Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Original Series, Season 1: Charlie X

Star Trek, Season 1, Episode 2
"Charlie X"
Airdate: September 15, 1966
8 of 80 produced
2 of 80 released
Click Here to watch on CBS.com


“Charlie X” presents us with the tale of a young castaway who has been picked up by a Starfleet crew, and is transferred to the Enterprise in a bid to send him to a more populated region. The crew discovers, though, that Charlie is possessed of phenomenal mental powers, giving him the ability to transmute matter at whim. Will his adolescent urges and stunted social sensibilities overwhelm him and lead to the doom of the Enterprise’s crew?
 I only have eyes... for Janice....


Matthew: It should be noted that this plot is very similar to another sci-fi staple, The Twilight Zone, which aired well before this episode. In the Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” the denizens of a mid-American town suffer at the whims of a smaller child who has developed the same kinds of powers as Charlie. I’m not saying there was intentional aping or homage, just pointing it out.

The good aspects of the story are the kernel of the idea, and definitely the character interaction. We get a LOT of personal moments with crew members such as Lieutenant Uhura and Yeoman Rand, among others. This script was penned by DC Fontana, from a story idea “by” Roddenberry, which may explain the very feminine bent of the story. We get more real females in this episode than in many subsequent TOS voyages.

Kevin: I'm with you on this one. The character moments, like in The Man Trap, managed to convey a lot of connection off not a whole lot of content. One of my favorite parts of the episode was the scene in the recreation lounge where Uhura is singing. I liked the idea that several activities would be going on at once. I also liked that music was being played and sung, even recreationally, in a communal form. It's easy to forget in the days of iPods that music used to be something people shared. Nichelle Nichols should get some credit for not just hitting the note decades before AutoTune, but for portraying the right attitude in the performance. Usually I find any attempt by science fiction or fantasy to incorporate an original song to be somewhat insufferable, but here it reinforced the idea that these were people in a community and that out of necessity they shared the off duty parts of their lives as well as the on duty parts.

Matthew: Themes and tropes we’ll see again include minds of relative immaturity being unprepared for great power, and benevolent though remote parent-like aliens, who are non-corporeal. We see these themes explored again in several shows, including “The Squire of Gothos,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “And the Children Shall Lead,” among others. But you can’t really fault this episode for it, since it’s early.

Kevin: Taken together, I think, even if they do so with intermittent quality, they form a core of one of Star Trek's messages. These are clearly cautionary tales for a people gaining access to newer and greater forms of power. Coupled with the omnipresent discussion of the Prime Directive, I think you can really see how central the theme of not the just the use of power but the acquisition of power is to the Trek universe.

Matthew: The pacing is a bit sluggish, however. Many scenes, especially those featuring Charlie, seem to drag on quite a bit.


Matthew: Since the main guest star has so much screen time, the episode really kind of lives or dies with him. It’s sad to say that Robert Walker, a 26-year old actor playing Charlie at 17, is rather annoying in most of his scenes. It’s hard to pin this on either the acting or the writing, but it is fair to say that the acting didn’t overcome in this case. Charlie is just sort of shrill and irritating. This might be “Realistic” given his castaway sort of status, but it doesn’t make it any more fun to watch.

Shatner turns in a fine performance as Kirk, with a nice mix of both simmering irritation as well as good-natured understanding of the plight of an adolescent on a ship full of mini-skirted babes. Leonard Nimoy plays Spock with a bit more emotion that we see in his later, more refined take on the character, smiling and smirking at times. He does a good turn as the voice of reason, however, trying to temper Kirk’s more empathetic tendencies.

Kevin: I think my favorite part, acting-wise, was the conflicted look of those on the bridge when Charlie was taken away at the end. They knew he could never be expected to abandon his powers, but they empathized with what returning to the Thasians would cost him.

Production Values

Matthew: This episode, perhaps owing to its early filming in the first season, has pretty high production values. Though it is a “bottle show,” and the original effects don’t even show us the “Antares” that ferries Charlie to the Enterprise, there are a wide variety of sets, props, and costumes in this episode. We have the crew lounge and Spock’s Vulcan lyre, a ship gymnasium (which looks to have been a redress of engineering), several sets of crew quarters, and an interesting brig set. Charlie makes a bulkhead disappear in the latter of these, revealing an interesting cutaway of high-tech looking pipes.

Costume wise, we see a very early use of Kirk’s green wrap-around alternate uniform. We also see Charlie wearing what looks to be an early turtleneck uniform minus insignia, and an odd tan pseudo-suede variant of Kirk’s green wrap-around. Also, unfortunately I must say, we see the first and last instance of the Starfleet workout jammies – a red karate top paired with some VERY disturbing red tights. We also are introduced to the conceit of different ships having different insignia – the Antares crew members have some sort of odd golden blob as theirs.

Kevin: I don't think I'll ever fully recover from the sight of Kirk's bulge straining through red spandex in 1080p. High Definition is a blessing and a curse.

Matthew: Several of Charlie’s outbursts are well done, with the “blank faced” deformity he inflicts being the most creepily effective.

Kevin: Agreed.


Matthew: Overall, I feel this episode’s negatives slightly outweigh its positives. Charlie is just plain irritating, and the pace is kind of a yawner. There is also the unfortunate Deus Ex Machina at the end, in which Charlie’s alien benefactors hit the “galactic reset button” and restore all of Charlie’s Enterprise victims (but, for some reason, not his Antares victims). The conclusion has some emotional weight, as Rand and Kirk, despite their suffering at Charlie’s hands, demonstrate regret at his being sequestered with the Thasians.

I give this episode a 2 of 5, but just barely. Had we seen a bit more liveliness, or a bit less Charlie, it would be an average episode with a 3. But as it stands, I feel like it’s slightly below the par of Trek in general. It’s got good sci-fi and human interest ideas, but the execution is lacking.

Kevin: I'm going to give it a 2 as well. It's not that any one part of the episode is outright bad, it's more that together, they never really gel into an hour of television that really grabs me. That gives this episode a total of 4 out of 10. On the weaker side of the bell curve, to be certain, but not the worst by any stretch.

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