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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15 comments on this review

AJ Koravkrian
Sat, Mar 29, 2008, 5:39pm (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 was almost creepy.
Fri, Jun 1, 2012, 8:18am (UTC -5)
I loved the Kirk-as-father-figure aspects of this episode. You do feel sorry for Charlie, which is a nice switch.
Mon, Oct 14, 2013, 8:21am (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
“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.
Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 8:11am (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Oct 12, 2015, 9:32am (UTC -5)
I thought Charlie was somewhat sympathetic at first but quickly became and for a long time remained very evil so for Kirk to try to help in the end at all was very impressive.
Thu, Nov 12, 2015, 10:20am (UTC -5)
It's nothing deep or too analytical but my favorite part of the episode is when Charlie denies that Spock beat him at chess and Spock casually blows him off and refuses to deal with his temper tantrum. It's actually pretty funny the way he plays it. It's a little self-satisfied and a little selfish. He's not going to bother himself trying to correct the little pipsqueak or teach him anything. He doesn't give a crap. He's just going to Vulcanly enjoy that he made him look stupid and let him sit with it. Pshhhhh. Spock is outta here.
Fri, Feb 19, 2016, 6:23am (UTC -5)
Robert Walker Jr. is pretty great
The sense of dread in the episode is strong. The threat feels real, and when I was a kid the woman who'd lost her face scared the hell out of me.
Unlike in the "first" episode (Man Trap), there's much more of an attempt to sympathize with the threat, which is much more like Star Trek.
I've always like Spock's sudden poetry outburst
"I can't even touch them!"

I don't mind Uhura singing, but it goes on too long
Trying to keep an all-powerful being behind a forcefield is pretty stupid

Nothing to speak of.

Overall: Strong, moody piece with an ending that should feel like a cop-out, but doesn't. Three and a half out of four.
Thu, Apr 14, 2016, 11:04am (UTC -5)
I like this one very much, and I think Walker does a great job, but he looks so odd that it kind of puts me off him. The way they do his hair makes his head into a triangle, and his orange makeup is a bit much.

But this episode, as well-stated above by others, really is a good episode that explores great trek territory.
Sun, Sep 11, 2016, 1:33am (UTC -5)
Watching this episode (and this series) for the first time in 2016, I was struck by just how scary and creepy it was compared to the other series. Despite Deep Space Nine being the "dark" Star Trek, I don't recall ever feeling scared while watching it. Sure there were some disturbing, thought-provoking incidents and episodes, but nothing scary.

In my current watch of Voyager, I've seen some revolting aliens, like the ones who steal organs, but don't recall feeling afraid while watching the episodes.

Charlie was a very disturbing character, with that strange look on his face whenever he felt threatened and angered and his rapey behavior towards the female crew was very unsettling. Would have been a better episode if the treatment of the women wasn't so dated (the character with the funny hair (Janice?) and her inability to explain what was happening to her was frustrating. The lack of follow-up to what Charlie did to Uhura (looked like he hurt her throat to stop her from singing) was unfortunate, because so far in the show, she hasn't been treated as much more than a pretty secretary in a short skirt.
Thu, Sep 29, 2016, 10:53pm (UTC -5)
Pretty cool episode, I agree with the rest of the crew :P this is a bit creepy. The guest actor was a good one this time around.

I think the ending is not a cop-out but thematically consistent with the story. Charlie was basically a (superpowered) teen playing around while his parents weren't looking. And I can't think of many other choices of an ending, either self-destruction or some way to stop him (his parents). He was beyond reasoning or redemption since he banished Rand.

The basic idea of the episode reminds me of the classic short story "It's a good life". Charlie would have ended up like the kid from that story if he wasn't stopped. And yeah, Charlie was a sympathetic character, unlike some other ones I've seen so far (the thing of "The Man Trap"). Overall, I am satisfied.

And btw, I think I am watching the episodes in production order, because this was my eight episode of TOS instead of the second.
Thu, Jan 12, 2017, 12:59pm (UTC -5)
Is it just me or is the face Charlie makes not the most hilarious thing you've ever seen? It seems over the top. It's so bad it's good!
Fri, Jan 13, 2017, 3:46pm (UTC -5)
Not a huge fan of the story although the portrayal of Charlie is well done and Shatner's acting is one of his better performances as he has to explain awkward things to Charlie as well as being tough on him.
My issue with the episode is that I think it could have been compressed into 1/2 hour. Enough slow parts that show Charlie's nature as a teenager that also don't do much for the development of crew members. Spock must be a bad 3D chess player.
The episode establishes a solution that Trek members will employ in subsequent episodes when dealing with a superior being - that of trying to overtax it. Bit of a fortuitous solution in the end when Charlie's "parent" show up to take him away. One can feel for Charlie who will have to live without human contact -- it does show a compassionate side of the crew in the bridge.
For me, this one rates 2/4. In some ways similar to "The Man Trap" with a dangerous being roaming the ship, but "Charlie X" didn't have the interest/tension for me that the 1st episode of Season 1 did.
Tue, Mar 21, 2017, 3:29pm (UTC -5)
Towards the end I was really willing Kirk to go through with that punch, or just chuck the little sod out of an airlock. I'm a bad person :p

This is an interesting episode for me in that it coincidentally follows me having read quite a good social skills series over on reddit: illed_pt1_getting_started
Everything that is mentioned in that series came up in this episode. It felt like I'd just got to the end of a class and been shown a demonstration video :)

As noted by someone in the previous episode's comments, you do see more UhuraXSpock than I remember, along with more emotions in Spock early on, kind of invalidating those criticisms when they're directed at the 2009 reboot. (I'm still not a big fan of the reboot though)

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