Written by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur H. Singer
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
The last episode of the original Star Trek series may have been one of its biggest misses. Instead of giving a bright glimpse of the future, it seems to erase all we have seen in terms of progress to a universe where gender, race, class, and ethnicity no longer matter.
The Enterprise has received a distress call from Camus II and responds to a planet where a group of archaeologists working in the ruins of civilization are all dead, except for the surgeon, Dr. Coleman (Harry Landers), and Dr. Janice Lester (Sandra Smith), a former lover of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), who was leading the expedition. Dr. Coleman says Dr. Lester is suffering from radiation poisoning of a kind they’ve never encountered before.
When Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) picks up nearby life signs, he leaves with Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Dr. Coleman. Captain Kirk stays behind with Dr. Lester. She’s very resentful of the fact that he achieved so much without her and feels that she was discriminated against because she was a woman. She is also not as sick as she appears, and uses an artifact they have discovered to switch bodies with Captain Kirk.
However, once on board the Enterprise, she can’t pull off command. Mr. Spock is the first member of the crew to catch on that something is not right when “Captain Kirk” diverts the Enterprise to Benecia Colony, allegedly to treat Doctor Lester’s condition. However, Starbase II is on the route they are currently on to Beta Aurigae and has better facilities, even if it is 24 hours further away than Benecia Colony. He also doesn’t seem to remember the chain of command on a starship.
Doctor McCoy is the next one who notices a problem with “Captain Kirk” and orders him to report for an examination. However, he dodges that when he’s asked to explain the course change to Starfleet.
Up until this point, “Doctor Lester” has been kept sedated. When she wakes up and is actually James Kirk in the body, she begins to try to convince the crew of what has happened. At first, no one is buying it. However, with the Captain’s somewhat erratic behavior, she begins to make some sense.
The story here hinges on the resentment of the caste system of society that excludes Janice Lester from being able to rise in rank in Starfleet due to her gender. However, everything we’ve seen up until now in this future universe has indicated that this is not the case. Sure, the majority of the crew of the Enterprise are single white men. However, it’s always alluded to or stated that there aren’t boundaries to achieving things based on gender any longer. Of the regular cast, both Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel have been steady contributors to the show. Guest stars often had women who the captain or some member of the crew falls in love with, but they also are scientists, diplomats, and more.
I’ve also never particularly liked the “body switch” plot device. Viewers are expected to swallow that this switching of souls can be done very easily, without any damage to the body or soul. This would have been good to know back in the episode Return to Tomorrow. In fact, it could have been stated that this was technology lost from that civilization and it would have tied in nicely and made much more sense. Instead, there’s no explanation for where this technology came from or how Janice Lester knows what it is capable of.
The shining light here is William Shatner’s acting. This is the type of role he excels at – acting like someone else who is supposed to be him. How would someone inhabiting the Captain’s body try to convince others that it’s really still the Captain? They would overdo everything; acting in earnest at every turn. Shatner is terrific at this. He also portrays her descent into madness inside the body perfectly and convincingly.
Unfortunately, this being the final episode of the Original Series run, it feels more like a mercy killing. For all of the promise of science fiction being able to expand our horizons, Roddenberry resorts to a tired and poorly conceived plot device that negates the way he has presented the future up until now. It’s disappointing to series fans, especially the female ones.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – All Our Yesterdays