The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Turnabout Intruder

Well, everyone, we’ve made it. After almost three months of daily Star Trek watching, I’ve completed The Original Series. That’s not it for the great rewatch, of course – TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise and even the movies await. But for now, we must concentrate on the TOS finale, which not only is nothing special nor particularly final, but is also perhaps the most sexist and misogynistic Star Trek has ever managed.

The story, for those who don’t immediately recall, revolves around Dr Janice Lester, an ex-lover of Kirk’s with a passionate desire to become a starship captain, and also to destroy Kirk along the way. To that end, she uses an alien device to switch bodies with Kirk, so that she can command the Enterprise, whilst he is trapped in the female body she hates so. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong, because what crazy hysterical woman could possibly command the Enterprise. Am I right, ladies?

The enlightened attitudes of the 23rd century

  • “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” At worst, Lester seems to be saying that women aren’t allowed to be starship captains, which hardly seems very forward-thinking. It has been argued that Lester meant specifically that Kirk’s world of being a starship captain leaves him no time for long-term relationships, which we’ve certainly observed over the course of the series. But in that case, why didn’t Lester just try to fulfil her ambition of being a starship captain through more conventional means? Was she just claiming that as her goal because she didn’t want to admit that all she wanted to do was mess with Kirk for dumping her? If being a starship captain was more important to Kirk than Janice Lester, then of course she would want to take it away from him.
  • “Believe me, it’s better to be dead than to live alone in the body of a woman.” Poor Janice. At best, she’s horribly hemmed in by a patriarchal culture that won’t let her pursue her ambitions (although it’s worth noting that she is a respected scientist and leader of a planetary expedition, so she hasn’t done too badly) – at worst she’s experienced lifelong gender dysphoria and has actually always wanted to transition to being a man. Of course, this having been filmed in the sixties, the episode is not an exploration of trans rights – it’s not like we’ve even got as far as an openly gay character on Star Trek yet, let alone anything more than that.
  • “Doctor, I’ve seen the captain feverish, sick, drunk, delirious, terrified, overjoyed, boiling mad. But up to now I have never seen him red-faced with hysteria.” Note the use of the word ‘hysteria’ here – Janice in Kirk’s body is still clearly identifiable as a hysterical woman rather than a manly man.
  • “Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s. If only…if only…” …she’d known her place?

Other notes

  • The one good point about this episode is that we get to see Shatner playing “Lester in Kirk’s body”, which adds a little to his acting range.
  • In The Menagerie, we learnt that the only crime that still merits the death penalty is visiting Talos IV, yet here it is said to be the punishment for inciting mutiny.
  • Since when do Kirk, Scotty and McCoy constitute a board for a court martial? Again, in The Menagerie, three officers of command rank were needed – namely Captain Kirk, Captain Pike and Commodore Mendez. Scotty and McCoy each only hold the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
  • Uhura is once again absent in this episode, whilst Chapel is sporting dark hair for the second time.

Summary – Turnabout Intruder: A woman in charge of a starship? Are you mad?!

Join me within the next couple of days for my continuing mission to watch and blog all of TNG. I’ll be doing the movies too, I’m just not sure when.

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