Star Trek Rewatch

Star Trek Re-watch: “Turnabout Intruder”


Turnabout Intruder
Teleplay by Arthur H. Singer
Story by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Season 3, Episode 24
Production episode 3×24
Original air date: June 3, 1969
Stardate 5928.5

Recap: Dayton Ward

The Enterprise arrives at Camus II after receiving a priority distress call from a science outpost located there to study the ruins of a dead civilization. Beaming down to see what’s what, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy find only two survivors: Doctors Arthur Coleman and Janice Lester. Coleman informs Kirk that Lester, who’s lying in a bed and looking to be in obvious discomfort, has been exposed to some unknown radiation. She’s delirious, but not so much that she and Kirk can’t exchange one of those knowing smiles that tells us they share a past. Oh, good… another of the captain’s flings comes back to bite him right in the aft deflector shields. Everybody got their popcorn?

Or, if you turn back now, you can still escape with your sanity at least somewhat intact.

Spock scans the area and tells Kirk he’s picking up faint life readings, but the landing party will have to get the lead out if there’s any saving to be done. Lester starts to freak, and McCoy suggests that Kirk stay with her, as his presence might “quiet her.”

Oh, brother.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderOnce everybody’s gone, Lester lays into Kirk a little bit, yammering on about how they could’ve been together, but his “world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” As we’re left to ponder that bit of weirdness, Kirk starts wandering around the room, looking at the ancient alien glyphs on one nearby wall. Lester watches him, waiting until he’s close enough that she can use the gizmo she’s been hiding under her blankets. She presses a switch and the wall lights up, pulling Kirk against it as though it’s a giant magnet (or fly paper, or Velcro, or whatever). Now that he’s trapped, Lester takes up a position next to him, and activates another set of controls. As we watch, Lester and Kirk’s auras katras life energies are swapped to one another’s bodies.

At this point, I figure Kirk’s wishing she would’ve just keyed his car, like all his other jilted ex-girlfriends normally do.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderThe transfer complete, Lester, now inhabiting Kirk’s body, is all set to cover her tracks by killing Kirk, who now resides within Lester’s body. Before she can do that, Spock and McCoy return with Coleman, reporting that they were too late to save the other scientists. Coleman, sly dog that he is, realizes that Lester has made the transfer and starts tap-dancing around McCoy’s suggestion that Lester/Kirk be beamed up to sickbay for care. He seems to suck at that, though, because in short order the landing party along with Coleman and Kirk/Lester returns to the ship and McCoy sets to looking after his new patient. Meanwhile, Lester/Kirk settles into her role as ABSOLUTE RULER OF THE UNIVERSE captain of the Enterprise.

In sickbay, Coleman takes Lester/Kirk to task for not killing the real Kirk when she had the chance. After all, she didn’t have any problem sending her fellow scientists to die by radiation poisoning, right? While they argue, Kirk/Lester is throwing quite a delirious fit in his bed, and McCoy and Nurse Chapel show up to take care of business. Coleman and McCoy argue over how to treat the patient, and Lester/Kirk places responsibility for “her” in Coleman’s care. McCoy, understandably, gets mighty pissed that his captain has overridden his medical authority on the ship, but Lester/Kirk blows him off and tells him to deal with it, sucka. Kirk/Lester wakes up from his delirium, but Coleman orders a sedative that puts him back under, and Lester/Kirk breathes a sigh of relief at having dodged a bullet.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderWith her nefarious plan now in full swing, Lester/Kirk heads up to the bridge, ready to put the time and effort she spent studying the Enterprise and its crew and operation to the ultimate test. The biggest challenge, of course, is finding just the right, comfortable butt impression in the captain’s chair. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that commanding the ship is more than just standing around looking all in charge of stuff and barking orders, as the instructions she gives immediately come under scrutiny by Spock. When he presses the point, Lester/Kirk gets agitated but manages to (barely) hold it together long enough to order a course change before escaping the bridge and all the big bad meanies working there.

In Kirk’s quarters, McCoy’s not done with the decision to have him removed from treating Lester (Kirk/Lester, but Bones doesn’t know that, right?). Lester/Kirk tries to get him to lighten up, but McCoy points out that Starfleet Command relieved Coleman of his duty as a ship’s chief medical officer due to incompetence. When Lester/Kirk tells McCoy that Coleman will remain on the case, the doctor asks the captain to report to sickbay to get checked out. Good ol’ McCoy has noticed his skipper’s rather bizarre behavior since returning from Camus II, but Lester/Kirk is saved by the bell when Sulu calls, relaying a message from Starfleet Command: they want to know why the Enterprise is out screwing around when it’s got rendezvous and stuff to be doing.

Uh-oh. Soooooooooomebody’s in trouuuuuuuuuuuuuuble.

In sickbay, Kirk/Lester wakes up, and provides the first definitive proof that this episode is crap so far as men and women exchanging bodies is concerned. After all, the first thing a guy does when he wakes up is check the status of various… you know… parts. Just to make sure nobody took anything while he was sleeping, you understand. Here? Nada. Kirk/Lester doesn’t realize anything weird’s going on until he gets out of bed and takes a good look at himself.

KIRK: Hey… wait a minute. I thought I chewed off my fingernails yesterday.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderWhen Kirk/Lester calls for McCoy, he’s instead confronted by Coleman, who lays on a whole spiel about how Lester is insane and suffering from paranoia, which conveniently undercuts any of Kirk/Lester’s protestations that he’s been swapped out of his body. Meanwhile, Spock and McCoy discuss their captain’s odd shenanigans. Is he mentally ill? Mmmmm… could be. Spock begins fitting together pieces of the puzzle, figuring that whatever happened down on Camus II to so affect the captain had to have taken place while he was alone with Lester. Ah-HAH!

That’s when Lester/Kirk arrives, presumably to carry out McCoy’s request for a physical. They’re interrupted by Lester/Kirk, who tries to engage Spock and McCoy and convince them that he’s trapped in Lester’s body. Of course, that’s cut short by Lester/Kirk, who uses some of Kirk’s own Kirk-Fu on him, knocking her out. Security guards arrive, and Lester/Kirk orders Kirk/Lester to be confined under constant watch.

ME: Hey, didn’t that security guard die in a previous episode?

MY WIFE: I could’ve married the quarterback, you know.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderWith the ruckus concluded, McCoy starts his examination on the captain, and can’t find anything wrong, at least physically. So, the doctor decides to check out his patient’s “basic emotional structure” by administering a “Robbiani dermal-optic test.” So far as I can tell, this involves placing the patient under a heat lamp like a forgotten Big Mac and measuring skin and pupil response to visual stimulation across a broad color spectrum.

Yeah, whatever.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderWhile all that’s going on, Spock drops in on Kirk/Lester and hears the “woman’s” story about the body transference. When the Vulcan remains unconvinced, Kirk/Lester suggests a mind-meld, after which Spock realizes he’s hearing the truth. When he tries to take Kirk/Lester to sickbay, the security guard intervenes, stating that Kirk/Lester can’t leave.

ME: You know, that guy played a completely different security guard in “Day of the Dove.”

MY WIFE: You can remember that, but not what day the trash gets picked up?

Spock orchestrates a half-assed escape attempt, which gets reported to Lester/Kirk. When she and McCoy come running, it’s in time to see Spock putting the Vulcan nerve pinch to the other security guard. That’s enough to set Lester/Kirk to squirming, and she notifies the entire crew that Spock is now under arrest, and that there’s to be a court-martial convened to determine whether he’s to be executed for mutiny.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderThe hearing gets underway, and there’s a bunch of back-n-forth wordplay, first with Lester/Kirk and Spock, and then Lester/Kirk going up against Kirk/Lester. Apparently, nobody in the room is able to determine, at least at first, that their captain is acting like a colossal tool as “he” goes about questioning “Lester.” Thankfully, as this painful bit of yammering continues, the other officers start exchanging looks that basically communicate a general feeling of “WTF?” drifting around the room.

Lester/Kirk implores Spock to give up this hopeless crusade; all charges will be dropped, there’ll be group hugs, everybody can get back to work, and she can get back to being the ABSOLUTE RULER OF THE UNIVERSE captain of the Enterprise. Spock tells him to go pound sand, which practically sends Lester/Kirk into hysterics. There’s gonna be a vote, by golly, to see if Spock’s guilty of mutiny.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderScotty and McCoy mull over the situation, deciding they’re not going to vote against Spock, but when they show up for the vote, they find out that Lester/Kirk’s been eavesdropping on them. She charges them with conspiring to mutiny and immediately sentences them to death, along with Spock. That, finally, is when everybody else decides to go, “You know… hang on a minute here, man.” Chekov and Sulu try to remind Kirk that the death penalty is forbidden save for one exception: General Order 4, which no one on the ship has violated.

ME: It’s General Order 7 that carries the death penalty.

MY WIFE: You know I could just kill you in your sleep and make it look like you choked on a Snickers, right?

Rattled by the constant badgering, Lester/Kirk orders everybody to clear out and prepare Spock, McCoy, Scotty for execution. On the bridge, Lester/Kirk shows up and starts giving orders, but Sulu, Chekov, and everybody else gaffes him off.

LESTER/KIRK: You will bow down before me, Jor-El!

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderJust when it looks like a monumental hissy-fit is about ready to ensue, Lester/Kirk is hit with an odd seizure. The cause? Spock, applying some kind of funky mind-meld mojo action on Kirk/Lester. The effect triggers what might be a reversal of the “life energy transference” process, but it doesn’t take. Still, Spock and the others have new information so far as battling Lester/Kirk, so you just know it’s on now.

On the bridge, Lester/Kirk seems to know that this isn’t cool, and runs to Coleman for help. The only way to prevent the transference from being broken is to kill Kirk/Lester, and Lester/Kirk brow-beats Coleman into doing the dirty deed. When they go to carry out their nefarious plan, Kirk/Lester gets the drop on Coleman before the doctor can poison him with a hypo. During the scuffle, Lester/Kirk gets a new bout of seizures and, as Spock and the others watch, the transference reverses itself and Lester and Kirk are returned to their proper bodies.

And with that, who wants pie?

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderSo, there it is: the final episode of the original Star Trek’s broadcast run. No final showdown with a mortal enemy, or a last-ditch plan of desperation to save the entire universe from oblivion. No “The sky’s the limit,” or “Out there; thataway” to carry us to the end credits. Just another day at the office for Jim Kirk and his enterprising not-so-young men. Three seasons of boldly going to strange new worlds ends neither with a bang nor a whimper, but instead just this sort of labored wheezing. It’s too bad this one and “All Our Yesterdays” couldn’t have been switched in the running order, as at least then Star Trek’s inconsistent, unimpressive final year might’ve ended on a higher note.

If you’re a woman, you probably hate this episode, and rightfully so. For a show that postulated a future where men and women live and work as equals, Star Trek often stumbled when trying to convey this message, and one of the worst offenders on that front is right here. The whole story is essentially her being pissed that she can’t play in the “boys club,” but according to much of what we’ve been told by this point, there shouldn’t be any such thing as a “boys club” anymore. We’re supposed to have outgrown stupid crap like this, right?

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderFor what it’s worth, I never bought the whole idea that Lester’s comment about, “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women” was meant to literally be taken that women were forbidden to command starships. It makes no sense, given what’s been preached to us as the series progressed. Besides, anybody remember Captain Pike’s first officer, “Number One?” Are we supposed to believe that she’d hit a glass ceiling and wouldn’t have moved up to command the Enterprise if anything had befallen Pike?

Instead, I think Lester’s comment was a bit of unfortunately awkward phrasing, and she really meant that Kirk himself had no room for any sort of long-term commitment because he was set on commanding a starship. That, at least, is consistent with what we saw of Kirk over most of Star Trek’s run. Thankfully, later Star Trek series saw fit to dispense with the ridiculous notion of women not being allowed to command ships, along with showing them as admirals and occupying countless other positions of authority.

None of that was in the minds of Star Trek fans in June of 1969, however, who quite possibly were simply giving thanks when the credits rolled. “Wow,” I can imagine some of them saying. “Three years, and it ends like this? I’m gonna go watch Mission: Impossible.” So far as they knew, they had just watched the last episode of an underperforming science-fiction action-adventure series. They didn’t care that critics might not have liked it, or that the network thought it was too expensive to produce. They loved it, dagnabbit, and it was over. Their favorite show would now fade into obscurity, never to be seen or heard from ever again.


Dayton’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Star Trek episode Turnabout Intruder

Analysis: David Mack

And so we come to the end, at last. And not a moment too soon. In fact, approximately fifty minutes and forty seconds too late.

After the airing of “All Our Yesterdays” on March 14, 1969, fans had to wait more than eleven weeks, until June 3, to see this, the final broadcast episode of Star Trek, because the death of President Dwight D. Eisenhower preempted its originally scheduled airdate. To say it was not worth the wait, in my opinion, would be a grotesque understatement.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderThere is a lot of trivia connected to this episode, ranging from the fact that it cemented Leonard Nimoy’s claim to fame as the only actor to appear in every episode of the original series, including its original pilot, “The Cage”, to the fact that Scotty is the last character to be seen onscreen in the original series, when we glimpse his forearm through the closing turbolift doors as the episode ends. It’s also worth noting that Sandra Smith was the only actor other than William Shatner to play James T. Kirk in an official Star Trek production until Jimmy Bennett made his cameo as the young Kirk and Chris Pine inherited the adult role of Starfleet’s quintessential cowboy captain in the 2009 feature film Star Trek. If you’ve got a hankering for lots more useless details such as those, head on over to Memory Alpha—they’ve got a boatload of them.

Let’s address one of this episode’s earliest lines of dialogue, and one that has spawned a million geek arguments:

JANICE LESTER: Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.

Should we interpret this remark—from a woman who subsequently demonstrates herself to be mentally unhinged and motivated by jealousy and resentment—as an empirical statement of fact that indicts Starfleet as an organization that bars women from serving as starship commanders? I don’t think that’s a reasonable conclusion, for the reasons that Dayton cites above. Thankfully, as it was later established on Star Trek: Enterprise that women held commanding officer billets on starships more than a century before Kirk’s time. it would seem that we can lay that canard to rest once and for all.

Contradicting that conclusion, however, is one of Lester’s reductio ad absurdum arguments during Spock’s court-martial. At one point, Lester-as-Kirk proposes that if Spock proved his assertion of life-energy transference, she would be removed from command, and Kirk, trapped in Lester’s body, would not be permitted to serve. That begs the question: why not? If it could be objectively proved that all the essential knowledge, experience, and temperament of James T. Kirk was alive in the body of Janice Lester, why wouldn’t Ms. “Jamie” Kirk retain her rank and billet? Again, I think the wisest choice in this case is to discount Lester’s opinion as the product of a deranged mind.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderAs for the mechanics of the “life-energy transference” that swaps the minds of Lester and Kirk, I could have forgiven the cheesy visual effects that attended the switch if not for the laughably hokey whistling-theremin sound effect that accompanied it. It created the impression that the producers did not take this story seriously at all (not that I’m arguing they should have). Further evidence for that hypothesis can be found in the trivial factoid that the cast and crew’s nickname for this episode was “Captain Kirk, Space Queen.”

If this episode has any redeeming feature at all, it is this: at no point are we subjected to an awkward moment of voyeurism while one of the “switched” characters makes a prurient exploration of their new body. Given the reputation of Skipper Jimmy, it might seem odd that he doesn’t take a moment to “kick the tires” of his new form, but one might dismiss that omission by arguing he’s already been there and groped that. Lester, on the other hand, has been fantasizing for so long about becoming a man that it seems almost impossible to believe she didn’t manhandle Kirk’s “little Jimmy.”

As long as we’re picking this episode apart, let me ask this: wasn’t Kirk—while trapped in Lester’s body—able to hear his voice when he first started talking to himself and then to Dr. Coleman? Couldn’t he look down and see Lester’s body? In fact, Kirk had already declared he was imprisoned in Lester’s body, so why was the subsequent moment of Kirk seeing his/her reflection as Lester played as such a revelation? It’s a baffling directorial choice, in my opinion.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderOf course, I would be remiss if I didn’t address William Shatner’s over-the-top turn as a crazy woman trapped in a man’s body. I know, I know: “How could you tell the difference, Dave?” It was easy: I just waited for Shatner to pitch a hissy fit. Of course, the touches that sold the stolen-identity conceit were all in the writing—small details such as when Lester contacts the ship and says “Captain Kirk to the Enterprise,” instead of the normal, “Kirk to Enterprise,” or Lester-as-Kirk filing her nails with aplomb in between passive-aggressive jabs at McCoy.

Another nit I feel like picking on: why did Spock claim that life-energy transference by mechanical means had never been successfully accomplished by any known culture, when he himself had participated in exactly such a transference during the episode “Return to Tomorrow”? Or was he ruling that out on a technicality?

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderWhat the hell was Dr. Coleman’s motivation for helping Janice Lester steal Kirk’s identity? He claimed he was in love with Janice Lester. What did he think would happen to their relationship once she matched him Y-chromosome for Y-chromosome? His complicity in Lester’s crime is as inexplicable as Nurse Chapel suddenly becoming a brunette after three seasons as a blond.

I will give the episode credit for at least having Kirk-as-Lester make logical appeals to shared knowledge with Spock, referencing events from “The Empath” and “The Tholian Web,” and offering to permit a Vulcan mind-meld to corroborate his claims. And I certainly can’t accuse it of being boring. It is, however, ridiculous, campy, and at times embarrassingly clichéd.

The most damning detail of all about this episode, in my opinion, is to be found in its credits: Story by Gene Roddenberry. That’s right, the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself foisted this warmed-over heap of sexist, misogynistic, melodramatic flapdoodle upon us. And the paternalistic attitudes underpinning this episode are evident in this line:

SCOTTY: 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.

Star Trek episode Turnabout IntruderThe key word in that second sentence is hysteria, a word whose etymology finds its origin in a Greek term that meant “madness from the womb.” Hysteria is a particularly feminine word to describe insanity, and I can’t believe the episode’s writers chose it without understanding its sexist implications.

Finally, I have to shake my head at the ending, which is utterly out of left field. First of all, Shatner’s melodramatics on the bridge and in the brig, when the transference begins to reverse itself, are as utterly hilarious as the cheesy visual effects. Second, why wasn’t it established earlier that the transference would be temporary unless one of the parties is killed? Third, why was Coleman allowed to continue associating with Lester after he obviously conspired with her to usurp control of the Enterprise?

The episode’s closing line also bothers me. Kirk mutters, “Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s, if only… if only…” Why not, “as rich as anyone’s”? Why, after all that, did he still feel the need to define her possibilities as falling within the limits of her sex? Bad effects, patronizing gender roles, outrageous scenery chewing… this episode bears all the hallmarks of the third season, and I don’t mean that as praise.

David’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

Next episode: Coming up in two weeks, the original series pilot — “The Cage.” But before that will be our Season Three Wrap-up, coming next week.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.

David Mack’s life could have been as rich as any writer’s, if only… if only… he hadn’t spent an hour of it watching this.

Dayton Ward is thinking of the people with whom he’d trade bodies if given the chance. Oddly, his wife has supplied him with a list of favorites, starting with Brad Pitt.


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