13 – The Conscience of the King

Grade: A-

 The Conscience of the King
(1966) on IMDb


Captain Kirk and Dr. Thomas Layton are watching a version of Shakespeare’s MacBeth on stage. Dr. Layton is certain that the actor is Kodos the Executioner, a notorious former Governor who executed thousands of people to prevent them from starving to death. Dr. Layton, Captain Kirk and Crewman Kevin Riley are the last three people who could identify Kodos. Suddenly, Dr. Layton is found dead, and certainly Riley and Kirk are next.


I recently watched this again, after several years of not seeing it. I’m still pretty impressed with the storyline in general – though like most of the episodes in this series, there’s still lots of campiness to go around.

This episode is kind of a mystery – not really since Kirk figures out who this actor is in the first few minutes. All the evidence is circumstantial, but it was probably the best they could do in the late 1960s. The real mystery is what Kirk is going to do with the information he has just discovered. Then once you think you know exactly what’s going to happen, there’s a bit of a twist at the end.

Back in the late 1960s, they obviously didn’t have any idea that in the future, there would be DNA testing that could prove someone’s identity, but why didn’t anyone bother to check this man’s fingerprints? Twenty years before this episode, this actor just showed up out of nowhere. Didn’t anyone do any background checks on him to find out who he really was? It really doesn’t make much sense.

Arnold Moss plays Anton Karidian, and he has such a distinctive voice that it’s hard to imagine that he could pass for someone else just by changing his name. Even one of the characters in the episode says “that voice – I’d know it anywhere.” Actually, In these years, I bet Moss’s voice was as recognizable as James Earl Jones (Darth Vader) is today.

This is one of quite a few episodes in which Kirk uses his “charms” to get what he wants from a female character. In fact, that plot device has been used so many times in the Original Series that it became cliché. Personally, I admit I’m very uncomfortable with Kirk’s unethical actions like what we see here. But again, that’s how the character was written, and Shatner himself didn’t seem too bothered by his role.

I wish the romantic scenes had been handled just a little bit better. The dialog was a little cheesy and there’s plenty of scene-chewing going on here. Barbara Anderson does a great job in her role and in these sometimes uncomfortable scenes. So if it’s not her, then it must be Shatner who makes these scenes hard to watch sometimes. Shatner does fine as Kirk, but I don’t think romantic scenes are what Shatner does best.

Finally, The parallels between this and what happened years after World War II, as people hunted down Nazi officials are very eerie. But the acting and the dialogue are what make this one of the best episodes of the entire series.

With all that being said, I still think this is one of the best episodes of the Original Series. If you like Shakespeare or mystery stories, you’ll find a lot to like in this particular episode.

Of Note

Apparently this is Ron Moore’s favorite episode of Star Trek. He wrote several episodes of the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.