Star Trek 1.20: Court Martial

Court MartialCourt Martial” is exactly what it says on the tin. Captain Kirk faces a court martial over the death of crewman Ben Finney, ejected in an ion pod during an ion storm. Procedure is to only eject the pod containing a crew member during a red alert, and only with sufficient warning to allow the crew member to leave the pod – which is what Kirk says he did, despite the fact that Finney hated his guts for an incident between them years ago. But the Enterprise‘s computer records say he ejected before declaring a yellow alert. This is all resolved in a court martial hearing.

All the action takes place on Starbase 11, which gains the distinction of being one of very few places that the Enterprise visits in more than one episode. We even see a new matte painting of the starbase, showing it in what looks like a red sunset mood. This painting is nice, and better yet, consistent with the daytime matte painting of the same base seen back in “The Menagerie” (which also included a court martial – of Mr Spock). We also again see the Seattle Space Needle-like buildings on flat scenery cutouts through the windows of Commodore Stone‘s office.

We meet Jame Finney, Ben’s young teenish daughter, who accuses Kirk of killing her father. She’s wearing a good example of space clothing – a bizarre skirt made of some shiny reflective material. We meet Areel Shaw, a former love interest of Kirk’s, who has the unenviable job of prosecuting the case against him.

We also meet attorney Samuel Cogley, who defends Kirk, and is a Luddite, preferring a room full of musty old books to a computer that can contain more legal precedent than an entire library. This also comes out in his summing up speech in the court, when his defence is basically built on the premise that computers are impersonal and not to be trusted. Oddly, this argument doesn’t go over well, because the computer has recorded a damning video of Kirk pressing the eject button before declaring red alert. It doesn’t occur to anyone that the video could possibly have been faked. “Computers don’t lie!” declares the Commodore.

Which brings up another oddity. Kirk is shown pressing buttons on his captain’s chair, that are clearly labelled “Yellow Alert” and “Eject Pod”, with the unused “Red Alert” button also there, making a trio of buttons with no room for much else on the chair arm. So the entirety of the captain’s chair’s right armrest is taken up by these three buttons? How often would these buttons be used?? Particularly given every single other time we see an alert sounded in Star Trek, it’s by verbal order?

Some amusing oddities: Spock refers to himself as “Vulcanian”, rather than the later standard “Vulcan”. Areel refers to Dr McCoy on the witness stand as an “expert in psychology, especially space psychology“. And mid-episode, Jame Finney suddenly changes her mind and declares that she believes Kirk and hopes that he evades the court martial charge – this is never satisfactorily explained (though turns out to have been because of extra script material that was cut for time, in which Jame reads some of her father’s letters and realises what a bitter man he was).

Spock eventually cracks the case by the odd expedient of playing chess with the Enterprise computer, prompting incredulity from McCoy. The important point here is that Spock programmed the computer for chess himself, and the computer can never make a mistake, so obviously Spock can do no better than draw with it, yet he beats it five times in a row. This proves beyond any doubt the computer has been tampered with, and the video log of Kirk is fake! Whodunnit? Why, Finney of course, who faked his own death to frame Kirk and ruin his career.

Now they have to track him down, hiding somewhere on the Enterprise. To do this, rather than use scanners or something, they evacuate everyone from the ship but the bridge crew and the court, and use a hypersensitive sound amplifier – capable of “boosting sounds by one to the fourth power“! Except this sound amplifier apparently can’t pick up the sound of anyone talking, and can only amplify heartbeats. McCoy then uses a “white sound” device to cancel out the heartbeats of everyone on the bridge, leaving one heartbeat remaining: Finney!

Kirk goes to confront Finney alone, because of course this is something he’s got to do himself. An inevitable fistfight occurs, complete with Kirk’s shirt ripping – the entirety of which could have been avoided by Kirk heading down there with a couple of armed security personnel. Finney makes a mad speech and eventually loses. We get to see Uhura take the helm as the Enterprise‘s orbit decays due to some Finney sabotage, which is rectified just in time. She’s clearly far too talented to be stuck on communications.

Overall, not a bad episode. The drama of Kirk’s court martial creates significant tension until you learn the twist near the end. And Spock and McCoy get some amusing banter as their irksome relationship begins to develop throughout this first season.

Tropes: Exactly What It Says On The Tin, Courtroom Episode, Space Clothes, Science Is Bad, We Will Not Use Photoshop In The Future, Space X, Smart People Play Chess, This Is No Time For Knitting, Clear My Name, Faking The Dead, Writers Cannot Do Math, This Is Something He’s Got To Do Himself, Wrench Whack, Clothing Damage, Evil Is Hammy
Body count: Ben Finney, killed off-screen before the episode begins… or is he?!
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

Leave a Reply