Star Trek – The Squire of Gothos

We’re treading familiar territory in today’s episode – Kirk and the others facing someone with godlike powers (just like Where No Man Has Gone Before or Charlie X) – but The Squire of Gothos still engages and maintains a high level of interest from beginning to end.

A big part of this is down to William Campbell’s performance as Trelane (it’s an excellent guest turn – one of Star Trek‘s best).  Like Charlie, Trelane increasingly acts like a petulant child, which makes the final reveal (he actually is a sort of child in a man’s body) all the more satisfying.

Living in a sumptuous mansion decorated with twentieth century objet d’art (as well as some highly recognisable Star Trek memorabilia) Trelane toys with Kirk and the others in an amused, but disinterested way.  He can freeze people or alter matter at will, but these examples of his power may just be the tip of the iceberg.  We don’t learn a great deal about him – who or what he actually is – but this isn’t a problem. Indeed the fact that he’s such a nebulous character makes him all the more intriguing.

The way that Trelane places a cheery message – “greetings and felicitations” – on the Enterprise’s scanner screen is a wonderfully jolting moment.  The Enterprise in general, and the bridge in particular, always has the feeling of a safe haven – so to see it breached in such a casual way informs the viewer that today’s adversary is no run of the mill type.

Trelane is a keen student of Earth’s history, especially the wars, and expects Kirk to share his interest. “I want to learn all about your feelings on war and killing and conquest. That sort of thing”.  Of course Kirk doesn’t have a similar love of battle, but the episode doesn’t handle this in a heavy handed way (later iterations of Trek might have been a little more on the nose when discussing the way that today’s Earth people are obviously much more enlightened than the savages of the twentieth century).

Trelane and Kirk eventually fall out, seemingly because of the attention Tremane shows to Yeoman Teresa Ross (Venita Wolf). But in fact Kirk is only using Teresa as an excuse to test the limits of Trelaine’s abilities. 

This week’s fairly disposable female Yeoman, Teresa doesn’t really push forward the depiction of women in the Star Trek universe. Changed into a sumptious ball gown by Trelane, Teresa is relegated to the status of a decorative object, something which is confirmed when Trelane tells Kirk that they “fight for the attention, the admiration, the possession of women” (Teresa looks very nice but hardly says a word). 

Kirk being placed on trial by a vengeful Trelane works well. This is partly down to the enthusiastic way a be-wigged Campbell bangs his gavel, but also because of how simplistic the staging is. No doubt this was partly budget related, but the image of Kirk in the dock with a silhouette of a noose behind him is still a striking image.

Given Trelane’s unimaginable power, Kirk was never going to beat him in a fair fight. But the episode’s conclusion doesn’t feel like a cop out. In fact, the way that Trelane’s brittle bravado is pricked by his unseen parents (“stop that nonsense at once, or you’ll not be permitted to make any more planets”) is a very satisfying way to wrap things up.

Although primarily a Kirk story, Spock is also well served by Paul Schneider’s script. I especially love his confrontation with Trelane. “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose”.

If I was one of those people who enjoyed making lists, then The Squire of Gothos would be pretty high up on my favourite episodes list.

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