Star Trek Episode 20: Court Martial

Technical Specs

Director: Marc Daniels

Writers: Don M. Mankiewcz and Steven W. Carabatsos

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Percy Rodriguez, Elisha Cook, Joan Marshall, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, Richard Webb, Hagan Beggs, Winston DeLugo, Alice Rawlings, Nancy Wong, Bart Conrad, William Meader, and Reginald Lal Singh

Composer: Alexander Courage

Air Date: 2/2/1967

Stardate: 2947.3

Production #: 6149-15



After an automated report concerning the death of a crewman conflicts with Kirk’s testimony, the Enteprise captain is court martialed on the charge of criminal negligence. To further star-trek-court-martialcomplicate matters, one of Kirk’s old girlfriends, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall), turns out to be the prosecuting attorney.

“Court Martial” is an entertaining, if slightly underwhelming, piece. Though a number of confusing plot elements stemming from last-minute script changes are present, William Shatner’s ability to embody Captain Kirk’s steadfast qualities during a trying ordeal redeems this episode from its minor weak points.



While the outcome of Kirk’s trial can be easily predicted from the onset, the actual proceedings result in many intense character interactions. For instance, Lieutenant Shaw’s prosecution of Kirk places both individuals in an uncomfortable position because of their past involvement with one another (a similar star-trek-court-martialdynamic occurs in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Measure of a Man” when Commander Riker is forced to present evidence against Data’s case). This tense situation only escalates when Spock and McCoy are required to testify for and against the character of James T. Kirk. Ultimately, the compelling performances of Shatner, Marshall, Cook, and Nimoy effectively carry an otherwise mediocre narrative, while a memorable twist ending makes for an exciting conclusion to the trial storyline.



star-trek-court-martialGiven Shaw’s obvious conflict of interest, the court’s decision to assign the lieutenant to Kirk’s case makes little sense. Even though the stakes are raised by the opposition of Kirk’s former love interest, no explanation is provided from either a legal or logical standpoint that would justify her ability to operate without bias in these hearings.



Much like “The Ultimate Computer,” “Court Martial” presents an intriguing commentary on whether technological advancements could ever supersede human judgment. On one hand, Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) initially doubts the testimony of Kirk in favor of the account star-trek-court-martialprovided by a supposedly infallible computer. However, as Spock later discovers through a series of chess matches, reliance on technology over the word of an honest, morally-grounded human being can lead to grave consequences. While this episode fails to explore the concept of man versus machine with the same nuanced insight as the season two offering mentioned earlier, Star Trek fans should nonetheless enjoy “Court Martial” for its philosophical undertones.


Concluding Comments

In spite of several continuity flaws, “Court Martial” succeeds thanks to its fascinating mystery plot coupled with a riveting finale. Likewise, science fiction enthusiasts should appreciate this episode’s examination of potential problems centering on hypothetical technology, even though some viewers may prefer spacefaring adventures over starbase settings.


Overall Quality: 8/10


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