(written from a Production point of view)
On a planet with a primitive civilization, the Enterprise discovers that the Klingons are providing a Stone Age society with increasingly-advanced weaponry.
On a scientific mission to Neural, a primitive, pre-first contact planet protected by the Prime Directive, Spock, Kirk, and McCoy are doing some minor research on indigenous plant life and chemical compounds. Spock finds large footprints of the Mugato, a white ape-like creature. Kirk remembers his first planetary survey as a lieutenant thirteen years prior on this very planet. Spock comments on the qualities of the planet, how Earth-like it is. Kirk notes that the inhabitants have stayed at the same technological level for centuries, and that bows and arrows are still the tools of hunting. He also explains that the people are peaceful and never fight amongst themselves.
Kirk and Spock hear yells from some of the inhabitants and run over to see what is going on. It is obvious the men are not holding bows and arrows, but flintlock firearms. Kirk explains that it would be impossible for them to have invented these types of weapons in the duration since his previous visit.
Coming toward them is a band of men, one of whom is Tyree, the man Kirk lived with while on his original mission. They are walking directly into a trap set by the armed men. Warned by Spock that the use of his phaser is expressly forbidden, Kirk throws a stone and distracts one of the men, causing him to fire his weapon and give away his position. The other men scatter for cover, as do Kirk and Spock. The armed men make chase and McCoy quickly prepares the USS Enterprise through his communicator for the landing party's return. Spock is shot in the back by one of the flintlock guns and goes tumbling to the ground. Kirk helps him back to his feet and they run to McCoy. The three of them beam up, leaving the armed men wondering where they could have gone.
They arrive on the ship, with Dr. Joseph M'Benga and Nurse Chapel waiting in the transporter room ready to treat Spock. "Lucky his heart is where his liver should be or he'd be dead now", McCoy says. As they hover over Spock, a red alert is called by Lieutenant Uhura; a Klingon vessel is approaching. Before leaving for the bridge with Scotty, Kirk asks McCoy about Spock's condition, and he can only reply, "I don't know yet, Jim."
Kirk arrives on the bridge. Ensign Chekov explains that the Klingon ship does not know of their presence, since the Enterprise is holding the planet between them. Uhura offers to contact Starfleet, but Kirk warns that it could give away their position and alert the Klingons.
Kirk begins to contemplate the likelihood that the inhabitants of the planet could have developed firearms in the few years since they started forging iron. Scotty, Chekov, and Uhura on the bridge offer explanations as to how it could have happened progressively but Kirk abruptly cuts them off. He later apologizes, stating to them that he's worried about Spock.
Spock's condition is poor because there are no replacement organs available to treat him. They are forced to wait and see what happens. However, Spock is also in excellent hands with McCoy's immediate subordinate, Dr. M'Benga, who has considerable experience in treating Vulcans, having interned in a Vulcan ward. Kirk explains to McCoy that they must go down to the planet, together, overruling McCoy's preference to treat Spock personally by reminding him of his own recommendation of M'Benga, and must discover what has happened with the disparity in weapons. While asking Scotty to have the ship's stores prepare period clothing, Kirk is warned that Enterprise may have to leave orbit to avoid being discovered. They set a time for a rendezvous.
- "Captain's log, stardate 4211.4. Keeping our presence here secret is an enormous tactical advantage. Therefore, I cannot risk contact with Starfleet Command. I must take action on my own judgment. I've elected to violate orders... and make contact with planet inhabitants here."
McCoy and Kirk beam down to the planet. McCoy reminds him of their orders. Kirk recalls it was his own recommendation not to permit contact with the inhabitants.
As the men walk, Kirk is attacked by a Mugato. He is bitten and suffers from the effects of its poison fangs. McCoy pulls out his phaser and vaporizes the Mugato. Rushing to Kirk's side, McCoy's small collection of medical supplies will not be sufficient to save his life. He attempts to contact the ship but to no avail – it has left orbit. Kirk tells him to get Tyree's men, the Hill People, who have already found them.
McCoy explains to them that they must take Kirk to Tyree or he will die.
Tyree's men bring Kirk and McCoy into their camp.
- "Medical log, stardate 4211.8. Kirk is right about the people here. Despite their fear and our strangeness, they're compassionate and gentle. I've learned the hunter Tyree is now their leader. He is expected to return shortly with his wife, who they say knows how to cure this poison. My problem – the captain is in deep shock. I must keep him warm and alive until then."
Tyree and his wife, Nona follow some men with guns. She explains to him that they must obtain the same "fire sticks", making them strong and able to take the enemy's houses and supplies. Tyree is sure that the enemies will someday return to peace again. She does not agree.
She brags that she is a kahn-ut-tu, valued by men because they aid in achieving power. Tyree claims he accepted her because she cast a spell on him. She explains about many spells that she uses to keep him. She pulls out a sprig of leaves and rubs them on his face and arm, driving the plant's contents into his skin. He is obviously affected by its presence. He grabs her and kisses her intensely.
They are interrupted by a scout, Yutan, from the camp requesting their presence. Tyree is dazed by the plant but Nona heads back. She asks Yutan to bring Tyree when his head has cleared.
McCoy notes Kirk's struggles. Hoping to keep him warm, he uses his phaser to heat rocks in the cave where Kirk lays. As he is heating the last of three stones, Nona returns and sees him firing the weapon. She is surprised and awed. She steps out of the cave, avoiding being seen by McCoy.
As Tyree returns to camp, Nona asks him to explain who these men are before she will help them. Tyree tells her that he promised Kirk silence. She says she is his wife, and that she too will remain silent or Kirk will die without her help.
Back on the Enterprise, Nurse Chapel takes Spock's hand as she watches the medical panel. Dr. M'Benga walks in and Nurse Chapel quickly puts Spock's hand down. M'Benga comforts her and assures her that Spock is concentrating on his healing and that is why his readings are so low. It is self-induced hypnosis. He says that Spock is aware of them and what they are saying but that he cannot show it. He also says that Spock probably knows she was holding his hand. Nurse Chapel looks at him in surprise, then in embarrassment.
Tyree and Nona enter the cave. She pulls out a Mahko root and holds it above Kirk's chest. It moves in her hand. McCoy asks what it is. Nona replies that few know how to use it.
She offers Tyree her knife, and he cuts the palm of her hand. She puts the root on Kirk's bite, then places her hand over the root. Her blood and Kirk's blood mix through the Mahko root. Nona flails about as if she is seeing what is going through Kirk's mind and his knowledge. Tyree softly pounds on a drum. The poison is extracted and Kirk regains his consciousness, then promptly falls asleep. McCoy removes the root showing that the injuries have been completely healed. Nona claims that Kirk belongs to her now.
Tyree explains to McCoy that legend says that no man can refuse a woman who is joined with a man in this way.
McCoy wakes up to find Kirk missing, but discovers that Kirk is sitting in the next room. As he rouses Jim, Tyree stands. Kirk and Tyree are reunited. Kirk remembers nothing since the animal attack, but knew that Tyree would find a kahn-ut-tu to heal him.
Kirk asks Tyree to tell him about the weapons the enemy has acquired. Tyree assures him that he will hear everything.
Back on the Enterprise, Spock's readings fluctuate, but have improved. Dr. M'Benga tells Spock that someone will constantly be at his bedside. M'Benga tells nurse Chapel that if Spock awakes, she is to do whatever he asks.
Tyree tells Kirk that the "fire sticks" arrived about a year ago, and that the villagers are producing them. McCoy asks if any strangers have been seen with them. Tyree answers in the negative. Kirk then asks if they can spy on the enemy during the night. Tyree warns about the Mugato, which travel at night. Since McCoy killed one earlier, its mate will not be far.
Nona walks to the table, alluding to the fact that Kirk and McCoy have enough tools and strength to make Tyree a very powerful man on Neural. Kirk explains to her that they are simply visitors from another village. She interrupts him and claims that they come from the sky and that they have powers far above "fire sticks". Tyree warns her to not speak about any of this with anyone. Nona claims that the act of kindness she did brings her the right to be rewarded. Kirk admits he is grateful, but explains that his people's weapons grew faster than their wisdom. This leads to his vague explanation of the Prime Directive.
Nona assumes that this implies that Kirk will not help them. She is disgusted. Tyree understands the issue and yet refuses to kill anyone. McCoy mentions to Jim that it could be the Klingons who have dabbled in this conflict, and that there may be a way to balance things out. But that possibility disturbs Kirk.
Tyree, McCoy and Kirk make their way to the other village. Kirk knocks out a guard and Tyree takes the man's gun.
An enemy villager named Apella walks into a room with a Klingon, Krell, inside. The Klingon tells him to bring in the man who did the most killings because he is to be rewarded as an example to the others. He offers the man another improvement to the flintlock weapon. He mentions other improvements that will make the weapon more effective and more accurate.
McCoy and Kirk continue their spying. They find coal for forging, and sulfur which is used in making gunpowder. They enter the building and find the forge, some drill points, and barrels of extremely high quality, none of which could have been manufactured by the planet's inhabitants. It is further proof that the Klingons have been providing these weapons.
Voices can be heard outside, forcing Kirk and McCoy to hide. The Klingon man and Apella enter, discussing the rewards for bravery and conquest. Krell assures that rewards will be granted, including power over the planet, and making Apella a governor in the Klingon Empire someday.
As the men are talking, McCoy's tricorder is somehow activated, its high-pitched whirring sound announcing their presence. Kirk leaps from behind the forge and attacks Krell, causing him to discharge the flintlock rifle he carries. It fires harmlessly into the floor. A fight ensues, and though they defeat Apella and the Klingon, they are caught at the door by two more men with rifles.
They escape by clubbing the men with fists and gun barrels. As they run, voices cry out that intruders are in the village. The men are chased through the streets of the village, with the villagers firing their flintlocks at the fleeing Kirk, McCoy, and Tyree.
In sickbay, Spock partially arises from his hypnosis. He calls to Nurse Chapel and asks her to strike him. At first she refuses, but does so to appease his request. Spock barely feels her first few strikes; he asks her to hit him harder. He explains that the pain will help him return to consciousness. She then hits him repeatedly, much harder.
Just then, Scotty enters the room and, assuming Spock is under attack, restrains Nurse Chapel. Dr. M'Benga runs into the room and pulls Spock into a sitting position. He slaps Spock in the face with great swings. After several strikes, Spock catches his hand and explains that he is sufficiently revived.
Witnessing this bizarre ritual, Scotty questions the practice. Spock and M'Benga tell him that it is a natural Vulcan response to self-healing.
On the planet, Kirk explains to Tyree and his men how to use a flintlock weapon and how to work the trigger and hammer. Tyree brings the weapon to his shoulder and fires it, shattering a clay cup on his first shot.
McCoy requests to speak to Kirk about this new development. He is intensely upset that Kirk has now introduced these weapons to both sides in the battle. Kirk defends the decision. McCoy reminds him about the power that Nona supposedly has over him. Kirk explains that they must equalize the fighting forces, even though McCoy is worried about a never-ending war. They discuss the 20th century Brush Wars on Earth, and how it led to the balance of power. They struggle with their decisions, but know there is no better way. Since Tyree refuses to fight, they hope to convince Nona to sway him.
Spock returns to the bridge as Enterprise returns to orbit. They are approaching the rendezvous time. They also detect that a Klingon is beaming back to his ship.
Kirk follows Nona to a waterfall but she believes that she willed Kirk to be there. She pulls out the same leaves she used on Tyree and begins tempting him. Kirk simply wants to talk. He is obviously affected in the same way as Tyree, who happens upon the two of them. His jealousy is aroused, but Kirk walks away from Nona only to return to her. Tyree raises his gun and cocks the hammer. Kirk and Nona kiss, but Tyree can't bring himself to fire. He throws the weapon to the ground and runs into the trees.
As Tyree flees, a Mugato appears and makes its way to attack Kirk and Nona. Kirk is dazed by the effects of the leaves and cannot help her. The animal pushes her around repeatedly but Kirk finally pulls out his phaser to vaporize the creature. As he is still recovering, Nona hits him on the head with a stone and takes the weapon.
Tyree returns to the camp. McCoy notices he no longer has his gun. After asking him about it, McCoy asks him to take him back to where he left it. When they arrive, they find Kirk rubbing his head and still fighting off the effects of the plant.
Nona runs to the enemy villagers. She asks them to take her to Apella, because he will know how to use the new weapon. She brandishes the phaser and shows it off to them. The men know she is a kahn-ut-tu, and they only want her for themselves. They surround her and she begins to fight them.
McCoy offers to give Kirk an injection from his hypospray. He refuses and discovers that his phaser is missing. They realize that Nona has taken it.
Nona tells the villagers that the weapon she holds is more powerful than their "fire sticks". They continue to fight her. As the fighting continues, Tyree, McCoy and Kirk catch up to them. Tyree calls out to Nona. The villagers think it is a trap set for them. They stab Nona and throw her to the ground.
A gunfight ensues, and McCoy is struck in the arm but it is only a simple nick. Tyree and Kirk fight the men. A distraught Tyree catches his wife's assailant and bludgeons the man to death with a rock, only stopping when Kirk physically restrains him. McCoy informs them that Nona is dead.
Tyree is angered and asks Kirk for more weapons. He no longer has a desire for peace. McCoy returns the phaser to Kirk. They are upset about the outcome, but there was no other option.
Kirk calls to the ship, and Spock responds. McCoy is almost surprised to hear that Spock is alive, but then tells him that a computer could never die.
Kirk asks Scotty to construct 100 flintlock rifles for the people. Scotty is confused about the request, but Kirk changes his request to, "Serpents, serpents for the Garden of Eden." He adds, "We're very tired, Mr. Scott. Beam us up home."
"And you have ways as far above firesticks as the sky above our world."
- - Nona, telling Kirk that she knows about phasers
"Blast it, do something! He's dying!"
- - McCoy, to the Hill People after Kirk is attacked by a Mugato
"We once were as you are – spears, arrows. There came a time when our weapons grew faster than our wisdom, and we almost destroyed ourselves. We learned from this to make a rule during all our travels – never to cause the same to happen to other worlds."
- - Kirk, explaining to Nona why he won't supply phasers to Tyree
"I'll make a Klingon of you yet."
- - Krell, handing a flintlock to Apella
"What are you doing, woman?!"
- - Scotty, after seeing Nurse Chapel striking Spock in sickbay
"I thought my people would grow tired of killing. But you were right. They see that it is easier than trading and it has pleasures."
- - Apella, as he and Krell enter the storage room
"Jim, that means you're condemning this whole planet to a war that may never end! It could go on for year after year! Massacre after massacre!"
- - McCoy, shocked at Kirk's plan to arm the Hill People
"A balance of power. The trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all, but the only one that preserves both sides."
- - Kirk, justifying his plan to McCoy
"Well, war isn't a good life, but it's life."
- - Kirk, telling McCoy the bitter realities of war
"Touch me again and this small box will kill you."
- - Nona, threatening a group of villagers with a phaser
"Well, I don't know why I was worried. You can't kill a computer."
- - McCoy, after hearing Spock's voice
"A hundred what?"
"A hundred ... serpents. Serpents for the Garden of Eden."
- - Scott and Kirk, as Kirk requests 100 flintlocks
- The first draft script was completed on 30 August 1967. The episode was filmed late September.
- Although the script specifies that the planet is named "Neural," that name is never mentioned in the episode itself. Similarly, Krell's name is never mentioned, either.
- In Don Ingalls' original story outline, the Klingon antagonist was Kor from the episode "Errand of Mercy". In a May 26, 1967 memo, Bob Justman criticized this point, writing, "Here we are in the outer reaches of our galaxy and who should Captain Kirk run into, but good old Kor – an adversary that he has encountered before and with whom he has been unable to get very far. Just think of it – billions of stars and millions of Class M-type planets and who should he run into, but a fella he has had trouble with before. No wonder Kor doesn’t recognize him at first. The coincidence is so astounding, that he must feel certain that it couldn’t possibly have happened." In Don Ingalls' second draft story outline, the character's name was changed to Krell.  
- This episode was intended as a comment on the ongoing Vietnam War. (Star Trek 30 Years)
- The original writer of this episode, Don Ingalls, put the pseudonym Jud Crucis on it after Gene Roddenberry rewrote it. Ingalls' original contained many more overt Vietnam analogies than what finally appeared. According to Allan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium this script referred to Apella as a "Ho Chi Mihn-type" and the tribesmen wearing Mongolian clothes. Though friends with Roddenberry since their days as LAPD officers, Ingalls did not like the changes, and the pseudonym was his wordplay on "Jesus Crucified."
- The original script called the creature a "gumato", but DeForest Kelley kept saying it wrong, so it was changed. (citation needed • edit) The credits still retain the original name. Stock footage of the White Rabbit's footprints from "Shore Leave" were used for the mugato prints.
- Despite directing ten episodes of the series previously, this is the first time Marc Daniels got to film on location with Star Trek. The majority of the episode's location scenes were filmed at the Bell Ranch, separating the San Fernando Valley (in Los Angeles County) from Simi Valley (in Ventura County), with additional filming at Paramount Pictures' B Tank, where the village set stood, previously built for another production. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Two, pp. 378-382)
- This is the only episode in Season 2 to not have a happy ending music.
- This is the only episode in which Spock and Kirk are both incapacitated in two separate incidents with different causes for an overlapping time period.
- George Takei (Sulu) does not appear in this episode.
- This episode marks the first of two appearances of Booker Bradshaw as Doctor Joseph M'Benga. The next one occurs in "That Which Survives".
- In the comic book "The Order of Things" in the Blood Will Tell miniseries, the story is told from the Klingon point of view.
- The novel Serpents in the Garden, which takes place just prior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, has Kirk returning to Neural to investigate the increasing Klingon presence there.
- The background book Worlds of the Federation reports that, in the aftermath of the Enterprise's departure, the Hill People and village people splintered into five separate factions, all fighting each other.
- Story outline "Ty-Ree's Woman" by Don Ingalls: 30 April 1967
- Story outline "A Private Little War": 1 June 1967
- Revised story outline: 5 June 1967
- Second revised story outline: 10 June 1967
- First draft teleplay: 7 August 1967
- Second draft teleplay: 30 August 1967
- Final draft teleplay by Gene L. Coon: early-September 1967
- Revised final draft by Gene Roddenberry: 20 September 1967
- Second revised final draft: 25 September 1967
- Additional page revisions: 26 September 1967, 27 September 1967, 28 September 1967
- Filmed: 29 September 1967 – 6 October 1967
- Day 1 – 29 September 1967, Friday – Desilu Stage 9: Int. Bridge, Transporter room, Sickbay
- Day 2 – 2 October 1967, Monday – Bell Ranch : Ext. Forest, Clearing, Ambush trail
- Day 3 – 3 October 1967, Tuesday – Bell Ranch : Ext. Mugato attack site, Waterfall
- Day 4 – 4 October 1967, Wednesday – Bell Ranch : Ext. Tyree's camp, Clearing
- Day 5 – 5 October 1967, Thursday – Desilu Stage 10: Int. Cave
- Day 6 – 6 October 1967, Friday – B Tank: Ext. Village, Int. Workshop
- Original airdate: 2 February 1968
- Rerun airdate: 23 August 1968
- First UK airdate: 6 July 1970
During the syndication run of Star Trek, no syndication cuts were made to this episode.
Video and DVD releases
- Original US Betamax release: 1986
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 24, catalog number VHR 2359, 2 April 1990
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 2.6, 2 June 1997
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 23, 5 June 2001
- As part of the TOS Season 2 DVD collection
Links and references
- Nancy Kovack as Nona
- Michael Witney as Tyree
- James Doohan as Scott
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- Ned Romero as Krell
- Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel
- Walter Koenig as Chekov
- Booker Bradshaw as Dr. M'Benga
- Arthur Bernard as Apella
- Janos Prohaska as the mugato
- Paul Baxley as Patrol Leader
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Roger Holloway as Roger Lemli
- Jeannie Malone as villager
- Bob Orrison as villager
- Eddie Paskey as Leslie
- Roy Sickner as villager
- Unknown actors as
- Jay Jones as stunt double for Ned Romero
- Regina Parton as stunt double for Nancy Kovack
- Unknown stunt performers as
- Stunt double for DeForest Kelley
- Stunt double for Leonard Nimoy
- Stunt double for William Shatner
20th century; 2255; 2267; advice; agony; ambush; ammunition; answer; antibody; antitoxin; anvil; ape-like; arrow; Asian continent; balance of power; barrel; battle stations; beast (evil beast); blood; "Bones"; bow and arrow; box; bravery; breechloader; brother; Brush Wars; carbon; carnivore; cave; century; chance; choice; chrome steel; class M; coal; coincidence; cold rolling; communicator range; compassion; compliment; computer; consciousness; contact; coranalin; costume; culture; cure; custom; D7-class; day; debate; distant orbit; dizziness; dream; drill point; drum; Earth; Earth-like; emergency; Enterprise, USS; fang; fear; firearm (gun); fire stick; flintlock; forge; fragrance; free will; friend; friendship; furnace; Garden of Eden; gentle; giant power; goods; governor; groove; gun barrel rod; gunpowder; gunshot wound; hammer; hand; hand laser; head; heart; herb; Hill People; Hill People woman, captured; home; home base; homemade; hour; house; Human (aka Mankind); hunter; hunting; hybrid; idea; internship; interstellar war; inhabitant; intruder; iron; job; judgment; Kahn-ut-tu; kiss; Klingon; Klingon Empire; Klingon vessel; Klingon way; knowledge; land; landing party; Latin language; lead projectile; leader; leaf; legend; light; liver; logic; machine gun; madness; massacre; Mahko root; medic; mile; mind; minute; name; Neural; Neural village; night; night of madness; nurse; orbit; order; organ; organic compound; pain; palm; pan (component); panel; patient; people's exhibit; phaser; physiology; pig iron; place; plan; planet; planet survey; plant; poison; powder horn; pressure packet; Prime Directive; priming pan; priming powder; print; problem; profit; promise of silence; question; recorder tape; red alert; remedy; rendezvous schedule; rendezvous time; report; research; rifled barrel; risk; root; rule; scanner tape; scientific mission; self-healing; self-induced hypnosis; ship's store; shock; sister; serpent; skin; sky; sleep; smell; social development; solution; soil culture; soul; space; spear; spell; starbase near Neural; Starfleet; Starfleet Command; status quo; sterilite; stranger; strength; striker; subspace message; sulfur; superstition; status quo; thing; trading; trap; treasure house; Treaty of Organia; tricked; trigger; Tyree's camp; venom; victory; village; village furnace; villager; Vitalizer B; voice; Vulcan (planet); Vulcan (species); Vulcan ward; Vulcans; walking; war; water; weapon; wisdom; witch; year; yellow alert
- "A Private Little War" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "A Private Little War" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "A Private Little War" at Wikipedia
- "A Private Little War" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
|Previous episode produced:
"Journey to Babel"
|Star Trek: The Original Series
|Next episode produced:|
"The Gamesters of Triskelion"
|Previous episode aired:
"The Immunity Syndrome"
|Next episode aired:|
"Return to Tomorrow"
|Previous remastered episode aired:
|TOS Remastered||Next remastered episode aired:|
"Whom Gods Destroy"