Here’s another classic Trek episode that needs no defense—in fact it’s one of the all time greats, and probably ranks among my top handful of Star Trek episodes ever made. Kirk and Spock meet the franchise’s first Klingons and wind up coming up against a far more powerful—but ultimately benevolent—force when the Federation and Klingon Empire begin a rush to war.
The anti-war sentiments are served up early when Kirk, after hearing a description of the Organians, whose planet lies at a crucial strategic point between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, calls them “the weak innocents” who so often pay the price when larger forces go to war.
Gene Coon’s teleplay is ingenious in the way it seduces us and Kirk into forgetting all about those high-flown words as we face down the antagonistic, war-like Klingons and their brutal occupation of this peaceful world—and then find that the planet’s passive inhabitants have no interest in helping Kirk resist the threat. Kirk is at first confused by the Organians, then frustrated as he and Spock come under the auspices of Military Governeor Kor (John Colicos in one of the great, iconic performances in all of Star Trek), and finally downright resentful and contemptuous of the peace-loving citizens of Organia. By the climax of the episode our virtuous Captain has all but sided with his Klingon enemy—to paraphrase Kor, they’re ‘two rams among the sheep’—and find they have more in common with each other than with the Organians.
John Colicos the first (and quintessential) Klingon
It’s only at the climax, as Kirk’s early words come back to haunt him in one of the greatest denouements the series ever achieved, that we see that Kirk is utterly wrong, and that the excitement we’ve experienced as viewers rooting for him to overcome a villain on the scale of Ming the Merciless is entirely misguided as well. For Kirk is arguing for a right that is ultimately despicable: “to wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? Is that what you’re arguing for?” Organian leader Ayelborne (John Abbott) asks. Hell yes, we want to see the Enterprise versus the Klingon Fleet! “Errand of Mercy” underscores the price in innocent lives paid by the engagement of these massive forces and shows us that military bluster, however exciting as drama (whether on a television program or the evening news), has shattering and deadly consequences.
The revelation that the Organians have evolved far beyond these kinds of petty grievances, just as they’ve evolved beyond the need for physical bodies, reveals militarism for the primitive impulse that it is—at least as depicted in the Star Trek universe. Measure this against Gene Roddenberry’s story for the later “A Private Little War” and you’ll see the two diametric poles of classic Trek philosophy, with Roddenberry’s Cold War vision arguing that war—however dirty and destructive—was sometimes necessary.
Visions of the two Genes: Roddenberry v Coon
“Errand of Mercy” was one of Trek’s most ambitious stories—yet it had to be told on a shoestring, with stock footage of the environs around the Organians’ central village, unimpressive pyrotechnics when Kirk and Spock sabotage a Klingon munitions dump, and key sequences—the execution of hundreds of innocent Organians and the confrontation between the Enterprise and the Klingon fleet—that had to be taken on faith rather than shown. In this arena it’s the writing and performances that shine—John Colicos is a grand figure as Kor, and it’s apparent immediately that he respects Kirk and sees an equal even when the human is in reluctant disguise as the Organian Baroner. Shatner’s growing irritation with the Organians is beautifully played (“I have no love for you…your culture, or your planet…”), and his expression at that final moment when Ayelborne questions his right to wage war is priceless, as is Nimoy’s knowing glance in his direction. John Abbott and the other largely British actors playing Organians bring a quiet, dignified, but effectively strange presence to their roles. You can even see the late film composer Basil Poledouris (who did Conan the Barbarian and Starship Troopers among other scores) playing a Klingon extra right after a commercial break in a shot that shows Klingons marching in the Organian village courtyard.
The episode’s special visual effects bookend the story—first in an exchange of fire with a Klingon ship in the teaser, and then at the end as the Organians reveal themselves as brilliant, shapeless masses of pure energy. The first sequence actually features what I’ve long considered to be one of the original series best effects: the bolts of energy striking the underside of the Enterprise saucer, opticals that displayed lens flares and interactive lighting on the Enterprise hull as they struck, along with the “proximity phaser” shot effects later used to show photon torpedoes on the show.
Original was pretty good
I’ve been a fan of CBS/Digital’s work on the series—between their work and the dazzling new transfers it’s a treat to rewatch Star Trek after viewing the original episodes countless times over the years. I’m more than open to the dabbling with “canon” issues when it makes sense to do so, such as the practice of putting the Klingon warships that the series couldn’t afford to build into early episodes like this, “The Trouble With Tribbles” and “Friday’s Child.” Last week’s “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” while not 100% successful, did an amazing job at constructing sequences out of whole cloth for scenes that had only the most primitive, vague approaches in their original versions (you’d have little idea that the Enterprise was slingshotting around the sun in that episode’s climax if you didn’t take Kirk’s word for it).
In “Errand of Mercy,” the results are less satisfying, although it looks like at least some shots fell victim to the usual horrendous syndication cuts. The first encounter with the Klingon scoutship hearkens back to the look of “Balance of Terror,” which makes sense given that the stock shots taken from that episode originally formed the Enterprise firing sequence in “Errand.” The Klingon ship’s blue bolts impacting the Enterprise shields don’t have the impact—no pun intended—of the original effects. The chief flaw of the original shots was the extremely grainy footage of the Enterprise miniature, but the interactive lighting, and the visual interest of the lens-flared energy bolts themselves, still gave this shot great impact despite the clumsy editing to achieve a rapid-fire exchange of shots between the two ships. The new footage has the advantage of giving us a Klingon ship to look at—but the first shot of the adversary ship is not impressive, with a glossy finish on the Klingon that makes it look like something out of Tron. A second shot of the Klingon ship turning and firing has a better sense of scale but in this case I think slavishly following the closeup firing shots of the Enterprise is a mistake since the new effects aren’t radically better than the old look.
Later on we do get a nice shot of the Klingon fleet facing off against the Enterprise (although it’s that over-the-shoulder shot of the primary hull that Mark Altman doesn’t like), and there may be additional shots eliminated by the syndication edit. Otherwise (except for a very minor tweak of Kirk and Spock’s phasers stunning some guards midway through) there’s nothing until the Organian transformation sequence at the end. CBS/D has done a very good job of augmenting the original series animation effects, using some ingenious techniques to add layers of detail and luminosity to the sometimes cartoonish work from the Sixties. But the Organian effect is another that’s really not that bad to begin with, and the CBS/D addition of a few more sparkles to the energy fade-out at the end doesn’t really add that much to the shot.
If it sounds like I’m slamming CBS/Digital, I’m not—they’ve proven that they can do superb work and most of what they’ve produced has been a blast to watch. But they are a victim of their schedule, which requires them to not only crank out an episode a week, but also to finish all the first season shows for inclusion in the upcoming Remastered DVD set due at the end of the year. And given extremely effects-heavy episodes like “The Immunity Syndrome” and “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” it seems like we’re seeing fewer of the subtle little “extras” built into each of the Remastered episodes beyond the obvious ship and optical shots. In a perfect world “Errand of Mercy” would have benefited from replacement of the hoary stock footage of a distant castle and the cheap pyrotechnics of Kirk and Spock’s sabotage of the Klingon’s munitions dump, but generating new matte paintings and convincing explosions would have been far too time- and budget-consuming at this stage. The omissions hardly harm this classic episode—“Errand of Mercy” kicked ass with the primitive visual effects it’s sported for decades and the addition of the Klingon fleet is a worthy one. At any rate the real fireworks in this episode come from the story and performances, and they’ll always make this episode worth watching in any incarnation.
Klingon munitions…not that impressive
excellent review Jeff. And exactly in my line of thinking on both the episode and the new CGI….just articulated far better than I would have done.
I too have always been struck with how differently Coon and Roddenberry used the Klingons…and how differently they handled Kirk.
RE: new effect
I am happy to see the Klingon ships work their way into all these episodes, but I too sense the strain that the TOSR are under.
Still, the Klingon “Magnetic Pulses” in the remastered version hit the Enterprise head on, which is the direction the Enterprise returned fire. I was always dis-satisfied (is that even a word?) with the original effect of the bolts hitting the underside of the saucer with the Enterprise firing straight ahead. But that was back in the mid sixties, and I was in high school.
Good review of a fantastic episode. I also prefer the original effect of the pinpoints of energy and their impact on the Enterprise. Can’t wait to see the full length un-cut version on HD disc….someday.
I think the new “energy” effect of the Organians is waaaaay better than the original. The new one LOOKS dazzling and bright, which better matches the way Kor and Kirk shield their eyes from it.
They should have had a Kor’s (Coors) beer at the end.
This is only the second time I’ve felt that CBS Digital’s effects did not surprass the originals. The first was when the Enterprise phasers crippled the Tholian ship in “The Tholian Web.” The second is the Enterprise coming under fire for the first time in this episode. The original shots, with those pulsing lens flares and the teriffic sound effects of the impact, were extremely effective. The new effects severely reduced the power of those scenes. It was nice to see them attempt to show the Big E’s shields in action, but the overall effect was a letdown.
On the other hand, the effects showing the Organians revealing their true form was wonderfully executed and very well done. Hopefully, CBS-D will have a chance to do a little extra work on some of their new shots before the episodes are released to DVD.
Excellent review, Mr. Bond. Well-written, well thought-out, and balanced. “Errand of Mercy” is a truly great episode. Your description of Kirk’s and Spock’s facial expressions when the Organians point out their pettiness in wanting war was a sensitive description of a poignant TOS moment. Thank you for not taking cheap shots at this episode in adolescent attempts at humor, and thank you for a most thoughtful review.
That first shot of the Klimgon ship isn’t that impressive. It does look rather glossy. Sometimes when I watch this show I wish they would just film a model instead of doing 100% CGI. Especially with the Klingon ships.
A new CGI city to replace the stock footage would have been cool. Maybe even throw in a fly by of a classic style Bird of Prey over the city (..hey, a man can dream).
Kor… my favorite Klingon from the classic series. I was always surprised they never used him in the Classic Movies. Such a great character… one I don’t really think of as a ‘villian’… just as a great opponent for Kirk to match wits with. I’m glad they put him to good use in Star Trek: DS9.
By all means, Jeff, slam CBS. Slam them hard.
This is the episode that shows us how out of place the whole Dominion War is in the Star Trek world. TOS and TNG always skirted war, but eventually avoided it because its long and sloppy and ultimately boring. Space ship dog fights might fit well in other series, but not here.
BTW, I never took Private Little War as a prowar tract, and I don’t know why anyone does. It actually seems to me to be a way of making the little people hurt in large power struggles seem so silly and useless. Does anyone see Tyree becoming a vengeful murderer a positive thing in any way?
This is a great episode. I also love observer effect and the fact that Archer made the opposite argument Kirk made with the Organian. I also love the fact that Kor came back on Deep Space nine.
11# I really liked the Dominion War arc. To me, it wasn’t just about “dog fights in space.” It was much more. It was about the brutal cost of war on people (on all sides of the battle). I feel they really handled the war arc well.
I thought I’d dislike the retention of the old Castle on the hill, but CBS-D also got some of the crap off the stock footage, making it match the rest of the episode more closely. Sure, I’d love to see more done. I’d love to see these eps blow out their original time and budget constraints just a little. Instead, they’re still dogged by lack of resources, and in the case of the syndicators doing the cutting, lack of respect.
We need a Star Trek Channel on cable and we need it now!
A First-Rate, Superb Review. They don’t get any better than this — Nuff said.
#9-You know, this is beginning to look like a personal vendetta. Are you a CGI’er in disguise who is pouting because you didn’t get picked for the project? LOL It’s beginning to seem that way.
That said, I would say that I too liked the original “impact” shots of the Enterprise being attacked better than the new ones. The only problem with the old shots is the horrible line next to the nacelle on the left side…and…the awful looking nacelle caps(come on people, where are the whiners? We should protest to the original effects artists!)…and the “dirty” prints of the big E…and………
But seriously, I DO like the actual impact shots better. Maybe if they’d tried to match them more to the original? All other effects were great, IMO!
Still haven’t seen the ep, but saw the side by side reel. I actually like the original effects better. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is really bad in my opinion.
As far as the much heralded Klingon fleet… I’d rather not see if it, if it’s going to look cut rate, and the Organian transfer, while fine on its own, really didn’t impact me one way or the other as being better or worse than the original effect. Just different.
Paramount is breaking my heart with this project.
re Dominion arc: I think there were 3 solid seasons of DS9 built largely around this story, that were brilliant… (3,4 &5) They were hit and miss in seasons 6 & 7.
While TOS is largely my favorite, I think DS9 was actually the best Trek series.
fyi: For those of you who may be interested, Enterprise has been running on Sci-Fi Monday nights from 7 – 10. Season 4 starts next Monday. I’ve only seen bits of it, and lots of people say Season 4 is worth watching. (although i really couldn’t stand what i saw of seasons 1 -3)
#15-Season 4 is definitely worth watching, but what do I know? I like CBS-D’s effects so I must be insane (Dr. Lester)!!!
I too am enjoying CBS-D’s effects very much. So I too am insane (Dr. Lester).
P.S. Guard those crayons!
I might be considered triply insane because I enjoy CBS-D’s effects, Voyager is my favorite Trek series, and Deep Space Nine (which I still enjoy, don’t get me wrong) is my least favorite.
Shall I go for quad-crazy and say I like Jar-Jar Binks? :P
I hadn’t seen this full episode before now, and I enjoyed it. The new shots were cool, and it was a very good story. Looking forward to remastered “Patterns of Force.”
Whoa #18-Let’s not go overboard!!! I’m not sure which scares me more, Jar-Jar or Voyager.
Seriously, my series preference list is:
1. Star Trek (no bloody TNG, DS9, VOY, or ENT)
As far as Jar-Jar…I won’t go there. lol Isn’t it great that there is variety so that we can all have our likes and dislikes. Isn’t it even better when some of us can respect the fact that others may like what we don’t? ;-)
#14, you sound like you’re kissing ass to get a job. If had read what I said in my other thread I like 50% of what CBS has done. But that means they’ve gotten a lot wrong. 50% wrong answers on a test means an F. So at this point I think the project is a wash. I’ll keep watching out of curiosity. After all most of each show is the actors and story. Little of it is CBS’s half way decent job.
The Organians supposedly halted hostilities between the Feds and the Klingons stating “someday the feds and klingons would be friends” (canon freaks site Worf from TNG here).However since the Oraganians put the whammy on Fed/Klingon “hostilities”but Star Trek went ahead and portrayed them as adversaries in the films and shows.What happened to the Organians?Did they loose their will to meddle in the affairs of the Klingon empire!!!
Bond ,..Jeff Bond..
Nice review. Agree with much of what you said. I really hope they get things back on track with the remastering effort, I think the lack of consistency has hurt more than anything. We go from just gorgeous efforts like Space Seed, Tribbles, Corbomite and Doomsday to less than consistant outings like this and Return to tomorrow. As someone with an HD-DVD player I won’t be spending hundreds of dollars on the HD DVD season sets unless they are given the proper time to fix the things we all seem to agree were rushed or didn’t work. I love just about everything they have done but the lack of consitency, overuse of stock footage and missed opportunities as of late are troubling.
Marta gives half a dance this week for the few shots that were really nice but mostly for the gorgeous crisp print
I gotta respectfully disagree with Jeff about the “gloss” on the Klingon ships. The original models looked slightly glossy gray too and it looked like CBS-D was matching that look. Metallic spaceship should have SOME metallic reflections. I think people are too used to the later flat green paint jobs on Klingon ships in the movies and other series.
I’m surprised the review made no mention of the orbital shots of Organia. That is the best the Enterprise has ever looked in orbit around a planet!
I’m really quite shocked, not only at the difference in quality from week to week, but also the difference in style sometimes. I know they have a team of people doing this, but who is doing quality control and maintaining a cohesive artistic look from episode to episode? It doesn’t seem like anyone is sometimes. This is an amazing opportunity, and I just feel it’s missing the target more and more.
21- KOR – What happened to the Organians?Did they loose their will to meddle in the affairs of the Klingon empire!!!
The Organian Peace Treaty is mentioned in the same breath as Sherman’s Planet in “The Trouble with Tribbles.” There’s some fan fiction that states the Organians all but threatened to pull the plug on both starfleets if they tried to make war again. Check out James Blish’s seminal (gad, did I just say that?) ‘Spock Must Die.’
Of course, like all things in big franchises, if it gets in the way, it eventually gets ignored. (i.e. The Warp 5 limitation in TNG “Force of Nature”… or Spider-Man’s little problem in 2 which is NOT in 3… or any memory of Lor in ‘Nemesis.’ — sheesh, shouldn’t have gone there…)
Don’t see any diametrically opposed visions between Coon and Roddenberry; didn’t Roddenberry rewrite everything especially in the first season? Yeah, war might be necessary sometimes; and sometimes it’s cold outside, too. I read Roddenberry wasn’t even happy with the implied lmilitarism in Star Trek II, I think a Starlog article mentioned specifically that he thought Kirk shouldn’t have zapped the ceti eel (they should have saved it for study). Private Little War has a downbeat ending too. As for the improvements, the addition of the Klingon fleet was very good, not because it looked great, it looked good enough to make the point and butress Sulu’s line about the E being attacked. On the other hand, they went into absolute technical calisthenics worthy of an Olympic gymnast to dim the light of the Organian transformation. The way it is now, what the heck is everybody shielding their eyes from? And somebody here made the brilliant observation that every episode fade out that goes to sfx will now have to go. Bye bye, Omega glory. But let’s remember it’s just TV. LLAP.
I have to agree with Mr. Bond. The original effects of the Klingon weapon hits on the Enterprise in the teaser had a liveliness and vibrancy that the CGI cannot duplicate or surpass.
It seems all the CGI effects that involve flame or igniting gases of TOS Remastered have not been totally successful. For example, the Romulan weapon on Balance of Terror didn’t work as well as the original. Same here for EoM. The Sun fly by of TiY was okay, but still lacked some liveliness.
“flame or igniting gases”
hmmm… I think I know a cheap way to do that effect…
I don’t have a problem with gloss finishes on spaceships–the Enterprise itself has benefitted from a nice sheen in certain shots here. But the gloss look on the Klingon ship in this episode robbed it of scale–even of the scale of a 3 foot model. I really do love a lot of the long distance shots CBSD has done for this project–those are the kind of shots that really get the scale of these space confrontations across and the kind of shots that were never possible for budgetary reasons on the original series. But in this case the initial shot just looked too toylike to me.
I think it’s hard to claim the gloss robbed the Klingon ship of scale when the ship is so small in the frame and the shots themselves are so short. They certainly weren’t “toylike” in the same way as the wobbly E shots from last week’s “Yesterday” episode.
I think people are being way too hard on this episode — perhaps lumping their disappointment with last week in alongside it. I agree that the shield effects were so-so but I thought the rest of the episode was top notch.
While it’s natural to compare the new effects with the old, we can’t go about saying that the new effects are better simply because they are new and crisp and offer new angles. That’s a given.
While there are times when I do genuinely prefer the old effects, we know point blank that there are a zillion stock shots, and the old film is grainy and of course there are matte lines, etc, etc, etc.
So let’s not go about saying that these new effects are light years above the old anymore because we have a Klingon fleet that wasn’t there before…
Let’s instead compare these effects by the standards that are available today. The new effects do not hold up to effects produced for DS9 or Voyager, or Enterprise (to at least keep it in the same Universe).
I’m looking for realism, quality of composition, and an effort to blend it with the existing footage in a fashion that speaks to the creative intent where budget wouldn’t originally allow…
I think Mark 2000 stated that he’s tired of the money and budget excuse, and I have to agree, I am too. Hey it’s a TV show, true, but I’m allowed to be passionate about TV as well as a book, as well as a painting, as well as a cartoon. It’s nothing to be ashamed about…
I want better for my classic Trek, and week after week it’s cut rate, low budget effects. Some things done well, but overall, the 50% comment someone made above is right on. It’s an F when testing. I certainly don’t blame CBS-D specifically, but what a shame for such a great idea to get half assed treatment.
I’m waiting for Star Trek Remasterd: The special edition ;)
Shamoy. (I’m not a hater of all things, just bummed with this) Doug L.
Personal opinions are not reality or a consensus. Two guys (or two-hundred for that matter) who think CBS-D’s efforts are “cut rate” “50%” or an “F” are just that: personal opinions.
All TV shows are done on a budget and a schedule. Yeah, we all LOVE classic Trek and want the best for it but the truth is that there is a limited audience for remastered, limited commercial revenues and, therefore, a limited budget. It would certainly be just SWELL if CBS-D had all the money of a big budget summer FX movie (or even a first run series like DS9 or Voyager) but they don’t. It’s super duper easy for fans to lob tomatoes from the comfort of their desktops and insist that other people should pay more money and spend more time (which means more money) on something they’re getting for free. Personally, I love spending other people’s money but how about a moment of perspective. We’re getting 79 episodes remastered with new FX. Not every shot or every episode is going to live up to every fan’s satisfaction regardless of the budget, the time or the talent involved. THAT’s a fact.
No mention on how Colicos says the word, “vegetable?”
#14: “#9-You know, this is beginning to look like a personal vendetta. Are you a CGI’er in disguise who is pouting because you didn’t get picked for the project? LOL It’s beginning to seem that way.”
Oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding. This is a perfectly fair and evenhanded review.
Evidently no one’s allowed to note any inadequacy in any aspect of TOS or TOS-R without offending against Trek Correctness. ;)
I have a different take on it. Paramount has made over a billion dollars so far on all things Trek. Pretty sweet. Now, they are trying to relaunch TOS as a new movie franchise, probably in the hope that they can breath new life into this cultural “icon” for another twenty years. What better way to have a mass audience “buy in” to anything regarding classic Trek, than to have the old TOS episodes remastered and let us watch them for free; sheez, by conditioning the young masses to “bond” with Kirk, Spock et al, it’s like the ultimate infomercial for the new movies! With that in mind, Paramount should be quite willing and HAPPY to “pony up the dough” to make Star Trek Remastered as PERFECT AS THEY CAN GET IT!!!
#34-WHOA, DB!!! I wasn’t sending that message to the reviewer. Frankly, I thought the reviewer did a great job. That was directed at POSTER #9 and the fact that he keeps attacking the Okudas, CBS-D, etc. by calling them hacks. Bond…Jeff Bond’s reviews are some of my favorites, along with yours. Honest!
Jeff excellent review, great commentary on the Coon vs. Roddenberry ideas of war, et. al.
Agree with DB and Lord Michael Appleton. Go back and watch Space Seed, Doomsday, Corbomite or Tribbles, then watch the last few outings and I defy you to tell me the quality of each shot is as consistant or as impressive.
And now banana pudding I shall finally have my revenge!!!
Lord Michael Appleton? Whoohooo, nobody even told me I was up for a promotion! What are my new responsibilities? I’m almost afraid to ask!
#37-“WHOA, DB!!! I wasn’t sending that message to the reviewer.”
Oh. As Emily Letella would say, “That’s very different. Never mind.” :lol:
Certainly don’t expect everything I want just the way I want it, I’m very appreciative of other peoples aesthetics and/or judgement calls. Certainly mine isn’t the only approach.
I don’t want to have to end every sentence with IMO anymore, it’s a bit silly. I speak for myself, but I see enough similar sentiment to think this is only hitting half way home.
Michael Appleton puts a nice spin on it in post 35. I agree with that completely.
Doug L. (still watching anyway)
Hey, thanks Doug. I also see you’re one of the few who embraced my coining of the phrase, “shamoy”, a greeting for those who love Kirk and Spock as a team! Shamoy!
Lord Michael shall be the new Minister of Shamoy at the King to Queens Level Three Foundation
Oh, by the way, how many quatloos per annum does this gig pay?
50,000 Quatloos, 10,000 of which must be wagered in the arena. Your new Drill Thall galt will fill you in
Being the chronic gambler that I am, I wager all 50,000 Quatloos on the newcomer, namely ME! Wheeeeeeeeeee!
30,000 Quatloos that Jim J is our friend Josh T in disguise
What’s the latest word on CBS-D going back to ‘fix’ the earlier episodes that aired last fall? Will they still have time to do it for the DVD?
OMG-NO!!!! I’m not Josh. I’m not nearly that radical….or should I say conservative.