According to Memory Alpha's In Universe Timeline, A Private Little War comes after Bread and Circuses and before The Immunity Syndrome.
The remastered version of A Private Little War was released after the remastered version of Court Martial, and before the remastered version of Whom Gods Destroy.
The Enterprise arrives at the planet Neural, 3rd planet in the Zeta Boötis System. Upon their arrival, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy finds the planet is a medical treasure trove of materials needed for various serums and drugs. Captain Kirk also reports that the people of the world are still primitive.
Kirk and First Officer Spock soon notice a group of villagers crouching in the nearby rocks, apparently preparing for an ambush. Kirk is shocked to see they possess flintlock long guns and other firearms. Moreover, they seem to be waiting not for game but for a group of Hill People, one of whom Kirk recognizes as Tyree, his closest friend on this world. Since the landing party aren't supposed to use phasers, Kirk tosses a rock to make a distraction, but this causes one of the natives' guns to go off and a chase ensues. Spock is shot by one of the natives.
Once back aboard the Enterprise, Spock is looked after by Dr. M'Benga who specializes in Vulcan physiology. He informs Kirk that he has done all he can for Spock, who has fallen into a healing trance. Suddenly, sensors detect a Klingon vessel in orbit around the planet, and Kirk orders Ensign Chekov to maintain a position outside of their sensor range.
Kirk returns with McCoy, both now disguised as local natives to blend in. Suddenly, the two are attacked by a mugato. The beast bites Kirk, injecting him with poison before McCoy can kill it with his phaser. McCoy is unable to call for help, as the Enterprise has moved out of communication range to avoid detection by the Klingons.
A friendly group of Hill People finally arrive and take Kirk and McCoy to their cave, where Kirk discovers Tyree is now their tribal leader. Tyree, who has just returned from a hunting mission, is married to Nona, a Kahn-ut-tu witch doctor who can cure the Mugato bite. In reality, Nona is influencing Tyree with her herbal drugs and urging him to acquire the villagers' "fire sticks" for their tribe. He has managed to hold out, maintaining a traditional, pacifistic view.
On hearing of Kirk's arrival, Nona heads for the caves and gets there just in time to see McCoy using his phaser to heat up rocks to keep Kirk warm. Nona is intrigued with the weapon and wants to know more about the mysterious guests. Nona treats Kirk with a Mahko root, a mobile plant. She cuts her own hand and presses it against the root over his wound ("Take this of my soul into thine..."). Kirk is fully healed by the small ceremony, and McCoy says he'd like to know more about the plant she used. According to legend, because their blood has mingled, and their souls have met in the spirit world, Kirk will be unable to refuse Nona anything once he recovers.
Meanwhile back on the Enterprise, Spock seems to be recovering well. M'Benga informs Nurse Chapel that once Spock revives, she must do exactly as Spock tells her no matter how bizarre the request.
Once Kirk recovers, he asks Tyree about the "fire sticks" possessed by the villagers. Tyree says he saw the weapons for the first time about a year ago and believed the villagers were making them. He has not seen any strangers like the Klingons that Kirk talks about. Kirk asks Tyree if they will help him on a reconnaissance mission to the village under the cover of night.
Nona also tags along, trying to persuade Kirk to help Tyree become a more powerful leader. Kirk refuses, since he knows that Tyree holds to traditional pacifism and has even sworn an oath against killing people. Once in the enemy village, they locate a forge in which they find a chrome steel drill and some virtually carbon-free iron—evidence of the Klingons' involvement. Soon a Klingon appears, conversing with the village leader, Apella, and Kirk's group ducks to hide. Apella and the Klingon discuss the manufacture of improved weapons. Kirk and McCoy sneak up and overpower them, taking a flintlock weapon and escaping with Tyree's help.
Back aboard the Enterprise Spock finally wakes, but is only partially conscious. He requests Nurse Chapel to strike him repeatedly until he fully recovers, saying the pain helps him to consciousness. She hesitantly does what he asks, lightly at first, but then starts slapping him hard as he requests. Chief Engineer Scott happens to stop in and witnesses Chapel's beating of Spock and tries to stop her, however M'Benga arrives to explain that Spock's life is in danger and resumes the slapping. Spock finally comes out of his trance and thanks the bewildered Nurse Chapel for her assistance.
Back on the planet, Kirk shows the hill people how to shoot the flintlock weapon, but Tyree refuses to handle it. McCoy loudly protests, telling Kirk he is violating the Prime Directive and interfering with the natives' normal development. Kirk maintains that irreversible damage has already been caused by the Klingons, and if the two warring tribes are not on equal ground, one will slaughter the other. Kirk's interpretation of the Prime Directive compels him to arm Tyree's people with flintlocks as well, to maintain a balance of power on the planet. McCoy is horrified but he finds no alternative solution.
Thinking Tyree is too weak and hesitant to arm the people, Nona tries to seduce Kirk with her herbs, but Kirk resists and Tyree witnesses her treachery. He is angry enough to pick up the flintlock and take aim at his wife, but he is unable to kill her and puts the weapon down. Suddenly another Mugato attacks and Kirk vaporizes it with his phaser. Nona knocks Kirk out and grabs the phaser, which in her mind is a weapon that will give her ultimate power. She runs away seeking to cut a deal with her tribal enemies in exchange for the weapon. Kirk, once he recovers, gives chase with a small group to stop her and get back his phaser.
When Kirk, McCoy, and Tyree arrive, they find Nona being assaulted by the enemy villagers, who seem more interested in forcing themselves on her than learning about the weapon she is holding. Nona tries to defend herself, but she is unable to figure out how to fire the phaser. When the others arrive, tracking Nona, the enemy villagers believe she has led them into a trap, and kill her for it. The villagers are driven off, and McCoy reaches the stolen phaser and retrieves it.
Tyree, now driven to kill, demands more "fire stick" weapons to avenge his wife's death. Kirk reluctantly orders Mr. Scott to manufacture and beam down a hundred flintlocks for the tribesmen. This would put them on an even footing with their enemy, which might satisfy the terms of the Prime Directive, but Kirk is ruefully aware of the arms race that will begin. Mr Scott questions the unusual order, not understanding its purpose. Kirk confirms it, this time saying he wants "serpents for the Garden of Eden." The episode ends with the Enterprise pulling out of orbit.
Errors and ExplanationsEdit
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic TrekkersEdit
- At one point, Kirk says that if the Klingons are breaking the “treaty” by arming the villagers, it could mean interstellar war. What treaty is Kirk talking about? ls he referring to the Organian Peace Treaty, mentioned only a few episodes ago in "The Trouble with Tribbles”? If the Klingons violate the treaty and start fighting with the Federation again, isn't there a good possibility that the Organians will intervene? As in Friday's Child, the Organians could be watching from afar, to see if the Federation and Klingons sort out the situation without their assistance.
- The mugato bite must produce a condition similar to rigor mortis. As the hill people carry the wounded Kirk to a cave, his legs stick straight out, even though the two men transporting the captain have their hands under his thighs. A number of creatures temporarily paralyse their pray. Besides, the images I've seen show the two men placing their lower hands under Kirk's knees.
- Kirk's disregard for the Prime Directive goes back over a decade. While doing the planetary survey thirteen years ago, he told Tyree about space travel, phasers, and the Federation. Tyree's people probably insisted on Kirk revealing the truth about who he was and why he was visiting their world.
- It's a fortunate thing for our captain that these villagers have no reflexes. During the night mission to the village, Kirk and McCoy are stopped as they try to exit a building. Two villagers with flintlocks apprehend them and begin to march them to an unknown destination. Without warning, Kirk elbows one in the stomach and McCoy wallops the other with a rifle barrel. There are several moments between these two actions, and the entire time, the second villager holds his rifle pointed directly at Kirk’s-chest. Thankfully, he never thinks to pull the trigger. (It's possible the gun wasn't loaded.) Perhaps he's too surprised by Kirk's surprise attack.
- After the hill people bring the wounded Kirk to a cave, McCoy uses his phaser to heat up some rocks. A close-up shows the phaser firing in short bursts. Oddly enough, McCoy's thumb stays perfectly still the entire time as it rests on the trigger. The thumb movements could be enough to trigger the phaser, but too small to be visible to the naked eye.
- After stealing Kirk's phaser, Nona meets up with a group of villagers. She threatens them with the weapon, but they attack anyway. A close-up shows her thumb moving from button to button on the phaser, but it never fires. Why doesn't it fire? If phasers are so hard to operate, why did Kirk cringe when Oxmyx and Krako played with them in “A Piece of the Action”? The phaser could have run out of power.
Continuity and Production ProblemsEdit
- As Kirk, McCoy, and Tyree make their escape from the village, the sound effects person forgot to dub in the “bullet ricocheting” sound used several times in the scene already. When the trio runs through the last arch, a puff of smoke blows silently outward. Whoever fired may have forgotten to load the bullet, in their haste to fire.
- Just after the final fight with the hill people, Kirk and McCoy stand pondering the new violence that has overtaken this peaceful world. Suddenly McCoy looks down, Kirk looks over, and the doctor pulls his communicator out of his bag. Was there supposed to be a beep dubbed in to create these reactions? The communicator was probably set to vibrate enough for McCoy to feel it through the bag.
- Keith Alan Morgan on Saturday, April 17, 1999 - 6:40 am: When McCoy uses his phaser to heat up the rocks, why didn't they explode? One of the problems with heating up a rock too quickly is that any moisture in the rock will turn to steam and cause the rock to explode. These rocks may not have enough moisture for that.
- John A. Lang on Wednesday, June 20, 2001 - 10:03 pm: After Kirk is healed, McCoy looks at Nona's hand and it is healed too. He says, "I want to know more about this" Why? He's a 23rd century doctor.This type of healing is somewhat equal to black magic...why would McCoy be interested in such an thing? Beater of dead horses on Friday, July 13, 2001 - 9:38 pm: McCoy would be interested because there must be a scientific explanation, maybe involving new biochemicals or something. Maybe it's those weird critters from the TNG episode Phantasams. We don't know they were never encountered before that episode. Or some Q having fun. Or something else McCoy would like to know about. somebody who obviously isnt John A. Lang, or maybe its not so obvious, but oh, well... on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - 12:20 pm: McCoy wants to know more about Nona's "black magic" because he's a scientist and he wants to know more about the planet's unusual biochemistry and how it can affect humanoid life forms, etc.