Spectre of the Gun

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"Spectre of the Gun"
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 6
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Written by Lee Cronin
Featured music Jerry Fielding
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 056
Original air date October 25, 1968 (1968-10-25)
Guest actors
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Spectre of the Gun" (originally titled "The Last Gunfight") is an episode from the third season of the original science fiction television series, Star Trek, that was first broadcast on October 25, 1968, and repeated on April 4, 1969. This show was the last episode to air on NBC at 10 P.M. on Fridays. It is episode #61, production #56, and was written by former producer Gene Coon (under the pen name of Lee Cronin) and directed by Vincent McEveety.

In this episode, having been found trespassing into Melkotian space, Captain Kirk and his companions are sent to die in a re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.


On stardate 4385.3, the Federation starship USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk, is instructed to make peaceful contact with the Melkotians, the mysterious alien inhabitants of Theta Kiokis II, but is warned away by a strange space buoy that orders it not to proceed to the Melkotians' planet.

Ignoring the warning, Kirk takes the Enterprise to the planet anyway. Captain Kirk assembles a landing party consisting of himself, First Officer Spock, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Leonard McCoy, and Navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov and beams down to the surface of the planet to make contact. The Melkotians are angered by this and imprison the team in a psychic illusion that takes the form of the town of Tombstone, Arizona, on Earth on the historic date October 26, 1881.

The setting for the town is drawn from Kirk's mind, but the illusion has a surreal incompleteness to it – buildings are obvious facades, windows and pictures appear to float in mid-air, doors open to nowhere, etc. The landing party also sees their equipment is changed: phasers have turned into six-shooters, communicators and tricorders are missing, and there is no longer a way to make contact with the Enterprise.

Kirk and his companions quickly realize they are now impromptu characters in a bizarre reenactment of the legendary "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". Kirk and his team are playing the role of the infamous Cowboys: Kirk as Ike Clanton, Scotty as Billy Clanton, Bones as Tom McLaury, Spock as Frank McLaury, and Chekov as Billy Claiborne. They are forced into a confrontation with the Earp brothers, lawmen Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday. This is the team's punishment for trespassing and violating the Melkotians' strict privacy, a duel to the death, played out as one of the most famous historical events in the Wild West with the crew on the losing side.

They encounter various inhabitants who treat the Enterprise crew members as if they are the people whose roles they are playing. That is especially true for the Earps, who are belligerently determined to kill them at the appointed hour, or sooner if they have an excuse. The crew try every means available to them to prevent the fight, but nothing works. They are physically prevented from leaving the town, the Earps cannot be pacified, and the Sheriff refuses to interfere apart from suggesting the tactic, unacceptable to the Enterprise crew, of ambushing the Earps. The stakes rise further when Chekov is romanced by a local girl named Sylvia. She is harassed by Morgan Earp, who kills Chekov when he interferes. As a result of this tragedy, Spock realizes that this suggests that events in the Melkotian creation can be altered from what happened in reality, as the real Billy Claiborne survived the gunfight (as did Ike Clanton).

That glimmer of hope is dashed when an improvised gas grenade they plan to use on their enemy totally fails on testing, thereby erasing their one possible advantage. Spock remarks that it should have worked, but the hour of the fight comes before he can explain his reasoning. When the crew refuses to go to the corral, they find themselves immediately teleported there and cannot escape.

The team fears for their lives, but Mr. Spock explains his realization. He notes that the gas bomb should have worked according to physical laws; its failure implies that what they are experiencing is not real, despite appearances, but is an elaborate illusion occurring in the minds of the crew that is only as real as their minds accept it to be.

Spock's will is strong enough for him to believe this logical conclusion that nothing in this situation can harm him, but he has to convince the others of the same, as any lingering doubt will prove deadly. Kirk orders Spock to mind meld with each member of the team, in an attempt to wipe away any and all doubt from their minds and convince them that the bullets from the Earps' guns are mere phantoms and will pass through their bodies without injury.

The shootout replays as history dictates, but when the Earps fire their revolvers, their bullets have no effect as Spock predicted. Kirk tackles Wyatt Earp but does not kill him and tosses his gun to the ground. After the fight is over, the Melkotians return Kirk and the rest of the landing party to the Enterprise - including Chekov, whose attraction to Sylvia clouded his perception of the false reality enough for him to survive.

A Melkotian appears again on the bridge viewscreen and claims he is impressed that even though Kirk had the opportunity to kill the Earps, he chose instead to spare their lives. This act of mercy changes the Melkotians' distrustful opinions of the Federation and opens their doors to relations with them.


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode a 'B+' rating, marking it down for loose writing but praising its impressive final showdown and "weird, arrhythmic vibe working for the show for once".[1]


As money was not available for a full set, director Vincent McEveety was asked to use a stylized Western street of false building fronts and no sides.[2]


  1. ^ Handlen, Zack (December 18, 2009). ""Is There In Truth No Beauty?"/"The Spectre Of The Gun"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ Solow, Herbert F.; Robert H. Justman (1997). Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. Pocket Books. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-671-00974-8. 

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