Review “Charlie X” Remastered

Trouble brewing
The Enterprise takes aboard a passenger: Charlie Evans.  He’s spent his life in isolation, never met a girl, and doesn’t know how to dress.  So of course he’s one happy fanboy when he finds himself aboard the Starship Enterprise.

He develops what’s politely called a “crush” on Janice Rand, snubbing all the other hotties on the ship.  It must be her unpredictability that he finds so arresting; she’s offended when he slaps her butt yet when he somehow impossibly jams a playing card down her cleavage she’s charmed and impressed.

Yeah, Charlie can do things like that – although the crew remains oblivious for about half the episode, the audience quickly learns that Charlie has god-like powers.  He performs several harmless and amusing magical tricks like turning meat loaf into turkey, conjuring up a bottle of perfume out of thin air, causing Uhura to choke while singing and killing everyone aboard a cargo ship by blowing it to smithereens.

When he finally wishes a guy in red tights into the cornfield right in front of Kirk, our Captain catches on.  Attempts to humor, trap or challenge Charlie all go badly until the aliens who gave him his powers (but for some reason cannot take them away) show up in a phosphorescent spaceship to take him back to their home world.

Maybe he’d be less lonely if they set him up in daycare with L’il Trelane and L’il Q.


An Awkward Age

Judging by the fan commentary one finds at various "Star Trek" bulletin boards on the Internet,  "Charlie X" seems to be as hotly contested an episode in terms of popularity as is "Miri"…and probably for similar reasons.  Both focus on wild, unsocialized children, on the brinks of sexual maturity, who fixate each in their own ways on James Kirk and Janice Rand.  For a lot of folks puberty is a terribly unlovely thing to live through or to recall, much less to watch dwelt upon and dramatized as starkly as "Star Trek" does here.

Robert Walker’s edgy, nervously kinetic performance as Charlie Evans is as brilliant as it is uncomfortable to watch.  Given a long, awkwardly euphemistic speech in which Charlie confesses directly to Rand his anxieties and his sexual desire for her, the actor is fearless.  It’s one of the most memorable and riveting performances by a guest star on the series. 

An actor can play a genetic super-tyrant or obsessed starship captain with whatever scenery-chewing artifice works for them – these are figures of fantasy.  On the other hand, most all of us have at some point either known or been Charlie Evans. 

We’ve all been there

D.C. Fontana’s script is excellent, eschewing the soap-operatic treatments of romantic love and family conflict evident in her later stories in favor of dealing with basic emotions like fury, lust, jealousy and shame in raw form.  She demonstrates Charlie’s emotional pain in a few deft interactions with other characters.  Someone more mature and emotionally balanced than the teenager would shrug off Uhura’s improvised lyrics as a minor embarrassment in the case that they didn’t actually enjoy the ribbing; Charlie experiences the song as deeply humiliating.  The scene in which he plays chess with Spock is a note-perfect confrontation between opposites.  Spock, after all, is the quintessential threatening adult from Charlie’s point of view:  in absolute control of his emotions, perfectly correct in all that he says and does, judgmental and distant and generally disdainful (and also someone held in special regard by the teenager’s chosen role model, Kirk).  Spock humiliates him again, in a powerful quiet scene that enables us to simultaneously identify with both characters, and so will be singled out for special torment later on when the boy exhibits his powers openly.

The conflicts and situations set up in Fontana’s script admit of no neat, happy ending and she doesn’t flinch or cheat to deliver one.  In the process, she has Kirk deliver a line that encapsulates an essential part of "growing up," a state of being that Charlie longs for and that will remain forever opaque to him – the acceptance of uncertainty and limits and ambiguity: 

"There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things you can’t have.  It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way things are."

That ranks with Sturgeon’s "Amok Time" observation about the dissatisfaction of possessing one’s heart’s desire as one of the moments when "Star Trek" writers spoke simple human truth without the bombast so often attendant upon their more self-conscious attempts to comment on "society" or the "human condition."

Kirk teaches a lesson

New Effects

CBS Digital has become so good at the Enterprise-in-space shots that one almost takes them for granted now.  That hardly seems fair, given how some of us raked them over the coals for the damned nacelle caps early on, but it’s true nonetheless that their Enterprise now just consistently looks the way one expects the TOS Enterprise to look.  There’s not a bad shot of the ship in the remastered  "Charlie X."

Another great shot of the big E from CBS-D

The previously-unseen freighter "Antares" looks like it fits into the TOS design sensibility as neatly as the "Botany Bay."  The design is derived from the "Huron," a ship that appears in the animated episode "The Pirates of Orion." [and also derived from the robot grain ship in "More Tribbles, More Troubles," pictured below] This is the second time that I’m aware of the CBS Digital artists taking their inspiration from the animated "Star Trek", the first being the distant Vulcan city seen in the remastered "Amok Time".  I’ve never been a big fan of TAS, but I’ve developed a new appreciation of the thought that went into the art and design of that series as a result its incorporation into the remastered "Star Trek."

TOS-R giving TAS more cred

Finally, the new Thasian ship design is a welcome elaboration upon both the green blur used originally to represent it and the shifting image Abraham Sofaer as the Thasian himself.  It remains mysterious, undefined and…well, alien.

Old v New Thasians

Now, if they just could have done something about that hole Leonard Nimoy punches into the flimsy set wall when Charlie knocks Spock to the floor and breaks his legs…



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before anyone asks…yes there was no review last week (Return to Tomorrow). Hopefully it will be added later.

comments in this thread should focus on Charlie X

Spock punching the hole looks good to me cuz he’s got the strength of ten men…just like David Letterman.

“The previously-unseen freighter “Antares” looks like it fits into the TOS design sensibility as neatly as the ‘Botany Bay.’ The design is derived from the ‘Huron,’ a ship that appears in the animated episode ‘The Pirates of Orion.'”

Actually, that’s the robot grain freighter from ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’.

Good review. It is important to note the careful, subdued yet eloquent writing in some of these ‘personal’ episodes. No intergalactic wars a-ragin’ here. And while Charlie and the crew are at various times in peril, the real focus throughout is on the very relatable fact of Charlie’s pain.
I know I’m in the minority on another ep that’s about ‘personal’ issues, but this is the same reason I like “Paradise Syndrome.” Beyond focusing on which color the temple flame is… it’s about Kirk finally getting a few weeks off and fallin’ in love with a hot chick in buckskin. It’s about an “overburdended command type” and the toll it takes on him. Charlie X is about the burdens of growing up. Got it. Didn’t have to be a starship captain to understand this.

Antares looks great. The alien ship is so-so. What really bothered me about it is the way it moved. Had it just “phased in and out” on screen it would have looked so much better.

This may come as a suprise but I had always thought that charlie’s parents were energy beings and that charlie was just assuming human form, Like trelane. And (Melllvarr ..from futurama if you must) and because Cbs-d is using vessels from TAS..Does that mean that the grain ship from said episode will be on M-5’s hit list on the upcoming episode ultimate computer?

agree with demode. it was the clumsy movement that got me…the design was fine and remained ‘alien’ enough. It would have been a huge mistake for them to have created a well defined ship (like they did with the tholians)

Remember those super-huge desktop images of the remastered Enterprise CBS-D released just before the episodes started airing?

I wish they would do that again, but with this vastly improved version of the model.

Truly, there are more and more beautiful shots of the Enterprise as TOS-R rolls on.

Great review!!! Agree on all points EXCEPT I STILL think the Thasian ship sucks!

I just rewatched the FX reel and I just don’t get this fear and loathing over the remastered Tholians. Considering the originals look like wood blocks with shiny paper on them, I don’t see what the objection was to rethinking them with more detail. They MAY look too modern for TOS, but they look good.
The Thasian ship also looks good. It’s only the jerky computer-generated slide that doesn’t work well at all. I hope CBS-D redoes this for the DVDs and makes it a fade in / fade out.
Can’t wait to see what they’ll do with Trelayne’s rambunctious planet.

Really enjoyed this ep. I got a sense of how sad the crew was for him at the end. They must have felt they (humans) let him down. Robert Walker was outstanding.

#10 The reason so many complained about the new Tholians was that they were made to look like the Tholian ships in Enterprise and as we all know, most TOS fans loath Enterprise and anything else with Rick Berman’s name on it. Personally I liked the way they looked.

And in another example of Trek’s forward thinking of technology that came to be (cel phones, PDA’s, medical scanners, Hyposprays, ect). Kirk sports the first ever pair of Under Armour workout tights. NFL players association take note and thank Shatner for creating modern athletic style.

And Michael …. gotta disagree slighly with your point above. I think most fans loved In a Mirror Darkly. It might be the only episode of Enterprise me or most anyone liked but the effects were terrific.

Odd, I liked the remastered Tholians (and like season 3 and especially season 4 of Enterprise) but I don’t like the Thasian ship. BUT, I agree, had it been a fade in and fade out, I think I would have accepted it better.

Oh, and…I don’t like Berman Trek overall. I consider Berman Trek to be at it’s worst in Voyager (all seasons) and Enterprise (first two seasons and a handful of later episodes like Space Nazis and “These Are The Voyages.”

If you look at the two freighters, the TOS-R version is exactly like the TAS version, except with an idditional pod attached to the front. Perhaps this was a crew module attached to the otherwise automated crago ship.

If you look at the two freighters, the TOS-R version is exactly like the TAS version, except with an idditional pod attached to the front. Perhaps this was a crew module attached to the otherwise automated crago ship.

Kirk really shows how bad-ass he is in this episode. In the gymnasium, he sees Charlie make a man disappear, knock two guards down without touching them, and make a phaser disappear. But even after all that, he still has the balls to say to Charlie, “Go to your quarters, or I’ll pick you up and carry you there.”

My spell chacker is obviouslyt out of order…

I’m thinkin’ that we’ll all be having these same conversations 100 years from now on the CBS-Holographic TOS episodes. (We’ll be heads in jars, of course.)

I agree this is a very underrated episode. Even though the all-powerful alien thing was done to death on TOS, this is probably one of the best ones.

Charlie comes across as a GENUINE threat to the ship, but at the same time you kinda feel sorry for him. You can really feel the frustration Kirk feels about the situation.

I still wonder why no one could just sneak up behind him with a phaser though. He could only act on what he saw, and it took a few seconds for him to do his creepy eye thing.

I have generally not been a fan of Dennis Bailey’s reviews on this site but I thought this one was very good and I enjoyed reading it. Nicely done, Mr. Bailey.

Duly noted, Lord Garth. Spot on.
I remember thinking as a kid how dorky Kirk looked in the tights. This was the sixties and seventies, so to me, he was wearing ballet tights. Not cool, cap’n. Now of course, Under Armour is all the rage at sports practices. I have a bunch of shirts that I work out in. Not quite brave enough to wear the tight pants, though, as I don’t like the “smuggling mushrooms” look.

I thoroughly enjoyed your review, but I also didn’t mind it at all when you were more snarky in previous outings. Thank you for highlighting some of the character moments in this story and I also appreciate the comparison photo of the Antares and TAS freighter. I’ll just add that I am very glad the remaster left alone the haunting fade-out of Charlie X saying “..stay…stay…stay” which I found very scary as a child.

Gotta say, this is a good story, much underrated by a lot of people. At its heart a solid story about people, emotions and the like.

On to the light stuff.

I always wondered that as Charlie had all these powers at his disposal how he never thought of just controlling Rand to make her behave as he wanted…. or at least read her mind so he could get it right all the time…. ;)
Isn’t that just about every teenage boys fantasy at one time or another?

I always wanted to shout at Kirk when he was in the gym, “Watch out! The mats are sliding apart, you might hurt yourself!”

#23 Some girls like the smuggling mushrooms look, especially if it appears as if they have been growing wild :)

Actually look at the scene when Spock falls to the floor with broken legs. This is obviously a diffrent take as the hole in the wall is already there and Spock doesn’t land anywhere near it in the shot they used.

They should have known there would be trouble from the start.

1) The Antares crew turning down films
2) A boy surviving alone on a planet

I find it hard to believe that they would find the “card tricks” plausable. Unless there is some 23rd Centruy card tricks that make those feats plausable.

There must be some limit to his power…at to that of the Thasians. I don’t think Charlie could read minds…nor was he “all knowing.” I think, however, these types could focus their powers based on what they do know. He knew of the Anteres and its workings…so, when he willed it…it was destroyed. This consistant with a power given to him to give him “what he wants and needs.”

I, for one, look forward to Dennis Bailey’s reviews because he has actually written for television and can bring a craftsman’s perspective. We can wish that things were done differently in any given ep, but an informed opinion as to the choices made is refreshing.

“Charlie X” (along with “Where No Man…”), is a signature piece of the franchise and it so very good as an early entry. So good, in fact, that more than a few of the later entries are variations on this theme of untrammled power. The remaster allowed me to enjoy the show for the first time all over again, and I hope the cynics out there recognize that this was groundbreaking stuff for adult science fiction and not warmed-over material.

The horrific imagery –rapid aging, facelessness, crippling– captures the frustration of a boy-man perfectly. Men he cannot control are belittled or broken; women are reduced to reptiles, crones, or deprived of the most visible expression of beauty: the face. When all else fails, he tosses them into “oblivion.”

Fontana’s writing is most powerful at what it suggests rather than shows. One can only wonder what life with the mysterious Thasians was like, or the hell that the crew of the Antares experienced. But wonder one does….

Yet the more times I see this episode, the more I am struck at the padding. The scenes where Charlie “discovers” the ship and crew, the repeated instances of his power that go unnoticed (I guess meat loaf transmuting into turkey right after a cargo ship inexplicably explodes happens all the time in the 23rd century), and the truly gratuitous shots of Charlie stalking the corridors all speak to more minutes than script. If anything, “Charlie X” would have made a perfect “Twilight Zone” half-hour (and some would argue that it had already).

This was Fontana’s first screen credit, and that might explain the padding. I am grateful, though, as Lawrence Dobkin worked himself out of future employment because of the elaborate set-ups and lighting. If the script had more actual action as opposed to dialog punctuated by a brief exhibition of Charlie’s power, I don’t know that Star Trek would have become the franchise we know today. The light across the eyes is a hallmark technique of Gerry Finnerman’s, but one that is virtually abanodonned by the end of the first season. These early mini-motion pictures set a standard for the franchise that it is held to even to this day.

I liked remastered tholian ship, fesarius, ion ship, botany bay and antares. That was a great job from CBS-D.
That thasian ”ship” is actualy thasian ( energy being ).

Mark, I will have to take your word for it. I am the sort of guy that likes to keep his mushrooms groomed. I don’t want people to guess my religious background based on the tightness of my skivvies.

How’s that for a derail?

Sorry, I had better comments in the other Charlie X thread.


There are certainly a LOT of episodes that could be accused of being overly padded and drawn out, but I don’t think Charlie X was one. Certainly not this edited down syndicated version. The story seemed very well paced to me.

It’s funny Charlie X is now considered “underrated”–this was always thought to be one of the best episodes of the series at least in the Seventies and Eighties when I was reading about it all the time. In fact I remember reading a very stuffy British book on science fiction that utterly dismissed Trek but pointed out “Charlie X” as the one good episode. As for the padding, I like the early scenes–this is one of the earlier episodes filmed and they’re establishing the environment of the ship and the fact that it’s full of people doing different, interesting jobs–something not focused on much in later seasons. Steiner’s beautiful music and the lighting and set-ups keep these entertainng for me. The syndication edits on this were brutal, though. I’m really looking forward to seeing these uncut on the DVDs.

I’d like to agree with Jeff about the alleged “padding”. This episode is a bit of a horror piece, and a key element of horror is establishing mood and setting up your characters and genuine, likeable people so that when bad thnigs start to happen, you actually give a damn. And I love the early scenes (cut, naturally, from the syndication broadcast) of Charlie wandering around the Enterprise and exploring the ship. Its just fun to get to see the ship and the sets that way, and the music is terrific.

Growing up this episode had and still does have an impact on what it means to be human. The powerlessness and suffering that goes with the human experience. Kirk’s comment about what u can have and can’t have smacks of Buddism, and telling Charlie to “hold on”, well, helped me and still does get through life, amazing.

This episode shows what others have said is Kirk’s “balliness” or what has been called his intensity of “will’. When it comes to “the ship”, Kirk will kick your ass. I hope this is ( the emergence of) played out in the upcoming movie since this is the essence of “the Kirk”.

#28: “women are reduced to reptiles, crones, or deprived of the most visible expression of beauty: the face.”

You know, I’ve seen this episode many dozen times and I’ve never made that simple connection between his treatment of all the women – disfigurement. That’s chilling.

Thanks for pointing it out, GNDN. I just learned something new.

On the general subject of Charlie reading minds or not – there is the suggestion that he can, of course, in his conjuring up Rand’s favorite perfume (“How did you know?”). Perhaps it’s something he can do occasionally with a lot of focus, but not something he can have “scanning in background” all the time.

#36: Thanks, Dennis. I honestly didn’t make that connection until I starting writing that post. It is a testament, though, to the enduring quality of Star Trek that something new can strike us so many years after the fact. Fontana needs to be given her due and I doubt very much that Charlie’s attacks –on men:strength; women: feminity– were mere happenstance. For mere space opera, this show can be suprisingly literate.

As for the so-called padding, I agree that we learned a great deal about the starship Enterprise and her workings in those scenes. I also see that that horror-story needs such quiet moments in order to heighten the suspense. That said, it is unusal to see such a luxurious use of time in a one-hour drama that requires successively greater climaxes every eleven minutes. Had the narrative been compressed into twenty-two minutes, certainly it would have been a much different episode and the payoff not nearly so poignant. I just want to throw out this nagging question to a forum that thinks about such things.

Oh, and Thasian ship was really cool, but the abruptness was jarring.

Good review of an excellent all-around episode. Agreed completely on Robert Walker’s great performance. Whatever happened to him? (Too lazy to go check out IMDB…)

I thought the Tholian ships got an unfair rap too, they were shaped exactly like the originals, only textured and colored slightly differently, instead of saying they look like Enterprise Tholian ships, shouldn’t we retroactively be saying Enterprise producers made them look like THESE Tholian ships ;)

Ron wrote:

> Agreed completely on Robert Walker’s great performance. Whatever
> happened to him?

Well, I saw him speak at a Creation Star Trek Convention last year. He looks very distinguished now. I remember him joking about being in his mid-20’s but had to to play a teenager in Charlie X.

I have not watched this episode in years. I did not watch it this time either. It’s not that its a bad episode. It just creeps me out for some reason.

When I saw this as a kid in the 60’s the thing that creeped me the most was when he blanked the lady’s face out. Man that about made me have nightmares.

My earliest memory of Star Trek — seared into my child-brain — is the slow pan down to the iguana in the corridor — I remember having to get confirmation from my mom that the girl had just been turned into that hideous thing. I was about 7 years old, and Star Trek was in its first run in England (where my Air Force officer dad had been stationed in the early 70s). I’ll go along with those who have said the scenes where Charlie stalks the corridors, wreaking havoc on the crew are some genuinely creepy and effective moments that still hold up today.

Echoing GNDN’s mini-review above (#28), the lighting and cinematography in this episode are beautiful, and, along with the music, are like vital supporting players in this episode. Imagine if this show had been done in the third season. It would be a much weaker episode, and roundly hated, I’d wager. There was something rich and deep and beautiful about the very earliest episodes of Star Trek that make almost all of them among my favorites. The visuals, the pacing, Shatner’s more subdued acting, the human stories, and the Enterprise as a “city in space” were touches I wish had continued throughout the series.

Scott B. out.

As someone who will be working with and has either seen or read of some of the behavioral issues that can come from being put into the system, I can understand why Charlie “acts out” or is “socially inept” – and also given that he’s been raised without other kids (or any humans), it makes sense. To me, this episode is Star Trek looking at not just problems we all experience in puberty but especially those who are raised outside of a stable family. I can’t tell you how troubled these kids can be at that age, not just because of hormones, but because they don’t know what their future holds.

Weird, don’t know where my last message went.

#27: > I find it hard to believe that they would find the “card tricks” plausible.

I’d think even before that, when the turkeys appeared in the ovens, when they knew there were no turkeys on board, it’d cause them to bring the ship to a full stop in space until they figured out what’s what. I mean, this is a tangible evidence of the supernatural. And Charlie would be the prime suspect, being the only thing different aboard the ship.

Seems like it’d be a standard Starfleet protocol, like So Your Crewmate Is Strange And Grouchy: Ten Ways To Tell If He’s Possessed By A Being Of Pure Energy.

#43: “There was something rich and deep and beautiful about the very earliest episodes of Star Trek that make almost all of them among my favorites. The visuals, the pacing, Shatner’s more subdued acting, the human stories, and the Enterprise as a “city in space” were touches I wish had continued throughout the series.”

Absolutely agreed. The first year of “Star Trek” was the best it’s ever been.

Bond, Jeff Bond. I read that same stuffy British sci-fi book. Unfortunately, I sold it years ago. I do recall the rather dismissive tone of the author. He did like Charlie X as you said, especially the scene with The Woman With No Face (and apparently no way to breathe). He did hit the nail on the head with his description of the second season; however, as the show fell into a “profitable groove” with the Roman, Nazi and gangster planets. I remember his remark about “Balance of Terror” being a mere remake of a World War II destroyer versus submarine movie. I also recall the final remark he made in the Star Trek chapter, “interesting as esoterica”.

Hey, everything can’t be 2001…

Re:#47 – Dennis, I agree that the first season of Trek was the best of all of it. It was seat-of-your-pants, edge-of-your-seat stuff, and (almost) none of it had been done before anywhere else. As they groped their way along, finding out what the show was about, establishing the characters, learning how to tell stories set in space, there was both careful production on one hand, and the novelty of discovery and experimentation on the other.

There’s really only one truly bad episode in the First Season (Alternative Factor), a tiny handful of less-than-good ones (Dagger of the Mind, Your Choice Here), and whole bunch of really great hours of television.

Scott B. out.

Great review and great episode. Funny this one really must of did it for me as I wrote in most of the message boards focused on this episode. Of course I notice many others feel the same way about it. The writing really was strong in this series of TREK and especially the first season. There really was a creepy understated feeling that these first episodes had. Music and lighting a big part to me.

With the strange things that were happening with Charlie aboard like the card tricks, etc. there was a reason know one got too excited. Remember this is the STAR TREK universe with many strange exotic alien creatures with wild powers and technology around every corner. It was a wild place to be.;) Remember the first two pilots of TREK dealt with some wild mind altering happenings. So just another day in the Trekverse.