The Enterprise arrives at the volcanic planet of Excalbia to conduct a geological survey. Sensors curiously pick up the presence of carbon-based life on the surface which Science Officer Spock deems impossible owing to Excalbia's extreme volcanism. Suddenly, the Enterprise receives a friendly greeting. Before a stunned bridge crew, the image of a seated Abraham Lincoln appears drifting toward them on the viewscreen. Spock indicates that the figure cannot possibly be the real president, and that whoever is on the planet demonstrates the advanced ability to read minds and manipulate matter.
Regardless of the true identity of the being, Kirk extends full presidential honors to the former leader of the United States as he transports aboard the ship. The president appears to be human, claiming to be "all too human".
Lincoln has no knowledge of technology past the 19th century, but he is curiously familiar with the Vulcan philosophy of Nom (meaning "all"). Lincoln invites Kirk and Spock to accompany him down to the planet. Kirk accepts despite objections from Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott. Lincoln reassures them by showing a patch of "Earthlike" vegetation on the planet and informing them that they will be perfectly safe. Once on the planet, Kirk and Spock discover their tricorder and phasers did not transport with them. They then encounter a Vulcan named Surak, "the father of Vulcan civilization". Spock does not believe this Surak is real and accordingly refers to him as the "Image of Surak".
Nearby, a boulder changes form into a rocklike being with clawed hands and several glowing eyes atop a bulbous head. The alien, named Yarnek, announces that the inhabitants of the planet wish to conduct an experiment to determine which opposing human philosophy is stronger — good or evil. The inhabitants of the planet, as well as the crew of the Enterprise, will be able to witness the drama but will not be allowed to interfere. The test will be a simple one of survival. Kirk tries to grab the alien but he withdraws in pain after the alien reminds him of the planets 'lava nous' nature, which the creature is obviously created and/or part of.
The alien then introduces four more beings: Earth warlord Colonel Green (who led a genocidal war during the 21st century), Klingon Kahless (who spawned the Klingon Empire), a feral-looking woman named Zora (who conducted brutal experiments on the primitive tribes of Tiburon), and Earth barbarian Genghis Khan. The aliens then pit Kirk, Spock, Lincoln, and Surak against Green, Kahless, Zora, and Genghis in a fight to the death.
Colonel Green, notorious for attacking his enemies while in the midst of negotiations, starts the battle by offering Kirk a truce; stating that they should not fight for the amusement of the Excalbians. Meanwhile, Green's associates secretly ready an attack. Familiar with Green's treachery, Kirk and his companions are prepared for the surprise attack. They manage to fend off their opponents and make a run for cover.
Kirk protests the experiment and refuses to continue the battle. The Excalbians offer an incentive to fight by threatening to destroy the Enterprise in four hours if Kirk does not comply. Without another choice, Kirk and the others plan strategies and begin to manufacture spears. After another round of savage rock tossing and spear throwing, Surak chooses against further hostilities as his position is one of peace. Spock says that he will fight alongside Kirk, but also urges Kirk to let Surak attempt a negotiation. Surak plans to negotiate despite Kirk's warnings that they cannot be trusted; Surak surmises that perhaps their belief in peace is being tested.
Surak makes his way to the enemy camp to talk while Kirk and Lincoln continue planning their strategy. A moment later, a scream of pain is heard in the distance followed by Surak shouting for Spock's help. Green tries to lure Kirk from hiding by taunting him about Surak's need for assistance. Spock believes it is a trick, saying a Vulcan would not cry out so. Lincoln offers to sneak around and free Surak while Kirk and Spock cover him. When Lincoln arrives, he finds Surak dead and discovers Kahless's uncanny ability to mimic voices.
Kirk impatiently waits for Lincoln to return and runs toward him when he finally appears. Lincoln shouts a warning not to come any closer and that the enemy is planning a trap. Lincoln then collapses dead with a spear in his back. Angered, Kirk vows to finish the battle and engages the enemy head on. Kirk and Spock easily defeat them one at a time and when Green is killed the others panic and flee for their lives.
With the fight over, the Excalbian reappears and announces that while evil retreats when confronted with force, there is no great difference otherwise between the two philosophies. At this point Kirk states that the representatives of evil were motivated by a desire for power, the good to protect the members of the Enterprise crew, implying it is not the methods but the ends that distinguish good and evil. The aliens conclude their experiment and allow Kirk and Spock to return to the Enterprise.
Errors and ExplanationsEdit
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic TrekkersEdit
- After beaming aboard the ship, Lincoln seems genuinely surprised by technological advances such as the transporter and taped music, but when he leaves the room he walks right out into the hall, as if he knew the doors would open automatically. A man from Lincoln's time would stop, look for a doorknob, reach out, and jump back as the doors opened by themselves. Lincoln is intelligent enough to reason that a culture capable of producing a transporter would have no trouble producing a self opening door, especially as he can see from the pad that it is set within a groove in the floor and lacks a doorknob.
- In a stunning display of Earthcentric attitudes, Kirk actually has to ask Spock to identify Surak. Spock claims that he is the father of all that the Vulcans hold dear. lIn other words, he is the greatest of the greatest heroes of the first officer’s race. No one expects Kirk to know the intricacies of Vulcan existence, but a recognition of Surak's name seems pretty basic. Perhaps this version of Surak looks similar to a number of Vulcan males.
- Speaking of Surak, this guy is really tough on showing emotion. it appears that Spock reacts rather stoically to his hero’s arrival, but later he apologizes for the emotional outburst. instead of saying, What emotional outburst?” Surak simply agrees that the circumstances were unusual.Spock admitted to showing emotion when he first spotted Surak, albeit limited emotion that we humans may only be noticed by a Vulcan - even an illusionary one.
- At one point Kirk marches up to the rock creature and tries to hit it. Ever tried to hit a rock? Especially a rock that has smoke rising from it? What is he thinking? Maybe he is just trying to get the alien's attention.
- This episode contains a Klingon warrior named Kahless. He is said to be the forerunner of all things Klingon. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Rightful Heir also speaks of Kahless, and a clone of the great warrior actually makes an appearance. Interestingly enough, Kahless doesn't have the ribbed forehead here, but somehow acquires it in Rightful Heir. The version of Kahless in this episode was created from the minds of Kirk and Spock, who were unaware of the true appearance of Klingons at this point.
- Kirk and Spock try to beam down to the surface of the planet with the standard complement of equipment, but the inhabitants of the planet tamper with the transporter so that the phasers - and Spock's tricorder - remain behind. It takes several moments tor Spock to discover this. A phaser I can understand - it sits on the hip, out of the way. But a tricorder? it normally hangs from Spock's shoulder. Doesn't it seem likely that Spock would instantaneously notice that this piece of equipment was missing? They may have subtly altered Spock's perception as part of the experiment.
Continuity and Production ProblemsEdit
- Oh, embarrassment of all embarrassments for our beloved Captain Kirk! Here he is engaged in an epic struggle of good versus evil, uncertain of his surroundings and all but one of his fighting compatriots. What could possibly make this situation worse? Well . . . he could split open his pants! In the first wrestling match between the good guys and the bad guys‘. Kirk struggles with Colonel Green. At one point Kirk lands on his back and uses his legs to give Green a shove. As Kirk draws his knees to his chest, you can see a white line appear on his posterior. (Not that I’m an expert or anything but it appears that the Starfleet uniform has lost its integrity.) The seam could have failed due to contact with something on the ground.
- Before leaving to speak with the enemy, Surak gives Kirk and Spock the Vulcan hand sign. Watch closely just before he does so and you’ll see the actor drop his hand slightly behind his outfit. It looks like he’s trying to get his hand into position to make the sign. Even so, he doesn’t quite get it right, because when Surak lifts his hand to Kirk, his thumb is pressed against his index ﬁnger. Most likely done by the aliens, to see if Kirk and Spock would notice.
- Hans Thielman on Tuesday, December 22, 1998 - 10:25 am: It was rude and unnecessarily provocative for security to be aiming their phasers at the Abraham Lincoln looking lifeform. This is one time when it is better to be safe than sorry!