Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Charlie X

Season 1
Episode 7: Charlie X
Filmed: July 1966
First Air Date: September 15, 1966 (2nd episode aired)

Karen: An episode that demonstrates that raging adolescent hormones and omnipotence don't mix, "Charlie X" featured actor Robert Walker Jr as young orphan Charlie Evans, the only survivor of a starship crash many years prior who comes aboard the Enterprise and gradually wreaks havoc with his psychic abilities. In some ways, it's similar to "Where No Man Has Gone Before," in that the Enterprise crew are faced with an adversary with godlike abilities. But this time, that adversary is also a teenager who is just discovering girls.

Karen: This episode is notable for being writer Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana's first effort for Star Trek. Fontana started out as Gene Roddenberry's secretary, but already had a few screenplays under her belt. Of course, in the 60s, it wasn't easy for a woman to get a full time job as a screenwriter. But she persevered. When she saw Roddenberry's story idea, she asked if she could develop it. She was given the chance and had a natural feel for the character of Charlie.She had two teen-age brothers at the time and understood their troubles and motivations. In These are the Voyages, Vol.1, Marc Cushman quotes Fontana as saying about the character of Charlie: "Here's this kid who hasn't had any exposure to other humans, and I felt that this incredible humanity shock to him is a little like growing up. You're a child, then suddenly, you're considered an adult. Plus you're really starting to appreciate but not understand the other sex."

Karen: Although the Star Trek staff unanimously felt Fontana had hit it out of the park, Roddenberry still came in to tweak the script a bit. Associate Producer John D.F. Black said, "(Roddenberry's) habit was to put sex into everything. It drove Dorothy crazy because he did that to 'Charlie X.' He had to make it sexy."  Fontana said, "I was trying to play on the naivete and the innocence of the boy rather than the raging hormones, but, you know, that's the way the story went. And some of that went pretty well, I thought."

Karen: It's a memorable episode. Walker does a fine job as Charlie, and William Shatner turns in a solid performance as a somewhat flustered Kirk. Grace Lee Whitney's Yeoman Rand is the object of Charlie's affections and gets more to do in this episode than any other. Nichelle Nichols has a featured moment singing, accompanied by Spock on his Vulcan lyre no less. One thing I truly enjoy about these first season episodes are the scenes of the crew relaxing together. They seemed to be rare in the second and third seasons.

Karen: It occurs to me that Charlie X and Anthony Fremont from The Twilight Zone episode "It's A Good Life" could have quite a cage match...


Anonymous said...

When I was young, this episode always seemed to me like ‘the Menagerie’ turned inside out. (OK, bear with me here):

5 key elements of the Menagerie: Captain Pike is deformed, so Spock takes over the Enterprise in order to turn him over to a race of aliens whom he’d met previously. They can seemingly warp reality with their mind powers. The episode ends with the aliens taking him to live with them because his life there, though an illusion, will be better than the life he will have with humanity.

In Charlie X, the eponymous Charlie, a strikingly attractive and robust young man takes over the Enterprise. He can seemingly warp reality with mind powers (given to him by aliens he met previously), apparently actually warping reality rather than just seeming to. The episode ends with the aliens taking him to live with them, despite Kirk’s protestations, because he is too dangerous to live with humanity.

No? OK.

Have you ever noticed how some of the most memorable, if not necessarily the best, episodes all take place on board the Enterprise (Charlie, Naked Time, Tribbles, Enemy Within, Space Seed and many others)? Considering these must have been much cheaper to stage (cardboard Tombstone and Robin & the 7 hoods Chicago notwithstanding) and that the whole point was to boldly go where no man had gone before, not run round & round the same corridors, it’s amazing that they were actually some of the most iconic episodes. Good writing wins through !


Edo Bosnar said...

I remember not liking this episode as much when I was a little kid and even teenager, but later I came to really appreciate it. The ending, with the aliens taking Charlie away, is thought-provoking and troubling, because you really feel sorry for him, as bratty (and, obviously, dangerous) as he may have been.
Also, you just gotta love any episode in which Nichelle Nichols does some singing...

J.A. Morris said...

Good review from Karen. Like Edo, I didn't like this one as a kid. In fact, I didn't like ANY episodes that lacked cool-looking aliens. But as a "grown-up", I can now appreciate 'Charlie X' as a look at Wild Child Syndrome, among other things.

Fontana wrote some great episodes, I'd say my favorite of hers was 'The Enterprise Incident'. I'm glad that she's lived long enough (unlike Gene Coon, among others) to be appreciated by the fanbase.

FWIW, Walker is convincing as a teenager, which is good because he was 26 when this episode was produced.

Garett said...

I liked this episode. The scene that pops into my head is Kirk giving Charlie a fighting lesson:
I loved doing shoulder rolls as a kid!

Martinex1 said...

I watched my first Star Trek this weekend when I downloaded some episodes. As I said before I’ve seen some parts of episodes in some hazy distant past, but barely recall anything. And I’ve seen the recent movies and the Wrath of Khan. I know the characters almost through cultural osmosis. But really this is my “first” experience with the original show, and definitely my “first” with these particular episodes. I did see “Charlie X” this week, so here are my general impressions as a newbie (in no particular order).

1) I noticed that the dialogue for the show was written almost like a radio show. Much of the story was in the exposition. Even the Captain’s Log seems to act as a narration device. I could have closed my eyes and with a little explanation like “Hey she has no face” or “Hey she is old all of a sudden” would have filled certain visual cues. I actually found that type of dialogue and storytelling enjoyable.
2) The actors act a lot with their faces. This may be an old fashioned TV approach, but it was very noticeable on Star Trek. A raised eyebrow here, a squint there, a curled lip, a wry smile, a sideway glance were all very well done. There are a ton of close ups. I also liked this a lot. And I found the acting to be really good in this fashion. It was easy to read the characters’ minds. The combination of my points 1 and 2 make the viewing fun.
3) A couple people mentioned lighting in previous conversations, and I noticed it right away. The highlighted eyes and the shadows across faces. Very moody.
4) The show was creepier than I expected. Karen mentions the Twilight Zone, and I definitely got that vibe. The “where no man has gone before” was more about a state of mind and weird sense of suspense than an actual place.
5) The show had a lot more overt sexual overtones than I expected. I always think of that era of television as being very sanitized. They didn’t steer clear of that much.
6) The ending to “Charlie X” was surprising and sad. It is interesting that there was no easy and happy ending. In my viewing, Kirk seemed to just need the problem resolved for the safety of his crew and there was not a simple path. I felt for Charlie when he begged to not let it happen; that he couldn’t even touch those ethereal beings. I feel like modern storytelling would have been a little more “clean”. I liked this though; it was philosophically challenging. And now that I have seen a couple of episodes, it is interesting to me that sometimes there is a kinder resolution and sometimes there is a harsher resolution. That is very intriguing.
7) I found two scenes kind of funny (from the perspective of time) because I cannot imaging them ever being in modern television shows. First was the lengthy singing portion. In retrospect it was a good scene, but it really took me by surprise for its quirkiness and definitely lasted much longer than I expected. The second was the gymnasium scene with the wrestling and acrobatics and tights. What can I say? It just made me chuckle.
8) Regarding the singing scene, I am not quite sure I understand Spock and Uhura’s relationship. This may sound strange, but I wasn’t sure if she was angry with him and taking a sarcastic jab or if it was all in fun. There was an edge to it that I perceived. I may be misinterpreting that.
9) I am not clear on how far in the future Star Trek is supposed to be (and I am sure somebody can fill me in), but I kind of liked that the chess game changed so dramatically but playing cards stayed the same. Just something I noticed.
10) I could not take my eyes off of Spock’s ears. That sound stupid, but that was very good makeup. I cannot figure how they are attached and how much is actually Nimoy. Well done.
11) Out of the few episodes I have now seen, this is not my favorite but it was definitely enjoyable.

I am sure I have more to say, but that is definitely enough for now.

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex, Star Trek (the original series) is set some time in the 23rd century - don't ask me for the specific years, you can Google it or check Wikipedia. Suffice it to say, it's supposed to be about 300 years into the future.

Which actually leads me to my own question: it's been almost 10 years since I last watched any TOS episodes (man, time flies!), so I'm pondering over how old Charlie X is supposed to be. All I vaguely recall is that he was left alone as a small child and remained that way for about 15 years - so is he actually supposed to be a teen or maybe 20 (or even early 20s)? In that regard, I have to say that Roddenberry was probably right in making the script a little "sexier" (even though his motivations for doing so may not have been so high-minded), just because I think a young man would indeed have quite an intense response to encountering women for the first time (especially wearing those alluring Star Fleet uniforms).

Anonymous said...

I never liked this one in my younger days...Charlie was just an annoying brat to me. But I grew to appreciate the subtleties. Dorothy Fontana is great at digging into the characters heads and giving them some depth.

Martinex, according to most canonical sources that I could find, this episode (and at least the first half of Season One) takes place in 2266.

Mike Wilson

Karen said...

Hi gang. Thanks for checking in on "Charlie X." It's one of those episodes that I don't think is anyone's favorite really, but it's still a pretty good episode. I've begun watching some second season episodes now, and I have to say, I think the first season had many superior qualities (such as overall mood) although there were many good episodes in the second season, particularly the first part of it.

Martinex, your thoughts as a new Trek viewer are really interesting! I applaud you for giving it a shot. I know it can be difficult to watch an old tv show and find the magic. Your observations about the acting, the lighting, and the fact that there were sometimes unhappy resolutions are important -in my opinion, keys to understanding what made the show so terrific, and set it apart from anything else that was on the air. The first season was much more serious -especially before Gene Coon came on as a producer - and frequently put the characters in uncomfortable situations. This did continue throughout the series but the first season set that tone. And that lighting! Jerry Finnerman was just an artist. The way he would frame faces with shadows -now it would be considered too artsy, too melodramatic, but man, it's just incredible. And the colors he used on sets -gorgeous.

Your comment about the Spock - Uhura relationship got me thinking. In the first season, there were a couple of times where it seemed like she was flirting with him a bit. But it never went anywhere. But I wonder if this might have been inspiration for the new movie series? In case you haven't seen it, in that, Spock and Uhura are in a romantic relationship. I'm still not sure I like that, but I guess I give them points for trying something different. Maybe.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, no points from me for the Uhura-Spock hook-up in NuTrek; that's something that just screams fan fiction to me. I would be just as annoyed if - following the implications of the Mirror, Mirror episode - Uhura and Sulu were turned into a couple. It just adds nothing to the overall story in my opinion. One thing I really like about the original series is that - with the exception of the will-they, won't they thing Kirk and Rand had going on in the first season - there's no ongoing romantic relationships between the main crew members.

Martinex1 said...

I've seen the latest movie, but I don't think I really understood all of the nuances of the relationships or how they were traditionally handled. I definitely have some unexpected (unexpected by me) interpretations of the Kirk, Spock, and McCoy relationships. Maybe next time we can touch on some of that. But the dynamics are not at all what I expected, particularly around Kirk.

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