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Star Trek: Charlie X

Charlie: "Are you a girl? Is that a girl?"

No subtlety or suspense at all. From the first moment the Antares party beamed aboard, the audience could tell there was something seriously wrong with castaway Charlie Evans.

This story echoed the classic Jerome Bixby short story and Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life," but with the additional complexity of teenage angst and sexual desire. Seventeen-year-old Charlie was an all-powerful child who could do literally anything he wanted, with no limits whatsoever; he never had parents or boundaries and in fact, had never interacted with people at all. There was no handling him, no reasoning with him; it was a hopeless situation. What would have happened if the Thasians hadn't shown up and taken Charlie back? There was no solution to Charlie. Maybe sneaking up behind him with a hypo and beaming him out into space, but it was already too late for that.

With all of the hints and obvious discrepancies (like magical turkeys), it still took half the episode and the outright disappearance of a crewman in front of his eyes before Kirk finally acknowledged that something was wrong with Charlie. Kirk kept his cool and calmly asserted his authority, and that actually worked for quite a while. Certainly a lot longer than it must have worked on the Antares.

The best (or creepiest) parts of the episode were when Charlie finally started lashing out at everyone, disappearing people, removing faces, breaking Spock's legs. Robert Walker turned in a good performance as Charlie. As dislikable as he was, I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for him when his Thasian caretakers arrived to take him home and Charlie turned into a scared little boy, begging for mercy and screaming, "I can't even touch them!" Kirk was good enough to show compassion for Charlie, to be his advocate. More than most people would have done.


In other news, there were a couple of scenes that introduced the standard Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic: Spock gave Kirk the logical and scientific point of view, McCoy gave Kirk the humanitarian, emotional side, and Kirk considered both when making his decision. And we were introduced to the recreational side of the ship: one of the rec rooms, with three-dimensional chess, regular old playing cards, and Spock playing a Vulcan harp as Uhura sang a sexy song about him. We also saw a clumsy and rather sparse gymnasium that I think later turned into the Engine Room; those red tights Kirk wore were something else again.

This episode featured Yeoman Janice Rand, who was unfortunate enough to attract Charlie's romantic attention. At one point, it appeared that Charlie was about to rape her – or would, if he knew how. Poor Yeoman Rand was also saddled with what was probably the worst hairdo in the history of American television. I can't imagine that hideous levitating basket-weave was ever considered attractive, even in 1966. What were they thinking?


Ben says...

Fanboys, hark ye to this cautionary tale. I have always liked this episode for its story and perhaps, slightly embarrassingly, autobiographical reasons. It's a great old theme and Billie mentions a couple of immediate predecessors, most memorable being The Twilight Zone. But it goes back much further to Frankenstein and the Golem, where the power of imagination is given flight and things end badly. My personal favorite immediate antecedent is the movie Forbidden Planet and the Monsters from the Id.

The theme is actually overdone throughout Star Trek (God-like powers corrupt annoyingly) but it's never done better than here because they are centered in the person of the weedy teenage boy Charlie. As an even weedier teenage fan of the show, this had particular appeal. After all, I also wanted to be as manly and strong-jawed as Captain Kirk and would gladly have owned the sexy wraparound Captain's shirt at the time. Charlie was the fanboy who has since become the maniacal focus of Hollywood, but who at a time was anonymously watching the episode in a paneled rec room somewhere. The warning was that you must earn your place in the captain's chair, and when you have all the money and power in the world (say, because you founded Microsoft or Apple), use it with some thoughtful restraint.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 1533.6. Charlie was originally on the cargo vessel Antares, which by the time it exploded had become a survey ship instead. Oops.

— We learned that there were 428 people in the crew of the Enterprise.

— When Charlie came aboard, he was wearing one of the Antares' uniform tunics. They looked a lot like the uniforms in the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," but with insignias that looked like a donut. Recycling is always a good thing when you have a tight budget.

— Kirk started wearing his sexier and more unique green wrap-around tunic. I always liked the green tunic. Note that when Charlie finally stopped pretending to cooperate and took over, he was wearing a wrap-around tunic, too.

— Kirk beat Spock at three-dimensional chess.

— Apparently, it's November: the cook was going to prepare synthetic meatloaf that looked like turkey.

— As I said, I'm not going to go out of my way to point out bloopers, but there is a really obvious one. Kirk got on the turbolift wearing his gold tunic, and a moment later exited the turbolift wearing the green one.

Not terrible, but not a favorite. Two out of four magical turkeys,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Poor Janice's hairdo is indeed terrible by any standards. This was a pretty good episode and it presented a tough moral dliemma. I felt bad for Charlie at the end too. Even if he was a monster.
Anna

Jerry Modene said...

Interesting trivia bit: the voice on the intercom telling Kirk that the meatloaf had turned into real turkeys was none other than Gene Roddenberry himself, picking up a few extra bucks in the process.

tinkapuss said...

I teach teenagers and this episode rings true to me. I don't like Charlie but I feel for him. I don't always like every one of my students either but I wouldn't want to banish them to a life of loneliness in exile. Although sometimes it is cathartic to fantasise and I am very glad they don't have his superpowers or I would have been dead years ago.

Patrick said...

Rand's hairdo was a pretty typical 1960s fashionable 'do... see also I Dream of Jeannie and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Spent the whole episode just wanting to punch Charlie in the face while simultaneously recognizing every awkward, stupid tic from my own adolescence. My therapist's future financial stability remains assured.

Honestly didn't much enjoy watching this one. And please tell me William Shatner never sports the 'Only Tights- For Her! look again in the series...