The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Arena

When the Enterprise pays a call to Cestus III, it discovers that the Earth colony there has been destroyed by an unknown alien force. After coming under fire itself, the Enterprise pursues the enemy ship, only to stray into the space of the Metrons, an advanced alien race. The Metrons pit Kirk against the enemy captain – a reptilian Gorn – in a one-on-one deathmatch on a distant planet. And it’s not just Kirk’s life that is at stake – if he loses, the Enterprise will be destroyed.

Powerful aliens are toying with the lives of the Enterprise crew for the second episode in a row, but when it comes to quality, this episode and the Squire of Gothos are streets apart. Not only is this one of the more memorable episodes of Star Trek, but it’s also one of the best, featuring Kirk using both brains and brawn to outwit his enemy, before showing sufficient mercy to impress the highly evolved Metrons. One thing I was surprised by was how it long it takes for the ‘arena’ part of the episode to actually begin – there’s a preceding battle with the Gorn on Cestus III that actually takes up a fair chunk of the episode.

Points of interest

  • The Gorn are a reptilian humanoid race who view the human colony on Cestus III as an invasion into their territory. Even though they are slow and lumbering, they aren’t stupid, and have attained a level of technology on par with that of Starfleet. The lizard suit might look a bit dated now, but it still stands as a good effort to make an alien who isn’t just a human with a bit of facial makeup, which, let’s face it, is what most Star Trek aliens are.
  • The Enterprise gets up to Warp 8 in this episode (recall that this warp scale is not the same as that used in TNG onwards). Anything above Warp 6 is considered dangerous to the ship, and must not be used over long periods of time.
  • I’ll probably stop pointing it out after this episode, but here we have Spock in command yet again in Kirk’s absence. So it’s really not the uncommon thing it was made out to be in The Galileo Seven.
  • A plot point that is used in this episode and many more, is that the transporter cannot be used when the Enterprise’s shields are up. So why not keep the shields facing the enemy ship up, whilst dropping aft shields to enable the transporter to quickly scoop up the away team? I guess the danger there is that the enemy ship might start beaming bombs aboard, but if you coordinated the timing well enough, the risk would probably be lower than that of having the captain and senior officers exposed on the planet’s surface.
  • Unless I’ve been inattentive, I believe this is the first episode where we see photon torpedoes used.
  • A note from the last episode – Uhura referred to Starfleet as “Spacefleet”. We could start putting these early inconsistencies down to Starfleet being one of those organisations that has frequent reorganisations and renamings of its various departments.
  • Before Kirk even tasted the powder to see if it was potassium nitrate (although as far as I can tell it doesn’t actually have a distinctive taste that sets it apart from other salts), Spock had already identified it. Had he seen Kirk finding the other ingredients of gunpowder first, it would have been a logical assumption to make, but as it was, he seemed to have been informed only by magical plot powers.

Summary – Arena: Would an episode that teaches you how to make gunpowder even make it onto TV today?

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