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Star Trek Episodes : The Original Series : Season One

The Conscience of the King

Episode number: 12
Production number: 13
Original Airdate: December 8, 1966
Stardate: 2817.6-2819.8

mauler's rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars

Synopsis (Spoiler Alert)

Captain Kirk's old friend, the one-eyed Dr. Thomas Leighton, asks him to come to Planet Q and observe a production of Shakespeare's Macbeth because he wants Kirk to help him confirm that the lead player, Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), is actually a former mass murder named Kodos the Executioner, who was responsible for the massacre of over 4000 colonists on a planet called Tarsis IV 20 years prior, including members of both Kirk's and Leighton's families.

Watching the play Kirk is uncertain, but he begins to have serious suspicious when he finds Leighton dead outside a party he attends later that night. Kirk contacts an old friend, the captain of the transport scheduled to pick up the acting troupe, and convinces him to miss the pick up, stranding the troupe on Planet Q. He then tricks Karidian's beautiful daughter Lenore into asking the Enterprise to carry the troupe to their next destination. Or does he?

Kirk's actions arouse Spock's suspicions as it is against regulations for Starships to transport civilians for hire and as the troupe's destination, Benecia Colony, is eight light years off their scheduled course. After doing some investigation on the ship's computer, he discovers that former Governor Kodos had ordered the executions of more than half Tarsus IV's population after the food supply was all but destroyed by a fungus. He also uncovers evidence that Kodos applied his own personal theories of eugenics when he chose who lived or died. Furthermore, the vital resupply ships that could have saved the whole colony arrived much sooner than Kodos had anticipated rendering the mass executions unnecessary.

Spock's research also uncovers that Kodos's body was never found and that there are no records of Karidian's existence prior to Kodos' alleged death. Moreover, there were only nine survivors of the massacre and ensuing violence who could identify Kodos, including Leighton, Captain Kirk, and Enterprise crew member Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde). With Leighton now dead, seven of the nine were murdered, leaving Kirk and Riley as the last remaining witnesses, and all seven murders happened when Karidian's troupe was nearby!

Spock and Dr. McCoy confront Captain Kirk with Spock's evidence and their concerns that Kirk is pursuing a mad vendetta that has put himself and Riley in grave danger. Kirk is surprised by Spock's evidence and Spock's certainty, based on logical deduction, that Karidian must be Kodos. Kirk admits he wants Kodos dead, but is unwilling to rely on logic alone to convict Karidian - he must "feel in his heart" that Karidian is Kodos before he can act. Meanwhile the situation is made messier by the fact that Kirk is falling in love with Karidian's daughter Lenore.

The stakes are raised dramatically that evening when someone poisons Riley's milk with lubricating fluid and Kirk is almost killed by a phaser set on overload, escaping in the nick of time. Kirk feels compelled to confront Karidian in person, and in a dramatic showdown, the two men match wits. Karidian seems to express regret for what happened 20 years ago, but Kirk cannot get him to decisively admit that he is actually Kodos.

That night, the troupe is scheduled to put on a performance of Hamlet, which Lenore had promised Kirk in exchange for their passage. Lt. Riley, recovering in sickbay, overhears McCoy recording a log entry about Karidian possibly being Kodos. Bent on vengeance for the deaths of his parents, Riley sneaks out of the sickbay, steals a phaser, and heads for the ship's theater to shoot down Karidian

Learning of Riley's escape from sickbay Kirk runs to the theatre himself and intercepts Riley backstage, where he talks him down, confiscates his phaser, and sends him back to sickbay. Meanwhile, the first act ends, and Karidian and Lenore come backstage, whereupon Lenore triumphantly informs her father that soon the last two witnesses (ie Kirk and Riley) will be dead. But rather than react with joy, Karidian is distraught. For 20 years he tried to forget his past and shield Lenore from it, but now he learns that his beloved daughter (whom he calls the "one pure thing" in his life) has known all along and has been on a mad murder spree to protect his secret.

Overhearing the entire conversation, Kirk bursts in with security guards and confronts Lenore. She then snatches a phaser from a guard and threatens to kill Kirk. He takes a step toward her and she fires, but Karidian jumps in the way of the blast and is killed. Lenore breaks down over his body and starts spouting lines of Shakespeare, as the episode comes to an end.


"The Conscience of the King" generally gets good reviews from most fans, but in my opinion it is one of the less effective episodes in the original series. It's so jam-packed with Shakespearean allusions and the ham-fisted symbolism of plays within plays that you'd be forgiven for feeling like your head is about to explode. The one highlight is the verbal duel between Karidian and Kirk mid-episode. Veteran stage actor Arnold Moss certainly puts on a fine performance as the tortured Karidian. But I never quite bought the romance between Kirk and Lenore and on the whole this episode is overwrought and underpaced. The ending in particular was terribly predictable and clumsily staged, making what should have been tragedy feel more like a farce, and the whole moral dilemma of Kodos's awful choice 20 years ago never got fully explored in any meaningful way.


  • This episode marks the eighth and final appearance of Grace Lee Whitney (who had just been fired) as Yeoman Janice Rand - a brief cameo entering the bridge from the turbolift while she shoots a jealous glance at Lenore, who is talking to Kirk at the time.
  • In a bizarre bit of forgetfulness, Riley's part in the plot was originally scripted for a communications officer named "Lt. Robert Daiken," but when Bruce Hyde was cast for the role, the production crew suddenly remembered that he had played Lt. Riley in The Naked Time and hastily rewrote the part as Riley, but left him a communications officer, whereas Riley had been a navigator in the earlier episode.
  • Scotty and Sulu do not appear in this episode.

    Guest Stars

    Arnold Moss as Anton Karidian
    Barbara Anderson as Lenore Karidian
    Bruce Hyde as Lt. Kevin Riley
    William Sargent as Dr. Thomas Leighton

    Directed by: Gerd Oswald

    Written by: Barry Trivers

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