So… funny thing about space. It’s big. You may have heard this before, but it’s really big. And Time! Time can be wibbly and wobbly. But let me put Court Martial into perspective for you in terms of space and time.
Finney, Kirk’s old pal from the academy who now serves under him, is killed in an ion storm. But we learn, “oh no he wasn’t!” He’s alive and he’s going to discredit Jimmers. But his plan may by up there for brilliance with a certain Doctor Zaroff. Finney is going to hide on the ship until Jim is stripped of rank. And then … what? Thus begins our lesson on “time”. Does he plan to live in the engineering bay, hidden for the rest of time? Maybe find a little corner of engineering that none of the cleaning crew goes to, and setup a cot? The minute he shows up, popping out of the hole he’s hiding in, Kirk’s demotion would be undone, so the idea is ludicrous. Realizing this, he decides to booby trap the ship to crash it. Lesson on space beginning… now. Crashing in space is not as easy as it might sound. You’re more likely to run out of power or oxygen first. But Finney knows they are orbiting a planet. A planet where his daughter coincidentally lives. I grew up on Staten Island; an island less than 60 square miles in size. If I wanted to get a job on a plane and then crash it, and I specifically wanted to hit Staten Island, yes, it is possible, but I need to have some aim. Finney is blindly wrecking the engines without seeing where they are. This would be like taking a flight around the world, and guessing when we’d be over Staten Island. But now let’s add a layer of complexity. Let’s assume I say “hey, not only do I want to crash my ship, but I want to hit the bedroom I grew up in”… NEWS FLASH: this would take an immense amount of skill, planning, and aim. Yet, we are to believe that Finney manages to find the planet his daughter is on? On top of that, he freaks out when she’s brought on board?! As if the whole time/space stuff isn’t enough, how do we determine who is on the ship? Magnifying heartbeats, and then ruling out the one that’s left. Clearly, no critters could get onboard. No mice in the Jeffries tubes, no hamsters and certainly no tribbles! Otherwise, that might complicate matters one step further. Trek is nothing if not funny!
Funny it may be, but let’s talk about actual science for a second, not just my interpretation of space and time. They say the microphone can amplify a sound. Jim claims it can do that on the order of “1 to the 4th power”. I wish I could take credit for picking up on this little fact, but it was my son who noticed it. 1 to the 4th power… wow. That’s… 1. So… yeah… suddenly doesn’t seem so impressive, does it? The humor doesn’t end there! Does McCoy know how to flirt or what? Walk up to the prettiest woman (not saying much in a room full of men) and say “in case you were wondering, that was Jim Kirk”. Dude… really? I’ve never been good at picking up women even in my single days, but I sure as hell didn’t start by saying “Hi, that other guy was damned fine looking wasn’t he?” He redeems himself slightly with his comical line about all his “old friends look like old doctors”, but Jim’s all look like her. But is that really a great pickup? I’d say no. It’s like saying “hey, would you like to spend time with me, because I don’t know any pretty girls. Please don’t pity me!” I might try that one day just to see if I can make people laugh. And as for laughter, when did Spock and everyone else start calling Vulcans “Vulcanians”??? Must be an Earthlingian thing. And do all earthlingians look alike to the producers of Trek? When Kirk and Finney fight, their stunt doubles look about as much like them as I look like Idris Elba! (Yes, we world build on the blog, ok!)
But Trek didn’t become legendary with silly plot oversights like these. It become a classic by arguing for human rights and claiming that man will always beat machine because we have a soul. It stands above other shows because it shows loyalty between friends as Spock, the logical “Vulcanian” defends his friend even in the absence of evidence. McCoy and Spock are both so willing to support their friend, that they even argue against logic and evidence. And while we may want to believe that principles are established for a reason, the fact is, a machine can be reprogrammed and the faith they have in their friend is not misplaced. It’s those things that made Trek the incredible series it was.
So the only question left is: is there always a button on Jim’s chair that says “Jettison”? What if he spills his coffee or drops a clipboard on it? Maybe that’s not a great spot for it. And why does he tell others to raise the red alert when his chair has a red alert button right there? Perhaps we’ll never know. At least we know that Trek was capable of some great stories. This one may not have risen to the heights of some, but it was 1 to the 4th power better than Charlie X, so I’m sure that’s saying something… ML
The view from across the pond:
Lieutenant Commander Ben Finney is the 26th person to die in our Trek Tally of Minor Crewman Deaths, so it seems odd that such a fuss is made about it. Why does Kirk have to answer a case about this one, and not the previous 25? The answer is that this one is personal. Finney is yet another old friend of Kirk’s and they have had a falling out. It’s a very sad thing when a good friendship breaks down and a friend becomes an enemy, especially when the friendship was strong enough for Finney to name his daughter after Kirk. Speaking of which… just how old is Kirk? We have had this kind of issue before with Kirk’s backstory, but Jamie looks only about five years younger than James. Maybe the ageing process in the future is kinder, and Kirk is a lot older than he looks. Another old friend turns up to prosecute Kirk’s case in a shock revelation that surprises nobody. Leaving aside the unlikely scenario of a friend prosecuting a friend and that conflict of interest not being deemed sufficient to disqualify her, it does provide the other side of the coin in how friendships can endure. Unlike Finney, Areel is able to separate business from pleasure, and is rewarded with a big kiss at the end for her troubles.
The majority of the episode follows the events in the courtroom as they play out, and you’ve really got to love court room dramas to enjoy this stuff. Mind you, if you are an aficionado of those, this one will probably annoy you, with absurd moments such as the prosecutor asking McCoy questions that should be aimed at a psychologist, based on his professional opinion as… not a psychologist. But the greatest absurdity is that of a future where people believe this statement:
“Computers don’t lie.”
The future is looking pretty naive to me. Luckily our Vulcanian (when did he become one of those rather than a “Vulcan”?) is on hand to demonstrate the fallibility of computers with a game of chess. This plays out like Spock is discovering something for the first time ever. That something, astonishingly, is the possibility of reprogramming a computer to do something wrong. Someone has adjusted the programming and “memory banks”. You don’t say. Oh, those heady days before hackers and viruses!
Once that has been established, the culprit is obvious. Minor Crewman Death #26 is not actually a death, and Kirk has been framed. It was obvious from the start that he had been framed, but the killer being the… what’s the word? Framer… framester… framemonger? Anyway, that was like an episode of Columbo, but it worked well as a revelation. After that it was all about tracking him down, and I loved Kirk’s demonstration on the Enterprise, boosting the ambient sound on the ship by “1 to the 4th power” (that’s just 1 by the way) and then eliminating the heart beats one by one. It beats scanning for life signs for drama, and the sound of an extra heart beat on board was quite eerie. Finally we have the Kirk fight of the week, and another shirt falls victim to the Kirk hug-fighting technique. I really should have been keeping a tally of how many shirts he rips. His uniform expenses must be huge.
But there’s one person I haven’t mentioned, and I’ve left the best until last: Samuel T. Cogley. He has an aversion to computers, and when he switches his on and a few annoying lights appear on the screen I really can’t blame him. Who hasn’t got annoyed with computers that take ages to even get to the log in screen? This chap really loves his books, and it ties in brilliantly with his moment of triumph when he is able to appeal to the judge on behalf of the rights of a human to defend himself against a machine. His speech is heartfelt, and if the time hadn’t been taken to set up his aversion of computers that wouldn’t have worked half as well. Some episodes of Star Trek can be frustratingly slow, but this one stands as an example of the benefits of a more gradual style of storytelling. The characters’ motivations are carefully established, and that matters. And you know I’m right about that because you’re reading it on a computer, and as we all know computers don’t lie. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: The Return of the Archons