Star Trek TOS: Kirk Goes on Trial for a Crime He Obviously Didn’t Commit
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 21
Sounding melancholy, Kirk announced the death of a crewman because of an ion storm. Matters were not helped when the daughter of the deceased vehemently blamed Kirk for the incident, calling him a murderer.
It was not a good start to the episode by Kirk as Commodore Stone, who was reviewing the incident, effectively put the captain under arrest for the deed and alleged perjury. Too, it’s worth noting, the colors in Court Martial were more dynamic than usual. All of the backdrops and outfits were laden with diverse coloring.
To date, Kirk defeated salt vampires, rogue aliens, and those thirsty for power — but now he was faced with winning a trial, something Spock undertook early in the season.
The odd part about the episode? There was no way in the vast galaxy Kirk was guilty of willful malice, so this would be an exercise on “how will Kirk conquer this one.”
Court Martial also cast Stone as an authoritative black man — a marvelous example of representation in the series. He outranked Kirk, evidenced by his jurisprudence over the crewman’s death. The mere fact he had power over Kirk was a tribute to Black inclusivity in Star Trek — much like Uhrua’s full-time employment alongside Kirk.
Then, to the captain’s chagrin, the person prosecuting the case was a woman. Star Trek was playing the hits — a Black commander outranking KIrk and a woman assigned to his prosecution. Civil rights, indeed.
When Spock was called to testify, he pivoted to his logic-based braining, explaining Kirk was actually incapable of the crime — a cool testament of the friendship for the two. Spock affirmed, “It is impossible for Captian Kirk to act out of panic or malice.” How’s that for a friend?
Kirk took the witness stand at the behest of his lawyer, delivering an adamant and solemn defense of his actions. Thankfully, the prosecution revealed it had footage of the incident, which was virtually guaranteed to vindicate the protagonist.
In the apparently doctored video, Kirk appeared guilty after all. But that’s why you employ a Spock — to save the day in situations like this. Spock discovered computers are fallible. The defense attorney, Cogley, pointed out that computers do not have rights while his client did. Jurisdiction of the trial switched to Enterprise as a result.
Kirk and Spock proved Finney faked his death, disproving the murder theory. Benjamin Finney, the subject of the crime, was jealous and maniacal. He sabotaged the ship out of rage, forcing Kirk to notify Finney his daughter would die too due to his insane plot.
Also of note, the woman, Areel Shaw, was a former love interest of Kirk. The captain held no ill will toward her after his exoneration, and he even proved this by kissing Shaw before her exit from Enterprise. Such a magnanimous man, Kirk.
Computers, while extraordinary, are not above malfunction or manipulation — is the takeaway from Court Martial.
Themes: Due Process, Man vs. Computer, Jealousy
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).