When I was a kid, we rented a house in Lavallette NJ. My cousin and I would stay up late to watch Star Trek at 12 midnight, and The Twilight Zone at 1:00. One combination never seemed to occur. Charlie X was never on the same night as It’s a Good Life. I think if it had, the irony would have been too much for the universe and the world would have exploded. They both feature the same idea. But we’ll get to The Twilight Zone eventually. Tonight, let’s stick with Charlie X. 17 year old Charlie Evans is dropped off on the Enterprise like the child of new parents going on their first date in months. Things are not right and we only get hints of it until things start going seriously wrong.
Ok I got some information in this one that I’m going to have to track! There are 428 crewmen on the Enterprise. Now, I’m going in broadcast order, so I’ll assume the number was 432, prior to losing 4 crewmen in The Man Trap. We see (red gym suited) Sam get sent to the cornfield… ah, sorry… sent “away” when Charlie gets upset with his laughing at Charlie. He sends (pink nightie’d) Janice Rand away. He ages a (yellow shirted) woman and removes another (blue shirted) woman’s face (know who else did that?…) He even turns a blue shirted woman into an iguana. So that’s 4 dead at least, with one too old to continue to serve most likely… but luckily a fairy godfather head shows up and reverses everything so… we’re back to 428. Shame he couldn’t bring back the 20 people who died on the Antares. Weirdly two episodes in and not a single red shirt died!!!
Now, this is our second televised meeting with Kirk and what’s the first thing he does with the Antares crew? Offers them “entertainment tapes” and Sorian Brandy. He also does something magnificent: he changes shirts while riding in the elevator. He starts off wearing his typical yellow one while explaining why one does not smack a woman’s bottom (unless you’re the first Doctor, which is clearly alright), gets in the elevator, and steps out wearing the green one from the start of the episode. This is a talented man! Of the other members of the crew, we learn that Uhura can sing. We also learn that no one really likes her singing because if they did, when she suddenly can’t even vocalize anything, everyone quickly turns to watch Charlie’s card tricks. We also see Spock smile some more as he plays his harp. And he likes chess. Lastly, we learn that McCoy still doesn’t rate enough to be in the opening credits even though he and Spock both press all the buttons on the bridge. (A skillful doctor, indeed!)
So what’s it all about? What makes this episode important? It’s about the struggles of growing up. It’s about being a kid and trying to find yourself. And maybe it’s about the dangers of meeting your heroes because Kirk really lets the kid down on a number of occasions. “We’re in the hands of an adolescent!” Charlie is a kid who did not know how to be with his own people. There’s a tragic nature to Charlie’s story and it’s abundantly clear in the end when he wants to stay…. Stay… stay…. (creepy as hell, by the way). Even Kirk goes to bat for him, which is redeeming indeed, but it’s not enough and the Thasians take the boy away. The episode does fail for me in one huge way: Charlie is able to control Spock; he makes him do whatever Charlie wants. So why couldn’t he control Janice? Would it really have been too much to ask?
Charlie X was never one I liked that much because I always laughed at Charlie when he did that thing with his eyes, but it’s hard to deny the impact it must have had back in 1966. But I’m just looking forward to what comes next, because I actually know what that is and I can’t wait to see it again! Let’s boldly go on… ML
The view from across the pond:
Charlie Evans is the “sole survivor of a transport crash fourteen years ago”, who has apparently survived on his own from the age of 3. It’s immediately obvious that there is something more going on than that, because the captain of the ship he transfers from seems afraid of Charlie and can’t wait to get away, and then his ship blows up. So Charlie is more than just inexperienced in life. He is dangerous.
Before we get to his special abilities, the episode explores the consequences of Charlie’s isolation. He has no experience of human interaction and is immediately fascinated with Janice:
“Are you a girl?”
“Is that a girl?”
“That’s a girl.”
His interest in her soon becomes creepy and awkward, with a slap on the bottom just the start of her troubles. Kirk has a man-to-man chat with Charlie, which he finds very difficult, eventually getting to the point that “there’s no right way to hit a woman”. It really takes him far too long to get to what should be a very straightforward and clear piece of advice, but you would think from Kirk’s hesitation that he was trying to talk about the birds and the bees. But the relationship between Kirk and Charlie is an interesting one. Kirk becomes a father figure very quickly, and is the only person on the ship who commands a degree of respect from the teenager.
After a fabulous musical duet between Uhura and Spock (isn’t Nichelle Nichols a great singer!) and a quick game of 3D Chess (that top level is a bit high up – you’d need a step ladder to see what’s going on up there), Janice tries to deal with the problem of Charlie herself by setting him up with somebody his own age. Poor Tina. Talk about throwing a friend to the lions. It’s lucky for her that Charlie isn’t actually interested.
“All the other girls on the ship, they look just like Tina. You’re the only one that looks like you.”
It’s the giant basket hair isn’t it. That’s got to be the attraction. Kirk has a go at teaching Charlie to be a man, and we all know that real men show off their muscular chests and wear Starfleet-issue red tights, and then for those interested in my Trek Tally we get what appears to be Minor Crewman Death #5 with the man who laughs at Charlie getting zapped out of existence. Poor Tina gets turned into a lizard as well, which is a better deal than actually going on a date with Charlie. These get reversed in the end, so our tally surprisingly remains at 4 this week, at least as far as the Enterprise crew is concerned. We do get two additions to our screaming woman tally though (bringing the total to 3), albeit one of them rather muffled. The lack of a face will do that to a scream.
“We’re in the hands of an adolescent.”
…and what could be more scary than that? I was very impressed with this episode, because the idea was a very scary and troubling one. Omnipotent enemies in sci-fi are always frightening, but put that power into the hands of a teenager and then everyone’s in trouble. It was a shame the resolution was fudged. There were actually two resolutions to the problem here, when only one was needed. Firstly Kirk and Spock came up with a way to use up all Charlie’s energy on controlling the ship, weakening him enough that he could be tranquillised. Then the aliens from the planet where Charlie has been living for 14 years turned up to take him back into their custody. The second one of those was unnecessary and diminished the episode. In basic terms, any threat to the heroes in sci-fi can be dealt with in one of two ways: they can solve the problem themselves, or some outside force can intervene. The latter of the two is always going to be the weaker resolution because it is less satisfying in dramatic terms. We want our heroes to win through. So having come up with a solution that follows the former pattern and works, why spoil it with an outside power coming in and solving their problems for them as well? At least it put into perspective why Charlie behaves the way he does, and almost pulls a 180 on us by making us feel sympathy for his plight at the end.
“They don’t love.”
A race of people who cannot love. That might just be the ultimate horror in the universe. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: Where No Man Has Gone Before