It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #7!
This week’s episode is “Charlie X” and this is a milestone in Trek history, as it is the first script credited to the legendary Trek writer D.C. Fontana.
Dorothy Catherine Fontana originally started out working as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary but was promoted to writer later on, with this being her first credited episode, working from a story by Roddenberry. Writing under the name D.C. Fontana–as well as various other pseudonyms–she wrote 10 episodes of Trek as well as various other episodes of spinoffs and even cowrote The Enterprise Experiment comic book miniseries, which she considers to be Year Four of the Enterprise’s five-year mission. She’s a bit of legend in Trekkiedom and this episode, despite some problems, shows why.
The plot of “Charlie X” has the crew taking on a castaway, a 17-year old boy named Charlie Evans (Robert Walker Jr., who, like all teenagers on American TV until recently, was 20-something at the time of filming), who was marooned on the desolate planet Thasus at a young age when the spaceship he was on crashed, and was apparently alone, teaching himself to speak using the ship’s resources ala Tarzan, until the Starfleet freighter Antares discovered him. They transfer him to the Enterprise so that they might take him to his only known relatives on the planet Colony 5.
Charlie at first seems to be a bit of an emotionally stunted kid, not knowing how to properly react to things; he’s completely perplexed at the sight of Yeoman Rand, the first woman he’s ever seen. But he soon begins displaying unusual powers that come hand in hand with emotional outbursts; for example, when Uhura sings to a group of crewmen in a rec room leading Rand to ignore Charlie, he silences Uhura so that Rand will pay attention to him. He also, when a crewman laughs at him, makes him disappear with a simple gesture. Kirk quickly catches on that there’s more to this kid than simple adolescent angst, but it might be already too late to stop him…
A nice thing Fontana does here is give us more than we’ve ever seen of the Enterprise and its crew. The rec room scenes and a scene in the gymnasium show us a whole bunch of extras just hanging out, really making this ship feel populated. That scene of Uhura singing while Spock accompanies her on what’s apparently known as a Vulcan lyre (so says Memory Alpha) is nice too, showing us a side of the two crewmen we haven’t seen before and it shows viewers just WHY Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman hooked those two up in the 2009 film; they have a great chemistry together and Uhura isn’t afraid to make fun of Spock.
Walker Jr. is pretty good here as the tormented Charlie, but he really hits his stride in the last 15 minutes or so, showing us exactly what it would be like to have to deal with all sorts of power at the same time you’re going through the sheer hell of being a teenager (says the kid who turns 20 at the end of the month). Grace Lee Whitney has the chance to bring out even more of the vulnerability of Rand that we saw in “The Enemy Within” and that was nice to see. William Shatner also has some pretty funny, awkward scenes as Kirk is placed in the unenviable position of being Charlie’s father figure, and eventually, his opposing force.
Like I said earlier, there are some problems with this episode. The pacing doesn’t really pick up for about the first 20 minutes or so and the fact that Charlie is played by a 20-something rather than an ACTUAL 17-year old somewhat robs the character of his potency and poignancy. Maybe if Abrams and co. incorporate this episode in a movie several years down the line, they can cast Pierce Gagnon as Charlie…
That aside, this is a pretty well-done episode. Well worth it.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.