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Kirk battles an alien captain who has destroyed a Federation outpost.



Captain Kirk and a landing partySpock, Dr. McCoy, O'Herlihy, Kelowitz, and Lang – beam down to the Federation observation outpost on Cestus III at the invitation of its commander, Commodore Travers, who has received quite the reputation for setting a fine table with his personal head chef. When the away team arrives, they discover that the invitation is a ruse and the colony has been destroyed.

Act One[]

After the landing party takes cover and Kirk declares full alert, they discover a single Human survivor in the ruins, Lieutenant Harold. Spock quickly locates the presence of other lifeforms nearby but no other colonial survivors. His tricorder reads them as cold-blooded creatures but definitely not Human. O'Herlihy attempts to scout them out, but is immediately disintegrated by an alien weapon as the landing party is bombarded by a massive shelling attack.

O'Herlihy killed by the Gorn

"Captain, I see something…!" O'Herlihy is suddenly disintegrated by an alien weapon.

At the same time, the USS Enterprise comes under attack in orbit by an unidentified starship. With her deflector screens up, the Enterprise cannot beam up the landing party. Kirk orders Lieutenant Sulu to return fire with the phaser banks, but it has little effect as the alien ship has screens up as well. Kirk orders the use of photon torpedoes, but the torpedoes are ineffective, as the alien is too far away even for visual contact. The captain orders Sulu to take whatever action is necessary to protect the Enterprise, be it leaving orbit or engaging maximum warp. Sulu opts for the former and takes the ship away from Cestus III.

Kirk makes his way to the colony's arsenal, avoiding large blasts from the unidentified attackers, and retrieves a grenade launcher. Spock and Kelowitz rendezvous with him as the first officer reports that the enemy troops are moving towards their location. Kelowitz reports that Lang has been killed (Lang's death in not shown, only mentioned), and gives Kirk his best guess as to where they have moved; Kirk launches the grenade in that direction. The tactic proves successful as the aliens begin to decamp back to their vessel, allowing Sulu to return with the Enterprise and retrieve the landing party and quickly set a pursuit course of the attacking ship.

In sickbay, Harold tells Kirk and Spock of the attack on the colony. The aliens had knocked out their phasers with their first salvo, leaving the colony defenseless; and confirms Kirk's earlier theory that the aliens had faked the message from the colony, diverting the Enterprise to Cestus III in an attempt to destroy what was the only protection in that part of the Federation. Such a move, a prelude to invasion, suggests the correct course: overtake and destroy the enemy before he can return to his home base and report. The captain orders the ship to battle stations and to warp 6 to overtake the aliens. "Red alert. I repeat, red alert. This is no drill," Kirk announces to the crew through the Enterprise's intercom. "This is no drill."

Act Two[]

Metron colony

"We are the Metrons."

The aliens, aware that the Enterprise is in pursuit, jump to warp 6 as well. Kirk orders warp 7 engaged, drawing concern from Spock and chief engineer Scott that a sustained warp 7 speed would be hazardous to the Enterprise's warp engines. Spock argues against destroying the enemy vessel on the basis of respect for sentient life. Kirk disagrees; his opinion is that a crime has been committed and the perpetrators must be punished. Sulu reports that the aliens have moved to warp 7, as well. Kirk, mulling over his options, orders the ship to accelerate to warp 8 and have all weapons departments at battle ready.

Closing in at warp 8, the Enterprise records a scanning beam from an uncharted solar system at 2466 PM. The alien is not approaching this system; it appears that a third party is "curious" about the Enterprise. The alien abruptly begins to slow, going quickly to sublight speed until finally stopping dead in space. Kirk closes for the kill, but the Enterprise is soon slowed to sublight, as well, stopped dead like the alien with all power to the engines and weapons simply cut off.

The architects of this reveal themselves: the Metrons, an advanced race who regard intrusion into their space for the purpose of conflict as entirely unacceptable. They remove Kirk from the Enterprise along with the Gorn captain from the alien vessel and deposit both of them on a suitably prepared world. From there, the two captains will settle their differences, using strength and ingenuity, and the most basic of weapons. The winner and his ship will be free to go; the loser and his ship will be destroyed.

Act Three[]

The Gorn captain is a green, Human-sized reptilian creature, and quite slow compared to Kirk; however, he makes up for this by his superior strength and bulk. Kirk is able to evade him initially, but knows he can't do so indefinitely. He'll have to find a way to defeat his opponent, who is far stronger and tougher, and may have more stamina.

Kirk vs

Kirk fighting the Gorn captain

The key may lie in a comment the Metron made, i.e. that the prepared environment around them contains elements suitable for fabricating weapons. Attack and evasion continue for some time, with Kirk narrowly evading death at the Gorn's claws. Back on the Enterprise, the crew is unable to restore power to the engines and the weapons and remains immobilized. The Metrons reestablish communications and inform the crew that Kirk is losing the battle. In view of his impending death, they allow the crew to watch what is happening on the viewscreen.

The Gorn finally communicates: it proposes that Kirk cease trying to evade him, and promises in exchange to be merciful and quick in killing him. Kirk compares this offer to the supposed "mercy" that was shown to the Humans at Cestus III; this enrages the Gorn, who tells Kirk his people regard Cestus III as part of their territorial space. From the Gorn perspective, they were repelling an invading force. Watching from the bridge (for the Metrons are now allowing this), McCoy posits that perhaps it was the Humans who were in the wrong. Spock agrees it is possible.

Act Four[]

McCoy, Scott, Spock, and Uhura watch Kirk

"If there were only some way we could contact him."
"Yes, indeed, Doctor. If only there were…"

As the conflict continues, Kirk remembers an old formula: gunpowder. Using sulfur, coal, potassium nitrate, diamonds, and a bamboo-like plant, Kirk constructs a makeshift cannon. Spock, impressed by the captain's ingenuity, posits that Kirk might be successful if he can complete construction of the cannon before the Gorn closes in for the kill. Moments from a fatal attack, Kirk rips up his own uniform to make a fuse and uses the metallic recording-translating device provided by the Metrons to spark the coal, allowing Kirk to touch off his crude device, which incapacitates the Gorn.

Kirk fires cannon at Gorn

Kirk fires his makeshift cannon.

Kirk has won the contest, but stops short of delivering the fatal stroke to the Gorn captain. He yells out loud to the unseen Metrons that he won't kill him and that they will have to find their entertainment elsewhere. The Gorn suddenly disappears, and a Metron representative appears before Kirk on the rocks above him: a tall, youthful-looking blond male in a silver toga, who looks rather like a Greek god. The Metron expresses surprise, saying their analysis did not prepare them for Kirk's demonstration of mercy towards his helpless opponent. The Metron claims to be 1,500 Earth years old and informs Kirk that the Gorn has been returned to his ship. The Metron will destroy him for Kirk, if he so chooses. Kirk declines and claims that the Federation and the Gorn can talk their dispute over and perhaps reach an agreement. This also impresses the Metron, who theorizes that although Humanity is still half-savage, perhaps in several thousand years it will be civilized enough to be of further interest to the Metrons. Kirk is returned to the Enterprise (he is no longer dusty and dirty from the battle, and his torn uniform is pristine again), where he discovers that the ship has been relocated five hundred parsecs away from the Metron solar system.


A male Metron representative appears on the planet.

Talking over the incident with the Gorn captain and the Metrons with Spock, Kirk tells his first officer that "We're a most promising species, Mr. Spock, as far as predators go," when Spock asks what happened after Kirk fired off his cannon. Spock remarks that he frequently had his doubts about that, but Kirk informs him that in a thousand years or so, Humanity will be able to prove it to the Metrons. "A thousand years, Captain?," Spock inquires. "Well, that gives us a little time," Kirk replies as the Enterprise heads back to Cestus III.

Log entries[]

Memorable quotes[]

"Doctor, you are a sensualist."
"You bet your pointed ears I am."

- Spock and McCoy, on the prospect of eating non-reconstituted food

"Like most Humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles."

- Kirk, on seeing the Gorn captain

"This place is a mineralogist's dream."

- Kirk, describing the planet

"We appeal to you in the name of civilization! Put a stop to this!"
"Your violent intent and actions demonstrate that you are not civilized."

- McCoy and a Metron, after the Metron announces that Kirk is losing the battle

"I weary of the chase. Wait for me. I shall be merciful and quick."

- Gorn captain, attempting to persuade Kirk to surrender

"Can he do it?"
"If he has the time, Doctor. If he has the time."

- McCoy and Spock, discussing Kirk's chances of firing off the cannon

"By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy. Something we hardly expected."

- Metron, to Kirk

"You are still half savage. But there is hope."

- Metron's parting words to Kirk

"We're a most promising species, Mr. Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?"
"I've frequently had my doubts."
"I don't. Not anymore."

- Kirk and Spock

Background information[]

Production timeline[]


  • "Arena" was written at short notice when several other writers failed to produce scripts on time, leaving the series without a script to shoot. Gene L. Coon volunteered to write a script, leaving at 6pm on a Friday and returning on Monday morning with the initial script.
  • This teleplay was credited to an original story by Fredric Brown, also titled "Arena", that was first published in 1944 on the pages of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. In Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p.206, Herb Solow writes that Gene L. Coon, an avid reader of science fiction, was unaware of the accidental similarity between his work and Brown's story until it was recognized by script reviewer Joan Pearce. To avoid a possible plagiarism lawsuit, the company called Brown and offered to buy the rights to produce his work as an episode, although they did not tell him that the script was already written.
  • The plot also bears some similarity to the Outer Limits episode "Fun and Games" (1964), in which advanced aliens known as Anderrans "electro-transport" Humans and other intelligent beings to do battle with one another on the moon known as "Arena". The Anderrans see Humanity as violent, and the losers of the battles are supposed to forfeit the lives of all the inhabitants of their own planet, and they are only allowed to use primitive technology.
  • In his final speech, the Metron informs Kirk that because he demonstrated mercy, he will not be destroyed. Initially, they said they planned to destroy the loser, "in the interests of peace". In Coon's script, in dialogue not aired, the Metron admits that they had, all along, planned to actually destroy the ship of the winner of the personal combat, because that race would represent the greater danger to them. James Blish preserves this disclosure in his novelization in Star Trek 2.


  • This was the first episode directed by Joseph Pevney, brought in by producer Gene Coon (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 208). Pevney was known for his fast work, and finished this episode – originally expected to be shot in seven days (one day extra) – in six days, remaining on schedule, for which he received a $500 bonus (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One [page number?edit]).
  • The scenes on the planet surface were filmed at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California, the same location used for "Shore Leave", "Friday's Child" and several other Star Trek productions. These are notable for their tilted ledges which form a part of the pursuit.
  • A piece of black aluminum foil resembling stone was placed at the top of the frame of a wide shot of the outpost, to hide houses that would otherwise have been seen in the distance. The remastered version of the episode replaces this with a CGI landscape.

Props and costumes[]


  • This is the first episode to establish the existence of a "Federation". The full title of "United Federation of Planets" would not be used until later in "A Taste of Armageddon".
  • The phaser control room reported that the "aft phasers" were ready, making the first reference in dialogue to the Enterprise having aft weaponry. Aft phasers were later shown to have been a feature of the USS Defiant in Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", which, perhaps not coincidentally, is the first of a two parter featuring a Gorn.
  • This episode is the first to reference, and show the use of, photon torpedoes.
  • According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Family Business", by 2371, Human colonists were once again living on Cestus III, suggesting that the Gorn Hegemony had relinquished control of the planet, or moved to accept Human settlers, after the events of this episode.
  • In the DS9 episode "Trials and Tribble-ations", Captain Sisko admits to Jadzia Dax that he would love to meet Kirk and ask him about "fighting the Gorn on Cestus III…."
  • This was the first episode broadcast in color in the United Kingdom. After the initial uncut showing, the BBC chose to edit the episode for repeat viewings removing all references to the ingredients of gunpowder. The episode was later screened uncut in 1992.[1]


  • The preview contains a Captain's Log recorded solely for the preview: "Captain's log, stardate 3045.6. The Enterprise has responded to a call from Cestus III. On landing, we have discovered the outpost has been destroyed."


  • William Shatner currently suffers from tinnitus due to a special effects explosion on the set of this episode. Both Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley reportedly suffered from tinnitus as well during the remainder of their lives.[1]
  • Bobby Clark later reprised his Gorn performance from "Arena" in the Bring Back... Star Trek documentary in 2009. William Shatner also fought a Gorn in an "Arena" parody to advertise the 2013 Star Trek video game. [2] The same video game, which featured an attack by the Gorn in the alternate reality, used this episode's title as a chapter title.
  • The creation of the diamond cannon was tested on the show MythBusters in late 2009 and deemed implausible. (It's been suggested the wood on the Metron planet may have had different properties, however.)

Remastered information[]

  • "Arena" was the seventh episode of the remastered version of The Original Series to air. It premiered in syndication on the weekend of 21 October 2006 and most notably featured new effects shots of Cestus III from space, the Enterprise battling the Gorn ship, and an expanded matte painting of the outpost, showing more battle damage and giving greater scope to the surrounding terrain. A small but significant alteration also appeared in the form of the Gorn, which blinked several times throughout the remastered episode – achieved with computer-generated eyelids. Another small detail was finally inserted into the episode: the Gorn starship.
The next remastered episode to air was "Catspaw".

Video and DVD releases[]


Links and references[]


Also starring[]


Uncredited co-stars[]

Stunt double[]


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External links[]

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