Court Martial (Star Trek: The Original Series)

"Court Martial"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Kirk is tried for the wrongful death of a crewman
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 20
Directed by Marc Daniels
Written by Don M. Mankiewicz
story by
Don M. Mankiewicz
Stephen W. Carabatsos
Original air date February 2, 1967 (1967-02-02)
Guest stars

Elisha Cook Jr.
Percy Rodriguez
Joan Marshall
Richard Webb

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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Court Martial" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is a first season episode, #20, production #15, and was aired on February 2, 1967. It was written by Don M. Mankiewicz, and Stephen W. Carabatsos, and directed by Marc Daniels.

Overview: Captain Kirk stands trial on charges of negligence.



On stardate 2947.3, the starship USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk, sustains severe damage from an ion storm and seeks repairs at Starbase 11. Soon after the Enterprise arrives, Commodore Stone begins an investigation of the only reported casualty; the death of Lt. Commander Ben Finney, played by Richard Webb. Reports show Finney had been killed during the storm when his research pod was jettisoned from the ship. Kirk claims the ejection of the pod was necessary to save the Enterprise. Stone refers to computer logs which show Kirk had ordered the pod ejected while the ship was at "yellow alert" status, indicating the ship was not yet considered to be in serious danger.

Kirk however, maintains his claim that the ship was at "red alert" status during the ejection of the pod. Suspicion grows when Stone uncovers that Mr. Finney was disgruntled with his Captain. This stemmed from an incident aboard the USS Republic, when a young Ensign Kirk relieved Lieutenant Finney for an Engineering watch and found he had left open a switch to the atomic matter piles - an error which would have blown up the ship in a matter of minutes. Kirk followed standard procedures, noting the incident in the ship's log. Finney drew an official reprimand and was put at the bottom of the promotion list. Finney accused Starfleet of "keeping him down" and blamed Kirk for reporting on him.

Stone believes there is enough evidence for Kirk to be guilty of negligence and urges Kirk to stand down as Captain of the Enterprise, and take a ground assignment for the rest of his career. Kirk denies the accusations as absurd and demands to be put on trial to prove the charges. Kirk seeks legal representation from attorney Samuel T. Cogley on the advice of Lt. Areel Shaw, a former girlfriend of his. Kirk finds Cogley quirky, but very meticulous. Kirk is taken aback when he learns that Shaw herself will be acting as the prosecutor in the trial. The trial is overseen by Commodore Stone with a bench consisting of Kirk's peers; including Starfleet Command Representative Lindstrom, and starship Captains Chandra and Krasnovsky. Among the trial audience is Finney's young daughter Jamie. Kirk is given an uncomfortable glare by Jamie (after an earlier hysterical confrontation in Stone's presence) who believes he killed her father.

The trial begins and testimony is given by Dr. McCoy, Mr. Spock, and Kirk himself, but none of it is enlightening or consistent with computer records. During the trial, Spock checks to make sure nothing is wrong with the computer system which diagnostics show to be functioning normally. The prosecution presents a computer audiovisual recording of the events on the Enterprise bridge during the ion storm in question. The evidence proves damning as the recording clearly shows Kirk hitting the button to jettison the pod while still at yellow alert. Kirk and his counsel are all but ready to give up, and Kirk notes to Spock that he might find a better chess opponent in his new captain. This comment gives Spock an idea.

Later during recess, McCoy discovers Spock playing 3D chess and he angrily questions how Spock can just waste time with all that is going on. While he initially goes out of his way to preserve this misconception (even treating "you're the most cold-blooded man I've ever known" as a compliment), as McCoy storms out of the room, Spock, noting he has been able to beat it at chess four times and was well on his way to a fifth, reveals that his "leisurely" activity was in fact an investigation of a computer which had told an account of the incident that, as an eyewitness, he absolutely knew was false. His victories had come despite the fact that Spock was the one who wrote the computer's chess program and the machine should therefore be incapable of doing any worse than a draw; when McCoy asks how that is possible, Spock explains he is convinced that the system has somehow been tampered with since game programming he made three months before has now been altered.

The court martial resumes and the bench is prepared to hand down a sentence; however, Spock enters, ready to present new evidence on behalf of his Captain: the suspected tampering of the computer system. Without any real evidence to back up the claim, Spock insists that aside from himself and the Captain, only Mr. Finney had the knowledge and clearance to alter the computer logs and he believes Finney is still aboard the Enterprise. Kirk's lawyer asks the trial to reconvene aboard the Enterprise to see proof of the defense's new theory. The prosecution objects to the new request, stating the computer files are proof enough of Kirk's guilt. The court overrules when Cogley demands the right for the accused man to confront the witnesses against him — including, in this case, the computer.

Aboard the Enterprise, Kirk orders all unnecessary personnel to disembark for the time being. Dr. McCoy then takes an auditory sensor that detects the slightest sound, and attaches it to the ship's computer. The device is so sensitive, it detects all remaining human heartbeats that are still aboard the ship. One heartbeat is found unaccounted for and located down in engineering. While Kirk goes in search of the owner of the mystery heartbeat, presumably Finney, Cogley briefly leaves on an errand of his own.

Kirk finds Finney but is held by him at phaser-point. The crazed officer informs Kirk he is too late and points out he has drained the Enterprise's energy circuits which will soon cause the ship to fall out of orbit and burn up in Starbase 11's atmosphere. Kirk reveals to Finney however that his daughter Jamie is also aboard the ship, having beamed up a little earlier with Cogley. Raving, Finney assaults Kirk and is beaten after a brief but severe struggle, whereupon he confesses to Kirk the location and nature of his sabotage.

After undoing the damage and saving his ship, Kirk has Finney taken into custody, and Kirk's record is cleared. After informing Kirk that Cogley is to defend Finney's case, Shaw kisses Kirk on the bridge of the ship before the two former lovers part ways once more.

40th Anniversary remastering

This episode was remastered in 2006 and aired May 10, 2008 as part of the remastered Original Series. It was preceded a week earlier by the remastered "Assignment: Earth" and followed a week later by the remastered "A Private Little War". Aside from remastered video and audio, and the all-CGI animation of the USS Enterprise that is standard among the revisions, specific changes to this episode also include:

  • The opening scene shows the Enterprise in orbit of Starbase 11, and there is visible damage to the side of the hull. A small hole is shown in the hull where Ben Finney's pod was, and has a red light illuminating from inside. A crew member (played by Denise Okuda) can be seen moving within a window near the damaged area.
  • Shuttlecraft have been added to the orbit scenes flying around Enterprise, as well as a second starship in orbit.
  • The Starbase 11 planet (also seen in "The Menagerie") appears more realistic.
  • The surface shots of the Starbase's original matte paintings have been changed, now people can be seen moving around inside the windows of the buildings as well as the addition of shuttle craft flying about in the sky. A new night scene now shows the ringed gas giant on the horizon.


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an 'B-' rating, noting that the potential of holding Kirk to high standards in the story is lessened as his "fallibility is never really the issue".[1]


External links

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