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Starfleet General Order 7 prohibits any contact with the planet Talos IV on penalty of execution, and this is apparently the only death penalty in Starfleet (at the time of The Menagerie).

But why does this particular planet justify the death penalty? The Talosians are certainly dangerous, but they don't seem to be in an entirely different league of dangerousness compared to other TOS antagonists like super espers, Balok, salt vampires, Thasians, Romulans, Trelane, etc. It's not like they've said they'll wipe out the Federation if anyone goes near their planet again. So is there any particular reason Talosians got singled out, other than plot convenience?

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Talos IV is a very dangerous planet that has lots of appeal to visitors.

Prior to The Menagerie, here’s what Starfleet know about Talos IV:

  • The planet is very attractive. The Talosians were a very advanced civilisation who have been driven underground. That means lots of lost Talosian tech is sitting around for somebody to go and find.
  • The planet is very dangerous. They can control anybody who pays them a visit. That means that if they were intent on universal domination, it would be easy – as long as somebody gives them a spacecraft. They could control the occupants, and use them to infiltrate and conquer the Federation.

This gives Starfleet a headache. They need to cut off the planet, and kill anybody who has (or might have) visited. How do you do that?

An absolute death penalty is a pretty good solution. It’s a strong deterrent to visiting, and makes it easy to justify killing anybody who survives the trip.

You have to be this extreme, because softer solutions don’t work. You can’t set up a blockade, because the Talosians could capture the blockading ships. You can’t explain why Talos IV is dangerous, because plenty of people would want to capture the illusion technology for their own ends. And a ban without teeth won’t deter many people – if anything, it might make the planet more attractive.

(And Starfleet would never trust promises of benevolence, or a supposed lack of ambition. The risk of complacency is too high – if you’re complacent, and you’re wrong, then the Federation is lost.)

Most other species don’t pose the same degree of threat, or aren’t as difficult to contain. The Talosians seem to be an unusually potent and dangerous enemy.


It’s worth noting that the death penalty was later lifted. In Turnabout Intruder, we’re told that the only death penalty is General Order 4. That’s because of the events of The Menagerie, where we see that the Talosian threat is minimal.

Kirk learns that the Talosians can’t be contained by avoiding the planet. The illusory Mendez – who appears light-years away from Talos IV – serves as proof of this. Starfleet’s existing containment tactics have failed. And yet, they haven’t taken over the universe, or at least don’t appear to have done so. (Either they’re really harmless, or they’ve already won and taken over everyone and everything – in any case, there’s nothing you could do.)

The death penalty is an exceptionally unusual order, reserved for the gravest of threats. And when it no longer necessary or relevant, it’s lifted appropriately.


(It’s been years since I watched any ST: TOS, so this is based on sketchy memories and Memory Alpha. Please point out any mistakes in the comments.)

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    A brilliantly strategic assessment. If the Talosians have taken over the Federation, no one would know... So telling people to avoid them is besides the point, they could trick someone there if they really wanted to leave. They are isolationists with the power to create perfect virtual realities and with sufficient telepathic range to gain new vistas for their mental programs. Why would they need a space program. They can raid the dreams of alien species across the galaxy for their personal amusement... – Thaddeus Howze Aug 30 '15 at 20:34
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    In TOS, the Metrons, Organians and Platonians are all significantly more powerful than the Talosians, who can create illusions but aren't capable of actual mind control or anything beyond that. The notion of security at the cost of humanity also doesn't jive well with Federation values. – Lèse majesté Aug 30 '15 at 20:39
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    Great answer @alexwlchan, +1. – Praxis Aug 30 '15 at 23:21
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    Well, the possibility that they already have taken over the Federation is a good explanation for whose idea the death penalty was.. – Flynn1179 Sep 1 '15 at 11:59
  • That would mean that Star Fleet actually knows why someone like Spock would make the trip. It would also mean that the feed Star Fleet were confirming to have received near the end of the two-parter can't have been a surprise to them. How meany people would have understood that implication on first seeing the episodes? – John Jun 18 '18 at 20:28
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The reason was very nearly explicitly given at the end of The Cage (and was also shown in the reused footage in The Menagerie):

The Keeper: We had not believed this possible. The customs and history of your race show a unique hatred of captivity. Even when it's pleasant, and benevolent, you prefer death. This makes you too violent and dangerous a species for our needs.

Vina: He means that they can't use you. You're free to go back to the ship.

Pike: And that's it. No apologies. You captured one of us, threatened all of us.

Elder Talosian: Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death. Is this not sufficient?

The Keeper: No other specimen has shown your adaptability. You were our last hope.

Pike: Wouldn't some form of trade.. mutual cooperation..

The Keeper: Your race would learn our power of illusion, and destroy itself, too.

There was no fear of being conquered by the Talosians. They only wanted to survive, and had given up on using humans after learning our past.

The fear, as warned by the Talosians themselves, was that people would give up on reality and live out their lives in illusion. That power could not be allowed into the general populace.

Over 100 years later, it was a real issue with the holo-addiction psychological disorder.

10

Mention of the death penalty within the Federation in TOS is a bit inconsistent. That episode claims that visiting Talos IV is the only death penalty "left on our books," but M-5 and Kirk later imply in The Ultimate Computer that the penalty for murder is also death. The only way to reconcile this is perhaps that Commodore Mendez meant it was the only death penalty instituted by Starfleet, and that most Federation members do still have their own death penalties. (But then you still have the mysterious General Order 4, which also places a death penalty on an unspecified crime.)

Executing people just for coming into contact with a telepathic race is rather extreme any way you slice it—particularly when you consider the ultimately compassionate and isolationist nature of the Talosians (choosing not to interact with the Federation out of fear that the power of illusion would also have a negative effect on humanity).

But those episodes were written in the 60s, before the majority of the world had abolished the death penalty. So, especially to an American audience, specifying General Order 7 as the only death penalty "on the books" was an effective way of both making the 23rd century seem more civilized whilst simultaneously emphasizing the taboo of visiting Talos IV to the audience.

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I've always figured the death penalty was because anyone who goes there would become the "root stock" for a planet full of slaves under the control of the Talosians.

That is to say, there's far more to it than just the danger to an individual or a small group of people. By going to Talos IV, you may be condemning an untold number of your descendants to live in slavery.

And, the really bad part, given that the Talosians control the thoughts of the slaves, they have no real chance to learn the truth and free themselves.

Pike and Vina aren't going to have kids since for all the Talosians can do, they obviously can't make functional reproductive organs (that would be far more difficult than fixing Vina's disformities, and the Talosians couldn't manage that.) I figure that the burn damage to Pike was pretty extensive and probably includes the destruction of all the external things a male needs for reproduction. So, no slave children from those two.

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The Talosians' powers would give them the ability to infiltrate and effectively run The Federation, given the chance. They don't, at this stage, have space travel, and will stay contained if no one offers it up for them to take.

The super espers aren't on a particular planet, and incentives to avoid The Galactic Barrier are sufficient unto themselves.

Balok's powers are pretty much directly military, and at least partially illusory; The First Federation appears to have become at least a trading power in later years, at least if the availability of tranya is any indication.

The Thasians are not limited to their home planet, as their retrieval of Charlie Evans indicates. Avoiding contact with their planet does not contain them.

If Starfleet could contain The Romulans with a death edict, they most likely would.

Trelane is rather Q-like (as a certain novel will expand on); a great threat indeed, but not so readily legislated against.

Mostly, plot convenience though.

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