The ‘Star Trek’ Initiative: Review of ‘Charlie X’ from ‘Star Trek: TOS’

Courtesy of CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment

“Young Man Crushes on Yeoman”

Charlie X, Season 1, Episode 2

Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, Grace Lee Whitney

Guest starring Robert Walker Jr.

Original air date: Sept. 15, 1966 — Stardate: 1533.6

My confession: I love Charlie X, the second episode to air on television in Star Trek’s first season. It’s a little strange and quirky, but it has many redeeming qualities. Robert Walker Jr.’s performance as the title character is positively spot-on. He’s a young man working his way through emotions that feel incomprehensible and awkward.

We first meet Charlie after he’s rescued from Thasus by the crew of the Antares. When the crew members drop him off in the care of the Enterprise, it becomes clear that this sheltered man is downright odd. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) almost immediately scolds him for interrupting a conversation. Later in the episode Charlie smacks the rear of Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), thinking the action is appropriate. As Charlie continues to befriend the Enterprise crew, the strange things continue to build, jumping from inappropriate to villainous. It seems this forgotten child has the power of mind control, a specialty that many Star Trek villains feature.

One of the best scenes in any episode of Star Trek: The Original Series comes when Spock (Leonard Nimoy) plays the Vulcan lute and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) sings a song for the relaxing crew members. This all happens while Charlie shows Rand a few magic tricks with a deck of cards. But after facing humiliation in front of the others, Charlie decides to use his powers to control Uhura’s voice and essentially turn it off like water spigot. Spock, ever the watchman, takes note and begins to suspect something is awry with this new visitor.

After Kirk unsuccessfully tries to make Charlie a man (letting him know proper manners and teaching him a few things on the wrestling mat), it becomes clear that this guest on the Enterprise has tipped over the threshold. He’s reached the point of no return.

Charlie X can easily get discarded as one of the lesser episodes in the inaugural season of Star Trek. It’s small in scope and a tad odd. But audience members who sidestep this little gem would miss some seminal Star Trek moments. First off, there may be no other episode that let’s Grace Lee Whitney’s character of Janice Rand have a complete storyline. As we all know, Whitney leaves the series after only a few episodes, so it’s nice to have Charlie X displaying her skills as an actress.

The episode, written by D.C. Fontana and based on a story by Gene Roddenberry, strikes some parallels with the original audience in the 1960s. Think about it: The Vietnam War is preparing for an escalation, and young men are being sent to a foreign locale, many of them never to return. They are boys made to act like adults in the jungles of Southeast Asia. They have a lot to learn and many thoughts swirling through their mind. Perhaps this connection to reality is overreaching, but it seems that Charlie is a stand-in for the dispirited youth of the 1960s. He needs guidance, and he receives some help from Kirk — even if the captain’s efforts are too little too late.

Walker and Whitney provide Charlie X with some great acting scenes. This is also one of Shatner’s better episodes, and who can forget Nichols’s unusually transfixing voice? It’s also the first episode to feature the Vulcan lute and three-dimensional chess. Noticeably absent is George Takei and James Doohan, but that seems to fit with the overall storyline. It’s nice when Roddenberry lets the “guest star of the week” steal some of the spotlight from the Enterprise crew. After spending 50 minutes with Charlie and Janice, the audience gets to know them and even cares for their eventual outcome.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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