(written from a Production point of view)
This page contains information regarding Star Trek: Short Treks, and thus may contain spoilers.
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 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 appears on the viewscreen, stunning the bridge crew.
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.
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 the phasers and tricorders are 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.
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.
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 clumsy frontal attack with a stealth rescue from behind. Lincoln crawls to effect the rescue, only to find Surak tied up and dead. Kahless was imitating Surak's voice, and now starts to imitate Lincoln's. At great length, Lincoln walks back to Kirk's base. But he warns Kirk to stay back, then topples over with a spear embedded in his back.
Though it is now four-on-two, "good" wins the battle after Kirk kills Green by breaking his neck and the others run off. Yarnek reappears and says that, "it would seem that evil runs off when forcibly confronted." But he sees no difference between good and evil. Kirk points out that "evil" fought for personal gain, while "good" fought when it became necessary to save others. He asks Yarnek by what right the Excalbians compelled the Humans to participate. Yarnek replies, "The same right that brought you here: the need to know new things."
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 warps away.
- "Captain's log, stardate 5906.4. Who or what has been beamed aboard our vessel? An alien who has changed himself into this form? An illusion? I cannot conceive it possible that Abraham Lincoln could have actually been reincarnated. And yet his kindness, his gentle wisdom, his humor, everything about him is so right."
- "Supplemental log, stardate 5906.5. Engineer Scott reporting. The Enterprise is doomed to explode in two hours if Captain Kirk is defeated by the enemy on the surface of the planet. The enormous power of the Enterprise has been neutralized and we sit here watching, unable to assist."
"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
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)
- 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." 
- 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."
- Yarnek is never named in dialogue, but is so named in the script. Even in the closed captioning, he's merely identified when speaking off-screen as "Excalbian."
- 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 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.
- In this episode Sulu remains in command while his senior officers are present on the bridge; he remains in the command chair while Kirk and Spock give Lincoln a tour of the bridge.
- 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.
- 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.
- Genghis Khan and Zora had no lines in this episode.
- 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.
- The image of Lincoln sitting in his chair next to the Enterprise in space is glimpsed in ST: "Ephraim and Dot".
- 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) Surak, however 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),  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. 
- Leonard Nimoy did not think highly of the episode when interviewed in a 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' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QxprD3Ii2M
The episode was remastered in 2008 featuring new shots of Excalbia.
- Series proposal, "Star Trek is...": 11 March 1964 – mentions similar story idea "Mr. Socrates"
- Story outline by Gene Roddenberry, 8 May 1968
- Revised story outline, 9 May 1968
- First draft teleplay by Gene Roddenberry, 11 September 1968
- First draft teleplay by Arthur Heinemann, mid-November 1968
- Second draft teleplay by Heinemann, 27 November 1968
- Final draft teleplay by Arthur Singer, 6 December 1968
- Additional page revisions by Fred Freiberger, 9 December 1968, 10 December 1968, 12 December 1968, 13 December 1968
- Filmed, 11 December 1968 – 19 December 1968
- Day 1 – 11 December 1968, Wednesday – Desilu Stage 9: Int. Bridge
- Day 2 – 12 December 1968, Thursday – Desilu Stage 9: Int. Transporter room, Briefing room
- Day 3 – 13 December 1968, Friday – Desilu Stage 9: Int. Briefing room, Bridge
- Day 4 – 16 December 1968, Monday – Desilu Stage 10: Ext. Planet surface
- Day 5 – 17 December 1968, Tuesday – Desilu Stage 10: Ext. Planet surface (Kirk's base, Green's base)
- Day 6 – 18 December 1968, Wednesday – Desilu Stage 10: Ext. Planet surface (Green's base)
- Day 7 – 19 December 1968, Thursday – Desilu Stage 10: Ext. Planet surface (Green's base, Boulders)
- Original airdate, 7 March 1969
- Rerun airdate, 1 July 1969
- First UK airdate 24 November 1971
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
- Original US Betamax release: 1988
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 40, catalog number VHR 2436, 18 March 1991
- This volume is a three-episode tape to close out the series.
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 3.8, 2 March 1998
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 39, 11 December 2001
- As part of the TOS Season 3 DVD collection
- As part of the TOS-R Season 3 DVD collection
Links and references
- Barry Atwater as Surak
- Phillip Pine as Col. Green
- James Doohan as Scott
- George Takei as Sulu
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- Walter Koenig as Chekov
- Arell Blanton as Chief Security Guard
- Carol Daniels DeMent as Zora (no lines)
- Robert Herron as Kahless the Unforgettable
- Nathan Jung as Genghis Khan (no lines)
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Roger Holloway as Lemli
- Bart LaRue as voice of Yarnek
- Janos Prohaska as Yarnek
- Unknown actors as:
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for William Shatner
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Leonard Nimoy
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Lee Bergere
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Barry Atwater
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- "The Savage Curtain" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Savage Curtain" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Savage Curtain" at Wikipedia
- "The Savage Curtain" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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