Thursday, June 5, 2014

Turnabout Intruder

JANICE: The year we were together at Starfleet is the only time in my life I was alive.
KIRK: I never stopped you from going on with your space work.
JANICE: Your world of starship captains doesn't admit women. It isn't fair.
KIRK: No, it isn't. And you punished and tortured me because of it.

How should that line from Janice Lester be read? Does the word your refer directly to Kirk or to Starfleet in general? If Lester is talking about Starfleet as a whole then it can only be taken literally. Women cannot become starship captains. Alternatively, if Lester is only talking about Kirk then maybe she blames Kirk for allowing their relationship to wither because he's so obsessed with being a starship captain that he can't allow anything else to matter, not even a relationship which clearly meant a huge amount to Lester.

Star Trek fans have spent a lot of time debating exactly what Janice Lester means. Ultimately everybody brings their own interpretation to the table. Personally I think Lester is speaking literally. Starfleet does not allow women to become starship captains. There's no evidence to contradict this in the previous 78 episodes (and consider the wider culture, it wasn't until 1998 that Lieutenant Commander Darlene Iskra became the first woman appointed to command a US Navy ship). It's possible to argue that Kirk is just humouring Lester. He knows she's wrong but he's mindful of her condition and doesn't want their first meeting in years, and potentially their last meeting if she really is dying, to end in another argument. However even if Kirk is just trying to be polite there are other hints that Starfleet's policy is to exclude women from the captain's chair. During the court martial Lester in Kirk's body has the line "....she would not be allowed to serve as the captain," implying that even if Starfleet agreed that the mind of Kirk was trapped in Lester's body they still wouldn't allow Kirk-as-Lester to resume command of the Enterprise. Muddying the waters further are Kirk's ,"no it isn't," response to Lester's claim that "it isn't fair," and his unfinished final line of the episode. "Her life could have been as rich as any woman's, if only. If only..." If only... what? If only she'd not been utterly insane, or if only she'd known her place?

It's interesting that 45 years after this episode was made it is still possible to debate exactly what Lester means. Could this ambiguity be deliberate? it would have been the easiest thing in the world to tidy up the language and clarify whether Starfleet has a problem with Lester or her gender. The script for Turnabout Intruder was finalised in December 1968. The fuss over the Kirk/Uhura kiss in Plato's Stepchildren would still have been fresh in everyone's memory. Is it possible that someone on the writing staff didn't want to rule out the idea of women commanding starships, but was also concerned that the contemporary audience would find the idea a step too far into crazy science fiction? Whatever the case the later series and films would be happy to clarify this point; in 1973 Star Trek: The Animated Series showed Uhura taking command in the episode The Lorelei Signal.

It is of course possible that the confusion caused by Lester's line is the result of bad writing. There are other examples on display elsewhere. It's never made clear what is wrong with Lester. Everyone just assumes that she's going to die of radiation poisoning before the subject is quietly dropped about halfway through the episode when everyone gets distracted by Kirk's behaviour. The portrayal of security on the Enterprise is also odd. At times the ship feels more like ISS Enterprise from Mirror, Mirror, with the Captain allowed to get away with any excessive behaviour as long as he keeps security onside. The biggest offender is the end of the episode when the story just stops. Suddenly the transfer is unstable and Kirk and Lester pop back into their proper bodies; the end. Janice Lester and doctor Arthur Coleman, who murdered their way through the staff of the Camus II expedition and were prepared to murder their way through the senior staff of a starship, are simply allowed to wander off after Coleman promises to look after Lester.

All that said there are a lot of points where the writing is really pleasing and subtle. Kirk in Lester's body quickly realises that trying to explain the truth just makes people think Lester is paranoid. There's a great moment when he plays off Nurse Chapel's emotions by asking her, "is a visit by that very kind Mister Spock to be allowed?" It's also good to see that it's Kirk's impulsiveness, and his preference for action, that gets him deeper into trouble. His escape from sickbay just gets him recaptured and confined in isolation, and is also what gets Spock into trouble when he disobeys Lester-as-Kirk's order that no one should talk to Kirk-as-Lester. The loyalty Spock feels for Kirk is made clear by his immediate acceptance of what has happened to Kirk, once it becomes impossible for there to be any other explanation. There is also a good demonstration of Spock's pragmatism when he points out that although he believes Kirk belief is not enough. They must have evidence. There's also a couple of nice lines which show Kirk and Lester have radically different ideas about why their relationship failed. Lester-as-Kirk tells McCoy, "I walked out on her when it became serious," while Kirk-as-Lester later tells the court martial, "her intense hatred of her own womanhood made life with her impossible."

William Shatner is all over the place. At times he works really hard to convince the audience that someone different is driving Kirk's body. When Lester-as-Kirk first calls the Enterprise Shatner puts in a tiny hesitation on his, "Captain Kirk to the Enterprise," line and then fractionally jerks his head in surprise when Scott replies. He stands differently and is visibly tense when he first walks on to the bridge for the first time before beginning to relax. He nervously brushes a hand across his hair on the, "I walked out on her when it became serious," line as if to imply that on an unconscious level Lester knows this isn't the exact truth. The problem is William Shatner can't resist going for the obvious laugh, and he enjoys himself just a bit too much; as was the case in A Piece Of The Action. The scene where Lester-as-Kirk talks to Doctor McCoy while filing his nails stands out as an obvious example. It probably got a big laugh on set but it undermines Lester because it's been established that she hates her own femininity so this prissy little action makes no sense.

Behind the camera Donald R. Rode does his usual fine work as film editor. He edits together a couple of very short flashback scenes to the mind swap which work as neat pieces of visual story telling. The editing during the mind meld scene is also effective. After Spock breaks the link the pacing is deliberately slow with two wordless close-ups of Kirk and Spock before the tension is broken with Spock's line, "I believe you." Donald R. Rode also works in some genuine humour when the mind transfer begins to fail. He cuts between a close-up of William Shatner gurning on the bridge and a four shot of Kirk-as-Lester, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty in their cell. This is followed by a shot of Lester-as-Kirk on the bridge, and the camera slowly pulls back to reveal Chekov and Sulu staring at Kirk as if he was the crazy person on the bus. A moment which manages to be funny and also underlines how Kirk-as-Lester has lost command of the crew. At the end of the episode there's also a lovely moment when the acting and editing combine to create a wordless demonstration of why Kirk is able to lead and Lester is reduced to bluster and shouting.

KIRK: Can you do anything for her?
COLEMAN: I'd like to take care of her.
MCCOY: Of course. Come with me.

Harry Landers makes brief eye contact with DeForest Kelley before delivering Coleman's line. This is followed by a reaction shot of William Shatner raising his head, as if Kirk is also looking at McCoy. Finally DeForest Kelley looks back at Harry Landers before delivering McCoy's line. The effect is of wordless communication between Kirk and McCoy. It's not necessary for Kirk to ask whether Coleman can care for Lester. Kirk knows a look is enough to convey his opinion because he instinctively understands how to build a consensus with his officers. Regardless of the story logic of allowing Coleman to take charge of his partner in murder it's a nice contrast to the earlier scene where Lester-as-Kirk fails to convince McCoy that Coleman should take responsibility for Kirk-as-Lester and is reduced to barking out an order.

It's easy to see why a lot of fans regret this being the last episode of Star Trek's run on NBC. At the most basic level this feels like an unsatisfactory goodbye because Uhura is missing. Nichelle Nichols had another engagement. In a script which otherwise features all of the regular cast, it's a shame she should couldn't be present. The suggestion that women cannot be starship captains also means that the series leaves on a sour note. It's a reminder for the modern audience that for all Star Trek's progressive ideals it was a sixties television series created by sixties men with sixties attitudes. For a series which did such good work challenging social attitudes it's disappointing to see it had such a blind spot when it came to its own treatment of women.

Turnabout Intruder is a disappointment compared to how seasons one and two ended. Season one ended with Operation - - Annihilate! a more confident episode than the first broadcast episode The Man Trap which shows clear growth and progress for the series. Season two ended with Assignment: Earth an ambitious, if flawed, attempted to launch a Star Trek spin-off series. Turnabout Intruder is virtually a bottle show. Seven minutes into the episode we're back on the Enterprise for the duration of the story. The story isn't even uniquely Star Trek. It's an attempt to fit a standard body swap story into the Star Trek format. The Prisoner episode Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling was broadcast on CBS on 3rd August 1968, and The Avengers episode Who's Who?? before that on ABC, 19th May 1967. Going back further to 11th November 1963 there is also an episode of The Outer Limits called The Human Factor. Still for all its faults it's good that Star Trek ends on a story which underlines the loyalty the Enterprise crew have for each other.

Enterprise crew deaths: None.
Running total: 56

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