The Enterprise is instructed to make peaceful contact with the Melkotians, the mysterious alien inhabitants of Theta Kiokis II, but is warned away by a strange space buoy that orders it not to proceed to the Melkotians' planet.
Ignoring the warning, Kirk takes the Enterprise to the planet anyway. Captain Kirk assembles a landing party consisting of himself, First Officer Spock, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Leonard McCoy, and Navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov and beams down to the surface of the planet to make contact.
The Melkotians are angered by this and imprison the team in a psychic illusion that takes the form of the town of Tombstone, Arizona, on Earth on the historic date October 26, 1881.
The setting for the town is drawn from Kirk's mind, but the illusion has a surreal incompleteness to it – buildings are obvious facades, windows and pictures appear to float in mid-air, doors open to nowhere, etc. The landing party also sees their equipment is changed: phasers have turned into six-shooters, communicators and tricorders are missing, and there is no longer a way to make contact with the Enterprise.
Kirk and his companions quickly realize they are now impromptu characters in a bizarre reenactment of the legendary "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". Kirk and his team are playing the role of the infamous Cowboys: Kirk as Ike Clanton, Scotty as Billy Clanton, Bones as Tom McLaury, Spock as Frank McLaury, and Chekov as Billy Claiborne. They are forced into a confrontation with the Earp brothers, lawmen Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday. This is the team's punishment for trespassing and violating the Melkotians' strict privacy, a duel to the death, played out as one of the most famous historical events in the Wild West with the crew on the losing side.
They encounter various inhabitants who treat the Enterprise crew members as if they are the people whose roles they are playing. That is especially true for the Earps, who are belligerently determined to kill them at the appointed hour, or sooner if they have an excuse. The crew try every means available to them to prevent the fight, but nothing works. They are physically prevented from leaving the town, the Earps cannot be pacified, and the Sheriff refuses to interfere apart from suggesting the tactic, unacceptable to the Enterprise crew, of ambushing the Earps.
The stakes rise further when Chekov is romanced by a local girl named Sylvia. She is harassed by Morgan Earp, who kills Chekov when he interferes. As a result of this tragedy, Spock realizes that this suggests that events in the Melkotian creation can be altered from what happened in reality, as the real Billy Claiborne survived the gunfight (as did Ike Clanton).
That glimmer of hope is dashed when an improvised gas grenade they plan to use on their enemy totally fails on testing, thereby erasing their one possible advantage. Spock remarks that it should have worked, but the hour of the fight comes before he can explain his reasoning. When the crew refuses to go to the corral, they find themselves immediately teleported there and cannot escape.
The team fears for their lives, but Mr. Spock explains his realization. He notes that the gas bomb should have worked according to physical laws; its failure implies that what they are experiencing is not real, despite appearances, but is an elaborate illusion occurring in the minds of the crew that is only as real as their minds accept it to be.
Spock's will is strong enough for him to believe this logical conclusion that nothing in this situation can harm him, but he has to convince the others of the same, as any lingering doubt will prove deadly. Kirk orders Spock to mind meld with each member of the team, in an attempt to wipe away any and all doubt from their minds and convince them that the bullets from the Earps' guns are mere phantoms and will pass through their bodies without injury.
The shootout replays as history dictates, but when the Earps fire their revolvers, their bullets have no effect as Spock predicted. Kirk tackles Wyatt Earp but does not kill him and tosses his gun to the ground. After the fight is over, the Melkotians return Kirk and the rest of the landing party to the Enterprise - including Chekov, whose attraction to Sylvia clouded his perception of the false reality enough for him to survive.
A Melkotian appears again on the bridge viewscreen and claims he is impressed that even though Kirk had the opportunity to kill the Earps, he chose instead to spare their lives. This act of mercy changes the Melkotians' distrustful opinions of the Federation and opens their doors to relations with them.
Errors and ExplanationsEdit
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic TrekkersEdit
- Shortly after arriving in the saloon, Morgan Earp confronts Kirk. Spock carefully explains to the captain that he should sit back down and not move a muscle - especially in his hands. The Vulcan states that doing so would initiate a most unfortunate series of events. What does Kirk do? He flexes his hands before sitting down! To be fair, he has to use some of his muscles in order to sit down!
- ln “Friday’s Child," Kirk tells the Capellans that if they want to be left alone, the Federation will leave them alone. Why, then, has Starfleet given Kirk orders to contact the Melkotians? The Melkotian homeworld may be located in a very strategic position.
- Kirk has a little trouble with his communicator at the beginning of this episode. Just after beaming down to the planet, the captain pulls out the communicator, it flops shut, and then he has to flip it open again. Probably a loose hinge on the antenna grid.
- At the end of this episode, the Melkotian buoy begins emitting radiation. In response, Kirk orders a standby on the “phaser guns." Phaser guns? (I suppose this is technically correct, but he's never called them this before.) He has just returned from a simulated version of the OK Corral, and is still in the mindset of someone who lived in the Wild West.
- D.K. Henderson on Saturday, November 28, 1998 - 5:50 am: On the planet, they discover that the tricorder and the communicators aren't working. Spock then comments that "all" their equipment is nonfunctional. Yet, when the Melkot appears and threatens them, Kirk whips out his phaser. Isn't it reasonable to suppose that it, too, would not work? Perhaps Kirk just wants to have the comfort of holding the phaser.
- Padawan Nitpicker on Saturday, September 30, 2000 - 4:57 am: Why is the Enterprise heading towards the planet in the final shot? Chris Todaro on Saturday, September 30, 2000 - 6:55 am: The Enterprise is heading towards the planet in the final shot because they were never really there for the whole episode. It was all a telepathic illusion.
Internet Movie DatabaseEdit
Character error Edit
- The gunfight at the O K Corral has many inaccuracies, but that's because the Melkotian created the town based on Captain Kirk's imperfect subconscious knowledge of history. The gunfight actually ensued at 3:00 p.m., not 5:00 p.m. Virgil Earp was the town marshal of Tombstone at the time of the Gunfight at the O K Corral, not Wyatt Earp. Morgan Earp was Virgil's deputy, and Wyatt and Doc Holliday were deputized the day of the gunfight. Their original intent was to disarm the Clantons and McLaureys. Doc Holliday did not practice dentistry in Tombstone. Kirk is not a professional historian.