Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 18


Aired Unknown Jan 19, 1967 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
209 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

When a mysterious alien race destroys an Earth colony, the Enterprise pursues. However, powerful aliens soon immobilize both ships and force Kirk and the alien captain to fight each other to the death.

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  • Kirk and a green lizard creature are forced to fight each other.

    While this Kirk episode will never be considered the greatest Star Trek episode, it might be the most memorable of the original 79. The reason? The Gorn captain, the most striking alien to hit television screens in the 1960s.

    The episode itself is actually quite well written, with producer Gene Coon (who had joined the show early in the first season) developing the idea and bringing the script to the finish line before it was noticed that Frederic Brown's 1944 short story, also called "Arena", covers similar ground, necessitating credit. It's basically a three part adventure, spanning two planets, with two sets of aliens, and an Enterprise chase scene to boot. This is quite a lot of stuff for a first season episode, but the genius of the script (from a budget standpoint) is how its story requires only one Gorn and one Metron to be seen. (The not so genius part: requiring Shatner and Nimoy to run through a field of exploding shells, giving them both tinnitus for

    The script, which gives the first mention of the Federation, is also innovative for letting Kirk make a mistake in judgement before ultimately redeeming himself. The bold decision actually pays off in two ways. In the short term, it adds drama to the episode, because when we suddenly realize Kirk has his facts mixed up, it turns the episode upside down and forces us to reevaluate all that we've seen. In the longterm, it humanizes the captain, allowing us to draw even closer to him and enjoy the ending all the more. (Certainly we sympathize with him more than the Gorn, which uses the Federation's folly as a license to ambush).

    But let's be realistic; this episode isn't famous for its plotting or story developments. It's famous for the big fight between the Kirk and the lizard (played by three stuntmen and voiced by Ted Cassidy). Created by Wah Chang, the meticulously crafted rubber suit presented a stunning sight for viewers in the 1960s, especially with the creature presented in a realistic location as opposed to a soundstage. The Vesquez Rocks, named after Tiburcio Vsquez, a bandit from the 19th century who used the area to elude capture, is a site that appears in quite a few television shows and movies, including several Star Trek episodes; but it's "Arena" that it's best known for. With all the Star Trek sets long since gone, and the rocks here serving such a visible and important part of such a memorable episode, it's become the go to place for fans wanting to see some of the original Star Trek in person. As Kirk and the monster battle amongst the environment, it's easy to feel the heat and taste the dust. Like "The Menagerie", there's even a television viewing on the Enterprise, with Spock and company using the main viewscreen like a giant flatscreen TV to watch the action. (This is another example of what a good invention the viewscreen is for the series. Eschewing a window, Roddenberry knew a viewscreen was much more multidimensional, from tactical displays to video chats with Starfleet and other ships. Here, allowing Spock to watch the captain and comment on his progess serves this episode well).

    In the end, "Arena", like ""Charlie X", "The Corbomite Maneuver", "The Menagerie", "Shore Leave, and "Squire of Gothos", includes a powerful being to help put a period on the story, but this time it's more satisfying because Kirk must defeat his adversary to get off the hook. (And somewhere out there, a young MacGyver watches on and decides to use the climax as a template for his life). Unfortunately, the Gorn's rubber suit doesn't hold up so well now and is more funny than scary; but then maybe that's become part of the charm of the episode. Regardless, the iconic fight transcends the limitations of 60s technology in the minds of many Star Trek fans.

    Members of the Gorn race are seen again in the animated series episode "The Time Trap" and, more prominantly, in the Enterprise episode "In a Mirror Darkly Part II".

    Remastered: This is mostly a basic redo, but with some extra touches. There are new shots of both the Enterprise and the first planet, Cestus III (originally an orange blob, since they just took the "Earth" from Miri and painted it). A shot of the planet's surface (which originally used some foil in the foreground to hide some houses in the background) is extended and touched up. The ship's phasers, used for the first time, are changed to be consistent with the look established in future episodes (blue and emminating from lower sensor dome instead of red and coming from farther forward). The photon torpedoes are also upgraded and changed from white to red. Unlike in the original version, the Gorn ship can be briefly seen on the viewscreen, through it's quite small and not a lot of detail can be made out. The Gorn captain himself is mostly just as the original has him (because changing him to a CGI creature would break the bank) but they do add a few CGI blinks to his eyes to make him seem more real. Unfortunately, the ship's viewscreen showing Kirk's fight with the Gorn is left alone and not cleaned up. With the footage of Kirk on the planet being matte in, there are some dancing matte lines around it that while not apparent on the old analogue TVs of the 60s, can be seen with today's high definition presentation. But most fans are watching what's on the viewscreen, not what's around it, so I suppose it's an extraneous thing.

  • Captain Kirk soon finds himself in a life or death struggle with an alien being whose race recently destroyed a Federation outpost.

    I have seen "Arena" any times over the years. It has always been as entertaining and exciting as the first time I saw it. A terrific episode of this classic series for sure. The episode has the right blend of action, suspense and drama to make it one of the seires' best episodes. The Gorn was a great adversary for Kirk. There was not one bit of contrivance to the villan. The costumes and special effects are first rate. They still hold up today almost fifty years later. In my opinion the best part of the episode was seeing how Kirk managed to use the resources of the planet to defeat the Gorn. The cliamctic scene where he stood over the wounded Gorn was nothing short of fantastic. What also helped make this episode work was having Spock and McCoy seeing what was happening and the dialogue between the two as the watched what Kirk was doing. That was actually a highlight and not a liability. A truly great episode of a truly great television series. After writing this, I want to see it again!moreless
  • I thought the hot pursuit would be sufficient

    Ok, what more do you want? Godzilla/Stestack enemies, nuclear mortar shells, a fight to the death, and a Liberace looking final deity alien!

    "I thought the hot pursuit would be sufficient" - good old Spock putting us humans in our place!

    This episode is not to be taken too seriously because of the Gorn costume. But we all love it right? And the voice of the Gorn "Wait for me, I will be merciful and QUICK! hhhhzzzzzzzztttuhthu" I mean, this guy needs a serious flu shot or something for the wheezing!

    But just when things are getting silliest Kirk does the dirty deed and becomes the ingenious human vs. the hulking slow alien. Then even more serious when he saves his life and that of his ship and (almost!) admitting that he was (gulp) wrong!

    Good stuff and good lore. Probably one of the most recognized episodes of ST out there, bravo!

  • The Gorn!!!!

    'Arena' is definitely a classic moment in Trek history because we see the dinosaur like alien known as the Gorn. I was disappointed, however, with the monster itself. It is obvious that the actor in the Gorn costume couldn't see a thing because the monster was very slowly stumbling every where and was slow to attack. Kirk had to wait for it's arms to come down before he made the next move which looks very fake compared to today's standards. This episode was also seen in the movie "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey", they are watching this episode when they are in their apartment.moreless
  • It is learned that dudes from intelligent, superior races are known to where dresses

    Despite dragging on, the episode held together for me. It almost went sour when right before a commercial break the Gorn has Captain Kirk trapped under a huge rock and when we come back from the commercial break Kirk escapes by getting up and running away after the Gorn pushes the boulder out of the way to stab at Kirk. I thought the attack scene in the beginning of the episode was the most exciting action scene of the entire series. I read how Kirk and Spock (Shatner and Nimoy) had some hearing damage during the shooting.moreless
Jerry Ayres

Jerry Ayres

Lt. O'Herlihy

Guest Star

Grant Woods

Grant Woods

Lt. Cmdr. Kelowitz

Guest Star

Tom Troupe

Tom Troupe

Lt. Harold

Guest Star

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Vic Perrin

Vic Perrin

voice of Metron (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (19)

    • Trivia: This is the first episode to make mention of the Federation.

    • The Metrons pronounce their name with a short "o" sound, as in the name "Ron." Spock pronounces the name in the same manner. Captain Kirk, however, pronounces the name with a long "o" sound, as if it were spelled "Metrones."

    • After Kirk accidentally trips over the Gorn's trap, watch the Gorn's right leg. There is a noticeable rip right above the knee, and in later scenes the rip is bigger. But there's no blood, and no indication it was wounded.

    • When Kirk is abducted from the Enterprise he is wearing the standard issue Starfleet uniform boots. But the entire time he is fighting the Gorn he is wearing more comfortable outdoor shoes. When Kirk is returned to the Enterprise he has his regular boots back on.

    • At the beginning of the episode, when the party on Cestus III comes under attack, a large "rock" moves visibly when Kirk leans briefly against it while using his communicator.

    • Spock says they know very little about the section of space where the Cestus III colony was (and that the Gorn claim is their territory). So...why did the Federation put a colony there in the first place? Do they put colonies in unexplored regions of space of which they know little on general principle?

    • When Kirk's boulder hits the Gorn captain he's looking up at it, but after the dust clears it's laying on top of his back.

    • The Gorn has big huge teeth, nasty claws, superior strength, and can be hit with a boulder and ignore it. Why does he initially grab a stick to hit Kirk with?

    • When Kirk and Spock are chatting in Kirk's quarters, they finish their discussion and as they head out Kirk orders the ship to red alert. Then after the commercial break, they're on the bridge, the Gorn ship is at a dead halt, and Kirk orders the ship to red alert again.

    • Kirk goes leaping and ducking and grabs the grenade launcher. His face is clean - then the guy comes over and says they got Lang, and Kirk has very neat dirt smudges on his face.

    • Didn't anybody check to see where they were beaming Kirk and his landing party down to at the beginning of the episode? What if there was a big bomb-crater beneath them - the place is covered with them. Just seems weird they can beam into the middle of a fire zone, with the entire colony dead, and nobody bothers to check for life signs, energy signatures, or anything.

    • When the Enterprise crew watch Kirk on the viewscreen, in one shot well after he's arrived on the planetoid, there's an empty shot of a mountain landscape. Then Kirk pops in out of nowhere, hobbling along.

    • During the Gorn attack, Kirk gets a photon grenade launcher, comes out of the armory, and sets down a metal box. Then they cut to a different shot and Kirk puts the box down again.

    • Kirk collects the various chemicals for his gunpowder mixture and mixes them together in his bamboo tube. When he pours it all out they're mixed together. But after he grinds the coal, the chemicals have sorted themselves into neat piles.

    • The Gorn walks along a pretty distinct dirt road with tire tracks on the empty, uninhabited planetoid.

    • When Kirk wraps his rope around the bamboo cannon, he spends precious time cutting off the extra length when he could just give it an extra wrap or two.

    • The guy(s) playing the Gorn seem to be having trouble seeing through the mask - when it tries to chip away a knife it misses entirely on the first attempt.

    • Is the Gorn a vegetarian? Not very likely, but then why doesn't he just bite Kirk when he has him in a bear hug? The Gorn's teeth are like inches away while they're locked together.

    • Kirk is deadset on catching the Gorn ship and immediately destroying it. Considering an outpost was seemingly destroyed for no reason, is he not the least bit interested in finding out why they did it and if more are coming?

  • QUOTES (9)

    • Metron: Your captain is losing his battle. We would suggest you make whatever memorial arrangements, if any, which are customary in your culture. We believe you have very little time left.
      McCoy: We appeal to you in the name of civilization. Put a stop to this!
      Metron: Your violent intent and actions demonstrate that you are not civilized.

    • Kirk: (to the helpless Gorn) No I won't kill you. Maybe you thought you were protecting yourselves when you attacked the outpost. (louder, to the Metrons) No I won't kill him! Do you hear? You'll have to get your entertainment someplace else!

    • Kirk: (speaking into his recorder-translator) I am in personal combat with the creature the Metrons call a Gorn. Immensely strong, he has already withstood attacks from me that would have killed a human being. Fortunately though strong, he's not agile. The agility, and I hope the cleverness, is mine.

    • Gorn: Earthling. I am weary of the chase. Let us be reasonable. You have lost. Wait for me! I shall be merciful and quick!
      Kirk: Like you were on Cestus III?
      Gorn: We destroyed intruders, as I shall destroy you!

    • McCoy: Could it be true? Was Cestus III really an intrusion on their space?
      Spock: It may well be, Doctor. We know so little about that region of space.
      McCoy: Then we could be in the wrong. The Gorns might have simply been trying to protect themselves.
      Spock: Perhaps. That is something best decided by diplomats.

    • Kirk: We're a most promising species, Mr. Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?
      Spock: I frequently have my doubts.
      Kirk: I don't, not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so we'll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mr. Spock, it doesn't make much sense to me either.
      Spock: A thousand years, Captain?
      Kirk: Well that gives us a little time.

    • McCoy: Spock, isn't it enough the commodore is famous for his hospitality? I, for one, could use a good nonreconstituted meal.
      Spock: Doctor, you are a sensualist.
      McCoy: You bet your pointed ears I am.

    • The Metron: You are still half-savage -- but there is hope.

    • The Metron: Sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel that there may be hope for your kind. Therefore you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilized.

  • NOTES (11)

    • The outdoor scene was filmed on an old 30's studio that was used for filming Westerns. Perhaps the best known movie associated with it is John Wayne's The Alamo.

    • The outdoor filming for this episode takes place near Vasquez Rocks in Bronson Canyon, perhaps one of the best-known pieces of outdoor scenery in science fiction, Western, and fantasy films and TV shows because of its alien-looking landscape. The setting was used again in the episodes "Shore Leave" and "Friday's Child." It was also used in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Who Watches the Watchers," and has been used in the movies Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, The Flintstones, and The Scorpion King. William Shatner himself returned to Vasquez Rocks to film a humorous segment for his 2006 History Channel special How William Shatner Changed the World.

    • This was the first episode to establish that the ship's cruising speed was warp 6 and the top speed was warp 8 (attainable at considerable danger to the ship and crew).

    • This episode marks Sean Kenney's (Lt. Depaul) second appearance on Star Trek. His first was as the deformed Captain Christopher Pike in "The Menagerie."

    • Bobby Clark, who played the Gorn Captain, would later be a guest on the set of the Enterprise episode, "In A Mirror, Darkly Part II." He was a guest of Vince Deadrick Jr., stunt coordinator and the son of Vince Deadrick, stuntman and actor in many episodes of the original series. This episode featured a Gorn as well.

    • During the filming of the Cestus III scenes, a pyrotechnic device detonated too close to William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, afflicting both actors with permanent tinnitus.

    • Mock footage of the Gorn fight was used in the fourth season opener of Family Guy.

    • Footage of this episode was later seen in the films Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and Coneheads.

    • This is one of a few episodes in which the crew see what is happening to Captain Kirk on a planet's surface via the bridge's viewscreen. Other episodes include "The Gamesters Of Triskelion" and "The Savage Curtain."

    • This is the first episode where it is mentioned the Enterprise can't transport somebody when their shields are up.

    • This episode is not based on a short story by Fredric Brown entitled "Arena". That story was first published in Astounding Science Fiction (June, 1944). Rather, Gene L. Coon came up with the idea and later they checked and realized Brown had done a similar story. They got permission from Brown to go ahead in return for a screen credit for Brown.