(written from a Production point of view)
An actor traveling aboard the Enterprise may be a former governor who ordered a mass murder twenty years ago.
The USS Enterprise is diverted three light years off of its scheduled course to Planet Q, lured by word of a new synthetic food which promises to ease chronic shortages on Cygnia Minor. But what Doctor Thomas Leighton actually wants to show his childhood friend Kirk is merely a traveling Shakespearean actor, Anton Karidian. Leighton believes Karidian to actually be Kodos the Executioner.
Kodos is notorious because he seized control of the doomed Earth Colony Tarsus IV in 2246 and ordered the execution of half its population. Of the 4,000 survivors, only nine, including the young Kirk and Leighton, ever saw the face of the revolutionary governor.
Though convinced Kodos is long dead, Kirk does enough research to pique his curiosity about Leighton's claim. He returns to the planet in hopes of meeting Karidian in person. At a cocktail party at the Leightons' home, Kirk meets Karidian's attractive daughter Lenore, and the two hit it off. They leave the party to stroll in the desert, and come upon the body of their host Thomas Leighton.
Leighton's death makes Kirk take his dead friend's suspicions more seriously. Kirk calls in a favor: he asks Jon Daily, captain of the Astral Queen, to leave Planet Q orbit ahead of schedule and without notice. This strands the Karidian Players, who now have no choice but to ask for passage aboard the Enterprise.
Researching, Kirk reviews the list of the nine eye witnesses, and discovers that Lieutenant Kevin Riley, a member of the Enterprise crew, is one of them. Despite the fact that Riley recently was promoted from engineering to communications, Kirk orders Spock to send Riley back to engineering with the apparent intention of protecting him. When Spock asks why, pointing out that such action may be regarded by Riley as a demotion, Kirk refuses to explain.
Spock becomes concerned about the captain's behavior and confides in Dr. McCoy, while Kirk proceeds to get more involved with Lenore. Spock does his own research and learns enough to raise his own suspicions, including the disturbing fact that of the nine eyewitnesses who could positively identify Kodos, seven are now dead. And whenever one died, the Karidian Players were somewhere nearby. Only Kirk and Lieutenant Riley remain alive.
With a tray of food at his side Riley broods while alone in engineering and calls up the rec room pleading for company. Uhura serenades him by playing a Vulcan harp and singing Beyond Antares. While Riley is distracted by her performance, someone sneaks into the room and squirts something into his milk. His spirits brightened, Riley reaches for his drink and takes a long gulp. Uhura finishes her song and Riley begins choking. Fortunately, Uhura's party realizes the situation and sends help in time to save him.
As Riley lies in critical condition on a bio-bed, Spock realizes that if he dies, Kirk will be the next target.
Spock is certain that Riley was poisoned and with McCoy confronts Kirk. Spock is now certain Karidian and Kodos are the same man, but Kirk remains unsure and has to make certain of it. McCoy asks Kirk what he will do if Kodos and Karidian are one and the same, inquiring if he will carry his head through the corridors in triumph, noting that will not bring back the dead colonists. Kirk agrees but notes that "they may rest easier." Later, a similar discussion Kirk and Spock have is interrupted by the hum of an overloading phaser. Somewhere in Kirk's quarters is a potential explosive that can take out the entire deck. While Spock orders ship's personnel to clear the area, Kirk finds the overloading phaser in his quarters' red alert indicator and disposes of it seconds before it explodes.
Kirk is finally driven to confront Karidian, asking him point blank whether he is Kodos. Karidian gives him evasive answers, and after twenty years of playing parts that, of all things, he is tired. He does perform a short speech for the purposes of voice comparison with a piece of voice film in the Enterprise's database. This was apparently the speech made by Kodos condemning thousands of innocent people to death. Kirk mentions how Karidian barely looked at the text, hinting that it was already familiar to the actor, but Karidian simply states that he learns his parts quickly. Meanwhile, in sickbay, the recovering Lieutenant Riley overhears McCoy's log entry, learning that Karidian is suspected of being Kodos, the man who murdered Riley's family.
The voiceprint comparison is close, very close, but Kirk argues that when a man's life is at stake, very close isn't good enough.
The Karidian Players begin a presentation of Hamlet. Riley, with a stolen phaser, sneaks backstage. Kirk manages to talk him out of killing Karidian, who overhears their sotto voce conversation.
Kirk is still backstage when Karidian and his daughter Lenore discuss what he overheard. Trying to shield her from his past, Karidian attempts to pass off his distress as hearing the "voice of a part that he played long ago". But he is horrified when Lenore lovingly reveals that she knows all about his past deeds, and has already killed seven of the nine people who could identify him. Lenore goes on to tell him, innocently, that she will dispose of the remaining two after the performance.
Karidian is horrified that there is still more blood on "his" hands, but she proclaims that "they had to be silenced", and says, all with a smile on her face, that she buried those ghosts for him, and she has "saved" him. Karidian is devastated that all his attempts to prevent his past crimes from tainting his daughter have failed, and left him with nothing but a legacy of murder.
Kirk appears from his hiding place to confront them. Lenore rebukes Kirk for interrupting her father before his appearance on stage. Kirk says she has killed seven innocent people, and she declares to Kirk that those people weren't innocent, they were "dangerous", and that she would have killed a world to protect her father.
Kirk summons security to take them into custody; Lenore snatches security officer Harrison's weapon and runs on stage. Her eyes show she's quite insane (reminiscent of Lady Macbeth and/or Ophelia). Karidian/Kodos, desperate there should be no more blood on his hands, steps between her and Kirk as she fires; the shot is fatal. Twenty years after earning the name, Kodos the Executioner is dead.
The death of her beloved father at her own hands sends Lenore over the edge. By the time Kirk leads her away, her tears have given way to laughter. Sometime later, after the performers have been dropped off, McCoy promises Lenore will get the best of care, and that last report of her is that she believes her father is still alive... performing to cheering audiences. McCoy suggests that Kirk did care for Lenore, which Kirk does not respond to, instead giving the order to break orbit and go to warp. He does give McCoy a knowing look, which is all the answer the doctor needs.
- "Captain's log, stardate 2817.6. Starship Enterprise diverted from scheduled course, purpose: to confirm discovery by Dr. Thomas Leighton of an extraordinary new synthetic food which would totally end the threat of famine on Cygnia Minor, a nearby Earth colony."
- "Captain's log, stardate 2818.9. There are many questions in my mind, too many perhaps about the actor Karidian and his daughter. For personal reasons, I'm almost afraid to learn the answers."
- "Captain's log, stardate 2819.1. Ship's officer Riley's condition worsening, Dr. McCoy making lab analysis to determine cause and antidote. Entire crew deeply concerned."
- "Medical log. Lieutenant Riley sufficiently recovered to be discharged, but the captain has ordered him restricted to sickbay to prevent contact with passenger who calls himself Karidian, and who's suspected of being Kodos the Executioner, and of murdering the lieutenant's family."
- "Captain's log, stardate 2819.8. Suspect under surveillance, strategic areas under double guard, performance of the Karidian Players taking place as scheduled."
"The chain of command is often a noose."
- - McCoy to Spock, in sickbay
"My father's race was spared the dubious benefits of alcohol."
"Now I know why they were conquered."
- - Spock and McCoy, as Spock declines McCoy's drink
"And this ship. All this power. Surging and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain?"
- - Lenore, flirting with Kirk in the observation deck
"Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman always remains a woman."
- - Kirk, flirting with Lenore
"The Caesar of the stars and the Cleopatra to worship him."
- - Lenore, before kissing Kirk
"Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four. Almost certainly an attempt will be made to kill you. Why do you invite death?"
- - Spock, in Kirk's quarters
"Do you play God? Carry his head through the corridors in triumph? That won't bring back the dead, Jim!"
"No. But they may rest easier."
- - McCoy and Kirk, on what to do if Karidian is Kodos
"What were you twenty years ago?"
"Younger, captain. Much younger."
- - Kirk and Karidian, in Karidian's quarters
"I find your use of the word mercy strangely inappropriate, Captain. Here you stand, the perfect symbol of our technical society. Mechanised, electronicised, and not very human. You've done away with humanity, the striving of man to achieve greatness through his own resources. "
"We've armed man with tools. The striving for greatness continues."
- - Karidian and Kirk
"Blood thins. The body fails. One is finally grateful for a failing memory."
- - Karidian, to Kirk
"There's a stain of cruelty on your shining armor, Captain."
- - Lenore, confronting Kirk
"You are like your ship--powerful, and not human. There is no mercy in you."
"If he is Kodos...then I've shown him more mercy than he deserves."
- - Lenore and Kirk
"Who are YOU to say what harm was done?"
"Who do I have to be?"
- - Lenore and Kirk, before he leaves Karidian's quarters
"In the long history of medicine, no doctor has ever caught the first few minutes of a play."
- - McCoy, before realizing that Riley is missing
"All the ghosts are dead. I've buried them. There's no more blood on your hands."
"Oh, my child--my child..."
(voice becomes an anguished sob)
"You've left me NOTHING!!!"
- - Lenore and Karidian, after she admits killing seven of the last nine witnesses
"The play is over. It's been over for twenty years."
- - Kirk, to Lenore
"Caesar, beware the Ides of March."
- - Lenore, pointing the phaser at Kirk
"The curtain rises! It rises! There's no time to sleep!"
- - Lenore, weeping over her father's corpse
Story and scriptEdit
- The title is a reference to the line from Hamlet: "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King." (Act 2; Scene 2) This episode shares many plot elements with the play: A leader's troubled conscience, his crimes being exposed during a play, and a daughter going insane (or more so, in Lenore's case) after the accidental killing of her father. Lenore recites the lines leading up to and including these over her father's body.
- The most overt reference is in the teaser. The Karidian Company is performing a scene from Macbeth, where the title character (played by Karidian) murders King Duncan and utters the line, "Will all Neptune's great ocean wash this blood clean from my hands?"
- In the script, the teaser started with a view of the city on Planet Q, with a poster advertising the Karidian Company of Players superimposed over it, then dissolving into the performance of Macbeth. It was probably director Gerd Oswald who decided to start the episode in medias res instead, with the shot of the dagger, which seemed to be more effective on screen. 
- A line scripted, but cut from the episode established that Kirk was a midshipman, fresh out of the Academy when he was stationed on Tarsus IV and witnessed the massacre. Since it happened twenty years before the events of this episode, this would have indicated that Kirk is somewhat older than what was later established in "The Deadly Years".  (It should be noted, however, that while Academy cadets enter as midshipmen, they graduate as ensigns.)
- The phaser overload emergency is the only known instance when a double red alert is declared. However, in James Blish's adaptation of "Court Martial" in Star Trek 2, he has Kirk ordering a red alert and then a double red alert during the ion storm – as opposed to the yellow alert and red alert that were depicted on screen. "Red alert" and "double red alert" were used in the final draft of that episode's script but were changed on-set before filming.
- A scene of crewmen watching the performance of Hamlet on the bridge was filmed, but cut from the episode. 
- Another scene which was cut showed Lenore resting in sickbay after her mental breakdown. 
- This episode contains Star Trek's first direct reference to eugenics, although there is an oblique reference in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?". Spock declares Kodos' martial rule of Tarsus IV to have been an experiment in eugenics, causing McCoy to note that his wasn't the first such experiment.
- When Spock declines to have a drink with McCoy by saying that his people were "spared the dubious benefits of alcohol", McCoy scorns Spock's refusal by stating that he now knows why Vulcan was conquered. This is contradicted in "The Immunity Syndrome", when Spock says that Vulcan has not been conquered in its collective memory.
- Kirk refers to Riley as a lieutenant in the "Star Service" - another early name for Starfleet.
- When Lenore shoots Karidian/Kodos and kills him, she doesn't zap him into oblivion as the "kill" setting normally does, allowing her to weep over the body. This indicates that the phaser has more settings than just "stun" or "kill", and it can be adjusted to different intensities. The same setting used by Lenore was used to kill the M-113 creature in "The Man Trap".
- The preview trailer for this episode gives the stardate as 2817.2.
- This is the only episode to depict nighttime on the Enterprise (Kirk says that conditions of night and day are approximated as closely as possible aboard ship.) However, in both "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" and "Requiem for Methuselah", various crewmembers bid each other goodnight.
- This is the only episode to depict the observation deck.
- Near the beginning of the episode, Spock walks in on Kirk in the briefing room and through the doors we can see two crewmen (played by Ron Veto and Frank da Vinci) in the background across the hallway preparing to affix a door sign.
- The capacity in which Kirk was living as a colonist on Tarsus IV is not addressed. He does not mention losing any family. In fact, his mother is still alive at the time of this episode (according to the series bible) and his father, George Kirk Sr. lives long enough to see his son take command of the Enterprise. James' brother, George Kirk Jr., is seen to die in "Operation -- Annihilate!". Apparently, a 13 year old James Kirk was living on Tarsus IV without the rest of his immediate family. If they had been there and like him, survived the massacre, it is unlikely that a young James Kirk would be the sole witness out of his entire family.
Cast and charactersEdit
- James Doohan (Scotty) and George Takei (Sulu) do not appear in this episode.
- Eddie Paskey's character name, Mr. Leslie, is finally established in this episode.
- Her walk-on bridge appearance and stern look at Lenore is Grace Lee Whitney's last appearance in the series. However, viewers see her for the last time in "Balance of Terror", as that episode was aired a week later.
- In the script, Yeoman Rand interrupted Kirk and Lenore on the observation deck to bring Kirk a report. However this event was omitted from the episode, 28 years later it was featured (as a dream flashback) in the comic book story, "The Dream Walkers".
- Whitney was already notified that she was fired from the series a week before filming on this episode began. Her limited walk-on scene was the last she had to film for Star Trek, before her return in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. She recalled, "By that time, I had already been written out of the show. I did the scene sober, but after shooting my walk-on, I went out to a liquor store, bought a bottle of wine, and brought it back to my dressing room. That day, I drank. I couldn't deal with the fact that I wasn't going to be on the show anymore, so I drank to anesthetize the pain. That was the only time I ever brought a bottle unto the studio lot." (The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, p. 102)
- In the original draft, a "Lieutenant Robert Daiken" was the young man whose parents had been murdered by Kodos. When Bruce Hyde was cast in the role, the staff realized that he played the character Kevin Riley in "The Naked Time" and re-wrote the role to feature Riley instead. Riley was a navigator in the former episode, but in this one he's a communications officer who at one time was transferred from engineering, but he still wears the gold command shirt. 
- It is the first episode featuring the computer voice (although a talking computer was featured in "Mudd's Women").
- Joseph Mullendore's score for this episode would be heard again in "Court Martial", "Shore Leave", "Space Seed", "The City on the Edge of Forever", and in the teaser of "The Return of the Archons".
- The Star Trek theme song is performed by the lounge band at Tom Leighton's party. This is the first time the Star Trek theme has been played as "source music". The other times this occurs in the original series is later in the episode when Kirk is speaking to Lenore in Karidian's cabin, when Areel Shaw enters the bar in "Court Martial", and when Kirk, McCoy, and Tonia Barrows run to Sulu's position in "Shore Leave".
- The dreamlike song sung by Uhura is "Beyond Antares". Nichelle Nichols got to interact with the Vulcan harp again in "Elaan of Troyius", but that scene was cut. In ""The Changeling"" she sings a portion of that song again, without an instrument, before Nomad interrupts her.
Sets, props, and costumesEdit
- Kirk's quarters are labeled as "3F 121".
- The preview for this episode features an alternate edit of Kirk searching for the overloaded phaser in his quarters. It was unused because the plywood under the mattress of his bunk was visible. (citation needed • edit)
- Guest star Barbara Anderson (Lenore Karidian) shares the record (with Ricardo Montalban and Joan Collins) for the most costumes worn in a single Trek episode by a guest star (six). She wears a maroon-colored dress for her Lady Macbeth costume, a blue dress with a veil at the party thrown by the Leightons, a fur mini-skirt dress when arriving on the Enterprise, a greenish multicolored mantle on the observation deck, a black and red evening dress when Kirk visits the Karidians in their quarters, and, finally, her yellow and lavender Ophelia costume. It could even be argued that the veil she wears while walking with Kirk just before discovering Tom Leighton's body could be considered a seventh costume.
- In the original series, this is the only appearance of the observation deck. It overlooks the shuttlebay, called here the "Flight Deck".
- McCoy's cabinet has two skulls in it for the first time in this episode.
- In all other episodes, the crew drinks non-alcoholic beverages aboard ship from Styrofoam cups. In this episode, Riley drinks his milk from a glass, presumably because its shattering would be more dramatically effective.
- The pressure vent disposal drawer, into which Kirk places the overloading phaser, was later used by Lazarus to cause a fire in "The Alternative Factor". The small drawer was filled with circuits for that scene.
- In the scene where security guards are searching for Kevin Riley in the corridors, rectangular seams are visible in the floor. This is where the grates visible in "Charlie X" and other early episodes were eliminated and filled in with the corridor floor material.
- The equipment-filled alcove that McCoy and Spock pass in the corridor as they discuss Kodos the Executioner is labeled "Engineering Circuit Bay G-121". This sign was later placed next to the Jefferies tube in season two.
- The city in the background out Tom Leighton's window is the same one used as Mojave in "The Cage". The window itself was used in the Delta Vega lithium cracking station set in "Where No Man Has Gone Before".
- The chair in which Leighton sits just before he rises to reveal his black facial patch would later be seen with its mate in Chief Vanderburg's office in "The Devil in the Dark".
- The ship's theater is a redress of the engineering set. Pieces of the ship's gymnasium are hanging on the walls, and the ceiling can be seen of this set in one of three glimpses in the first season.
- The observation deck is a redress of the Romulan bridge set from "Balance of Terror".
- The Karidians' quarters aboard the Enterprise appear to be a "VIP suite," the only one of its kind seen in this series. Just inside the door is a "sitting area" with an oddly-shaped bed or couch. (This same bed was seen in Captain Pike's cage in "The Cage".) Further back, behind the grating, are two doors leading to separate bedrooms. Finally, two walls of the sitting area feature the same "inset bookcases" that were last used in Pike's quarters in "The Cage".
- Chairs are shown by the panels in engineering. They are never seen again.
- The face covering Tom Leighton wore to hide his injuries is almost identical to one worn by a character in "The Duplicate Man", a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits which was also directed by Gerd Oswald. (citation needed • edit)
Reception and legacyEdit
- This episode was among the lowest in ratings during the first season, mainly due to the fact that it was "too talky" with no action scenes, and didn't feature any "monster" or "sci-fi gimmick". Hence, it was decided not to give "The Conscience of the King" a repeat broadcast. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, p. 299)
- Director Gerd Oswald recalled this episode as "A very intriguing idea. A good story.". (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, p. 299)
- Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons named his recurring alien characters Kodos and Kang after the characters in this episode and "Day of the Dove", respectively.
- Stating that this was his favorite episode of TOS, writer Ronald D. Moore commented:
- I liked the backstory of Kirk as a young man caught up in a revolution and the nightmarish slaughter by Governor Kodos. I liked the Shakespearean overtones to the episode as well as the use of the plays themselves. And I absolutely loved Kirk in this episode – a troubled man haunted by the shadows of the past, a man willing to lure Karidian to his ship under false pretenses, willing to do one of his more cold-blooded seductions on Lenore, willing to fight with his two closest friends, and risk his entire command in the name of justice. Or was it vengeance? Kirk's aware of his own lack of objectivity, his own flaws to be in this hunt for a killer, but he cannot push the burden away and refuses pull back from his quest to track down Kodos no matter what the cost. It also has some of my favorite lines in TOS.
- The scene with Spock and McCoy in Kirk's quarters is one of the series' highlights. The brooding tone and the morally ambiguous nature of the drama fascinated me and definitely influenced my thinking as to what Trek could and should be all about. (AOL chat, 1997)
- Consequently, in his re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica, executive producer Ronald D. Moore named the prison barge Astral Queen after the ship commanded in this episode by Jon Daily.
- The Enterprise fourth season episode "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" shows the future biographical information displayed for Hoshi Sato, written by Mike Sussman. A portion of the bio written by Sussman but not shown on screen would have stated that Sato was one of the 4,000 people killed by Kodos on the Tarsus colony. (Sussman noted that he never intended for the data to be readable on screen, and on his website he says to take that biographical information with "a grain of salt.")
- Story outline by Barry Trivers: 5 April 1966
- Revised outline: 13 April 1966
- Second revised outline: 18 April 1966
- First draft teleplay by Trivers: 9 May 1966
- Revised first draft teleplay: 12 May 1966
- Second draft teleplay: 8 June 1966
- Revised second draft teleplay: 11 July 1966
- Revised teleplay by Steven W. Carabatsos: 11 August 1966
- Final draft teleplay by Gene L. Coon: 23 August 1966
- Additional revisions: 25 August 1966, 30 August 1966
- Revised final draft teleplay by Coon: 8 September 1966
- Additional revisions: 9 September 1966, 12 September 1966, 13 September 1966, 14 September 1966, 15 September 1966, 19 September 1966, 20 September 1966, 22 September 1966
- Filmed: 13 September 1966 – 21 September 1966
- Score recorded: 2 November 1966
- Original airdate: 8 December 1966
- First UK airdate: 20 December 1969
- Remastered airdate: 22 September 2007
Video and DVD releasesEdit
- US LaserDisc release: July 1985
- Original US Betamax release: 1985
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 7, catalog number VHR 2256, release date unknown
- Japan LaserDisc release: 10 November 1992
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 1.5, 9 September 1996
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 6, 22 February 2000
- As part of the TOS Season 1 DVD collection
- As part of the TOS Season 1 HD DVD collection
- As part of the TOS Season 1 Blu-ray collection
Links and referencesEdit
- DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy
- Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Rand
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- William Sargent as Dr. Leighton
- Natalie Norwick as Martha Leighton
- David-Troy as Larry Matson
- Karl Bruck as King Duncan
- Marc Adams as Prince Hamlet
- Majel Barrett as the computer voice
- Tom Curtis or Frank da Vinci as Jon Daily (voice)
- Frank da Vinci as Vinci
- Robert Justman as a security guard (voice) 
- Jeannie Malone as a yeoman
- Eddie Paskey as Leslie
- Ron Veto as Harrison
- Unknown actors as
2246; 2247; 2257; actor; alcohol; Antares; Arcturian; Astral Queen; background check; Benecia; Benecia colony, "Beyond Antares"; Caesar; chain; chain of command; Cleopatra; cocktail party; communications section; communicator; Cygnia Minor; director; doctor; dossier; double red alert; Duncan; Eames, D.; Earth; empirical research scientist; engineering; engineering room; eugenics; famine; flight deck; food concentrate / synthetic food; fungus; Galactic Cultural Exchange Project; Ghost; God; Good Samaritan; governor; Hamlet; Hamlet; Ides of March; Juliet; Karidian Company of Players; king; Kodos; Lady Macbeth; library computer; logic; Macbeth; Macbeth; martial law; medical log; medicine; milk; Milky Way Galaxy; Molson, E.; murder; Neptune; observation deck; orbit station; patio; patrol; phaser; philosophy; Planet Q; quadrant; quarterly physical; rec room; Sarek; Saurian brandy; schedule; scrambler; second-in-command; security two alert; Shakespeare, William; shuttlecraft; soldier; soul; space regulations; spray bottle; "Star Light, Star Bright"; Star Service; suicide; supply ship; Tarsus IV; tetralubisol; theater; tool; town; voice film; voice test; Vulcan; Vulcan lute; weapons locker
- "The Conscience of the King" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Conscience of the King" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Conscience of the King" at Wikipedia
- "The Conscience of the King" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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