Open main menu

Wikipedia β

The Conscience of the King

"The Conscience of the King" is an episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek. It is episode number 13, production number 13, and aired on December 8, 1966. It was written by Barry Trivers and directed by Gerd Oswald.

"The Conscience of the King"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 13
Directed by Gerd Oswald
Written by Barry Trivers
Featured music Joseph Mullendore
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 013
Original air date December 8, 1966 (1966-12-08)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Menagerie, Part II"
Next →
"Balance of Terror"
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

The episode takes its title from the concluding lines of Act II of Hamlet: "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."[1]

In the episode, Captain Kirk crosses paths with an actor suspected of having been a mass-murdering dictator many years before.

The episode featured the final appearance (in production order) in the series of Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand). Whitney had already been notified that she was fired from the series a week before filming on this episode began. Her brief walk-on scene was her last scene in Star Trek before her return in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.



On stardate 2817.6, the Federation starship USS Enterprise has been called to Planet Q by Dr. Thomas Leighton, a research scientist and friend of Captain Kirk. Dr. Leighton had claimed to have discovered a new synthetic food source. As a result, the Enterprise diverts from its scheduled course to come to the planet.

Upon arriving, however, Kirk discovers that the synthetic food discovery claim was just a ruse employed by Dr. Leighton to bring Kirk to Planet Q. Leighton reveals to Kirk his true motivation is to have Kirk confirm Leighton's suspicions that Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe currently on the planet, is in fact Kodos "the Executioner," the former governor of the Earth colony of Tarsus IV, who was responsible for the massacre of over 4,000 people—including members of both Kirk's and Leighton's families—20 years earlier.

At first, Kirk is unwilling to believe Dr. Leighton's accusations. He states he is satisfied with the official version of history that Kodos died in the aftermath of a battle between his loyalists and relief forces from Earth and that a burned body discovered in the wreckage was that of Kodos. He begins to doubt those convictions, however, when Dr. Leighton is found dead the next day under mysterious circumstances.

Kirk contacts another friend of his, the captain of the transport ship that is to pick up the acting troupe, and convinces him to skip his stop at Planet Q, effectively stranding the troupe. He then maneuvers Karidian's daughter, Lenore (Barbara Anderson), into bargaining for transport on the Enterprise in return for a special performance for the crew.

Kirk's actions arouse First Officer Spock's suspicions, as it is against regulations for starships to transport civilian passengers, and as the troupe's destination, Benecia colony, is eight light-years off their scheduled course. After doing some investigation on the ship's computer, he discovers that former Governor Kodos had ordered the executions of more than half Tarsus IV's population after the food supply was all but destroyed by a fungus. He also uncovers evidence that Kodos applied his own personal theories of eugenics when he chose who lived and died. Furthermore, the vital resupply ships that could have saved the whole colony arrived much sooner than Kodos had anticipated, rendering all the executions unnecessary.

The computer research also reveals that there are no records of Karidian's existence prior to Kodos' death; that there were nine known people left after the massacres who could identify Kodos, were he still alive; that, in the intervening years, seven of these had died, all under mysterious circumstances; that in each case of the deaths of the former witnesses, Karidian's acting troupe has been somewhere nearby; and that the final two surviving witnesses—Captain Kirk and Lt. Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde)—are both on board the Enterprise.

Spock and Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy confront Captain Kirk with Spock's evidence and Spock's concern that assassination attempts will be made on Lt. Riley and Captain Kirk. Kirk confesses that he is unsure if Karidian is Kodos and he is unwilling to make such an accusation without proof. A further complicating factor is that Kirk has started falling in love with Lenore. However, after Riley is poisoned and left in a coma, and the ship is almost damaged by an overloading phaser left in Kirk's quarters, Kirk decides to confront Karidian by having him read the sentence Kodos pronounced before each execution so that he can compare Karidian's voice print with that of Kodos stored in the computer. Even after he obtains a near match, however, Kirk is still unwilling to make such a damning accusation.

Meanwhile, Lt. Riley, recovering in sickbay, overhears Dr. McCoy's log entry and learns that Karidian is suspected of being Kodos —the man responsible for killing Riley's family. Riley sneaks out of the sickbay and steals a phaser, clearly bent on revenge. He heads for the ship's theater where the Karidian troupe has begun their performance of Hamlet.

Riley sneaks backstage, phaser in hand, to exact his revenge on Karidian. Kirk discovers him before he can act and persuades him to surrender the weapon. Their conversation is overheard by Karidian, who for twenty years has tried to forget his past and shield Lenore from it, and now realizes to his horror that his adoring daughter has (by her own admission) been on a crazed crusade to protect him by assassinating the witnesses. Lenore plans to eliminate the last two witnesses — Kirk and Riley — at the conclusion of the performance.

Lenore then snatches a phaser from a nearby security guard and takes aim at Kirk. Karidian/Kodos, wanting to prevent any more bloodshed in his name, jumps into the line of fire, is hit, and dies. Lenore breaks down and is taken to a mental hospital, hallucinating that her father is still alive.


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an 'A-' rating, noting strong performances from the actors including a "great Spock/McCoy dynamic" and "some very credible acting from Shatner."[2] Keith DeCandido, writing for, commended the acting of Moss, Shatner, and Anderson, but felt that the episode had aged badly in regards to only being able to identify Karidian as Kodos via an unreliable voice comparison. He gave the episode a "warp factor rating" of 7.[3] Jamahl Epsicokhan of Jammer's Reviews rated the episode 2.5 stars out of 4 and similarly praised the performances of Moss and Anderson, but criticized the ending, calling it "inappropriate".[4]

Michelle Erica Green of Trek Today wrote,

An episode that plays much better than it summarizes, "The Conscience of the King" has a number of moments that should be cheesy and predictable yet manage to be moving, piggybacking off the Shakespearean dramas to which they make reference. The plot is quite intricate - a mystery with an underlying horror story, and a present-day romance used as a tool to unravel a drama from the past that was never resolved ... Both Arnold Moss as Karidian and Barbara Anderson as Lenore give memorable performances even while struggling with a script that can't live up to its Shakespearean antecedents. Anderson in particular must walk a fine line, first playing a femme fatale who somehow maintains a charming naiveté, seemingly incapable of conceiving of her father as a butcher, then becoming the dazzling madwoman who can carelessly dispose of anyone threatening her private world. It's Oedipus and Electra rather than Hamlet and Ophelia who come to mind, for this daughter is far too close to her father from the earliest moments when we see her playing ruthless Lady Macbeth to her father's murderous Macbeth.[5]

Later Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore considers the episode to be "deeply underrated" and one of the series' best.[6]


  1. ^ ""The Conscience of the King" Treknation Review". Treknation. August 19, 2005. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  2. ^ Handlen, Zack (February 27, 2009). ""Conscience Of The King" / "Balance Of Terror"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 5, 2009. 
  3. ^ DeCandido, Keith (June 2, 2015). "Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: "Conscience Of The King"". Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  4. ^ Epsicokhan, Jamahl. "[TOS] Jammer's Review: "Conscience Of The King"". Jammer's Reviews. Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  5. ^ Green, Michelle Erica (August 19, 2005). "The Conscience of the King". Trek Today. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  6. ^ Ronald D. Moore [@rondmoore] (September 17, 2016). "I maintain Conscience of the King is deeply underrated TOS episode and one of the series' best" (Tweet). Retrieved November 10, 2017 – via Twitter. 

External linksEdit