengaged and jettisoned if necessary.
Starships on active duty never carry an honor detachment. Federation starships exist to contact other forms of life.
The security personnel seen here are wearing thick white belts over their uniforms to attach their phasers to, rather than the black or gold belts seen previously.
Kirk states they can convert their measurement of time to minutes. [This is odd, given the number of previous episodes that have referred to minutes. Has the value of a minute changed between the 19th century and the 23rd?]
Kirk occasionally drinks whiskey.
Arcturian dog birds are apparently quite loony.
Final Analysis: "Since this is our first experiment with Earthlings, our theme is a simple one: survival. Life and death." Strong performances from both the regular and guest casts can't save this pointless episode. The whole thing looks like an excuse to pit historical figures against each other, but even at that it's not particularly successful; we don't get enough of a look at the evil side and no insight at all into the differences between the two, and everything is far too earnest, with little of the fun such an idea suggests. "The Savage Curtain" is an episode that's taking itself way too seriously, which only makes it all the more silly.
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Page originally created: July 15, 2016
Page last updated: January 18, 2018