|“Promenade across the floor/Sashay right on out the door…”|
In the 1980s and 1990s Galoob produced a line of miniature models called Micro Machines. They were mostly replicas of different automobiles, but Galoob also produced tie-in sets of Micro Machines for a number of different licensed works. Merchandise is typically seen by those of a leftist persuasion as a primary symptom of crass capitalist frivolity and indulgence, and while I’m not largely inclined to disagree in the general sense, I do believe there are enough positive effects to glean out of the phenomenon to justify its existence, and ultimately it’s intrinsically linked with the concept of Soda Pop Art and thus an important facet of Western culture.
But my qualified defense of merchandise will have to wait for a later date. The reason I bring it up now is that there were in fact Star Trek themed Micro Machine sets, and I happened to have a few of them. each set was patterned after a different incarnation of the franchise and typically featured three different ships, the implication being these were the most notable and important vehicles. The Original Series set featured the Enterprise, of course, but also a Romulan Bird-of-Prey and a Klingon D7 battle cruiser. On the back of the box there were some basic overview specs, probably taken from Mike Okuda’s Star Trek Encyclopedia. There was also a note that indicated which episode the ship was from. Now obviously most of these ships appeared in a great deal more than one episode, so Galoob picked the episode they must have figured was the ship’s most iconic appearance. For the Bird-of-Prey they understandably picked “Balance of Terror” (if for no other reason than that’s the only episode unique footage of the model was shot for), but for the D7 they picked “Day of the Dove”.
This is another of the most iconic episodes of the Original Series, becoming memorable enough to warrant a considerable number of sequels and references in future incarnations of Star Trek. This, combined with the generally very positive reception amongst fans makes “Day of the Dove” in many ways the definitive Klingon episode of the Original Series. It’s not difficult to see why it’s garnered this reputation: This is the first time we see Klingons behaving in a manner that’s somewhat consistent with their later depiction, as a proud culture of warriors that values honour and courage. Kang throws out Klingon proverbs and phrases on a reliably regular basis, many of which served as the inspiration for future explorations of Klingon philosophy, and even carried through wholecloth into future series. Kang is also played with impeccable force and prowess by Michael Ansara: He’s without doubt one of the most memorable antagonists the show’s seen, Klingon or otherwise, or at least the one who it’s the easiest to see why the fans would be drawn to him: He has a charm and charisma absent from several previous Klingons (although I still prefer William Campbell’s delightfully camped-up Captain Koloth in “The Trouble with Tribbles” personally).
“Day of the Dove” is also the third outing from Jerome Bixby. Bixby previously gave us “Mirror, Mirror”, which was one of the finest hours of the entire series, and “By Any Other Name”, which perhaps wasn’t, but was still a somewhat solid outing with one or two intriguing ideas. “Day of the Dove” is closer to the former rather than the latter in theme, tone and general execution, and while it’s a good showcase of Bixby’s strengths as a writer, it’s also a showcase for his weaknesses as well. Like “Mirror, Mirror”, “Day of the Dove” seems to be a critique of imperialistic tendencies both in and out of Star Trek, although this one seems to be criticizing violence, conflict and negative emotions more broadly. Which brings me to my next point which is, unfortunately, like “By Any Other Name”, this episode has a tendency to come across as unnecessarily heavy-handed, pop Christian and honestly, a bit facile and morally simplistic.
At heart this episode essentially boils down to one big Cold War allegory: The Klingons and the Federation are pushed to the break of brutal, never-ending war when a(nother) non-corporal entity that feeds on anger, hatred and violence sneaks aboard the Enterprise and manipulates both crews to do its bidding by enhancing their inherent aggressive tendencies and confusing them with false memories, which is overtly likened to propaganda in the scene where Kirk tries to plead with Kang on the bridge: Kang is under the control of the entity and refuses to listen, while Mara, Kang’s wife who Kirk had previously threatened to kill as a bluff, is confused as to why she’s not being sent to a Federation death camp. Kirk informs her she’s been a victim of anti-Federation propaganda. The hostilities are eventually resolved when Kirk convinces Kang that the entity is the real enemy, and they must unite to free themselves from its control. The best possible reading I could muster of this would be to say the entity represents distant politicians who send soldiers off to fight wars for their own political gain with no concern for the sanctity of life, and the worst would be that it represents what it looks like: A dangerous Other. This would make “Day of the Dove” quite paradoxically militaristic, as it would seem to be saying the only value in alliances is to forge solidarity against the *real* threats. Neither of these are particularly nuanced observations, especially taken in the context of this episode’s most obvious antecedent, “Balance of Terror”.
The Klingons too are not without problems. In many ways this is the best they’re portrayed in the Original Series, as Bixby shows them to be a unique culture unto themselves and for the first time we get to see a Klingon crew made up of more than two distinct individuals. Ansara helps a great deal too: Kang’s constant speeches about death, glory and honour make the Klingons sound like warrior poets, and it’s leagues better then the generically Russian or Mongol schemers they started out as. It’s no surprise why this becomes the model for all of their future portrayals. But this still isn’t quite enough: For “Day of the Dove” to become the “Balance of Terror” or “Enterprise Incident” for the Klingons, it would have needed to show them as absolute equals to the Starfleet officers, and it never quite gets there. For one, every Klingon character other than Kang and Mara is basically an extra and even Mara, supposedly the science officer of Kang’s ship and a very intelligent person, gets an absolutely intolerable scene where she stands around dumbly in the corridor while Kirk and Spock discern the nature of the entity, contributing nothing even though she should technically be as qualified as Spock. She also blurts out to Kang that Kirk is tricking them while he’s trying to make a truce immediately after seeing the entity herself.
Secondly, this is the most jaw-droppingly racist the Klingons have ever looked. The show isn’t even trying to hide the fact all the Klingons are played by white actors browned up and given ambiguously foreign makeup anymore, and on top of that they’re still shown to be more warlike and less reasonable then the Federation. While they’re not antagonists, they are aggressors and they do quickly become the last stubborn factor that keeps the plot from resolving. This isn’t so much a mutual alliance where two groups of equals work together to come up with a joint solution to a problem, it’s more Kirk convincing the Klingons they were wrong about the Federation, even though violent emotions exist in all of us. Even “The Enterprise Incident”, neutered as it was compared to D.C. Fontana’s original pitch, managed to at least hint at the Federation engaging in underhanded and unethical behaviour and gave them part of the blame for that episode’s conflict.
Unfortunately, a lot of this might come down to the fact the Klingons simply aren’t as interesting or effective an alien culture as the Romulans. Gene Coon did create them as generic baddies and never intended them to become reoccurring adversaries, after all. While the Romulans are our explicit parallels and represent another direction we could have gone and can be used in fascinating studies of aesthetics and sensuality through their connection to the Vulcans, the Klingons are really never going to be anything more then stoutheart warriors, and without the dense tapestry of myth, oral history and culture that tends to accompany roving bands of warriors in the real world.
And I mean for goodness’ sake, the Klingons were defeated by Tribbles.
But that said there are a lot of things to like about “Day of the Dove” too. First of all, the acting is bloody spectacular, and I’ll wager that’s a large part of the reason this episode is as popular as it is. The entire cast is in absolute top form, every single major actor gets a scene to shine and I haven’t seen this cast this energized and fired up in a very long time, if ever. Watching Nichelle Nichols just completely lose it on the bridge, portraying Uhura not crying or acting withdrawn, but pushed over the line enough to simply snap and start railing against everything, is genuinely unsettling and impossible not to relish as much as Nichols herself clearly is. DeForest Kelley looks like he’s about to start foaming at the mouth and James Doohan has Scotty just have a total nervous breakdown. Ansara’s great, as I mentioned, and while this in many ways feels like business as usual for William Shatner, he’s an imperious, rowdy and passionate force and plays Kirk taking command without making him seem dismissive and paternalistic. What’s actually more telling is that for the first time everyone in the cast seems to be following Shatner’s lead now, so every character becomes a deliberately exaggerated artifice, which is actually perfect for conveying the story’s artificially heightened stakes. It’s truly captivating and mesmerizing.
The fight scenes are also visceral and exciting in a way they’re usually not in Star Trek, and the fact they’re actually central to the plot this time excuses the fact they take up about half the runtime. However, this also highlights another area in which “Day of the Dove” falters a bit, because the stuff that’s not fighting or impassioned speechifying is kind of thin and hokey: It takes entirely too long for the two crews to figure out what the entity is doing and the literal “everybody laughs” ending where Kirk, McCoy, Scott and Kang crack painful “jokes” at the entity to make it go away is embarrassingly stilted and clunky. Although I suppose it’s better than Bixby’s original plan which would have entailed the crew singing songs and holding peace marches.
It’s at this point where it starts to become clear what the actual problems with “Day of the Dove” are. The script seems like it’s trying to come down against war and violence, but its stops short before delivering anything close to a comprehensive or even-handed critique. It doesn’t talk about the origins of violence or why people might be pushed towards it, or how power structures provide a climate where violence is not only allowed to exist but encouraged to (which are all things the show has said in the past, so I don’t think I’m being too unreasonable in my expectations), it just says “fighting is bad” and that it strengthens the real enemy, which is…fighting, I guess? I suppose we could redeem this by saying “Day of the Dove” is about problematizing all parties in a fight, and that it’s trying to be just as hard on the Enterprise crew, who are frequently tempted by their violent and bigoted impulses.
Except I don’t think the episode is actually very good at making that argument. There’s the problem of the Klingons of course, which I addressed above, but even without them I’m not sure this is the kind of story the show should be doing now. It might have actually been a better fit in the second season, maybe even the fist, coming alongside stuff like “Arena”, “A Taste of Armageddon”, “The Devil in the Dark” and yes, even “Errand of Mercy”. Coming here, midway through the third season, Star Trek is now in a climate that has seen not only Bixby’s own “Mirror, Mirror”, but also “The Trouble with Tribbles”, “A Piece of the Action”, “Patterns of Force”, “Save Star Trek!”, “Spectre of the Gun”, “The Empath” and “The Tholian Web” (although to be fair, those last two episodes wouldn’t air until after this one, though they were produced before). The ship has sailed on problematizing the show and its setting, the focus should now be on what it is that makes Star Trek special, important and worth preserving. We should be looking at what makes Star Trek *different*, in what way it’s idealistic and hopeful, what we might be able to learn from it and how it can continue to grow.
Then there’s the plot, which sadly kind of falls apart if you think about it too hard. There’s the fundamental theme, which is already somewhat more facile then maybe might be desirable, but after a time it also starts to feel…overly familiar. One detects shades of not just “Balance of Terror” and “The Enterprise Incident”, but also “Arena” (the solution is not to fight, and a external force underlines the brutality of fighting by replacing all weapons with basic implements to take the flash and glory out of it) and even Bixby’s previous work (the scene between Chekov and Mara seems to be an echo of Mirror Spock’s mind rape of McCoy in “Mirror, Mirror”, and it’s nowhere near as effective here). And, “Day of the Dove” remains pop Christian by depicting human(oids) as inherently savage and violent and who must struggle to keep their instincts and inhibitions under control…which is also reminiscent of “The Naked Time”, “The Enemy Within”, “A Taste of Armageddon”, “Errand of Mercy”, “Wolf in the Fold”, and even “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” if you’re especially inclined to read that episode that way.
Jerome Bixby has one more Star Trek credit to his name, but I’m starting to get the sense he might not have had a tremendous range as a writer, at least on this show, and probably needed other people to give his scripts that last bit of polish necessary to make them truly shine. He was lucky enough to have sublimely good ghost-writers in D.C. Fontana and Gene Coon on “Mirror, Mirror”, but he doesn’t have them anymore as both have long since left their day-to-day positions on the show, and Arthur Singer doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d gel all that well with Bixby’s themes and motifs, if you catch my drift. But Bixby is saved by his cast here, who are absolutely on fire, and “Day of the Dove” really is a solidly enjoyable and well-done episode. It’s without question the best Klingon story of the Original Series (if you don’t count “The Trouble with Tribbles”), and certainly given the fact the show is churning out stuff like “The Paradise Syndrome” and “For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky” on a frighteningly regular basis this year it’s hard to get too upset at an episode that has its heart in the right place and is a spellbinding bit of television on top of it all.
But maybe the reason “Day of the Dove” is the definitive Klingon episode is because it leaves us feeling just a little bit unsatisfied and disappointed.