Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: Day of the Dove

(Note: This post appears as a page elsewhere on this site. If you haven’t read it yet, my introductory post on this Star Trek: The Original Series rewatch is a good place to start. Previous essays on specific episodes can be found here.)

Original Air Date: November 1, 1968

Crew Death Count: 0 (but most of a Klingon crew remains unaccounted for)

Bellybuttons: 0

“Day of the Dove” features some of the themes of last week’s “Spectre of the Gun” and makes a nice double feature with that episode. “Day of the Dove” is more specific to emotional manipulation, however, and might reasonably be called the Fox Propaganda Channel episode. This week, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Federation colony on planet Beta XII-A. The landing party of Kirk, McCoy, Chekov, and security officer Johnson (David L. Ross) – who miraculously survives the entire episode – finds no trace of a settlement. A Klingon landing party soon arrives, however, led by Commander Kang (Michael Ansara), who claims that not only are they also responding to a distress call, but the Enterprise has attacked their ship and killed most of his crew. Soon both landing parties end up on the Enterprise, engaged in a duel of both logic and strength, until they learn they are being manipulated by a disembodied entity that thrives on hostile emotions.

“Or, we could settle our differences with a rousing game of capture the flag.”

My first observation of “Day of the Dove” is that this may be the best presentation of Klingons so far. As good as John Colicos was in “Errand of Mercy,” Michael Ansara plays Kang brilliantly, as both a brutal warrior and a wise strategist. While still on Beta XII-A, Kang claims the Enterprise as his own to replace his ship, which has been damaged beyond repair (and is subsequently destroyed by the Enterprise to prevent the release of fatal radiation). When Kirk tells Kang to “Go to the devil,” Kang responds, “We have no devil, Kirk. But we understand the habits of yours. I shall torture you to death one by one until your noble captain cries, ‘Enough!’” Later, Kang is savvy enough to commandeer the Enterprise by taking over engineering. The Klingons earn their savage reputation: they torture Chekov with a handheld agonizer, creating a disturbing link with the alternate universe of “Mirror, Mirror,” where similar devices were used by the Terran Empire. Yet the Klingons aren’t the misogynists we might expect, because Kang’s wife Mara (Susan Howard) is not only among his crew, but serves as science officer.

Promotional still from the I Love Lucy spin-off series Fred and Ethel: Tears of Rage

It’s never clear how both the Enterprise and the Klingon crew could be convinced of a threatened colony where none existed. Beta XII-A is presumably in Federation space, but Kang insists that Klingons have not violated the Treaty of Organia established after “Errand of Mercy.” Yet both ships should have records indicating the lack of an outpost on the planet, so they shouldn’t be so surprised to find no one present. The entity is able to manipulate minds and physical matter, so maybe it can affect electronic records as well. The whereabouts of the Klingon crew is even more disturbing. Some of them are beamed on board the Enterprise, but Kang claims the Federation ship killed the others. We know this didn’t happen, but most of his crew is clearly missing and his ship is gone. Sulu reports explosions on the ship soon after it arrives. Did the entity really kill the Klingon crew? Or, even worse, did the Enterprise crew accidentally kill the crew when setting their phasers on what they believed to be an abandoned ship?

“We’ve never been this close before.”

While the Klingons are Kirk’s prisoners, his behavior toward them is consistent with similar situations both before and after “Day of the Dove.” He orders food synthesizers reprogrammed to produce Klingon dishes. Under Kang’s directions on the planet, Kirk promises no tricks when he orders them all beamed up, Kang expecting to control the ship. Yet Kirk gives a secret signal to Spock, and the Klingons are held in the transporter buffer until an Enterprise security team is ready to receive them. When Kang complains, Kirk simply says, “I said no tricks after we reach the ship.” Later, Kirk threatens to kill Mara if Kang doesn’t surrender; Kang, the unflinching warrior, refuses to yield, but Kirk’s threat is only a bluff. This theme will be repeated in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) when Klingon Maltz rejects Kirk’s “Help us or die” offer and is shocked when Kirk doesn’t kill him. Chekov and McCoy, on the other hand, are not so hospitable. Chekov again describes Klingons as Cossacks and McCoy makes all manner of harsh statements, including, “If our backs were turned they’d jump us in a minute. And you know what Klingons do to prisoners: slave labor, death planets, experiments!” In fairness, both men are under the influence of the entity at the time.

Look! Security got something right for a change!

The entity’s affect seems short-term, but some are clearly affected more than others; why McCoy and Chekov get the worst of it is never explained. Chekov is young and impetuous, and McCoy is the most emotionally volatile of the Enterprise crew, but McCoy is well known as a pacifist. How is he so easily provoked into a warmonger in “Day of the Dove”? As usual, there is only one entity, and its powers are never specified. It is able to manipulate the ship’s controls, sending the Enterprise on a course heading outside the galaxy. Is the entity behind the blocked subspace frequencies that prevent Uhura from communicating with Starfleet? It can manipulate matter – its conversion of random objects into swords defies both Federation and Klingon capabilities, alerting Spock to the presence of a third party. The entity can control others’ thoughts in great detail, not only convincing Chekov he had a brother who was killed by Klingons (he never did), but giving the brother a name and assigning the death to a specific time and place. The entity is similar to Red Jack from “Wolf in the Fold,” fueled by anger instead of the fear that Red Jack sought.

Even Kirk is shocked by McCoy’s and Chekov’s bitterness

Yet once it controls the Enterprise, the entity tries to take its captives outside the galaxy. Why? It has the entire Enterprise crew (most of whom it traps in the ship’s lower decks) and approximately forty Klingons. It can apparently keep both groups alive indefinitely, healing any wounds so they can remain in eternal conflict. Despite that, sooner or later something will prevent these pawns from performing. Then what? Wouldn’t the entity prefer someplace crowded, with an increased supply of negative emotions? All of this got me thinking about Vulcans’ decision to repress their emotions. The official explanation provided over the years is that Vulcans abandoned emotion to stop making war on each other. But what if there are more Red Jacks and hate-stoking entities floating around the galaxy? That would be some powerful evolutionary incentive, rewarding those less prone to fear or hatred. Conversely, maybe the evolution of the entity and Red Jack was influenced by the proliferation of humanoid species achieving consciousness. Consciousness creates ego, and ego creates insecurity, giving rise to the selfishness that fuels fear, anger, greed, envy, and all the other self-destructive emotions. Maybe the non-corporeal beings we’ve encountered are evolution’s attempt to limit the proliferation of humanoids throughout the galaxy.

Let’s see Picard try this

The premise of a crew manipulated into combat, and repeatedly healed to maintain the battle indefinitely, is similar to the season four Voyager episode “The Killing Game.” Except “Day of the Dove” features some surprisingly well-choreographed sword-fighting scenes and gets into more intense all-or-nothing ideology than the Voyager episode. Scott’s racist outburst toward Spock is brief but shocking, as are McCoy’s anti-Klingon rants. Chekov is so possessed, he defies Kirk’s orders and pursues the Klingons with a sword; I’m beginning to wonder about Chekov’s loyalty, what with his mutinous conduct toward Kirk from both “And the Children Shall Lead” and “Mirror, Mirror.” The episode’s most disturbing moment, calling to mind “The Enemy Within” and “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” is Chekov’s attempt to assault Mara while he is under the entity’s influence. (Walter Koenig plays a powerful villain.) Unlike those previous acts of violence, Chekov’s behavior continues the bizarre and horrific tradition of soldiers assaulting the women of conquered lands. “You’re not human,” Chekov tells Mara, “but you’re very beautiful.” It may be true that Mara isn’t human, but Chekov’s remark mirrors soldiers dehumanizing their enemy by “conquering” their women. Sexual violence is not an accident, but an integral part of war, justified in combatants’ minds by the simple desire to crush their enemy. The subject is often omitted or glossed over in history books – perhaps because men have done most of the writing – but as this article from the Heinrich Böll Foundation reports, rape, forced prostitution, forced abortions, and other forms of sexual violence were very much a part of World War II, as they were in nearly every war ever fought. The SS operated brothels in German-controlled areas during World War II; prostitutes were even provided to concentration camp laborers to incentivize productivity. Women who became pregnant in these situations were often forced to have abortions. The Hague Convention of 1907 had already declared sexual violence a war crime, but evidence submitted to the Nuremberg Tribunal was ignored. Because these acts were conducted “off the radar,” so to speak, there is extremely little documentation. Victims who survived were often too frightened or too ashamed, or powerless in the face of military occupation, to report what had been done to them. Better documented is Japan’s use of roughly 200,000 women – some of them teenagers – to serve as “comfort women” to soldiers of the Imperial Army.

It’s significant, however, that the attempted assault (thankfully Chekov is interrupted by Kirk and Spock) is committed by one of the “good guys.” Lest we think the history of sexual violence belongs only to the enemy, we can again look to World War II and the conduct of Allied soldiers. Soviet troops are estimated to have assaulted hundreds of thousands of German women during the war and subsequent occupation. Whether it’s true or simply a convenient oversight, U.S. soldiers are “only” estimated to have committed about 11,000 rapes of German women during a similar time period. (Again, we have to consider that the victors wrote most of the history books. At least one German historian estimates this number to be closer to 200,000.) And it should be no surprise that the rare penalties for these crimes were applied along racial lines, with Black soldiers held accountable far more often than whites. This behavior wasn’t isolated to World War II. American servicemen committed sexual assaults and took advantage of government-enforced prostitution in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Soldiers of many nations have continued the ugly trend in Afghanistan, Sudan, Rwanda, and Iraq right up to the present day; even multinational UN “peacekeepers” have been found guilty of sexual assault. (Please note, besides the graphic subject matter, this link contains disturbing images.) Maybe it’s no accident that the “Russian” crew member was chosen for this role in “Day of the Dove,” it would have been more palatable for U.S. audiences at the time. Spock, of all people, defends Chekov as not being in his right mind. That’s certainly true, but just as Kirk’s attack of Rand in “The Enemy Within” seemed an extension of his own philandering, we’ve seen Chekov shirk his duties to pursue women often enough to wonder how much manipulation he really needed.

This is a good time for a Kirk Fu moment

That’s the entity’s real power, the manipulation of inherent beliefs and attitudes. Humans (and Vulcans?) and Klingons are already inclined to be suspicious of each other. Despite overwhelming evidence that there was never a Federation outpost on Beta XII-A, Kirk instead jumps to the conclusion that the Klingons are testing a secret weapon. For all McCoy’s complaints of Klingons, they have been exposed to plenty of propaganda about the Federation. “I’ve heard of their atrocities, their death camps,” Mara says. “They will torture us for our scientific and military information.” As outlandish as this sounds, it’s not substantially different from what Americans and Soviets believed about one another during the Cold War. The governments of the U.S. and USSR both sponsored extensive propaganda campaigns against their ideological opponents. Is it so hard to believe the Soviet Union made Americans out to be power-crazed tyrants, while we were busy doing the same about them, from crude early efforts like The Red Iceberg right up through Reagan’s Evil Empire and Rocky IV (1985)?

U.S. and Soviet propaganda: the Communists will take our land and our women, while America is a corporatist police state (oops!). The Red Iceberg was published by the Catholic Catechetical Guild, which, among other things, held a funeral for a mutilated comic book to indicate their disdain for the art form.

The propaganda war on rationality is no more civilized today. That hate-feeding life form would find plenty of nourishment on 21st century earth. Fox and other “media” outlets pollute the landscape with lies designed to discourage rational thought and provoke raw emotions. From Pizzagate to labeling Mexican immigrants as “rapists” to vaccines as a tool of enslavement, the impact of conspiracy theories is impossible to measure but equally impossible to ignore. But, like “Day of the Dove,” the Fox strategy wouldn’t work if we weren’t inclined toward bigotry and paranoia in the first place. Propaganda can lead us so far down an increasingly divisive path that we’re prepared to attack anyone. “Has a war been staged for us,” Kirk asks when Scott turns on Spock, “complete with weapons and ideology and patriotic drum-beating? Even…race hatred?” We become so absorbed in emotion that we forget the true enemy, the entrenched power structure reaping the benefits of widespread divisiveness. “What power is it that supports our battle yet starves our victory?” Kang asks. Beginning with World Wars I and II, conflict between nations and cultures became all-consuming, no longer a matter of defeating an army but crushing an entire society through any means necessary, even if the methods are self-destructive to the victors. This attitude of victory-at-all-costs carried into commerce, politics, and social life, so that we are constantly bogged down in made-up wars. Corporations pretend their competition for dollars is warfare – just look at this Fast Company article encouraging companies to conduct “war games.” Equally important is that these “wars” never end, so that we never have time for a mature discussion. “Is this what’s in store for us from here on in: violence, hatred?” Kirk asks. The entity – like our own 1%’ers – will always be hungry for more. The “war on terror” would last indefinitely, or so we were told by politicians heavily invested in the defense industry. “Culture war” extremists remain rabidly offended at diversity or inclusiveness, at least as long as they’re being egged on by commentators desperate to maintain ratings and social media likes. Funny how the phrase “Happy Holidays” didn’t bother anyone until Shrill Bill used it as a wedge to draw attention to himself. Now we’re in a social “war” that becomes more bitter every year. When Kirk asks, “Then why are we behaving like a group of savages?” we don’t have to look past ourselves to find the answer.

“There isn’t any war!” The lights-out status on the bridge reinforces the dark tone of the exchange between Spock, Scott, and Kirk.

Like “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “Return to Tomorrow,” the solution involves a rational appeal to a woman. It might seem hypocritical given the show’s frequent disregard for women, but at this point we’re ready to accept anything that leads to peace. Kirk and Spock present Mara with evidence of the alien intruder. Mara – the literal dove of the episode’s title – responds with a gesture of humility Kang could probably never have made. “There are poor planets in the Klingon systems,” she said. “We must push outward if we are to survive.” This justification for Klingon expansionism is the beginning of a dialogue Kirk can work with: “There’s another way to survive – mutual trust and help.” Even though the Federation and Klingons will remain cold warriors for decades to come, this exchange must be on Kirk’s mind leading up to the Khitomer conference in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).

Kirk’s negotiations with Klingon women

“Day of the Dove” is a powerful episode despite a few lingering questions. For example, why didn’t they just deploy McCoy’s horse tranquilizer that worked so effectively in “Wolf in the Fold”? (Maybe it doesn’t work with Klingon physiology?) And where does the entity go when it leaves the Enterprise? We don’t know how long it waited on Beta XII-A or why it was there in the first place. Is it dead now? Or will it drift through space until a more hostile – and hospitable – ship comes along? There’s also no mention of impulse control therapy for Chekov, but let’s hope someone in Starfleet HR is paying attention.

We can debate how to interpret the entity’s influence over the Federation and Klingons. Does it represent the Cold War superpowers manipulating third world governments and inciting regional civil wars? Or does it symbolize politicians and monied interests retaining authority by using race, gender, or religion to divide the masses? Either way, the message is clear: we’ll never be our true selves until we stop playing the game. The burden is on us to reject not only the talking heads and politicians who circulate propaganda, but also the oligarchs pulling the strings. Just as the entity doesn’t give up until the victims quit feeding it, the pundits won’t shut up until we ignore them, and fascist-supporting businesses won’t reform until we collectively boycott them. We can’t wait for our corporations or governments to take the high road. “Those who hate and fight must stop themselves…” Spock says. “Otherwise it is not stopped.” We can tune out the power structure’s crisis-of-the-day noise, practice the “mutual trust and help” Kirk suggests, and address the true challenges we face. That’s another reason Kang’s presence is so important. He may be a soldier, but he also possesses the wisdom we need to hear: “Only a fool fights in a burning house.”

Next: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

2 thoughts on “Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: Day of the Dove

  1. Great review! I didn’t notice how the Klingon lore of Star Trek III took advantage of what happened in this episode, and it’s intriguing to link (as you did) the disembodied entity with the Vulcan decision to suppress emotion!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s