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 byMarc Daniels
Story byDon M. Mankiewicz
Steven W. Carabatsos
Teleplay byDon M. Mankiewicz
Featured musicAlexander Courage
Cinematography byJerry Finnerman
Production code015
Original air dateFebruary 2, 1967 (1967-02-02)
Guest appearance(s)
  • Elisha Cook Jr. as Samuel T. Cogley, Esq.
  • Percy Rodriguez as Commodore Stone
  • Joan Marshall as Lt. Areel Shaw
  • Richard Webb as Lt. Cdr. Ben Finney
  • Hagan Beggs as Helmsman
  • Winston DeLugo as Timothy
  • Alice Rawlings as Jame Finney
  • Nancy Wong as Personnel Officer
  • Bart Conrad as Capt. Krasnovsky
  • William Meader as Capt. Lindstrom
  • Reginald Lal Singh as Capt. Nensi Chandra
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Tomorrow Is Yesterday"
Next →
"The Return of the Archons"
Star Trek: The Original Series (season 1)
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Court Martial" is the twentieth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek. It was written by Don M. Mankiewicz and Steven W. Carabatsos, directed by Marc Daniels, and first aired on February 2, 1967.

In the episode, Captain Kirk stands trial on charges of criminal negligence after a crewman fakes his own death.


The USS Enterprise has put in at Starbase 11 for repairs after an ion storm. During this storm, Captain James T. Kirk was forced to eject a research pod containing Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Finney to prevent the destruction of the ship; Finney is presumed dead. Commodore Stone, commander of the base, reviews the ship's records and discovers that Kirk ejected the pod while the ship was at Yellow Alert and not Red Alert as Kirk claimed. Stone accuses Kirk of perjury and warns him that he may be subject to court martial.

Stone first interviews Kirk privately, asking about his history with Finney. It is revealed that Kirk had served with Finney aboard the USS Republic and had reported a mistake Finney had made, causing Finney to be reprimanded and sent to the bottom of the promotion list. Ever since, Finney has blamed Kirk for hindering his advancement. Stone asks Kirk to voluntarily step down as captain of the Enterprise, but Kirk disputes the allegations and demands a trial.

At the trial, both Spock and Dr. McCoy speak on Kirk's behalf, while Finney's daughter Jame looks on. Samuel T. Cogley, Kirk's attorney, puts him on the stand, but again, Kirk's testimony contradicts the computer logs, which include a visual recording that shows Kirk ejecting the pod while the ship was on Yellow Alert. During a recess, Kirk comments that Spock may find a better chess opponent in his next captain, giving Spock an idea.

Mr. Spock discovers that he is able to beat the Enterprise computer several times at three dimensional chess, despite having given the computer all his knowledge of the game. He concludes that the computer has been tampered with as his best outcome should have been a draw. Spock arrives with his findings before the court-martial verdict can be handed down, and Cogley, following an impassioned speech on the rights of man versus the machine, demands that the court martial reconvene aboard the Enterprise. Once there, Spock notes only three people could have altered the computer records aboard the Enterprise: Kirk, himself, and Finney. Cogley suggests that Finney is not dead.

The crew is beamed down to Starbase 11, and Dr. McCoy uses a sensitive auditory device tied into the computer that can detect a human heartbeat aboard the ship, and masks out those of all known to remain aboard. One heartbeat remains, coming from Engineering. Kirk goes there to find Finney, who draws a phaser and gleefully informs him that he has sabotaged the ship so she will drop out of orbit, killing everyone aboard. Kirk reveals that Finney's daughter Jame is also aboard, confusing him and giving Kirk time to wrestle the weapon away. As Finney is secured, Kirk repairs the damage.

Captain Kirk is cleared of all charges and restored to duty.


Star Trek commentator Keith DeCandido, writing for, observed, "This episode was originally commissioned by producer Gene L. Coon as a cheap single-set episode, and Don M. Mankiewicz gave him a court martial story, intending it to take place entirely in the courtroom. However, the final version of the script required several new sets to be built, not to mention a matte painting of Starbase 11."[1] For the final version four new sets were built: Kirk's quarters on the starbase, Commodore Stone's office, the starbase bar, and the courtroom itself.[2]


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode a "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".[3]

DeCandido found many of the episode's actions to be procedurally incorrect or nonsensical. For instance, he categorizes as nonsense "Cogley's argument that Kirk has a right to face his 'accuser,' the ship's computer. A computer is a tool," not a witness. He adds that the "defense rested before Spock ran in with his story about beating the computer at chess, which meant he was finished defending Kirk" and presumably would have lost the case. DeCandido makes fun of the "absurdly Rube Goldberg-esque plan to isolate Finney on the ship," argues that Shaw should have recused herself from the case, likewise that Cogley should not have left in the middle of the proceedings to fetch Jame, and complains, "And then a captain who is on trial for murder is allowed to just go off and indulge in a fistfight in the engine room. Why not just use some kind of sedative and pump it into the engine room? (Because then our hero can't get into a fistfight where his shirt gets ripped.)"[1]

Reviewer Darren Mooney has mixed feelings about "Court Martial" as the first episode in the Star Trek universe to serve up a court room story: "While its influence is absolutely massive, Court Martial is still a problematic episode." Among its flaws, Mooney writes, is the "mess" of a script which had to be rewritten. Further, "Characters appear and disappear with awkward attempts at explanation. Scenes hinge on revelations that are never developed. The script's last act moves so quickly that we get a laboured William Shatner narration to explain what exactly is going on." Mooney identifies many problems with the character of Cogley, who "simply disappears from the episode."

"Sam Cogley asked me to give you something special," Shaw tells Kirk. "I didn’t have much of a chance to thank him," Kirk muses. Shaw explains, "He's busy on a case." That is probably the lamest excuse for an absence ever. Your client is leaving on a space ship. You can take five minutes to make a call to congratulate him...

Mooney also wonders about the hidden Mr. Finney's end game "after he ruins Kirk's career. Finney can't really ever live with his daughter again. He also probably can't hang around with Starfleet. And his career is certainly going to stall after this. Nothing stunts your shot at a promotion like being legally dead." Mooney concludes, "After all, Star Trek does an exceptional job dabbling in the absurd and borderline surreal. ... By any objective standard, Court Martial stands among the weakest of an otherwise fairly strong season."[4]

Michelle Erica Green writes that the episode "won't win any Emmys for legal drama, but it holds up quite well." She argues that "the ostensible reason for the court-martial is ultimately irrelevant, providing the setup for the only action sequence in an episode that sells itself with dialogue and philosophy. ... At the same time, Shaw seems to have a point when she suggests that Kirk must have been aware of Finney's resentment, for we see no grief from Kirk for his friend, no deep concern for the hysterical daughter named for him; he is as sorry about Finney as about any red-shirted ensign killed on his watch, no more or less." She also questions Stone for being "more worried about having the service smeared by a perjurer and coward than he is about keeping such a perjurer and coward on in a ground assignment. Forgetting that we're rooting for Kirk, we're also rooting against Starfleet bureaucratic sleaze at this point, so Cogley earns immediate bonus points for so obviously not being part of that establishment. On this series where bureaucracy and technology are glorified, the guy who distrusts computers is the hero of the day."[5]

Io9's 2014 listing of the top 100 Star Trek episodes placed "Court Martial" as the 89th best episode of all series up to that time, out of over 700 episodes.[6]

In 2019, Nerdist included this episode on their "Best of Kirk" binge-watching guide.[7]


  • The script was originally entitled "Court Martial on Star Base 11."[8]
  • "This is the first episode to refer to the organization the main characters are part of as Starfleet and the top of the hierarchy being Starfleet Command. It's also the first appearance of a starbase and our first commodore in Stone."[1] Previously, the name of Kirk's employer had varied quite a bit. In "The Conscience of the King", it was "the Star Service."[4]
  • The script refers to Vulcans as "Vulcanians," suggesting that Spock and his people have a long history of interaction with humans. Again, in "The Conscience of the King", McCoy had suggested planet Vulcan had been conquered."[4]
  • Spock claims on the witness stand that "Vulcanians do not speculate," a variation, claims Joe Richardson, on the "myth that was brought up by the Romulan commander in TOS: "The Enterprise Incident". The myth was refuted as soon as in the very same episode, because Spock was lying to her all the time, and most obviously when he pretended to kill Captain Kirk with the "Vulcan Death Grip". Still, the myth was quoted a couple more times in Star Trek, and was frequently alluded to by Spock as some sort of running gag in the TOS movies."[9]
  • Kirk's initial description of Stone is, "Portmaster of Star Base 11: Senior Captain Stone." If you listen very very closely to the DVD you will hear an audible jump in Shatner's voice over as he dubbed over this with "Commodore Stone, Commander of Star Base 11." Throughout the script, Stone is referred to in narrative and dialogue as either "Portmaster Stone" or "Captain Stone." In the credits of the aired version actor Percy Rodriguez is credited as "Portmaster Stone."[8]
  • One member of the court martial board is Captain Nensi Chandra; Chandra was also seen in the alternate timeline of the 2009 film Star Trek, also sitting in judgment of Kirk, as part of the board that investigated Kirk's cheating on the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Another member of that board was Lieutenant Alice Rawlings, named after the actor who played Jame.[1]
  • "It is said that Elisha Cook, Jr. had a good deal of difficulty memorizing his many long dramatic appeals to the court. This would certainly explain why many of his speeches in the script are not present in the aired version, or why some of those that were filmed frequently cut away from him to court and spectator reactions."[8]
  • Various deletions from and rearrangements of the script can be found at Court Martial: Final Draft as reported and analyzed by Dave Eversole.[8]
  • The matte painting of Starbase 11 was used for the cover of an issue of a fictional Galaxy magazine being read by Benny Russell in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars"; the cover story in that issue was "Court Martial, by Samuel T. Cogley."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e DeCandido, Keith R.A. (June 16, 2015). "Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: "Court Martial"". Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Handlen, Zack (March 20, 2009). ""Tomorrow Is Yesterday" / "Court Martial"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Mooney, Darren (May 15, 2013). "Star Trek – Court Martial (Review)". The M0vie Blog. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  5. ^ Green, Michelle Erica (October 7, 2005). "Court Martial". The Trek Nation. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  6. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (October 2, 2014). "The Top 100 Star Trek Episodes Of All Time!". io9. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  7. ^ "A Guide to Binge Watching 7 Great STAR TREK Arcs". Nerdist. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d Eversole, Dave (September 26, 1966). "Court Martial Final Draft". Orion Press Fanzines. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  9. ^ Richardson, Joe (December 23, 2017). "Vulcan Lies and Errors". Ex Astris Scientia. Retrieved August 23, 2018.

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