TOS: S1 – E18: Arena

STARDATE: 3046.2

We join the Enterprise as it orbits an orange-colored planet and her crew prepares to beam down to the surface to meet Starfleet brass, Commodore Travers. The Commodore requested that Kirk bring his tactical minds down with him to the Cestus III colony, which was on the very edges of Federation territory.

As they materialized on the surface, they realize that there’s nothing left of the base except for ruins. They had been lured there by the alien race who destroyed the colony.

As they walked around, Kirk speculated that the messages were all fake, and the destruction must have happened two or three days ago. They find one survivor of the attack, who was in shock and the victim of radiation poisoning.

Spock detected a new signal with his tricorder, these ones were not warm blooded. When one of the crew walked forward in the direction which Spock indicated, he was immediately struck by a disruptor blast and disintegrated. He was wearing a red, engineering uniform.

At that moment, a new assault began, and mortars fell from the sky all around them. Kirk ordered an immediate beam-up, but Mr. Sulu reported that the Enterprise was under attack as well, likely by the same race that was attacking the surface.

Sulu said he had just “rigged up all defensive screens” when the captain called. Kirk told him to fire all phasers and to take all action necessary to safeguard the ship. He ordered Sulu not to drop “screens” to beam them up but to keep the ship safe.

They moved the survivor into the shade of a building and counterattacked. Kirk ordered that they fire in the direction where Spock detected life. Spock remembered where the arsenal used to be for the colony. Kirk ran to find some of the munitions but paused to call up to the Enterprise. Sulu reported that the phasers were unable to penetrate the aliens’ screens.

“Arm photon torpedoes,” Kirk ordered. Sulu complied and reported that their adversary was not on any known record. The ship fired, and Kirk followed up with orders to protect the ship at all costs, including leaving him and the rest of the men on the planet. Sulu reported that photon torpedoes were also ineffective and he warped out of orbit.

Kirk found a mortar — a photon mortar — and aimed it where he thought the enemy was. He fired, and the attack ceased. Sulu called and told Kirk that the alien ship stopped their offense as well, and used their transporter to beam something to their ship.

Kirk and company beamed up while leaving 30 or so medics behind to search and care for survivors.

The captain found himself on a desert planet, face-to-face with a giant lizard, wearing a smock that had sort of a leopard print. The ‘Gorn’ had crystalline eyes and many sharp teeth. He hissed and growled at Kirk.

As the Enterprise continued to pursue the enemy ship. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy spoke with the survivor who they rescued from the surface. He said that the alien ship came in at “space normal speed” and knocked out their phaser batteries. The base tried to surrender, telling the attackers that there were women and children there as well, but the fighting continued. He said Kirk that he could not understand why the attack happened and why they would not stop.

In his ready room, Kirk paced angrily. He said that the signals from the aliens, which they thought were from the Commodore, were part of a trap. This ruse was designed to lure the Enterprise close and destroy the ship, as it was the only close protection the base had.

Spock said that they might not have all the facts and that there could be another explanation. Kirk said that he had all the evidence he needed at the charred base. He said it was obviously an invasion.

He told the captain that if this was an invasion attempt, then they must make sure that the ship never reaches its home base. Kirk ordered Sulu to overtake the alien ship and to prepare phasers. He called to the entire ship to say that they were going into battle, and that “this is not a drill.”

They entered a section of uncharted space, which had not been explored by Earth ship. Meanwhile, the alien vessel matched the Enterprise’s speed at Warp 6. Kirk ordered Warp 7. Scotty warned that sustained Warp 7 would destroy the Enterprise.

Spock counseled Kirk on his actions, saying that perhaps the fact that they were chasing the ship might be enough. Kirk disagreed, meaning that they needed to destroy the aliens, so they would learn their lesson. Kirk said they were the police “out here” and a crime had been committed.

Sulu reported that the aliens matched the Warp 7 speed, and Kirk ordered Warp 8. When he did, all heads on the bridge turned his way. Sulu complied.

Soon, Sulu announced that they were closing in on the alien spacecraft. They also found that there was a new solar system nearby, which was uncharted.

Uhura said that the ship was being scanned by the solar system. She said that the scans appeared not to be hostile, but they were increasing in intensity.

Suddenly, Sulu reported that the alien ship was slowing. From Warp 5 to sublight, then completely stopped.

“Then we’ve got him!” Kirk said as he leaped from his chair. He began preparing for the attack when they too were slowed to a sudden stop. Scott reported that all propulsion and weapon systems were “locked up tight.”

Spock said they were being held in place from the solar system, by an unidentifiable force, and it was not a tractor beam.

Then the viewer came on with a kaleidoscope-like light display. A voice announced that they were the Metrons and that the Enterprise and the alien ship had trespassed into their space with the intention of violence. They would not permit this.

The Metrons called Kirk by name and told him that he and the captain of the Gorn ship would be put on a planet together so they could solve their conflict. They would both have a recorder/ translation device to share their thoughts during the battle so that future species would learn from their mistakes.

Kirk would not be allowed to communicate with his ship, and the planet would supply weapons, which either could use to kill the other. The winner would be allowed to leave; the loser and his ship will be destroyed “in the interests of peace.”

When the Metron’s voice stopped, Kirk disappeared, and Uhura screamed.

The captain found himself on a desert planet, face-to-face with a giant lizard, wearing a smock that had sort of a leopard print. The ‘Gorn’ had crystalline eyes and many sharp teeth. He hissed and growled at Kirk.

They both broke sticks from trees and tried to hit each other. Kirk had the speed, but the Gorn had brute strength that was well beyond any human. Kirk threw a large rock at the Gorn, who let it bounce off his chest. The Gorn retaliated with a huge boulder, which he tossed at Kirk.

On the ship, Spock and Mr. Scott ran through multiple plans to try to get the Enterprise up and running again, without success. Uhura also noted that they were unable to learn anything about the force that was holding them, or the solar system where the power was coming from.

Mr. Spock and Mr. Scott

Mr. Spock speculates on what to do to free the Enterprise, while Mr. Scott looks on. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

Kirk started to speak into the translator, which was actually transmitting his voice to the Gorn, who listened and understood. Kirk described the scenario in which he faced the alien, and also how the Metrons said there would be weapons available for his use. He said that he must find one because he would lose any hand-to-hand battle with the Gorn.

On the ship, McCoy grilled Spock on what he was going to do about the situation. Spock said that he was going to wait and that there was little else they could do. McCoy asked Spock how logic would help them.

“He is out there, somewhere in a thousand cubic parsecs of space, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to help him,” said Spock.

As Kirk scrambled around looking for a weapon, the Gorn set a trap with reeds and vines. Kirk found a deposit of diamonds and other gems. He said that he’d trade them all for a phaser or a club.

Kirk found a small boulder on a ledge above where the Gorn was working on his trap. Kirk pushed the stone over the edge, and it landed square on the lizard, pinning him to the ground. But the alien got up, uninjured from the rock.

The captain turned to escape and ran right into the trap. A large rock pinned his legs down, as the rest of his body was tangled in the vines. The Gorn came over to him with a blade made of obsidian and raised it high to kill Kirk. But, since the lizard was not quick or agile, Kirk used that second to wriggle free and limp away.

At that moment, Spock was attempting to have a conference with the Metrons, but he got no answer.

On the planet, Kirk found a sulfur deposit and sat next to it. He made another “entry” into what he thought was a recorder. The Gorn lumbered his way, and Kirk said that this might be his last entry due to his exhaustion.

Soon, the Metrons contacted the ship, reporting that Kirk was losing his battle. They advised the crew to prepare for death, as the Metrons felt that Kirk had very little time left. Then they let the team see the broadcast of the battle taking place between Kirk and the Gorn.

Spock began to commentate the match, and when Kirk ran into another natural deposit, this time potassium nitrate, the Vulcan began to think that there was a way for the captain to win. On the screen, Kirk smirked, as if he too understood now what the weapon was. He hobbled away…

The Gorn fight

Kirk tries to break free from the Gorn’s grip. The alien had the superior strength and endurance, while Kirk was quicker and more agile. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

Suddenly, a voice spoke to him. A raspy, rattling voice, which Kirk thought might be the Metrons at first. But the voice was the Gorn, using the translator to speak. The Gorn said that was weary from the chase, and that Kirk should wait for him. He said he would kill Kirk “merciful and quick.”

Kirk shot back: “Like you were at Cestus III?” The Gorn said that the Federation was intruding into Gorn space. The Gorn said that he destroyed the intruders the same way he was about to kill Kirk.

Spock told the doctor that they may be in the wrong and that they might be the invaders.

On the screen, Kirk began to assemble the parts to make a cannon — a bamboo tube, vine, diamonds, sulfur, coal, and potassium nitrate.

Eventually, the Gorn caught up, and as he did, Kirk was finishing his weapon. The captain lit the fuse and fired. The diamonds pierced his thick reptilian skin, and the Gorn fell back. Kirk picked up the obsidian knife and … decided that he would not kill the alien.

“Maybe you thought you were protecting yourself when you attacked the outpost,” said Kirk to his foe. He then called the skies and told the Metrons that he would not kill the Gorn.

Just then, the Gorn disappeared, and a pale, thin, blonde humanoid appeared. Dressed in a sparkling gown, the being said he was a Metron and that he was 1,500 Earth-years old.

The Metron said that Kirk demonstrated the advanced skill of “mercy.” This was not expected. The Metrons noted that humans may have a future yet, and they would not be destroyed.

Kirk asked about the Gorn, and the Metron said that he went back to his ship. The Metron offered to destroy the ship, but Kirk said that it was not necessary. Kirk said they could talk and come to an agreement.

The Metron liked that too, saying that perhaps in several thousand years, Humans and Metrons could meet as well to reach an agreement. But right now, “you’re still half savage,” he said. “But there is hope we will contact you when you’re ready.”

At that second, Kirk suddenly appeared on the bridge, clean and uninjured. The surprised crew crowded around him in amazement, and he ordered them back to their posts. “Let’s get out of here.”

Sulu reported that the Enterprise was 500 parsecs from where they were. Kirk ordered him to set course back to Cestus III, and not to try to figure it out.

Spock told Kirk that after he fired the canon, the ship lost its transmission from the planet. He asked Kirk what happened after the picture ceased. Kirk said: “We are a most promising species, as predators go. And maybe in a thousand years or so, we’ll be able to prove it.”


I think this episode may have had the most explosions in a Trek film or TV show until Star Trek: Nemesis seized the record many years later. No, I didn’t actually count the explosions, but it does seem that way.

This episode is a classic. Kirk versus the lizard-man, known as the Gorn. And Kirk was able to do the right thing and beat a stronger opponent — while injured! No wonder people love this dude!

This entry into the Trek canon featured the first reference to “photon torpedoes,” which has been and always shall be a mainstay of every brand of Trek to the present.

I enjoyed the fight scenes with Kirk, though some of the crawling around looked a bit silly. Perhaps it was improvised — it likely was.

I think that this left me wanting more. Why were there no more Gorn episodes? Or were there, and I just can’t remember them. Let me know in the comments.

RATING: 4 out of 5

The desert/fight scenes were filmed on the same site where they filmed “Shore Leave” fight scenes with Finnegan, the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in Agua Dulce, California.

Directed by: Joseph Peveny
Teleplay by: Gene L. Coon
From a story by: Fredric Brown
Produced by: Gene L. Coon
Executive Producer: Gene Roddenberry
Associate Producers: Robert H. Justman
Script Consultant: Steven W. Carabatsos
Music composed and conducted by: Alexander Courage
Director of Photography: Jerry Finnerman
Art Directors: Roland M. Brooks and Walter M. Jeffries


William Shatner as Kirk
Leonard Nimoy as Spock


DeForest Kelley … as Dr. McCoy
George Takei … as Sulu


James Doohan … as Scott
Nichelle Nichols … as Uhura
Jerry Ayres … as O’Herlihy
Grant Woods … as Kelowitz
Tom Troupe … as Lt. Harold
James Farley … as Lang
Carole Shelyne … As Metron
Sean Kenney … as DePaul

Film Editor … Fabien Tordjmann
Assistant to the Producer … Edward K. Milkis
Assistant Director … Gregg Peters
Set Decorator … Marvin March
Costumes created by … William Theiss

Post Production Executive … Bill Heath
Music Editor … Jim Henrikson
Sound Editor … Douglas H. Grindstaff
Sound Mixer … Jack F. Lilly
Photographic Effects … Westheimer Company
Script Supervisor … George A. Rutter
Music Consultant … Wilbur Hatch
Music Coordinator … Julian Davidson
Special Effects … Jim Rugg
Property Master … Irving A. Feinberg
Gaffer … George H. Merhoff
Head Grip … George Rader
Production Supervisor … Bernard A. Windin
Makeup Artist … Fred B. Phillips, S.M.A.
Hair Styles by … Virginia Darcy, C.H.S.
Wardrobe Mistress … Margaret Makau
Casting … Joseph D’Agosta
Sound … Glen Glenn Sound Co.

A DesiLu Production in association with the Norway Company

Executive in Charge of Production … Herbert F. Solow