Star Trek: Season 1, Episode Twenty “Court Martial”

Stardate: 2947.3 (2267)
Original Air Date: February 2, 1967
Writer: Don M. Mankiewicz/Steven W. Carabatsos
Director: Marc Daniels

“Because Jim Kirk, my dear old love, I am the prosecution.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise has just traveled through a severe Ion storm causing considerable damage to the ship. In the midst of the storm one crewman tragically died after the decision was made to jettison his pod, saving the rest of the ship. His name was Lt. Cdr. Ben Kinney (Richard Webb), a records officer and old friend-turned-rival of Capt. Kirk. His death casts a pall over the crew, particularly Kirk, and since the Enterprise is damaged, Kirk orders an unscheduled layover on Starbase 11 to be fitted for repairs.

Once they land, Kirk is interrogated by Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) who grows convinced that Kirk is lying about the order of events leading to Finney’s death –even Finney’s own daughter blames Kirk for her father’s death, despite being a close family friend (she is actually named “Jame” after James Kirk). When the recorded tape aboard the Enterprise is replayed, the evidence is damning. Did Kirk issue an alert thus giving Finney notice to vacate the pod, as Kirk claims? Or did Kirk eject the pod out of bitterness and vengeance against his one-time nemesis? Many of Kirk’s old school-chums from his graduating class at Starfleet Academy blame him for the accident. Kirk also reconnects with a one-time flame, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall) –but it turns out she is actually the lead attorney intending to prosecute him!

As the trial unfolds, Spock and McCoy are called to testify, and it becomes apparent that Kirk has committed willful perjury. Despite the best efforts of his quirky attorney Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook Jr.), Kirk’s chances of winning appears to be over. While on a break from the trial, Kirk makes an offhand comment to Spock about how the next Captain on the Enterprise might allow for better chess games in which Spock can win –and this leads Spock to investigate a hunch. Later, McCoy finds Spock alone in the recreation room playing chess –and beating the ship’s computer! Just before the defense is about to rest its case, Spock bursts into the room and speaks with Cogley who then calls the ship’s computer as a trial witness. It turns out someone has either wittingly or unwittingly adjusted the programming of the computer.

In a strange twist of events, Kirk institutes a Phase 1 search of the ship and the sensors are able to locate a unique heartbeat in the Engineering Bay –Ben Finney is actually alive. Kirk confronts Finney and they battle while Finney lists his many grievances for being passed over for a promotion, until Kirk distracts Finney by telling him that his own daughter is on board. This grants just enough space for Kirk to detain Finney and end his vengeful tirade.

In the end, Kirk and Shaw share a kiss and Cogley plans to represent Finney in his own Starfleet trial. Cogley sends the gift of a book to Kirk before the Enterprise departs from Starbase 11 (earlier Kirk and Cogley had an amusing exchange regarding the merits of books vs. computers –perhaps now Kirk will see the merits of the former).

My Thoughts on “Court Martial”

I love a good courtroom drama –perhaps one day John Grisham will pen a script for Star Trek! We might dub it the trial of the twenty-third century. At any rate, there is an interesting contrast here between the supposedly unreliable testimony of Capt. Kirk, and the cold, unmoved record of events provided by the ship’s computer. However, machines are mere tools and can thus be edited by malicious humans in the service of wayward machinations. This is the case with Benjamin Kinney who stages his own death and edits the historical record to defame Kirk. In this episode, we in the audience sympathize with Kirk as he is expected to make decisions affecting many hundreds of people –including an old nemesis. Leadership is a burdensome task, and Kirk is forced to govern a man who both despises and resents him. As per usual, Star Trek treats its audience like competent adults, capable of grasping the hurdles facing leaders, and the struggle to tell the truth in the face of overwhelming odds. A more modern version of this story might offer a more sympathetic glimpse of Finney.


Writer Don Mankiewicz (1922-2015) was perhaps best known for writing the Harper Prize-winning novel entitled Trial about a prejudicial trial of a falsely accused boy. It was made into a 1955 film.

Steven W. Carabatsos (1938-Present) was the editor of Star Trek between the tenures of John D. F. Black and D. C. Fontana. He helped Mr. Mankiewicz adapt this script into a teleplay. Mr. Carabatsos’s tenure did not last long.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The script for this episode was originally entitled “Court Martial on Star Base 11.”
  • The setting of a courtroom drama was chosen as a means of saving money (only four chief sets were required).
  • Apparently Elisha Cook Jr., who played Kirk’s flashy but eccentric defense attorney, had a tremendously difficult time remembering his lines. Many of his lengthy speeches in the script did not make it into the aired version.
  • In this episode, we learn that no captain has ever been put on trial like this before.
  • When the Enterprise first arrives at Starbase 11, Commodore Stone orders Maintenance Section 18 to stop work on the USS Intrepid in order to prioritize the Enterprise –giving further glimpses of other starships. The Intrepid is an all-Vulcan ship. There is also a list of registered starships briefly visible in Stone’s office.
  • Starfleet dress uniforms debut in this episode.
  • The bar in this episode is called “M-11 Starbase Club.” The barkeeper wears the same costume later worn by the barkeeper on Deep Space Station K-7 in the later episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”.
  • Actress Joan Marshall also appeared in The Twilight Zone episode “Dead Man’s Shoes.”
  • This episode is one of the first to affirm the hierarchy of Starfleet command.
  • The backstory to Kirk and Finney is as follows: Finney taught at Starfleet Academy when Kirk was a midshipman, and his daughter was later named after Kirk (“Jame” after “James”). But a number of years later, while they both were serving together on the USS Republic, Kirk says that Finney had left a circuit open to the atomic matter piles that should have been closed. In another five minutes, the Republic could have self-destructed with all hands. Kirk had closed the switch and logged the incident. Finney then had a letter of formal reprimand written into his record, and he was sent to the bottom of the promotion list where he slowly built up resentment. Kirk says that Finney believed that Kirk’s action delayed Finney’s assignment to a starship and ultimately his opportunity to command.
  • The date of the Ion storm was: 2945.7.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

1 thought on “Star Trek: Season 1, Episode Twenty “Court Martial”

  1. Remembering lines in the Star Trek universe have been known to be the equivalent of learning the lines of Shakespeare. I would certainly have a lot of trouble with it, even though I studied acting at a time when I successfully practiced memorizing lines from many films and TV classics. So I praise Elisha Cook Jr. for doing what he could and his performance as an eccentric book-loving lawyer for the Trek universe is always one of my favourite performances from classic Trek.

    Liked by 2 people

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