Thursday, August 7, 2008

TOS Rewind #19: "Court Martial"

6/12/2016 update:  We belatedly recorded a podcast for this one. Check it out here.

Tonight's episode:  Court Martial (2/2/1967).  The drink:  another Moscow Mule (hey, Costco had a deal on limes!).

In "The Menagerie" we got to see Spock put on trial.  This time, it's Kirk's turn:  accused of negligence causing the death of one of his crew.  Unfortunately, this episode isn't nearly as good.  I had a brief chat with Eric about this one and we both agreed that this wasn't Trek at its best.  Like the last episode we reviewed, this one isn't really sci fi or even adventure.  It was a courtroom drama shoehorned into a Trek episode.  The beauty of "The Menagerie" is that it managed to blend courtroom drama with a real science fiction plot.  This one has a pretty flimsy techno-plot that I find hard to buy.  I'll break this one into the tired pros and cons thing.


We get to see Kirk in a new, vulnerable position.  By being involved with the death of a fellow officer, supposedly due to bad judgment, he even earns the ire of his colleagues on the starbase.  Spock and McCoy naturally stand by their captain, but it looks bad for Kirk.  It's worth watching this episode just for that small bit of character development.  This was also a brief look at the inner workings of Starfleet; both the justice system and Starfleet Academy are discussed. 

Elisha Cook Jr.'s performance as Kirk's attorney is another thing that holds our attention in this episode.  Cook was a hard-working character actor who turned up in a ton of films and TV shows.  He was a good choice to play the eccentric technophobic lawyer.


The Ion Pod techno-plot device seemed awfully ridiculous, even by old Trek standards.  The idea that Finney could somehow be thrown out of this pod and turn up at some random part of the ship just didn't work for me.  Also, how could this "records officer" (what, did he work for HR?) sabotage the Enterprise that Scotty or some engineer couldn't detect it or repair it?  There are other examples, but it looks like sloppy writing that is distracting within the context of Trek.

Finney's daughter is inconsolable at the beginning of the episode and is bitter about Kirk supposedly causing her father's death.  She has completely reversed her stance later in the show, which I found hard to buy.  They sort-of explain this but something doesn't work.  I read that there was a scene with her that was left out for time.  This might have made this more believable.

The ideas here aren't bad; machine vs. man and a former friend seeking revenge.  I have to wonder if the whole Finney resentment thing would have been more effective if the show's format had allowed some way to develop Finney as even a minor character with this showdown building in the background.  It certainly would have given this idea and climax a lot more heft.  Finney is just another new character we'd never heard of, one with a long history with Kirk.  But TOS was, like most TV at the time, quite episodic without the extended continuity and mile-long story arcs of today's TV dramas.  It worked well most of the time for TOS and it isn't really fair, I suppose, to compare it like that.  But hey, at least we had a fistfight in the engine room...with a really big wrench!

OK Eric, what do you have to say?

“Court Martial" is much like “The Conscience of the King" in that it isn’t really Star Trek or science fiction, and it isn’t one of my faves. (It also doesn’t have the advantage of a Shakespearean title or plot.) Like “The Conscience of the King", it’s a story that could’ve been done on any TV drama. And that’s not to say that it’s a bad episode. Samuel T. Cogley (played by the late Elisha Cook) is a lot of fun. I particularly enjoy his impassioned speech about human rights. And the courtroom scenes are good too. Kirk’s testimony is nicely done, and the demonstrations of his crew’s loyalty are touching. I also like the opening scene where Kirk gets into a (verbal) fight with Commodore Stone—I’m not sure whether Kirk is gutsy or foolhardy, but it’s a good scene.

One major problem I have with this episode, other than those I already mentioned, is that it suggests that a non-engineering crew member could sabotage the Enterprise so cleverly and thoroughly that Scotty (the Miracle Worker) couldn’t fix it. Not!

Anyway, as I said before, this isn’t a bad episode, but when I watch a science fiction show (especially Star Trek), I want to see science fiction!

Next time:  “Return of the Archons"

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