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Season One:
-1: "The Cage"
-2: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"
-3: "The Corbomite Maneuver"
-4: "Mudd's Women"
-5: "The Enemy Within"
-6: "The Man Trap"
-7: "The Naked Time"
-8: "Charlie X"
-9: "Balance of Terror"
-13: "The Conscience of the King"
-16: "The Menagerie"
-20: "The Alternative Factor"
----: _Time Travel Season 1
-21: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
----: _Prime Directive Origins
-22: "The Return of the Archons"

-23: "A Taste of Armageddon"
-27: "Errand of Mercy"
-28: "The City On the Edge of Forever"
-29: "Operation -- Annihilate!"
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Charlie X

(Star Trek story #8 in production order)
  • story by producer Gene Roddenberry
  • teleplay by [Dorothy] D.C. Fontana
  • directed by Lawrence Dobkin
  • music by Fred Steiner

Charlie X

Here we are at one of the best episodes of Star Trek's early batch. There are clear signs here that the concept was probably inspired in part by Robert A. Heinlein's classic 1961 sci-fi novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" which would've been fairly new and considered groundbreaking at the time when this episode was created. The obvious similarities include Charlie's backstory, the nature of the powers he acquires, and some of the struggles he has with fitting into Human society.

This story can also be quite easily compared to the series' second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before", particularly in the challenges faced by the rest of the crew and how they deal with it. In that sense, I think they are much more humane and mature with Charlie's case than with Gary Mitchell's, and do not allow their fears to run away unchecked. And this story is better for it in the end.

The essential archetypal thread being plucked here boils down to ideas of parenting. Much of what we get here will be familiar to any generation of parents, although some of it seems a bit dated and/or contrived to create the next stage of the drama. Many scenes remind me how much better it is to apply variations of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to save yourself from getting backed into lose/lose control-freak confrontations with any teenager. But despite its rocky/dated moments, this story is largely a success, and I think it owes a great deal of its sensitivity and perspective to the fact that the very excellent writer we have on the final draft is a woman, with the result that we see sides of our characters that haven't been highlighted as much before or been given room to breathe. Pretty much all the characters benefit subtly from this.

Performances are also quite good in this one, beginning with guest star Robert Walker, and going down through all the members of the regular cast. William Shatner exhibits a good deal of his range, from the tense stand-offs with Charlie that beautifully hit the mark, to using his infamously strange pauses in speech with perfect comic timing to create many nice humorous moments throughout.

Another big plus here is the best musical score of the first season, as composer Fred Steiner first burst onto the scene of Star Trek. The music for this episode overflows with fresh passion and harmonic coolness, and includes some of the most familiar riffs, effects, and melodies on the entire series as these cues became extremely popular with the music editors responsible for "tracking" future episodes. In addition to the super-familiar "zap" cues of which "Zap Sam" is a military-sounding favourite, we have sneaky little gems like "Card Tricks", the lively bits backing the busy activity of the crew in "Charlie's Mystery", the wandering strings of "Kirk is Worried", the tautness of "Standoff", a gentle wistful motif for Charlie's crush on Janice, and one of my all-time favourite noble themes "Kirk's Command". So many of these cues get brought into an episode whenever a sense of increased urgency is required for a scene whatever its tone may be, and the music snaps along and works like a charm. Fred Steiner really outdid himself here. As much as I like all his scores for Star Trek, I think his first one here is his best and most original.

music by Fred Steiner

Well it seems my least favourite part of the episode is also musical. Star Trek never seems to know when to leave vocals out of its adventures, and Nichelle Nichols is left holding the bag this time around. What I can't quite figure out is whether the episode's creators meant for us to like Uhura's songs or hate them. The lyrics are absolutely obnoxious, ranging from a comparison of Spock to a seductive Satan, to taunting Charlie as having an immature co-dependent status in life. Why set such crap to music, where one person can one-sidedly hold the floor with nasty comments instead of getting challenged with two-way conversation? Yeah, I hate these songs, over and above my usual dislike for vocals. BUT, it still works tremendously well for the story that we should hate them, because it gets us on board with how Charlie feels, and has us completely rooting for him during what he does next. Indeed, when most musical films start up with one of their "numbers", there's often one castmember shown visibly disagreeing with the main sentiment... someone who usually doesn't get to respond naturally or properly or - my God - actually interrupt the song. Charlie pretty much inhabits the great fantasy of what we musical-haters would love to do - he shuts the singing right down permanently, giving the singer a bit of sudden laryngitis. Yes! ...And too bad he didn't do it sooner. Does the director want the audience to feel for him at this point, or for Uhura and Spock? Or does he just want us to feel, whether for any of them or for anything else?

At any rate, with Uhura silenced, Fred Steiner takes over once again, and the difference is like night and day, as excellence reigns once again in the music department.

This is a totally shipboard episode, and where most others like it usually had a scene or two on a planet or another vessel, "Charlie X" has nothing but the Enterprise. We don't even get a model shot of the Antares when the Enterprise maneuvers to come alongside it. Hmmph. But this story still manages to explore the culture of the Thasians significantly better than the episode "The Man Trap" explored the lost civilization that archaeologist Dr. Crater and his wife Nancy had been investigating, in spite of all the ruins that were built on the planet set. Here, Spock and McCoy have another of their nice little verbal tugs of war over the details of Thasian culture at several points, until finally at the end both these debates and the main Charlie problem are put to rest via the nebulous appearance of a Thasian on the bridge. Cool.

The story's end is quite emotionally strong, stemming primarily from Robert Walker's moving performance, and then embellished to perfection by the rest of the cast, the visual effects, the music, and the editing that includes extending Charlie's last word into a brilliantly haunting prolonged echo. However, there's no getting around the fact that this is quite a downbeat ending. Interesting that Uhura and Rand seem quite ready to burst into tears, while Kirk's only comment is about it all being over... which somehow seems to be a decidedly male way of looking at the world. It's perhaps unfortunate that our regular protagonists don't seem to have done anything special or clever to bring themselves this relief from their current challenges, and so it's hard to feel that they've learned how to handle parenting any better for having had this adventure. But how badly do we really need that kind of action-oriented "final fix" as a criterion in stories we deem "good"? After all, the helplessness of the human crew is part of the point that motivates the Thasians' actions here. Still, I give Kirk a point for briefly going to bat for Charlie in the face of his judgment from the Thasians. It's not a prolonged speech, but a rather short inquiry, tempered no doubt by many balancing thoughts about the safety of his vessel and crew, which is thoroughly appropriate. Perhaps, if the show's format was not all about returning our regulars to their starting positions and moving on to something completely unrelated next week, a better long-term compromise could have been reached to wean Charlie into Human society somewhere...

At any rate, "Charlie X" features pretty much the most moving of all the downbeat endings on early Star Trek, which keeps it highly satisfying. And this is a very good and worthy story for Star Trek to tell. But stories would require something different for Trek to lay claim to the optimism that it is commonly known for. In production sequence, we've had such episodes already. For the broadcast sequence, one still had quite a few episodes to go to get to that....

Read the next Star Trek review: "Balance of Terror"

This story is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek Season One "Purist" Standard DVD Box Set:

Watch the legend develop from its infancy. Set contains 29 episodes from the first season in their original wacky broadcast order, including "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2" which used footage from the original unaired pilot "The Cage". However, "The Cage" itself is only included with the Season Three Box Set.

As someone interested in researching how the episodes actually looked and sounded originally, and when and exactly how certain musical cues first debuted, this was the DVD set for me, and it remains the most untampered-with full-season collection of Star Trek out there. Unique extras include pure text commentaries on select episodes. Sadly, these sets are starting to become rare, and prices are now rising as these become collectors' items....


DVD Canada


Standard DVD Extras include:

  • original restored broadcast versions of the 29 episodes.
  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.)
  • Text only commentary by Denise & Michael Okuda on "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2", and "The Conscience of the King".
  • "To Boldly Go" featurette (19 min.) discussing
    "The Naked Time", "City on the Edge of Forever",
    "The Devil in the Dark", and "The Squire of Gothos".
  • "Reflections on Spock" featurette (12 min.)
  • "Sci-Fi Visionaries" writing featurette (17 min.)
  • "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner" featurette (10 min.)
  • "Red Shirt Logs" Easter Eggs (7 min. total)
  • Photo Log (still menus)
  • Original Trailers for every episode (1 min. each)

Season One - Blu Ray

  29 episodes @ 51 minutes
Star Trek sets are now available on Blu Ray. Picture and sound quality restoration has gone up yet another notch, and new CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects.... but this time the upgrades have the same respect and user-functionality applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, as the CGI effects can now be turned off to see the original effects. Good show. It seems that the music has still been tampered with too much for my liking though.

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray features add:

  • option to watch episodes with original or new CGI effects.
  • Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century featurette (HD, 20 min.) covering the restoration, CGI effects, and music upgrades.
  • Starfleet Access - Okuda interactive trivia plus picture-in-picture interviews on 6 episodes:
    • Where No Man Has Gone Before
    • The Menagerie Part 1
    • The Menagerie Part 2
    • Balance of Terror
    • Space Seed
    • Errand of Mercy
  • Behind-the-scenes 8mm home movies (HD, 13 min.) from Billy Blackburn (Lt. Hadley / Gorn)
  • Kiss 'N tell: Romance in the 23rd Century (8 min.)
  • Interactive Enterprise Inspection (HD)
  • plus all documentaries, featurettes, and episode promos from the "purist" standard DVD set listed far above.

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review: "Balance of Terror"

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