Star Trek: The Original Series episode 20 review

Our look back at Star Trek's very first season brings Court Martial into focus...

Episode: 20Title: Court MartialStar Date: 2947.3Writer: Don M. MankiewiczFirst Shown: 2nd February 1967

For this particular action orientated youngster this story wasn’t well received, as it’s effectively a Perry Mason style courtroom drama set in space. But watching it afresh, it’s not at all bad, and has some neat twists that elevate it above my original expectations.

The story starts with the Enterprise undergoing repairs at Starbase 11 after being damaged in an ion storm. In addition to the structural repairs needed, there is also one missing crewman, Lt. Commander Ben Finney who was inside a probe that was jettisoned at the height of the storm. But Kirk’s report of the incident doesn’t tie in with the computer records of the incident, and soon the captain finds himself the subject of court proceedings on the basis of negligence.

Adding extra spice to the case is prosecuting attorney Lt. Areel Shaw, who is not only an effective legal brief but also a previous girlfriend of Kirk’s.

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Soon regular crewmen and old friends are being wheeled to the stand to give testimony more damning than the last. It all looks pretty bleak for Kirk, who is confused by how the flight recordings from the bridge contradict his own recollections.

Salvation comes in the form of 3D Chess, where Spock plays the computer and beats it. This is used for a somewhat obtuse explanation that the computer has been messed with, and the only people capable of that would have been Kirk, Spock and the now deceased Finney. Given that Kirk wouldn’t undermine himself, and Spock knows he didn’t do it, the only possible conclusion is that Finney isn’t dead.

To prove this, the court assembles on the Enterprise, and all crew members are beamed off to the Starbase below. They then selectively remove the sounds of each person’s heartbeat, until only one remains, revealing Finney’s presence on the ship.

There then follows a slightly nonsensical sequence where Kirk goes alone to stop Finney, while the Enterprise starts to fall out of orbit due to some special modifications he made to get ultimate revenge on Kirk. Except nobody can brawl and get his flimsy Starfleet uniform ripped like Kirk and Finney breaks down when he realises his own daughter is onboard.

The problem, ultimately, with Court Martial is that there are some plot holes here you could drive a constellation class Starship though. For example: Lt. Areel Shaw is an ex-girlfriend of Kirk and therefore should have admonished herself from being involved in the case. And why would you build a probe that you might be forced to eject, and then put a person in it? And Finney’s plan assumed they wouldn’t find the empty probe, which was hardly a certainty. And how did Finney make the alterations to the ship without anyone noticing someone that was supposed to be dead?

There are also some less than stellar performances, and Alice Rawlings is especially awful as Jamie Finney. It didn’t surprise me to discover that she only made one further TV appearance after this one. At the other end of the spectrum is the diminutive but memorable character actor Elisha Cook Jr., who is wonderful as the legal book fanatic Samuel T. Cogley.

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For Trek aficionados this is the first story where the term ‘Starfleet’ and ‘Starfleet Command’ are used to describe the organisation that the Enterprise belongs to, and the remastering shows where on the Enterprise the pod was jettisoned.

Tomorrow I’ll be right back with prime directive shenanigans, and The Return Of The Archons.