Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 18


Aired Unknown Jan 19, 1967 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (11)

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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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • You are still half savage, but there is hope

    Definitely an action-packed Trek episode if there ever was one, 'Arena' has some of the best effects, sets and action of the Original Series, but fails to deliver anything substantially satisfying.

    Before we even get to all the drama and fighting however, 'Arena' opens up with some brilliant dialogue between the Trio that I absolutely loved. Actually, for such a small moment it is actually one my favourite scenes of the episode and uses the character's personalities well. Particularly amusing was the following: Spock-"Doctor, you are a sensualist."; McCoy-"you bet your pointed ears I am!". Ah, as scarily racist as old man McCoy can be, you can't doubt his southern charm.

    Following this, we're taken down onto a federation planet which has been attacked by unknown aliens. And boy does this planet look good! It's not often that you get such an elaborate set such as this on Trek, and it really has an impact on the episode's tone… and those explosions! Real fire and explosions! I know, I know, I'm getting excited over some silly effects that really aren't that special. For 60's Trek however, these are special. In fact I loved this entire setup of the landing party being down on the surface and being targeted by missiles. There is always an imminent sense of threat and danger present and it is well created through the effects, sound and set design. What we end up with essentially is one of the most exciting ten minutes of the entire Original Series. Oh there's also the joy of watching Shatner run around like a chicken; would it ever get old? And please note I am referring to his commando run, and not his 'running' that he does for the majority of the latter parts of 'Arena'… snore.

    The next ten minutes maybe aren't quite as suspenseful as the previous but nonetheless I enjoyed the use of the warp drive as a build up of tension. Very little do we know of the engines that power the Enterprise, but enough is done here to create a sense of danger along with the thrill of the chase.

    Eventually we end up down on an asteroid where Kirk has to do battle with a giant lizard-like creature named the 'Gorn'. Now a lot of people have problems with the Gorn costume, but I'm on the other side of the fence. I don't have that much of a problem with the suit. It's the person inside the suit, or more accurately, the director who told the guy in the suit to move like he was underwater, that I have a problem with. I can understand that it needed to be established that the Gorn were far less agile than Kirk, but the movement used just never comes off as natural or anywhere near convincing.

    Perhaps one of the most interesting themes that I picked up on was of humanity becoming out of touch with our primal instincts and intuition; becoming too reliant on our advanced forms of weaponry. Kirk, stranded on this barren planet certainly wants to kill the Gorn but he does not posses the knowledge -or at least cannot remember how- to do so without technology. Bare in mind that he cannot do the obvious (strangulation or physical force) because the Gorn would simply tear him to shreds if he got close enough. Well, that's at least what we're set up to believe. The reptile never really comes across as being that powerful, but hey, Kirk says so, so that's all that matters right? No, afraid not, major flaw number one.

    My second problem comes from the episode's stalling nature after the first 25 minutes, right up until the last few scenes. What we have is essentially twenty minutes or so of Kirk running around, annoyingly ignorant to the materials around him. I accepted it the first time he stopped near diamonds and announced that he could find 'no weapon that the Metrons talked of', but after so many repeated scenes such as these, I got tired, and quite bored. Kirk's interspersed 'diary' recordings did offer some relief at times, but not much. This is really a shame because the action of the first twenty minutes is top-notch and the finale to the episode is a great morally focused ending; great bookends, terrible books.

    And as if the pace couldn't be killed any more, we get a series of sequences where the crew aboard the Enterprise are forced to watch Kirk down on the planet. Frankly, I didn't see the point in this. It simply doesn't work as well as it could have and doesn't have as much character reaction to make it worth while. If anything it dims the drama and brings down the tension even more.

    What I did enjoy was the analysis of Kirk and his sudden disregard for alien life. This is well contrasted with Spock's opinion that the Enterprise should not seek vengeance, and not destroy the enemy's ship. Of course, Kirk doesn't take heed to his first officer's advice and goes forward anyway, with a smile on his face that only a wild predator tasting the blood of his enemy could possess. Fast forward to the end of the episode, after battling with the Gorn (and almost losing) on a level playing field, Kirk, at the very edge of satisfying his thirst for revenge, puts down his weapon and refuses to kill. It may come off as a little sudden and contrived but it sets up the final conclusion to the episode well.

    A Metron finally appears to Kirk and congratulates him on his success. However the success is not from having the knife at his opponent's throat, but for taking the knife away. The Metron then goes on to speak a statement that I believe just about sums up the main jist of Trek's moral ideology: "You are still half savage, but there is hope". Hope, that's exactly it. If ever there was a key theme underlying every single Star Trek production, it is exactly that: Hope. We acknowledge our past, we resent our misgivings and our savagery, but we also seek to rid ourselves of such traits. Star Trek is such a vision of this future humanity, and 'Arena' although definitely flawed as a piece of television, is a good example of the Trek ideas.
  • An unknown enemy has attacked a Federation outpost, seemingly unprovoked. As the Enterprise pursues the attackers, powerful entities transport Kirk and the leader of the enemy down to a baron planet to battle it out. Classic 'Star Trek'...

    The run of great first season episodes continues; I really like this story.

    It is in some ways a story of three parts: The opening section with the destroyed outpost, the pursuit of the unknown enemy, and, longest of all, the battle between Captain Kirk and the Gorn on the baron planet.

    The section on the bombed outpost is very exciting, and amongst 'Star Trek's best action moments. William Shatner suffers tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears) after being caught too near to an explosion during the filming of an episode, and I think this may well be the one.

    The space pursuit is more average 'Trek', but soon leads on to the main bulk of the episode, when the powerful Metrons transport Kirk and the head of the Gorn down to the planet to battle it out. This section in particular is classic 'Star Trek', and is one of my earliest 'Trek' memories as a child, from when I very first saw the series in one of it's (many) repeats when I was a child.

    As I've commented on other episodes, the location work really helps this episode come alive. Some episodes are let down a bit by not-very-convincing studio sets, and it definitely would have hampered this one; but the decent location work thankfully saves it.

    Some people don't like this episode because the Gorn is (clearly) someone in a rubber lizard suit. In particular, it moves awkwardly and slowly, as the person inside seemingly can't see or move around very well. Well, yes it is the case, but I find that much about enjoying original 'Star Trek' is imagination. Don't nitpick the limitations of the time, and just enjoy the adventure. I'd much rather watch something exciting like this that some of the dull stories in later 'Trek' incarnations!

    There are (as with many original 'Star Trek' episodes) some plot holes to be found in this story. In particular, as several others have commented, why did the Federation set up a colony in Cestus III in the first place, if it was unexplored?

    In many ways, this episode is similar to the first season 'Next Generation' episode "The Last Outpost", which sees an unknown force setting the Enterprise crew and their opponents (in that case, the Ferengi, who at that stage were designed as enemies) on a planet to battle it out.

    Also to note regarding this story is that it was reworked for the second season episode "The Arena" (1985) of the popular 1980s cartoon series 'He-Man and the Masters of the Universe' – of which I am a huge (unashamed) fan. The story was scaled down and adapted for that series, but is very much the same plot. (The series was produced by Filmation, who also produced the 1970s 'Star Trek: The Animated Series', and both make use of many of the same sound effects and similar designs).

    Anyway, back to this actual episode... there are a couple of very small niggles which knock this down from being a perfect 10 (on the old, more flexible rating, I'd probably give it about a 9.8), but it still stands as a classic 'Star Trek' episode, and one of my favourites of the first season.
  • Kirk vs. alien

    Another fine example of the series began on a outpost and ended up on a unnamed planet. Captain kirk and his crew track down an alien vessel which was responsible for wiping out an outpost, but a unseen enemy forced Kirk to fight an Alien on an unname planet. what message have I gotton out of this episode? Revenge leads to nothing. Kirk and thee Alien fight it out to the finish where the winner kills the loser and destroys the ship. Kirk challenge the rules and both surivive. One of the reason why the series is such a success. You'll learn something from the series.
  • Kirk battles an alien known as a Gorn as commanded by a race known as Metrons who are sick of human beings presence on their planet.

    Another cautionary tale by Roddenberry. Kirk and the team arrive on a planet apparently inhibated by an unseen race known as the Metrons.

    Infuriated by humanity and the parties presence, they decide to teach Kirk a lesson by forcing him to fight an alien known as a Gorn. I loved this episode. you gotta hand it to Roddenberry with his social commentary. Essentially the Metrons respond to human beings like they respond to each other with violence and contempt.

    It\'s always funny to see how people react once they receive the same bad treatment they impose on others, however, Kirk\'s party was largely innocent. Kirk eventually uses his wits, and not his strength to kill the Gorn.
  • One of the weakest of the Season

    “The Arena” is a slightly silly, “Monster of the Week” type episodes in the style of other SF shows of the period. Exactly the sort of stuff that made Lost in Space such a juvenile offering was present in a STAR TREK episode in all its shameful glory. Even in the early 1970s, when I first saw this segment, I had problems with it.

    Why would the Federation put an outpost on Cestus III, a planet in a part of the Galaxy they admit they know little about? Did it never occur to anyone in the Federation’s diplomatic section that this might be someone else’s territory? Of course, by any civilised standard, the Gorn’s savage attack on a helpless Federation outpost is an over-reaction, but sometimes that kind of thing happens when you poke a tiger with a stick.

    Then there’s the one-to-one battle on the Arena planet’s surface … Why would Kirk blab his strategies and weaknesses into an alien communication device. Did he not consider that every word would be monitored by the Metrons and, worse, the Gorn?

    And it’s impossible to believe that Kirk wouldn’t realise immediately that those handy mineral deposits could be used to manufacture gunpowder. Every 10-year-old knows that formula. Come to think of it, didn’t the Gorn ever use gunpowder at any period in their history? And are Rock Salt (hey, it’s salt and it grows on rocks!) and sulphur found lying around in the open like that? OK, let’s say it was the Metrons who put the ingredients out in plain sight. The peace-loving Metrons put the components of a deadly weapon in plain view of two “savages”? Not so peace-loving now, eh?

    And I’m not even going to mention the Gorn’s cheesy rubber suit …

    STAR TREK at its worst – poor plotting, shakey philosophy, bleeding obvious resolution. This episode belonged in the third season!
  • It's a Man in a Giant Lizard suit. Shatner gets to pardon the Lizard man with the great "I won't kill him...You hear?" More classic cheese with a moral.

    In a way like my review of "The Man Trap"...this one played like Shakespeare to my 8-10 year old mind back in the 70s. It's still fun today. But,
    you have to have an open mind with the Lizard okay "Gorn" outfit. What's funny is they tried to do this better in Enterprise in the fourth and final season of that show and they used a CGI Gorn. Would you believe the 21st Century UPN Gorn was worse? This is a much loved episode.