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Spectre of the Gun (episode)

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"Spectre of the Gun"
TOS, Episode 3x01
Production number: 60043-56
First aired: 25 October 1968
Remastered version aired: 19 July 2008
57th of 80 produced in TOS
61st of 80 released in TOS
77th of 80 released in TOS Remastered
61st of 728 released in all
Kirk and landing party in Tombstone
Written By
Lee Cronin

Directed By
Vincent McEveety
4385.3 (2268)
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Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov are forced to re-enact the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone as the team that lost the gunfight.



On a mission to establish contact with the reclusive and xenophobic Melkotians, Captain Kirk decides to ignore the message of a space buoy warning the Enterprise to immediately withdraw from Melkotian space. Kirk tries to contact the Melkotians, but there is no response to his hails.

When Spock, Kirk, Scott, Doctor McCoy, and Chekov beam down to Melkot, they materialize in a fog bank not recorded by sensors. Their tricorders and communicators do not function. The landing party encounters a Melkotian.

Act One

The Melkotian informs them that they are "outside": a disease that must be destroyed. They learn that their trespassing is to be punished by death and how they will die will be taken from Kirk's mind, since it was he who ordered that the Melkotians' warning be disregarded.

The landing party finds itself teleported to a facade of an 19th century American frontier town. All of their equipment is gone, and instead each now has a gunbelt and a revolver. They observe the curious "incompleteness" of the town. Buildings with only a front wall, open to the air on the sides and back, signs and clocks hanging in mid-air. Kirk reads from a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph, a newspaper with the date of October 26th, 1881. A man with a sheriff's badge greets them, acting as though he knew them well. He refers to Kirk as Ike, Spock as Frank, Scott as Billy, and McCoy as Tom. Recognizing the sheriff's name, Johnny Behan, Kirk quickly puts the names together. Ike Clanton, Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Claiborne and Billy Clanton. He further recalls that the Clantons were one of the factions who fought for control of the town of Tombstone; the other being the Earps: Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil, who were the town marshals, as well as "Doc" Holliday. Spock notes that the famous gunfight of O.K. Corral took place on October 26, 1881 and that the Clantons lost. Kirk warns that the antique guns they all are carrying can be as deadly as phasers at close range.

They witness the shooting of a bar patron by Morgan Earp, and conclude that death is one thing that is real in this surreal scenario. Inside the bar, Chekov is accosted by a woman named Sylvia who claims to know him. Both Kirk and Chekov narrowly avoid a gunfight with Morgan Earp over the incident.

Kirk tries to convince Ed the bartender that he is not Ike Clanton, but to no avail. Kirk then attempts to make peace with the Earps.

Act Two

When this too fails, he and the landing party try to leave town, but they are stopped by a force field. McCoy and Spock cooperate to build a tranquillizer gas grenade which will incapacitate the Earps. McCoy encounters the town dentist, "Doc" Holliday, while acquiring the chemicals needed for his tranquilizer.

Meanwhile, Chekov has fallen in love with Sylvia and the two share a passionate kiss when Morgan appears and knocks Chekov down. When Chekov gets up and draws for his gun, he is shot and killed by Morgan.

Act Three

Spock is puzzled by this, since William Claiborne survived the battle of O.K. Corral. Kirk takes it to mean that the outcome of the conflict does not necessarily correspond with the historical outcome. He tries to get the sheriff to call off the shoot-out, but finds that Behan is more interested in having the Clantons kill the Earps. With time running out, Scotty volunteers to test McCoy's gas grenade. Despite McCoy's careful preparation, it does not work. Spock finally realizes that nothing around them is real and that the entire scenario has been taking place in their minds.

Kirk vows not to leave the bar, but finds himself and the others teleported to the O.K. Corral.

Act Four

The corral is encircled by a force field so that escape is impossible. Spock tries to convince the others that if they recognize that the situation is not real, they will not die and Kirk observes that any doubt would be enough to kill them, just like it killed Chekov. Using a mind meld, Spock convinces everyone else that nothing around them, including the bullets, is real. The Earps arrive and open fire on the ersatz Clantons, but the bullets pass right through them. When the Earps deplete their ammunition, Kirk attacks Wyatt Earp and beats him. Kirk seems about to shoot him, but upon seeing the abject terror in Wyatt's eyes, he releases him.

The landing party finds themselves back aboard the Enterprise. Chekov is alive and well, and Kirk suggests it is because the only thing that was real to him was the girl. The Melkotian buoy, once again directly in front of them, emits M-rays and then disintegrates. The Melkotians, impressed that Kirk did not kill, extend an invitation to establish relations with the Federation.

Log Entries

  • Captain's log, stardate 4385.3. We have transported down to the Melkotian planet and have encountered conditions which are completely contrary to what we were prepared for.

Memorable Quotes

"History cannot be changed."

- Spock to Kirk, on the OK Corral

"What can I do, Captain? You know we're always supposed to maintain good relations with the natives."

- Chekov, before kissing Sylvia

"I always said you was yellow, Clanton."

- Morgan Earp, to Kirk

"A lot of people and things have tried to kill me. You'd be surprised."

- Chekov to Sylvia, on Morgan

"Captain, it's quite all right. They forget I am half human."

- Spock, after McCoy and Scott criticize his lack of grief over Chekov's shooting

"It's to kill the pain."
"But this is painless."
"Well, you should've warned me sooner, Mister Spock. Fire away."

- Scott and Spock, as Scott gulps down some bourbon before testing the tranquilizer

"Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. Where the laws do not operate, there is no reality."

- Spock to McCoy, at the OK Corral

"We're going to wait until well after five o'clock. We're not going to move from this spot!"

- Kirk

"We don't have that clockwork ticker in our head like you do. We can't turn it on and off."

- McCoy, to Spock


- Wyatt Earp, before the fight

"I wonder how humanity managed to survive."
"We overcame our instinct for violence."

- Spock and Kirk, on killing

Background Information

Story and Script

  • Story outline "The Last Gunfight" 19 April 1968. Revised final draft 14 May 1968, filmed late May. James Blish's adaptation has the title as "The Last Gunfight". Among the differences in the adaptation, the tranquilizer is delivered via darts; in the episode, it is in the form of a nerve gas.
  • The writing of this episode was influenced by a series of memos which were sent between Gene Roddenberry and the executives at NBC, by the end of the second season, and which proposed that Chekov be featured in the third season more than he had been, up to that point. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 22, No. 5, p. 40)
  • The episode originally aired just one day before the anniversary of the original gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
  • Wyatt Earp, despite the sign in this episode, was not the marshal of Tombstone. His older brother, Virgil, was. Wyatt and Morgan were deputy marshals. Also, in reality, the actual gunfight took place outside Fly's Photographic Studio, a good distance from the O.K. Corral. These inaccuracies can be attributed to Kirk's romanticized conceptions of the Old West.
  • Some other errors regarding the historical gunfight: Morgan Earp is referred to by Kirk as "the man who kills on sight" when the real-life Morgan, by most reliable accounts, was an even-tempered lawman who used his gun only when he was forced to. The gunfight in the Melkotian scenario is treated as a pre-arranged event when, actually, it was more-or-less a spontaneous affair. The gunfight took place near the hour of three o'clock, rather than the five o'clock in the episode. Finally, although it may have seemed that Chekov's Billy Claiborne was the youngest (he turned twenty-one, the day before the gunfight), Billy Clanton, the role Scotty played, was nineteen.
  • Star Trek characters revisited the Old West in TNG: "A Fistful of Datas".
  • This is the only episode to end with the Enterprise heading toward a planet.
  • The British sci-fi show Doctor Who had an episode called "The Gunfighters" which aired 30th April - 21st May 1966 and contained nearly identical story and dialogue elements.


  • For the third season, the velour tunics from the first two seasons have been replaced by polyester ones, which are better-fitting but lack the lustre of the original velour. The new fabric was a heavy diamond-weave nylon double-knit material akin to that used in professional baseball uniforms. The switch was made because the original velour shrank every time it was dry-cleaned. This was a problem because union rules required that costumes be cleaned before each use.
  • Chekov is the only member of the landing party who wears a two-holstered gun belt.
  • Mike Minor was the designer of the Melkotian's mask.

Sets and Props

  • The original script specified filming the episode on location in an outdoor Western town. However, due to budget restrictions, filming was confined to the regular studio stages. To avoid having to build a complete Western town set, the concept of an incomplete town, put together from "bits and pieces" out of Kirk's mind, was developed, thus allowing the episode to be filmed within budget. (The Star Trek Compendium)
  • Kirk's chair now has a pad on its base, made from the same material that covers the rest of the floor of the bridge.
  • This is TOS's only foray into surrealism, with unique set designs by Matt Jefferies.
  • The sign that says "sheriff" has an identical font to the main titles of the show. [1]

Cast and Characters

  • George Takei (Sulu) does not appear in this episode.
  • DeForest Kelley played Ike Clanton in a 1955 episode of You Are There and appeared in the 1957 film Gunfight at the OK Corral as Morgan Earp.
  • According to an interview in The World of Star Trek, James Doohan intensely disliked the back combed hairstyle he debuted in this episode, which was not his own choice. By the filming of "The Tholian Web", this hair-do is gone for good, though viewers would see it again in "The Empath" and "Elaan of Troyius", which weren't aired until December of that year.
  • This is one of three episodes that confirm Uhura's native language of Swahili (the other two being "The Man Trap" and "The Changeling"). The Star Trek writers' bible also confirms that she is from "The United States of Africa".
  • All of the actors playing a genuine historical role were significantly older than the character was at the time of the shoot-out:


  • This was the first episode produced for season three.
  • A very subtle change in the third season was the use of new sound effects for the pushing of buttons on the bridge.
  • Another difference this episode brings is the "singing plant" background noise from "The Cage", used for nearly every planet in seasons one and two, is replaced here by a warbly sound used before on the planet Triskelion. This will again be used intermittently throughout season three - for example, in "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" and "The Cloud Minders.".
  • Jerry Fielding's unique score adds atmosphere to this episode. When we see the villains in the saloon, Fielding has the piano play stereotypical "menace" notes and a bizarre rendition of "Buffalo Gals". Fielding's other Star Trek contribution was his score for "The Trouble with Tribbles".
  • A funny photo taken on the set of this segment, and reproduced in the paperback book A Star Trek Catalogue, shows Kelley looking in puzzlement at a revolver that he is holding incorrectly. This is apparently a joke, since Kelley acted in dozens of westerns before Star Trek.
  • A short clip in the third season blooper reel shows the Melkotian head wearing a fake mustache and horn-rimmed glasses. Writing in an issue of the fan magazine Enterprise Incidents, James Van Hise said that the glasses belonged to co-producer Robert H. Justman.

Production timeline

Video and DVD releases

Links and References


Also Starring


Uncredited Co-Stars


American frontier; apothecary; Arizona; baking soda; bourbon; bullet; Buntline Special; cactus; cattle; Claiborne, Billy; Clanton, Billy; Clanton, Ike; Colt; corn whiskey; Cossack; cotton; Earth; English; Federation; force field; gallon; gas grenade; gun; horse; lead; M-rays; marshal; Melkot(ian); Melkotian homeworld; mortar and pestle; OK Corral; OK Corral, Battle at the; red alert; revolver; Rossini, Angela; Russian; scotch; snake; stomach; Swahili; Taos Lightning; telepathy; Tombstone; Tombstone Epitaph; tranquilizer; tricorder; United States of America; venom; Vulcan language; Vulcan mind meld; yard.

External link

Previous episode produced:
"Assignment: Earth"
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3
Next episode produced:
"Elaan of Troyius"
Previous episode aired:
"Is There in Truth No Beauty?"
Next episode aired:
"Day of the Dove"
Previous remastered episode aired:
"The Cloud Minders"
TOS Remastered Next remastered episode aired:
"The Empath"

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