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The Squire of Gothos

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 16, 2005 - 9:38 PM GMT

Plot Summary: While passing through a region of space known for its lack of features, a lone planet appears on the viewscreen. Sulu and then Kirk disappear from the bridge, prompting Spock to initiate a search of the surface that finds only a small region capable of supporting human life. When an away team beams down, they find the captain and helmsman being kept as trophies by a man who introduces himself as Trelane and is obsessed with Earth history, particularly wars and conquests. Spock manages to beam them out but soon Trelane appears on the ship and brings them back to his castle on the planet, along with Spock and a yeoman whom he persuades to dance with him. Guessing that Trelane must have equipment hidden behind a large mirror, Kirk challenges Trelane, then shoots out the mirror with an old-fashioned pistol, temporarily disabling his power supply. But when Enterprise tries to leave, the planet follows them until Kirk decides to beam down to try to win back control of his ship. He allows Trelane to hunt him while the Enterprise flees. Trelane traps him, but before he can kill Kirk and abduct the rest of the crew for sport, his disembodied parents appear and tell Trelane that if he cannot take care of his playthings then he cannot have them to play with, forcing their son to return with them to wherever they are from.

Analysis: "The Squire of Gothos" is one of the original series' silliest episodes and also one of its most entertaining, thanks in part to a fearlessly over-the-top performance by William Campbell as the self-styled retired general and squire who has made a planet for his own amusement. Like "The Corbomite Maneuver" it features a mysterious object in space where no one expects to see one, an alien who is not what he seems and younger crewmembers whose hotheadedness gets them and the crew in trouble, but the more obvious parallels are to a later generation of Star Trek and the entities known as Q - a race of beings to whom Trelane is presumed to belong in the Pocket Books novels. Dr. McCoy explains that Trelane is not alive as humans understand it, a fact confirmed for him when the transporter does not beam Trelane up with all the other life forms on the planet. Yet Trelane is clearly both alive and sentient, though Kirk questions his sanity and Spock both his intellect and his use of power.

The episode defines itself as a romp early on with the discussion of mirages, with McCoy dreaming of the void of space as a desert with an oasis while Spock insists that it is a waterless barren wasteland and cannot fathom McCoy's nostalgia. McCoy can't imagine a mirage disturbing Spock's brain waves, and yet that is exactly what happens: he is as susceptible to Trelane's illusions as anyone else, from the planet to the greetings to the details generated for them, and it is Kirk who first guesses that the mirror plays some grander role in Trelane's ego-building. Yet even Kirk presumes that they are dealing with an adult, if not a sophisticated mind - immature being one of the insults that he hurls at Trelane in trying to provoke him into dueling. It is a comic surprise at the end to learn that even the planet has been manufactured by a bored child who throws an absolutely characteristic tantrum upon learning that his toys will be taken away.

Trelane has done some charming homework. The room that Lieutenant DeSalle and his team enter contains a bust of Napoleon, an old-fashioned globe, paintings, sculptures, a harpsichord...and, inexplicably, a model of the salt vampire from "The Man Trap." He explains that he has been observing Earth through his spyglass, failing to take into account the number of years it has taken the light from the planet to travel to his point of observation. (I'm sure that someone reading this can calculate the Q Continuum's physical location based on the 900 light years that apparently separate it from Earth.) He describes his home as an "island of peace on my stormy little planet" - ironic given McCoy's fantasy of an oasis in the void - yet Kirk ascertains almost at once that his crewmembers are prisoners who will have to escape.

Then Kirk and Trelane engage in one of Star Trek's most popular pastimes: the captain, backed by officers with their weapons drawn, attempts to explain to a hostile alien that his crew is on a mission of exploration rather than conquest, and insists that although they may be military men, they are not warriors. It's never entirely convincing, particularly later on when Kirk is trying to explain the differences between the Klingons and the Federation to suspicious aliens trying to protect their natural resources, but the encounter with Trelane is particularly amusing because it has the feel of being a game, and Trelane does not for a moment take them seriously. His pranks become increasingly nasty - he strands Kirk in the planet's unbreathable atmosphere for several seconds, then he forces a yeoman to dance with him - yet she does not seem terribly distressed to be dressed as an eighteenth-century lady, and Uhura looks positively delighted to be given the instantaneous ability to play the harpsichord. Even the trial Trelane constructs for Kirk, dispensing with a jury and spectators, plays like broad farce, while poor Kirk must offer the straight man's earnest responses to Trelane's outrages ("You will hang by the neck, Captain, until you are dead, dead, dead!")

It's no surprise that Trelane doesn't like Spock, whom he considers a party-pooper not only for attempting to rescue the crew but for refusing to play along even for a moment with his games. It is even less of a surprise that Spock has little use for Trelane saying that he objects to intellect without discipline and power without purpose, though Trelane calls the Vulcan's "ill manners" his saving grace. He is even more rude to the women, suggesting that Uhura must have been taken as a captive on a raid of conquest and dressing up Ross as his plaything, and it is somewhat frustrating that they go along with the manipulative alien so much more passively than DeSalle and the men on the crew, though their willingness to participate in his games gives Kirk and Spock time to think. Trelane is no match for either man, and one suspects that Kirk might have persuaded him to spare his life in the end, asking him what he will do for sport once he has used up all the crewmembers. But the parents intervene before Kirk has a chance to find another card to play.

Kirk seems less sorry that he may die protecting his ship than that he may have to sacrifice himself in such humiliating circumstances, for he knows that despite Trelane's power, this alien is not his equal in intellect or force of personality. His astonishment is tinged with amusement as he watches the grownups arrive and scold their son, whose, "I don't want to come in and he won't! Oh, but I was winning! I never have any fun!" will sound familiar to anyone who has ever spent any time around a temperamental eight-year-old. When Spock asks how to classify Trelane for the ship's records, Kirk's first response is that he is a god of war, but Trelane seems more Cupid than Mars. The episode ends with a bit of mischief from Kirk, asking Spock whether he ever dipped little girls' curls in inkwells and stole apples, knowing perfectly well that a 23rd century Vulcan would never have done such things...his "Forgive me, Mr. Spock, I should have known better," is accompanied by the trademark Kirk grin as Spock raises his eyebrows.

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Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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