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Kirk and Spock are forced to fight alongside such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln of Earth and Surak of Vulcan by rock-like aliens who want to understand the concepts of "good" and "evil."



The USS Enterprise is conducting some last observation scans of a planet incapable of supporting life – the surface is molten lava and the atmosphere is poisonous. However, from his science station, Spock detects an enormous power generation coming from the supposedly uninhabitable planet. During the ensuing investigation, the ship undergoes a deep, swift scan from the surface of the planet, causing the lights on the bridge to flicker. Then an image of Abraham Lincoln sitting in an armchair appears on the viewscreen, stunning the bridge crew.

Act One[]

The stunned crew of the Enterprise takes in the image of "Lincoln". He asks to be beamed aboard when the Enterprise is directly above his location on the planet below, to allow the crew to confirm his Humanity. Captain Kirk orders full dress uniforms and for the crew to take the guest at face value, with Presidential honors, while his real nature is determined, much to the chagrin of Scott and Dr. McCoy. While waiting, Spock notes a small change happening on the planet. A landmass has appeared out of nowhere on the lifeless planet, inexplicably capable of supporting life.

In the transporter room, Scott locks the transporter on Lincoln. Spock notes that their target a moment earlier appeared "almost mineral, like living rock with heavy fore claws." Dickerson has his security officers stand ready with their phasers on heavy stun. The lifeform is beamed aboard, with band music playing and Dickerson blowing a bosun's whistle. "The USS Enterprise is honored to have you aboard, Mr. President," Kirk tells the 16th President of the United States.

Lincoln steps off the transporter platform and charms them by asking about the taped fanfare and noting his age. Doctor McCoy scans him with his tricorder and confirms to Kirk that he is indeed Human. After introducing Lincoln to Spock, Scott, and Dickerson, Lincoln immediately wants to answer Kirk's questions about him, as well as questions Lincoln himself would like answered. Kirk dismisses security and leads Lincoln away. After everyone but McCoy and Scott leave, McCoy and Scott wonder about the "living rock" reading.

Act Two[]


Yarnek, an Excalbian

Lincoln makes a brief tour of the ship, impressing Kirk with his charm. A conversation with Lieutenant Uhura illustrates that "Lincoln" knows terminology from the era of slavery and Lincoln escapes from a gaffe with the same grace. He then acknowledges to Spock a concept in Vulcan philosophy, and that there is a great Vulcan philosopher on the planet, but has no explanation for how he knows.

Kirk had a meeting in the briefing room to consider the situation, and leaves "Lincoln" with Uhura to go there. McCoy warns Kirk of the risks on discipline of Kirk being seen admiring an impostor. McCoy and Scott insist that the whole affair is a trap, however, Spock says it would be illogical given their power – they could just as easily destroy the ship, if that were their goal. Kirk declares that they have been offered contact with a new race – the reason for their mission out here– and that he will accept it. Kirk, Lincoln, and Spock are beamed down, but strangely the phasers and tricorder are not – being left behind on the transporter pads.

The surface resembles a canyon on Earth. Kirk now confronts Lincoln, but he insists there's nothing wrong. Then, another being in the form of Surak greets them, also believing to be himself. When Kirk tells them they won't go along with the charade, a nearby rock comes alive. Yarnek, one of the planet's rock-like inhabitants, called Excalbians, says they stage "plays" to learn more about alien philosophies. The current contest, their first experiment with Humans, is to compare good and evil – "good" being represented by the two Enterprise officers, Lincoln, and Surak, and "evil" represented by four archetypes: Kahless the Unforgettable (based on Kahless the Unforgettable, founder of the Klingon Empire), Zora (based on Zora of Tiburon), Genghis Khan (based on ancient Human conqueror Genghis Khan), and Phillip Green (based on the charismatic but duplicitous 21st century genocidal Human military officer Colonel Green). Kirk protests the manner of the invitation, to which Yarnek responds by enabling the Enterprise crew to watch the contest.

Act Three[]

McCoy, Scott and Chekov confirm the uselessness of their situation, but are allowed to watch the area.

Kirk refuses to participate, and, when Yarnek becomes solid and lifeless again, Green comes forward and appeals to Kirk that all eight were tricked, and that they should join forces against the Excalbians. Kirk reminds Green that he would attack enemies while their guard was down during negotiations. But the truce is insincere and Green's associates ambush during the parley, but are repulsed.

Kirk refuses to participate further, and the Excalbians re-enable communication with the Enterprise for just long enough to reveal that its matter/antimatter seal is failing, which will cause the ship to "blow itself to bits" in four hours. Yarnek says this can only be avoided by victory in the combat.

Kirk selects high ground for a defensible base, though noting there is no time for a defensive war. Surak proposes to become an emissary, the option that resolved the final war on Vulcan. Kirk protests that Vulcan logic will not sway their treacherous enemies on Excalbia, but Surak says that their belief in peace may be what the Excalbians are testing. Ultimately, Kirk says he cannot command Surak, who leaves for the enemy camp. He is captured and his cries and screams for help to Spock are heard.

Act Four[]

James T

"I can't let you risk it, Mr. President."
"I am no longer President."

Kirk says they should rescue Surak: "He's in agony." Spock says that Surak knew his risks and that a Vulcan "would not cry out so." Lincoln proposes that they should do what the other side wants – "Not the way they want it, however." He proposes a distraction by attacking in a noticeable manner. This will allow a stealth rescue from behind.

Kirk and Spock each carried many wooden spears. They reveal their approach, distracting Green's henchmen. Spock threw a spear but Khan dodged. Meanwhile, Lincoln silently crept around Green's henchmen to find and free Surak.

Khan lobbed a rock. Kirk dodged and threw a rock back. Spock threw wood spears, and Kirk joined that effort as a distraction. Lincoln crawls and finds Surak dead. He realizes that Kahless was imitating Surak's voice. Kahless starts to imitate Lincoln's voice. Green watched Lincoln, while Kirk and Spock stand ready to throw more spears, but see no target. Lincoln returns to the battlefield. He reveals that Surak died and warns them to stay away. Suddenly, Lincoln falls forward with a spear in his back – struck down from behind, like the real Lincoln was in 1865.

Despite Surak and Lincoln and dying, Kirk and Spock continue the attack, for the purpose of saving the Enterprise's crew. Now Green's henchmen outnumber them four-to-two. Green and Kahless charge at Kirk and Spock. Khan again throws a rock. Spock throws a spear but misses Khan, so Khan duels Spock. Zora attacks Kirk until he topples Zora. Kahless starts dueling Kirk. Zora crawls away from combat. Green watches (ready to help whichever needed aid, but Kahless keeps Kirk busy). Kirk kicks Kahless while they are dueling. Spock continues wrestling Khan. Finally, Kirk jabs his wood spear into the Klingon, who falls dead. Kirk then runs to save Spock by choking Khan. From behind Khan, Kirk lowers his spear over Khan's head and starts choking him. Khan turns and pulls free. Khan and Green flee. Kirk chases and tackles Green. Green wrestles Kirk and tries to stab Kirk using a pointed stick as a knife. Kirk jumped back, and grabbed Green's arm. Kirk bent his arm so the wood knife is behind Green's back and tackles Green onto the point – causing Green's own weapon to kill him. Zora and Khan have escaped, so "good" wins the battle.

Yarnek, who had been observing, says, "It would seem that evil runs off when forcibly confronted." and that he sees no difference between good and evil. Kirk explains a difference: that he [Kirk] repeatedly resisted combat, and only battled when compelled by the threat to the Enterprise crew. In contrast, "evil" usually fights for a leader's personal gain. He asks Yarnek, "By what right" you trapped us and coerced us to fight. Yarnek replies, "The same right that brought you here: the need to know new things." Ultimately, Kirk calls the Enterprise to beam himself and Spock up.

Excalbia, remastered

The Enterprise leaving orbit of Excalbia

Back aboard the Enterprise, Scott and Chekov report that the damage to the ship is reversing, for which they have no explanation. Kirk and Spock reflect on how real "Lincoln" and "Surak" seemed. Spock says it could not be otherwise, since the replicas were created "out of our own thoughts." Kirk feels he understands the effort on Earth to achieve final peace – and all of their work still left to be done in the galaxy. Kirk has Sulu break orbit of Excalbia and the Enterprise heads off into space once more.

Log entries[]

Memorable quotes[]

"I have been described in many ways, Mr. Spock, but never with that word."

- "Lincoln" and Spock

"President Lincoln, indeed! No doubt to be followed by Louis of France and Robert the Bruce!"

- Scott, as Kirk and Spock enter the transporter room

"What a charming Negress. Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know that in my time some used that term as a description of property."
"But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words."

- "Lincoln" and Uhura

"Jim, I would be the last to advise you on your command image…"
"I doubt that, Bones, but continue."

- McCoy and Kirk, in the briefing room

"Lincoln died three centuries ago on a planet hundreds of light years away!" (Scott points)
"More… that direction, engineer." (Spock corrects)

- Scott and Spock

"You're the science officer. Why aren't you – well, doin' whatever a science officer does at a time like this?"

- McCoy, to Spock

"If they’re wrong and they do beam into a pool of lava."
"Then they're dead men. I could'na pull them back in time."

- McCoy and Scotty about to beam Kirk, "Lincoln", and Spock

"Despite the seeming contradictions, all is as it appears to be. I am Abraham Lincoln!"
"Just as I am whom I appear to be."

- "Lincoln" is confronted by Kirk on his true identity only to be joined by "Surak", surprising Spock

"May we together become greater than the sum of both of us."

- "Surak", to Kirk

"You're somewhat different than the way history paints you, Colonel Green."
"History tends to exaggerate."

- Kirk and "Green"

"The face of war has never changed."

- "Surak", to Kirk

"Your Surak is a brave man."
"Men of peace usually are, Captain."

- Kirk and Spock, before "Surak" is killed

"There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending."

- "Lincoln", to Kirk and Spock

"What gives you the right to hand out life and death?"
"The same right that brought you here: the need to know new things."
"We came in peace."
"And you may go in peace."

- Kirk and Yarnek, before Kirk and Spock depart

Background information[]

Story and script[]

  • This episode evolved from a story idea in Gene Roddenberry's March 1964 series proposal, Star Trek is..., titled "Mr. Socrates". Roddenberry's inspiration for the staged fight scenario between Kirk, Spock and "vicious historical figures" came when he was writing a memo to NBC regarding Gene Coon's script "The Last Gunfight" (later retitled "Spectre of the Gun"). (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three, p. 592)
  • Roddenberry's original story outline dated 8 May 1968 featured Socrates visiting the Enterprise along with Abraham Lincoln, and then participating in the fight on the planet surface. In this version, Surak was called "Lvov" and the "good" team also featured the recreation of a "1970s flower power guru" named "Pon". The "evil" team consisted of "Mr. Green", a late-20th century Earth dictator, Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun among others. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three, pp. 592-594)
  • Similarly to "Bread and Circuses", Roddenberry originally intended this episode to be in part a sour commentary on present-day network television. The Excalbians use their staged "dramas" of recreated figures confronting each other as a means of entertainment and education for their population, who all became dependent upon these "stage plays" as their sole means of gaining knowledge and entertain themselves. In Arthur Heinemann's later script version and Fred Freiberger and Arthur Singer's staff rewrites this angle was mostly abandoned, except for a few lines such as Yarnek claiming that "countless who live on that planet are watching". (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three, p. 594)
  • Yarnek is never named in dialogue, but is so named in the script and in the closing credits. Even in the closed captioning, he's merely identified when speaking off-screen as "Excalbian."

Sets and props[]

  • Colonel Green's outfit was later reused by Robin Williams as Mork's uniform in the late 1970s television series Mork and Mindy. [1]


  • The first choice for the role of Lincoln was none other than Mark Lenard, but prior commitments prohibited him from taking the part. As Lenard explained it, "I was doing a series at the time called Here Come the Brides in which I played Aaron Stemple, the resident bad guy/rich man. The Lincoln segment came up about Christmas time when we had a slight hiatus, and I thought I could work it in. I had already played two roles on Star Trek and they were well received. But it turned out we just couldn’t work it in. I think we went back to work on the other series too soon, and instead of having the six or seven days I would have needed to do the role, I only had three or four days." [2]
  • Though credited on-screen for their appearances, both Nathan Jung (Genghis Khan) and Carol Daniels Dement (Zora) have no lines in this episode.


  • This episode includes two further contributions to the ambiguous time period that the series is set in, establishing that "Lincoln died three centuries ago," indicating a mid-22nd century time period, while at the same time establishing, more ambiguously, that the 21st century was "centuries ago."
  • In all previous episodes time aboard the ship is measured in standard units (seconds, minutes, hours). When Lincoln asks Kirk if people "still measure time in minutes," Kirk replies that they can convert to them, implying that they, like the mile (also frequently used), were in fact old-style measurements.
  • This episode introduces several notable figures in the Star Trek universe that would be further explored in later incarnations of the franchise. They include the Human despot Colonel Green (ENT: "Demons"), Kahless the Unforgettable (TNG: "Rightful Heir", et al.), and Surak (ENT: "Awakening", et al.).
  • The image of Lincoln sitting in his chair next to the Enterprise in space is glimpsed in ST: "Ephraim and Dot".
  • Kahless is seen here in the Klingon style typical of TOS. It would seem to contradict the explanation given in "Divergence" for the change in physical appearance of the Klingons, since Kahless lived long before those events. However, since the image of Kahless was drawn from Kirk's and Spock's minds, not from "fact", this is not necessarily a contradiction.
  • The appearances of Kahless and Surak mark the final respective guest appearances of a Klingon and Vulcan in The Original Series.
  • This episode marks the final appearance of dress uniforms in the original series.
  • Uniquely, the security guards wear weapons belts constructed of white Velcro.
  • This episode marks the final appearance of Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) in the series. As a result, this is the final episode of the series to feature the entire ensemble cast of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov.
  • This is the second and final mention in a TOS episode that it may be possible to separate the nacelles from the ship, in this case by specifically jettisoning them.
  • The illusory version of Colonel Green is the final character to die on-screen in TOS's run, as the following episode, "All Our Yesterdays" has no deaths at all, and the only character deaths that occur in the final episode, "Turnabout Intruder", happen off-screen before the episode begins.


  • As with the fan mail phenomenon that occurred after the broadcast of "Journey to Babel", the airing of "The Savage Curtain" resulted in another flood of mail in response to the introduction of Surak. The fans were intrigued by Surak, and demanded to see more of him. (The World of Star Trek) However, Surak did not appear on-screen again until "Awakening", over thirty-five years later, though he was referenced in numerous episodes and films in the intervening years.
  • In 2005, the episode was mentioned in a Time magazine article, "The True Lincoln" (the centerpiece of a "special issue" largely devoted to him), [3] contrasting the lionized, iconic Lincoln seen in the episode, common in the 1960s, with the more flawed, "Human" portrayals often found today.
  • In 2014, the episode again made its way into the news, after supermodel Bar Refaeli, on her Twitter account, repeated the "no honorable way to kill" line as an authentic Lincoln quote. [4]
  • Leonard Nimoy did not think highly of the episode when interviewed in 2012, saying "That didn't work very well, as I recall. It was an interesting attempt that did not really come to life like 'Four Score and seven years'." [5]

Remastered information[]

The episode was remastered in 2008 featuring new shots of Excalbia.

Production timeline[]


The anthem that plays as President Lincoln is beamed aboard the Enterprise was composed by Desilu's music director, Wilbur Hatch. It is also the last original piece of music ever composed for the original series and is only heard in this one episode. (Starlog Magazine [page number?edit])

Syndication cuts[]

Although there were no official syndication cuts to this episode, many local television stations were known to trim segments of Yarnek's speech on the planet, where he is explaining the reason and rules for the conflict between good and evil. One particular line of dialogue, frequently omitted, is a segment where Yarnek pauses and then asks "Why do you hesitate?" when speaking to Kirk and Spock. (The Star Trek Compendium)

Video and DVD releases[]

This volume is a three-episode tape to close out the series.

Links and references[]


Also starring[]


Guest star[]


Uncredited co-stars[]

Stunt doubles[]


19th century; 21st century; 23rd century; ability; active duty; age; agony; agreement (aka settlement); alert status; alien; alternative; American Civil War; American history; analysis; answer; antimatter; Arcturian dog bird (Arcturian); area; assignment; associate; attack; atmosphere; attitude; authority; backwoodsman; base; battery; belief; body; body chemistry; "Bones"; boomerang; boatswain's whistle; briefing room; camp; campaign; carbon cycle life form; century; channel; charade; charm; chief security guard; choice; civilization; class M; claw; clothing; commander in chief; communications officer; communicator; concept; confrontation; contact; contradiction; conviction; courtesy; creature; curiosity; custom; damage report; danger; death; defensive war; definition; demonstration; detonation; device; discipline; distance; drama (aka play); dress uniform, Starfleet; Earth; Earth history; Earth-like; Earth-type; emergency; emergency battery power; emergency procedure; emotion; enemy; energy; energy-matter scrambler; engine damage; engine room; engineering officer/Engineering Officer; estimate; evil; environment; Excalbia; Excalbia's solar system; Excalbians; Excalbian spectators; existence; experiment; explanation; eyes; face; fact; factor seven; failure; father; father image; flesh; foot; forgiveness; France; friend; friendship; frontal assault; galley; game; general; genocide; gentle; goal; good; Grant, Ulysses S.; Green, Phillip; guide; haggis; hailing frequency; hat; have the hide of; heavy stun; hero; honor; honor detachment; hour; Human (aka Earth men or Earthling); humanoid; humor; IDIC; illusion; image; immorality; impostor; inch; information; insubordination; intelligent life; invitation; Kahless the Unforgettable; Khan, Genghis; kindness; Klingon; knowledge; landing party; lava; life (aka lifeform); light year; Lincoln, Abraham; log entry; logic; loony; Louis of France; logic; magnification; mass; matter; matter-energy conversion; meaning; memory; mile; Milky Way Galaxy; mind; mineral; minute; mister; Mr. President; molecule; music; musician; nacelle; name; Negress; nitrogen; Nome; number; objection; observation; observation balloon; observation station; odds; old-style measurements; opportunity; orbit; order; "out of your heads"; oxygen; "paint someone"; peace; phaser; phaser team; phenomenon; place; plate; play; pocket watch; pool; power; power; power failure; prejudice; president; presidential honors; property; punch; quality; quantity; quarrel; question; Qo'noS; radiation; reality; recklessness; red; red alert; red zone; repair crew; rescue; reserve power; restart cycle; result; right; risk; Robert the Bruce; rock; ruffles and flourishes; rumor; sanity; scan; science officer; sea; second; second-in-command; Security Officer; security detachment; sensor; ship's surgeon; sidearm; skin; slavery; sling; smile; solution; space legend; spear; spectacle; speculation; square kilometer; stage; standard dress; Starfleet; Starfleet Command; starship; subject; suffering; suggestion; Surak; surface; surrender; survival; survivor; synchronous orbit; tape; teacher; telegraph; term; theme; theory; thing; thought; thousand; Tiburon; Tiburonian; time; Time of Awakening; transporter chamber; transporter room; trap; tribe; tricorder; tyranny; Union Army; United States of America; violence; Vulcan; Vulcan (planet); Vulcan emissaries; Vulcan history; Vulcan language; Vulcan philosophy; Vulcan salute; warp engine; "when in Rome do as the Romans do" (Rome, Romans); vessel; war; warp power; warrior; weapon; whiskey; wisdom; word; World War III; wrestle; Zora

Unreferenced materials[]

insectoid; Monitor, USS

External links[]

Previous episode produced:
"Requiem for Methuselah"
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3
Next episode produced:
"All Our Yesterdays"
Previous episode aired:
"The Cloud Minders"
Next episode aired:
"All Our Yesterdays"
Previous remastered episode aired:
"Requiem for Methuselah"
TOS Remastered Next remastered episode aired:
"The Cloud Minders"