Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Charlie X"


Air date: 9/15/1966
Teleplay by D.C. Fontana
Story by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Lawrence Dobkin

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise provides transport for 17-year-old Charlie Evans (Robert Walker Jr.), an adolescent who grew up alone on an uninhabited planet after being the sole survivor of a crash 14 years before. Initially unbeknownst to Kirk & Co., Charlie holds powerful abilities that were given to him by an alien race so he could survive his isolation. Charlie now finds himself unable to cope with life among humans, as he careens into social situations where, when he doesn't understand, he feels forced to throw people upon the mercy of his own abilities—including making people "go away," vanishing into apparent oblivion.

The true success in "Charlie X" is in its central character's sympathetic dilemma. Charlie is a boy who wants to be liked and understood, but he doesn't grasp the social norms, and as a result feels threatened whenever he is faced with anything approaching the unpleasant or adversarial. When he experiences a crush on Yeoman Rand, his determination to win her over is poisoned by his ability to harness his anger when his feelings aren't returned.

The episode depends less on plot manipulations than it does on intelligently analyzing one person and the understandable problems surrounding him. Walker Jr. turns in a vivid performance, making Charlie pitiable even when he's at his most sadistic and malevolent. His face-off scenes with Kirk are right on the money. The story's conclusion is a necessary yet unfortunate turn of events.

Previous episode: The Man Trap
Next episode: Where No Man Has Gone Before

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6 comments on this review

AJ Koravkrian - Sat, Mar 29, 2008 - 5:39pm (USA Central)
I just watched Charlie X, and well, it may be a good episode on coffee, but it's unbearably slow. I literally fell asleep during the last couple of acts.
AJ Koravkrian - Sat, Mar 29, 2008 - 5:41pm (USA Central)
Oh, and also in Charlie X, what's with that ridiculous singing by Uhura...not to mention Spock smiling ? That got my attention in the beginning...it was almost creepy.
Strider - Fri, Jun 1, 2012 - 8:18am (USA Central)
I loved the Kirk-as-father-figure aspects of this episode. You do feel sorry for Charlie, which is a nice switch.
Koovan - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 8:21am (USA Central)
I began watching the first season of Voyager and then decided to return to TOS and start at the beginning of the franchise. What immediately strikes me in this episode is the horrifying conclusion and how easily outmatched the crew of the Enterprise were. There was no implausibly brilliant and impossibly convenient solution available to ensure a 'happy' ending. Voyager, in contrast, has felt far too cosy and safe so far.

The danger of space exploration and the possibilities that the 'unknown' present, are much more tangible and direct here - the universe is a place were outcomes are not guaranteed and many answers will be beyond us. It's good to see the Original Series taking such risks so early in production.

I imagine that the programme following in the footsteps of programmes such as the Twilight Zone in which the outcomes lacked redemption for the protagonists.
William B - Fri, Jan 3, 2014 - 11:46am (USA Central)
“Charlie X” is pretty similar in its basic plot setup to “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” in that not only does the crew have to deal with a superbeing, it’s a human who has these powers, and who increasingly insists that people be nice to them. Still, in spite of the episodes’ similarities they are really about different emotional states. Gary Mitchell’s rebellion is an adult one, and is connected with the frontier and ends with a big Western brawl. Charlie Evans is a teenager, and the adolescent-with-superpowers thing has a similar overall meaning to that in something like Carrie, though this time told primarily from the adults’ POV. All or almost all teenagers, we’re reminded, go through a phase of great change, in which they struggle to fit in and understand themselves and find themselves on the outside of society as a whole. That Charlie was completely cut off from human civilization and raised by powerful beings who don’t really understand him is meant to be an exaggeration of what all teenagers feel like. They want to join adult society and get away from the parents, and ultimately need to, but it’s a very painful process. And in some cases, they never quite do fit into society, and Charlie has to return “home,” to his misery. The eventual realization that Charlie was not a true orphan but did have an upbringing helps bring him closer to an exaggeration of a typical teenager’s experience, rather than the experience of a feral child or a Tarzan figure.

What’s interesting about this episode is that the process fails. The gradual escalation here, from Charlie’s social awkwardness to lack of boundaries with Rand to eventually taking over the ship, is pretty well done, I think, where both the crew and Charlie seem to be trying, somehow, to make it work, but they are unprepared to deal with a social misfit teenager and he’s, well, a traumatized orphan with superpowers, so, that’s obviously not going to end well. The crew do seem to me to be on the insensitive side about the incredible trauma Charlie has been through, but I get that they, even McCoy who has some psychological training, are really underqualified for the task of reaching this kid. The gender politics are pretty bad, with Rand trying and not really succeeding to explain why people don’t slap each other’s behinds and that he should talk to Kirk or McCoy about that, at which point they are unable to answer him. But the basic idea that of course he’s going to crush, heavily and overwhelmingly, on an older woman and that this is going to go badly mostly stands. I think that the episode ends up losing much of its momentum about 2/3 of the way through, at which point it’s clear that Charlie’s left much chance of a healthy interaction with the Enterprise crew behind, and the Charlie Problem seems increasingly clearly outside the Enterprise’s grasp. Like “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and to an extent “The Man Trap,” this ending is notably downbeat, solidifying the early-series idea that the Enterprise crew is just on the edge, and the victories it can manage will often be provisional. Even the Enterprise crew can’t deal with a lonely, angry teenager in pain.

This is one of the episodes which seems to be positioning Yeoman Rand as a major figure in the show; she seems to be somewhat on par with Uhura overall in this and “The Man Trap” but gets greater focus here. I like that she tries to balance sympathy with Charlie with the importance of setting the proper boundaries. Still, while the story tries to show Janice’s POV, the fact htat the story is primarily about Charlie and about Kirk means that Janice does remain mostly objectified, ending up on the bridge in her nightie because she’s just so hot. The episode furthers Uhura’s hitting-on-Spock habit, this time through song!, and while it’s weird to see Spock smiling the way he does, I don’t think it breaks the character so much as bends him—it’s implausible, but I could see Spock allowing himself a little bit of pleasant amusement while he’s playing music and sharing some quality time with a crew member he ultimately does respect and like (though not in that way). Kirk continues to be a mostly balanced guy, and his awkwardness and inability to talk to Charlie positions him as an adult uncomfortable with teenagers in a way that makes him almost Picardian.

I think the episode is repetitive enough that I’d probably go with 3 stars rather than 3.5, but it’s a pretty good show.
redshirt28 - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 8:11am (USA Central)
Is it me or was kirk being half-hearted in his attempt to keep the blob from taking charlie back? Kind of like hes saying the boy belongs with his own kind but hes really thinking get that little sob off my bridge. Good ep 3.5 yup.

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