When the Enterprise suffers significant damage in an ion storm, they are also unfortunate enough to lose their records officer, Lt Commander Ben Finney. Finney’s pod was jettisoned by Kirk during a red alert, as is standard procedure, but according to the ship’s computer, Kirk actually jettisoned it prematurely during yellow alert. A court martial is convened on Starbase 11, and if Kirk cannot prove his innocence, he faces losing command of the Enterprise.
We saw Spock’s court martial in The Menagerie, but since that was merely a clip show, this is Star Trek’s first real shot at doing a courtroom drama episode. I like a good bit of courtroom action, and at surface value this is certainly an enjoyable episode, filled with lots of meaty character parts. Years ago, Kirk logged a near-miss by Finney that almost destroyed their ship, thus damaging Finney’s promotion prospects even as Kirk himself swiftly rose through the ranks. Kirk himself only remembers the friendship the two men shared as junior officers, but was Finney still fixated on that past mistake?
The courtroom itself also offers some interesting characters. Yet another ex-lover of Kirk’s shows up, only to be appointed as lawyer for the prosecution, whilst Kirk’s own defence lawyer is an an eccentric old man who still relies on paper books in this age of computers. This episode is also a good one for diversity – we have a strong, competent female lawyer, a female personnel officer, and a racially varied board of commodores and senior officers. There’s also a real feel of being at a futuristic officers’ bar at Starbase 11 – it’s nice to get off the bridge of the Enterprise sometimes, and meet officers from different ships!
Even though Spock is the one who saves the day by revealing the flaw in the Enterprise computer, really this episode is about Kirk. We learn a little more about his days as a junior officer, before seeing fight both metaphorically in the courtroom and literally against the not-actually-dead Finney. He even does a bit of engineering to save the ship from a decaying orbit! This is not the idiot, gung ho Kirk we tend to remember, but a capable, competent man, who even has the skills to reprogram the Enterprise computer.
And now for the nitpicks
I can’t help myself, I really can’t. Even when I enjoy an episode, I must point out all the little niggles.
- Of the 430 people aboard the Enterprise, apparently only Kirk, Spock and Finney have the skills (and/or the admin rights) to reprogram the Enterprise computer. Surely a fair amount of the crew are computer scientists, or at least have some rudimentary skills? Are they all just cannon fodder?
- How exactly did editing the video log also alter the chess program? Were there some serious memory leaks going on, or is Finney just a really terrible programmer? If the latter, why did none of Spock’s other computer checks reveal anything – corrupt files, non-matching checksums and the like? Also, if computer logs are such vital pieces of evidence, why not have an independent secondary computer also logging events.
- In fact, why do we have these video logs at all? In The Menagerie, it was said that ships don’t make such detailed recordings of their missions. Did they start making such recordings as a result of that episode? And why fill the Enterprise computer banks with high bandwidth video streams, when a system event log would be of equal use in this case?
- Why does Kirk even have a set of armrest buttons for “red alert”, “yellow alert” and “jettison pod”? The first two, maybe, although he usually just calls out “red alert” rather than pressing a button himself, but how many times is the pod used that it needs its own dedicated jettison button?
- For that matter, what exactly is the pod, anyway? The pod was jettisoned because the Enterprise hit an ion storm, but the only reason Finney was even in the pod was to take readings on the ion storm. If the pod gets jettisoned, it must be part of the Enterprise, but then why put someone in it and endanger their lives? If the machinery to measure ion storms needs to be on the hull, just get some to operate it remotely. Even if the pod has to detach from the Enterprise to get accurate readings away from the ship, why not operate that remotely? And in the latter case, what does jettisoning it even mean? I suppose it might be attached by a tether which might have to be cut because, er, reasons? Would the ion storm cause the pod to sway dangerously and perhaps smash into the hull of the Enterprise?
- Finney was clearly storing up his anger and resentment over not being promoted for years – how come this never showed up on his regular Starfleet psychological evaluations?
- Surely there must be a better way to scan for lifeforms on the ship than to amplify internal speakers, listen for heartbeats, and then obscure heartbeats using a “white noise machine” (presumably said machine records individual heartbeats and subtracts them from the overall noise). Why was everyone’s heart beating in sync anyway? Why didn’t Spock’s Vulcan heart sound particularly different from a human one?
- When the majority of the crew was beaming off the Enterprise, surely it wouldn’t have been that hard for Finney to sneak off the ship as well. And once again, there was no lockdown, anaesthetic gas in the life support system, or change to the artificial gravity to keep him in place.
- Kirk claims that the speakers can be amplified by “one to the fourth power”, which is, er, one.
Bits and pieces
- At the beginning of the episode, we see a second Constitution-class starship, the USS Intrepid (not to be confused with the Intrepid that was the prototype for the USS Voyager).
- Kirk served aboard the USS Republic, NCC-1371. We also learn his serial number in this episode.
- McCoy holds the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
- For the last couple of episodes, the more familiar “impulse” has been used instead of “sublight” or “space normal” for space travel below the speed of light.
- In this episode, Starfleet Command is known as “Space Central”.
- Spock is once again calling himself Vulcanian rather than Vulcan. Kirk mentions “The Vulcanian Expedition” in the context of somethng he and another officer had been on in the past.
Summary – Court Martial: Decent courtroom drama if you don’t dwell on the intricate details.