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Star Trek – Arena (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

Arena is a fascinating piece of Star Trek, because it’s such an iconic and important piece of franchise history, despite the fact that it’s far from the best that the show has to offer. Indeed, the basic premise of the show is rather generic science-fiction B-movie stuff. Kirk is forced to compete against a lizard-like alien by some god-like beings to ensure the survival of his crew. The script, by producer Gene L. Coon, is credited to a story written by Fredric Brown. Despite its similarities to Brown’s short story of the same name, Arena also shares quite a few plot points with a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits, Fun & Games. None of this is to suggest that Coon was consciously channelling these sources when he wrote the teleplay, just to illustrate how generic the basic plot is.

However, despite (or perhaps because of) this rather straightforward and familiar set-up, Arena is a truly memorable episode of Star Trek. Like quite a few other episodes of the original Star Trek, the episode produced images and concepts that have resonated well outside Star Trek fandom, to the point where elements like the Gorn or Kirk’s highly dubious improvised weapon will be recognisable to people who have never actually seen the episode. However, the episode is also vitally important to the Star Trek franchise itself, as it offers a more thorough expansion and exploration of the back story that has been inconsistently hinted at throughout this first season. Arena is really the first episode to feature a fully-formed framework for the internal logic of the Star Trek universe, one that has informed half-a-century of the franchise.

Plus, you know, Kirk wrestles a lizard man.

Don't pretend you aren't loving every minute of this, Shatner!

Don’t pretend you aren’t loving every minute of this, Shatner!

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