Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 18 – Arena

The Enterprise reaches the Cestus III Outpost and after Kirk and company beam down, they find they have been lured into a trap.  The outpost has been destroyed and the enemy attacks the Enterprise landing party.  Kirk and Spock fight off the attack and once back on the Enterprise chase the enemy into unexplored territory.  But before they can overtake their target both ships are frozen in place and a voice announces that an outside entity, the Metrons, is putting a stop to the fight.  Because the Metrons consider the violence exhibited by the Humans and Gorns (the name of the race on the enemy ship) as barbaric they will minimize the destruction.  Kirk and the Gorn captain will be transported to a barren planet where their personal combat will decide which of the two ships will be destroyed and which will be spared.

The Gorn and Kirk show up on a barren planet that looks a lot like southern California.  The Gorn looks like and is a man in a really phony rubber dinosaur suit.  It turns out the Gorn is inhumanly strong and tough but pathetically slow.  Kirk rolls a boulder on him but to no effect.  And just to put some drama into the situation, Kirk runs into a trap and injures his leg so the possibility that the Gorn might eventually catch him won’t seem completely implausible.

Kirk was given a device to record his thoughts during the trial but the Gorn is able to hear his every word and thereby judge how badly Kirk is hurt.  The Gorn offers to kill Kirk mercifully if he will stop running.  Kirk exchanges insults with the Gorn over their treachery at the   Cestus III Outpost.  But the Gorn claims that the base itself was an act of war by invading their territory.  Eventually the Enterprise bridge is also given an audio-visual transmission of the combat.  And so, Spock is able to annoyingly claim that the humans deserved to be wiped out for unknowingly settling Cestus III in enemy territory.  Also, he cheers on Kirk’s gradual identification of the ingredients for a weapon.  Kirk finds a bamboo cylinder, a rope-like vine, potassium nitrate, sulphur, coal and large sharp diamond crystals.  He converts these into a makeshift firearm.  Just in the (painfully slow} nick of time, he shoots the Gorn.  But instead of finishing him off with the Gorn’s own stone knife, Kirk calls to the Metrons and refuses the kill.  An effeminate young man in a khiton shows up and congratulates Kirk for only being a semi-savage.  He tells Kirk that he will release the Gorn ship and promises to check back with humanity in a few thousand years when they may be ready to dialog with his people.

Kirk returns to the Enterprise and the ship mysteriously finds itself 500 parsecs away from their former position.  Kirk and Spock muse on their changed ideas about the definition of civilization.

Okay, so this is mostly an amusing episode.  The only thing that really annoys me is the idea that Kirk, Spock and McCoy think that if humans accidentally colonized an uninhabited planet that turns out to be in some other race’s home range that they deserve to be massacred.  This is just so self-hating that I would expect it to come from Picard but not Kirk.

That aside, watching Kirk fight a man in a rubber dinosaur suit in slow-motion can’t be anything but comedy gold.  Shatner rolls around and grimaces and gives us a great show.  The Gorn hisses like a snake so he can be heard like a half a mile away.  It’s wonderful.

I’ll give this episode a 9 // 8.