Review of Star Trek: The Original Series Episode "Arena"

12 August 2023
This one was my favorite as a kid.

The sheer will and resourcefulness of Kirk.

The green alien guy Gorn.

The sheer battle of wits and skill.

It was a classic and I knew it as a ten year old.

"Arena" stands as an iconic episode within the storied history of Star Trek, originally airing on January 19, 1967, during the first season of the original series. Created by Gene Roddenberry, this episode was adapted from a short story by Fredric Brown.

"Arena" is widely recognized for its thought-provoking exploration of ethics, diplomacy, and the complexities of understanding one's adversaries. Set against the backdrop of interstellar conflict, it remains significant not only within the context of the series but also for its lasting impact on the science fiction television genre.

In the episode "Arena," the USS Enterprise, led by the capable Captain James T. Kirk, embarks on a vital mission: to uncover the truth behind the sudden annihilation of a human outpost situated on Cestus III. The narrative unfolds amidst a maelstrom of tension as the Enterprise becomes entangled in a fierce interstellar confrontation with an enigmatic alien vessel, subsequently identified as the handiwork of the reptilian Gorn species. The conflict rapidly reaches a boiling point, propelling the narrative towards a climactic juncture—a solitary combat scenario on the desolate terrain of Cestus III.

Ultimately, "Arena" encapsulates a thrilling exploration of diplomacy, conflict, and the unpredictable nature of interspecies encounters, offering viewers a mesmerizing glimpse into Captain Kirk's remarkable ability to navigate treacherous situations while upholding his commitment to the principles of the United Federation of Planets.

kirk gorn arena star trek TOS

Kirk's attempts at communication with the enigmatic Gorn prove futile, met with silence. The Gorn, however, is relentless in its pursuit of Kirk, highlighting the stark imbalance of physical power between the two adversaries. In a battle of brawn, Kirk recognizes that his only chance lies in exploiting his agility and speed to outmaneuver the Gorn's brute strength.

As their tense encounter continues, Kirk's precarious situation takes a turn for the worse. He stumbles into a cleverly set rope trap, cunningly crafted by the Gorn. The trap snags Kirk, inflicting a painful leg injury that hampers his mobility. His escape seems even more daunting now, his agility compromised by the injury.

The Gorn, at last, establishes a line of communication with Kirk, facilitated by a translation device. The alien's words are chilling as it offers Kirk an unsettling proposition – to end his suffering swiftly. Kirk's accusations of the Gorns being merciless butchers are met with a defense of their actions. The Gorn justifies their attack on Cestus III, explaining that the Federation's encroachment into their perceived territory was seen as a potential prelude to a larger invasion.

Faced with these revelations, Kirk's desperation evolves into a determined resolve to survive. On the planet's surface, he uncovers a cache of valuable minerals and resources, now seemingly useless given the circumstances. A spark of inspiration ignites when Kirk discovers bamboo stalks and raw chemicals. Resourcefully, he concocts a makeshift weapon, using chunks of diamond as ammunition.

With a heart pounding, Kirk completes the weapon just as the relentless Gorn arrives on the scene. A daring shot from Kirk's improvised firearm severely wounds the Gorn, seemingly securing Kirk's victory. But as he stands at the precipice of delivering the final blow, Kirk is gripped by a moment of contemplation. The Gorn's claims of self-defense resonate, challenging Kirk's perspective on the situation. In a surprising act of compassion, he spares the Gorn's life.

This is telling, as at the beginning of the episode he was hell-bent on destroying the Gorn ship for their attack on Cestus 3. Even Spock could not dissuade his Captain of his intentions. Kirk ultimately saw sense, revealing his true humanity. 

In an unexpected twist, the Gorn vanishes, replaced by a Metron – an advanced extraterrestrial entity. The Metron commends Kirk not only for his triumph in battle but for demonstrating the rare virtue of mercy towards an adversary. Refusing the Metrons' offer to obliterate the Gorn ship, Kirk's decision leads the alien entity to observe that humanity is a mix of civilization and savagery, holding promise for the future. The Metron hints at a potential reconnection with the Federation in millennia to come.

Abruptly, Kirk finds himself back aboard the Enterprise, his injuries mysteriously healed. The ship has traveled 500 parsecs away from Metron territory, leaving the Gorn ship beyond reach. Kirk's encounter with the Gorn and the Metron serves as a pivotal reminder that in the uncharted expanse of space, battles are fought not only with weapons but with ethics, compassion, and the ever-present potential for growth.


Kirk was the first MacGyver... even if the Metrons handed it to him on a plate.

The Gorn captain presents a stark contrast to Captain Kirk. With a reptilian appearance, the Gorn captain was brought to life through a combination of costume design and practical effects. Actor Bobby Clark donned the Gorn suit, which despite its limitations, created an enduring and memorable alien character. The Gorn captain's formidable strength and resilience make him a formidable adversary.

However, as the episode progresses, it becomes evident that the Gorn captain is acting out of perceived necessity, rather than sheer malevolence. This complexity adds depth to the character, challenging the notion of a one-dimensional antagonist.

"Arena" delves into several profound themes, including the ethics of violence, the complexities of diplomacy, and the importance of understanding. The episode's exploration of the Prime Directive, the principle of non-interference in other species' development, is a cornerstone of Star Trek's philosophy.

The encounter with the Gorn underscores the significance of withholding judgment based on appearances, and the necessity of empathy in intercultural communication. Kirk's final act of sparing the Gorn captain's life emphasizes the show's consistent message of seeking peaceful resolutions, even when faced with initial hostility.

Considering the technological limitations of the time, the episode's visual effects manage to create an engaging portrayal of interstellar conflict. The space battle sequences were achieved through a combination of model work and innovative camera techniques, showcasing the Enterprise's maneuvers and the intense action.

The rocky planet's set design effectively conveys the desolation of the battlefield and intensifies the isolation felt by Kirk and the Gorn captain. Notable camera work includes dynamic shots during the battle, capturing the tension between the adversaries. While the production might appear dated to modern audiences, the creative use of practical effects and set design contributed to the episode's immersive atmosphere.

"Arena" has left an indelible mark on science fiction storytelling. Its exploration of ethical dilemmas, the search for common ground, and the perils of making assumptions about the unknown has influenced subsequent science fiction works.

It was the original two men enter, one man leaves.   

Or actually... two men leave...

Elements of "Arena" have been echoed in later Star Trek series, such as the emphasis on diplomacy seen in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Additionally, the episode has inspired homage and references across various media, showcasing its enduring cultural impact. Notably, the concept of a one-on-one combat scenario as a test of mettle has been emulated in numerous shows and movies.

In conclusion, "Arena" remains a standout episode that encapsulates the essence of Star Trek's thought-provoking narratives. Through its exploration of themes, character dynamics, and the complexities of interstellar relations, the episode continues to captivate audiences, reminding us of the enduring appeal of the original series. "Arena" has secured its place within the Star Trek canon and the broader context of television history, serving as a reminder of the genre's potential to engage viewers in meaningful and relevant discourse. 


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
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Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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