Star Trek TOS: Star Trek Takes on Wyatt Earp

Star Trek TOS: Star Trek Takes on Wyatt Earp
Star Trek TOS: Spectre of the Gun

Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 3, Episode 6

Spectre of the Gun

A mysterious mechanical device hurtled toward Enterprise, and the group didn’t know if it wanted to attack or communicate. Kirk ordered the ship to veer away from the weird device, but the satellite-looking thing followed Enterprise.

The ship represented the Melkotians, speaking to the crew a warning to change course. Everyone from the crew heard the address in their native language, indicating the Melkotians were communicating telepathically. 

Kirk and friends beamed down to the Melkotian planet, and it was foggy as hell, which was wholly unfamiliar to the crew. What’s more, none of Kirk’s communication devices worked on the planet. A colorful Melkotian appeared, a ghost-like brain of an apparition that did not seem happy. 

Again, Kirk affirmed his group wanted peace, but the Melkotian jettisoned everyone to an old American west town. When they arrived, each crewmember was strapped with a pistol. Spock was quick to denounce the guns as dangerous, a progressive assertion for 1968.

Well, the Starfleeters were in Tombstone, Arizona — somehow — and a sheriff confronted them as if he’d known them his whole life. Spock speculated Kirk was sent to Tombstone to be executed in the manner Kirk’s ancestors disposed of people on the American frontier.

Kirk then announced this episode was basically the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday episode. 

The men proceeded to a saloon where a woman quickly kissed Checkov on the lips — quite the salutation. Morgan Earp confronted Kirk, trying to force a quick-draw showdown. But Spock instructed Kirk to hold off. It dawned on Kirk that the town perceived his men as the ill-fated Clanton family. And this particular day was the O.K. Corral incident. 

Kirk finally met with Wyatt Earp, insisting the whole time his name was Kirk, not Clanton. Meanwhile, knowing a skirmish was on the horizon based on preordained history, Spock worked on developing a grenade to get the upper hand. 

Morgan Earp was a real treat in the episode — acting rude, shooting Chekov in the stomach, and generally seeming unreasonable. After Earp shot and killed Chekov, McCoy and Scott lamented Spock’s callousness about his demise. But then Spock saved face by explaining the Clanton character portrayed by Chekov actually survived the Battle at O.K. Corral. A glimmer of hope for Chekov’s character. 

This episode dealt with a familiar Star Trek theme — can travel back into time undo history like a butterfly effect? Can fate be changed?

Spock convinced Kirk, McCoy, and Spock the way to evade the Earp family’s bullets was to know with absolute certainty the bullets could do them no harm. This was not real life — was the argument. However, the non-Vulcans could not jettison doubt from their minds. So, Spock used his mind meld on his friends to brainwash the problem away. If they did not believe the bullets were real, well, then they wouldn’t die when wounded. 

The takeaway from Spectre of the Gun was to take a few shots at the absurdity of the western genre and the American obsession with guns. For Star Trek, bullets could be manipulated by Vulcan mind supremacy. Guns be damned.

Oh, and Chekov wasn’t really dead.

Kirk ended the episode by saying humans ‘overcame our instinct for violence.’ If only. 

Themes: Guns in America, Anti-Western Thought

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).