Sunday, October 6, 2013

Spectre Of The Gun

CHEKOV: Where are we now, Captain?
KIRK: Spock, evaluation?
SPOCK: Obviously this represents the Melkotian's concept of an American frontier town, circa 1880.
MCCOY: It's just bits and pieces. It's incomplete.
SPOCK: Perhaps the Melkotians have insufficient data about this era.
KIRK: Or perhaps this is all they require to complete the pattern of our death.

The set design is what elevates Spectre Of The Gun. Gene L. Coon's script is fun but run of the mill by his own standards. It's a mash-up of Arena (powerful aliens force Kirk into a fight to the death to punish him for trespassing on their territory, at the end Kirk's refusal to kill convinces them to give him a second chance) and A Taste Of Armageddon. Spectre Of The Gun and A Taste Of Armageddon both use the same mechanism to get the Enterprise crew into the story; the Enterprise trespasses into a sector of space against the express wishes of the inhabitants. In both cases Kirk is under express orders to make contact but his attitude couldn't be more different. In A Taste Of Armageddon Kirk displays clear contempt for Ambassador Fox and his orders, all part of making sure the audience find Fox as unsympathetic as possible, but here his attitude is pragmatic and Kirk displays a lot less concern for the welfare of his crew even though the Melkotian warning is more explicit than the Federation code sent from Eminiar VII. Surprisingly when Star Trek: The Next Generation wanted to spoof the then current vogue for Robin Hood films they ended up writing an episode very much like Spectre Of The Gun; a powerful alien creates a self-sustaining world and drops in our heroes.

The weakest element of Gene L. Coon's script is his use of Chekov who manages to fall
deeply in love during his short stay in fake-Tombstone despite knowing he is scheduled to die at 5pm. At the end of the episode he has this exchange with Kirk.

CHEKOV: What happened? Where have I been?
KIRK: Right here, it seems.
CHEKOV: But that girl. She was so beautiful. So real.
KIRK: Do you remember anything else?
KIRK: Good. Perhaps that explains why he's here. Nothing was real to him except the girl.

“That girl,” was so real to Chekov he can't even remember her name. There's always been a brash juvenile streak to Chekov's character, look at the opening scenes of TheTrouble With Tribbles and Chekov's attempts to impress Kirk, but here he spills over into outright immaturity and it's a mystery why Kirk displays such tolerance for the romance.

The stars of the episode are the sets. Faced with a workable script which called for either location filming or the construction of a Western town set, both unaffordable on Star Trek's third season budget, someone -probably Robert Justman or Matt Jefferies- came up with the idea of the half-constructed town. Director Vincent McEveety carefully uses the resulting sets to make Tombstone feel like a real place with its own dreamlike logic and rules.

Despite the half-constructed sets, no one leaps over any of the waist high walls or has a conversation with someone within a building. Everything is treated as if it were solid. Even the characters seem to appear and disappear when no one is looking. Watch the moment when the Sheriff first appears; on his line, “Ike,” he's already outside the closed door of the Sheriff’s office and walking towards the landing party as if he just popped into existence. Likewise, at the end of his first scene the Sheriff walks off the left-hand side of the frame and it's as if he disappears. A similar trick is pulled when the landing party enter the Tombstone bar. From the street the bar is clearly empty, but as the landing party walk through the doors it is suddenly full of people; including some sitting where they should have been visible from outside. It's a simple directing trick but it makes Tombstone feels strange and disorientating. What makes the moment more effective is that none of the landing party react to the sudden appearance of all these people. The disorientation is only there for the viewer. The set for the OK Corral at the end of the episode is suddenly much more solid and realistic. Possibly this was done to stop the climax from looking too fantastical, there is already the very theatrical effect of lightning casting shadows on the sky and the brilliant visual of bullet holes appearing in wood as the Clanton's fire at the unaffected landing party.

Enterprise crew deaths: None this week.
Running total: 48.