Kirk claims that diamonds are "perhaps the hardest substance known in the universe". Yet in "Obsession" Spock and Kirk discuss the fact that tritanium is 21.4 times as hard as diamond... whilst in "Balance of Terror", Spock declares that cast rodinium is "the hardest substance known to our science."
In the script the Metron admits to Kirk that they had actually planned to destroy the winner's ship, as this would be the greater danger to them.
The scenes on the surface were filmed at Vasquez Rocks in California, a location used in several Trek episodes. It is very recognisable thanks to the oddly shaped rock formations there.
The Cestus III outpost was a fort built for the show "Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers". It has since been demolished and is now a car park.
This is the first episode to mention photon torpedoes.
The Cestus III scenes involved both Shatner and Nimoy being in close proximity to many explosions. As a result both actors have suffered from tinnitus - a ringing sound in the ears - ever since.
At one point mention is made of the aft phasers being ready for use. This is the first time it is established that the Enterprise has rearward facing weapons.
This is the first episode to mention "The Federation" as being the government under which Starfleet operates.
The show Mythbusters recreated Kirk's bamboo cannon weapon in one of their experiments. They deemed that it was highly unlikely that such a weapon could function.
Travers tells them that the alien launched a surprise attack. it approached the planet asking to use the facilities, which are freely available to all. But as soon as the shields went down it opened fire, ignoring all communication. Kirk pursues the alien ship at high warp, determined to destroy it. They drive the ship to Warp 8, risking engine damage, but the alien ship manages to stay ahead. Scanning beams are detected ahead, coming not from the alien ship but from a nearby star system. Kirk decides to continue the pursuit, but the alien ship suddenly comes to a halt. The Enterprise closes in for the kill, only to suddenly drop out of warp itself. The ship hangs in space, paralysed.
A signal appears on the main viewscreen, an abstract light pattern accompanied by a voice. It informs them that it represents the Metrons, an advanced race who are unhappy at the intrusion into their space. They recognise that the two species involved in the chase are primitives who want to solve their dispute with violence, and so will provide a place for this to be done. It says that the place has been provided with materials to allow each side to kill the other, and promises that the loser will have their ship destroyed. As the message concludes, Kirk vanishes from the bridge.
He finds himself standing in a wilderness environment confronting his enemy - a Gorn, a large reptilian creature. The Gorn attacks Kirk and the two attempt to fight. The Gorn proves to be extremely slow moving, with Kirk easily able to avoid it. Yet it is very resilient to damage, and possessed of colossal strength. The fight turns into a running battle, with Kirk constantly retreating as the Gorn advances relentlessly. Nothing the Captain tries has any effect - even when he rolls a gigantic boulder off a cliff directly onto the Gorn the creature merely pushes it off and keeps coming.
The Metrons show the conflict to the Enterprise crew, informing then that Kirk will soon lose. The Gorn eventually talks to Kirk, pointing out that he has no chance of victory and offering a quick death if he will stop running. When Kirk criticises that attack on Cestus III the Gorn replies angrily that the attack was launched against invaders into Gorn space, a perfectly justified action. On the Enterprise McCoy wonders if the Federation might have inadvertently trespassed, putting them in the wrong.
Throughout his battle Kirk has noticed that his location has a curious makeup. There are heavy deposits of sulphur, potassium nitrate, diamonds, and coal all over the place. He suddenly remembers a practical use for these substances; he is able to collect the materials and combine them into gunpowder. Using a length of bamboo as a crude canon and diamonds as projectiles, he is able to fire on the Gorn and finally wound it. Kirk pounces, ready to kill the creature with an improvised dagger... but at the last moment he stops, stating that he won't kill the helpless creature and accepting that the Gorn may have been in the right.
A Metron appears, surprised at the outcome as he had not expected the primitive humans to show the advanced quality of mercy. He agrees to let both ships go on their way, and suggests that in a thousand years or so humanity might be ready for contact with his people. Kirk is transported back to his ship, which is thrown five hundred parsecs across space in an instant, putting it well clear of the Metron planet.
From the action of the battle we then get the tension of the chase. Kirk and Spock are nicely depicted here, with the Captain clearly running on anger whilst Spock tried to hold him back. The it's off to the planet for yet another confrontation, this time one on one.
Here we get the biggest flaw of the episode. On one level it really should work... the Gorn is shown as having advantages in some ways, strength and resilience, but as being disadvantaged in speed. Really, this combination of advantage and disadvantage is just what we should expect of an alien race. But there's no way around the fact that on screen, it just looks absurd to have the Gorn moving so veerrrryyyyy verrrryyyyyyy slowwwwwwwwwwwwwly.
The resolution is good also, with Kirk holding off on killing the Gorn. Such moments are common and rather cliche nowdays, but this one works well because it truly does tie in to Kirk's character. Kirk is a man of passion... Shatner plays this role as if Kirk absolutely passionately believes in every single thing he says and does. As a result, when he is angry Kirk tends to try and bull ahead almost regardless of the consequences. And yet, he is not somebody who is ruled by those passions. He can recognise this tendency within himself, and reign himself in when he needs to. Here he is angry with the Gorn, bent on revenge, and won't listen to anything that suggests another course of action. Yet when the moment does come, he holds himself back and refuses to take that final step. It's a great character moment for Kirk.
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