Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder

Star Trek Blue LogoArriving on the planet Camus II, Kirk meets an old girlfriend who is really rather annoyed that she’s a woman.  And it leads to one weird episode!  Honestly, it must have been a real challenge for Shatner to play a woman in a man’s body and for that, you have to give him, and the episode, some credit.  But the episode actually starts picking up once Spock starts to believe Kirk-in-Lester’s-Body.  It goes from watching Shatner overact to a story about how well a group of friends know one another and that becomes, to quote Spock, fascinating.

Janice is Kirk’s enemy because: “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women!”  Or perhaps because: “Now you know the indignity of being a woman!”   It’s largely her interpretation but it carries weight enough to drive her.  Yet it is funny because so many episodes of Star Trek feature women in ridiculously sexy outfits or viewed through soft focus cameras with evocative music.  It’s easy to see this episode as the door being closed on all of that.  “No more,” says the unseen woman in the production crew, not happy with so many exploited women.  And  with that, the show is canceled.  “Ok, if you won’t wear sexy attire, what’s the point of strange new worlds?!”  And by Surak, there were some sexy outfits.  Recent history alone gives us Droxine and Zarabeth, but let us not forget Shahna in The Gamesters of Triskelion or Miramanee in The Paradise Syndrome or Nona in A Private Little War or… well, we could do this forever.  Even the bridge crew and Nurse Chapel wear skirts that only cover the very minimum of their bottoms.  In some ways, ending here was appropriate.  It would be a while before Trek returned, but we wouldn’t come close to the sexism of this series.

As much as I don’t love this episode, though, it does have some great moments.  Really it’s down to friends vs the law.  Janice has possession of Kirk’s body and by default, the law is on her side because no one can really prove she’s not actually Kirk.  But watching the crew stand together with Spock against all odds impressed me no end.  Scotty specifically comes off as magnificent!  His will to stand against Jim knowing that “if Spock thinks it happened, then it’s got to be logical,” is a testament to what he, and the crew at large, thinks of the first officer, but it’s also a testament to what they think of Jim.  They know he’s not behaving normally.  One might argue that having him behave irrationally was a slight against women, but I don’t see it.  We’ve had plenty of mad men on the show.  Janice just happens to be a nut in a female body.  Well… in a female body inhabiting a male body.

The episode does have some failings beyond overacting.  When Kirk-in-Janice’s body has to get out of the sickbay bed, s/he cuts the band but it looked like she could have just slid out from under it.  Janice-in-Kirk’s body records a Captain’s log – not very rational!  The courtroom scene has probably the most embarrassing comment when Janice-in-Kirk’s body tries to get the courtroom to imagine Janice overpowering Jim.  And the worst for continuity is asking Spock if he’s ever encountered such a mind transfer before.  He says “Not precisely, no,” which is not true especially if we start to consider the movies.  But I guess we’ll have to get there eventually.

Speaking of continuity, we do have another “stalemate moment” where Kirk needs to convince Spock that he is who he says he is.  Unlike the last time this happened (Whom Gods Destroy), Kirk doesn’t ask for a random maneuver; he instead goes with the events of The Tholian Web and The Empath.  For the life of me, I had no memory of that but loved that in the final episode, they showed some respect to the past episodes.  Then, when Spock admits that the events of those missions were recorded, Spock mind melds with Kirk.  Wow, they actually thought it through!  This episode is far superior to what I remembered!  Now maybe someone can explain to me why Uhura wasn’t in the final episode and why Nurse Chapel became a brunette after being blonde for the last 78 episodes!

Turnabout Intruder New EffectsFor all I know, Turnabout Intruder may have been Kirk’s dream come true.  It’s not a favorite of mine even though Shatner gets some of the best memes from this episode.  It will, however, go down in Trek history as the final episode of the original run.  It was also the episode that closed the book on staring at all the women in sexy attire.  There would be no more gawking at a woman’s behind again.  Well… maybe that’s not strictly true.  The final scene (pulled from the masterfully remastered footage) does show us one more lady’s behind… the one and only woman in the galaxy for Jim Kirk.  Just look at that backside…  ML

The view from across the pond:

What a great way to end the original run of Star Trek. There’s a proviso to that statement, so let’s get that out of the way first. Some aspects of this are very 1960s. The villain of the piece is an old flame of Kirk’s, who is bitter about how her ambition to become a starship captain could never come to fruition. The reason for that, astonishingly, is that the “world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” So we have to get past the fact that the people involved in the writing of this episode simply could not conceive of a future where women would be able to hold a position of power. Their imaginations stretched as far as routinely travelling among the stars and forming alliances with alien races, but not as far as being told what to do by a woman. So that’s revolting, and it all comes packaged with a few nasty slights on what it means to be female, such as the notion that “it’s better to be dead than to live alone in the body of a woman.” For the writers of Turnabout Intruder, a woman who fails to find a husband is suffering a fate worse than death. However, if we’re being brutally honest here, Star Trek was routinely sexist, virtually the whole time. Its stock in trade was always soft focus women who were nothing more than a conquest for Kirk. I’ll take an episode that does something significant with a female character over that kind of casual, lazy misogyny any day. And here we at least have a woman who is railing against the unfairness of the glass ceiling she cannot break. I think it is fair to say that most reviewers condemn what happens to her as a way that the writers put aggressive feminism back in its box, but there is another side to the coin here too. This is a compelling portrayal of mental illness. Towards the end of the episode it is abundantly clear that Janice has the mindset of a child who can’t get her own way. The unfortunate aspect of that is the way it’s conflated with feminism.

Turnabout Intruder Crazy Janice as KirkEnough of the negatives, though, because I do want to celebrate what a high the series goes out on here. Body swaps are nearly always a great basis for a story, and appropriately it makes for an episode here where the stakes are incredibly high. If Janice wins, Kirk will be dead or imprisoned on an alien planet, and the Enterprise will be under the command of somebody who is basically insane. Apart from a few moments where Shatner goes over-the-top (which I couldn’t resist illustrating here with a screenshot that made me laugh out loud), he is actually brilliant at playing Janice inside Kirk’s body, something that, let’s face it, is an incredibly difficult job to ask of an actor. For the most part it’s a subtle and clever performance, and you can see how it would inspire exactly the reactions we get from the rest of the crew: something is just a bit off about him, without any outrageous differences, until things really start going pear-shaped for Janice. The court martial is a great bit of drama, although dramas where a person’s identity is in question always rely on the characters failing to ask all the obvious questions that only the real person could answer, and the idea that a captain could order the execution of his first officer makes about as much sense as the idea that women would be barred from being a captain in the future, i.e. none.

Another reason why the series went out on such a high with this episode is how well served most of the ensemble cast are, something that’s actually incredibly rare for the original series. Chekov and the normally underutilised Sulu get to be the first of the crew to cross the line and mutiny on the bridge, sitting back in their seats and refusing to follow the not-captain’s orders. Spock is an out-and-out hero, while the dynamic between McCoy and Scotty is fascinating. We are used to Spock and McCoy having debates where Spock might be described as the brains and McCoy as the heart, but in this instance McCoy is forced into the position of being the logical one who uses his brains rather than his heart because of the medical nature of the problem. He struggles to see beyond the results of his medical tests, which places Scotty in the position that McCoy normally occupies, relying on instinct and gut feelings.

As much as the writers succumb to the usual temptation of sexism, they also achieve something that might just be the bravest thing Star Trek ever did in the 60s, even braver perhaps than the not-the-first interracial kiss. I’m not sure who the credit should go to, because a big part of this is the performances of Shatner and Harry Landers as Dr Arthur Coleman, but there is a scene towards the end where Janice in the body of Kirk tries to persuade Arthur to commit murder for him, and he becomes subtly seductive with him. The actors presumably made what is happening here as physically obvious as they thought they could get away with, and then later we get confirmation about exactly how they felt about each other when Janice returns to her own body: “you are as I loved you”. For a 60s television show, even getting remotely close to showing two men in love was a very brave thing to attempt; Janice/Kirk is clearly trying to manipulate Arthur because of his love for her, and is getting physically close to him in order to achieve that.

Kirk’s final summation is disappointing: “her life could have been as rich as anyone’s, if only…” But it couldn’t, could it. She could never have been a captain. It would have been useful to have some acknowledgement of the fact that Janice actually did have a good reason to be aggrieved, but there’s no point pining for a version of 60s Trek that was never going to exist. Instead, I’m content to see a series I’ve enjoyed more often than not going out on such a high note, with an exciting, compelling episode. It’s a strong contender for the best episode of the series, and the perfect way to bow out, from a time when series finales weren’t really a thing. At the final hurdle, for the first time ever, I felt like I was going to miss this show.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Always my most unfavourite Trek episode and it’s quite a shocker to know that Gene Roddenberry wrote it himself. Consequently it gave me even more reason to admire how far women have come in the Trek universe and particularly in Strange New Worlds. It’s so hard now to look back on and enjoy classic Trek after all the justly negative issues that we’ve shared about it on the Junkyard. In a classic sci-if universe like Star Trek or Dr. Who where forced sexism can no longer be ignored by today’s sci-fi fans of gender equality, even if a most worthy performance like Sandra Smith as Kirk in Janice’s body can still genuinely impress us, it may ironically make the sense of a new paradigm via an original sci-fi legacy suddenly seem like an old one. Of course the film series for Kirk’s crew would considerably improve things. So I look forward to your reviews on them.

    Thank you both for all our essential discussions on the classic Star Trek. 🖖🏻🖖🏼🖖🏽🖖🏾🖖🏿

    Liked by 1 person

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