Written by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Singer
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
Season 3, Episode 24
Production episode 60043-79
Original air date: June 3, 1969
Captain’s log. The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a scientific expedition on Camus II. Two of the survivors are the expedition’s surgeon Dr. Arthur Coleman, and the leader Dr. Janice Lester, who is an old flame of Kirk’s. They had an ugly breakup, apparently.
Coleman says she’s suffering from radiation sickness. Spock picks up life readings, so he, McCoy, and Coleman go to check it out while Kirk stays with Lester. They discuss their old times, then Kirk checks out the room she’s in. As soon as he gets near a wall, Lester—suddenly not looking at all ill—hits a control that attaches Kirk to the wall. She leans against another part of the wall, and she and Kirk switch bodies: Lester’s personality and mind is now in Kirk’s body, and vice versa. Kirk is overcome and ill from the transfer, but Lester is just fine, and rants and raves about how he should have killed her, but he was too weak—but she isn’t, and she’s about to strangle him when the others come back. The people they wanted to rescue didn’t make it.
McCoy wants to beam “Lester” back to the Enterprise, and “Kirk” agrees. Coleman and McCoy disagree on what type of radiation poisoning “Lester” is suffering from. Lester then gives McCoy a biased account of the Kirk-Lester relationship, and McCoy promises to do all he can.
Lester arrives at sickbay, where it’s clear that Coleman and Lester conspired to kill the rest of the expedition and set up this transfer. “Kirk” then orders Coleman to be responsible for “Lester’s” treatment, against McCoy’s better judgment. Coleman then orders the patient sedated, also against McCoy’s better judgment, but he tells Chapel to go ahead and administer the sedative.
Lester heads to the bridge, giddy with the fact that she can now command a starship. She’s studied everything available on starship operations. She goes to the bridge and orders a course change to Benecia, where “Lester” can be treated—but it involves going out of their way, and they’ll be late for their rendezvous with the Potemkin at Beta Aurigae. Spock points out that Starbase 2 has a much better medical facility and is actually on the way—but Benecia is only 48 hours away, where the starbase is 72 hours away, and Lester says that “Lester” doesn’t have that kind of time. Throughout the discussion on the matter—including the communications officer Lieutenant Lisa asking if Starfleet Command should be notified of the delay—Lester is inappropriately jocular and snappish and irritable. When Spock suggests that increasing speed would allow them to make their rendezvous without a problem, Lester pouts and orders an increase to warp 6 before leaving the bridge in a huff.
McCoy meets with “Kirk” in the captain’s quarters—where Lester is filing her nails, in case we’ve forgotten that Kirk is a girl now—to bitch about being taken off “Lester’s” case. His problem isn’t being removed as such, it’s with Coleman, who was removed from his post as a starship chief medical officer for incompetence. Lester brushes it off as politically motivated, but McCoy insists that that sort of thing doesn’t go on in the Surgeon General’s office of Starfleet Command. He also insists that “Kirk” report for a full physical because his emotional behavior has been erratic since returning from Camus II.
Kirk wakes up in sickbay and is very confused. Coleman calls him “Dr. Lester” and insists that he’s delusional and insane, that the paranoia’s been developing for months and the radiation’s making it worse. Coleman orders Chapel—who is convinced that “Lester” is insane because of his insistence at not being Janice Lester—to prepare a sedative.
Later, Kirk tries to get Chapel to let McCoy see him, but that’s against Coleman’s orders—however, she does think she can arrange for Spock to see “her.” Chapel leaves Kirk with a glass of liquid, and once Chapel leaves, he breaks the glass and cuts through the restraints.
Spock and McCoy are discussing “Kirk’s” mental illness and the tenseness of the crew with regard to the captain’s being so erratic. Lester arrives for “Kirk’s” physical and a minute later, Kirk arrives needing to talk to Spock and McCoy (and still carrying the broken glass). Lester subdues Kirk physically, and orders security to confine “her” to quarters.
McCoy conducts the physical of “Kirk” while Spock questions “Lester.” Kirk describes the body transfer, which Spock says has never been successfully accomplished, Spock having apparently totally forgotten the events of “Return to Tomorrow.” Kirk reminds Spock of the events of “The Tholian Web” and “The Empath,” but Spock points out that she could have just read the Wikipedia entries for those episodes. So Kirk suggests a mind-meld, and that does the trick. Unfortunately, the mind-meld isn’t really evidence.
However, when Spock tries to leave with “Lester,” the security guards try to stop him. They also alert “Kirk” to the attempted breakout, right after McCoy gives “him” a clean bill of health.
Lester puts Spock under arrest and a tribunal consisting of “Kirk,” McCoy, and Scotty is convened to determine the charges against Spock. At Spock’s insistence, “Lester” is brought to testify. Lester questions Kirk, taunting him and tormenting him and making him seem as insane as possible. She also accuses Spock of conspiring with “Lester” to get command of the Enterprise for himself. Spock says he’ll do everything in his power to stop “him” from taking over.
The bad news from Spock’s perspective is that he has stated for the record that he will commit mutiny. The good news from Spock’s perspective is that Lester’s response is over-the-top and shouty even by Kirk’s high standards.
Lester declares a recess, after which they will vote on Spock’s being charged with mutiny. Scotty talks with McCoy—he believes Spock based solely on Kirk’s behavior, which is completely out of character. McCoy is less sure, because they don’t have any tangible evidence. Scotty convinces him that they should vote in Spock’s favor, and that it’ll stick in “Kirk’s” craw, and then they’ll have to move against “him.”
However, Lester recorded their conversation in the corridor, and accuses all three of mutiny and sentences them to death. Sulu and Chekov point out that there’s only one death penalty on record, and nobody’s gone to Talos IV, so there’s no call for it here.
Sulu and Chekov are appalled, and when Lester comes to the bridge, they both refuse to follow his orders. For a second, the transference weakens, and Kirk and Lester temporarily return to their own bodies. Outraged at the bridge crew mutinying, she runs to Coleman, who says the only way to stabilize the transfer is to kill Lester’s body. Coleman reluctantly agrees to be the one to commit the act, and he prepares a hypo.
They arrive at the brig. As soon as “Lester” is released to Coleman, Kirk attacks the doctor, and then the transfer detstabilizes again. Lester and Kirk are back in their original bodies, and Lester has a complete psychotic break. Lester collapses in Coleman’s arms, and Coleman declares his love for her and asks that he be allowed to take care of her. The fact that they killed an entire expedition of scientists is conveniently forgotten when McCoy agrees to that…
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The people of Camus II doped out the technology that would allow someone to trade bodies with someone else. The process is reversed when the plot of the episode dictates that it be so reversed, since the script doesn’t bother to provide any explanation as to why Lester and Kirk are restored when they are except for the running time of the episode reaching the 47th minute…
Fascinating. Spock proves once again willing to break every rule in the book in order to save his captain, and once again he’s hit with the death penalty, and once again he doesn’t actually get killed. Lucky bastard.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is the rational one here, an amusing role reversal, as Spock is the one giving the emotional argument. But while McCoy is sure that something has happened to “Kirk,” he nonetheless is reluctant to take action without evidence to back it up, and his exam provides none such. Having said that, his verbal takedown of “Kirk” and of Coleman’s qualifications in the captain’s quarters is beautifully done.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu has a crowning moment of awesome in this episode when he and Chekov are discussing what to do in light of “Kirk” declaring a death sentence on Spock, McCoy, and Scotty. When Chekov questions how they can fight the captain with security on his side, Sulu speaks with impressive verve and intent: “I’ll fight them every way and any way I can.”
It’s a Russian invention. This is the last appearance of the character of Pavel Chekov in a TV series—all his subsequent appearances are in films, as he’ll next be seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Walter Koenig never appeared on any of the spinoffs, not even the animated series. (Well, okay, except for the archive footage in “Trials and Tribble-ations,” but that doesn’t really count…)
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty is actually on “Kirk’s” side of things right up until he sees Lester lose her shit during the hearing.
Go put on a red shirt. Security in the form of Galoway and Lemli pretty much obey the orders of the person who looks like Kirk regardless of how crazy they are. When Sulu and Chekov discuss trying to stop the execution, Chekov points out that “Kirk” has security on “his” side, which proves that he’s forgotten Enterprise security’s rather appalling track record for actually doing their job.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Lester claims that she and Kirk broke up because “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” This has often been interpreted to mean that the Starfleet of the 23rd century didn’t allow women captains (at least not until the movie era, when we finally saw a female shipmaster in Madge Sinclair’s Saratoga captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), which probably sounded perfectly reasonable in a 1969 TV show in which the women all wore miniskirts, but which future iterations will try to either justify or ignore, but which mostly can be dismissed as the ravings of a person who was not entirely sane. (Amazingly, there was actually a segment of the fanbase that was outraged when Enterprise established Captain Erika Hernandez of the Columbia, because this episode said there were no female ship captains as of the 23rd century, which is just idiotic on every possible level.)
Channel open. “Doctor, I’ve seen the captain feverish, sick, drunk, delirious, terrified, overjoyed, boiling mad. But up to now I have never seen him red-faced with hysteria.”
Scotty perhaps revealing a bit too much about the times he and Kirk have gone on shore leave together.
Welcome aboard. The big guests are Sandra Smith as both Lester and as Kirk in Lester’s body (and she actually does a pretty good Shatner impersonation as the latter) and Harry Landers as Coleman.
Barbara Baldavin returns as Lisa, having previously played Martine in “Balance of Terror” and “Shore Leave“—Nichelle Nichols had a singing engagement and was unavailable. David L. Ross makes another appearance as a security guard, this time as Galoway, who’s obviously a totally different character from Galloway, who was killed in “The Omega Glory” (not to mention Johnson, who was killed and resurrected numerous times in “Day of the Dove“). Roger Holloway plays Lemli, a security guard who’s been seen as a background character throughout the series, and who finally got a name and a line of dialogue in this final episode.
And we’ve got recurring regulars James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett.
Trivial matters: This is the last episode of the live-action iteration of the original series, last produced, last aired (both in the U.S. and the UK, the latter of which had a radically different airing order for the episodes), and even the last to be remastered (well, technically “The Cage” aired last in the 2007 remastering). Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty, Uhura, and Chapel will all next appear in “Beyond the Farthest Star,” the first animated episode. Chekov next appears in The Motion Picture.
The episode was supposed to be aired on the 28th of March, the week after “All Our Yesterdays,” but it was preempted for coverage of the death of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and not aired until June. For this reason, this is the only episode of the original series that aired in my lifetime (I was born on the 18th of April in 1969).
When TNG passed the 79-episode mark in “Legacy,” there was a reference to this episode in Picard’s log, where he said the Enterprise was called away from a mission to Camus II.
This episode has a callback to the first regular episode of the series, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” with a shirtless Kirk taking a leg-based stress test under McCoy’s supervision.
This episode was partly inspired by the 1931 novel Turnabout by Thorne Smith, in which a husband and wife switch bodies. The novel was the basis of a 1940 film and a short-lived 1979 TV series starring John Schuck and Sharon Gless.
Roger Holloway’s security guard was given the name “Lemli,” which was also the vanity license plate on William Shatner’s car, for his daughters Leslie, Melanie, and Lisbeth.
Benecia was previously mentioned in “The Conscience of the King.” Kirk mentions the events of both “The Tholian Web” and “The Empath” to try to convince Spock that he’s really Kirk, while Chekov mentions General Order 4 as the only death penalty on record, established in “The Menagerie” as the penalty for going to Talos IV. (It’s actually General Order 7, but they probably got the order number and the planet number mixed up.)
The short comic book story “Captain’s Personal Log” by David Tischman & Leonard O’Grady in Focus on… Star Trek from IDW served as a sequel to this story, and also set up the Year Four miniseries that Tischman would write for IDW. That story established that Lester was sent to Elba II, the insane asylum seen in “Whom Gods Destroy.”
The Beta Aurigae system was mentioned again in “The Leader” by Dave Galanter in Constellations, Gold Key’s Star Trek #48 by Arnold Drake, Doug Drexler, & Alden McWilliams, and your humble rewatcher’s The Brave and the Bold Book 1.
Starbase 2 is also a part of the novels Final Frontier by Diane Carey, Foundations by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and Mindshadow by J.M. Dillard; the Starfleet Operations Manual game book from Decipher; the reference book Federation: The First 150 Years by David A. Goodman; and the short story “The Sleeping God” by Jesco von Puttkamer in The New Voyages 2.
Joan Winston got to spend time on the set during the filming of this episode, and she wrote an account of that experience in the 1975 book she wrote with Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Sondra Marshak, Star Trek Lives!
At the end of the episode, Kirk says, “Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s—if only…” and he trails off. In James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 5, Kirk’s line finishes, “…if only she had been able to take pride in being a woman.” In my living room, my fiancée and I finished it with, “…if only she had just kept her place,” which is depressingly closer to what the script was implying. (By the way, the back cover copy of Star Trek 5 described this episode as “the ultimate in women’s lib,” which is one of the most offensive things ever put on the back cover of a Star Trek book. Sheesh.)
To boldly go. “Are we going to allow an execution to take place?” Believe it or not, this episode is not wholly devoid of redeeming social value. (Stop laughing!) For starters, as with most body-switching episodes, it’s a great vehicle for the actors. It’s a delight to watch William Shatner swish his way through the role, changing his posture, changing his speaking patterns, and even little touches in the script like his calling the ship by saying the more formal “Captain Kirk to the Enterprise” rather than the simpler “Kirk to Enterprise” that we’re used to from the real McCoy—er, that is, real Kirk. Sandra Smith likewise does an excellent job of modulating from Lester’s raving insanity to Shatner’s speaking patterns and mannerisms (like the head tilts and the charming smile, used on Chapel).
There are some really good character moments here, too. I love watching how each member of the crew comes to the realization that Kirk isn’t Kirk. With Spock, he’s completely skeptical right up until he reads “Lester’s” mind and realizes that, yeah, that’s the captain, and from that point on, he’s completely on Team Jim. McCoy is actually the first to notice that something’s wrong, but he also is insistent that there be evidence (so is Spock, but he can get his by touching his fingers to someone’s nose and cheekbones), and he hasn’t gotten any yet. Scotty doesn’t come around until he sees Lester being all binky bonkers, and he eventually manages to convince McCoy. Chekov doesn’t come around until Lester calls for the death penalty. And most interestingly, Sulu doesn’t seem to give a damn one way or the other because the only thing that matters to him is that three people have been ordered to their deaths, and there is no way he’ll let that stand, no matter who’s giving the order. And good for him.
Unfortunately, in the end, this is all lipstick on a pig, because holy crap, this episode is offensive from the ground up and offensive from the roof on down the other side. The hysterical-woman trope has already reared its ugly head more than once (“The Conscience of the King,” “Wolf in the Fold“), but it’s at its most overt here. Lester hates being a woman because being a woman restricts her, at least in her mind, thus once again reinforcing the stereotypes of the day. It’s a particularly fascinating episode to talk about on the day that we could very well elect a woman president for the first time in our 240-year history—and, regardless of the outcome, it’s the first time a major presidential candidate has been female. Forty-seven years ago, it probably seemed perfectly reasonable for Gene Roddenberry, the creator of a show that was so forward-thinking in so many ways, to pen a story that had a woman go nuts rather than deal with the glass ceiling that’s just the way things are, y’know?
And the hell with that. Star Trek is at its best when it looks forward. It did to some extent and didn’t in others. The sexism was particularly galling, and is one of the aspects that makes it harder to watch five decades on, and especially frustrating to a) come from the guy who created the show and b) from a season that’s actually done much better with regard to female characters. But then, Roddenberry hasn’t been in charge of this season, so it’s not that surprising that the female characters have been stronger in general, nor that we get the worst example from him.
Parts of Star Trek should be lauded, and parts still are forward-thinking fifty years later (like the color-blind casting of many roles). Other parts have aged badly (and indeed, already had done so when the show was syndicated in the 1970s). This is one of the latter, and is a stupid, hoary story besides. It is both the last and the least of what Star Trek is.
Warp factor rating: 2
Next week: Season 3 roundup
Keith R.A. DeCandido is really looking forward to diving into the animated series in two weeks.