Thursday, April 8, 2010

Star Trek TOS S1 Ep2: Charlie X

Terrifying images extracted from Charlie X. The Star Trek: The Original Series episode combined elements of horror with science fiction and left this young science fiction fan scarred as a child.

Former secretary to Gene Roddenberry and writer Dorothy C. Fontana delivers a solid, standout science fiction tale to help kick off one of the most impressive single seasons of science fiction television in science fiction history. It's that simple. In fact, Charlie X, would be much imitated ad nauseum. Star Trek: The Original Series would revisit the concept of the petulant and powerful child-like entity in different packages going forward. Star Trek: TOS, Season One, Episode 17, The Squire Of Gothos is one such example. Trelane, too, would test the patience and resilience of the Enterprise crew as well until greater powers arrived to reclaim him like that of the fate of Charlie. Shades of this idea would permeate Star Trek: TOS, Season One, Episode 2, Who Mourns For Adonais?.

The idea of such a peevish and powerful being would further manifest itself through the embodiment of the far less interesting stories of Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation in its series opener Encounter At Far Point [also written by Fontana and Roddenberry] and later in Season One, Episode 10, Hide And Q and beyond. Still, the bottom line is, Charlie X is the best of the bunch and actually lays the foundation for an idea that would continue to be mined going forward throughout the many incarnations of the Star Trek franchise.

As author David Gerrold would note in his own The World Of Star Trek, "Charlie has been raised by aliens, now he has to learn how to be a mature human being–unfortunately the aliens have given him superpowers in order to help him survive, thus depriving him of the need to mature. His whole problem, thus, is how to relate to humans. He can't of course–for Charlie it's too late." I don't think I'm giving anything away here because this is material you can probably quote in your sleep. But, if Gerrold's point rings any bells you can easily apply Fontana's thinking elsewhere and the character Q is very much of this template and of Fontana and Roddenberry's mind. Ultimately, Fontana's Charlie X, any way you slice it, is one of the originals.

Stardate 1533.6. Cargo Vessel Antares. The U.S.S. Enterprise beams aboard an unusual passenger. Charlie Evans. Charlie was rescued from a planet. He was the sole survivor. He is now aboard the Enterprise populated by a crew of 428 personnel members. We quickly discover that Charlie is immature, abrupt and impulsive. Captain James T. Kirk corrects Charlie for his poor manners while speaking with the crew of the Antares who have brought him to the Enterprise.

You have to love the Kirk's green wraparound uniform. Charlie is introduced to Yeoman Janice Rand and is awestruck by the fact she is a "girl." We like her too Charlie. Here we go with Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 2, Charlie X. Once again, when that opening theme music kicks in with all its remastered splendor it is a booming display. The audio reverts to a more analog-styled soundtrack for the episode itself.

Now seventeen years old, Charlie arrives, the sole survivor of a transport crash that happened fourteen years ago on Thasis, aboard the NCC-1701. Charlie was just three years of age when it crashed. Robert Walker Jr. is perfectly cast as the strange boy played known as Charlie Evans. It's a truly splendid performance. This always ranked as one of my favorite episodes for its disturbing qualities. The events that unfold have remained with me to this day. I was always troubled and truly captivated by Charlie's bizarre, childish behavior. It was like Star Trek meets The Twilight Zone. After a full medical work-up by Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, Charlie inquires with him, "do you like me?" He indicates the crew of the Antares did not like him. Bones responds, "why not?" Charlie tries a bit too hard, but as The One To Be Pitied would indicate, he clearly has some behavioral issues. What do you expect from a teacher? Charlie is indeed a bizarre cat and very odd fellow.

Lighting and focus on close shots would be a trademark of the series. Later, in his travels aboard the federation ship, Charlie would continue his attempt to connect with Yeoman Rand. He gives her some perfume and uses his strange mental powers to force her to acknowledge his gift. Picking interesting moments from Star Trek is always easy, because there are so many.

Charlie is definitely one clueless puppy. Kirk, Bones and Spock argue the point that Charlie needs a father figure and Kirk points to Bones in handling that role.

Spock handles the strange musical arrangements while Uhura handles vocal chores. In the recreation room, Spock plays a space harp for entertainment. It's an ever so bizarre-looking scene what with his ears and serious expression. He means space harp business. Nyota Uhura sings and continues her semi-flirtatious rapport with the green-blooded vulcan. It was interesting to see how the new film, Star Trek [2009], really took this thread and fleshed it out a bit more with some potency. Spock and Uhura were displaying real chemistry in the aforementioned film. Uhura is a strikingly beautiful woman and gets the edge over Rand. You even get a glimpse of her sexy red underwear. Sweet! Spock is unimpressed. I wish I had that kind of unemotive response especially around beautiful women. Spock is completely unmoved by sexuality. Man, that's a talent brother! Uhura is not a half-bad singer either. "Charlie's our new darling" she sings and Charlie is experiencing some anxiety over the attention and quickly renders her vocal chords useless. The X factor strikes again. He continues to wow Rand with some impressive card tricks. Socially, his communication skills have essentially stunted. He reacts with the emotional response of a child.

I love Kirk's discomfort in giving Charlie advice over ass-slapping. It's not easy when you've done your fair share of ass-slapping along the way.

On the bridge, the crew of the Antares attempts to reach Kirk and friends with a warning regarding Charlie [no doubt]. Charlie quickly nixes the transmission with his special skills. Upon further review we discover the Antares has been destroyed by Charlie. The boy has some pretty special, innate powers indeed. This is made all the more impressive when Charlie substitutes synthetic meatloaf with real turkeys. Now that is real power. Perhaps a role as Enterprise chef is an option.

Those stunning eyes scared the be-Jesus out of me. Charlie challenges Spock in a game of chess. Astoundingly, Kirk just beat Spock through "illogical" methods. This would be translated as Captain's gut instincts trumping logic when making decisions. It is one of Kirk's trademarks. This should be interesting as the boy genius takes on master Spock. Check mate. Charlie's eyes roll back as Spock exits and he melts away all of the white chess pieces in child-like anger.

Rand attempts to introduce Charlie to a yeoman his own age. He blows her off with interest in stalking, rather talking with Rand. Rand chastises Charlie for his behavior. He has a real infatuation with Janice.

Who can blame him? "When I see you I feel like I'm hungry all over." Now, there's a pick-up line to leave at home. Rand informs Kirk of the incident.

Kirk will speak with him. You have to love Kirk as a father figure. When it comes to women, you wouldn't mind being taken under Kirk's wing. This is one of those scenes I enjoy when Charlie gets irrationally heated.

He's got some striking blue eyes made all the more impressive by the remasters. Kirk does his best in the education of Charlie X.

Ladies, behold the spellbinding power of my dreamy, hairless chest! I know my female compadres out there have to be big fans of a shirtless Kirk. For all of the babes us gents get to enjoy, there is plenty of William Shatner eye candy here for the lassies. You get to see him shirtless in spandex with his protruding, bulbous crotch area highlighting the family jewels for all to adore. Physical exercise in the gym doesn't suit Charlie well. One of the trainers, Sam, laughs when Charlie is taken down in wrestling. "Don't laugh at me!" Suddenly, Sam disappears, but where? Kirk asks the obvious question. Where the hell is Sam? "I didn't mean to do that. He made me do it." As kids, we've all been there and Charlie embodies our insecurities perfectly in a perfectly twisted story. Kirk orders Charlie be escorted to his quarters, but he has his hands full with this guest traveller. Like a father to a son, Kirk tells him to go. "Go to your quarters or I'll pick you up and carry you there." Kirk is fearless and demands respect by presenting paternal responses to the mentally unstable Charlie Evans. In some small way, Kirk is held in high regard by Charlie as an authority figure. He relents and exits. Kirk assures him he will not be hurt by his people.

Uhura reports to Kirk that all phaser weapons have disappeared. Spock does some research on Thasians. It would appear Charlie is one of them. Spock surmises Charlie was responsible for the destruction of the Antares. His short temper and Id-driven needs display little regard for human life. Spock knows he has the power to destroy anyone on the Enterprise. How about the Enterprise? He can destroy that too if he so desires.

Charlie is brought to the briefing room to meet with Kirk, Spock and Bones. Kirk inquires pointblank, as only Kirk can, if he is responsible for the Antares' destruction and Charlie confirms it to be true. "Well they weren't nice to me." The men are stunned. "What about us Charlie?" asks Kirk. "I don't know." "We are in the hands of an adolescent" Spock affirms.

Uhura is zapped on the bridge by one of the electrical panels. Charlie is now messing with the ship. Spock is toyed with by the mental powers of Charlie. It is quite amusing to see the normally measured Spock out of control even if only briefly. Charlie wants to reach Colony 5, but the Enterprise attempts to change course.

Charlie is now becoming very dangerous as he turns Yeoman Tina Lawton into a lizard. He also makes Yeoman Rand disappear. Kirk and Spock try to stop Charlie. He is the X factor at this point indeed. "If you try to hurt me again I'll make a lot of people go away." So where is Rand? Charlie won't tell. "I can do anything and you can't." He does have a point. Kirk and Spock try to place him inside a force field protected room, but Charlie simply removes the walls.

Charlie turns one crewman into an old woman. He hears people laughing and removes their faces giving new meaning to the idea of a face lift. Charlie is in full control. He has the ship locked on to Colony 5. Kirk wonders if he's actually done away with anybody since taking over. Kirk assumes his powers are overtaxed. Kirk is ready to take Charlie on toe to toe. Charlies assumes the Captain's chair. Kirk toys with Charlie's juvenile mindset pressing him to anger. He forces him to blow. "You've got my ship and I want it back. I want my crew back whole." Charlie battles for control head to head against Kirk.

Rand is returned. Off the starboard bow a ship arrives from Thasis. They have arrived to take Charlie away. Charlie is fearful of being taken back. The Thasians indicate the ship and everyone aboard it has been returned. Kirk, with his genuine human compassion, believes the boy can be taught. The Thasians indicate the boy would use his powers to destroy the Enterprise. Charles is summoned back to his people. The thematic beauty of the entry is our compassion. It is our ability to still believe in and hope that people can change. Kirk could not help Charlie despite a desire and attempt to do so. Rand sheds tears expressing her own understanding and compassion for Charlie despite his flaws. It is one of humanity's greatest gifts.

Charlie X: B Writer: D.C. Fontana Director: Lawrence Dobkin

Dead Crewman: 0

Dead Crewman Total To Date: 4

Babe Alert: 0 [Janice Rand is a recurring character played by Grace Lee Whitney and is technically not a guest babe] [Still, she's a hot enough babe anyway and I relent]

Babe Alert: Grace Lee Whitney [1930-present]: American born. She released her own autobiography, The Longest Trek: My Tour Of The Galaxy [1998]. She was released after the first thirteen episodes of Star Trek: TOS Season One. She returned for Star Trek: The Motion Picture [1979]. Her book recounts the termination of her contract with Star Trek and her battle with drug use. She appeared in Gunsmoke, Bewitched [1964-1972], Batman [1966-1968] and The Outer Limits [1963-1965] [opposite Barry Morse from Space:1999 and the late, great Caroll O'Connor] in Controlled Experiment.

Special Guest: Robert Walker Jr. [1940-present]: American born. He also appeared in Irwin Allen's The Time Tunnel [1966-1967], Episode 22, Billy The Kid. He also appeared in The Invaders [1967-1968].


SFF said...

"Totally AWESOME !!!,I loved this episode,the it told the awkwardness of teens,because I was a teen at the time :),Thanks"

Charlie X definitely represented some major anxiety one is subjected to as a teenager. That's certainly fair to say. The results are extreme here and do speak volumes about the consequences of that kind of humiliation and one's inability to process what is perceived as taunting. The actions taken by a susceptible individual can be catastrophic as we see here and as we've seen in our everyday lives.

It's a great point.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I’m afraid I enjoyed your review of the classic Star Trek episode Charlie X much more that I ever enjoyed viewing the actually episode. Charlie X is an example of something Star Trek would do many times in the course of the classic run: The ship-board money saving episode. This tale of adolescent-hormones-gone-sci fi could have just as easily been told as a contemporary drama, if you eliminate the mental powers of Charlie. Despite some cute moments between Kirk and Charlie, there are just too many cringe-worthy scenes of Charlie’s interactions with female crew members for me to enjoy the episode overall. I had to laugh at your remark, “I love Kirk's discomfort in giving Charlie advice over ass-slapping. It's not easy when you've done your fair share of ass-slapping along the way.”, because I couldn’t help but think that Kirk wasn’t just slapping woman’s asses with his hands! For me, it takes more than a handful of nice character moments for me to hold a Star Trek episode in high esteem. Two better ship-board episodes follow soon: The Naked Time; and one of my personal favorites Mudd’s Women. I look forward to your reviews of them and the rest of the first season of classic Star Trek. Keep up the great work, Great Sci-Fi Fanatic of the Galaxy!

SFF said...

Big praise coming from you Doc. Thank you. Your points are spot on. I suppose it definitely isn't one of the strongest, but I do give it high marks for Robert Walker. I really like him in this episode because he disturbs the hell out of me.

Still, you're not wrong and I look forward to visiting some of these others.

It's actually fairly difficult to be impartial on Star Trek because even the worst of Star Trek always resonated with me as being mostly very good. I will try though.

Thanks for the support Doc!