Written by D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Lawrence Dobkin
Having children is a unique experience. Somehow, you have to tread the line between discipline and abuse, being careful not to squash the spirit and raise what will one day be productive members of society. No parent is perfect, but there are moments when we beam with pride, and others when we say, either out loud or to ourselves, “I can’t wait for you to have kids who do that to you…”
In Charlie X, Captain Kirk (portrayed by William Shatner) must act like a father to a young man who has been rescued from the planet Thasus after having been marooned there as a young child. The transport he was on crashed on the planet and he was the sole survivor, much to the amazement of everyone.
Charlie (portrayed by Robert Walker Jr.) comes on board from the ship, Antares. The crewmen who bring him to the Enterprise act a bit odd, but their behavior raises no alarms in anyone. After they have departed, the Antares Captain tries to contact Kirk, but his ship explodes before the conversation can take place.
The mission is to bring Charlie to a colony where he has relatives residing. The Enterprise is headed that way. Kirk tries to take Charlie under his wing, but strange things are happening. Charlie also develops a crush on Ensign Rand (portrayed by Grace Lee Whitney).
Charlie wants to please Kirk, but at the same time, Kirk is an authority figure that Charlie has never dealt with. Like many misbehaved teenagers, he acts fine and contrite when in Kirk’s presence, but changes when Kirk is not around. Ensign Rand tries to be nice to Charlie without leading him on or crushing his ego, but she has less success navigating that thin line.
Soon, more strange things are happening. When Lt. Uhura (portrayed by Nichelle Nichols) is singing in the Lounge and Charlie is jealous of the attention she’s receiving, she soon loses her voice. People who try to chastise Charlie for his poor behavior soon find themselves suffering physical ailments, including broken legs for Mr. Spock (portrayed by Leonard Nimoy). Kirk fears what will happen if Charlie is let loose on civilization, but struggles with the thought of marooning the young man once again.
Charlie X has some great writing and reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode It’s A Good Life where Billy Mumy does things to people in his town when they displease him. There are many angles of the story which seem familiar between the two. Even the original pitch for the show is eerily reminiscent as it was known as “Charlie’s Law” for a while and the tagline was “You’d better be nice to Charlie… or else.”
Shatner is really good here. He’s not posturing, and doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to be “the invincible Kirk”. Instead, he’s placed in a position to discipline an unruly child; a spoiled boy in a young man’s body, and he struggles to do it. As I’m watching these earlier episodes of the original series, I’m getting a greater appreciation for what Shatner brought to it, before his ego took over and he considered himself the star of the show and acted like a spoiled child himself.
Charlie X also gives Grace Lee Whitney a lot of work. I am really surprised she was never considered a “regular” cast member like so many others. I have heard through the years she had issues, but she is really terrific here, and if the rumors about what led her to depart the series are true, it’s all the more a shame.
It’s Robert Walker Jr. as Charlie who steals the show. He captures the essence of a spoiled boy in the body of a young man. He’s conflicted between two different levels of maturity, and he handles it very well. He doesn’t come off too juvenile nor too sophisticated. It’s his performance that makes the episode really work.
There are a few moments that don’t hold up, one of which is Spock’s showing a good deal of emotion and smiling while listening to Uhura sing about him. Nimoy must have been getting a feel still for how he was going to play the character or the director hadn’t gotten a grip on how the character needed to come off to the audience.
Charlie X is a terrific early episode from the series. It builds on what’s great about the series – great scripts and character interplay – without getting bogged down in special effects.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Man Trap
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Where No Man Has Gone Before