Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Day of the Dove" (November 1, 1968)

Stardate: Armageddon

The Enterprise rushes to Beta XII-A, a Class-M planet that purportedly houses a Federation colony under attack. 

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) beams down to the planet with a landing party, including Mr. Chekov (Walter Koenig), only to find that no colony appears to exist there.

Soon, Klingons show up on the planet surface as well, claiming that their vessel in orbit was crippled by the Enterprise. The Klingon commander, Kang (Michael Ansara) claims Kirk’s ship as a prize, and orders Kirk to transport his survivors aboard.

Kirk does so, but surreptitiously arranges with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) for security guards to be stationed in the transporter room upon beam in. The Klingons are captured upon completion of transport.

Soon, however, strange things begin to occur on the starship. The Enterprise accelerates to Warp 9, on a heading between galaxies. Meanwhile, nearly 400 crewmen are trapped on the lower decks. Also, Chekov thirsts for revenge against the Klingons over the death of an imaginary brother.

Matter is transmuted too, in a dangerous fashion. Phasers are transformed into swords and other bladed weapons.  Soon, it is all-out, bloody war aboard.

Spock detects an alien life form aboard the vessel, and Kirk and the others realize that a creature who thrives on negative emotions -- vengeance, hatred, racial prejudice -- is trapping the Klingons and Starfleet officers in an eternal, bloody war.

“Day of the Dove” is another strong Star Trek (1966-1969) episode of the third season. The audience encounters the most imposing Klingon commander since Kor -- Anasara’s Kang -- as well as the first (and only) Klingon female seen on the series. 

Similarly, viewers see the first instance of “intra-ship beaming,” in this episode, a mode of transport that would become a de-facto aspect of 1980’s and 1990’s Trek.

Most importantly, however, “Day of the Dove” presents another tale that suggests Klingons and humans will share a future of friendship and peace. Here, Kirk and Kang go to war, only to reconcile when they realize that the alien life-form is manipulating them. 

As Kang notes “only a fool fights in a burning house.”

The remarkable optimism (and really, pragmatism) of Star Trek is featured beautifully in “Day of the Dove.” Mara (Susan Howard), knows of the Federation only from Klingon propaganda, but ultimately proves persuadable by facts and logic. Both Klingons and Starfleet officers prove reasonable -- and humane -- in the face of war. We see the “enemy” as human, in the sense that Mara and Kang are devoted to one another, and love one another. 

As I like to write in these reviews, this is no small matter. 

Star Trek was produced at the height of the Cold War, not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It would have been easy to feature the Klingons, the Soviet “team,” as a force akin to pure evil. Star Trek, instead, does two things. 

First, it characterizes the “enemy” as not, necessarily, bad…only different.

Second, the series suggest that no one benefits, in the long run, when people go to war. The Klingons and UFP don’t have to love one another -- or live like one another -- but they can find room to live in peace, and respect their differences. “Errand of Mercy,” “Day of the Dove” and The Final Frontier (1989) all suggest that these unlike beings can co-exist in peace. It may be an uneasy peace at times, but it is peace nonetheless.

It is not difficult to read “Day of the Dove” as a reflection of domestic events in America during turbulent 1968, either. There were riots in more than a hundred American cities following the murder of Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4), for example. Then there was the Democratic National Convention violence in August, during which early ten-thousand anti-war protesters battled 23,000 policemen in Chicago.

The temperature in America needed to be turned down. Violence was out of control, irrational and irrevocable.

Accordingly, “Day of the Dove” works on a beautiful, metaphorical level. Logically and rationally, the opposing forces aboard the Enterprise know it is illogical and non-productive to fight. And yet, emotionally, they are driven to rage, to feelings of race superiority and hatred.  

The alien life-form grows “red” over these hot emotions, sucking up all the hatred and prejudice it can get. 

 “Only a fool fights in a burning house?”  In this case, it looked a lot, in 1968, like America was that burning house.

Kirk states at one point in “Day of the Dove” that this alien life form must be responsible for a lot of “human history,” and that puts a fine point on the matter.  

On one hand, one might be inclined read the statement as a cop-out, saying that human nature isn’t responsible for human violence. Instead, this alien is responsible.

My preferred reading, however, goes back to the metaphorical level. Irrational, bloodthirsty feelings of hate, racial superiority and vengeance are indeed responsible for a “lot of human history.”

The alien creature just turns up the heat on those things, but the factor of the matter is that such ugliness is part of us.  The alien doesn’t create those feelings.  It merely augments them.

That’s what, I believe, “Day of the Dove” is really all about; the idea that for too much of our history, we have let our red hot tempers and emotions boil up, overruling our reason and logic. 

We can apply the situation to the Cold War, or to the divisions in America of 1968.  In whatever way you choose to parse it, however, Star Trek is once again clearly commenting on its social and historical context.  And, once again, it is saying that we are at our best when we offer peace to our “enemies,” instead of just more warfare.

That’s why I love Star Trek. In shows like “Day of the Dove,” we don’t win when we kill the enemy. We win when we realize we can outgrow killing, and seek common ground.

In two weeks: “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”


  1. Not a cop-out. The alien wouldn't have been able to turn up the heat if it hadn't been in humans and Klingons already.

  2. John, great review of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes of all six Star Trek series. “Day of the Dove” is simply a brilliant episode with a timeless message. I wish “Day of the Dove” would be redone as a motion picture for the next J.J. Abrams Star Trek film.


  3. "The alien doesn’t create those feelings. It merely augments them." Except, John, the alien *does* create those feelings, inciting Chekov, in whose mind the alien induces a false memory of a nonexistent murdered brother, to commit the only personally motivated attack in the drama! And for Mara, the personal nature of Chekov's attempted rape reinforces *her* specific fears. Both Chekov and Mara uniquely individualize their "othering" of an enemy which is merely generically "the other side" for everyone else.

    This is an excellent commentary on the nature of war specifically in and of itself--which utilizes propaganda to incentivize "othering" (see WWII propaganda) and in which rape is commonly used as a weapon to demoralize and genetically conquer the enemy (systemically in most tribal wars, on a mass scale in East Asian wars, Bosnia/Serbia, and now the Middle East). "Day of the Dove" comments not just on violence or as a Cold War parable, but on the very mechanisms by which all groups, tribes and societies escalate from individual to global violence--and also the reverse, from the general to the individual and specific. Large-scale violence can and does incentivize individuals to find reasons, even false ones, to personalize the generic. Most people need personal motivation to engage in violence, and where it does not actually exist or when propaganda fails to supply it, they are quite capable of inventing personal revenge motives out of whole cloth.

    One interesting aspect of "Day of the Dove" is the parallel dynamic of Kang/Mara versus Kirk/Spock. Both tactically and strategically smart commanders who have close, trusting relationships with scientist first officers, we are meant to see these duos as alike so as to focus on the reasons they respond as they do. Kang is more reluctant than Kirk to suppress his violent reactions, but of course that's because Mara was personally attacked, inciting his personal protective instincts. It's Mara herself who, convinced by the enemy of the alien's incitement, convinces Kang to lay down arms--just as it's Spock's more detached observations that convince Kirk to more closely examine the situation and the alien.

    Kang was originally supposed to be Kor in this episode, but John Colicos was not available again. It would have added another dimension to this story to have encountered a previous enemy again, with the added backstory of his wife in the bargain. Too bad: it would have been glorious!

  4. Jerome Bixby strikes again!
    Not only that, his "agonizer" from "Mirror, Mirror" is now in the hands of the Klingons.
    I'd mentioned before that John Colicos was asked to reprise his role of Kor from "Errand of Mercy," but was unable to accept due to a film he was making overseas. Thus, the character of Kang was created, but the script's dialogue remained much the same. This explains how Kang and Kirk are acquainted with one another, although we viewers have never met Kang.
    This episode has a rather surreal quality and never stops to catch its breath, which works in its favor. Its denouement is somewhat abrupt as well; did 400 Klingons really perish? Are the 400 Enterprise crewmen still trapped below decks? However, I love how Kang slaps Kirk in the back as hard as he can amidst the laughter as the entity is chased away. It kind of lets you know that there's no love lost between Klingons and humans, even as they share a metaphorical beer or glass of Romulan ale.
    Another top-notch episode, as you excellently point out John.