|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.20 “Court Martial” – (Original air date: Thursday, February 2, 1967)

TrekCourtMartial

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “Court Martial.”

  • On this day in history, the American Basketball Association was formed. It would last until 1976, when it merged with the National Basketball Association. The ABA used a red-white-and-blue basketball, and also introduced the 3-point arc. After the ABA-NBA merger, several teams and the 3-point shot came over to the NBA.
  • The Monkees made a believer of both sides of the Atlantic as “I’m a Believer” was the #1 single in both the US and the UK.
  • Court Martial” was actually the fourteenth episode produced for the season, before the two-part “The Menagerie.” And it feels a bit dated when compared to our previously aired episode, “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” That’s an odd thing to say about two episodes produced during the same season, but it’s true.
  • This episode marks the return of the dreaded wraparound green tunic with the golden scrambled eggs on the shoulders. You know, that shirt that makes James T. Kirk look like he’s about to attempt a Triple Lutz.
  • The Enterprise has been through an ion storm and one crewman is dead. Kirk has ordered a nonscheduled layover on Starbase 11 for repairs.
  • I don’t understand the entire ion pod concept. I believe it is something used during an ion storm when other sensors are useless. It apparently has to be manned. On this occasion, it was manned by records officer Benjamin Finney, whom we’ve never met. Kirk says he went to red alert and waited until the last moment, but finally he had to eject the ion pod with Finney aboard, killing him.
  • Spock comes to the Starbase commander’s office with the ship’s computer records. Before they can look at the records, Jame Finney (pronounced “Jamie”), the dead man’s daughter, comes into the office and blames Kirk for killing her father. She’s hysterical.
  • After Spock escorts Jame out of the room, Commander Stone accuses Kirk of committing willful perjury. The computer records show that Kirk jettisoned the ion pod while the ship was still at yellow alert. Kirk is ordered to remain on Starbase 11 for an inquiry on whether a general court martial is in order.
  • End of teaser. Roll that delicious bean footage. Quadruple ping, echoing Shatner monologue, and then the Alexander Courage theme music with the warbling sopranos.
  • This is going to be another Trek Trial Drama. A familiar trope. By my count, this is the fourth episode in the first season involving a trial of some sort.
  • Incidentally, Perry Mason ended its original television run in May 1966. Maybe Star Trek was just trying to fill a void.
  • Kirk and McCoy go to hang out at the M-11 Starbase Club, and meet up with several guys from Kirk’s Academy graduating class. White males, all. Kirk’s old classmates seem to have made up their minds that Kirk is responsible for Finney’s death.
  • Areel Shaw comes into the club, missing Kirk. Leonard McCoy, the Dr. Mac Daddy of Starfleet, makes his smooth moves on her. They find they are both mutual friends of Kirk.
  • Commodore Stone conducts his inquiry. They talk about how Finney taught at the Academy when Kirk was a midshipman. We all find out that Jame Finney was, in fact, named after James T. Kirk. At one time, Kirk and Finney were best of buds.
  • But, what had happened was, when both were serving on the USS Republic, Kirk followed proper procedures by reporting a circuit that Finney had left open to the atomic matter piles that could have destroyed the ship. This caused Finney to draw a reprimand and go to the bottom of the promotions list. Finney harbored a lot of animosity towards Kirk because of this.
  • Kirk says he chose Finney to go into the ion pod because it was his turn on the duty roster. He also repeats that he went to red alert before jettisoning the pod, regardless of what the computer says.
  • Commodore Stone tries to get Kirk to admit responsibility and accept a ground assignment, because it would smear Starfleet if a starship captain were to be court martialed. Kirk is insulted by this suggestion and demands a general court trial. End of Act One.
  • As Act Two begins, Kirk finally meets up with Areel Shaw. It is obvious in their interaction that they are old lovers. She says that Kirk seems to be taking his case too lightly.
  • Kirk asks Areel to be his attorney, but she says she’s too busy with a case. She recommends Samuel T. Cogley. Then she admits that she is the prosecutor in this case, and that she’s going to do her best to win and have Kirk drummed out of Starfleet in disgrace.
  • It seems that Areel Shaw has ample reason to recuse herself from the prosecutor’s job. She had a personal, intimate relationship with the accused. If I remember correctly, there was a similar conflict-of-interest issue in TNG‘s “The Measure of a Man.”
  • Back at his temporary Starbase quarters, Kirk meets his attorney, Samuel T. Cogley. Cogley loves books, not computers. He seems a bit eccentric, but he agrees to take Kirk’s case.
  • When the court is in session, Commodore Stone is there along with a representative of Space Command (whatever that is), and two starship captains, Krasnovsky and Chandra. Kirk has no objection to them, or to Stone as president of the court. Or, for that matter, Lt. Areel Shaw as the prosecutor.
  • Me, I have objections. But, Kirk doesn’t.
  • Kirk pleads “not guilty.” That was a surprise. To no one.
  • When Spock takes the stand, he proves his loyalty to James T. Kirk. Spock says he doesn’t know why the computer is inaccurate, but it is, because he knows what kind of man Kirk is. Cogley doesn’t cross-examine him.
  • The personnel officer of the Enterprise takes the stand and confirms that Kirk’s log entries on the Republic did cost Finney a promotion. Cogley has no questions.
  • Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, who probably got busy with Lt. Shaw himself before he knew she was the prosecutor, takes the stand, and Shaw forces him into admitting that, since Finney hated Kirk so much, it is possible that Kirk may have reciprocated. McCoy insists Kirk is not that kind of man, but he has to admit that such a reaction is possible. Cogley chooses not to cross-examine.
  • When Commodore Stone asks why Cogley isn’t questioning any of the prosecution witnesses, Cogley brushes that aside as “preliminary business.” He calls Kirk to the stand and has the computer begin to list Kirk’s service record and commendations. Lt. Shaw tries to stop this, but Cogley says, “I wouldn’t want to slow the wheels of progress. But then on the other hand, I wouldn’t want those wheels to run over my client in their unbridled haste.
  • Cogley stops the recitation of awards himself after four more are mentioned.
  • Here’s the commendations we heard about: Palm Leaf of Axanar Peace Mission, Grankite Order of Tactics, Class of Excellence, Prantares Ribbon of Commendation, classes first and second, Medal of Honor, Silver Palm with Cluster, Starfleet citation for Conspicuous Gallantry, Karagite Order of Heroism . . .
  • Since the list was interrupted, we’re to assume that there are many more. So, instead of wearing his many medals and ribbons, Kirk chooses to wear an Ice Capades shirt.
  • Kirk denies, once again, jettisoning the ion pod prior to calling for a red alert.
  • Shaw produces video playback from the bridge. It seems to show Kirk launching the pod before going to red alert.
  • But that’s not the way it happened,” says Kirk. End of Act Two.
  • Cogley seems to have lost faith in his client, telling Kirk that they can still change his plea. Kirk refuses.
  • Kirk tells Spock that maybe he’ll be able to beat his next commanding officer in chess. Spock seems intrigued by the word “chess” for some reason. We’ll return to this later.
  • Jame Finney, the dead guy’s daughter, also pays a visit to Kirk and begs him to change his plea and take a ground assignment. She’s been reading some of her father’s old letters and now realizes how close Kirk and her father had once been.
  • Dr. McCoy comes across Spock, on the Enterprise, playing 3D chess against the computer. This irritates McCoy, as most things do, but Spock tells McCoy that he just won four games in a row against the computer. Since Spock himself was the one who programmed the computer to play chess, the best he should have been able to do was play to a draw. There is something wrong with the computer.
  • Back at the court martial, both prosecution and defense rest their cases, but then Spock and McCoy enter the courtroom, like Paul Drake in the final act of a Perry Mason episode, and whisper to Kirk and Cogley.
  • Cogley tells the court that he has new evidence. Over Lt. Shaw’s objections, Cogley goes on at length to speak about the accused’s right to confront his accuser. Since the most damning witness in this case is the ship’s computer, the court should reconvene aboard the Enterprise. Great place for an act break.
  • Maybe a commercial with Carol Shelby selling a car, or one pushing Fletcher’s Castoria for Children.
  • Here’s how it goes down in Act 4, back on the ship. Spock testifies that he has won five games of chess in a row against the computer, which should be impossible. Therefore, someone has monkeyed around with the computer’s programming. QED.
  • Oh, and the only people on the ship who could have done so at the time were Spock, Kirk and the records officer, the late Finney.
  • After some minor verbal flourishes, the attorney Cogley declares that Ben Finney is not dead.
  • Kirk orders all but the command crew and the court to beam off the Enterprise. Cogley leaves, too, for some reason. Spock amplifies the sound of all the heartbeats on board the ship, eliminating those of the known passengers until only one remains. This one is located in or near engineering.
  • Kirk himself goes down to engineering and finds Ben Finney, alive and apparently crazy. Finney says that Kirk’s death would mean too little to Kirk. Instead, he plans to destroy the ship because that would hurt Kirk more.
  • The cagey Cogley has returned to the ship with Finney’s daughter Jame. Finney doesn’t want to kill his daughter, so he tells Kirk where he sabotaged the ship. Kirk crawls into a Jeffries tube to effect repairs.
  • Ship . . . out of danger. Once again.
  • The case against Kirk is dismissed, of course.
  • Areel Shaw visits Kirk before the Enterprise leaves the base. She brings him a gift from Cogley: a book, of course. Cogley is now defending Finney, we’re told.
  • Shaw and Kirk share a passionate kiss, and then she leaves the bridge.
  • She’s a very good lawyer,” Kirk says. “Obviously,” says Spock. “Indeed she is,” McCoy, who probably hit that as well, says.
  • Ha-ha. End of episode.

This was a watchable episode of TOS, with a Trek Trial, which was already becoming a trope on the show. For some reason, though, it was never one of my favorites. The solution to the “mystery” was obvious to me even as a child, and the trial itself seemed to lack drama and suspense. The “ship-in-danger” final act seemed almost gratuitous.

If I came across this episode while channel surfing, I might watch it until the first act break, but I doubt I’d watch it all the way through. Chalk it up to all the reasons I listed above, and to that damned green tunic, which I hope to never see again.

I give this episode 3 out of a possible 5 stars.

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