The Gorn and First Contact
“Like most humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles. I must fight to remember that this is an intelligent, highly advanced [species].” – James T. Kirk, TOS: “Arena”
Question: of all the aliens in Star Trek: The Original Series, which is the closest equivalent to a green reptile? You guessed it: the Gorn (not, as Alan Dean Foster misspelled their species’ name in his novelization of The Animated Series episode “The Time Trap”, the “Gorin”!).
Did you also know that many sources, including the Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha, have long assumed that first contact between them and the Federation takes place in the TOS episode “Arena” when, in fact, there is insufficient evidence to claim that? The new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is challenging this assumption, with the next episode of the show to feature the species extensively.
Questioning “Arena” as First Contact
Why does Memory Alpha regard “Arena” as the “official first contact” between the Gorn and the Federation?
When the creators of Star Trek: Enterprise were considering the possibility of the Gorn appearing in an episode, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga deemed “Arena” as historically important. “When we looked at the show,” explained Enterprise writing staffer Mike Sussman, “it was decided by Rick and Brannon that it was pretty clear that Captain Kirk’s run-in was the first time anyone had seen a Gorn. So, as much as we would love to use them, it doesn’t fit with what’s been established, so they’re kind of off the table for us.” Similarly, in 2017 (during the second episode of the aftershow series After Trek), Aaron Harberts claimed, “TOS tells us that we didn’t encounter the Gorn until ‘Arena’.“
In “Arena”, however, nobody says that the Federation doesn’t have any record of an encounter with such a species. Here are the key story points to consider:
1. The Enterprise landing party is taken by surprise when attacked on Cestus III. They never see their attackers face-to-face while there. Spock, detecting the aliens with his trusty tricorder, simply describes them as “living creatures, but not human.”
2. In trying to identify the Gorn ship above Cestus III, Sulu says, “Doesn’t correspond with any configuration we’re familiar with. We can’t get visual contact; she’s too far away.“
3. When Kirk consults Spock on who might have attacked Cestus III, he asks, “Anything on intelligent lifeforms?” Spock replies, “Nothing specific, captain. Unscientific rumors only. More like… space legends.“
4. As the Metrons prepare a planet for the battle between the two captains, they tell Kirk, “You will be taken there, as will the captain of the Gorn ship which you have been pursuing.” At the start of the duel, Kirk logs an entry where he says, “Weaponless, I face the creature the Metrons called a ‘Gorn’.” Midway through the conflict, he records a voice message for Starfleet Command, in which he remarks, “I’m engaged in personal combat with a creature apparently called a ‘Gorn’ [….] Barehanded, against the Gorn, I have no chance.” While watching the battle from the bridge of the Enterprise, McCoy tells Spock, “The Gorn simply might have been trying to protect themselves.” And at the end of the episode, Kirk asks what the Metrons did with the Gorn. These are the only named references to “Gorn” in the entire episode.
None of this is proof that the Federation hadn’t previously encountered the Gorn. It only proves that: (1) The Cestus III attacker is unidentified until the Metrons intervene; and (2) Kirk is personally unfamiliar with the Gorn.
It’s often erroneously assumed that Kirk’s unfamiliarity with the Gorn indicates that the Federation must likewise be unaware of them until “Arena”. However, Kirk wouldn’t be aware of every single species that had contact with the Federation.
Although the Metrons do say “the Gorn ship” while he’s on the Enterprise’s bridge, Kirk is immediately whisked away to the planet where he battles the Gorn captain. He isn’t given time to question his crewmates nor the databanks of the Enterprise about the named species. He’s thereafter stranded on a planet, unable to ask anyone about the Gorn until one of the Metrons appears. Kirk clearly has difficulty recalling the specifics of gunpowder, so it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that he may have trouble remembering the Gorn too, if he was even aware of them in the first place.
Contact with Starfleet Before “Arena”
Even before Strange New Worlds, there were plans to feature the Gorn chronologically prior to “Arena”. In April 2001, they were mentioned in a developmental memo from Brannon Braga to the writing staff of Star Trek: Enterprise (which was simply called “Enterprise” at that time and featured the characters T’Pau and “Spike”, rather than T’Pol and Trip). Amongst many other initial ideas for stories, the memo included a line that simply posited, “Meet the Gorn?” Presumably, the idea was for an episode in which Starfleet would make first contact with the Gorn in the Prime Timeline. Indeed, the Gorn were originally to have appeared in the show’s first episode that wound up featuring Andorians instead: “The Andorian Incident”.
Enterprise did go on to include the earliest chronological portrayal of the Gorn, but not as fans might have expected. A reference to the Gorn Hegemony was voiced in the fourth season episode “Bound”. On that occasion, Starfleet – including Captain Archer and Lieutenant Reed – seemed unfamiliar with the Gorn, and Orion privateer Harrad-Sar put an end to any further conversation about the species by saying, “The less said about them, the better.” A Gorn native to the Mirror Universe appears in the later fourth season episode “In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II” (whose script commented that Mirror Archer was already familiar with the name “Gorn”). Before the show was cancelled at the end of its fourth season, there was consideration to possibly include more Gorn of the Mirror Universe.
Chronologically, the next onscreen evidence of the Gorn in the Prime Timeline comes in Star Trek: Discovery. The show’s first season features a Gorn skeleton in a lab aboard the USS Discovery. In the aforementioned episode of After Trek, Aaron Harberts stated, “What does it say about Lorca that he has one of those? It doesn’t necessarily mean that he encountered the Gorn, but who does he know [and] where did he get it?” After Trek host Matt Mira implied that Lorca might have acquired the Gorn skeleton from a “weird bazaar,” to which Harberts acknowledged this as a possibility. He continued, “When we do something like that, when we sort of take a right or a left seemingly around canon, it usually is about character. What can that reveal about this captain?“
Although the origins of Lorca’s skeleton have never been revealed, it’s likely he obtained it from the Mirror Universe. As if to corroborate this, an identical Gorn skull appears in the Mirror Universe, aboard the ISS Shenzhou in the penultimate scene of the Season 1 episode “The Wolf Inside”.
Strange New Worlds‘ Portrayal of the Gorn
Continuing this legacy, the first episode of Strange New Worlds includes a PADD which displays a written report of an as-yet “unconfirmed” first contact with the Gorn. The display documents their encounter with La’an Noonien-Singh’s colony ship, the SS Puget Sound. As I’ve explained, the way first contact with the Gorn is portrayed in Strange New Worlds doesn’t contradict how they are depicted in “Arena”.
I accept that the SNW Gorn are changing the depiction of the species in two ways, which don’t necessarily clash with what we knew about them. First, we’ve been provided with more information about Gorn birthing methods in the Prime Timeline. There’s been no other information established about this aspect of Gorn life in canon, aside from a reference by the Doctor McCoy of the Kelvin Timeline (in Star Trek Into Darkness) alluding to pregnant Gorn. Contrastingly, the first episode of SNW establishes that the Gorn of the Prime Timeline use mammalian bodies as “breeding sacks.” Second, SNW establishes that the Gorn have hostile intentions towards the Federation. “Arena” leaves open the possibility that they may have attacked the Cestus III colony simply – as the Gorn captain alleges – out of self-defence.
It’s true that little is known about the Gorn. Up to now, the most we learn about them is in “Arena”, but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that that episode featured the species’ first contact with the Federation or Starfleet. However, there was one “first” we do know about the Gorn – the first reference to a Velociraptor in Star Trek was a quip about their similarity in the Enterprise episode “In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II”. Granted, it’s a relatively trivial first. Let’s look to current and forthcoming Star Trek productions to keep revealing strange new details about the Gorn.
The Gorn are due to feature in the next episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, entitled “Memento Mori”.
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.