Court Martial (Star Trek: The Original Series)

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"Court Martial"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 20
Directed by Marc Daniels
Teleplay by Don M. Mankiewicz
Story by Don M. Mankiewicz
Stephen W. Carabatsos
Featured music Alexander Courage
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 015
Original air date February 2, 1967 (1967-02-02)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Court Martial" is episode No. 20 of the first season, production No. 15, of the original science fiction television series Star Trek. It was written by Don Mankiewicz and Stephen W. Carabatsos, directed by Marc Daniels, and aired on February 2, 1967.

In the plot, Captain Kirk stands trial on charges of negligence.


On stardate 2947.3, the Federation starship USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk, sustains severe damage from an ion storm and seeks repairs at Starbase 11. Soon after the Enterprise arrives, the portmaster, Commodore Stone, begins an investigation of the only reported casualty: the death of Lt. Commander Ben Finney. Reports show Finney had been killed during the storm when his research pod was jettisoned from the ship. Kirk claims the ejection of the pod was necessary to save the Enterprise. Stone refers to computer logs which show Kirk had ordered the pod ejected while the ship was at "yellow alert" status, indicating the ship was not yet considered to be in serious danger.

Kirk, however, maintains his claim that the ship was at "red alert" status during the ejection of the pod. Suspicion grows when Stone uncovers that Mr. Finney was disgruntled with his Captain, stemming from an incident aboard the USS Republic, when a young Ensign Kirk relieved Lieutenant Finney for an Engineering watch and found Finney had left open a switch to the atomic matter piles—an error which would have blown up the ship in a matter of minutes. Kirk followed standard procedures, noting the incident in the ship's log. Finney drew an official reprimand and was put at the bottom of the promotion list. Finney accused Starfleet of "keeping him down" and blamed Kirk for reporting on him.

Stone believes there is enough evidence for Kirk to be guilty of negligence and urges Kirk to stand down as Captain of the Enterprise, and take a ground assignment for the rest of his career. Kirk denies the accusations as absurd and demands to be put on trial to prove the charges. Kirk seeks legal representation from attorney Samuel T. Cogley on the advice of Lt. Areel Shaw, a former girlfriend of his. Kirk finds Cogley quirky, but very meticulous. Kirk is taken aback when he learns that Shaw herself will be acting as the prosecutor in the trial. The trial is overseen by Commodore Stone with a bench consisting of Kirk's peers: Starfleet Command Representative Lindstrom, and starship Captains Chandra and Krasnovsky. Among the trial audience is Finney's young daughter Jame. Jame, who believes that Kirk killed her father, glares at him in the courtroom, after an earlier hysterical confrontation in Stone's presence.

The trial begins and testimony is given by Enterprise Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, First Officer Spock, and Kirk himself, but none of it is enlightening, much less consistent with computer records. During the trial, Spock checks the computer system, which diagnostics show to be functioning normally. The prosecution presents a computer audiovisual recording of the events on the Enterprise bridge during the ion storm in question. The evidence proves damning as the recording clearly shows Kirk hitting the button to jettison the pod while the ship is still at yellow alert. Kirk and his counsel are all but ready to give up, and Kirk remarks to Spock that he might find a better chess opponent in his new captain. This comment gives Spock an idea.

Later during recess, McCoy discovers Spock playing 3D chess and he angrily questions how Spock can waste time with all that is going on. While he initially goes out of his way to preserve this misconception (even treating "you're the most cold-blooded man I've ever known" as a compliment), Spock, noting he has been able to beat it at chess four times and was well on his way to a fifth, reveals that what appeared to be only a pleasant diversion was in fact part of an investigation of a computer which had recounted an account of the incident that, as an eyewitness, Spock knew beyond the shadow of a doubt was false. His victories had come despite the fact that Spock was the one who wrote the computer's chess program and therefore he and the computer should do no better than draw when playing one another; when McCoy asks how that is possible, Spock explains that since game programming he himself implemented only three months previously, he is convinced that somehow someone has tampered with the computer since that time.

The court-martial resumes and the bench is prepared to hand down a verdict however, Spock enters, ready to present new evidence on behalf of his Captain: the suspected tampering with the computer system. Without any real evidence to back up the claim, Spock insists that, aside from himself and the Captain, only Mr. Finney had the knowledge and clearance to alter the computer logs. Cogley then asserts that Finney is alive and still aboard the Enterprise. He asks the trial to reconvene aboard the Enterprise to see proof of this new theory. The prosecution objects to the new request, stating the computer files are proof enough of Kirk's guilt. The court overrules the objection when Cogley demands the right for the accused man to confront the witnesses against him—including, in this case, the computer.

Aboard the Enterprise, Kirk orders all unnecessary personnel to disembark for the time being. Dr. McCoy then takes an auditory sensor that detects the slightest sound, and attaches it to the ship's computer. The device is so sensitive, it detects all remaining human heartbeats that are still aboard the ship. One heartbeat is found unaccounted for and located down in engineering. While Kirk goes in search of the owner of the mystery heartbeat, presumably Finney, Cogley briefly leaves on an errand of his own.

Kirk finds Finney but is held by him at phaser-point. The crazed officer informs Kirk he is too late and points out he has drained the Enterprise '​s energy circuits which will soon cause the ship to fall out of orbit and burn up in Starbase 11's atmosphere. Kirk reveals to Finney that Finney's own daughter Jame is now also aboard the ship, having beamed up a little earlier with Cogley. Raving, Finney assaults Kirk and is beaten after a brief but severe struggle, whereupon he confesses to Kirk the location and nature of his sabotage.

After undoing the damage and saving his ship, Kirk has Finney taken into custody, and Kirk's record is cleared. After informing Kirk that Cogley is to defend Finney's case, Shaw kisses Kirk on the bridge of the ship before the two former lovers part ways once more.


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an 'B-' rating, noting that the potential of holding Kirk to high standards in the story is lessened as his "fallibility is never really the issue".[1]


  1. ^ Handlen, Zack (March 20, 2009). ""Tomorrow Is Yesterday" / "Court Martial"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 13, 2010. 

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