Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 13

The Conscience of the King

Aired Unknown Dec 08, 1966 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
195 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Kirk is one of the last survivors who can identify a mass killer, who lurks among a Shakespearean troupe aboard the Enterprise.

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  • Kirk attempts to determine if an actor is a former mass murderer he used to know.

    While many episodes of the various incarnations of Star Trek have Shakespearean titles and Shakespearean themes, none owes more to the great Bard of Avon than this "mystery" featuring Captain Kirk.

    Playing out like a stage play in the stars, "Conscience" weaves together several elements from Shakespeare's famous tragedies, serving as both an homage and an intiguing story in its own right. The episode is basically a detective story told through the viewpoint of Captain Kirk, with Spock and McCoy contributing but clearly being relegated to supporting players. In the first half of the story, the suspect is kept at a distance, heightening the mystery, while we (and the Captain, if you know what I mean) get to know his daughter, Lenore, well played by a 20 year old Barbara Anderson. (While Star Trek fans take Kirk's personality for granted today, this marks the beginning of Kirk as an interstellar lothario). Before he can get too far with her, however, we finally get to some scenes with her father, played by longtime character actor Arnold Moss. With his deep voice and distant expressions, he's the perfect Claudius to Kirk's Hamlet, and he leaves everyone with just enough doubt to keep the mystery and suspense alive.

    Shakespeare, of course, isn't everyone's cup of tea, and some will find this episode slow and long winded. But with its character development and melodramatic moments, it really does come across as a nicely put together stage play for those who enjoy this sort of thing; and Joseph Mullendore's lone score for the series is so perfect for the show, it's easy to understand why it's edited into several subsequent episodes. In the end, within its pensive atmosphere and tragic climax, it might be the most timeless offering of the original series.

    Remastered Version: As a "stage play" episode, there's not much for CBS Digital to do, but in addition to CGI shots of the Enterprise and an improved planet, they sneak in some stars in the windows for a scene with Kirk and Lenore walk along an observation deck. Unfortunately, an unusually slow fade from Kirk to the Enterprise in the original episode throws the CBS Digital off. To avoid showing an original shot of the Enterprise, they have to cut from the shot of Kirk before the fade begins, which means they have to fade into the new computer generated Enterprise a couple seconds earlier. As such, the ship is on the screen for a brief moment before its accompanying musical cue strikes up.

  • Kirk suspects that a man named Anton Koridian in a travelling company of Shakesperean actors maybe the mass murderer known as Kodos the Executioner. However, at the same time, Kirk seems to be falling in love with Koridian's daughter.moreless

    "The Conscience of the King" is not a bad episode of Star Trek by any means but it's not a classic either. I did like the story of the episode, but I felt Barbara Moore's overacting had a negative effect on it. Her final scene did not work for me at all and I found myself being more irritated than emotional by her performance. I still recommend this episode, but not as highly as others such as "The City on the Edge of Forever" or "The Menagerie."moreless
  • They really made this crappy script into an episode? Shocking.

    Not only does this episode seem to drag on forever and ever and ever, it flat out doesn't make any sense. If this evil killer was governor of a colony, wouldn't he be well known? And he didn't kill everyone, so how could there be only 9 people (excuse me, 2) still alive that could identify him? Talk about completely ridiculous. In addition to that, how long can Kirk possibly take to make up his mind? Either it's the guy or it isn't. And the love story with the girl was painful to watch as well. In fact, most of the dialogue in this episode was so painful it was hard to take. And the end was pretty stupid as well. All in all, definitely one of the worst episodes I've seen.moreless
  • Not a good episode, but an interesting one that explores human motivations and rationalization in a space setting.

    Kirk must determine whether a visiting Shakespearean actor is really the dreaded Kodos - the executioner of Tarsus.

    I pay little attention to people who dump on this episode as lacking in aliens, space battles, and other devices. 1960s television actually stretched every once in a while - to some people's pleasure and other's disdain. Here, it's meant as an exploration of human psyche and psychosis. So this is a revealing episode, exploring Kirk's past, his willingness to think about its causes, and the relations of a father and daughter.

    The father/daughter relationship is the strength and weakness of this installment. Kodos is a little too broadly drawn, his murdering sin could have been a little less all-encompassing than ordering the death of half a planet and still work. That aside, there is a nice sense of a mystery as attempts are made on the Captain's and Riley's life. McCoy, on the other hand seems to be not too tightly-written, he changes opinions on Kodos a number of times.

    All this leads to the fascinating character of Lenore, daughter of the infamous Kodos. I like the idea, but am a bit repelled by Barbara Anderson's screeching, whining, and half-crazed delivery. Even watching in the earliest days of 70s syndication it weirded me out and distracted me. Still, there is a sad sense of tragedy here (as befits a Shakespeare theme), and parts of the musical score are good enough to be included in "City on the Edge of Forever".moreless
  • An actor who is part of a Shakespearean troupe aboard the Enterprise may possibly have once been a mass-murdering dictator, and is out to kill the last survivors – including Kirk. Although I like the Shakespearean feel, not one of my favourite episodes...moreless

    Reading other reviews for this episode, I'm relived I wasn't the only one who wasn't completely overwhelmed by it. While there may be worse in the 'Star Trek: TOS' barrel (several third season episodes, for example), I found this to be an average-at-best instalment, and felt that it really dragged in places.

    On the Season One DVDs, it is singled out as one of the episodes deserving a text commentary, suggesting that it is one of the highlights of the season, but I would have chosen many other episodes over this one for such a prestige. (I do wonder why such a landmark, influential series such as 'Star Trek' doesn't have such text commentaries for every episode, but that's for another discussion forum!).

    Don't get me wrong, I really like what the episode is going for. Many 'Trek' episodes are littered with Shakespearean references and themes, and this one is such an example. I like its classic themes mixed in with its future setting, and the tragedy that goes with it. But the final episode is, in my opinion, very slow and, in some points, uninteresting.

    It is one of those episodes that could really have used a separate b-plot (as often became common in 'The Next Generation' and later spin-offs) to even things up a bit. With just the main plot, I found my interest wandering.

    It is good to see Bruce Hyde returning as Lt. Riley, after his memorable appearance in "The Naked Time" earlier in the season. It makes the Enterprise feel as if it is more fleshed out with individuals, rather than the faceless, nameless crewmen who appear each week. Sadly, this would be Riley's final appearance.

    Talking of final appearances, it also marks the final appearance of Yeoman Janice Rand (although she doesn't have any dialogue in the finished episode). I've heard various reasons why the character was dropped, which I won't go in to here; but the character later returns as a minor character in 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' and various other 'Trek' incarnations).

    The daftest moment of the episode comes as Dr. McCoy makes his log about Kodos possibly being on board into his recorder, leaving Riley, in the very next room, to overhear the whole thing and set off to try and bump Kodos off! Careless, McCoy, very careless. I really like that not each episode of 'Star Trek' was about the standard 'alien of the week' or the 'space battle of the week', etc., and I think it is one of the things that made it such a popular series. I re-watched this episode recently to review it, and I did enjoy it slightly more than when I was younger. But it still isn't exactly one of my favourites.moreless
Arnold Moss

Arnold Moss

Anton Karidian

Guest Star

Barbara Anderson

Barbara Anderson

Lenore Karidian

Guest Star

William Sargent

William Sargent

Dr. Thomas Leighton

Guest Star

Grace Lee Whitney

Grace Lee Whitney

Yeoman Janice Rand

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Eddie Paskey

Eddie Paskey

Lt. Leslie (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (15)

    • As soon as an attack was discovered on the Enterprise, security would have been assigned to Karidian, who Kirk suspects of the murders. This would have cleared him of involvement in the later attempt.

    • The comparison between Karidian's voice and Kodos's should have been done instantly by the computer. There is no explanation for the delay.

    • At the end of the episode, when Lenore runs from backstage onto the stage, her hair went from perfectly coiffed, to a mussed mess in seconds.

    • When Lenore steals the security officer's phaser, she doesn't change the setting on it before firing. Standard procedure would have had the weapon on a stun setting, which wouldn't have killed Karidian. So why did he die?

    • Trivia: When Kirk is looking for the overloading phaser, he calls for a "double red alert". There is no other instance in Star Trek of such a status.

    • It seems a little odd that Dr. McCoy, the ship's chief surgeon, is sitting in sick bay getting drunk. He's not on shore leave and if he wanted to have a drink or two, why not do it in his quarters? It seems rather unprofessional, to say the least.

    • After the phaser blows up, you can see the sign on Kirk's quarters, his room number is "3F 127", in "The Man Trap", Dr. McCoy's quarters were also number "3F 127".

    • After Lenore kills Karidian, there is a couple of close-ups of him on the ground where he is obviously breathing.

    • Spock later says the computer confirmed that Kirk, Leighton, Riley, and Karidian were all on Tarsus IV during the massacre. It couldn't have done this because Karidian didn't exist until Kodos created the identity sometime after the massacre.

    • After Kirk meets Kodos he asks the computer how many eyewitnesses to the massacre there were that can still testify, it says "Nine." Later Spock asks the same computer the same question and it says there are only two still alive. Why did the computer say to Kirk earlier that there were nine that could testify?

    • The computer says the Tarsus IV incident occurred Stardate 2794.7. In several preceding episodes with Kirk in command the stardate given is a smaller (and thus earlier) number then the date of the Tarsus IV massacre given here, which doesn't make sense.

    • When Spock talks about his ancestors, McCoy comments that they were "conquered." Not only does Spock later say (in "The Immunity Syndrome") that Vulcans have never been conquered, but we've never heard anything in Star Trek or its sequels mentioning Vulcan's "conquest." And yet Spock doesn't mention that McCoy is in error - something he never refuses the opportunity to do.

    • If the computer has photographs and voiceprints of Kodos, why does the prosecution need eyewitnesses to identify Kodos and bring him to justice?

    • There were 4,000 colonists who survived the Tarsus IV execution of the other 4,000 colonists. How were there only nine people who could identify Kodos, given he was the governor of the colony?

    • When Dr. McCoy checked on Lt. Riley the medical scanner was on the setting for a person but it should have been off because Riley wasn't there.

  • QUOTES (11)

    • McCoy: When the man on top walks along his street, the chain of command is often a noose.
      Spock: Spare me your philosophical metaphors, Doctor.

    • McCoy: What if you decide he is Kodos? What then? Do you play God, carry his head through the corridors in triumph? That won't bring back the dead, Jim.
      Kirk: No. But they may rest easier.

    • Karidian: Did you get everything you... wanted, Captain Kirk?
      Kirk: If I had gotten... everything I wanted... you might not walk out of this room alive.

    • Lenore: There is no mercy in you.
      Kirk: If he is Kodos, then I've shown him more mercy than he deserves. And if he isn't... then we'll let you off at Benecia, and no harm done.
      Lenore: Captain Kirk. Who are you to say what harm was done?
      Kirk: Who do I have to be?

    • Kirk: You'll never get off the ship.
      Lenore: Then it will become a floating tomb, drifting through space with the soul of the great Karidian giving performances at every star he touches.

    • Lenore: Star light, star bright. I wish I may, I wish I might. Do you remember that, Captain?
      Kirk: It's very old.
      Lenore: Almost as old as the stars themselves.

    • McCoy: This is the first time in a week I've had time for a drop. Would you care for a drink, Mr. Spock?
      Spock: My father's race was spared the dubious benefits of alcohol.
      McCoy: Oh. Now I know why they were conquered. What are you worried about? Jim generally knows what he's doing.
      Spock: It was illogical for him to bring those players aboard.
      McCoy: Illogical? Did you get a look at that Juliet? That's a pretty exciting creature. Of course your, uh, personal chemistry would prevent you from seeing that. Did it ever occur to you that he might like the girl?
      Spock: It occurred. I dismissed it.
      McCoy: You would.

    • McCoy: In the long history of medicine no doctor has ever caught the first few minutes of a play.

    • Lenore: (to Kirk) All this power, surging and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain?

    • Spock: Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four. Almost certainly, an attempt will be made to kill you.

    • Kirk: Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate -- but a woman is always a woman.

  • NOTES (7)

    • To further enhance the Hamlet theme of the episode, additional footage with references to that play were shot, including scenes of an inter-galactic alien entity that roamed the corridors of the ship as an allusion to the ghost of Hamlet's father. Due to the already-long running time of the episode, these scenes were cut from the final print.

    • This is the only episode of original Star Trek where the Enterprise's observation deck is seen.

    • Features recycled Mojave matte painting from "The Cage," this time it's used for Planet Q.

    • Originally, Bruce Hyde was cast for this episode as a character named "Lt. Robert Daikan." Only after his casting did someone remember he had played Kevin Riley in "The Naked Time" and had the part rewritten. This is the second and last time the character appears.

    • The music played during Dr. Leighton's get-together is a cocktail remix of Alexander Courage's Star Trek theme.

    • The ship's theater is a recycle of the Engine Room.

    • This is the final appearance of Grace Lee Whitney in production order as Janice Rand until the 1979 Star Trek movie.


    • Title:
      Referencing a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." (Act 2, Scene ). This is the play the Karidian players perform for the Enterprise crew, and at the same time subtle foreshadowing of the final scenes of the episode, between Karidian and his daughter.