Star Trek – Charlie X

Charlie Evans (Robert Walker) is a highly unusal teenager. The only survivor from a transport ship which crashed on the planet Thasus, it’s a mystery how he was able to survive all by himself for so long ….

The series might have already tackled the “human becomes god” storyline with Where No Man Has Gone Before, but it was clearly a storyline that had legs, as Charlie X refined and improved the concept (and ended up airing first as a consequence).

If Gary Mitchell was a seasoned man of the world then Charlie Evans is his exact opposite – a stumbling teenager. All of Charlie’s early scenes feel somewhat awkward (as we witness the misfit boy attempting to fit into the culture of the Enterprise)

But there’s an added wrinkle – it’s already been revealed to the audience that he has unusual powers of suggestion (although Kirk and co remain ignorant about this for the moment).

Kirk, Spock and McCoy spark off each other wonderfully in a scene where both Kirk and McCoy try to dodge the responsibility of becoming Charlie’s mentor (primarily to broach the difficult subject of the birds and the bees). Kirk, due to his rank, is able to dump this responsibility onto the less than ecstatic McCoy. Although things don’t quite work out the way Kirk hoped ….

But Charlie’s already learning, thanks to the presence of Janice Rand. From their first meeting (“are you a girl?”) he is plainly transfixed by her, although giving her backside a friendly slap doesn’t go down well!

D.C. Fontana (contributing her first script for the series) seems to have great fun with the concept of Jim Kirk as a substitute father. His stumbling explanation to Charlie as to why Yeoman Rand didn’t appreciate a slap on the behind is nicely done.

Well, um, er, there are things you can do with a lady, er, Charlie, that you, er… There’s no right way to hit a woman… I mean… man to man is one thing, but, er, man and woman, er, it’s, er… it’s, er…. well it’s, er, another thing. Do you understand?

Another highlight is the musical number shared by Uhura and Spock. It’s a lovely piece of character development – enabling us to believe that the people we see episode in and episode out are actually real people who have a life outside of tackling whatever the crisis of the week is. I also like the way that Spock’s initial irritation at Uhura’s warbling quickly gives way to amused resignation.

It’s not just a filler scene though, since it moves the plot forward (Charlie wants to chat to Janice so he casually silences Uhura with a glance). His prowess with card tricks then enchants Janice and the others, giving Charlie the adulation he craves ….

Kirk does his best to mentor the boy. At one point they tackle a gym session ( a bare-chested Shatner in red tights is quite a sight).

But things take a nasty turn shortly afterwards as Kirk finally realises just how powerful and increasingly uncontrollable Charlie is. Lawrence Dobkin’s direction is noteworthy here – focusing in on both Kirk and Charlie’s eyes whilst the rest of the frame is plunged into relative darkness.

It’s a shame that Rand is reduced, yet again, to the status of a sexual object. Sadly that seemed to be her prime function during the brief time she spent on the Enterprise.

Charlie X takes a fairly routine storyline and manages to craft a memorable episode out of it. Robert Walker is excellent as the misfit Charlie. Despite his various crimes (which include murder) it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him – at one level he’s simply a mixed up teenager, albeit one with unbelievable powers. 

The way that Charlie’s tricks and pranks become darker as the episode progresses (ageing harmless crew members or simply wiping their faces) helps to give the story a real punch. It’s not difficult to see why it was one of the first stories to air – even this early on Star Trek was really beginning to pick up strong momentum.

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