Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 20

Court Martial

Aired Unknown Feb 02, 1967 on NBC
out of 10
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183 votes

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Episode Summary

Captain Kirk's career is at stake when he is put on trial for the loss of a crewman during an ion storm.

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  • Captain Kirk is court martialed for causing the death of a crewman.

    Just as "The Galileo Seven" serves as a primer for understanding Mr. Spock, "Court Martial" is the quintessential character study of Captain Kirk, providing a foundation for writers to build on for nearly thirty years.

    Star Trek fashions its first court room drama here, patterned after naval procedures, with sweet new dress uniforms and "flashback" footage from the incident incorporated into the trial. Along the way, the writers finally come up with a good name for what they previously call "United Earth Space Probe Agency", "Spacefleet Command" "Space Central" and "Star Service". It's now "Starfleet", and there's nothing more dramatic than seeing this organization versus Captain Kirk, with the captain refusing to quietly take the fall to save face. (In airdate order, "Starfleet" is first heard in "The Menagerie", but that was actually shot after this).

    Guest starring as Kirk's defense attorney is Elisha Cook, who was born just a few days after the Wright Brothers' first flight. Through his character, Samuel T. Cogley, the writers layer into the story the subtle issue of man versus machine. It's one of Star Trek's fundamental issues, popping up in several episodes (maybe most notably in "The Ultimate Computer") and the first motion picture, but the understated way it sneaks into the plot here is really clever. Cook himself is fabulous, bringing a genuine sense of humanity to Star Trek at a time it needs it most. You can tell the actor, an old vaudevillian, isn't thrown off by science fiction and knows that people are people, whatever century they're from. Cook would live many more years before dying in 1995, but sadly he never appears in Star Trek again.

    Then there's Joan Marshall, who plays a Starfleet JAG officer that's had a prior relationship with the captain. Mashall lacks the gravitas the part requires, and the character comes off as part idiot, part floozy. (Then again, maybe no Kirk character-study would be complete without just such a woman). Par tof the problem is the writing. Television writers are taught to create connections between the characters and then position them against each other to create drama, but the idea of a prosecuting attorney sharing her strategy with the defendent is ridiculous, only topped by a kiss between the two after the trial.

    Fortunately, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, though relegated to backup players, still get a gem of a scene that integrates the recurring three dimensional chess game into the plot. Nimoy plays the scene perfectly, with Spock nearly letting McCoy walk out of the room in disgust before casually mentioning what would prove to be the turning point in the episode. It almost makes up for the fact that McCoy later has to walk around with a microphone, pretending it's a medical device!

    Unfortunately, because the episode was running long in production, the ending had to be tightened and comes across as rushed as a result. (In fact, a key scene with Jame was deleted from the final cut, with a Kirk voiceover inserted to cover it up). But overall, "Court Martial" succeeds because it's a great opportunity to see William Shatner in full "Kirk-mode" doing his thing.

    Remastered: It's obvious from the beginning that this must be a favorite episode for someone at CBS Digital because it opens with a stunning shot of the Enterprise in orbit, with damage to the ship evident and lots of activity going on around the Starbase. (You can even see a person in the Enterprise On the planet's surface, a gorgeous matte painting by Albert Whitlock still appears, but it's been enhanced to be more lifelike and to better match the look of "The Menagerie" (which uses the same Starbase). There's also a second matte painting, borrowed from "The Menagerie". As the episode settles into the court proceedings and becomes more character based, there's less to do, but the effects that are there (including some on the viewscreen that replace stock shots from "The Naked Time"), vastly improve the look of the episode. Overall, for a non-effects episode, CBS it's a bang-up job that boosts the quality of the story.

  • Almost two different shows, the beginning is excellent, the end is rushed and sloppy.

    Kirk is put on trial for the deliberate killing of one of his crew members.

    There is so much that is really well-done in the first two thirds of this episode that I actually get sad that it falls apart at the end. The characters are nicely drawn, the dialog crackles. Another lost love of Kirk is a great idea as the prosecutor, Cogley is suitably dramatic as a defense attorney. The issues are fun and still ring true. Lots of details about the Starfleet legal system are revealed and we get more of Kirk's history. I have some minor quibbles, the first being that a computer record is far more than a log tape, many other data logs should have confirmed when the observation module was really jetissoned (of course, in the 60s, audiences would be mostly stricken with "the seeing is believing" approach), the second is that while I like the idea of Spock playing chess with the computer - it's a little incredible to believe that he initially checked the hardware but none of the software.

    One of the great cuts to commercial on TV is Sam Cogley's demand that Kirk be able to face his accuser (the computer itself). Sadly, when we return, we get a descent into formula and sped-up plot devices. The ship monitors and can amplify noises on the order of "one to the fourth power"? No editor could see that this equals one? Finney has sabotaged the ship without detection, surely he could have done that without the elaborate hoax in the first place. Or did he intend that the trial actually come aboard ship? There is so much action to squeeze in that the odd convention of having Kirk "narrate" a sequence needs to be used. There is some satisfaction in having Kirk yank power cords out of the Jeffries Tube while the ship lurches - but only in a cheesy affectionate sense.

    The end is a shame, because most of this episode is one of the best human dramas of the entire series.moreless
  • Kirk is infuriated at his court hearing because the computer neglected to mention his medal for 3rd place in the 100 yard dash from his academy days.

    I think when I was younger I didn't appreciate this episode for it's lack of action. It is however quite well written and a good plot. I do however agree with one of the comments in the Trivia sections about close up shots of Kirk pressing the yellow alert and red alert buttons. How did the ship make such detailed achieves? And furthermore, since when has Kirk ever pressed a button to go into any kind of alert? He always just orders it. With all those discrepancies, I easily looked passed them and enjoyed the episode very much.moreless
  • Captain Kirk stands trial accused of not only negligence and incompetence, but possibly deliberately causing the death of a crewman, who had a long-running grudge against him, during an ion storm. An interesting, well written and well acted instalment...moreless

    This review contains spoilers.

    After quite a long run of great episodes, things come down to Earth slightly with this episode. Bad that's not to say it's bad; just different.

    At first, I thought I wasn't going to like this episode much at all. Certainly when I was younger it wouldn't have been one of my favourites. But I have to admit, it wasn't bad at all. It has a very interesting plot, and is well acted out by all of the main performers.

    We all know that Kirk couldn't be guilty of the crimes of which he is accused, but watching it for the first time, you really have to wonder just what is going on and what is behind the false records.

    Of course, with some of the God-like entities encountered by the Enterprise, anything could have tampered with the records, but the cause here is more human.

    This episode was filmed directly before the two-part "The Menagerie", which also featured a court martial. Although "The Menagerie" is a very popular Original 'Trek' story, I personally much prefer "Court Martial".

    Of particular note regarding the guest cast is Elisha Cook Jr. as attorney Samuel T. Cogley, giving a really good performance. And Joan Marshall, playing Lt. Areel Shaw – yet another of Kirk's old flames – is another of the series' beautiful guest females.

    Like some others, I wasn't too sure about the on-screen footage of the bridge during the matter in question. Since when had such detailed archives been kept? Since when has Kirk manually pressed buttons on his chair to signal alerts and suchlike? And how could a computer – even one as advanced as the Enterprise's – change visual evidence?

    I agree with some other reviews that the first half of the episode is great, and only the final conclusion is slightly disappointing, and maybe not all that convincing.

    Singling out the heartbeats on the Enterprise is a bit dubious (and McCoy eliminates everyone on the bridge with a very unconvincing device that is clearly just a standard microphone, in one of the weakest 'Trek' props ever), and it is maybe a bit hard to fully believe that Finney could have got away with his plan so easily. (Also, during the climatic fight, there was some very evident stunt double work that I found distracting).

    But for the niggles I've mentioned against this episode, and as debatable as the ending is, it doesn't completely let the episode down, and still makes for an interesting outcome. There is better in the first season, but – to my pleasant surprise – this is still a reasonable episode overall.moreless
  • In the name of humanity, fading in the shadow of the machine

    Now here's an underappreciated episode if ever there was one. 'Court Martial' plays out like any other well conceived court room drama except with excellent sci-fi twists and with characters who we have had many hours now to get to know. It has to be said, for a science fiction show that rarely ever left its genre; Star Trek did well here, never seeming amateur or silly. It also greatly expands on the rather simple judicial system seen during 'The Menagerie' and uses guest and recurring characters well throughout, creating a very memorable episode.

    The premise of the show (Kirk being accused responsible for the death of a crew member) finally gives the show a little bit of grounding at least when it comes to all those red-shirt deaths. Many people have remarked that it is strange that this one case is investigated when in fact many people have died at Kirk's command before. I however don't find this a problem: The problem with this crew member's death is that Kirk essentially shot the man between the eyes by jettisoning him out into space without any real reason. Other deaths on the show haven't been as directly linked with the Captain and have usually been at the hands of another force. The very beginning of the episode in which Kirk and Commodore Stone are conversing establishes that these people know each other and that they have been through this before (with the other deaths). The big shock this time though is that Kirk is seemingly to blame, and so he goes on trial. I apologise for that long winded explanation but I feel that it is something that needed to be cleared up (there will be another one later too I'm afraid). The devil's in the details, someone said.

    The initial questioning of Kirk from the Commodore is a brilliantly performed scene from both Shatner and Rodriguez, eventually escalating into a whirlwind exchange of angry and passionate words. The back-story told by Kirk never bores and has a definite interesting nature to it. It also sets up the rest of the episode and establishes a more emotional motive to be found under the events that have transpired. It also helps to have a former lover of Kirk on the prosecution side, acting against Kirk. Just a simple small detail such as this really goes a long way in furthering the conflict during the court room scenes.

    Perhaps my favourite set of scenes during 'Court Martial' involves the testimonies of Spock and McCoy. Spock at first testifies that he believes his Captain to be even more reliable than a computer and that he has no reservations about trusting his word over that of a machine. McCoy in a much similar vein goes on to say that he believes Kirk to be far more reliable and unlikely to break-under-pressure than any other man might; Two statements that may not scratch any of the trio's personal relationship's surface, but it certainly does show how these two have grown to admire Kirk, in a professional sense.

    Essentially, 'Court Martial' isn't an episode about character development, it's about character establishment. It fills in the little cracks of knowledge that we don't know and it reaffirms certain qualities that we may have already known. Kirk in particular is shown in definite Captain-mode, stern, confident and always in command. It's a side that Kirk will often tone down when on general duty, but in situations such as this, it's good to see him take charge; realise what the problem is and do what has to be done. What the episode does best however is that it shows us the strings that bind Kirk, Spock & McCoy together. It shows their closeness and absolute trust in each other, never stopping in trying to prove Kirk's innocence.

    Eventually the team's combined effort pays off, refuting the otherwise very shocking and convincing evidence of Kirk jettisoning Finney whilst on yellow alert (Daniels does a brilliant job directing very tense scenes as usual, and this was particularly well-done). This paves way for an unexpected twist in the plot that utilises a strange but completely believable sci-fi plot device: The scene where there is only one heartbeat left beating for the bridge to hear is extremely effective and a brilliant way to certify the episode's eventual outcome.

    So in the end we learn that Kirk is innocent; it was all an elaborate sabotage, masterminded by the supposed victim himself. Finney is now painted in a tragic light, shown to be a man driven crazy by lost ambition, refusing to accept responsibility and blaming others for his mistakes. Here is a man that is so tormented by his failure that he decides he cannot rest until both Kirk and the Enterprise go down with him; until Kirk's glorious name is shunned and he becomes a mere shadow of his former glory. Perhaps this is what I loved most about 'Court Martial'; it is rich in back-story but is never over-indulgent; It knows what is essential to conflict, suspense and drama and it uses it wisely, eventually climaxing with a fantastic battle between the two men in conflict. When I talk of the battle I'm not referring to the mediocre fist fight with obvious stunt doubles, I'm talking about the battle of words that occurs between them. It reminded me somewhat of 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' and comes to a close just as well. My one problem with the 'Court Martial' is that it is undoubtedly dry. There is next to no humour or internal or personal conflict until the last ten minutes. Plus, I didn't quite appreciate the Absolute Final Ending, but nevertheless I tend to enjoy this one a lot more than others. With some great performances, a solid script, intense direction and a focus on human conflict rather than extraterrestrial, 'Court Martial' is definitely a well-made hour of TV, and an original one for Star Trek at that.moreless
Percy Rodriguez

Percy Rodriguez

Commodore Stone

Guest Star

Elisha Cook Jr.

Elisha Cook Jr.

Samuel T. Cogley

Guest Star

Joan Marshall

Joan Marshall

Lt. Areel Shaw

Guest Star

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

Recurring Role

Majel Barrett

Majel Barrett

voice of Computer / Starbase recorder computer (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (29)

    • During the court martial, Spock's ranks is listed as Lt. Commander. After moving the court martial to the bridge, Spock is wearing Commander stripes.

    • It's very dramatic, but why does Stone insist on staying aboard the ship because the court hasn't reached a verdict and they want to "hear the witness out"? Finney is alive: that renders the whole trial a moot point.

    • For some reason they shut down the impulse engines. The implication is the noise would render it impossible to detect Finney's heartbeat but they display they have the ability to filter noises out, and there must be thousands of other equipment noises aboard the ship.

    • Spock testifies that only three individuals have the level of computer programming knowledge sufficient to reprogram the Enterprise computer without obvious signs. One of them is... Captain Kirk? The captain has never displayed any superior knowledge of computers in any previous or subsequent episode. In "Tomorrow is Yesterday" he is fact stumped by his computer having been reprogrammed with a female voice.

    • Cogley is waxing a bit poetic at the end, but even so, the Bible never speaks anywhere of the right for a defendant to confront his accuser, the right to cross-examination, or to a jury of his peers.

    • Despite the fact they've found evidence confirming Kirk's innocence, and he's seconds away from being convicted, and McCoy even asks Spock "Why are you just sitting there?", the two men stop to change into their dress uniforms before reporting their findings to the court. Couldn't they have at least called down to Cogley and told him to delay?

    • When the court martial reconvenes on the Enterprise, the defendant and witnesses had changed out of their dress uniforms that they had been wearing for the court martial, even though the trial was continuing, and the members of the court were still wearing their dress uniforms. There is no explanation why they would have changed.

    • A prosecutor with a prior relationship with the defendant would be disqualified from participating in the case.

    • When Kirk is meeting with the Commodore on the Starbase, he is wearing the informal green uniform shirt. During the meeting, he is ordered confined to the Starbase. Later, he is in the bar wearing the standard gold uniform shirt. After that, he is back in the Commodore's office wearing the informal green shirt.

    • Trivia: McCoy's rank is specified as Lieutenant Commander.

    • Trivia: The term "Vulcanian" is used here instead of "Vulcan."

    • At the beginning of the fight scene between Kirk and Finney, you hear the first two punches, but as Kirk hits Finney a third time as they cut to the stunt double you do not hear the impact of the punch on the soundtrack.

    • Starfleet sure seems to make a big deal about one dead crewman. In the rest of the series, however, there must have been dozens of crew deaths that Kirk might have been responsible for, and there was never any indication of investigations into those deaths.

    • What exactly was Finney planning on doing if Kirk was convicted? Did he plan to just go in hiding for the rest of his life?

    • Sam Cogley is supposed to be this awesome attorney, but in reality he's pretty lousy. He conducts no cross-examination and even throws in the towel and rests his case after the visual extract is shown from the ship's logs. It is Spock, and Spock alone, who saved Kirk by telling Cogley about the chess game. Cogley makes this big noble speech about computer vs. man, but without Spock's help he would never have even thought to question the computer's accuracy.

    • When Kirk is having the crew beamed to the Starbase so they can isolate the heartbeats of those on board Commodore Stone asks if there's a skeleton crew for the impulse engines. He is told no, that they shouldn't be on board long enough to need to use them to correct their orbit. Once it become apparent that the engines are needed, and must be prepared there seems to be no trouble starting/running them -- even though there's no crew down there to do so. Either a crew wasn't needed, or they simply overlooked this fact.

    • At the beginning of the episode, Finney's daughter burst into the Commodore's office to start accusing Kirk of murder. Shouldn't a starbase be a little more secure so that a little girl can't just walk on in?

    • Kirk only has five buttons on the right arm of his command chair - two of them are alert buttons (as we see here, even though he never uses them before or since) and one is the usual open-communications button. It seems odd that he's the one in charge of jettisoning a pod given all the other stuff he does as Captain.

    • This is the first and only time we've ever seen Kirk hit a button on his chair to start an alert. Before he always gives the order and someone else does it.

    • The fake playback provides zooms and reverse angles and no one is surprised, but in "The Menagerie" Kirk said no vessel makes record tapes that detailed.

    • We've seen the computer used as a lie detector in episodes like "Mudd's Women" and later in "Wolf in the Fold" - but they don't use it here.

    • The Starbase in this episode is #11, but it looks nothing like the Starbase 11 seen in "The Menagerie."

    • Why does everyone stay on the bridge while Kirk wrestles (for a pretty good time) with Finney down in Engineering? They can all hear Finney say the ship is going to burn up in orbit if no one stops him - why do they just sit around?

    • Kirk says they can increase the booster on the auditory sensor "on the order of one to the fourth power." One to the fourth, or fifth, or twenty-fifth power,

    • They said that Engineering was "B" deck which is deck 2, but Engineering is deck 7 which would be "G" deck.

    • When McCoy muted Spock's heart, he put the machine on the left side of his chest, but Vulcans' hearts are where the liver in a human would be.

    • Kirk's shirt was torn in the fight, but Kirk's stunt double's shirt wasn't torn.

    • It was stated that Finney was a Lt. Commander, but when Kirk met him in Engineering, he had the full Commander rank braid.

    • The use of stunt doubles during Kirk and Finney's fight at the end of this episode is very obvious.

  • QUOTES (9)

    • McCoy: Dr. Leonard McCoy. And you?
      Areel: Areel Shaw. And I'm a friend, too--an old one.
      McCoy: All of my old friends look like doctors. All of his look like you.

    • Kirk: Dr. McCoy said you were here. I should have felt it in the air like static electricity.
      Areel: Flattery will get you everywhere.
      Kirk: It's been... how long has it been?
      Areel: Four years, seven months, and an odd number of days--not that I'm counting.

    • Kirk: What is all this?
      Cogley: I figure we'll be spending some time together, so I moved in.
      Kirk: I hope I'm not crowding you.
      Cogley: What's the matter? Don't you like books?
      Kirk: Oh, I like them fine, but a computer takes less space.
      Cogley: A computer, huh? I got one of these in my office. Contains all the precedents, a synthesis of all the great legal decisions written throughout time. I never use it.
      Kirk: Why not?
      Cogley: I've got my own system. Books, young man, books. Thousands of them. If time wasn't so important, I'd show you something--my library. Thousands of books.
      Kirk: What would be the point?
      Cogley: This is where the law is, not in that homogenized, pasteurized, synthe... do you want to know the law, the ancient concepts in their own language, learn the intent of the men who wrote them, from Moses to the tribunal of Alpha 3? Books.
      Kirk: You have to be either an obsessive crackpot who's escaped from his keeper or Samuel T. Cogley, attorney-at-law.
      Cogley: Right on both counts.

    • McCoy: Well, I had to see it to believe it.
      Spock: Explain.
      McCoy: They're about to lop off the captain's professional head, and you're playing chess with the computer.
      Spock: That is true.
      McCoy: Mr. Spock, you're the most cold-blooded man I've ever known.
      Spock: Why, thank you, Doctor.

    • Areel: Mr. Cogley is well-known for his theatrics.
      Cogley: Is saving an innocent man's career a theatric?
      Stone: Counsels will direct their remarks to the bench.
      Cogley: I'd be delighted to, sir, now that I've got something human to talk about. Rights, sir, human rights--the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi and of Justinian, Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States, Fundamental Declarations of the Martian colonies, the Statutes of Alpha 3--gentlemen, these documents all speak of rights. Rights of the accused to a trial by his peers, to be represented by counsel, the rights of cross-examination, but most importantly, the right to be confronted by the witnesses against him--a right to which my client has been denied.

    • Areel: How long will it be before I see you again?
      Kirk: At the risk of sounding like a mystic, that depends on the stars.
      Areel: Sam Cogley asked me to give you something. It's not a first edition, just a book. Sam says that makes it special.
      Kirk: I didn't get to thank him.
      Areel: He's busy on a case. He's defending Ben Finney. He says he'll win.
      Kirk: I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

    • Areel Shaw: (whispering to Kirk) Do you think it would cause a complete breakdown in discipline if a lowly lieutenant kissed a starship captain on the bridge of his vessel?

    • Spock: Lieutenant, I am half Vulcanian. Vulcanians do not speculate. I speak from pure logic. If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has, in fact, fallen.

    • Cogley: I speak of rights. A machine has none. A man must. My client has the right to face his accuser, and if you do not grant him that right, you have brought us down to the level of the machine. Indeed, you have elevated that machine above us. I ask that my motion be granted, and more than that, gentlemen, in the name of humanity, fading in the shadow of the machine, I demand it. I demand it!

  • NOTES (3)

    • Starfleet, the agency that the crew serve in is mentioned for the first time in this episode. Earlier episodes made vague and conflicting references to what service the Enterprise operated in including Space Command, Space Central, the Star Service, and the United Earth Space Probe Agency (or UESPA).

    • In this episode we get to see Kirk not only get the girl, but get the prosecuting attorney and kiss her on the bridge.

    • Dr. McCoy's handheld "medical scanners" were actually modified salt and pepper shakers. Another medical device, seen in the episode "Court Martial" is obviously a hand-held microphone.