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Spectre of the Gun (episode)

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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)
"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 OneEdit

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. Kirk wonders "Why here? And why now?". Spock notes that the time and place is based on the patterns of Kirk's memories. 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 McLowery, Tom McLowery, 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 as Billy. Kirk recognizes Morgan as the man who kills on site, and rise to confront him. Spock cautions him to back done, with moving a muscle, as he would be gunned down in a "fast draw." Kirk says he does not want any trouble from Earp, but Earp says he will get them to draw soon enough, and then leaves.

Kirk and Spock discuss what is expected to happen based on history, that they are supposed to be killed at the OK Corral at 5 pm. Kirk says that they will not be there. Kirk tries to convince Ed the bartender that he is not Ike Clanton, that he is from the future, the captain of a starship, but to no avail. The bartender tells him it makes no difference who he thinks he his, but rather whom the Earps think he is.

Kirk then attempts to make peace with the Earps, saying there is mistake. Morgan Earp says that he always felt the Clantons were "yellow" and then hits Kirk. Kirk strikes him back, and Wyatt Earp draws on Kirk, but Morgan stops him. Wyatt Earp warns Kirk that if he is in town at 5:01pm, the Earps will kill them.

Act TwoEdit

Kirk returns to the bar, and discusses what options they have with Spock, McCoy and Scotty. Kirk and the landing party try to leave town, but they are stopped by a force field. Spock notes that the Melkotians will not allow them to leave. Recognizing that they must fight, Kirk asks if they can find some way to stop the Earps. McCoy and Spock cooperate to build a tranquilizer gas grenade which will incapacitate the Earps. McCoy encounters the town dentist, "Doc" Holliday, while acquiring the chemicals needed for the tranquilizer, asking to borrow a small quantity for a serious emergency. Holliday tells McCoy that his "emergency sure is real," and lets him take the chemical, but warns him to be finished by 5:00pm, because at "one minute past five, you'll find a hole in your head."

Meanwhile, Chekov has fallen in love with Sylvia, telling her that he is looking eagerly forward to the dance next week. Sylvia asks if they can turn the dance into a wedding ball, but Chekov says that would not be possible, because he is not someone she could marry. Sylvia The two share a passionate kiss, but then Morgan appears and knocks Chekov down, and starts to walk Sylvia away. When Chekov gets up and tells Morgan to get his hands off of her. Chekov draws for his gun, he is shot and killed by Morgan. Kirk, Spock, McCoy appear as do the Earps. McCoy says there is nothing he can do. Morgan tells Kirk to "do it now," and Scotty says that they must do something. Kirk however says that it's not yet time and they are not prepared.

Act ThreeEdit

Back in bar, McCoy and Spock work on the gas grenade. McCoy and Scotty give Spock a hard time for not showing any feelings over Chekov's death. Spock notes that they forget he is half-human. Spock observes that Chekov as Billy Clanton died, but in at the actual gunfight, Billy survived. Kirk takes it to mean that the outcome of the conflict does not necessarily correspond with the historical outcome.

Kirk find the sheriff, and asks him to stop the fight, but Behan says that no one wants to stop the fight, and that it is a little late for Kirk to decide he "does not have the belly" for it. The sheriff tells Kirk that the people in the town are counting on Kirk to get rid of the Earps for them, and that no one would deny them their revenge for killing Billy. Kirk says they just can't just kill them, but the sheriff says that there will be no questions asked.

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 FourEdit

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 the "smallest doubt" would be enough to kill them, just like it killed Chekov. McCoy argues that they don't have the "clocker ticker" in their heads like Spock, that they can't just turn it off. Kirk says that they must. Using a mind meld, Spock convinces everyone else that bullets are not real, they are merely "shadows" and "illusions," "spectres without be ignored."

The Earps arrive demand that the ersatz Clantons draw, but the landing party refuses. The Earps begin shootting, but the bullets pass right through the landing party, hitting the fence behind them. When the Earps deplete their ammunition, Kirk attacks Wyatt Earp and knocks him to the ground. Kirk draws his gun, and is about to shoot him, but upon seeing the abject terror in Wyatt's eyes, he releases him.

Suddenly, the landing party finds themselves back on the bridge of the Enterprise. Chekov is alive and well, and wonders "where have I been?" Kirk suggests they have been on the bridge the whole time, it is because the only thing that was real to him was the girl. The Melkotian buoy, once again directly in front of them, begins to emit M-rays beyond measurable levels, and then explodes. The Melkotians appear on the main viewer screen, noting that Kirk did not kill. Kirk explains that they fight only when there is no choice, and prefer peace. The Melkotians extend an invitation to establish relations with the Federation, and asks Kirk to send a delegation to the planet.

Spock then asks Kirk a "personal" question: did he actually want to kill the Earps? Kirk agrees that it exactly how it was that afternoon, and how it was in 1881. Spock wonders how humanity managed to survives. Kirk says that humans overcame their instinct for violence.

Log EntriesEdit

  • 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 QuotesEdit

"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 InformationEdit

Story and ScriptEdit

  • 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. Examples include "feel my shirt" in an attempt to prove to the bartender that the fabric is from the future, that the main characters are mistaken for the Clampett gang, that one of the characters visits the dentist office (albeit for different reasons), and resolutely standing still as Doc Holliday and the rest open fire at the O.K. Corral.


  • 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 PropsEdit

  • 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 CharactersEdit

  • 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 timelineEdit

Video and DVD releasesEdit

Links and ReferencesEdit


Also StarringEdit


Uncredited Co-StarsEdit


American frontier; apothecary; Arizona; baking soda; "Bones"; 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 linkEdit

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"

de:Wild West im Weltraum es:Spectre of the Gun fr:Spectre of the Gun ja:TOS:危機一髪!OK牧場の決闘 nl:Spectre of the Gun pl:Spectre of the Gun

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