(written from a Production point of view)
Kirk and Spock are forced to fight alongside such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln of Earth and Surak of Vulcan by rock-like aliens who want to understand the concepts of "good" and "evil."
The Enterprise detects life signs coming from a molten lava-covered and apparently uninhabitable planet. During the ensuing investigation, the ship undergoes a deep, swift scan from the surface of the planet, causing the lights on the bridge to flicker. Then an image of Abraham Lincoln appears on the viewscreen.
The stunned crew of the Enterprise takes in the image of "Lincoln". "Fascinating", Spock remarks. "I have been described in many ways, Mr. Spock, but never with that word", Lincoln replies. Spock believes the recent deep scan of the Enterprise produced sufficient information to create this illusion of Lincoln. "President Lincoln" asks to be beamed aboard when the Enterprise is directly above his location on the planet below. After Lincoln disappears from the viewscreen, Spock notes a small change happening on the planet. A landmass has appeared out of nowhere on the lifeless planet, inexplicably capable of supporting life. Captain Kirk orders dress uniforms and for the crew to take the guest at face value, with Presidential honors, while his real nature is determined, much to the chagrin of Scotty.
In the transporter room, Chekov reports the Enterprise is one minute away from overhead position on Lincoln's location. Despite his incredulousness, Scott locks the transporter on Lincoln but Spock says that their target a moment earlier appeared "almost mineral, like living rock with heavy fore claws." Dickerson has the security officers stand ready with their phasers on heavy stun. The lifeform is beamed aboard, with band music playing and Dickerson blowing a bosun's whistle. "The USS Enterprise is honored to have you aboard, Mr. President", Kirk tells the 16th President of the United States.
Lincoln steps off the transporter platform and asks where the band is, as he can hear music playing. Kirk tells him it is merely taped music, as starships of exploration do not carry honor detachments. Lincoln remarks that Spock will probably inform him about the nature of taped music later. Lincoln asks that the security guards aiming phasers at him lower them, since, at his age, he is no danger to anyone. Doctor McCoy scans the President with his tricorder and confirms to Kirk that he is indeed Human. After introducing Lincoln to Spock, Scott, and Dickerson, Lincoln immediately wants to answer Kirk's questions about him, as well as questions Lincoln himself would like answered. Kirk dismisses security and leads Lincoln away. After everyone but McCoy and Scott leave, McCoy asks the chief engineer what exactly they picked up before beaming Lincoln aboard. Scott calls it a "living rock" and that it may have became Lincoln or it may not. "What do you make of it?", Scott asks McCoy. "I'm not quite sure", he says.
Lincoln makes a brief tour of the ship, impressing Kirk with his charm, how everything about the President seems to be so right. A meeting with Lieutenant Uhura illustrates the progress from the era of slavery and Lincoln escapes from a gaffe with the same grace. He acknowledges gaps in his knowledge and memory (though it extends to Vulcan philosophy) but has no explanation for it. It then occurs to him that Kirk and Spock are to beam down with him to an Earth-like region that suddenly appears on the sensors.
Kirk calls a meeting in the briefing room to consider the situation. McCoy warns Kirk of the risks on discipline of Kirk being seen admiring an impostor. McCoy and Scott insist that the whole affair is a trap to lure Kirk and Spock to their deaths on the planet's deadly surface of lava. McCoy exclaims that "Lincoln" is potentially dangerous and Scott declares he is "loony as an Arcturian dog bird". Spock has no doubt that the aliens could destroy the entire ship more easily if that were their goal. Kirk declares that they have been offered contact with a new race – the reason for their mission – and that he will accept it. He declines to order Spock along, but his first officer volunteers, as he was also invited. Kirk, Lincoln, and Spock are beamed down, but the phasers and tricorders are left strangely behind on the transporter pads.
The surface resembles a canyon on Earth. Yarnek, one of the planet's rock-like inhabitants, called Excalbians, says they stage "plays" to learn more about alien philosophies. The current contest, their first experiment with Humans, is to compare good and evil – "good" being represented by the two Enterprise officers, Lincoln, and Surak (the legendary Vulcan philosophical leader), and "evil" represented by four archetypes: Kahless (founder of the Klingon Empire), Zora of Tiburon, ancient Human conqueror Genghis Khan, and the charismatic but duplicitous 21st century genocidal military officer Colonel Green. Kirk protests the manner of the invitation, to which Yarnek responds by enabling the Enterprise crew to watch the contest.
Green appeals to Kirk with the logic that all eight were tricked, and that they should join forces to defeat the real enemy, the Excalbians. Kirk reminds Green that he could attack enemies while their guard is down during negotiations. But the truce is insincere and Green's associates ambush during the parley. "Good" repulses "evil," which retreats.
Kirk refuses to participate further, and the Excalbians re-enable communication with the Enterprise for just long enough to reveal that its matter/antimatter seal is failing, which will cause the ship to "blow to bits" in four hours. Yarnek says this can only be avoided by victory in the combat.
Kirk selects high ground for a defensible base, though noting there is no time for a defensive war. Surak says he is no warrior, but proposes to become an emissary, the option that resolved the final war on Vulcan. Kirk protests that Vulcan logic will not sway the treacherous enemy on Excalbia, but Surak says that their belief in peace may be what the Excalbians are testing. Ultimately, Kirk says he cannot command Surak, who leaves for the enemy camp. He is captured and his cries and screams for help are heard.
Kirk says they should rescue Surak: "He's in agony." Spock says that Surak knew his risks and that a Vulcan "would not cry out so." Lincoln proposes that they should do what the other side wants – "Not the way they want it, however." He proposes a clumsy frontal attack with a stealth rescue from behind. Lincoln crawls to effect the rescue, only to find Surak dead. Kahless was imitating Surak's voice, and now starts to imitate Lincoln's. At great length, Lincoln walks back to Kirk's base. But he warns Kirk to stay back, then topples over with a spear in his back.
Though it is now four-on-two, "good" wins the battle after Kirk kills Green by breaking his neck and the others run off. Yarnek reappears and says that, "it would seem that evil runs off when forcibly confronted." But he sees no difference between good and evil. Kirk points out that "evil" fought for personal gain, while "good" fought when it became necessary to save others. He asks Yarnek by what right the Excalbians compelled the Humans to participate. Yarnek replies, "The same right that brought you here: the need to know new things."
Back aboard the Enterprise, Scott and Chekov report that the damage to the ship is reversing, for which they have no explanation. Kirk and Spock reflect on how real "Lincoln" and "Surak" seemed. Spock says it could not be otherwise, since the replicas were created "out of our own thoughts." Kirk feels he understands the effort on Earth to achieve final peace – and all of their work still left to be done in the galaxy. Kirk has Sulu break orbit of Excalbia and the Enterprise warps away.
- "Captain's log, stardate 5906.4. Who or what has been beamed aboard our vessel? An alien who has changed himself into this form? An illusion? I cannot conceive it possible that Abraham Lincoln could have actually been reincarnated. And yet his kindness, his gentle wisdom, his humor, everything about him is so right."
- "Supplemental log, stardate 5906.5. Engineer Scott reporting. The Enterprise is doomed to explode in two hours if Captain Kirk is defeated by the enemy on the surface of the planet. The enormous power of the Enterprise has been neutralized and we sit here watching, unable to assist."
"President Lincoln, indeed! No doubt to be followed by Louis of France and Robert the Bruce!"
- - Scott, as Kirk and Spock enter the transporter room
"What a charming Negress. Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know that in my time some used that term as a description of property."
"But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words."
- - "Lincoln" and Uhura
"Jim, I would be the last to advise you on your command image..."
"I doubt that, Bones, but continue."
- - McCoy and Kirk, in the briefing room
"Lincoln died three centuries ago on a planet hundreds of light years away!" (Scott points)
"More... that direction, engineer." (Spock corrects)
- - Scott and Spock
"You're the science officer. Why aren't you – well, doin' whatever a science officer does at a time like this?"
- - McCoy, to Spock
"If they’re wrong and they do beam into a pool of lava."
"Then they're dead men. I could'na pull them back in time."
- - McCoy and Scotty about to beam Kirk, "Lincoln", and Spock
"Despite the seeming contradictions, all is as it appears to be. I am Abraham Lincoln!"
"Just as I am whom I appear to be."
- - "Lincoln" is confronted by Kirk on his true identity only to be joined by "Surak", surprising Spock
"May we together become greater than the sum of both of us."
- - "Surak", to Kirk
"You're somewhat different than the way history paints you, Colonel Green."
"History tends to exaggerate."
- - Kirk and "Green"
"The face of war has never changed."
- - "Surak", to Kirk
"Your Surak is a brave man."
"Men of peace usually are, captain."
- - Kirk and Spock, before "Surak" is killed
"There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending."
- - "Lincoln", to Kirk and Spock
"What gives you the right to hand out life and death?"
"The same right that brought you here: the need to know new things."
"We came in peace."
"And you may go in peace."
- - Kirk and Yarnek, before Kirk and Spock depart
- The first choice for the role of Lincoln was none other than Mark Lenard, but prior commitments prohibited him from taking the part. As Lenard explained it, "I was doing a series at the time called Here Come the Brides in which I played Aaron Stemple, the resident bad guy/rich man. The Lincoln segment came up about Christmas time when we had a slight hiatus, and I thought I could work it in. I had already played two roles on Star Trek and they were well received. But it turned out we just couldn’t work it in. I think we went back to work on the other series too soon, and instead of having the six or seven days I would have needed to do the role, I only had three or four days." 
- This episode includes two further contributions to the ambiguous time period that the series is set in, establishing that "Lincoln died three centuries ago," indicating a mid-22nd century time period, while at the same time establishing, more ambiguously, that the 21st century was "centuries ago."
- This episode marks the second time TOS encounters a silicon-based lifeform. The first time is in "The Devil in the Dark". Janos Prohaska played both lifeforms, with Bart LaRue supplying the Excalbian's voice.
- Yarnek is never named in dialogue. Even in the closed captioning, he's merely identified as "Excalbian."
- This episode introduces several notable figures in the Star Trek universe, including the Human despot Colonel Green, later mentioned in ENT: "Demons"; the founder of the Klingon Empire, Kahless the Unforgettable, subsequently mentioned in all four live-action spin-off series and whose clone later appeared in TNG: "Rightful Heir"; and the father of modern Vulcan civilization, Surak, also mentioned in subsequent series and ENT: "Awakening".
- The appearances of Kahless and Surak mark the final respective appearances of a Klingon and (full) Vulcan in The Original Series.
- This episode marks the final appearance of dress uniforms in the original series.
- Uniquely, the security guards wear weapons belts constructed of white Velcro.
- This is the final episode of the series to feature the entire ensemble cast of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. As a result, this episode also marks the final appearance of Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) in the series.
- In this episode Sulu remains in command while his senior officers are present on the bridge; he remains in the command chair while Kirk and Spock give Lincoln a tour of the bridge.
- This is the second and final mention in a TOS episode that it may be possible to separate the nacelles from the ship, in this case by specifically jettisoning them.
- Kahless is seen here in the Klingon style typical of TOS. It would seem to contradict the explanation given in ENT: "Divergence" for the change in physical appearance of the Klingons, since Kahless lived long before those events. However, since the image of Kahless was drawn from Kirk's and Spock's minds, not from "fact", this is not necessarily a contradiction.
- As with the fan mail phenomenon that occurred after the broadcast of "Journey to Babel", the airing of "The Savage Curtain" resulted in another flood of mail in response to the introduction of Surak. The fans were intrigued by Surak, and demanded to see more of him. (The World of Star Trek) Surak, however did not appear on-screen again until "Awakening", over thirty-five years later (though he was referenced in numerous episodes and films in the intervening years).
- In 2005, the episode was mentioned in a Time magazine article, "The True Lincoln" (the centerpiece of a "special issue" largely devoted to him),  contrasting the lionized, iconic Lincoln seen in the episode, common in the 1960s, with the more flawed, "Human" portrayals often found today.
- In 2014, the episode again made its way into the news, after supermodel Bar Refaeli, on her Twitter account, repeated the "no honorable way to kill" line as an authentic Lincoln quote. 
The episode was remastered in 2008 featuring new shots of Excalbia.
- Series proposal, "Star Trek is...": 11 March 1964 - mentions similar story idea "Mr. Socrates"
- Story outline by Gene Roddenberry, 8 May 1968
- Story outline by Gene Roddenberry, 9 May 1968
- Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry, 11 September 1968
- Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Heinemann, 27 November 1968
- Final draft script, 6 December 1968
- Filmed, 11 December 1968 – 19 December 1968
- Original airdate, 7 March 1969
- Rerun airdate, 1 July 1969
- First UK airdate 24 November 1971
Video and DVD releasesEdit
- Original US Betamax release: 1988
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 40, catalog number VHR 2436, 18 March 1991
- This volume is a three-episode tape to close out the series.
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 3.8, 2 March 1998
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 39, 11 December 2001
- As part of the TOS Season 3 DVD collection
- As part of the TOS-R Season 3 DVD collection
Links and referencesEdit
- Barry Atwater as Surak
- Phillip Pine as Col. Green
- James Doohan as Scott
- George Takei as Sulu
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- Walter Koenig as Chekov
- Arell Blanton as Chief Security Guard
- Carol Daniels DeMent as Zora (no lines)
- Robert Herron as Kahless
- Nathan Jung as Genghis Khan (no lines)
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Roger Holloway as Lemli
- Bart LaRue as voice of Yarnek
- Janos Prohaska as Yarnek
- Unknown actors as:
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for William Shatner
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Leonard Nimoy
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Lee Bergere
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Barry Atwater
19th century; 21st century; American Civil War; antimatter; Arcturian dog bird (Arcturian); balloon; battery; "Bones"; boomerang; boatswain's whistle; carbon cycle; carbon cycle lifeform; class M; commander in chief; dress uniform, Starfleet; Earth; emergency battery power; evil; Excalbia; Excalbians; galley; general; good; Grant, Ulysses S.; haggis; honor detachment; Human; insubordination; kilometer; Klingon; lava; Louis of France; logic; matter; mile; Milky Way Galaxy; mineral; minute; Mr. President; musician; nacelle; Negress; nitrogen; Nome; oxygen; plate; pocket watch; power; prejudice; presidential honors; red alert; reserve power; restart cycle; Robert the Bruce; rock; Roman; Rome; slavery; sling; spear; Starfleet Command; surgeon; synchronous orbit; tape; telegraph; Tiburon; Time of Awakening; transporter; Union Army; United States of America; Vulcan; Vulcan (planet); Vulcan language; Vulcan philosophy; whiskey; woodsman; World War III
- "The Savage Curtain" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Savage Curtain" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Savage Curtain" at Wikipedia
- "The Savage Curtain" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
| Previous episode produced:|
"Requiem for Methuselah"
| Star Trek: The Original Series|
| Next episode produced:|
"All Our Yesterdays"
| Previous episode aired:|
"The Cloud Minders"
| Next episode aired:|
"All Our Yesterdays"
| Previous remastered episode aired:|
"Requiem for Methuselah"
|TOS Remastered|| Next remastered episode aired:|
"The Cloud Minders"