Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 13

The Conscience of the King

Aired Unknown Dec 08, 1966 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (12)

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out of 10
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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.


    "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."

  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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...

    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.
  • Shakespeare meets the holocaust.

    In 1966 World War II had ended just over 20 years ago and the victims of the holocaust were still in many peoples minds. This episode would have had more impact when shown then as it takes its roots from classic Shakespeare and fuses it with the hunting down of a Nazi war criminal and giving justice for the crimes he did during the holocaust.
    Its a well acted episode and although a little slow in places could have worked on any mainstream drama show. I like it that Spock confides in McCoy when things trouble him as he knows the McCoy is Kirks best friend. Miami Vice also did a similiar episode but without the Shakespeare. Titled "Victims Of Circumstance" where the Nazi War criminal's daughter was killing surviving witnesses.
  • You are like your ship: powerful and inhuman; there is no mercy in you

    As surreal as it may be for a show like Star Trek, 'The conscience of the king' is nevertheless a very good tribute to classic stage plays, subtly implementing the many characteristics of the art form to achieve its ultimate and very memorable closing scenes.

    Perhaps what is most memorable or at least original about this episode is its distinct mix of subtle and dramatic tone. Not only is this achieved through the inclusion of the stage actors and their plays, but the actual sets of the 'real' Trek universe are more elaborate and striking than usual. My favourite of these sets has to be the observation deck. Even though not as visually stunning as say, BSG or future Trek series, this simple little room achieves an atmosphere that suits the development of Kirk and his woman of fancy well, creating a sense of romanticism associated with star gazing and indeed, theatre. Furthermore, this outing for the show features a couple of original music pieces that I enjoyed thoroughly simply because it offers a much needed break from the same old recycled stuff that's used episode after episode.

    It's not just the classical sets that form a link between the themes of episode either. Indeed, the entire form and structure of the show nonetheless plays like any good piece of classic Shakespeare: passionate acting; near-perfect pacing and structure; intelligent, engaging dialogue; themes of love, betrayal, mystery and murder. Although not quite as perfected as Macbeth or Hamlet, 'The conscience of the king' still does a fine job of implementing these elements into its story to offer plenty for the characters to engage with.

    What was probably most effective for me was the analysis of Kirk as a man free of his duties as captain. Even though this never happens in the course of the episode, as Lenore states early on, when in the company of his desire Kirk appears free and a little less burdened. Admittedly, Shatner is his typical worst when acting out any sort of love scene, but it's the script that I felt strongly for here and admired its willingness to try and show Kirk as he might be free of his duty. Don't get me wrong though, I wasn't convinced a lot of the time and found many of the romance scenes to be in awfully bad taste, reeking of melodrama. It does provide however, some food for thought and all important characterisation for the captain.

    The character development I enjoyed the most was that of Anton. Unfortunately, I felt Arnold Moss didn't receive as much screen time as he deserved to bring his character to life. There is a specific scene though where Kirk confronts the actor and accuses him of the being the executioner. Instead of outwardly denying it or admitting it, Anton is shown as being a man who has not forgotten about his past but nor is he proud of it. In fact, he is tormented by his past and wants nothing to do with it as much as he can't help but remember. He also presents justification for his acts of murder and even though death is death, what he says doesn't quite make him as black and white as most 'villains' are usually developed to be.

    Aside from the characters, 'The conscience of the king' also manages to build tension very well, resulting in two suspenseful scenes. The first being where Kirk and Spock discover the sound of an overloading phaser in Kirk's headquarters creating an exciting 'race against the clock' scenario that works well and pays off just as effectively. Secondly is the second to last sequence in which the final confrontation between Kirk, Anton and Lenore takes place before the truth spills out into a wonderfully performed and poignant scene that wraps it all up powerfully.

    My one major problem though is the plot hole involving the fact that eye-witnesses of the executioner are being murdered one by one. Not only do I think it's unlikely that only 9 people would still be alive to testify, but there's the super amazingly obvious fact that Kirk was able to find a photo of him the Enterprise's records. If nobody knows what he looked like, why does Starfleet have his photo on file? Essentially it's just a really clumsy mistake that just about defies the whole episode's plot. But still, its one little scene that can perhaps be overlooked in favour for the other aspects that makes the episode a joy to watch.
  • Kirk exposes an aging Thespian of being a poor actor

    Sorry to bring the average score rating of this episode down, but I thought this was quite weak. Poor dialog and dragging script. I was reading the "trivia" section and started to laugh uncontrollably when someone mentioned "How could there only be nine witnesses? If he only killed half the colony there must be thousands of witnesses." or something like that. I can't believe I never thought of that until I read that remark. Hey, why didn't the phaser make Kodos / Karidian disappear? Lenore had it set on "kill" didn't she? For dramatic purposes they had to have his body there, obviously. But, I wish sometimes they'd do a better job of making the rules of the futures instruments and physics jive a little better.
  • Not necessarily the best, but certainly one of my favourites

    When I saw this episode back in the early 1970s, I was blown away by the idea that a science fiction show could do arty stuff like incorporate great chunks of Shakesapeare into the dialogue without it seeming forced. For me, a science fiction fan since I was about five, it proved to me that sf had some artistic validity beyond LOST IN SPACE's childish "Monster of the Week" format (understand, we didn't get TWILIGHT ZONE in the UK till much later)

    The plot cleverly weaves in allusians to Hitler's Final Solution (also just twenty years in the past when this show was made) and uses The Bard's wonderful words to highlight the tragedy of Kodos - a man who did what he thought was right - who is saddened by what history thinks of him.

    But for me, as good as Arnold Moss (Kodos/Karidian) is, the stand out performance is from Barbara Anderson as his ill-fated daughter. Her breakdown in the final scene is portrayed with poignancy and feeling as she delivers her final lines, expressing her grief and regret in the words of Shakespeare, and is not just great science fiction, it's great television too.
  • painful

    what a painful episode.
    Star Trek is good,but this episode sucks.
    the entire episode looks like its made back in 1801,bad storyline.
    Star Trek is science-fiction,not "Sherlock Holmes"!

    Kirk is contacted by Leighton, a friend from Kirk's stay on the Tarsus IV colony years ago, who believes that Kodos the Executioner, the militant dictator who gave the order for scores of people to die on the colony during Kirk's stay, is at large once more in the guise of touring Shakespearean actor Karidian, who, with his touring company, has stopped over at Leighton's post for a performance. Kirk isn't convinced until Leighton turns up dead, leaving Kirk and Lt. Riley the only remaining living witnesses of the Tarsus IV massacre. To investigate further, Kirk invites Karidian's company to travel on the Enterprise to their next performance, and attempts on Kirk and Riley's lives begin immediately.

    bad episode.
    if you like Star Trek,then dont watch it.
  • A mystery from "Kirk's" past is investigated.

    "Conscience of the King" is a slow, melodramatic episode which gives us a glimpse into one of the more tragic moments of "Capt. James T. Kirk" (William Shatner) where he witnessed the massacre of 4000 colonists of Tarsus IV at the hands of a man now known to history as "Kodos the Executioner".

    Fast forward to where the episode begins, 20 years later. Three survivors of the Tarsus IV Massacre ("Kirk," "Lt. Kevin Reiley" and scientist "Dr. Thomas Leighton").

    When "Leighton" (William Sargent) is found murdered by "Kirk" and "Lenore Karidian" (Barbara Anderson), they bring the body back to his home, and "Kirk" arranges to take "Karidian" and the theater group she runs with her father (Arnold Moss) to their next scheduled destination.

    It appears that "Lenore" has become infatuated with the older Starship captain, and "Kirk" appears to return the affection -- or does he? For "Kirk" believes that the gorgeous, young woman's father is in reality "Kodos the Executioner," who is believed to be dead.

    "Conscience of the King," in it's own way, is much like a Shakespearean tragedy. Even the performances of Shatner, Anderson (who steals many of the scenes she's in) and Moss has the feel of Shakespearean actors at times. This episode also slips in many lines from Shakespeare's works into the dialog that don't come close to feeling out of place.

    This episode doesn't rely heavily on special effects. What it does have is fantastic use of lighting and shadow in a few scenes, most notably in the climax of the episode.

    "Lt. Reily" (Bruce Hyde) isn't used much, despite being a central figure on knowing the identity of "Kodos the Executioner". But he is used at the correct times within the episode.

    The episode is not action-packed like your typical action-adventure sci-fi. For some, the episode may lag for the entire hour.

    If you are a casual fan of this series, you might not enjoy this particular story.
  • Captain Kirk tries to prove that the actor Karidian is the former Dictator KODOs before he becomes a victim. This episode uses McBeth and Hamlet too create the storyline and for the acting troup Karidian to perform

    Good episode. An example of how Star Trek adapted literature from the classics to the future. This also is an episode where I can see the relationship developing more closely between the three major characters, Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy. I could see that in the conversation between Spock and McCoy when Spock was trying to convince that there was something wrong with Kirk after Riley was transferred back to engineering.