by Jeff Bond
“Court Martial” demonstrated about halfway through Star Trek’s first season just how flexible the format designed by Gene Roddenberry was: far from a “planet of the week” or “monster of the week” show, the original series’ characters and the world created for them could support many kinds of stories, from horror to comedy and in this case, a combination of courtroom drama and mystery that also delves into the character and mystique of Captain Kirk.
Things start with a bang as Kirk is accused not only of incompetence but perhaps willful murder for jettisoning the ion pod manned by officer Ben Finney before circumstances seemed to warrant it. Starfleet Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) suggests Kirk simply resign to prevent embarrassing Starfleet, but Kirk, knowing he’s in the right, demands a court martial. To add to the fireworks, one of his old flames, Ariel Shaw (Joan Marshall) is put in charge of his prosecution, and she suggests colorful and experienced trial lawyer Samuel Cogley (Elisha Cooke, Jr.) for his defense.
As is so keenly illustrated by Spock, the episode plays on our certainty that a man like Kirk could never act “out of malice or panic”—clearly there’s something more here than meets the eye, or in this case, the computer record scanners.
“Court Martial” is full of nice moments despite a few raw performances and plot holes. Even on the show’s limited budget, the look at a starbase, and views of Starfleet personnel on shore leave there, is a fascinating change of pace from the usual shipboard scenes and there’s a nice sense of a large and complex organization and civilization sketched out in a few broad strokes. Shatner is subdued and convincing, in his early scenes playing against Percy Rodriguez, later smiling grimly through a strained confrontation with some fellow officers in a bar, ruefully getting to know Sam Cogley and facing cross examination. Rodriguez is a powerful, stalwart presence—this is the actor who became famous for his foreboding voiceovers for movie trailers like Jaws in the Seventies and his casting here, as one of the most powerful men in Starfleet, was both daring for its time and entirely convincing. Veteran character actor Elisha Cooke Jr. brings the same sweaty, irascible quality he brought to his many film appearances, and when all is revealed at the story’s climax Richard Webb, once TV’s Captain Midnight, delivers a crazed tour-de-force as Kirk’s bitter nemesis Finney.
The show is practically a primer in how the character of Kirk is to be viewed, from the laundry list of medals and awards that even his defense lawyer finally cuts off in court to Finney’s simmering jealousy (“I’ve watched you for years…the great Captain Kirk!”). And the teleplay by Don Mamkiewicz and Stephen Carabatsos has some great lines, from McCoy’s introduction to Areel Shaw (“All my old friends look like doctors…all his look like you.”) to Finney’s deranged manifesto in engineering (“Innocent? Officers and gentleman…captains all! Except for Finney, and his one mistake…”). It also shows Spock’s understated concern for his friend Kirk’s reputation and the Vulcan (or Vulcanian, as this still-developing series refers to his race at this point) working coolly to solve the mystery at hand.
There are a few clunky elements: the performance of young Alice Rawlings as Finney’s daughter, a difficult role not quite pulled off; the multiple angles of the computer file records of Kirk’s actions during the ion storm, which always read more like dramatic footage than surveillance camera recordings; and the cheap microphone “white sound device” prop used by McCoy near the show’s climax. And most of all, the manipulation of Areel Shaw’s character, who surely would not have been assigned to prosecute Kirk given their former relationship (Trek tried this same gimmick in TNG’s “The Measure of a Man” when Riker has to prosecute his pal Data)—and who engages in something like criminal negligence herself by meeting with the subject of her prosecution, revealing her trial strategy and arranging for Kirk’s defense. You also have to love Kirk’s log entry (presumably a supplemental) after he’s taken out Finney: “Beaten and sobbing, he told me where he’d sabotaged the main energy circuits…”—talk about adding insult to injury!
Two other observations: the added detail of the remastering gives fans a great view of Commodore Stone’s repair chart of all 12 starship registry numbers (although I’m not sure there’s a clear view of any ship names there). And if you hadn’t noticed it before, that odd-looking plant in Stone’s office is one of the pod plants from “This Side of Paradise.” Maybe they were setting up for a sequel there.
The CBS-D treatment of “Court Martial” has to stand as the ideal for what this project was trying to achieve: Not only does it visually answer one of the longest-standing technical questions about the Enterprise ever (where in Hell is the ship’s ion pod?), but it shows us a TOS-era starbase for the first time as we always imagined it—as a hub of activity for numerous starships and support craft as well as personnel. The treatment here, compared to a lot of other episodes, is luxurious, from the opening orbital shot of the storm-damaged Enterprise moving past several other starships and an Antares-style cargo vessel, to the enhanced matte paintings of Starbase 11, with added vehicles and even an office building peopled with multiple levels of visible personnel.
The original, striking Albert Whitlock matte painting from the opening of the episode is retained and so enhanced, but CBS-D doesn’t stop there. They add a night scene with a different angle of the base (culled from a shot originally designed for “The Menagerie, Part 1”) that adds a ringed moon to the planetscape, then consistently add the moon into a later shot of the Whitlock painting as well as several orbital shots, all while retaining the purple/magenta color scheme of the original matte job.
After the first commercial break the episode opens with a zoom in past and under the Enterprise warp nacelles downward to focus on the shuttle bay area and a new ion pod being positioned by some kind of repair crew. The storm damage shown on the ship and the specific look at the ion pod are the kinds of details that would have been impossible to achieve on the original series budget and schedule, and their addition here is the best kind of payoff to the Remastered project. As much as this effort has had its highs and lows, the extra effort made on specific episodes like this one still makes the project worthwhile in my opinion. Before this job was undertaken it would have been considered remarkable to have even a handful of episodes enhanced in this way—the fact that all of them have been tackled is still rather amazing, and given the limitations of time and money, the batting average hasn’t been all that bad.
Remastered (in HD) v Original
Screenshots via the fine folks at Trekcore.com
Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). Amazon has also discounted the Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is to $96.95 (retail is $194.99).