Star Trek: Season 2, Episode 25

Bread and Circuses (15 Mar. 1968)

TV Episode  -   -  Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 819 users  
Reviews: 21 user | 3 critic

The Enterprise crew investigates the disappearance of a ship's crew on a planet that is a modern version of the Roman Empire.



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Title: Bread and Circuses (15 Mar 1968)

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Episode complete credited cast:
R.M. Merrick / Merikus
Logan Ramsey ...
William Bramley ...
Rhodes Reason ...
Bart La Rue ...
Announcer (as Bart Larue)
Jack Perkins ...
Master of Games
Max Kleven ...
Lois Jewell ...


While searching for the crew of a destroyed spaceship, the Enterprise discovers a planet whose oppressive government is a 20th-century version of Earth's Roman Empire. Kirk, Spock and McCoy meet the rebels, seemingly sun worshipers, but are soon thereafter apprehended by the regime. The missing Captain Merik is revealed as the "First Citizen" and a pawn of the regime, but he and the rebels ultimately help Kirk and company to escape. Back on the Enterprise, Uhura observes that the crew's understanding of the rebels as sun worshipers was not completely accurate. Written by MGR

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

15 March 1968 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Consistent with the Roman themes throughout this episode, the escaped slaves which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy first encounter are references to and representative of the Spartacus group of gladiators and slaves in rebellion against ancient Rome. See more »


During Kirk's log entry about being in a modern-day Rome, we are taken on a "tour" of the city's landmarks, including the main library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (plainly readable on the facade) and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, in San Francisco (as evidenced by the French - not Latin - inscription "Honneur et Patrie" on the building). See more »


Drusilla: Please believe me. I've never lied to one who owns me.
See more »


Referenced in Star Trek (2009) See more »

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User Reviews

Establishing the Prime Directive
14 July 2006 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

Although Star Trek's "Prime Directive" had been mentioned in episodes prior to "Bread and Circuses", that philosophical tenet of the Star Trek universe is the focus of this episode, where it is fully laid out for the first time.

Captain Kirk and crew happen upon--what else--an Earth-like planet where Spock's research shows that another Starfleet ship was supposedly destroyed. Oddly, the planet also happens to have exactly the same land to water ratio as the Earth as well as the same chemical composition of air. Before beaming down they also intercept broadcasts that show the civilization to be a close parallel to ancient Rome--particularly in terms of a proclivity towards violence, including violence as entertainment. Of course, once they beam down, Kirk, Spock and McCoy end up as captives.

Enter the prime directive. There are probably not many reading this who are not familiar with it, but in a nutshell, it's a Starfleet philosophy of non-interference. In the course of their explorations, the aim is to study other civilizations, but to not take any actions which might amount to culture shock, and even more strongly, to not take any actions which might catalyze socio-cultural development in any directions other than what they would have been without interaction with Starfleet. Of course, there are a lot of problems with this idea, and even within the Star Trek world, Starfleet members are hardly consistent in applying the principle. We can safely guess that Star Trek writers tended to not be very familiar with ideas in science and philosophy of science which posit that any outsider interaction will necessarily affect the cultures being studied in some way, and they probably weren't very familiar with either chaos theory and the butterfly effect, or even Eugene Wigner's interpretation of quantum mechanics (in which the observer and his/her consciousness plays a significant role in the events that occur). But soundness of the Prime Directive in the real world aside, we receive a lesson in what it is and what it means to the Star Trek crew in "Bread and Circuses".

To an extent, I have to wonder if the Prime Directive wasn't further developed here in the way that it was merely as a plot device. It's a way of extending the conflict. Otherwise, the tendency is to think, "Why wouldn't Scotty send down crew members to just blast the hell out of Kirk, Spock and McCoy's captors?" Although the primitive culture had guns, they are still a primitive culture.

But it doesn't really matter if the Prime Directive is just a means of extending the dilemma for 40 minutes or so. The Prime Directive is a good idea; one that we can pretend is more sound in the Star Trek universe, and one that proved to be fruitful for many future episodes in different Star Trek series.

So this episode is both important and enjoyable. We get some different locations, some interesting one-time ideas--especially the televised gladiatorial events, and I always get a kick out of the fighting episodes. Part of the original Star Trek's charm is its cheesiness, and physical combat is one of the primary sources of cheese. Also notable are the unusual references to religion--this happens a few times in the series, but nowhere more strongly than this episode. There is also a lot of exquisite bickering between Spock and McCoy here, including McCoy mocking Spock's penchant for logic by making his own Spock-like statements and Spock responding by insulting McCoy's medical ability.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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