This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.
It is striking how iconic and influential the third season of Star Trek is.
The third season is often written off, by both fans of the show and members of the production team. There are any number of reasons for this; a slashed budget, an exodus of talent, a new producer, conflicts behind the scenes. There is also the simple fact that the third season is wildly more variable than either the first or second seasons of the series, with its most consistent string of episodes being the three episodes from Is There in Truth No Beauty? to The Tholian Web.
However, in spite of that, there is a sense that a lot of what modern fans consider to be Star Trek is rooted in this dysfunctional assemblage of episodes. This applies to all sorts of things. The third season offers more than its fair share of continuity minutiae, from the first appearance of a Klingon ship and the first space battle in Elaan of Troyius to the first appearance of the IDIC in Is There in Truth No Beauty? to the memorable appearance of the Tholians in The Tholian Web. However, the season’s legacy is more than just one of continuity.
It occasionally seems like the franchise’s philosophy is truly galvinising over the third season, that Star Trek is coming close to explicitly embracing a utopian humanist philosophy. With The Empath, the show laid out a template for the “humans are special” stories that would dominate the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a much more effective (and less condescending and patronising) celebration of humanity’s potential than later episodes like Lonely Among Us, The Last Outpost and The Neutral Zone.
Day of the Dove is an episode that is singularly influential in terms of the future of the franchise, both in terms of continuity detail and in terms of its core themes. Most superficially, Day of the Dove offers the first real suggestion that the Klingons might be anything more than vaguely Asian antagonists, suggesting a culture that makes sense internally and allowing them an agency earlier stories lacked. Kang is in many ways the first true Klingon, who would fit comfortably with the spin-offs’ interpretations of the Klingons.
The episode’s influence runs deeper than that. Like The Empath before it, there is a clear sense that Day of the Dove has embraced the idea of the twenty-third century as a utopia in which mankind has transcended all of their hate and violence. Star Trek is presented as something approaching a paradise.
As the title suggests, Day of the Dove is explicitly an anti-war episode. As quoted in The Fifty Year Mission, writer Jeromy Bixby explicitly wrote the episode as a criticism of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam:
Day of the Dove was kind of my response to the Vietnam thing at the time. Throw down the swords! My original story was very late-sixties, and I ended it with a peace march which, thank God, came out.
The parallels were hard to miss. Although the association between “doves” and “pacifism” dates back to The Epic of Gilgamesh and The New Testament, the term came into popular usage in discussing the divide on the Vietnam War.
Those in favour of the war came to be known as “hawks”, a term that is still employed today to describe certain foreign policy perspectives within the American establishment. The hawks advocated that the war in Vietnam was justified and even necessary. Those opposed to war came to be known as “doves.” Although pop culture tends to focus on the countercultural elements of the peace movement – Abbie Hoffman trying to exorcise the Pentagon – the peace movement drew support from all walks of life.
The debate had permeated popular culture. Nightly news coverage focused on various high-profile peace rallies and peace marches that took place across the country. Bernie Boston’s Flower Power captured the mood, documenting a confrontation between protesters and the National Guard during an October 1967 march on the Pentagon. The most iconic images were still to come; the quarter-million strong protest at the Washington Monument in November 1969 or Richard Nixon’s strange (alleged) meeting with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Monument in May 1970.
Vietnam is part of the mythology that has built up around Star Trek, to the point that it has become a fandom cliché to credit the series for daring to take a stand against the war while it was still going on. As with a lot of the myths about Star Trek, this narrative can be traced directly back to Gene Roddenberry. As Brian J. Robb notes in A Brief Guide to Star Trek:
Interviewed on Good Morning America in 1986, Roddenberry made the claim that Star Trek was ‘the only dramatic show that ever talked against Vietnam. We set it on another planet. Kirk essentially played the role of our presidents in those years, where he’d gotten into it and was having trouble getting out of it. It’s a pity: Vietnam would have ended many years sooner if it had been on dramatic shows on television because of the impact of these dramatic shows. If Doctor Marcus Welby had come out and said something against Vietnam, my maiden aunts would have carried placards!’
In many ways, this is become the standard narrative of Star Trek. Through repetition and osmosis, it has become an unquestioned part of the franchise’s history, one of the foundational assumptions upon which fifty years of Star Trek history has been based. And it is easy to see the appeal of this narrative. It allows Star Trek (and Gene Roddenberry) to stand on what has been determined (through retrospect) to be the “right side” of history.
There are certainly a whole host of stories that could be cited in defense of this position, brutally condemning the Vietnam War through metaphor and proxy. Many scripts written by Gene L. Coon come to mind. A Taste of Armageddon roundly criticises the new media’s complicit in making the early days of the war seem “sanitary” to audiences at home. Errand of Mercy criticises Kennedy era interventionism. Even A Piece of the Action parodies the idea of American cultural imperialism, offering a planet embracing the excesses of classic American pop culture.
The problem is that Star Trek also had a decidedly reactionary streak to it. Episodes like This Side of Paradise and Operation — Annihilate! seemed deathly afraid of social breakdown owing to pacifism and protest. Episodes like The City on the Edge of Forever and A Private Little War advanced the rhetoric of the just and necessary war that played into the hawkish narrative of Vietnam. Stories like The Apple and The Omega Glory advocated for Kirk to impose Federation norms and values on cultures trapped within their own struggles.
A Private Little War had the misfortune to air shortly following the Tet Offensive, broadcasting a defense of the Vietnam War just as the American public was beginning to turn against it. Even during the third season, at a point when the production team had a chance to properly gauge the mood and tone, there were still episodes that played into this narrative. And the Children Shall Lead and The Way to Eden presented the counterculture as misguided and dangerous. For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky endorsed Kirk’s unilateral interventionism.
It is also worth noting that Gene Roddenberry was heavily involved in a number of these pro-Vietnam scripts. He was involved in the extensive rewrites of Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever and was credited as co-writer on A Private Little War. He had even considered The Omega Glory as a potential pilot for Star Trek, an episode that featured Kirk’s howlingly racist description of the “yellow race” of “Kohms” (or “Comm(ie)s”) that had to be opposed at all cost.
As such, Roddenberry’s claims about Star Trek opposing Vietnam seem somewhat disingenuous. While there were episodes clearly protesting the war, there were just as many supporting it. On balance, Roddenberry’s episodes seemed to be far more in favour of the war than opposed to it. There is something self-serving about Roddenberry’s narrative, positioning himself as a key anti-war figure. To be fair, there is every indication that Roddenberry’s pacifism was a genuinely and deeply-held personal belief that he developed in later life.
At the same time, Day of the Dove is undeniably a pacifist allegory. As Bixby notes, early drafts of the story ended with a peace march. What remains in the finished episode is not much more subtle. “Captain’s log,” Kirk reports later in the episode. “Stardate… Armageddon. We must find a way to defeat the alien force of hate that has taken over the Enterprise. Stop the war now, or spend eternity in futile bloody violence.” Later, he pleads, “We only wanted to stop the fighting to save us all.”
In keeping with a lot of the third season, there is a strong apocalyptic tone to Day of the Dove. It feels as though the very show is at risk of falling, apart, as though Kirk and his crew are to be consumed by chaos. Hijacked by the Klingons and a mysterious entity, the Enterprise is sent hurdling through the void towards the edge of the galaxy and beyond into infinity; the same nothingness in which it was trapped in Is There in Truth No Beauty?, but a different void than the one in The Tholian Web.
Even beyond the threat posed by the engines pushing the ship towards oblivion, Day of the Dove conjures up the horrifying image of the Enterprise trapped flying through the void with two crews engaged in constant ever-lasting war. “The fighting must end and soon,” Spock states. Kirk agrees, “Or we’re a doomed ship, traveling forever between galaxies, filled with eternal bloodlust, eternal warfare.” The horror is not just in the immediate violence, but in the possibility that there may be no end to the bloodshed.
This apocalyptic anxiety certainly resonates with a show facing its own cancellation and the potential oblivion that it represents. However, it also taps into the contemporary mood. As Todd Gitlin reflects of the mood in 1968, when the episode was in production:
The feeling that “the world is falling apart” is easy to come by. It was surely how I felt in 1968 as a 25-year-old working for an underground newspaper in San Francisco, as unthinkable event followed unthinkable event. But as Tolstoy did not say, all chaotic times are chaotic in their own way. On the heels of the huge 1967 riots, and the police and National Guard killings that followed them, the upheavals of 1968 included the Tet offensive, the abdication of a president and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, police shootouts with Black Panthers, the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the deadly riots afterward, as well as rising street crime.
The anti-war movement was tied to this. Robert Kennedy positioned himself as the anti-war candidate before his assassination. Police in Chicago were worried that the protestors were going to spike the water supply with LSD for the Democratic National Convention.
As such, the tone of Day of the Dove fits comfortably with all of that. The clashes between the Klingons and the crew in the corridors of the Enterprise mirrored the clashes between police and protestors in Chicago during late August 1968, violence that was unfolding just as shooting was wrapping on the episode in question. Even pacifists seemed to be caught up the chaos, perhaps reflecting the ease with which Kirk and his crew find themselves swept up in the raw emotion of the conflict.
Day of the Dove strongly condemns the very idea of war, arguing that soldiers are just pieces in a board game. Kirk protests “the good old game of war, pawn against pawn! Stopping the bad guys. While somewhere, something sits back and laughs and starts it all over again.” Bixby constructs an elaborate metaphor and social commentary for war. The entity is nothing but an enabler, perhaps representing the authorities that organise these wars but sacrifice little in their execution.
The entity alters history and narrative in order to fuel the conflict. Kirk comes to believe that there is a Federation colony on Beta-XII-A. Chekov even comes to believe that he had a brother there. This mirrors the way that conflicts tend to skew the narrative of history, as the current political expedience shapes the way in which past relationships are discussed. Although not at war with one another, consider the complicated relationship that exists between the United States and France; past alliances downplayed and forgotten in light of modern grievances.
Day of the Dove implicitly likens this manipulation to propaganda. When the Klingons are first beamed aboard the Enterprise, Marta protests, “What will they do to us? I’ve heard of their atrocities, their death camps. They will torture us for our scientific and military information.” Kirk responds, “Apparently you have a few things to learn about us.” Later, he remarks, “You’ve been listening to propaganda, fables.” What of the propaganda repeated by McCoy? “You know what Klingons do to prisoners,” he insists. “Slave labour, death planets, experiments!”
The crew members most susceptible to the hatred generated by the entity are Chekov and McCoy. (Scotty is converted later, and even Spock gives in at one point, but Chekov and McCoy seem to respond most quickly and most strongly.) McCoy is a character who spends a significant portion of his time trading racist banter with Spock. Even though the banter is playful, it is still more than a little uncomfortable. Similarly, Chekov is a raving nationalist who believes that Russia is the be-all and end-all. So it makes sense they would be susceptible to the entity.
In fact, the whole subplot involving Chekov’s fictional brother Piotr is quite clever. When Kang captures the landing party, Chekov freaks out. “Cossacks! Filthy Klingon murderers! You killed my brother Piotre. The Archanis Four research outpost.” This incident had never been mentioned before. Indeed, Chekov had never mentioned even having a brother beforehand. The way that the scene is shot seems to suggest that this is the first time that Chekov had even thought about the incident, despite dealing with the Klingons as recently as Elaan of Troyius.
There is a reason for this, of course. It turns out that the mysterious entity is actually altering Chekov’s memories in order to suit its own agenda. When Chekov freaks out on the bridge, Sulu is a bit confused. When Kirk writes it off as an example of Chekov’s anger over the loss of his brother, Sulu simply responds, “His brother? He never had a brother. He’s an only child.” It is a surprisingly effective twist, in part because it relies on the audience accepting that there is at least some possibility that Star Trek would give Chekov a dead brother to generate stakes.
In some ways, this is a nice nod to the loose continuity of sixties television production. It is entirely possible that the production team would conjure up a relative out of thin air, with little set-up or foreshadowing. While Spock’s family dynamics had been set up The Naked Time before playing out in Journey to Babel, they were very much the exception rather than the rule. James Kirk’s brother appeared briefly in Operation — Annihilate! to give some stakes to an otherwise generic story. It seems like that might be happening here, until it is confirmed to be a ruse.
More than that, the fact that the away team is oblivious to the fact that Chekov is an only child speaks to the very limited character development afforded to character on sixties television in general and on Star Trek in particular. Kirk and (in particular) McCoy do not seem to know enough about Chekov to recognise the impossibility of his claim, which suggests a rather more casual working environment than that featured on The Next Generation. This is not a surprise. After all, McCoy had a complete family history from The Writer’s Guide that never came up on the show.
What is particularly notable about Day of the Dove is the manner in which the episode conveys its pacifism. Earlier anti-war episodes like Errand of Mercy mad Kirk somewhat complicit in the violence. In the episode that introduced the Klingons, there was a clear sense that Kirk was in some ways just as jingoistic as Kor. Pacifistic stories like The Devil in the Dark and Arena tended to suggest that Kirk wrestled with his inner violent impulses and overcame them, but that it was a constant struggle and a work in progress.
A lot of this was down to writer Gene L. Coon, who wrote Kirk in a more ambiguous manner than many of his contemporaries. Indeed, Gene L. Coon’s version of James Tiberius Kirk feels like a character, while Gene Roddenberry’s version of James Tiberius Kirk often feels like an archetype. Coon had departed the show late in the second season, but his interpretation of Kirk can be clearly discerned in Spectre of the Gun. At the end of that episode, Kirk acknowledges that he desperately wanted to avenge the death of Chekov through violence, but overcame it.
In contrast, Day of the Dove presents an altogether less nuanced and complicated version of Kirk. The Kirk who appears in Day of the Dove is more centred and focused than the one who appeared in Errand of Mercy and Spectre of the Gun. Although the Enterprise crew seemed perfectly ready and willing to go to war with the Klingons in Errand of Mercy, it is only through the manipulations of the entity that the situation is allowed to escalate. Day of the Dove presents a utopian vision of mankind’s future, suggesting explicitly that war is a thing of the past.
“What’s happening to us?” Kirk laments at one point. “We’ve been trained to think in other terms than war. We’ve been trained to fight its causes, if necessary.” This utopianism seems at odds with the portrayal of Kirk in episodes like Errand of Mercy or Arena, or even in the posturing of the Federation against the Klingons in Amok Time or The Trouble with Tribbles. While Star Trek had always presented a prosperous future for mankind, the show had been rather wary of the Federation as an institution during the tenure of Gene L. Coon.
The third season begins to really push the idea that the twenty-third century is a paradise inhabited by hyper-evolved humans that have moved beyond petty moral concerns. The Empath suggests that other species might do well to learn from mankind’s example, suggesting that empathy and compassion are universal human traits. Day of the Dove makes it clear that humanity as a whole have embraced pacifism as a philosophy. It is a detail that is at odds with earlier portrayals of the Federation, but which becomes an essential part of the franchise mythology.
Jeremy Bixby’s original story was much more overt than the finished episode. These Are the Voyages quotes Bixby’s second story outline:
On faraway Earth, it is “Peace Day” — the date on which our planet’s nations long ago found a formula for putting an end to war.
At her post, Uhura makes a remark smacking of hard-core racism against the Klingons. Sulu pointedly asks her what the correlated Earth date is. . . it’s “Peace Day,” Sulu hums a portion of a Peace Day Song -– the kind of worldwide “folksong” we all hope our grandchildren will know, though it will stay clear of actual events or the means by which enduring peace was brought about. Uhura sings a few words of the song, pertaining to the matter of racism. She is chagrined –- a little shaken –- why did she make such a remark?
There is a sense that the episode genuinely believes that mankind will have eliminated war within the next few centuries.
Utopianism would become an essential part of the Star Trek franchise, the idea that mankind would prove itself capable of building a peaceful and prosperous future having learned from the mistakes of the past. Gene Roddenberry would play no small part in making this utopianism so important in the years that followed the end of the original Star Trek. Roddenberry’s novelisation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture occasionally reads like a manifesto, as do certain episodes from the first year of The Next Generation.
It should be noted that the first two seasons of the original Star Trek series were not explicitly utopian. McCoy would suggest that Vulcan had been conquered in The Conscience of a King. The Federation was prepared for war with the Romulans in Balance of Terror. Relations with the Klingons were tense, with the Federation sharing at least some responsibility for escalating the situation. Space travel often seemed horrifying rather than magnificent, with episodes like The Man Trap and Charlie X suggesting that the universe was full of danger.
As such, it is notable that the third season seems to pivot towards this more utopian school of thought. In discussions of the original Star Trek, the third season is frequently dismissed and belittled. This makes a great deal of sense, given the difficulties facing the production team and the uneven quality of the episodes in question. At the same time, it surprising how frequently the third season of Star Trek seems to gesture towards the future. A lot of the franchise’s core themes and iconography can be traced back to these troubled twenty-four episodes.
Day of the Dove is many ways the defining episode of the original Star Trek for the Klingons. The warrior race are the most ubiquitous of the franchise’s recurring aliens. Even within these three seasons, the Klingons appear much more frequently than the Romulans. There are the “big three” showcase episodes: Errand of Mercy, The Trouble with Tribbles, Day of the Dove. However, there are also a number of smaller episodes: Friday’s Child, A Private Little War, Elaan of Troyius, The Savage Curtain.
There is more to it than that. Even when the Klingons do not physically appear, they still lurk at the edge of the narrative. They are mentioned in passing as a possible threat in Journey to Babel and are used to justify some jingoistic flag-waving in Amok Time. Even allowing for the show’s loose continuity, the Klingons are clearly an important port of the Star Trek universe. However, the Klingons have also been very nebulous defined to this point, lacking the characterisation afforded the Romulans in Balance of Terror or The Enterprise Incident.
Part of this is down to the different narrative purposes that the Romulans and the Klingons play in the original Star Trek. In Balance of Terror and The Enterprise Incident, the Romulans are portrayed as counterparts to the Enterprise crew. Although anonymous, the two Romulan Commanders strike up strong emotional bonds with the Enterprise crew. In Balance of Terror, the Romulan Commander suggests that he and Kirk might have been friends. In The Enterprise Incident, the Romulan Commander suggests that she and Spock might have been lovers.
The Romulans are a broad anti-war commentary. They are a reminder that the enemy is still an individual, even when that individual is anonymous. It helps matters that their make-up is less “alien” than that of the Klingons, consisting of pointed ears and slanted eyebrows over a natural skin complexion. In contrast, the Klingons have always been cast as an ambiguously foreign “other”, with more than a hint of Orientalism about them. Their skin is golden/brown, and they have a tendency for Fu Manchu goatees. They are a more generic Cold War nemesis.
As such, the Klingons are rarely defined beyond the simple definition of “enemy”, while the featured Romulans exist to subvert that. Indeed, there are even some suggestions that Star Trek has no idea what to do with the Klingons, changing their appearance from episode to episode. The Klingons were clearly an offensive Asian caricature in Errand of Mercy, but those aspects of their design were softened to be less racially charged in Friday’s Child and The Trouble With Tribbles. However, they reasserted themselves in A Private Little War.
The show tried repeatedly to introduce a recurring Klingon antagonist for Kirk, with Gene L. Coon failing in his efforts to make Koloth a recurring foil. In fact, according to quotes in The Fifty-Year Mission, writer Jeremy Bixby originally wrote Day of the Dove to feature Kor from Errand of Mercy:
I first wrote Kang as Kor, the splendid Klingon commander in Errand of Mercy. John Colicos was in Italy at the time shooting a film. They wouldn’t give him a week off to come back and reprise Kor. He was furious. He could taste the role. So Kor became Kang, played by Michael Ansara, and he shewed the scenery. He also has referred to it as one of his favourites. Even his tousled rug was perfect, an almost boyish Klingon, tough as a ten-minute egg but genuinely likable.
This perhaps explains why Kang and Kirk seem to know one another at the very start of the episode; Kang refers to Kirk by name at the end of the teaser, and Kirk addresses Kang by name after the opening credits. It is possible the two crossed paths before, but it makes sense if Kang had been written as Kor.
This difficulty nailing down a consistent look for the Klingons, let alone in creating a recurring Klingon foil for Kirk, contributed to the sense that the Klingons were little more than a collection of generic heavies. John Collicos had been great as Kor, a scheming sadist. William Campbell had been charming as Koloth, a playful poser. However, there was little to suggest much in the way of consistent characterisation for the Klingons, beyond the fact that they were the villains of the piece and could not be trusted.
Indeed, earlier episodes suggest that there is possibly some truth to McCoy’s paranoid ramblings about how Klingons treat their prisoners. Kor was willing to torture both Kirk and Spock, not to mention his mass murdering of Organians. Koloth was party to a plot to poison a grain supply that would undoubtedly have killed millions of people on Sherman’s Planet. This is to say nothing of their interference in the affairs of minor powers in Friday’s Child, A Private Little War or Elaan of Troyius. The Klingons have, to this point, been fairly unambiguous “bad guys.”
That worked in the earlier episodes in large part because those episodes didn’t need the Klingons to be anything more than generic bad guys. Errand of Mercy was very much a criticism of Kirk’s nationalism, so Kor could play the role of bogeyman to set up Kirk’s lesson. Friday’s Child and A Private Little War were straight up endorsements of Cold War military interventionism, so the Klingons worked as generic Communist stand-ins. The Trouble With Tribbles was a comedy, so it could be played broadly. They did not have a large role in Elaan of Troyius.
In contrast, Day of the Dove relies on the Klingons being more than just generic antagonists, because the episode is neither a criticism of the Federation nor an endorsement of Cold War politics. If Kirk and his crew are to be shown to be righteous and justified, the themes of the episode demand that the Klingons be granted some integrity and legitimacy. As such, Day of the Dove is really the first episode to consider things from the Klingon perspective, instead of simply casting them as generic foreign aggressors.
This is obvious from the opening of the first act, when the script makes sure that Kang’s aggression and paranoia are justified. “You attacked my ship! Four hundred of my crew dead.” Of course, this is all an illusion, but it grants Kang some justification for his actions. Day of the Dove even offers an excuse for Klingon aggression and imperialism. “We have always fought,” Marta tells Kirk. “We must. We are hunters, Captain, tracking and taking what we need. There are poor planets in the Klingon systems, we must push outward if we are to survive.”
While this doesn’t quite justify the torture and the poisoning and verious other potential war crimes, it invites the audience to feel some measure of empathy for the Klingons. This small worldbuilding detail explains why the Klingon Empire developed into such an imperialist power, and why it competed so aggressively with the Federation. It is a single line of dialogue, but it offers a more nuanced perspective on the Klingons than anything else done to this point in the series.
This alone would make Day of the Dove notable, but the episode goes further. For the first time, Star Trek treats the Klingons as a unique (and distinct) culture quite apart from the Federation. When Kirk goads Kang to “go to the devil”, Kang responds, “We have no devil, Kirk. But we understand the habits of yours.” It is a nice little detail that emphasises the cultural gulf that exists between Kirk and Kang, even if it does not quite gel with later episodes like Devil’s Due. It underscores the idea that the Klingons are more than just guys with bronze skin and funny beards.
Kang himself is a large part of this. Kang is the first Klingon who really fits the archetype that would be defined by the later Star Trek series. Kor would be reworked when he appeared on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, while Koloth felt too flippant for a Klingon. Kang is the first Klingon who feels regal, the first major Klingon character who could (in his own way) be described using that catch-all Klingon adjective “honourable.” The shot of Kang standing stoic, balancing his sword in Engineering, might be the defining Klingon image of the original Star Trek series.
Michael Ansara does fantastic work, imbuing Kang with a dignity and gravity that makes him seem more authoritative and more rational than Kor. In an interview with Starlog, the actor confessed that it was one of his most popular roles:
“The reaction has been very good ever since I first played the Klingon — you can tell by the fan letters. I hate to keep talking about fan letters, but that’s the way you know if people like you or not. It’s not like being on the stage and people applaud you and you can tell if you’re being liked or not. When you do movies and TV, the only way you can tell is from the amount of fan mail you get. I do get a lot of fan letters concerning Star Trek, especially the original one where I played Kang. The people seem to like it, and I loved doing it, too.”
In fact, Kang would go on to be the only character to appear on three different Star Trek shows, making appearances in Blood Oath and Flashback. Perhaps acknowledging the character’s status as template for the Klingons that followed, Blood Oath even cast Kang as the leader of the three featured elder Klingons.
Kang seems very much like a leader. He is a font of wisdom. In fact, Kang’s dialogue in Day of the Dove accounts for a significant portion of The Klingon Way, linguist Marc Okund’s guide to Klingon proverbs. “Klingons kill for their own purposes,” he insists as the nature of the situation becomes clear. “Only a fool fights in a burning house,” Kang reflects in his final lines. These statements have a poetic quality to them. Coupled with the poise and stoicism that Ansara brings to the readings it is easy to see why Kang endured as an icon.
It is also worth noting that Day of the Dove introduces the show’s first female Klingon character. The third season of Star Trek is hardly a feminist triumph, but is reassuring to see a female Klingon character in a position of authority. Unlike the Romulan Commander in The Enterprise Incident or Natrina in For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, Mara is not seduced by any of the regulars. Instead, she appears to be Kang’s confidante and a trusted advisor.
That said, there is something deeply frustrating about the portrayal of Mara. Most obviously, she seems to primarily exist for the sequence in which she is menaced by Chekov, to serve as a metaphor about the horrors inflicted during war. More than that, there is a sense that Mara is not a particularly good science officer. She witnesses the mysterious entity first-hand, along with Kirk and Spock. As a science officer, she should be able to reach the same conclusions as Spock. However, she refuses to accept it. In fact, she refuses to even inform Kang of it, initially.
This hints at one of the bigger issues with Day of the Dove. For all that the episode fleshes out the Klingons, there is still a sense of distance and “otherness” to them. The early second season had made a conscious effort to play down the more offensive “brownface” elements of the Klingon design, most notably in Friday’s Child or The Trouble With Tribbles. Beginning with A Private Little War, the make-up team rolled back on that compromise. Under the lighting of the Enterprise set, it is always clear that Michael Ansara and Susan Howard are acting in brownface.
As such, there is a limit to how effectively and how deeply Day of the Dove can develop the Klingons. While the episode represents a huge step forward in how the Klingons are portrayed, they still feel less nuanced and developed than the Romulans. Day of the Dove sets a tone that episodes like Heart of Glory and Sins of the Father would develop further, but it still feels like the characters are drawn rather broadly. Making Kang a larger than life figure sets a template for the later shows, but it prevents him from feeling as rounded as either Romulan Commander.
Indeed, that is arguably the biggest issue with Day of the Dove as a whole. The episode is very much a laudible “message show”, a great example of Star Trek as social commentary. That likely accounts for how fondly it is remembered and how influential it is in the larger context of the franchise. However, it is also quite generic in places. The episode feels like it is drawn in big bold crayon, built around a strong central theme but without a clear sense of structure or narrative momentum.
A lot of the episode boils down the characters having sword fights on the Enterprise sets. This is a great deal of fun initially, in a pulpy old-school way. However, it quickly becomes rather repetitive. The entity at the heart of the story feeds on hate and manipulates the characters, which robs the story of a lot of its potency. Kirk’s conflict with Kor in Errand of Mercy was powerful precisely because it revealed unflattering aspects of the character. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was insightful in exploring the crew’s prejudice.
In contrast, everything within Day of the Dove can be conveniently excused by the influence of an external actor. McCoy’s racist outbursts can be written off as the malign manipulations of the entity, without Kirk drawing attention to the racially-charged rhetoric that he employs against Spock on a regular basis. Chekov can become horribly violent and attempt to rape a female prisoner without any real consequences. As a result, it all feels rather meaningless and over-extended. There are only so many variations of sword fights that can be staged on the Enterprise sets.
Director Marvin J. Chomsky does excellent work in his second Star Trek assignment. (He made his debut with the dire And the Children Shall Lead.) As with the rest of the third season, the episode is shot on preexisting sets. The battle between the Klingon and the Starfleet crews unfolds through the corridors of the Enterprise and in the Engineering section. The most exotic location in the script is the familiar planet surface that appears briefly at the top of the hour.
However, Chomsky does great work with the material available to him. This is most noticeable during the short sequence in which Kang seizes control of Engineering and shuts off power (including life support) to the rest of the ship. With the lighting on the ship turned way down low, the sets look exciting and different. It is like seeing the Enterprise from an entirely new angle. Given that the third season has spent so much time on the ship, that is no small accomplishment.
Indeed, it seems like the production of Day of the Dove went rather smoothly for all involved. While other directors dealt with overruns and conflicts, Chomsky oversaw an efficient episode. Discussing his experience with Starlog, Michael Ansara had nothing but good things to say about his time on the show:
“Star Trek was a pleasure to do,” he says. “Very rarely do things go that smoothly, but in filming Day of the Dove, my fellow actors, the director, Marvin Chomsky, and the basic story settled in well together from the very beginning.”
Given how troubled the third season of Star Trek had been to this point, with trouble on the sets of episodes like The Empath and The Tholian Web, the relatively smooth production of Day of the Dove feels like a welcome relief. There is a sense that that perhaps things are stabilising on the third season.
Day of the Dove is a flawed episode. The pacing is awkward, the set-up is heavy-handed, the moralising is a little on the nose. However, it is also an iconic episode. It is a quintessential Star Trek episode, both offering a defining take on the Klingons and cementing the Star Trek universe as a fundamentally utopian construct. It is easy to see why the episode is remember, both so well and so fondly. It is big and bombastic Star Trek. In its own weird way, the lack of nuance and finesse is part of the charm.
Even as the show was slowly dying, there was a sense that it was crystalising into its most iconic form.