Court Martial (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

"You Captain Kirk are guilty -- of stealing my heart."

“You Captain Kirk are guilty — of stealing my heart.”

Episode: Court Martial – Season 1, Episode 20 (1967)

Director: Marc Daniels

Teleplay: Don M. Mankiewicz

Story: Don M. Mankiewicz and Stephen W. Carabatsos

We’re back in the lap of the Star Fleet bureaucracy. The Enterprise retires to Starbase 11 for repairs after sustaining damage during an ion storm, an event that also saw the death of a single crewman: Lt. Commander Ben Finney (Richard Webb). As far as Gene Roddenberry is concerned, nothing spells trouble like an Irishman,[1] and it isn’t long before Captain Kirk is on trial…for Murder!

Kidding! Actually, when Kirk’s account of Finney’s research pod ejection doesn’t match the computer record, Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) accuses our captain of “negligence.”[2] Kirk can retire from active service and finish his term flying a desk, or he can try to defend himself before a court martial. You better believe that James T. Kirk picks the option with more punching in it.

To liven things up, he runs into an old girlfriend on base. Lt. Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall) might look like fun, but it turns out she’ll be the prosecuting attorney at his hearing. You never saw a guy’s star-pants shrink back to size so fast.

The trial itself is pretty cut-and-dried: Kirk claims he jettisoned Finney while the ship was in maximal danger at red alert, but the computer shows him ejecting his former best friend at yellow alert before the ship was at risk. Lt. Shaw’s case consists of showing the footage and badgering the defense witnesses. Spock and McCoy make an appearance, reprising their bumbling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern act from The Conscience of the King. Even Kirk does a poor job of it – his testimony boils down to a 15-minute recitation of his service record and some shrugging.

All looks lost until Spock discovers that the ship’s computer is objectively stupider that just a few days previously – it’s been tampered with by Finney! Lovable crackpot defense lawyer Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook) takes this to mean the man is alive and hidden on the Enterprise somewhere.

This episode makes a big deal of positing this huge tension between the human Kirk and the power of the infallible machine. Retrograde Cogley especially wants to argue that the benevolent utopia we’ve been tuning in to watch is actually a soulless prison with no room for mere human rights. It rings a little hollow when the computer is revealed as a tool for the vengeful Finney. Even in the future, feelings are the fly in the ointment: he’s held a grudge against Kirk since their ensign days on the USS Republic.

The Commodore moves the trial on board the Enterprise, where Finney is eventually detected. He’s taken the time to sabotage the ship’s power, but why? What’s Finney’s endgame – a blot on Kirk’s career and then his own suicide? With a little more planning, it might have been more satisfying to see Kirk dishonored from the comfortable vantage of the command chair and a fresh promotion.

Well anyway, Kirk punches the location of the sabotage damage out of him and it all comes right. Lt. Shaw apologizes for being the first of the captain’s ladies to accuse him in court of premature pod ejection, and then they make-out on the bridge, because that is the only way this could have ended.


[1] See The Naked Time, Shore Leave, The Conscience of the King etc.

[2] You could have fooled me. Based on the series so far, I had no idea that was even illegal.

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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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