The Conscience of the King

"The Conscience of the King" is the thirteenth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek. Written by Barry Trivers and directed by Gerd Oswald, it first aired on December 8, 1966.

"The Conscience of the King"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 13
Directed byGerd Oswald
Written byBarry Trivers
Featured musicJoseph Mullendore
Cinematography byJerry Finnerman
Production code013
Original air dateDecember 8, 1966 (1966-12-08)
Guest appearance(s)

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) 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 friend of Captain Kirk, ostensibly to investigate a possible new synthetic food source. Leighton's true motivation, however, is his suspicion 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 twenty years earlier, to which both Leighton and Kirk were eyewitnesses. Kirk dismisses Leighton's allegations at first, but agrees to meet Karidian and his troupe at a party at Leighton's home the next day. Karidian does not appear, but Kirk meets his daughter Lenore, and during a walk outside the two discover Leighton dead.

Kirk arranges for the Enterprise to ferry the acting troupe to its next destination. He also transfers Lt. Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde) to Engineering, after discovering that he too was a witness to the Tarsus IV massacre. These actions arouse the curiosity of First Officer Spock, who, after an investigation of his own, learns the full history of the massacre and Kirk and Riley's connection to it. His research also reveals that seven of nine witnesses to the massacre have died, and that in each case Karidian's acting troupe was somewhere nearby.

An attempt is made to poison Riley, and a phaser nearly explodes in Kirk's quarters. Kirk, however, is unwilling to accuse Karidian without proof. Kirk has Karidian read the sentence Kodos pronounced before the massacre, and computer analysis of his voice results in a near-perfect match with Kodos, but Kirk still hesitates.

Lt. Riley, recovering in sickbay, overhears Dr. McCoy's log entry and learns that Karidian is suspected of being Kodos. Riley heads for the ship's theater where the Karidian troupe has begun their performance of Hamlet, and sneaks backstage, phaser in hand, to exact revenge for the death of his family. Kirk discovers him before he can act and persuades him to surrender the weapon. Karidian, overhearing, is visibly disturbed, and Lenore tries to assure him that all the "ghosts" of his past will soon be gone. Karidian now realizes to his horror that his daughter is responsible for the deaths of the first seven witnesses. Kirk, overhearing this conversation, moves to arrest them both. Lenore then snatches a phaser from a nearby security guard and takes aim at Kirk. Karidian jumps into the line of fire, is hit, and dies. Lenore breaks down and begs her father to wake up and continue his performance.


In 2013, Wired ranked this episode one of the top ten episodes of the original television series.[2]

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."[3] Keith DeCandido, writing for, commended the acting of Moss, Shatner, and Anderson, but felt that the episode had aged poorly in regards to only being able to identify Karidian as Kodos via an unreliable voice comparison. He gave the episode a rating of 7.[4] 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".[5]

Michelle Erica Green of Trek Today also praised Moss and Anderson's performances, but criticized the episode's script.[6] Later Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore considers the episode to be "deeply underrated" and one of the series' best.[7]


  1. ""The Conscience of the King" Treknation Review". Treknation. August 19, 2005. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
  2. Staff, WIRED (May 15, 2013). "10 of the Most Underrated Episodes of the Original Star Trek Series". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  3. Handlen, Zack (February 27, 2009). ""Conscience Of The King" / "Balance Of Terror"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
  4. DeCandido, Keith (June 2, 2015). "Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: "Conscience Of The King"". Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  5. Epsicokhan, Jamahl. "[TOS] Jammer's Review: "Conscience Of The King"". Jammer's Reviews. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  6. Green, Michelle Erica (August 19, 2005). "The Conscience of the King". Trek Today. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  7. 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.
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