The Captain’s log tells us that the Enterprise has been through an ion storm and a crewman has died. Kirk has to give a deposition of exactly what happened to cause the death of said crewman. We see Kirk in the office of Commodore Stone reading over his deposition for the third time.
Kirk is clearly bothered by the death of Lieutenant Commander Finney. I like this as odd as that statement may be. People die all the time in Star Trek but it isn’t that often that we see what we see here. Not only do we see Kirk’s reaction to it but we also see Finney’s daughter – who accuses Kirk of being a murderer.
Spock brings the Enterprise’s computer report on the incident. However this report differs from Kirk’s accounting of the events. In the computer’s version of events Kirk jettisoned the ion pod, where Finney was, before the red alert. Meaning that Kirk is guilty of perjury and negligence. This presents a good hook for the episode.
When we come back from the titles Kirk is confined to the base. He meets with some fellow officers from his graduating class at the academy. Oddly they already seem to suspect that Kirk is responsible for Finney’s death. Which seems a strange conclusion for them to have drawn so soon after the events.
Kirk leaves the bar and we are introduced to Areel Shaw. McCoy flirts with her a little but we find out that she is an old friend of Kirk’s – because of course she is.
We then get the background of Kirk’s relationship to Finney. When Kirk was an Ensign he reported an error of Finney’s to the commanding officer. Finney’s error tanked his career. Finney blamed Kirk for this blot on his record.
Kirk goes over the ion storm incident. Someone needs to go into the ion pod and Finney was assigned because it was his turn. This is an important factor in the incident because it would at least show that Kirk didn’t deliberately put Finney in a dangerous position. Kirk maintains his innocence, despite the computer contradicting him, and that he gave Finney as much time as he could to get out of the pod.
Commodore Stone gives Kirk the opportunity to step down but Kirk insists on his right to a court martial.
Then we find out that Areel Shaw will be the prosecution. Why Starfleet would do this is beyond me. This is a clear conflict of interest. Although, if JAG (TV show) is anything to go by, sometimes cases are assigned by what is required rather than by the feelings of the individual. Shaw does however give Kirk the name of a good attorney – Sam Cogley.
Cogley is introduced as a bit of an oddball. Insomuch as he prefers to use books rather than a computer for his work.
You have to be either an obsessive crackpot who’s escaped from his keeper or Samuel T. Cogley, attorney-at-law.
Kirk (TOS: Court Martial)
The court martial begins. After sorting out the initial business, including Kirk’s not guilty plea, the first witness are called beginning with Spock. He states that the computer is wrong despite also stating that he is unaware of any problem with the Enterprise computer.
Gentlemen, 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.Spock (Star Trek: TOS: Court Martial)
As an irrelevant aside we are still calling Vulcan’s “Vulcanians” at this point in TOS.
The Enterprise’s personnel officer is called to the stand. She confirms the history between Finney and Kirk. Then when McCoy is questioned he confirms that, in a hypothetical situation, Kirk could have come to hate Finney because of Finney’s hatred for him.
Shaw shows the court a log of the incident. The evidence is damning as it shows Kirk pressing the eject button before the red alert was ordered.
The panel on Kirk’s chair is a little overly simplistic in this episode. Especially as I don’t believe that “eject pod” comes up ever again. That however is a pretty minor nitpick.
Of course we are getting towards a more major nitpick.
Well it wouldn’t be a Star Trek episode without Spock and McCoy sparing with each other. I love that Spock sees being called ‘cold blooded’ as a compliment.
Spock is playing chess with the computer. Oddly, from a modern perspective, this involves the computer calling out its move. It is also strange that Spock personally programmed the computer rather than it being a standard program as it would be today. This isn’t an error though. A writer in the 1960s could not have predicted the technology we have today.
Since the computer cannot make a mistake and Spock is, well, Spock each match should be a draw. With something being wrong with the computer the evidence against Kirk is called into question. Apparently there are only three people who could have adjusted the computer: Kirk, Spock, and Finney. You’ll note the list doesn’t include Uhura, which seems unlikely, and not Scotty, which seems impossible.
I think this, again, comes from a 1960s perspective. Back then I am sure computers were something of a mystery. Today the average person probably owns at least two, counting a mobile, fairly powerful computers. In short the type of frame job in this episode could be done by almost anyone.
The court reconvenes and Cogley submits to the court that Lieutenant Commander Finney is not actually dead. The Enterprise is a big ship and even if the whole crew is looking for him it would have been possible for him to evade such a search. This is a bit of a headscratcher as Finney’s location was known wasn’t it?
So it is a matter of finding Finney.
Gentlemen, this computer has an auditory sensor. It can, in effect, hear sounds. By installing a booster, we can increase that capability on the order of one to the fourth power. The computer should bring us every sound occurring on the ship.Captain Kirk (Star Trek: TOS: Court Martial)
Of course the answer to 1 to the fourth power is still one! I say ‘of course’ but I am terrible at maths. I would not have spotted the error if I was the writer either.
They listen to all the heartbeats on the ship and discover that Lieutenant Commander Finney is indeed alive. He faked his death to frame Kirk as revenge for Kirk tanking his career.
Then the usual end of episode shenanigans happen. Owing to Finney’s sabotage the Enterprise is going to crash into the planet. However Cogley has brought Finney’s daughter aboard. This is enough to get Finney to explain how he sabotaged the ship.
Kirk saves the day, the sabotage is undone, the Enterprise returns to a stable orbit, Kirk kisses Shaw, and we are out of here.
I like this episode. It gives us some good backstory to Kirk and that is always a welcome thing. It also shows the trust the crew has in Kirk. I especially like Spock’s absolute certainty that Kirk would never act with malice. I could have done without the prior relationship between Kirk and Shaw.
I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.