Errand of Mercy
Overall Ep :
First Aired :
23 Mar 1967
Season Ep :
One of Kor's rules is that no groups of more than three Organians are allowed to meet. However, throughout most of the episode the five member ruling council stays together, including during their meetings with Kor.
Great Moment :
The moment when Kirk realises that he's been arguing in favour of a war.
Body Count :
The crew of a Klingon ship are killed by the Enterprise. The Klingons shoot two hundred Organians, but it transpires that these are still alive.
Aylebourne predicts that the Klingons and Federation will one day become good friends, which they do in The Next Generation.
This episode marks the first appearance of the Klingons, who became the regular bad guys of the series because they didn't need the expensive ear prosthesis that the Romulans did.
The episode title is from "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby", by Charles Dickens : "It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it."
The character of Kor would return in Deep Space Nine, played again by John Colicos. His appearance there was of the TNG-era Klingon with a ridged head, thus contributing to the long-running "Klingon forehead problem" - a fan term used to describe the discontinuity in appearance between Klingons in the original series versus the rest of the franchise. This was initially put down to merely a production matter, with Klingons "always looking that way" but TOS not able to show it. However, Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribblations" established that the look of Klingons had indeed changed over the years and Kor's return showed that even individual Klingons had altered in appearance. The KFP was eventually resolved as part of Enterprise's Augments arc.
Kor was planned to be a returning character, who would appear in both "Day of the Dove" and "The Trouble with Tribbles", but Colicos was unavailable. Thus the characters of Kang and Koloth were created.
Colicos suggested the Klingons should have a dark-skinned, moustached look. He said this was based on Genghis Khan, and makeup artist Fred Phillips agreed.
The baldric that Kor wears in this episode is the very same one that Worf would wear in the first season of The Next Generation. It was made of gold painted burlap sacking.
This is the last episode to use the term "Vulcanian"; after this, the term Vulcan would always be used.
In DS9's "The Sword of Kahless" Worf would refer to Kor's face-off with Kirk on Organia as a famous story.
Several of the Star Trek novels would expand on this story by establishing that the Organians only enforced their treaty over a large but somewhat limited and ill-defined area. Thus the Klingons and Federation could fight, in some places, but neither side was ever quite sure if the Organians would intervene or, if they did, how they would react. This allowed the two to remain as antagonists. Other non-canon works contradict this; "The Star Fleet Universe" claims that the Organians were only able to affect matters in their own system, and so were largely bluffing in their threats. Comics set between Star Trek II and III claim that war does break out thanks to the interference of Yarnek and the Excalbians. Perhaps most interestingly, the novel "Spock Must Die" features the Klingons developing a technology which can neutralise the Organians, which allows them to launch a war against the Federation. At the climax of the book Kirk is able to free the Organians, who respond by neutralising all Klingon space flight for centuries to come. This idea, of course, is contradicted by later depictions of the Klingons still being active.
Whilst the Organians would never reappear in canon after this episode, the Enterprise episode "Observer Effect" acts as a prequel of sorts, showing Organian contact with Humans a century before this episode.
The Enterprise receives a message from Starfleet indicating that negotiations with the Klingon Empire are about to collapse - war is imminent. The ship is ordered to Organia, a primitive planet which happens to be in a strategic location. On the way they are attacked by a Klingon ship, which they destroy; a further message indicates that war has indeed begun.
Arriving in orbit Kirk and Spock beam down to enlist the help of the Organians. They find a peaceful agrarian society, primitive in appearance - and yet there are oddities about the place, such as nearby ruins which indicate a significantly higher technology level, or the fact that nobody appears the least concerned about their materialisation right in front of them. A local, Ayelborne, welcomes them and takes them to meet the Council of Elders - the closest thing the Organians have to leaders. The Council appear entirely indifferent to the conflict now raging, assuring Kirk that they have no need of or desire for Federation protection from the Klingons. Spock determines that the Organian culture has been technologically stagnant for as far back as his tricorder can scan, and Kirk offers them advances to improve their lives in return for assistance. The Organians politely decline.
In orbit the Klingon fleet arrives - which, oddly, the Councillor Trefayne is aware of before the Enterprise is. Ayelborne simply explains this by claiming that he is "quite intuitive". With the Enterprise outnumbered Kirk orders the ship to retreat and bring reinforcements whilst he and Spock remain below. Klingon forces soon beam down and begin to occupy the village.
The Organians provide suitable native clothing for Kirk, and disguise Spock as a civilian trader - but in the process, they hide their weapons lest the Starfleet officers be tempted to harm somebody with them. The Klingon governor Kor arrives; he orders Spock questioned under a mind probe, and appoints Kirk as his liaison to the civilian population as he detects resentment in him and regards "good honest hatred" as something he can respect and deal with, as compared to the docile attitude everybody else displays.
Spock is able to fool the mind probe and is released. The officers plan a little sabotage to complicate life for the Klingons, and succeed in blowing up an ammunition dump. They hope their actions will rally the Organians by showing them that there are ways to resist the Klingons, but to their surprise the Organians are horrified by their violent actions and plead with them to do nothing more. Unfortunately Kor has bugged the Council chamber, and Kirk and Spock are captured. When he threatens to use the mind probe on Kirk Ayelborne immediately volunteers his true identity to save him, much to Kirk's disgust.
Kor takes Kirk to his office and the two talk. Kor talks of his admiration for Starfleet and Kirk personally and his joy of war and conquest - likening the Klingons and Federation both to a race of predators and the Organians to sheep who are there to be preyed on. When Kirk refuses to talk Kor offers him twelve hours to think it over, and has him locked up in a cell with Spock.
Much to their surprise Ayelborne soon arrives and frees them, stating that the Klingons on guard "fell asleep". He takes them to the Council chambers, assuring them that the Klingons will not search there. Kirk is completely confused by how the Organians will sell him out to the Klingons in one moment only to rescue him the next. When Kor learns of Kirk and Spock's escape he has two hundred Organians killed in reprisal, threatening to kill another two hundred every hour until they are returned. Even this does not phase the Organians in the slightest.
Kirk plans a near-suicidal assault on Kor to save the hostages, forcing Ayelborne to return their hand weapons. After they leave the Councillors comment on their bravery, although regarding their actions as foolish. They note that more violence will follow now, and that this is something that they cannot allow. Kirk's mission succeeds better than he anticipated, and he is able to get to Kor himself. However, Kor keeps his cool. He notes that a Klingon and a Federation fleet are going to clash near Organia shortly, a glorious battle which he expects to win. He notes that Klingons are strong because every one of them is part of the whole, constantly watched - including himself. Realising that the office is bugged, Kirk turns as Klingons stream in to attack.
Yet even as they do their weapons suddenly become intensely hot, forcing everybody to drop them. They try to fight by hand, but even their opponents bodies feel agonisingly hot to the touch. Ayelborne and Claymare enter and inform them that they have put a stop to the violence - not only here on Organia, but everywhere. All Federation and Klingon ships are now literally impossible to use due to the searing heat their crews feel when they touch them. Ayelborne tells them he is appearing simultaneously on their home worlds to issue a demand - all hostilities will cease, or all forces involved will remain immobile.
A stunned Kirk and Kor can hardly believe what has happened or comprehend how it could be possible, but Ayelborne reveals the amazing truth - that the Organians are not primitives at all, but are rather advanced beyond all comprehension. Their bodies vanish into blinding spheres of energy before fading out of view completely. Spock muses that the Organians are likely as far removed from Humanity as Humans are from the amoeba; their former appearance and the whole village were merely illusions maintained so that the outsiders would have understandable reference points to deal with.
With the war ended, Kirk and Spock return to the Enterprise and the ship departs.
Great episode, truly one of the best of the Original Series. To modern sensibilities, it's a shame that the Klingons are just dropped in here the way they are. Nowadays something like this would be introduced over many episodes, with some foreshadowing and actions to establish the oncoming threat - look at how DS9 took the time to introduce the Dominion over the space of years. But this is very much a sign of the times, really. TOS would frequently simply throw things out there that redefined the whole way things in Trek worked. It can be a little jarring to the modern audience, but it seems to work somehow.
The setup is a decent one, with the Organians coming across as rather baffling and strange but not so strange that you really get their true nature. Again, this is partly a result of the times. We've very used to the idea that some person or culture can appear weak or simple, only to prove to be tremendously advanced and powerful. But at the time of this episode, such a thing was a pretty new idea. Thus we view the Organians as victims, as sheep - until they show us what they truly are.
The episode benefits very much from Kor and the depiction of the Klingons. It's said that Dorothy Fontana much preferred the Romulans, who she thought were more interesting. That may be true, but the Klingons as shown here are quite an interesting bunch themselves. Kor is a very self aware villain; he regards himself as a predator, freely admitting that his ways are harsh and cruel... yet he will sit and have a drink with Kirk, a man he seems to honestly admire. He is willing to slaughter hostages by the hundred to get his way... yet he causally confesses that one day the Klingons will probably meet their match and be defeated, and seems to find no great problem with this. Thus, he is not somebody who is fighting to achieve something as such - he doesn't want to fight the Federation for the goal of ruling the Federation, he wants to fight the Federation because he enjoys the process of conquest itself. He is the epitome of the attitude expressed by the old quote about Alexander the Great, who allegedly wept when he realised that he controlled all the known world because "there were no new worlds to conquer." It makes him a complex and fascinating character.
I have to say, though, the Klingon guy who keeps reporting to him? Wow, that's a terrible actor right there. Just listen to the line delivery, it's appalling!
Overall, then, a very solid episode.
The special edition brings us the usual new exterior shots, plus a nice new planet Organia. Interestingly we now get to see multiple ships of the Klingon fleet arriving, which is a nice touch. The shots of the Organian transformation have also been redone.