Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: December 8, 1966
"The Conscience of the King" is part of a long-standing relationship between Star Trek and the legacy of William Shakespeare. William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Deep Space Nine's Avery Brooks and Voyager's Kate Mulgrew all have Shakespearean stage credentials on their resumes. Interestingly, both Stewart and Brooks have played the part of Othello, while Mulgrew has played Desdemona. The Memory Alpha entry on the Bard provides a list of references over the years.
The episode title itself comes from Hamlet and the story revolves around a traveling theater company. Captain Kirk is invited to a performance of Macbeth by an old friend, Dr. Thomas Leighton. Dr. Leighton suspects that the lead actor is actually Kodos "The Executioner," a ruthless dictator long-believed dead. Soon, Leighton's lifeless form is discovered and a good, old-fashioned murder mystery ensues. The end of the story revolves around a performance of Hamlet by the company aboard the Enterprise.
A quick word of reflection on my Star Trek posts thus far: a few of you have asked over the course of my explorations whether or not I like or dislike particular episodes. I find it a difficult question to answer for most of them, though I certainly enjoy them all enough to keep watching. I love Trek for its world-building and for the affection one develops for the characters over time. The original series, in particular, is really more kitschy and charming than slick and sophisticated. The special effects are primitive, of course, but that's to be expected. The writing doesn't measure up to the television standards established in later decades by Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat and others. For me, the magic of Trek runs deeper than the appeal of individual episodes. And to be honest, while some ("The Menagerie") are definitely better than others ("Mudd's Women"), I have yet to find a goose bump worthy episode to claim as my own. Meanwhile, I am thoroughly enjoying the stroll.
Arnold Moss (Anton Karidian/Kodos) was an abundantly qualified casting choice for a Shakespearean episode, having played Prospero, the lead in The Tempest, for 124 performances on Broadway. He was born January 28, 1910 in Brooklyn. Apart from Shakespeare and Star Trek, Moss's highest profile roles were in two Bob Hope films: My Favorite Spy and Casanova's Big Night. Moss died of lung cancer in 1989.