Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 20

Court Martial

Aired Unknown Feb 02, 1967 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (7)

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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.
  • 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.
  • 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...

    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.
  • 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.
  • You can’t handle the truth …

    “Court Martial” is a bit of an oddity among STAR TREK espidoes in that is isn’t strictly a science fiction story. This could have just as easily been a story about an airline pilot. The main thrust of the plot is that after an ion storm leaves an Enterprise crewman dead, the computer transcripts of the incident are review and indicate that Kirk cast the crewman adrift before escalating the ship’s status to Red Alert, a severe breach or regulations. Yet Kirk knows he followed the correct procedure. Which is right? Kirk or the Enterprise’s “black box”?

    Inevitably, Kirk is brought before a court martial and confronted with the “evidence”. Only the efforts of Kirk’s lawyer, the redoubtable Sam Cogley, wonderfully played by the great Elisha Cook Jr, stands between Kirk and certain disgrace. An interesting wrinkle is added by the presence of an old girlfriend of Kirk, Areel Shaw, who turns out to the prosecuting attorney! Strangely, given their history, Areel is possibly the most hostile prosecutor in space, given - as she is - to hectoring the witnesses, yet objecting to every word from Cogley’s mouth. Then she snogs Kirk at the end. There’s dedication to duty and then there’s dedication to duty!

    Still, these minor niggles apart, this is great television, great (grown-up) science fiction and great STAR TREK.
  • A good courtroom drama -- for a Sci-Fi show

    "Captain James Kirk" (William Shatner) is accused of the death of one of his ship's crew, "Lt. Cmnd. Ben Finney" (Richard Webb). "Kirk" strongly attests that he waited until the Red Alert was sounded until he jettisoned the Ion Pod manned by "Finney" to get readings on a passing ion storm. However, the video record of the "USS Enterprise" shows that he jettisoned the pod before the Red Alert was sounded -- leaving "Finney" in it.

    With the record of the incident from the ship computers, and "Kirk's" sworn deposition not in synch, "Commodore Stone" (Percy Rodriguez) confines "Kirk" to the base and calls for a military tribunal, to try "Kirk." If convicted, "Kirk" faces court martial.

    Assigned to head the prosecution is "Areel Shaw" (Joan Marshall), and ambitious attorney determined to prove "Kirk's" guilt -- despite still having romantic feelings for him from their time together some time ago. "Kirk" hires "Samuel T. Cogley" (Elisha Cook), an attorney who is "known for his theatrics" in court that "Shaw" herself recommends to "Kirk" hire to defend him against the charges.

    Unlike other episodes, "Court Martial" is not an action/adventure. It is a well written and performed court drama that relies very little on science-fiction. It's strengths are the story and the actor's performances, that is the ones with dialog.

    There is no really poor performances at all with this episode. This is best seen during the scenes in court. All principal actors in these scenes are strong and believable, especially those of Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Marshall and, most notably, Shatner and Cook. Cook himself delivers one of the best performed speeches in the entire series three-year run. Only two performances feel a little weak in my opinion, but they aren't real large roles in the story.

    The visuals aren't really spectacular in this particular episode. And the story does not have the need for any kind of special effects.

    This story can be best summed up as Man versus Machine. Which of the two is telling the truth? Is it the man or the machine?

    Overall, this is a good dramatic story with an excellent script and strong performances. This episode might be good enough for an audience not into science-fiction.
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