In the coming weeks to celebrate the release of the new Star Trek movie, and the original series on Blu-ray we’ll be reviewing the first season of this pivotal series.
Mark Pickavance will be our guide, as we cross the final frontier one story at a time.
Episode: 02Title: Charlie XStar Date: 1533.6Writer: D.C. Fontana (based on a story by Gene Roddenberry)First Shown: 15th September 1966
Charlie X was the first story written by D C Fontana for Star Trek, and it includes her distinctive mix of mind power and mayhem. It was shot eighth in the production order, and in this part of the season they were experimenting with the costumes. So when we first see Kirk he’s wearing a green wrap around shirt with gold leaf that would later be best associated with ‘ceremonial’ duties.
In the story they meet a transport vessel in deep space and take onboard Charlie, a 17 year old boy who survived alone from the age of three on a plant after the ship he was on crashed. Initially, he just seems odd, but soon some very powerful telekinetic abilities manifest themselves along with anger management issues.
How wrong this is going becomes apparent when the captain of the transport Antares tries to send a warning to Kirk, which is cut short by the destruction of their ship. Charlie comments that “it wasn’t very well made” worryingly. But he’s also disturbing Janice Rand, who for the second episode gets a much bigger part than most Trek fans might connect with the character. She’s again shot in extreme soft focus, a trademark way to treat attractive women in this series. They also use another lighting trick where they shadow the face but light the eyes in a number of the confrontational scenes between Kirk and Charlie.
Where Charlie X starts to shine is where they start to mull the moral dilemma of dealing with a person who can’t be allowed to be part of society. Robert Walker Jr. is excellent as the child-like sociopath Charlie, bringing the right amount of menace and pathos to the character so that you’re torn between how he should be treated.
But soon Charlie has taken control of the Enterprise, and Kirk is forced to consider the most drastic measures to get it back. A more immediate problem, however ,is for Rand, who now has a super-human stalker. Their first date goes entirely wrong when she slaps Charlie and he responds by ‘disappearing her’. I’d like to say where she goes, but it’s never actually explained where she goes. He then goes on a spree of making crew members old, or faceless. But the fact he doesn’t kill anyone else is picked up by Kirk as a hint that even Charlie has his limits, and controlling large parts of the Enterprise is overloading him.
That’s a bit of a leap if you ask me, but there is some truth in this when Kirk tries to take Charlie on. Rand reappears, and a vessel from a race called the Thasians approaches the Enterprise. It turns out that his is the race that gave Charlie his powers so he could survive, and they can also undo almost everything he’s done since destroying the Antares. The Thasians, thankfully, take Charlie with them knowing that he can’t exist in human society, and the crew of the Enterprise is left to pick up the pieces. The theme of an all-powerful child was revisited repeatedly in the original series, but this was its very first outing.
Charlie X is a much better story than the first one they screened, and how it will be resolved is less obvious until the end. For the Trek fans reading this, neither Sulu nor Scotty appears in this story, and those navigating the Enterprise on the bridge aren’t at all familiar.
While most of Charlie X fits into the conceptual mould in which this series was set, there are some quite unusual parts that don’t adhere to the normal context of Star Trek.
By far the weirdest scene in Charlie X is when he enters the mess hall to find Spock playing a harp and Uhura improvising a song in support. It’s hard to describe how strange this scene is, it’s just unnatural in so many different levels. The crew appears to find it all very amusing, but I’m at a loss to understand exactly why, given the toe-curling performance. I can only assume the movies they’d screened onboard that week had been exceptionally bad to that point.
In terms of the digital revamp on this one;, there are some lovely external shots of the ship to replace the poor optical effects, and the film restoration is exceptionally bright and colourful.
In Charlie X the franchise had moved up a gear, before curiously going into full warp drive with the next outing, Where No Man Has Gone Before.