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Friday, August 13, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Turnabout Intruder"
And so, we arrive at the final episode of classic Star Trek ever produced or aired, "Turnabout Intruder."

The Enterprise answers a distress call from a research team on Camus II. Leading the team is a former girlfriend of Kirk's, Dr. Janice Lester. Seems Janice didn't take the break-up very well and has really been nursing a grudge against Kirk. And boy howdy, can she hold a grudge. After Spock and McCoy head off to look for survivors, Janice uses a strange device on the planet to switch bodie with Kirk. She then tries to kill Kirk in her old body, but can't before Spock and McCoy arrive back on the scene.

They beam back to the ship and Lester/Kirk orders that only Doctor Coleman, who's in on the plan, can take care of Kirk/Janice. Lester/Kirk orders the ship to head to the Venicia colony where they can leave Kirk/Janice and Dr. Coleman behind or possibly have Kirk/Janice killed. Seems that in order to maintain the transference, Kirk/Janice has to die.

Well it's not long before Lester/Kirk is making quite a few blunders and the crew begins to think something is up. Spock quickly figures out that something ain't right and mind melds with Kirk/Janice to discover the truth. But Lester/Kirk catches wind of it, has Spock arrested and court martialed . During the trial, Lester/Kirk acts oddly, even leaving the briefing room where there is no door! (It's an error by the director, but it's still funny. One of those gaffs that stayed in the show along the lines of Nimoy breaking character in "Amok Time" wide shots or the phaser hitting the ground in "Space Seed.) McCoy and Scotty are taken aback by this and plot to remove Lester/Kirk from command. Unfortunately, Lester/Kirk catches this on audio and has them arrested as well and summarily decides on the death penalty for all of Spock, McCoy and Scotty.

Sulu and Chekov protest by not following orders and Lester/Kirk convinces Coleman to head down to security and kill Kirk/Janice. At this point, the transference reverses for no good reason other than the hour is almost up. Janice breaks down and is upset that she's been one upped by Kirk yet again (apparently he left the relationship when it got "too real"). Coleman says he sure would like to take care of her and Kirk agrees.

The idea of Kirk losing control of the Enterprise and the crew mutinying against what is perceived as the captain all sounds like an interesting story, doesn't it? Too bad "Turnabout Intruder" doesn't really deliver on that promise. In some ways, it feels like it's trying to mine the comic absurdity of body switching, but when you have episodes like "A Piece of the Action," "I, Mudd" and "The Trouble With Tribbles" as a standard of how you can do a humorous episode of Star Trek, "Intruder" is a pale imitation. (It's better than "Spock's Brain" which I'm still not was intended as a comedy).

The script comes from Gene Roddenberry, who apparently wrote in the margins that this was going to be a tour-de-force acting opportunity for William Shatner. One site I read indicates the Roddenberry was extremely convinced that this was one of the best Trek scripts ever written, further proving my theory that he was far better at creating the universe and characters for Trek than he was at working in them on a day to day basis (see all of season one of TNG for more proof).

And it possibly could have been a tour-de-force for Shatner, if he hadn't gone so over the top so quickly. We've seen in the past that Shatner can deliver solid performances that have nuance and subtlety ("The Enemy Within" for example) but this isn't one of them. Early on, the story makes some nice small differences so that we know it's not really Kirk but Lester trying to pretend to be Kirk. The most obvious is that she will answer any hail as "Captain Kirk here," which goes against the grain of the previous 78 episodes.

Unfortunately, as the episode progresses, the histrionics ramp into overdrive and the performance goes out the window. I find it amusing that the week this aired in 1969, TV Guide highlighted the story in a "Close Up" box and talked about this being a showcase for William Shatner's talents and that "only subtle changes" show the differences. I keep looking at the description and thinking, "Did they see the same episode I did?!?"

The episode also seems a bit short sighted in some other areas. For example, Dr. Coleman and Lester seem to be romantically involved. He's killed a whole lot of people for her (he helps her wipe out the scientific team to lure the Enterprise to the planet and is prepared to kill Kirk/Janice), but have they considered the implications of the body switch on their relationship? It appears that Janice wants this to be a permanent switch, but I'm not sure Coleman is on board with that. The story could have been a fascinating exploration of the nature of love along the lines of TNG's "The Host." But the question isn't even raised.

Nor is the reaction to everything in the end. OK, so Lester and Coleman have killed a whole bunch of people to carry out this plan. Yes, Lester is bat-dookie crazy but that doesn't excuse Coleman's actions. Maybe there's a scene or two that take place later where they're both hauled to the brig on murder charges. But in the end, Kirk lets Coleman take Lester back to sickbay and seems to shrug it off as just another odd day at the office.

It's not a great end to the series. One good thing it always signaled when watching these stories in syndication was that the next episode would likely be "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and that we were cycling back to season one, when the episodes were a bit more solid. Sure we could see the growing pains, but at least you knew it was all going somewhere.

That said, I do like what the remastered edition did for the final shot of the Enterprise in the original series. We see the ship sailing off into a cluster of stars and it feels like we're saying farewell as the crew sails into the sunset.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 8/13/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
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