While season 3 of Star Trek may have been a bit of a letdown from previous seasons, I find Day of the Dove one of the most profound episodes of the series. I didn’t always notice it but one day, post 9/11, it hit me. “There may be others like you around,” Kirk says to the energy creature, and I think he was right and I know just where to find one. But first, the episode premise…
It’s “Stardate: Armageddon” and Kirk is called to investigate a distress call on a planet with 100 men, women and children. He arrives to find Klingons, and we know Kirk’s prejudice towards them. Michael Ansara plays my favorite TV Klingon, Kang, who knows Kirk on sight and floors him with a quick backhand then takes the landing party prisoner. They beam up to the Enterprise where the crew is pitted against one another in a war without end. It takes a while for Kirk to realize Klingons have not mastered alchemy and with a bit of overacting (“Look at me! Look. At. Me!”) he makes the connection that they are indeed pawns to this alien creature and they have to band together to exorcise the creature from the ship. Jerome Bixby delivers a fairly simple plot but it would take on new meaning to me many years later.
It first happened for me in 2001, after 9/11, then more recently, it’s happened though Donald Trump’s term as president, especially as it neared the end. Covid didn’t help. A little spinning entity created fictitious brothers, phantom colonies, and faked distress calls. It created “faked elections” and “hoax viruses”. It used “idolatry and patriotic drum beating… and even racial hatred” to have us clawing for each other’s throats. “Is that what’s in store for us from here on out? Violence and hatred?” For me, it was the sound of the news reports. The news fed on the fear and anger, growing in ratings as the creature grew in strength. As Kirk says to Kang’s wife, “you’ve been listening to propaganda”. When I see the news, the media… I see the creature. “It exists on the hate of others.” Doctor Who had a great line about the news in 2005’s The Long Game, “Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed. It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilize an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.” That was 15 years before the current election! The news and the media have long held us in its thrall and what do we do? We tune in and sign up for the rallies. We stand in crowds during a pandemic to be pawns in a game. I watched in my neighborhood as two rival parties stood on opposite sides of a major road, one chanting for Trump, the other for Biden, “waving their banners all over the place” and using megaphones to shout the others down. Thank goodness a major road separated them! What was going on? And the talk of a potential civil war? HERE?? This is the United States; surely that could never happen here?! Not again!! “4000 throats may be cut in one night by a running man!” That’s a pretty bleak statement and yet the rivalry is pretty severe! Is it really human nature or is it some form of control? Some secret force making us act out, stirring us up with those patriotic drum beats? Surely what’s really at the heart of our species is what drives all those romcoms and the feel-good movies and the Christmas cheer that we see every December. That’s got to be the truth of our species, right? Perhaps not when we are under the control of the entity. Good God, man, Spock expresses it in this story: racial hatred before nearly clubbing Scotty down. Scotty calling Klingons “fuzz faced goons” and Spock a “half breed freak”. McCoy, the doctor, raging against the Klingons ready to watch them be slaughtered. Chekov ready to rape Kang’s wife! This can’t be who the crew really is, can it? More terrifying still, this can’t be who we really are… right?
The crew of the science fiction series recognized they were being controlled, like puppets and they rebel. Can we? Ironic then that Spock says that “good spirits might make an effective weapon” to defeat the little CNN-like creature. What drives out the entity? Laughter, good cheer, friendship (including a hearty slap on the back!) Offering the hand of friendship is a better solution to a problem anyway; mutual benefit beats mutual destruction. And as we know, “only a fool fights in a burning house!” Are we still fools or will we work together to put out the fire, before it’s too late?
This is the fifth (of seven) appearances of the Klingon’s in classic Trek but it may be their best. I would like to think that it paved the way for the future of TNG’s era. Alliances can form, friendships can develop and possibilities become endless when we join together and cast out hatred. That was the hope that Star Trek brought us and I just think it might be the lesson we need more than any other right now. ML
The view from across the pond:
To some extent this is a pro-pacifism story, but it does a bit more than that because it shows how conflicts can get started due to external manipulation. The entity that creates the battle on the Enterprise between the Klingons and the humans thrives on hatred, and tricks them into fighting each other, using a combination of tactics: fooling them into believing the other side has committed acts of war that they have not committed, and artificially heightening their aggressive impulses. This might seem like it doesn’t have a relevant message for us, but the point is that tensions were already there to be exploited, and the Klingons and humans have been believing propaganda about each other. The one message that is probably most relevant today, is the danger of buying into misinformation. Both sides have given credence to rumours about how each other treats their prisoners, but the message is muddied by Kirk momentarily living up to his reputation, punching Kang while he is a prisoner. So this is a man who is unable to rise above his base instincts for revenge, and commits an act of violence on a prisoner of war.
You could argue that Kirk’s violent streak is already being heightened by the entity at that point, although that doesn’t come across in the writing or performance, but the whole thing about the entity increasing their violent impulses is really uncomfortable to watch anyway. It highlights the hidden personalities bubbling under the surface of these heroes we are supposed to love, and in the case of McCoy in particular what we see from him is only a stone’s throw away from his usual persona. Unfortunately we are used to his racist attacks on Spock, so when he is supposedly acting out of character, this is in fact McCoy acting in character, but a bit more shouty than usual. He has always been a racist pig.
“We know what a Klingon is.”
As for Chekov, his character change is much more of a departure, and is handily explained by a fake memory implanted in his mind, but he comes very close to sexually assaulting an enemy in his power, and that perhaps says something very unpleasant about his repressed impulses, especially as we are talking about the one character who spent the previous episode pretty much uninterested in their predicament because an imaginary woman was available as a potential conquest.
But the big disappointment with this is the same problem that besets every original Klingon episode: they are blackface villains. Oh, that first sight of Susan Howard blacked up as Mara. Good lord, the heart just sank at that moment. And as I’ve mentioned before, using black actors wouldn’t have actually helped a huge amount, because you’re still just treating black people with some facial hair as something inhuman and dangerous. Do Star Trek fans ever acknowledge this problem with their beloved series? I’m not sure they do, certainly not enough. Before I watched any of this, I had the mistaken impression it was a progressive series, doing great things such as showing television’s first interracial kiss (which it doesn’t – that’s not even close to being the truth), but instead I’ve found myself watching a series that is almost always horrendously sexist (look how Kirk spends this episode dragging Mara around, even when she is on his side, and how the entity has the opposite effect on Uhura, turning her into a wimp instead of a fighter) and frequently casually or deliberately racist. It almost completely undermines the message about avoiding race hatred. It’s all very well to talk the good talk about that, but when your villains are blackface caricatures who are clearly more belligerent, unreasonable and stupid than all the white male heroes, requiring the white heroes to figure everything out and go to extraordinary lengths to get their point across, then the anti-hatred message of the episode just comes across as weasel words.
“You’re not human, but you’re wery beautiful.”