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Season One:
-1: "The Cage"
-2: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"
-3: "The Corbomite Maneuver"
-4: "Mudd's Women"
-5: "The Enemy Within"
-6: "The Man Trap"
-7: "The Naked Time"
-8: "Charlie X"
-9: "Balance of Terror"
-13: "The Conscience of the King"
-16: "The Menagerie"
-20: "The Alternative Factor"
----: _Time Travel Season 1
-21: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
----: _Prime Directive Origins
-22: "The Return of the Archons"

-23: "A Taste of Armageddon"
-27: "Errand of Mercy"
-28: "The City On the Edge of Forever"
-29: "Operation -- Annihilate!"
-Season 1 Rankings

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The Conscience of the King

(Star Trek story #13 in production order)
  • written by Barry Trivers
  • directed by Gerd Oswald
  • music by [Joseph] Mullendore

The Conscience of the King

Yyyyuuuucckkk!! I suppose opinions may differ depending on some people's tastes, but I have a very difficult time finding anything in this episode that I truly like. It's not science fiction. It's not action-adventure. There's a mystery which is solved in the first 8 minutes, after which everyone sits on the answer waiting for the surprise of the final 4 minutes, so if it's trying to be a thriller, it's not actually all that thrilling. Its most exciting scene is the phaser overload sequence, and even that is short and not all that great.

Perhaps where it fails worst is in the philosophical department - it becomes a cesspool of crime, blame, and Shakespearean vengeance. Where's the much-touted Star Trek optimism in this one? This episode utterly fails to deliver all the good things we should expect from Star Trek, and instead feels as though it's escaped from a medieval insane asylum.

Indeed, everything about this episode makes it feel exceedingly old-fashioned, and out-of-date. Even the backstory makes one wonder how a future society of 8000 people would allow the kind of dictatorial leadership that Kodos reportedly had, because one has to wonder why his subordinates wouldn't have been appalled enough and free enough to rebel against him. We open with another atrocity portrayed in a Shakespeare play, and then we watch Kirk follow his friend Dr. Leighton into a mindset of accusation and desire for vengeance, which I consider to be the philosophical opposite of bettering oneself and the rest of Mankind.

Kirk uses the ship's computer for research. Okay, yeah, big deal. He's caught up with the 20th century. I'm still expecting him to act as though he's in the 23rd.

But then, out of the blue, Kirk leaps into the ickiest romance he will ever have on the show. Lenore appears manipulative to the point of it turning creepy, and at "19" years old the age difference between her and Kirk is very uncomfortable. Indeed, this episode marks a bit of a turning point for the fortunes of Kirk's romances. This is the first time in the series that he makes an effort for romance while in his right mind and where there might be something more to it than escaping the clutches of some antagonist. And from this point on in the series, not one of his romantic interests will make an appearance beyond her first episode. Yeoman Rand, who is the only potential romantic interest for Kirk that does recur, appears here in what would be her last episode on the series, and doesn't even get any lines today. Even our resident infamous extra, Mr. Leslie, gets more to say in this one as he takes over Sulu's usual post at the helm for the episode. The look that Rand gives Lenore as she comes out of the turbolift onto the bridge is worth a good chuckle, and then that's it for Rand until the movies and the special Voyager episode. The trade off from Rand to the insignificant one-offs really wasn't worth it, and Kirk's romantic aspirations would never again be worthy of the audience's long-term emotional investment.

Joseph Mullendore's score is a mixed bag as well. Some of the cues are quite all right, and I particularly like a lot of the ones that got tracked into "Balance of Terror", for example. But I was never very impressed with Lenore's Theme, and most of the cues that incorporate it, or continue in the same style. Having a prominent string section in a high register, going all weepy, dates this music terribly as the 1940's idea of romance and drama, and actually takes us further away from the new adventurous sound that Trek was pioneering.

Compounding the dated sound of music is another of Uhura's unpleasant vocal songs, which halts the story and is definitely not the style of entertainment I tuned in for. Ick.

The one chance for worthiness that this story seems to have grabbed a hold of temporarily in the middle sections centers on the growth of Kirk's attitude. He is clearly going dark, and acting strange. Will he be able to let go of blame, let go of the past, find some measure of forgiveness, and finally appear to be living in the 23rd century, instead of the 16th? He seems to be getting some quality prompting from Spock and McCoy....

But these questions are not pursued, and the story's ending is a total cop-out on these issues, as other people's actions eventually move forward faster and have an impact that makes any decision on Kirk's part moot. I think the whole "Can Kirk forgive" angle in this story, which includes his incredible reluctance to move forward with any actions against the man Karidian who might be innocent, could work much more powerfully if there were no current murders... if he were about to spring this old accusation upon him out of the blue with no provocation. That's something worth questioning and debating. But with the occurrence of all these new murders related to eye-witnesses who could identify Kodos, I think Kirk is out of character to not go after Karidian with the same ferocity with which he went after the salt-vampire in episode 6: "The Man Trap". For the moment, Karidian is the prime suspect. They need to be grilling him about his whereabouts at the time of each murder. Instead, the episode spends its time and energy on identifying Kodos, which is really a moot point after the first 8 minutes or so, instead of staying in the present moment to actually investigate the current murders. The guests at the cocktail party should all be detained for questioning, and perhaps whatever is learned from that should occupy screen time instead.

We do have an appearance here by Lt. Kevin Riley, where he too fails to appear capable of thinking things through as a 23rd century Human. I don't think the story even begins to entertain the thought that he wants to arrest Kodos - instead it's vigilante vengeance. We should expect better from the crew of the Federation's flagship. In fact, it's a bit surprising that Riley's still on the ship at all, after he nearly destroyed the entire ship via his misbehaviour in engineering. Has he been demoted at least? Well, here we learn that he's been a supposedly hard-working good officer, and only now does Kirk decide to demote him... to engineering. Ay caramba! They shouldn't let him anywhere near that place, and neither should he be allowed to take any food in with him. Yet there he is, at the very same console from which he previously endangered the entire ship... and now he's spilled milk all over it. How soon before we crash?

Well, this story seems determined to pay homage to Shakespeare both by putting on several of his plays, and by having its off-stage characters emulate bygone eras in their actions and motivations, going so far as quoting some of Shakespeare's lines when talking about themselves. It's no surprise for William Shatner to appear at home in this style, considering his theatrical background in Ontario and Quebec, and both he and the actor playing Karidian do manage powerful performances in their scene together. But it's my contention that the power of Shakespeare's material is chiefly style over substance, and even the style is becoming so outdated 500 years on that it needs copious notes and translations to make real sense. But for substance, the philosophies in Shakespeare's plays, where the actions speak louder than all the poetic words combined, and protagonists are as morbid, backstabbing, violent, and as doomed as the antagonists... those philosophies aren't going to be of much help bettering Mankind today, let alone in the 23rd century. Better to get your head out of the 1500's, and seek the abundance of more worthy, more loving material that exists today.

And the final bit of action in this episode is one of the sorriest pieces of cinema ever. Madness prevails, while we are treated to some of the sappiest, most uncharismatic wailing and whining ever. I'm not sure any actor could salvage the rubbish being asked for on the page, but it was beyond the actress playing Lenore.

We can take a warning from this episode. The father Karidian has reaped what he has sown: He fed his daughter Lenore on little else but Shakespeare's plays, and taught her to regurgitate them on cue. Little wonder that there is little else in her head when she's stressed in the real world and has to find solutions to real problems. Will the rest of us learn to study more enlightened works of literature, and have better solutions primed in our minds when stress puts us to the test? Best way to do that might be to watch the other 28 episodes of the season on our next loop through the series while skipping this one.

So, yeah. There it is. This one so easily falls to the very bottom of my rankings for the first season. It is very, very sub-par for my expectations of what Star Trek should, and most often does, aspire to be, and it has remained for a long time the season one story I enjoy the least.

Read the next Star Trek review: "The Menagerie"

This story is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek Season One "Purist" Standard DVD Box Set:

Watch the legend develop from its infancy. Set contains 29 episodes from the first season in their original wacky broadcast order, including "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2" which used footage from the original unaired pilot "The Cage". However, "The Cage" itself is only included with the Season Three Box Set.

As someone interested in researching how the episodes actually looked and sounded originally, and when and exactly how certain musical cues first debuted, this was the DVD set for me, and it remains the most untampered-with full-season collection of Star Trek out there. Unique extras include pure text commentaries on select episodes. Sadly, these sets are starting to become rare, and prices are now rising as these become collectors' items....


DVD Canada


Standard DVD Extras include:

  • original restored broadcast versions of the 29 episodes.
  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.)
  • Text only commentary by Denise & Michael Okuda on "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2", and "The Conscience of the King".
  • "To Boldly Go" featurette (19 min.) discussing
    "The Naked Time", "City on the Edge of Forever",
    "The Devil in the Dark", and "The Squire of Gothos".
  • "Reflections on Spock" featurette (12 min.)
  • "Sci-Fi Visionaries" writing featurette (17 min.)
  • "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner" featurette (10 min.)
  • "Red Shirt Logs" Easter Eggs (7 min. total)
  • Photo Log (still menus)
  • Original Trailers for every episode (1 min. each)

Season One - Blu Ray

  29 episodes @ 51 minutes
Star Trek sets are now available on Blu Ray. Picture and sound quality restoration has gone up yet another notch, and new CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects.... but this time the upgrades have the same respect and user-functionality applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, as the CGI effects can now be turned off to see the original effects. Good show. It seems that the music has still been tampered with too much for my liking though.

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray features add:

  • option to watch episodes with original or new CGI effects.
  • Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century featurette (HD, 20 min.) covering the restoration, CGI effects, and music upgrades.
  • Starfleet Access - Okuda interactive trivia plus picture-in-picture interviews on 6 episodes:
    • Where No Man Has Gone Before
    • The Menagerie Part 1
    • The Menagerie Part 2
    • Balance of Terror
    • Space Seed
    • Errand of Mercy
  • Behind-the-scenes 8mm home movies (HD, 13 min.) from Billy Blackburn (Lt. Hadley / Gorn)
  • Kiss 'N tell: Romance in the 23rd Century (8 min.)
  • Interactive Enterprise Inspection (HD)
  • plus all documentaries, featurettes, and episode promos from the "purist" standard DVD set listed far above.

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review: "The Menagerie"

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