When Star Trek celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy hosted a marathon of the top ten episodes as voted by the fans. The list included “City on the Edge of Forever,” “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Trouble With Tribbles.” It was, pretty much, the usual suspects from the first quarter century of the original series.
In the last twenty-five years, it’s been interesting to watch as a re-evaluation of the original 79 episodes has taken place. And while most of the usual suspects still make the ten best episodes list, there are a few that have crept up in the estimation of fans.
One of those is “The Conscience of the King.”
As I saw the episode showing up on more and more top episodes list, I went back and tried to give it a fresh look, trying to determine what about the episode connected with fans. I firmly believe that part of the love for this episode and it’s growing esteem in the eyes of fandom is Ronald D. Moore listed it as one of his favorite Trek installments during an on-line a few years ago.
And while I would put this in the upper tier of classic Trek episodes, I still don’t see it as the classic as my fellow fans do.
The story is a fascinating character examination of Captain James T. Kirk. And while that alone should put it near the top of my list of favorite episodes, I still feel there are other episodes that do a better job of showcasing Kirk and what makes him a great leader, captain and all-around guy. Shatner certainly acts his socks off, giving us an conflicted Kirk who is willing to use all the resources around him to try and get justice. The questions of whether or not justice can and will be served if Koridian turns out to be Kodos the Executioner are meaty, weighty and well thought out. And certainly we’ll see this character trait of Kirk’s built on later in season two with “Obsession.”
But I’ve got to be honest and say that I find “Obsession” to be a better episode. Or at least a more entertaining one.
Part of that could be that while we get some great character work for Kirk (and I’ll agree with Moore that the scene in Kirk’s quarter when he’s confronted by McCoy and Spock on his behavior is an original series highlight), a lot of this episode feels dated. This namely comes in how little technology is available to Kirk to try and confirm that Koridian equals Kodos. The only way to do this is using a voice print, which I suppose worked well when the episode was produced. But in the age with DNA testing and other technologies more readily available, not having those open to Kirk (or anyone else for that matter) sticks out like a huge sore thumb. And it takes this fan out of the episode too much to push it up into my top ten of all Trek episodes.
I realize that we don’t need Kirk and Spock fighting to the death or an unstoppable planet killer to create good drama. And this one works hard to create good drama –even with Kodos’ daughter being “crazy bananas” in the final analysis (how she managed to hide this, also takes me out of the episode a bit).
And yet, the episode has some strong points in its favor. I reference the McCoy and Spock conversation with Kirk and I also love that we see Kevin Riley again. It adds an extra layer to the episode and our concern that Riley might die after being poisoned in engineering. Because it’s Riley and not just a random red-shirt, the scene takes on a bit more dramatic quality and suspense.
And it almost makes up for McCoy not making sure that Riley isn’t listening when he records the log about Koridian possibly being Kodos.
Each time I watch this one, I find myself wanting to love it as much as my fellow Trek fans do. And each time, I come away scratching my head a bit.
But I’ll take this episode any day of the week over “Miri” or some of the other clunkers in TOS’s run.
But you don’t just have to take my word for it. Here’s what other fans think!
Scruffy Rebel Video Commentary
Mission Log: Conscience of the King
Tor Review: Conscience of the King
Onion AV Club Review