May 7, 2020
Star Trek “The Squire of Gothos”
I’ll begin by giving thanks to my colleague Tyler Peterson, who penned the delightful Trials of Miles recaps which inspired me to do this series, which will look at the artistic rise and fall of John de Lancie’s Q, spanning 14 years across three Star Trek series. Fittingly, I’m calling it…
Ironically, the first episode I’m looking at for this is one in which Q himself doesn’t appear. It’s an episode of the original Star Trek series featuring a character many fans now lovingly regard as “proto-Q”.
The episode begins with the Enterprise en route to a planet for a supply mission. This week’s Rand substitute, Yeoman Teresa Ross (Venita Wolf) is giving the bridge crew cups of coffee because the bridge seats have yet to become the super-fine leather they became on Picard’s Enterprise. At the same time, Spock and McCoy are having another of their funny arguments when Bones and Kirk seem to romanticize the idea of a “star desert”.
This banter is interrupted when sensors pick up a planet that went undetected earlier. Sulu attempts to change course, but slowly stands before he suddenly vanishes. Kirk rushes to Sulu’s station before vanishing as well.
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After the title sequence, Spock makes a log entry stating that Kirk and Sulu may have somehow been taken to that mysterious planet. But the ship’s meteorologist Karl Jaeger (Richard Carlyle) says that the planet’s atmosphere is poisonous. The theory, however, gains a little more credence when Uhura receives a message on the screen above her station, which reads:
Spock tells her to reply, asking the person who sent it to identify themselves and gets this in response:
This convinces everyone that someone’s on that planet and Spock sends McCoy, Jaeger, and DeSalle down to investigate. Upon arriving, the trio discover that the air is actually breathable, making the masks they’re wearing unnecessary. However, the beacon Spock gave them is blocked, as are their attempts to contact the ship. When they try to find open ground, they come across a castle. Cautiously entering, they see various displays, including one of the salt vampire from “The Man Trap” earlier in the season. The owner of this place obviously gets around.
They also find Kirk and Sulu, seemingly frozen. The door closes and we see a man (William Campbell, who would later play the Klingon Koloth on both the original Trek series and Deep Space Nine) playing a piano, dressed like he’s binge-watched Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon thousands of times—not that there’s anything wrong with that. He grudgingly unfreezes Kirk and Sulu before introducing himself as “General Trelane, Retired” and telling them the planet is called Gothos.
DeSalle tells Kirk that they can’t contact the ship, while Trelane talks about how much he admires Earth, which is why he whipped up the castle they’re all now in. But he’s taken aback when Kirk says that the setting is 500 years off. But Trelane tells them that he just wants them to stay and be entertained. When Kirk tries to clandestinely tell DeSalle to stun Trelane, the latter notes that the navigator’s surname is French, continuing his affinity for all things Barry Lyndon by saying how much he admires Napoleon. He also greets McCoy, Sulu, and Jaeger in a somewhat condescending tone before managing to momentarily freeze DeSalle in order to get a better look at his phaser. Kirk uses this to try to learn how Trelane created his castle, which is described as a process somewhat akin to the ship’s transporter. But Trelane says they shouldn’t ask questions, and just enjoy themselves. Kirk says thanks but no thanks, prompting Trelane to momentarily whisk him off in order to get a dose of Gothos’s lethal atmosphere.
Up on the ship, Spock is searching for the landing party when he detects a small pocket on the planet and decides to try beaming up whatever life may be in that area. Meanwhile, Trelane shows off his collection of flags carried during Earth battles before going back to his piano. McCoy tells the others that nothing came up on his tricorder when he scanned Trelane. Kirk tries to explain to Trelane that they can’t stay because of their duties. Trelane’s ears perk up when Kirk mentions that his crew consists of women as well as men. Obviously anxious for some romance, Trelane becomes ticked when Kirk stops him from teleporting the ladies down from the ship. That’s when they get a signal from Spock, allowing them to beam back to the ship, while Trelane angrily protests.
Kirk and the rest are on the bridge, but Trelane soon pops up asking Kirk who Spock is, as Kirk mentioned him by name when they beamed up. Spock introduces himself before Kirk tells Trelane to piss off. But Trelane replies by bringing everyone back down to his castle, including Spock, Uhura, and Ross.
Trelane then goes on to temporarily freeze a pissed-off DeSalle, have a brief verbal spat with Spock, and compliment Uhura and Ross on how hot they are. He then asks Ross to dance, while giving Uhura the ability to play his piano to provide the appropriate music. Trelane even changes Ross’s attire into a ball gown. Kirk and the others comment that Trelane’s food and wine have no taste, and his fireplace doesn’t give off heat. They speculate that there must be some sort of machine that allows Trelane to do all this, and they narrow down its location to the big mirror next to his piano, which he always seems to stay close to.
To that end, Kirk insults Trelane and even challenges him to a duel, to Trelane’s delight. He brings out pistols, and they’re the same kind that killed Alexander Hamilton. As they take their positions, Trelane says he’ll have the first shot, and threatens to shoot Spock if Kirk doesn’t participate. Kirk agrees, but all Trelane does is fire a shot toward the ceiling. Kirk then fires his shot into the mirror, revealing machinery and causing all the lights to flicker. Trelane angrily tells Kirk to take his crew and leave, promising retribution before he vanishes.
Kirk quickly gets them all beamed up and tells Sulu to get the hell away from Gothos. But as the ship makes it escape, the planet just keeps appearing in front of them even though Sulu says that they’re on the right track. This pisses Kirk off enough to return to Gothos to confront Trelane. But he gets saved the trouble of beaming down as he suddenly finds himself in a courtroom, with Trelane wearing a white wig, and with a shadow of a noose in the background.
He formally charges Kirk with treason, conspiracy, and insurrection. Kirk once again forcefully tells Trelane to leave his ship alone, but Trelane condemns Kirk to death by hanging.
Fortunately, Kirk doesn’t end up with his head in the noose, because Trelane says that this was too easy and he’s now bored. Kirk builds upon this by suggesting that Trelane could make a sport out of capturing Kirk. Trelane is intrigued and suggests a hunt. Kirk agrees as long as the Enterprise can leave. He instantly finds himself outside the castle and tries to contact the ship. But Trelane pops up and attempts to use his sword on Kirk. The original Star Trek was noted for some nicely staged action moments, but this isn’t one of them, as the pacing doesn’t exactly put the viewer on edge as other fight scenes in the series did.
Kirk still has trouble contacting the ship, and Trelane eventually traps him behind bars at the castle entrance. He goes in for the kill, thrilled at how much he enjoys hunting in this manner, and tells Kirk to get on his knees. But Kirk tells him to piss off and even breaks Trelane’s sword. Trelane throws a fit (can’t he just make another sword?) until voices tell him to stop. Those voices are coming from two glowing green lights in the sky who are apparently Trelane’s “parents”, who tell Trelane to come home and stop bothering Kirk and company. Trelane becomes saddened, saying he was just having fun. But the lights are adamant and Trelane slowly vanishes.
The lights apologize for the behavior of their “son” before allowing Kirk to return to the ship. The episode ends with Kirk telling Spock that Trelane should be classified as a child, albeit an unusually powerful one. Spock is then perplexed when Kirk likens Trelane’s behavior to how mischievous children are when they do things like dipping girl’s pony tails in ink wells. Judging by Spock’s confused expression, I guess there were never any ink wells on Vulcan.
As I noted earlier, the climatic fight in the episode is not exactly an intense moment, although that may be part of the point here. The story is an enjoyable romp (I love how Spock says “Tallyho!”), and while we can see why our heroes may not find Trelane endearing, the character remains engaging thanks to William Campbell’s work. He makes the character a force to be reckoned with, but not exactly villainous. Indeed, the worst he does is briefly giving Kirk a taste of Gothos’s atmosphere.
Today, it’s easy to pick out the similarities between Trelane and Q, not the least of which is the court setting with the respective omniscient being as the “judge”. Also noteworthy is that the machine aspect was taken out of the equation as The Next Generation got underway—it was initially implied that Q’s powers came from technology indistinguishable from magic, but not much was made of this. Still, while Trelane never appeared again, he did appear with Q in Peter David’s Star Trek novel titled Q-Squared.
Trelane’s interest in Earth and humans would also be mirrored by Q’s fascination with Picard and his crew, which would be a recurring theme throughout TNG. Speaking of which, the beginnings of that theme will be on display in the next recap, as we meet not only Q but also the Enterprise-D crew for the first time in “Encounter at Farpoint”.