TV

Star Trek (TOS) 1.2: Charlie X

I also missed this episode at the time of its 1992 broadcast, but like ‘The Man Trap’, I had caught up with it a few years ago.

It’s a good story: a 17 year old boy has been found by a cargo ship as the sole survivor of a colony whose other members died (presumably in an accident) when he was a baby. His survival defies all logic, so Spock soon comes to the conclusion that he must have had outside help, possibly from the ‘Thasians’, the virtually mythical historical inhabitants of the planet, about whom nothing is known.

The cargo ship offloads the eponymous Charlie on to the Enterprise and make a hasty departure, only to blow up in mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, Charlie is exhibiting increasingly volatile behaviour that cannot entirely be put down to teenage hormones, although they certainly don’t help. It’s down to Kirk to introduce the young man to the nuances of 23rd century sexual politics. What could possibly go wrong? After one tantrum appears to eliminate a member of the crew, the Captain has a super-sized problem on his hands. His fatherly authority holds Charlie at bay for a time, but the teenager rebels and uses his powers to take over the ship. When all seems lost, the Thasians appear and apologise for letting him out of their sight. A howling Charlie is taken back to spend the rest of his life in well-meaning isolation.

This is a poignant episode which is the first to address the recurring issue of the corruptive and corrosive issue of power. Charlie was given his abilities at an early age to help him survive; it’s not really his fault that he can’t control them. His refrain of ‘stop laughing at me’ continues to evoke sympathy from the hyper-sensitive teenager that still resides in me. Having said that, he’s an obnoxious twat whose crush on Yeoman Janice Rand quickly turns from puppy-dog sweet to fuck off, you whiney creep. I suppose, narratively-speaking, this is a good way of ensuring Kirk’s decision to maroon him indefinitely on a far-off planet is entirely justified and acceptable to the viewing audience.

Observations

  • Ok, Spock and Uhura definitely have a thing going. There’s far too much ‘look at us’ coy lyre-playing and public crooning in the recreation room.
  • I had to laugh at Kirk’s offer to provide the crew of the visiting cargo ship with a stockpile of ‘entertainment tapes’. Yes, the Captain of the Enterprise is peddling porn.
  • His attempt to distract Charlie from his teenage passion is equally hilarious: ‘I know you’re horny as hell’ (I’m paraphrasing), ‘but let’s go and have a TOPLESS MANLY WRESTLE to take your mind off it’. Didn’t work.
  • Speaking of which, this is the first glimpse of Shatner’s bare chest in the series, soon to receive a co-starring credit.
  • I’m fascinated by the intricate threading patterns in Janice Rand’s beehive hairstyle. It’s a wonder she has any time to carry all those trays.
  • Smooth-talker of the week: ‘There are many ways to hit a woman.’ Gee, thanks, Captain. Glad you’re on hand to give fatherly advice to impressionable 17 year-olds with anger issues.
  • Technology of the week: Got to be Spock using a pile of coloured post-it notes as a voice recorder.

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Star Trek (TOS) 1.1: The Man Trap

I started watching the original series (TOS) of Star Trek when the entire run was broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday evenings at 6pm. I’ve checked on the BBC genome project, which archives all Radio Times listings from 1923-2009, and ‘The Man Trap’ was first broadcast on 26 August 1992. I was 11. An impressionable age, from any perspective, and a time when I was just about to embark on the transition from primary to secondary school. Not only that, over the summer, my dad’s work commitments had taken us from a relatively settled life in West Sussex to the uncertainty of a new start in Bath. As an adult, I can now look back on it as not a bad swap, but at 11 it meant never seeing my friends ever again. And actually, in most cases, that turned out to be pretty accurate. I was never a particularly reliable penpal, it was pre-Internet, my phone calls were generally functional rather than affectionate, and the most exciting piece of technology was a brand new fax machine that even then was never going to pass for speedy communication.

So it was within this context – new town, new school, and probably feeling more than a bit sorry for myself – that I first fell upon Star Trek. Looking back, the appeal was fairly obvious. The series embodied friendship, constancy, and familiarity (even the planets all looked the same). Every week, I could join a ready-made community who shared a common purpose. Despite the best efforts of some of the monster-of-the-week storylines, it was wholly unthreatening, and despite the literally out-of-this-world setting, the main focus was on the central relationships. It was fun, it was cheesy, but above all, it was home.

It to be said that I didn’t watch the series from the outset; I picked it up a few episodes into the first season. And, it being the early-90s, there was no TV catch-up, so ‘The Man Trap’ was therefore one I missed at the time (but I had seen it since). Watching it again a couple of days ago, I can see why it was chosen as the episode to open the series. It’s classic-Trek and the characters/ themes are already fully-formed, with virtually no clunky exposition (well, no more than normal).

Kirk, McCoy and nameless crewman (Galaxy Quest gets this spot on) beam down to a planet to undertake an annual health check to two scientists stationed there. McCoy has a personal interest in the trip as one of the scientists, Nancy, happens to be an old flame (another harbinger of doom) whom he hasn’t seen for ten years. They beam down and the reunion goes off splendidly, apart from the minor (but so far unnoticed) fact that Nancy appears as a different woman to each of the members of the landing party. Cue the appearance of her particularly grumpy scientist husband, a distant blood-curdling scream, and the nameless crewman has sadly succumbed to the inevitable.

SPOILER ALERT (but hey, it’s 50 years old, so if you haven’t watched it yet, I doubt you’re going to care).

Nancy turns out to be a shape-shifting salt monster who drains the salt from her/its victims, thereby rendering them dead. ¬†After several more bodies, a brief escapade on board ship, the creature (back in Nancy’s image) is reluctantly dispatched by her former lover, McCoy, who is forced to make an impossible choice.

Observations

  • It has to be pointed out that the creature seems to be motivated by the acquisition of salt, rather than any specific ill-intent, which makes you wonder why it couldn’t just have asked Starfleet to deliver a shit tonne of the stuff every year.
  • Interesting to note that the nameless crewman (and other victims, who did manage to secure identities) were wearing blue shirts rather than the stereotypical red. No doubt this will be rectified in future episodes.
  • Likewise, the Enterprise doesn’t seem to have invented replicators yet, judging by the amount of food being carried on trays in the episode.
  • On a similar point, does the Enterprise only have one canteen? People seem to be going up and down turbo-lifts and walking for ages with their bloody trays. You’d have thought they could afford one per floor, or at least a tuckshop to keep them going.
  • Sulu has a very impressive range of colourful plants in his collection, although one looks suspiciously like it’s being animated by a human hand.
  • Smooth-talker of the week: ‘Is this Nancy?’ bellows Spock as he belts her across the face with both hands, several times. Well, no, I certainly hope not.
  • Speaking of Spock, is he flirting with Uhura here? She looks as though she wouldn’t mind if he was…