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Court Martial

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Title :
Court Martial
Series :
Rating :
Overall Ep :
First Aired :
2 Feb 1967
Stardate :
Director :
Year :
Writers :
Season Ep :
1 x 15
Main Cast :
Guest Cast :
Stunts :
Chuck Clow as Kirk's stunt double
Troy Melton as Finney's stunt double
Kirk claims at one point that the audio sensor can be boosted to one to the fourth power. However, one to any power is still one! He likely intended to say "ten to the fourth power", which would be 10,000 times amplification.

In this episode Spock states that it is impossible that Kirk jettisoned the pod before he was supposed to, stating "human beings have characteristics just as inanimate objects do. It is impossible for Captain Kirk to act out of panic or malice. It is not his nature." Yet in "Day of the Dove", when asked if Kang's wife can guarantee that he will listen to Kirk's peace offer, Spock states that "No one can guarantee the actions of another." So which is it?

Come to that, why don't they just put Kirk under a lie detector and ask him if he hit that button? For the forgetful, Wolf in the Fold states that the Enterprise computer can make a recording of the registrations of both the conscious and subconscious mind, detailing what a person did in the recent past even if that person does not remember what they did.
Great Moment :
I love the scene where Stone tries to convince Kirk to quietly accept a lesser assignment and Kirk angrily demands a court martial instead.
Body Count :
None, although we do think Finney is dead for a while.
Factoid :
This episode has one of the first mentions of an ion storm, which features in several episodes of the various Trek series.

The original brief for the episode was to write a good story which could be filmed within a single, easy to construct set. Writer Don M. Mankiewicz proposed a courtroom drama as a solution.

This is one of very few episodes that uses a voice over, during the scene when Kirk gets a confession from Finney and repairs the ship. Originally there was to have been a scene where Jamie comes to engineering to prompt the confession, but the episode was running over time. The voice over was a way to move the ending on as quickly as possible.

The episode never explains why exactly an ion pod must be jettisoned during a storm. In the novelisation, it is suggested that the pod is directly exposed to the storm so that it can take readings. This means it picks up a high level of dangerous radiation, threatening to contaminate the ship if the storm is strong enough.

This is the first episode to show the Starfleet dress uniform, and the only one to show a female dress uniform.

This is the first episode to mention the word "Starfleet"

It's also the first episode to show a Federation star base.

Commodore Stone mentions the USS Intrepid. This will later be established to be a ship with an all Vulcan crew, which is destroyed by a space going life form.


The Enterprise is at Starbase 12 for repairs after passing through a severe ion storm, resulting in significant damage and the loss of one crew member. Kirk is in the Starbase Commander's office making a report about the incident, in which he states that Records Officer Ben Finney was in the ship's ion pod taking readings during the storm. The pod has to be jettisoned during a heavy storm, something that is done when Red Alert is sounded. Kirk says that he did this but that for some reason Finney remained in the pod and was jettisoned with it. Finney's daughter Jamie arrives, tearful and blaming Kirk for the accident that killed her father. They comfort the girl and Spock escorts her out.

However, when Spock beams down with the computer records of the incident Commodore Stone reviews them and finds that Kirk actually ejected the pod during Yellow Alert. The action would constitute gross negligence on Kirk's part, prompting Stone to confine Kirk to the base and begin an official inquiry.

Kirk and McCoy head to the Starbase bar for a drink, finding several people from Kirk's graduating class at the academy there. Some of them make rather barbed comments about Finney's death, obviously believing Kirk to be guilty. Kirk leaves alone, and McCoy encounters Areel Shaw, an old friend of Kirks.

In Stone's office, Kirk arrives for a meeting about the inquiry. The evidence against him seems concrete, with the records clearly stating that he jettisoned the pod before sounding red alert. Kirk also has a history with Finney. When they were young they were close friends, with Finney even naming his daughter Jamie for Kirk. However, when they served together on the USS Republic Finney left a circuit open on the atomic matter piles by mistake. If it hadn't been noticed and corrected by Kirk the mistake would have destroyed the whole ship. He logged the incident, which led to Finney being given an official reprimand and his name being put at the bottom of the promotion list. Finney never progressed all that far in Starfleet after this, something he blamed Kirk for.

Kirk maintains that this made absolutely no difference to him. He followed procedure during the storm, exactly as he was supposed to, and has no explanation for how the pod was ejected with Finney inside it. Stone suggests that the stress of command has worn Kirk down, prompting him to make a mistake that anybody could have made. Stone offers Kirk the chance to retire quietly, avoiding the bad publicity of a court martial. Instead Kirk angrily dismisses the idea of any kind of cover up and demands to have his day in court.

Later he meets Areel Shaw and they chat about the case and his attitude towards it. She tells him that the prosecution will frame the issue as his word versus the computer record, and on that basis he cannot possibly win. She suggests an attorney for him, one Samuel T. Cogley. When Kirk asks how she seems to know so much about what the prosecution will do she confesses that she is the prosecution, and will try her very best to break Kirk out of Starfleet in disgrace for the good of the service.

Kirk goes to see Cogley, finding him to be a rather old fashioned individual who refuses to use his computer in favour of a huge library of actual physical books. The two get on well and Kirk takes him on to defend him. The case begins, with Shaw calling Spock for questioning. She suggests that Kirk made a mistake during the ion storm, but Spock replies flatly that, whilst he did not personally observe what Kirk did during the storm, it is impossible that the Captain could have acted unprofessionally as it is simply not in his nature. Next Shaw calls a personnel officer to testify about the incident on the Republic and Finney's attitude towards Kirk. She moves on to McCoy, asking him if it isn't possible that Kirk grew to hate Finney as much as Finney hated Kirk. McCoy admits that this is a possibility, whilst trying to defend the captain. In each case Cogley makes no effort to rebut the witnesses, not asking a single question.

Cogley Kirk to the stand and puts the vital question to him - what did he do during the storm. Kirk explains his actions, stating that they were in line with procedure all the way. He assigned Finney to the job because his name was next in line on the duty roster, regardless of any personal feelings. He jettisoned the pod after calling red alert. He states that he has absolutely no doubt that he would do the exact same thing again in the circumstances.

Shaw cross examines by playing the video log of the event. It does indeed show that Kirk went to yellow alert, then jettisoned the pod before declaring a red alert. Kirk is stunned, whispering that "that's not the way it happened!" They break for the day, leaving Kirk despondent as even Cogley begins to doubt him.

On the Enterprise Spock has examined the computer and can find no problem with it. An idea occurs to him and he goes to the rec room to play several games of chess against the computer. McCoy is appalled at this apparent lack of concern for Kirk, but Spock points out that he has won four games in a row. This should not be possible, since Spock programmed the computer and it thus has an equal understanding of the game. The only explanation is that the computer has been tampered with in some fashion.

The court begins again, and Spock and McCoy arrive to inform Cogley of their findings. He argues that Kirk has been denied one of his basic rights - the right to face his accuser, the Enterprise computer. In an impassioned speech he demands that the court reconvene on the Enterprise so that the machine can be challenged - not to do so, he argues, effectively elevates the machine to a status greater than man. Stone agrees and they move to the ship. Spock explains his experiment with the chess program and the implications that the computer must have been tampered with. The only people capable of doing such a thing are Spock, Kirk, or a qualified records officer. Cogley asks Kirk about his actions after the pod was jettisoned and learns that he had a phase one search performed. Such a search is aimed at finding an injured or lost person, and assumes that they would not be trying to evade the search. Cogley concludes that Finney may not actually be dead, but rather hiding aboard the ship. They evacuate the Enterprise of all crew and then activate a highly sensitive sound sensor, which detects the heartbeats of all present. McCoy uses a device to mask the heartbeat of all those on the bridge, and to their surprise one heartbeat remains - Finney is alive, and hiding aboard ship. Kirk goes to find Finney whilst Cogley goes to run an errand of his own on the planet. Finney is quickly located, obviously lost in madness, raving about how he will have revenge over the Captain who betrayed him. He reveals that he has tampered with the engines, and the Enterprise is rapidly falling into the atmosphere of the planet. However, Cogley has returned with his daughter Jamie. The prospect of losing her sends Finney over the endue, giving Kirk the chance to overcome him. He tells Kirk how he sabotaged the ship and Kirk is able to repair the damage in time for the Enterprise to regain orbit.

Exonerated in the most dramatic fashion possible, Kirk resumes his command. He parts on good terms with Areel, smiling as he finds that Cogley has taken on his next case - defending Finney himself for his crimes.


Not a terrible episode really, but this suffers from something of a plausibility gap. The basic idea of Kirk being accused of incompetence is a decent one, and the "courtroom drama" idea of the episode is nice. But it's not played all that well. For instance whilst it's hard to nitpick court procedure on a court that operates under laws and rules that we don't know, a lot goes on here that's a bit weird. Like for instance, the prosecutor goes and chats with Kirk in a bar, informing him as to her strategy and giving him legal advice. Seriously? The trial itself also has all sorts of leading questions, vague questions, you name it. Still, if the details might be a bit skewed, the trial itself is still pretty entertaining stuff.

Where it falls down for me is towards the end. The use of the sound thing is just silly on so many levels. For instance you can have microphones around the ship, apparently powerful enough to record people's heartbeat from a distance - yet they record nothing else at all? No breathing, taking a step, clearing your throat, digestion noises? And you can simply subtract a heartbeat by pointing a microphone at somebody for a few seconds, regardless of the fact that your heart rate varies continuously?

Finney's "I'm a loon" performance is also rather over the top. I get that the guy is meant to be insane, and getting worse by the minute more or less, but even so... well take a look at his image on this page. There's a reason we picked that particular expression, you know!

Special Edition

Some nice stuff here. The usual new planet that most episodes have gotten. We also get a lovely opening shot showing two Contitutions in orbit as shuttles whizz past - with an Antares class just visible in the background as well. There are some gorgeous close ups of the Enterpise showing the spot where the ion pod was ejected. Also the shot of Starbase 11 has been altered by adding people moving around inside the windows of the buildings.
© Graham & Ian Kennedy Page views : 47,689 Last updated : 27 Jul 2022