“The Conscience of the King” is the thirteenth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek.
The episode takes its title from the concluding lines of Act II of Hamlet: “The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
In the episode, Captain Kirk crosses paths with an actor suspected of having been a mass-murdering dictator many years before.
The episode featured the final appearance (in production order) of Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand). Whitney had already been notified that she was fired from the series a week before filming on this episode began. Her brief walk-on scene was her last scene in Star Trek before her return in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
On stardate 2817.6, the Federation starship USS Enterprise has been called to Planet Q by Dr. Thomas Leighton, a friend of Captain Kirk, ostensibly to investigate a possible new synthetic food source. Leighton’s true motivation, however, is his suspicion that Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe currently on the planet, is in fact Kodos “the Executioner,” the former governor of the Earth colony of Tarsus IV, who was responsible for the massacre of over 4,000 people twenty years earlier, to which both Leighton and Kirk were eyewitnesses. Kirk dismisses Leighton’s allegations at first, but agrees to meet Karidian and his troupe at a party at Leighton’s home the next day. Karidian does not appear, but Kirk meets his daughter Lenore, and during a walk outside the two discover Leighton dead.
Kirk arranges for the Enterprise to ferry the acting troupe to its next destination. He also transfers Lt. Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde) to Engineering, after discovering that he too was a witness to the Tarsus IV massacre. These actions arouse the curiosity of First Officer Spock, who, after an investigation of his own, learns the full history of the massacre and Kirk and Riley’s connection to it. He discusses the matter with Dr. McCoy: Governor Kodos seized power when the food supply of the colony was nearly destroyed and the people faced starvation. He separated the population into two groups. One would live and ration the remaining food, the other was immediately put to death by his own hand. However, when the supply ship arrived early, bringing relief supplies, he was seen as a criminal and pursued. A burned body was found and the case closed. Spock’s research also reveals that seven of nine witnesses to the massacre have died, and that in each case Karidian’s acting troupe was somewhere nearby.
An attempt is made to poison Riley, and a phaser nearly explodes in Kirk’s quarters. Kirk, however, is unwilling to accuse Karidian without proof. Kirk has Karidian read the sentence Kodos pronounced before the massacre, and a computer analysis of his voice results in a near-perfect match with Kodos, but Kirk still hesitates.
Lt. Riley, recovering in sickbay, overhears Dr. McCoy’s log entry and learns that Karidian is suspected of being Kodos. Riley heads for the ship’s theatre where the Karidian troupe has begun their performance of Hamlet, and sneaks backstage, phaser in hand, to exact revenge for the death of his family. Kirk discovers him before he can act and persuades him to surrender the weapon. Karidian, overhearing, is visibly disturbed, and Lenore tries to assure him that all the “ghosts” of his past will soon be gone. Karidian now realises to his horror that his daughter is responsible for the deaths of the first seven witnesses. Kirk, overhearing this conversation, moves to arrest them both. Lenore then snatches a phaser from a nearby security guard and takes aim at Kirk. Karidian jumps into the line of fire, is hit, and dies. Lenore breaks down and begs her father to wake up and continue his performance. Later, on the bridge, McCoy reports that she will get the best of care, having gone completely insane, and she thinks her father is still alive and giving performances to cheering crowds.
Star Trek TV Series
You can find a full index of Star Trek TV series here.
Star Trek TV Series, Films, and Documentaries
You can find a full index of all Star Trek TV series, films, documentaries here.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Gerf Oswald.
- Production: Desilu Productions (1966-1967) and Paramount Television (1968-1969).
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures (1966-2006), CBS Paramount Television (2006-2007), and CBS Television Distribution (2007-Present).
- Original Network: NBC.
- Release Date: 08 December 1966.
- Running Time: 50 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.