- The Original Series (TOS)
- The Animated Series
- The Movies
- The Next Generation (TNG)
- Deep Space Nine (DS9)
- Voyager
- Enterprise

- Season One
- Season Two
- Season Three
- "Season Four"

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

- Doctor Who
- Sliders
- The Matrix

- Main Index
- Site Map

Errand of Mercy

(Star Trek story #27 in production order)
  • written and produced by Gene L. Coon
  • directed by John Newland
  • tracked music by Courage / Steiner / Kaplan / etc.

Errand of Mercy

This story is one of the most interesting of the first season, and quite archetypal for original Star Trek. There are some highly satisfying characterizations here and the story feels like a particularly BIG event for the Trek universe. However, there are at least two significant problems as well, eating at the adventure's rank.

Chief amongst the story's strengths is its introduction of the Klingons, led here by actor John Colicos (Baltar from the original Battlestar Galactica). This is another example of "world building" in the Star Trek universe, nearly on par with "Balance of Terror", yet not quite supplying as much information... and indeed some of the information we do get seems to have changed in later years. Still, the Klingon Empire gets good definition here, perhaps resembling the American perception of the Soviet Union a little more closely than Klingons do today.

The story's first major blunder only has relevance in hindsight. The society that Starfleet observes on Organia initially appears to be humanoids at a pre-warp level of technology. Starfleet's Prime Directive will eventually be very clear that this means they should not approach, greet, interact, or in any way make their existence known to the Organians. It seems very bizarre to us now that this non-interference Prime Directive was mentioned previously in "The Return of the Archons", yet is not remotely in the thoughts of Kirk and company during the lengthy section of planning their approach to Organia, or in their initial dealings with the council. In fact, Kirk basically offers them huge technological boosts, education included, which is a serious violation of what should be one of his strongest principles.

Now of course, writer Gene Coon knows exactly where he's heading with this, and it's a worthy place - very reminiscent of many of his other stories in fact, yet with its own unique embellishments. But as audience members, we may find ourselves a bit distanced from Kirk and company, as we see his missteps and become reluctant to root for him as fully as we are accustomed to do.

Perhaps it should also be noted that Klingons were most often utilized as the feared force causing Starfleet to break their own Prime Directive all throughout season two. The narrative in "Errand of Mercy" seems to fit the same pattern.... yet unlike "The Return of the Archons", no mention of the Prime Directive is tacked on as though in hindsight, leaving what now seems to be an inconsistency in the Star Trek universe. Sure, it is later discovered that the Prime Directive shouldn't apply, but the Enterprise crew very clearly don't know this as they get involved, and it does seem bizarre that they are not even mentioning it as they plan their moves.....

Should the threat of the Klingon presence be justification for swapping out the Prime Directive for the kind of guided self-determined protected-colony status that Kirk offers the Organians? I'd feel much better about the episode and more invested in the characters if this had at least been discussed or debated in the Enterprise crew's earlier planning scenes in the episode, even if they were unable to agree on what was truly best.

Alternatively, this episode could be taking place in a vacuum where MOST of the Prime Directive as we would see in season two has not yet been adopted by Starfleet. If they'd discussed something of it, somewhere, maybe we would know. As it stands, long term fans have to guess, and "read between the episodes", as it were.

The second big problem in this story is the sheer amount of discussion that the Organians engage in without being able to explain their own stance properly. I don't feel like we got sufficient reason for them to hold back the truth about who they are for such a long period of time. Most of their dialogue is just frustratingly awkward. Do they intend to explain it all to Kirk, if only he would stop bombarding them with distracting questions and offers and concerns? Or did they deliberately intend to keep their true nature secret? If so, what was the point? At any rate, Kirk comes off as a bad listener, and the Organians as bad speakers. Not great.

These two problems really make one question Kirk's purpose on the planet, and significantly lower our enjoyment of the episode on repeat viewings. Investment in our lead protagonists is a little too dependent on not knowing where the episode, and the franchise, is heading.

That said, John Colicos truly shines in his role as Kor, and along with his subordinates, the Klingon race stood out as the most successful element of this episode. Note they are also easily the most honest element of the script as well. I keep remembering the pride Gene Roddenberry had during one of the bonus feature interviews, when he claimed that Kirk and Spock never lied. Ha! Both they and the Organians are pretty prolific with their lies and their withholding of truth here.

The episode has some good action to it, a space battle early on, a large pyrotechnic display shortly after, a phaser/fisticuffs battle near the end, all of which are pretty good. The episode's pace also moves along quite well. We get the pleasant bits involved with prisoner dynamics and duress, while the Organians refreshingly cut short the unpleasant and boring bits usually associated with these dynamics, substituting escalations in the story's primary mystery - a great trade-off in my opinion.

And the final portions of the story also work well, with an entertaining effect for the Organians' transformation, all truths revealed, and a quite unique method for achieving an end to hostilities. One knows from future episodes that there will be an Organian Peace Treaty governing Federation/Klingon interaction moving forward. One wonders, however, exactly what kind of relations the Organians would maintain with the Federation, or the Klingons for that matter.

If anything's missing in terms of action and effects, it's definitely the lack of optical shots of Klingon spacecraft in the original versions of the episodes. In fact, original Star Trek committed a real crime by bringing the Klingons back quite often in season two, but not giving them a proper spacecraft until season three. This is one case where I think more modern CGI updates can make a legitimate argument for improving the episode.

As usual, the coda for a Star Trek episode attempts to pull everything back into perspective and give us an optimistic framing for the story. We may have been disappointed with aspects of Kirk's approach today, but Kirk himself is also quite "embarrassed" by his own showing, which is markedly unusual. This seems to be an important moment for Kirk to win back whatever audience support he may have lost earlier, and it works fairly well in that regard.

At any rate, this is a good episode, which I still enjoy quite a bit today, however its two big problems will hold it back a bit while a good many other episodes rank higher.

Read the next Star Trek review: "Operation -- Annihilate!"

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:

Contact page


Read the next Star Trek review: "Operation -- Annihilate!"

Home Page Site Map Science Fiction Doctor Who Sliders The Matrix Star Trek Catalogue