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 science fiction television series Star Trek. It was written by Don M. 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 antimatter piles, an error that 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 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 and demands to be put on trial to prove the charges. Kirk asks Lt. Areel Shaw, a former girlfriend of his, for legal advice; she suggests seeking legal representation from attourney Samuel T. Cogley and hesistantly reveals that she will be acting as the prosecutor in the trial. Kirk is taken aback when he learns that. The trial is overseen by Commodore Stone with a bench consisting of representatives of Starfleet Command and starship captains. Among the trial audience is Finney's young daughter, Jame. Believing that Kirk killed her father, Jame glares at him in the courtroom, after an earlier hysterical confrontation in Stone's presence.

The trial begins with the testimony by officers of the Enterprise, including Spock and Dr. McCoy. Cogley, who surprisingly had no questions to ask the witness, then calls Kirk to the stand, whose testimony contradicts the computer records.

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.

During recess, McCoy discovers Spock playing 3D chess and he angrily questions how Spock can play games with all that is going on. Spock reveals that what appeared to be only a pleasant diversion was, in fact, part of an investigation of the computer; Spock had been able to beat it at chess four times and was well on his way to a fifth victory, despite the fact that Spock himself had written the computer's chess program and, therefore, he should do no better than play to a draw against the computer. Spock concludes that someone must have tampered with the computer memory.

The court-martial is prepared to hand down a verdict when Spock enters, ready to present new evidence of 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 court yields to Cogley's demanding 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 in the engineering section.

Kirk goes in search of the owner of the mystery heartbeat; he 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 Jame is now also aboard the ship, having beamed up a little earlier. Raving, Finney assaults Kirk; after a brief but intense struggle, Finney loses the fight, 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 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".[1]


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

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