|Location:||Beta Penthe system|
Rura Penthe was a penal colony asteroid utilized by the Klingon Empire. Located in the Beta Penthe system, it was widely known as "the alien's graveyard," due to the fact that the life expectancy for a prisoner there was, at most, one year. (ENT: "Judgment"; Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Prisoners at Rura Penthe were forced to conduct mining operations for the purpose of retrieving the vast deposits of dilithium which existed beneath the surface. The surface temperature of Rura Penthe was extremely low, the landscape dominated by glaciers and gusting snow. Without proper clothing, no humanoid lifeform was able to survive for an extended period on the surface, so most of the mining and prison facility was located underground. A magnetic shield encased the mining facility and a vast area surrounding it in order to prevent escape through beaming from the surface. The facility was routinely patrolled by armed guards, but further security measures were deemed unnecessary due to the harsh surface climate. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
In 2153, Starfleet captain Jonathan Archer was condemned to a life-sentence on Rura Penthe, for his role in assisting a group of refugees which had fled the Klingon protectorate of Raatooras. In addition, Archer's advocate, Kolos, was sentenced to a period of one year in the mines, for his accusation of dishonorable conduct on the part of the magistrate. Although Archer was eventually rescued by his crew, Kolos elected to stay, feeling that he could not restore honor to the Klingon justice system living as a fugitive. (ENT: "Judgment")
In 2293, Starfleet officers James T. Kirk and Leonard McCoy were sentenced to life on Rura Penthe, after being found guilty of the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. In an effort to ensure the deaths of the two officers, it was arranged for Martia, a Chameloid prisoner, to help them escape, providing motive for the Klingon forces on the surface to kill the two of them. Martia's plot was eventually uncovered, however, and Kirk and McCoy were rescued by Captain Spock and the crew of the USS Enterprise, after having been led beyond the magnetic shield by Martia. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Although early consideration was given to depicting a prison on the Klingon homeworld in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, this concept became a separate Klingon penal asteroid. "What happened was that they felt in terms of budget, recreating the entire planet would be impossible, so it became this prison concept," explained screenwriter Mark Rosenthal, who co-wrote the film's story. "The original idea was to go to the actual capital city." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 137)
At first, Star Trek VI screenplay co-writer Denny Martin Flinn conceived of the location as a foul-smelling planet, an undeveloped world – like an undeveloped, third world country – with an overcrowded alien populace and a blisteringly hot environment of about a thousand degrees that would be difficult to move around in, due to the extreme heat. (audio commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD; "Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) Flinn recalled, "We simply wrote [most of] the scenes as they were. And then at some point after that, Nick [Meyer] conceived the idea that it would be an ice planet." Meyer, the other co-writer of the screenplay for Star Trek VI, added, "This was actually the result of a Paramount executive, David Kirkpatrick. It was a sand planet and he said, 'I'm tired of hot, desert planets. Can't it be something else?' And the only thing else I could think of was an ice planet." (audio commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
The name Rura Penthe was a reference to the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and the 1954 movie adaption of the book, in both of which Rura Penthe was a slave labor camp that inspired Captain Nemo's rage against society, as well as the 1869 novel "War and Peace" by Tolstoy, where Rura Penthe was a penal colony in Siberia.
In the script for Star Trek VI, the surface of Rura Penthe is notably referred to as "the coldest habitable place in the solar system." The underground prison area is described in the script as "a huge underground labyrinth with an enormous courtyard surrounded by prisoner huts open to the center." The screenplay also mentions the scaffolding above the courtyard, describing it as "endless". One of the elevators that descend into the mine is referred to as being "like the old Welsh mine caged elevators." The script locates two scenes whose surroundings are not entirely evident from the film alone; these are a nighttime scene involving Captain James T. Kirk, Doctor Leonard McCoy and Martia in a room filled with bunks, which the script details as being in one of the aforementioned prisoner huts, and a campsite scene which, according to the script, is atop an "ice desert ridge". A frozen river is featured in a scene that was scripted but not included in the actual film. In dialogue that similarly can be found in the script but not in the film itself, Martia claims that all prisoners detained on Rura Penthe serve life sentences.
In a 2009 audio commentary for The Undiscovered Country, former TNG and DS9 writing staffer Ira Steven Behr criticized the concept of Rura Penthe's dilithium mining facility in Star Trek VI's era, remarking, "I like, you know, the whole concept of having these mines in the future. Where they have replicators and everything else, basically, why you'd need guys... Just to make them suffer, I guess [....] It would be better... I'm sure they could mine whatever they're mining quicker using their 24th century [sic] tech than having a bunch of dopey, starving prisoners do it." Author and editor Larry Nemecek jokingly replied that the use of scrawny prisoners as miners is due to the Klingons' notorious passive/aggressive nature and because Praxis had the Klingon Empire's entire collection of high-tech mining equipment when it exploded.
In Star Trek VI (which is set in 2293), Martia tells the imprisoned Kirk and McCoy that no one ever escaped from Rura Penthe. Obviously, this is not true, as Captain Jonathan Archer escapes in the later-produced prequel episode "Judgment" (which is set in 2152). This may be because, as is shown in Star Trek VI, Martia was not an entirely reliable source.
The script of Star Trek VI specifies that three cold suns were to be shown in close proximity to Rura Penthe, though only two appear in the film's final version. The script for the Enterprise episode "Judgment" likewise dictates that "a sky with two suns" was to be shown, though no suns of Rura Penthe appear in the installment's final version.
In a similar change to the location's premise, Rura Penthe is said to be an "asteroid archipelago" in the script for Star Trek VI, though the same screenplay otherwise treats it as a single asteroid (with two references to things being "on Rura Penthe") and dialogue in the film also establishes Rura Penthe as a single asteroid. Numerous sources refer to it as a planet, however, such as the script for "Judgment" and several interviews.
The fact that dilithium mining on Rura Penthe is portrayed in both the Enterprise installment "Judgment" and the film Star Trek VI – set more than a hundred years apart from each other – lead David A. Goodman, co-writer of "Judgment"'s story and writer of its teleplay, to the conclusion that "the whole planet's just dilithium, probably." ("Judgment" podcast/audio commentary)
Filming the surface for Star Trek VI
Some of the surface scenes of Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI were filmed on location, on the Colony Glacier in Alaska. ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) This footage included the first shot of Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI, establishing the icy wilderness of the asteroid's surface. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD) Additionally filmed in Alaska was some footage of the icicle-covered body that, in the film, is passed by Kirk, McCoy and "the Brute" version of Martia after having been left to freeze to death on the surface. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 38) All the shots were captured by the movie's second-unit film crew and were supervised by co-producer Steven-Charles Jaffe. Nick Meyer related, "I would have liked to have gone to Alaska, but there wasn't the money." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 43) The location, which was only reachable via helicopter, was scouted by the second-unit team two months before the filming. Merely as a precaution, Jaffe took some fake snow with him, as the weather was highly unpredictable. "Sure enough, the snow wasn't there," remembered co-producer Ralph Winter, "so we used the helicopter and we took fake snow to Alaska, so we'd actually have something to see [....] We had to take our own, and it actually worked out." ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features)
The location shoot was extremely challenging for those involved – not only the second-unit crew but also stand-ins for the performers who appear in the relevant scenes. Jaffe commented, "It was two and a half days of very intense second unit work on a glacier, which normally would have taken a week and a half to two weeks to shoot. We were getting up at four in the morning, driving an hour, and flying an hour in a helicopter [....] We had a crew of 30 people and four helicopters. It was a real challenge." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 43) Despite the initial absence of snow, the weather provided another difficulty. "It was 22 degrees below zero when we got there in the morning," Jaffe reflected. "By two o'clock in the afternoon, it was fifty." For the stand-ins who were in alien makeup and costumes, the experience was a particularly hard time. ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) Noted Jaffe, "It was ten degrees and we had one stunt man in about three and a half hours of very heavy makeup." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 43) He also observed, "If you were one of the stuntmen wearing those wool costumes, it was horrendous. I mean, perfect situation for getting pneumonia." ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) The Alaskan weather was so cold that batteries, used for cameras as well as other equipment, worked for only a few minutes before they needed to be replaced. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
Ralph Winter felt that the rarity of the shots justified the lengths gone to, to capture the footage. Indirectly referring to the participants of the location shoot, he remarked, "They flew up to the middle of nowhere [....] The shots we photographed humans don't get to see very often. The only way to get that is to be there in these harsh, extreme environments with aliens in makeup and stunt doubles [....] Applying makeup in sub-zero temperature had the normal people who live in Alaska saying, 'You are nuts. Why are you doing this?' You do it for the camera so it looks like you're really there. It adds to the scope and size and reality of the picture. The audience wants to escape; they want to feel that they're on this harsh and unreal ice planet." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 38) Winter additionally remarked, "I think that was some spectacular photography, as they're escaping from Rura Penthe and coming out." ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) Nick Meyer likewise related, "Going to Alaska for what may have been two days of shooting was [...] an extraordinarily successful use of what we had, because you just sort of can't do this on Stage 23." In addition, Meyer appreciatively described the views of Alaska as "very haunting images." (audio commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
Star Trek VI's surface scenes of Rura Penthe that involved the cast were shot on Paramount soundstages, which included the set for the campsite. ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) The exterior shots filmed inside also involved close-up shots of Kirk, McCoy and "the Brute" version of Martia as they travel across the asteroid's icy surface. (audio commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD) The use of one of the soundstages meant that the film's Klingon courtroom scenes – which had originally been scheduled to film there – were instead relegated to a smaller stage. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 55)
One of the soundstages used for the Rura Penthe exteriors was Paramount Stage 15, which housed a massive set filled with fake snow. David Trotti described events there on 22 April 1991; "[During an artificial gale,] Bill Shatner and De Kelly [sic] (as Kirk and McCoy) stumble across the glacier toward the entrance of the prison planet's dilithium mines." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 38) Also used were Paramount Stages 12 and 14, where scenes such as the Klingon prison warden's welcome to Rura Penthe were shot. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
According to David Trotti (a Directors' Guild trainee on Star Trek VI), the gale effect on Stage 15 involved "four Ritter wind machines blowing shaved plastic." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 38) Director of Photography Hiro Narita offered, "Since we had to use a large fan to create the blizzard effect, we were quite concerned about fake snow getting into the camera." Indeed, the plastic snow was profuse. William Shatner was one person who was troubled by this. He recalled, "[It] permeated every orifice [....] The wind machines drove it with full force into every crevasse, so that you never knew where that white stuff was gonna come out of, and generally it came out of your nose and your mouth, but there were all kinds of effects [....] You didn't want to go home at night 'cause you frightened your family." ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features)
The snowfield was constructed from styrofoam that produced a "clunking" sound, any time the actors walked across it. Commented Hiro Narita, "I think the special effects people used two kinds of snow, soap flakes and potato flakes." ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features)
Filming of the underground for Star Trek VI
The ice tunnel leading to Rura Penthe's underground prison was really another set on one of Paramount's soundstages. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
The actual underground prison of Rura Penthe was filmed at Bronson Canyon caves in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California. The set for the prison was built as an open-air construct, in an area that was just outside the cave and was bounded by fairly steep flint rocks. ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features) From the perspective of actually being there during the location shoot, David Trotti explained, "[Nick] Meyer and art director Herman Zimmerman have chosen to shoot under the open sky in the narrow gorge of Bronson Canyon because it is the only place to achieve the sense of scale Nick wants for the mines close enough to the studio to accommodate the needs of makeup and hair." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 40) Filming in Bronson Canyon also accommodated the "huge underground labyrinth" described in the script, a set that was too high to have been contained on a stage, while still allowing the production crew to control the lighting of the sets. (audio commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (2009 DVD)) In retrospect, Trotti explained, "Prior to getting up there, our art department went up and they spray-painted the walls of the canyon white to look like ice. They built huge bridges. We had the Klingons out there and we went out and shot for about four or five nights and then we came back down." ("Enterprise Secrets", ENT Season 2 DVD special features)
The bunk room was an actual cave at Bronson Canyon. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
The elevator was designed simply; a belt of rock-textured rubber was moved upward by rollers in the background, giving the impression that the elevator, in the foreground, was plummeting downward. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD) Explained Herman Zimmerman, "Indeed, we used something that they'd been using since the silent film days, fiberglass rocks glued on a piece of canvas that's being cranked around, so it looks like they're ascending or descending into the mine." ("Bringing It to Life", Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Blu-ray) special features)
The crawlspace that Kirk, McCoy and "the Brute" version of Martia use to escape from the Rura Penthe mines was actually a small set at Paramount. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD) However, the wall that they ascend to return to the surface was filmed hurriedly at Bronson Canyon, the last series of shots to be filmed there. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD; Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 40)
Filming for Enterprise
The establishing shot of Rura Penthe in "Judgment" was not reused footage from Star Trek VI, nor was it a stock shot. "That is a new effects shot of Rura Penthe, probably shot over a stock shot from somewhere of an ice field, but we didn't send a unit up to the North Pole to shoot," David A. Goodman explained. "But they did do a new effects shot. I thought they would just use stock [footage]." The production personnel insisted on having the shot not be simply from stock. ("Judgment" podcast/audio commentary)
The task of recreating Rura Penthe for Enterprise was made easier by the fact that David Trotti was one of the assistant directors on "Judgment", allowing him to draw from his experience of Rura Penthe while assigned to that episode. (text commentary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition) DVD)
For Rura Penthe's appearance in Enterprise, the interior shots were filmed at Paramount Stage 9 on a set that was built by a construction crew headed by Tom Purser and Thomas J. Arp. ("Enterprise Secrets", ENT Season 2 DVD special features) The set was an example of Star Trek's oft-reused cave sets. ("Judgment" podcast/audio commentary) It contained two main areas; one part that was made to look like a sprawling cavern and a narrow spot that served as the actual mines. The tunnel-like mining area was filled with rock-salt, which gave the illusion of ice. (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 41) The episode's call sheet for that day instructed people to wear old shoes, so they wouldn't destroy valuable footwear, and to avoid contact with their eyes. ("Judgment" podcast/audio commentary) Despite precautions such as these, several pairs of shoes were ruined by the salt crystals, due to their property of quickening corrosion. Also, the cramped confines of the mining area and the shifting salt caused rehearsals there to be slow. (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 41) During one take of the fight scene in which two guards consecutively attack Archer and Kolos, Scott Bakula accidentally got a face full of salt, which went in his mouth and eyes but was washed out with eyewash. (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 42)
In all, there were fifty alien workers and fifteen to twenty Klingon guards used in the scene featured in Enterprise. Several of the actors were the same ones who appeared in Star Trek VI. The recreated Rura Penthe also incorporated some of the same dilithium crystal rocks, many examples of wardrobe and lots of Klingon weapons that were included in the film version of Rura Penthe. ("Enterprise Secrets", ENT Season 2 DVD special features)
Working in the environment of the faux mine was painstaking for J.G. Hertzler and Scott Bakula. "We were carrying large chunks of dilithium ore, and it was heavy," Hertzler recollected. "It was huge chunks of mica, and walking in Klingon boots over ground filled with rocks and mica and everything else, it was hell just trying to keep from breaking ankles!" (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, p. 49)
On the other hand, David Trotti was highly impressed with the recreation of Rura Penthe. "It's amazing how similar the sets looked," he enthused. "Granted, we didn't have the sheer scope and grandeur of Bronson Canyon to work with but Herman Zimmerman and his art department, and our construction crew, [....] did an amazing job recreating it in an incredible scale and on a budget that's, for a television show, just amazing what they can get done." ("Enterprise Secrets", ENT Season 2 DVD special features)
All of the Rura Penthe scenes in "Judgment" were filmed in a single day (28 January 2003) and the set was dismantled by strike crews on the following day. (Star Trek: Communicator issue 144, pp. 40 & 44)
Appearance in deleted scene
Although not stated on-screen, Rura Penthe was the "Klingon prison planet" referenced in 2009's Star Trek. A deleted scene from the film shows that Nero and his crew from the Narada were captured by the Klingons and imprisoned on Rura Penthe for twenty-five years, after their ship was crippled by the USS Kelvin in 2233. The attack on the prison planet referenced in the film was Nero and his crew escaping from Rura Penthe and reclaiming their vessel. For the prison planet's appearance in this deleted scene, Rura Penthe designs were created by concept artist James Clyne and some location filming was undertaken at a redressed industrial site.  This location was the Long Beach Generating Station. (Star Trek Three disc Blu-ray documentary featurette "Starships")
According to the Star Trek: Star Charts, page 55, Rura Penthe was classified as a Class D world. Its official name was Gulag Rura Penthe, and its political system was the Klingon Empire. The dominant species was the Klingons, but they weren't the only species on this world. In 2378, there were an estimated 25,000 people living on this world. A note explained that this world was used for political prisoners up to the mid-24th century. Descendants of the prisoners still live on this world. This system was located in the Beta Quadrant.
The Star Trek: Nero comic series, telling the story of Nero's imprisonment and escape, places Rura Penthe in the Laurentian system – the primary fleet "engagement" Admiral Barnett mentioned was in response to a distress signal from the Klingon fleet annihilated by the Narada.
Rura Penthe also features into the game Star Trek: The Next Generation - Klingon Honor Guard.