Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 26

Errand of Mercy

Aired Unknown Mar 23, 1967 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
171 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

The Federation and the Klingon Empire teeter on the brink of war as Kirk investigates a humble planet caught in the middle - Organia, inhabited by pacifists

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  • Kirk and Spock try to defend a planet from the Klingons without precipitating an interstellar war.

    Taking its title from a Charles Dickens quote, this Kirk/Spock episode takes its cue from the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, developing a "battle of the super powers" story before ending it all with a bizarre science fiction twist.

    Just as 20th Century America is easier to define by contrasting it with the Soviet Union, Gene Coon better defines Kirk and the Federation by creating a worthy adversary, the Klingons, with John Colicos stepping into the shoes of their leader, General Kor. Named after Officer Wilbur Clingan (1920-2012), who served with Gene Roddenberry in the Los Angeles Police Department, the new alien enemies literally enter the Star Trek universe with guns a blazing and press their advantage throughout the episode, forcing Kirk and Spock (and Sulu on the Enterprise) to play defense. (Curiously, Dr. McCoy does not appear in the episode at all). A planet-based story, Organia is brought to life by the Arab village portion of the Desilu Culver backlot, offering Kirk and Kor a realistic environment to spar. Colicos plays it to the hilt, all but twirling his evil mustache and setting the standard for all Klingon leaders to come. (He also seemingly invents texting, using his fingers to send a message through is communicator late in the episode. Or maybe his character is scrolling through downloaded information. Either way it's quite a thing to see in a 1960s TV show!)

    Meanwhile, everyone overlooks the Organians (not to be confused with the Oregonians), the peaceful aliens caught in the middle. English Shakespearian actor John Abbott deserves special praise for his seemingly simple portrayal of their Ghandi-like leader, using a disconcerting lack of subtext clues to hide the complexity of his performance. In the end, the episode's great irony is how his character forces Kirk and Kor, who have more in common with each other than the planet's inhabitants, to actually develop a respect for each other borne out of their frustration for the locals. (Meanwhile, the Organian leader mentions offhand how the Klingon Empire and the Federation will eventually become friends and work together, which sets up TNG and Star Trek VI some twenty five years ahead of time, as if the franchise had it all worked out from the beginning). It all leads to Kirk being wrong again and learning another lesson, with Star Trek making an ambitious anti-war statement for 1967. This time, however, Spock points out that Kirk has nothing to be ashamed of, which is not only a good message for the good Captain but also for those of us rooting for him.

    Sadly, Kor never returns in the original series. He does, however, appear in the animated series episode "The Time Trap" (voiced by James Doohan) and (reprised by Colicos) in three Deep Space Nine episodes, beginning with "Blood Oath".

    The Organians finally return to the Star Trek universe in a prequel of sorts to "Errand of Mercy" in Enterprise's fourth season episode, "Observer Effect".

    Remastered: With the Klingons pounding the Enterprise in the ship-based sub-story, you'd think there was a lot for CBS Digital to do, but the truth is the writers intentionally keep most of the action on the planet to avoid expensive effect shots. (Indeed, the episode only has a few shots of the Enterprise actually getting hit, borrowing shots of the Enterprise being fired on from "Balance of Terror" and "Arena" to fill things out and artfully avoiding having to show the Klingon ships). The upgraded version does have some nice battle footage, including debris, and even shows the Klingon fleet; but the shots are quick. Down on the planet, most of the footage is as it always was. (Anyone who thought they'd rotoscope in big Klingon foreheads to match the Klingon look in the films, which would probably cost $100 million and take ten years per episode, is out of their gourd). They do touch up the Organian transformation to make it a little less cheesy. They do not, however, change the stock footage used in the original, continuing to use an old shot of Haiti's Citadelle Laferrire as the makeshift Klingon headquarters. Originally this was supposed to be a matte painting, but Roddenberry simply couldn't afford another one. It's too bad the same thing happens again with CBS Digital, because it's obviously a stock shot, and replacing it with a new digital matte would be a big improvement.

  • One of a Kind

    If I'm not mistaken, this is the only episode of TOS (other than the second pilot, Where No Man Has gone Before) that DeForest Kelley did not appear in.

  • Klingons off the starboard bow …

    So, Kirk meets the Klingons for the first time. Not the lumpy-headed fellows who give the federation such grief from STTMP onwards, but swarthy, shaggy-eyebrowed strutting demagogues who think they’re the Galaxy’s hard men. I never did figure out what the rational was for the switch (other that The Motion Picture had a better budget than the Original Series) but, who cares?

    In this, Kirk is sent by the Federation to protect a peaceful planet, Organia from the militaristic machinations of the Klingons who want to set up a base there. The Organians seem blissfully unconcerned that they’re to be invaded by the 23rd Century’s answer to Ghengis Khan and Kirk’s urging them to stick up for themselves appears to fall on deaf ears.

    The twist is that the Organians are highly-evolved energy beings who make stuff happen by thinking about it, so Kirk’s concern was misplaced. The Organians enforce a peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons and thus war is averted.

    The episode is most noteworthy for introducing the Klingons rather than for any great dramatic achievements, but nonetheless, great fun.moreless
  • Spock almost gets dissected

    Kor steals this episode in the same way Trelane stole the show in "The Squire of Gothos". A fine piece of acting. "It would have been glorious" And how about his arrogance and subtle delight when talking about the Klingon's "Mind Sifter"? Of all the super beings portrayed in Star Trek, I rather fancied the Organians the most. And the idea of them being so advanced that they didn't even need bodies is quite deep and ingenious in concept. Being a philosopher at heart, I rather like the idea that the human race might be moving in a direction like this. Although it's just a television series, it gives me hope.moreless
  • With the Federation and the Klingon Empire on the brink of war, Kirk and Spock try to convince an overly pacifist planet to side with them and stop the Klingons seizing control of the place. A great episode, most notable for introducing the Klingons...moreless

    This is a great, late first season episode which is most notable for introducing the Klingons – original 'Star Trek's most famous enemies. As with all Original 'Trek' episodes, they look very different from their bumpy headed versions in the big-screen movies and later spin-offs. (No official explanation has ever been given about the change of appearance, but Klingon Worf comments in 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" that the Klingons " not discuss it with outsiders"!).

    I found the story to be a very good one, well penned and well performed.

    There are shades of the Nazis, and the persecution of the Jews, as the Klingons take over Organia, especially as they interrogate Vulcan Spock (or 'Vulcanian' as he is referred to here and several other first season episodes).

    John Colicos gives a very good performance as Klingon leader Kor, with great screen presence and a credible adversary to Kirk.

    The Organians are also well performed – all along you wonder why they refuse to fight, and wonder what they are so secretive about.

    Although, as mentioned above, the Klingons have a very different look here, they still have some good costume and make-up work to make them stand out. Kor wears a sash very similar to the one that Worf wore in the first season of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'.

    In several episodes where the Enterprise has encountered advanced beings, humans have been accused of acting quite savage and barbaric; certainly, here Kirk acts very battle-hungry, and even at one point describes himself as a soldier.

    Also of note is some nice dialogue between Kirk and Spock as they sneak around to blow up the munitions dump, complete with Spock working out 'rough' statistics!

    At the end of the episode, Kirk comments on how it feels to be reminded that humans are not the most advanced race in the Universe. Already by the (near) end of the first season he has encountered many powerful beings, so he should start getting used to it!

    This is also a very rare episode that does not feature DeForest Kelley as Doctor McCoy. But it is such a good story that it is actually hardly noticeable.

    All-in-all, I really like this story. It has several good twists and good performances.moreless
John Abbott

John Abbott


Guest Star

Peter Brocco

Peter Brocco


Guest Star

Victor Lundin

Victor Lundin

Klingon Lieutenant #1

Guest Star

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (9)

    • One of the Klingons incorrectly refers to Spock as a "Vulcanian" instead of a "Vulcan."

    • When the weapons heat up at the end, Kor drops his disruptor and runs to his desk. The disruptor is suddenly in a holster at his belt, then disappears after he moves away from the desk.

    • Kirk, Spock, and the Klingons fail to notice the fact that the Organians have automatic doors, despite the fact Spock notes early on that they're not "making progress toward mechanization."

    • Kirk comments at the end that it's disturbing to find out humans aren't the most powerful beings in the universe. To date he's met with the Thasians, the Talosians, the Metrons, Trelane, and the Caretaker of the Shore Leave planet, all of whom are more powerful than humans - it seems an odd time to comment about being disturbed by such things.

    • After Spock and Kirk leave Kor's office, they have a very loud conversation about their planned strategy while a Klingon stands a few feet away, apparently not hearing a thing.

    • Kor says Spock will be kept under close scrutiny, but there's no indication he's ever followed and he helps Kirk blow up the munitions dump that night.

    • Although Kor tells the Organians they can't assemble in groups of more then three and they agree, everytime they meet in council there are five of them, even when Kor is around.

    • When Kirk orders the crew to fire phasers; the exterior shots show the ship firing torpedoes, and torpedo explosions flashing out in space. (This is fixed in the remastered version.)

    • Kirk and Spock beam down to Organia to try to convince the Organians to let the Federation help them. After only a few minutes of failed negotiations, the Klingons come down and take over. Kirk is irritated at the Organians for not allowing the Federation to help. Well, what exactly was the Federation planning to do to help to Organians in the whole ten minutes between Kirk's arrival and the Klingons'? It does seem all too short a time to fortify a planet against invasion.

  • QUOTES (27)

    • Kirk: First you turn us in, then you break us out. What are you doing now, waiting for the Klingons to post a reward so you can turn us in again?

    • Kirk: So, we're stranded here in the middle of a Klingon occupation army.
      Spock: So it would seem. Not a very pleasant prospect.
      Kirk: You have a gift for understatement, Mr. Spock. It's not a very pleasant prospect at all.

    • Kirk: What about Mr. Spock?
      Kor: You are concerned.
      Kirk: He is my friend.
      Kor: You have a poor choice of friends. He will be examined. If he is lying, he will die. If he is telling the truth... he will find that business has taken a turn for the worse.

    • Spock: Verbal persuasion seems to be ineffective. Perhaps a more direct approach.
      Kirk: That's exactly what I had in mind. Didn't I see something that looked like a munitions dump outside of Kor's headquarters?
      Spock: You did.
      Kirk: I think it's time we did a little simple and plain communicating. Tonight.
      Spock: A very meritorious idea, Captain.

    • Kirk: Gentlemen, I have no great love for you, your planet, your culture. Despite that, Mr. Spock and I are going to go out there and quite probably die in an attempt to show you that there are some things worth dying for.

    • Kirk: What are the odds on our getting out of here?
      Spock: Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7-to-1.
      Kirk: Difficult to be precise? 7,824-to-1?
      Spock: 7,824.7-to-1.
      Kirk: That's a pretty close approximation.
      Spock: I endeavor to be accurate.
      Kirk: You do quite well.

    • Kirk: Well, what are the odds now?
      Spock: Less than 7,000-to-1, Captain. It's remarkable we've gotten this far.
      Kirk: Less than 7,000-to-1. Well...getting better. Getting better.

    • Kirk: Even if you have some power that we don't understand, you have no right to dictate to our Federation...
      Kor: Or our empire!
      Kirk: to handle our interstellar relations! We have the right...
      Ayelborne: To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?

    • Kirk: Well, Commander, I guess that takes care of the war. Obviously, the Organians aren't going to let us fight.
      Kor: A shame, Captain. It would have been glorious.

    • Kor: (to Kirk, taking him for an Organian citizen) And you, Barona, do you also welcome me?
      Kirk: You're here. There's nothing I can do about it.
      Kor: Good, honest hatred. Very refreshing.

    • Kor: Surely you will wait to see the results before you kill me.
      Kirk: I don't intend to kill you unless I have to.
      Kor: Ah, sentimentality! Mercy! The emotions of peace. Your weakness, Captain Kirk. The Klingon Empire shall win.

    • Kor: (to Kirk and Spock) Do you know why we are so strong? Because each of us is part of a greater whole. Always under surveillance. Even a commander like myself. Always under surveillance. (pointing to a hidden ceiling camera) If you will note.

    • Trefayne: Ayelborne! Eight space vessels have assumed orbit around our planet. They are activating their material transmission units.
      Kirk: (to Ayelborne) How does he know that?
      Ayelborne: Oh our friend Trefayne is really quite intuitive. You can be assured that what he says is absolutely correct.

    • Kor: You of the Federation, you are much like us.
      Kirk: We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.
      Kor: Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep, two tigers, predators, hunters... killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there's a universe to be taken.
      Kirk: It's a very large universe, Commander, full of people who don't like the Klingons.
      Kor: Excellent. Then it shall be a matter of testing each other's wills. Of power. Survival must be earned, Captain.

    • Kor: (to Capt. Kirk) Tell me about the dispersal of your Starfleet.
      Kirk: Go climb a tree.
      Kor: I can get what I want through our mind scanner, but there would be very little left of your mind, Captain, and I have no desire to see you become a vegetable. This friend of yours, the Vulcan. He seems to have the ability to block our mind scanner. I think perhaps I shall find out why. I will have him dissected. Your friend killed, you a mental vegetable. Not a pleasant prospect, but it lies ahead for you unless you tell me everything I want to know.

    • Ayelborne: We shall continue as before. We have nothing to fear.
      Kirk: You have a lot to learn. And if I know the Klingons, you'll be learning it the hard way.

    • Ayelborne: Eventually you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.
      Kor: Never!

    • Kor: It's bad enough being a military governor. But to govern a population of sheep!

    • Kor: Think of it, as we sit here, in space above us, the destiny of the galaxy will be decided for the next 10,000 years. Can I offer you a drink? We can toast the victory of the Klingon fleet.
      Spock: You may be premature. There are many possibilities.
      Kor: Today we conquer. Though if some day we are defeated, well, war has its fortunes good and bad.

    • Kirk: You should be the first to be on our side! Two hundred hostages killed!
      Ayelborne: No one has been killed, Captain.
      Claymare: No one has died here in uncounted thousands of years.

    • Kirk: We think of ourselves as the most powerful beings in the universe. It's unsettling to discover that we're wrong.

    • Kirk: The trigger has been pulled. We've got to get there before the hammer falls.

    • Kor: I don't trust men who smile too much.

    • Kor: You speak of courage. Obviously you do not know the difference between courage and foolhardiness. Always it is the brave ones who die, the soldiers.

    • Kirk: I'm a soldier, not a diplomat. I can only tell the truth.

    • Kirk: Well, there it is--war. We didn't want it, but we've got it.
      Spock: Curious, how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.

    • Kirk: Another Armenia, Belgium... the weak innocents who always seem to be located on a natural invasion route.

  • NOTES (5)


    • Title
      References Charles Dickens' The Live and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, specifically the line, "It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it."