In season 1, episode 26 of Star Trek: The Original Series, Errand of Mercy introduces Star Trek’s audience to the Klingons for the first time. Written by Gene L. Coon, it aired on March 23, 1967, and stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, with John Colicos and John Abbott guest-starring.
In Errand of Mercy, The Klingons are attempting to invade Organia, which means that the Enterprise is on the job. Apparently, there have been peace negotiations with the Klingons, but they’re not working, and it looks like Organia is about to be the site of a major confrontation with the Federation. Captain Kirk must battle Klingon Commander Kor (John Colicos of original Battlestar Galactica fame) to save the poor Organians who’ve been caught in the middle. The problem is that the Organians are meek, peace-loving medieval people.
The Organians are actually omniscient beings who are sick and tired of the Klingons and the Federation going for each other’s throats, so they’re going to put a stop to it.
It’s a pivotal moment in Star Trek history, though at the time, with only this single encounter with the Klingons under our belts, I wonder if people felt that impact as keenly as we do now. What’s more, with Star Trek: Discovery actually showing the initial war with the Klingons, ending in the Organian peace treaty feels quite far off.
John Colicos’ Kor is the template for Klingons to follow. He’s a brash warrior fighting for his people, the leader of his house (we’ve even met Kol, another member of his house, in Star Trek: Discovery).
Kor wears a baldric similar to Worf’s in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he demonstrates a healthy respect for Kirk in response to his clear disdain for the Klingons. After the Organians interfere in the war, he opines that he will never meet Kirk in battle, which “would have been glorious.”
I forgot the prediction that Ayelbourne makes, which eventually comes true: “It is true that in the future, you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.” This happens on many occasions, particularly during the Klingon Civil War and the Dominion War, in which the Klingon Empire and the Federation fight and work side-by-side. If you play Star Trek Online, however, Starfleet is right back at war with the Klingons, though.
What I always forget about “Errand of Mercy” is its subtle commentary on the way that the modern west has always looked upon other cultures and assumed that lack of technological advancement means primitivity. While the Klingons take a more brutal approach toward the occupation of Organia, assuming that a rudimentary life means passiveness, Kirk and the Federation mistake the Organians for sheep. Kor even comments that “I don’t trust men who smile too much.” It makes me wonder what the Organians’ original plan is. They do meekly accept the Klingons’ occupation, yet they’re godlike beings who single-handedly put a stop to an interstellar war. What was the end game, if Kirk and Spock hadn’t interfered?
When Kirk is thrown into the prison cell with Spock, take a close look at the floor and you’ll see the mat bounce when he hits the ground.
Kor will show up again in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as a great warrior of the Klingon Empire who wants revenge, alongside the other two TOS Klingons and Jadzia Dax.
“War. We didn’t want it, but we’ve got it.”
“Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”
– Kirk and Spock, at the reignition of war between The United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire, apparently for the first time since Star Trek: Discovery’s “Will You Take My Hand?”
“Go climb a tree”
– Kirk to Kor. Watch your language, Captain.
“I should say the Organians are as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba.”
– Spock, after the Organians reveal their true forms
Coming up next…
Take a few drinks – ”The Alternative Factor” is coming up. This is widely regarded to be one of the worst episodes of Star Trek, and I have to steel myself for it! Just get through that and we’ll get into “The City on the Edge of Forever,” where everything is good and fine.
Star Trek: TOS S1E26 | "Errand of Mercy"
- The Klingons are introduced with flair and gusto here.
- John Colicos just hams each and everything up here. He’s brilliant and clearly enjoying himself.
- Unfortunately, looking back on the timeline post-Discovery, it’s hard to reconcile a lot of the Klingons, who continuously fall victim to retconning.