Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Squire Of Gothos

Travelling through a void, or star desert, 900 light years from Earth, the Enterprise encounters unexpected danger. Weirdly The Squire Of Gothos has the setup of a slasher movie; a group of people, on a journey, a long way from home, too far to call for help, and nowhere to run. The key difference being the lack of psychopaths. Instead the Enterprise crew meets Trelane. Squire, or so he says, of the planet Gothos.

It's next to impossible to review The Squire Of Gothos without first talking about the ending where it's revealed Trelane is a child; an alien child with god-like powers. Like the reveal of the fake Balok in The Corbomite Maneuver it changes the audience's understanding of the story. All through the episode there has been a mismatch between what Trelane can do, and the way he behaves; then Trelane's parents show up, and that mismatch is resolved. Suddenly the audience understands how a being who can create planets can also throw temper tantrums. Paul Schneider's script is a clever one, and manages the difficult trick of setting up the surprise ending in advance. Too much set-up and Trelane wouldn't have just acted in a childish way, it would have been obvious he was a child. Likewise, not enough set-up and the ending would have worked but it would have felt bolted on rather than the moment when everything snaps into focus.

The ending is also the point which most clearly separates The Squire Of Gothos from Charlie X. Both stories feature people with powers that allow them to do anything they want, and have protagonists who act childishly and want to fit in; Charlie wants to fit in socially, Trelane wants to be as bloodthirsty as he imagines humans are. Both stories have scripts which define the conflict as a one-on-one struggle with Captain Kirk, backing Kirk into a corner until he has no choice but to confront the protagonist. And, both stories end with the protagonist's parents (for want of a better word in the case of Charlie) talking them home. There are differences. Charlie X takes place on the Enterprise, we're expected to sympathise with Charlie's plight, and the end is pitched as tragedy. The Squire Of Gothos is mainly planet based, Trelane is presented as an arrogant irritant, and the tone at the end is comedic. But both scripts do often hit the same themes.

Until the ending. When the Thasians show up in
Charlie X it's because Charlie has become too powerful for the crew of the Enterprise. They can't kill Charlie, or use Kirk's hastily thought out plan to drug Charlie and take him to Colony Five. What would they do there? Keep Charlie tranquillised forever, or lobotomise him? The only dramatically satisfying resolution which allows the Enterprise crew to keep their heroic status is for someone to come along and take the problem off their hands. The Thasians become an off switch for the plot. If Charlie X was a two part story, or if the Thasian's turned up at the end of the teaser the result would have been the same. The conflict between Charlie and Kirk is unresolved and Kirk becomes a spectator, he watches someone else sort out the problem for him.

In The Squire Of Gothos Kirk unambiguously wins. Kirk's victory comes shortly before Trelane's parents turn up when he refuses to acknowledge he's been beaten, and he snaps Trelane's sword. Ironically Trelane's right, Kirk cheats. He wins by not admitting he's lost. At that point you could spin the story off in any direction; Trelane could disappear in a huff; he could kill Kirk and the Enterprise crew (instinctively I feel this ending could have been difficult for the series); he could vow to come back in 100 years and torment any passing Enterprise Captain he meets. It doesn't matter what he does because Trelane is always reacting to being beaten. When his parents turn up it caps the episode, rather than finishing it.

Another difference between Charlie X and The Squire Of Gothos is the presentation of the antagonist. We're shown Trelane's power. He snatches Kirk and Sulu from the Enterprise, and then casually appears on the bridge himself during Spock's abortive first escape attempt; the first time we see an external threat invade the sanctity of the Enterprise bridge. But it's never used, as you might expect, to ransom the crew against the Captain's good behaviour. In Charlie X, Charlie constantly threatens the crew. He tells Kirk he will make people, “go away.” It's used as a sign of Charlie's insecurity. He's puffing himself up, to remind himself he is powerful. Similarly, when Gary Mitchell was upgraded by the radiation barrier at the edge of the galaxy, in Where No Man Has Gone Before, he talked of crushing people like insects, of using worlds, and finally demanded Kirk pray to him. Trelane makes no such threats. Even in the courtroom when Kirk drives Trelane into a fury the danger is to the captain, not the crew. As it also is when Trelane casually drops the Captain into the real atmosphere of Gothos. The first time the crew is placed in danger is the end of the hunt when Trelane decides he's having so much fun he says, “I must fetch all the others back to play”. This fits with Trelane's child nature. Presumably from his perspective attempting to control Kirk's behaviour by threatening the Enterprise would be like telling an uncooperative ant you will destroy the nest. A side effect is The Squire Of Gothos has a slightly lower key feel than other episodes. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions about Trelane's threat rather than having melodramatic reminders about his ability to kill everyone without lifting a finger.

With such a rounded part to work with it's no surprise William Campbell runs with the character of Trelane and plays him with malicious glee. It's one of those occasions where an actor appears to be having a whale of a time, and their enjoyment enhances the performance. It's an obvious gag but the ending where Trelane drops the English aristocrat accent and turns into whinning, wheedling child is very nicely done.

It feels almost compulsory to discuses whether Trelane could be Q, or another member of the Q continuum. Probably not. Star Trek has no shortage of god-like beings with amazing powers, we've already seen at least three different types in the 17 weeks the series has been on air; Gary Mitchell and Doctor Elizabeth Dehner in Where No Man Has Gone Before, Charlie and the Thasians in Charlie X, and now Trelane. That's before you get onto the second division races like the Talosians, The Menagerie, and the what-ever-they-ares from Shore Leave, both of whom are capable of some pretty remarkable feats. 

Is this story perfect? No. For the 18th episode made it's slightly alarming how many elements it seems to draw from earlier stories. And, on a more minor note, the comedy ker-donk noises when Trelains mirror is smashed seem out of place. It's also, perhaps, the first time a script doesn't explore any of the characters. Instead they are dropped into a surreal situation and left to react along established lines. That said when Spock talks to Trelane he gets the magnificent line, “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” But like Shore Leave, this is a story which gets by on charm. It's good fun.

Crew deaths: None. Trelane may talk about killing but it's not something he does.
Running total: 23

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