Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Four “Turnabout Intruder”

Stardate: 5928.5 (2269)
Original Air Date: June 3, 1969
Writer: Gene Roddenberry and Arthur H. Singer
Director: Herb Wallerstein

“Now you will know the indignity of being a woman…”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. After a terrific romp through Star Trek, I have now arrived at the final episode of the Original Series (though technically by stardate, the penultimate episode “All Our Yesterdays” was actually the final chronological voyage). The end of this wonderful journey through 1960s optimism is somewhat bittersweet. This now-iconic television show aired during that turbulent period of the Vietnam War, the rise of civil rights, the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the sudden countercultural explosion turned many myths of American society on their head. This transformation is perhaps best demonstrated in the transformation of The Beatles from a hugely successful pop group wearing suits and singing songs like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” into a sophisticated four-part band of artists embracing experimental studio recording techniques, publicly acknowledging their use of drugs like LSD, and hailing the emerging avant garde ethos of the era. It was a time of great change and also extraordinary possibilities. Suddenly, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek came along with its Cold War Kennedian hope for a better future, fused with nods to the burgeoning sexual revolution and a backdrop of midcentury modern architecture, and this small but mighty project managed to revolutionize science fiction storytelling for the better. Today, we sometimes forget that Star Trek ended its original series run only a month before man first landed on the moon, but this timeline is crucial to understanding the seed of our modern culture as examined in shows like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone.     

In “Turnabout Intruder” The Enterprise receives a distress call from a group of scientists exploring the ruins of a dead civilization on Camus II (ironically reminiscent of the premise of the first episode “The Man Trap”). Their situation is desperate. Two of the survivors are the expedition surgeon Dr. Arthur Coleman (Harry Landers) and the leader of the expedition Dr. Janice Lester (Sandra Smith). Apparently, she is suffering from radiation poisoning. As it turns out, Dr. Lester is Kirk’s former lover and she is somewhat embittered by the fact that Kirk chose Starfleet over her (she remembers their time together at Starfleet when she “came alive”) so she uses a strange device and manages to switch bodies with Kirk. She wants Kirk to finally know the true “indignity” of being a woman. They are beamed aboard the Enterprise where Dr. Lester embodies Kirk’s body despite having minimal knowledge of being a captain, meanwhile Dr. Lester’s body is sedated at the order of the new Kirk who removes Dr. McCoy from overseeing the situation and replaces him with Dr. Coleman who then instructs Nurse Chapel to follow his medical directives. We later learn that Dr. Coleman was apparently forcibly removed from his role as doctor aboard his starship in the past for extreme medical incompetence.  

The new Kirk orders Chekov and Sulu to plot a course for the Benecia Colony (pronounced slightly differently than the colony of the same name in “The Conscience of the King”), even though Spock makes a more compelling case for heading to Starbase II which is located directly in their path where Dr. Lester might recover from her “radiation poisoning.” The Enterprise was scheduled to head for Beta Aurigae to conduct gravitational studies of the binary system, and on the way they are scheduled to meet up with the Starship Potemkin (a reference to the infamous Soviet incident and subsequent silent film?)

At any rate, while Dr. Lester (embodied by Kirk) is kept under lock and key, Kirk (embodied by a vengeful Dr. Lester) quickly starts behaving erratically with wild emotional swings. Spock and Bones grow suspicious. Bones. Conducts a medical screening of Kirk, including his dermal-optic reactions to color wavelengths. Meanwhile, Spock sneaks into Dr. Lester’s cell where she/he explains to Spock what has happened. Kirk in Dr. Lester’s body recalls the Tholian incident (“The Tholian Web”) and the Vians of Minara (“The Empath”), but both incidents have been documented, and Dr. Lester could simply be lying, so Spock employs his telepathic abilities and he starts to believe Dr. Lester. However, an alert is soon issued against Spock, and Kirk (embodied by Dr. Lester) orders a trial of Spock whom he/she accuses of “mutiny.” However, at the trial, Dr. Lester begins appearing unhinged, shrieking at the crew, ordering the execution of Spock, and then in the laughter-inducing conclusion, the life entity transfer begins to wear off until finally, Kirk and Dr. Lester miraculously switch back bodies. Dr. Lester has a mental breakdown and Dr. Coleman begs Kirk to allow him to care for Dr. Lester (presumably Dr. Lester and Dr. Coleman were romantically involved). As they are led away to sickbay, Kirk offers some closing remarks:

“Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s, if only… if only…”


My Thoughts on “Turnabout Intruder”

“Turnabout Intruder” is a bit of an amusing, albeit sexist, episode –a strange and somewhat anticlimactic end to the series with a few good laughs. We meet an “erratic” and “emotional” woman who decides to steal the body of a man (this episode offers a rather nasty critique of 1960s feminism). Her self-hatred and resentment of Starfleet’s male captains seems starkly out of place in Trek –“it’s better to be dead than live alone in the body of a woman…” And what about Dr. Lester claiming women are not allowed to serve as Starfleet captains? Thankfully this rule has since been retconned in later iterations. “Turnabout Intruder” is essentially the story of Kirk’s crazy, vindictive ex-girlfriend returning to haunt him, a silly farce in many respects. While I am intrigued by the science fiction idea of “life entity transferring,” and I do love a good trial scene (as in “The Menagerie” or “Court Martial”), “Turnabout Intruder” is not the triumphant conclusion many of us had been hoping for. Like “The Way To Eden” before it, “Turnabout Intruder” is one of the more blatant examples of Star Trek losing its vision in the third season.

The high note of this episode is William Shatner and his chucklingly good time he seems to be having (despite being sick with the flu while filming). There are some unique moments of Dr. Lester’s internal monologue while dwelling inside the body of Kirk. And the episode ends on a hopeful and speculative note as well as Kirk’s final words echo: “if only… if only…”

Thus concludes my venture through the original series of Star Trek.


Writer/Director

Gene Roddenberry submitted this story outline which was revised three separate times and rewritten into a teleplay by Arthur H. Singer (and also Fred Frieberger). In the original script Dr. Arthur Coleman was named “Howard” (this is the name that appears in James Blish’s novelization of the episode). Also, in his novelization, Spock actually finishes Kirk’s finale remarks “Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s, If only… if only…” to which Spock responds, “If only she had been able to take pride in being a woman.”

Director Herb Wallerstein (1925-1985) directed four episodes of TOS “Whom Gods Destroy,” “That Which Survives,” the second half of “The Tholian Web,” and “Turnabout Intruder.”


Star Trek Trivia:

  • Star Trek was abruptly canceled making this episode an unofficial finale.
  • Uhura is the only main character who does not appear in this episode (Nichelle Nichols had a singing engagement at the time and thus Barbara Baldavin replaced her as Lisa in this episode).
  • William Shatner had a bad case of the flu while filming this episode.
  • On the fourth day of filming this episode, Gene Roddenberry informed William Shatner that BC had canceled Star Trek. At the time, Shatner was scheduled to direct the 25th episode of the third season entitled. “The Joy Machine.” A formal announcement of the cancelation was later issued.
  • Apparently, OJ Simpson’s acting career was just beginning at this time and he visited the set during filming of this episode.  
  • The Starship Potemkin is mentioned in this episode, perhaps a nod to the Soviet Battleship Potemkin which inspired the classic silent film by Sergei Eisenstein.
  • This episode was set to air earlier on March 28th, however it was postponed due to news of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s death.
  • Regular show extra, Roger Holloway, finally got the chance to speak on camera in this episode after two years on the series. His character’s name is listed as Lemli, a nod to William Shatner’s license plate at the time which was a combination of his daughter’s names: Leslie, Melanie, Lisabeth.
  • In both this episode and “Operation: Annihilate!” Nurse Christine Chapel’s hair is auburn rather than bright blonde.
  • Lt. Galloway reappears in this episode despite having been killed in “The Omega Glory.”
  • Jeffrey Hunt, who played Christopher Pike in. the unaired pilot “The Cage,” died a week before “Turnabout Intruder” aired. Leonard Nimoy and Majel Barrett were the only two actors to appear in both “The Cage” as well as the finale episode “Turnabout Intruder.”

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

4 thoughts on “Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Four “Turnabout Intruder”

  1. Interesting point about Lt. Galloway. I never realized that before.

    Certainly one good thing about this episode is how it makes Trekkers all the more grateful for Capt. Kathryn Janeway, as well as a female Captain played by Kate Elder in the Star Trek fan-based series for the These Are The Voyages YouTube channel.

    Thank you for all your classic Star Trek reviews and trivia. 🖖🏻🖖🏼🖖🏽🖖🏾🖖🏿

    Liked by 2 people

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