Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Turnabout Intruder"

***

Air date: 6/3/1969
Teleplay by Herb Wallerstein
Story by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Arthur H. Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

There's something to be said about watching characters toy with bizarrely impossible situations, as in "Turnabout Intruder," a perfect example of style over substance. This is little more than an excuse for Shatner to engage his overacting skills at full throttle. (Say what you will about his acting choices, but the bottom line is that he's entertaining.) Is the story remotely plausible? Probably not, even for Trek.

But I can't help myself; this episode—in which Kirk's consciousness is swapped with that of the insanely jealous Janice Lester (Sandra Smith)—is just too entertaining to deny. The concept arises from Lester's former relationship with Kirk gone bad, combined with her deep-running rage over being rejected by Starfleet. She wants his command of the Enterprise, and then wants to stomp on Kirk until he dies.

There's a mad zeal in Shatner's scenery chewing that's appealing, as the Lester-as-Kirk abuses of captaincy extend beyond any realm of sensibility, causing the entire crew to turn against "the captain" one by one. The most interesting aspect of the plot is watching the other officers try to deal with this mess, as they watch their captain descend into lunacy while Spock continues to claim that he isn't their captain. Eventually, Scotty and McCoy are whispering mutiny in the halls. Is this episode in good taste? Not likely. (Some sexist overtones are the most uneasy.) But good fun? I'm inclined to say yes.

Previous episode: All Our Yesterdays

Season Index

18 comments on this review

Dan - Wed, Feb 20, 2008 - 5:09am (USA Central)
I just watched this episode for the first time. It is most certainly sexist. Shatner acts so girly and dramatic I literally "LOL'd". It is very entertaining, but not very sci-fi. I think your review is spot-on.
Sanagi - Thu, Nov 8, 2012 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
One of the recurring shames of early sci-fi is the treatment of femininity as just another alien land populated by simple stereotypes. This episode's a prime example. Even while raising the subject of misogyny, the episode depicts its central female character as jealous, hysterical and incompetent, while the displaced Kirk remains level-headed and practical. Setting this aside, the episode is as entertaining as any other Trek cheesefest. This one in particular demands MST3K-style remarks from the viewer, especially when McCoy finishes giving Kirk a physical, then tells him not to put his shirt back on just yet. The Shatner-meltdown at the end of the episode is also not to be missed.
William B - Thu, Mar 28, 2013 - 2:13am (USA Central)
For interest, Jammer's ratings for each season break down as follows (where the first number is number of 4* episodes, second is number of 3.5* episodes, and so on):

S1: 2/6/9/7/3/2/0/0/0, av. 2.84 stars
S2: 3/3/8/6/4/0/2/0/0, av. 2.75 stars
S3: 1/2/6/5/4/2/1/2/1, av. 2.27 stars

Series: 6/11/23/18/11/4/3/2/1, av. 2.64 stars

According to Jammer's ratings then obviously the series is strictly decreasing in quality by season (S1 > S2 > S3) with a small drop-off between s1 and s2 and a large one between s2 and s3. This is about what most fans believe, I think.
Lorene - Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - 10:44pm (USA Central)
"Her life could have been as fulfilled as any other woman". The sad, sad last line of a series I loved.
Paul - Tue, Oct 1, 2013 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
@Lorene: I've always been struck by that, too. Of course, as progressive as Trek was at the time, it certainly doesn't look that progressive nearly 50 years later. Also, TOS was always least progressive when it came to gender -- other than Gene's decision to make Majel first officer in "The Cage".

There are quite a few fratboy moments between Kirk and McCoy and from other members of the crew -- remember Sulu's reaction to seeing Ilia for the first time?

Nonya - Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
Yuck. This episode gets three stars? Please, Jammer. I'm no feminist, but this is simply the most sexist thing I have ever seen in my life. It's terribly disgusting and cringe-worthy. The idea that everyone knows right off that the Captain isn't really Kirk ruins a lot of dramatic tension. It would have been much funnier if she'd actually done a semi-good job as captain, and that some of her policies remain in action even when everything gets sorted out at the end. As it is, it's just sad.
Jammer - Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - 11:33am (USA Central)
Yeah, there are probably a few reviews I look back at and wonder what I was thinking -- or at least that I wouldn't make the same case I made. This is one of them. I won't even bother trying to defend it.
Paul - Thu, Jan 2, 2014 - 9:37am (USA Central)
@Jammer: The closing line is really pretty terrible. But, aside from that, it's up to the individual viewer to determine whether Janice in Kirk's body acts so frantic because she's Janice or because she's a woman. Even the dialog where Janice in Kirk's body scoffs at the idea of Janice overpowering Kirk makes sense if you consider that Janice is a relatively small woman -- as opposed to JUST being a woman.

As for the whole matter of Starfleet having no female captains, it could be argued that no STARSHIPS had female captains up until that point. As we learn in "Bread and Circuses," being the captain of a starship is a bigger deal than being the captain of other Starfleet ships. It's possible that Janice was upset that the very, very top positions (we know there were only 12 Constitution-class ships) had gone to men and blamed gender bias when other factors were in play.

I guess what I'm saying is that this episode isn't necessarily more sexist than, "Spock's Brain," "Who Mourns for Adonis" -- where it's strongly implied that Palamas will leave Starfleet when she meets the right man -- or "Mudd's Women," which is the worst example of sexism in the entire Trek canon.

I probably wouldn't have given this three stars, but it's certainly more watchable than most of the third season. I'd rather watch this one three times than sit through "And the Children Shall Lead."
James - Fri, Jan 24, 2014 - 1:49am (USA Central)
I agree this episode is horrible, not because of any perceived sexism, but because it's just an awful episode. There are some shows that, when I see them re-run on MeTV, I just don't bother to watch. This is one. Catspaw and Space Hippies are two others.

I noticed from the reviews that there is an almost 3 month gap between All Our Yesterdays (one of my very favorites), and this swill. I wonder why. Could it be, given Roddenberry knew the series was finished, he hesitated to make this piece of land fill the final curtain call for the show? Personally I think AOY would have been a much better note to go out on, even if it meant eating the production costs of Turnabout. It's one of those episodes that, were I Roddenberry, I'd rather burn the negatives than let anyone see this waste.

And for what it's worth, considering Janice Lester's behaviour here, it would seem StarFleet was correct in not giving her a command. She clearly has psychological issues and is thus unfit for the job.
Paul - Fri, Jan 24, 2014 - 8:58am (USA Central)
@James: I guess I'm in the minority. I don't think this episode is that terrible (though it's not good). I'd rather watch it several times before "And the Children Shall Lead" or "The Alternative Factor", TOS's worst two episodes, IMO. "The Gamesters of Triskelion" was pretty bad, too.
Nick P. - Fri, Feb 7, 2014 - 1:48pm (USA Central)
For all crying sexism, what episode were they watching? It certainly wasn't this one. I wonder if people just comment without watching the episode. Outside of that last line (and even that really isn't sexist) there is not a single thing that make this episode sexist. I actually find it a fun episode. It is certainly no dumber than Captain Picard being a space-pirate! I felt genuine tension when they kept knocking out lest/kirk with sedatives.

At the end of the day, Lester was crazy, so Shatner had to act crazy! (and man does he chew scenes and spit them out in this one!)

I would love someone to explain to me how this episode is sexist?
Jamie Stearns - Thu, Mar 6, 2014 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
About the "no female captains" issue, I think Lester's line about "your world of starship captains doesn't admit women!" was referring to Kirk leaving her for the Enterprise.

While it's true there were no female Starfleet captains seen in TOS, that doesn't mean they didn't exist, and what has been seen supports the possibility: The Romulans had female captains ("The Enterprise Incident") and it's hard to see them as being more progressive than the Federation. More importantly, "The Cage" and "The Menagerie" establish that the Enterprise's previous first officer was a woman, and that she took command of the ship after Captain Pike's abduction without any objection from the rest of the crew.
Ron - Sun, Sep 21, 2014 - 12:13am (USA Central)
Number One was an XO, an executive officer--true; but she made it clear that whenever a landing party was needed, she would be stuck back on the ship. She only got out because Pike and the other men were n a tight squeeze. That glass ceiling made sure she would never be captain no matter how good she was. Lester knew this, too. Just because the Romulans were no sexists that didn't influence the Federation one wit until at least 15 years later with that one woman starship captain in ST IV and even by the time of TNG, there weren't many more women captains-- just two in Next Gen and Voyager. Not a very good track record for the Federation. Except for a few plotholes, I liked this episode though.
todayshorse - Fri, Oct 31, 2014 - 9:55am (USA Central)
Watched this yesterday on the 'horror channel' of all things here in the UK. I quite enjoyed it. Not really sure of the sexist overtones but considering when it was made ill let that pass.

Greatest moment? Early on when they get back to the ship and Bones is talking to a seated Kirk. Note how Kirk is doing his nails! Subtle but brilliant.

Shatner i thought played the part really well, he stammers and 'ers..' his way through his rants, the crews faces as he/she gets more desperate towards the end are excellent.

Id give it 4 stars! Throughly enjoyed it.
stallion - Tue, Nov 18, 2014 - 11:20am (USA Central)
A weak season that represent a dark side of Star Trek with Gene Roddenberry abandoning it due to network politic. It's a shame to because a lot of these episodes had some good concept and ideas.

Top Five

The Enterprise Incident.
Day of the Dove
Tholian Web
All our Yesterday
Light of Zeter - Would had been perfect if it an Uhura episode.
navamske - Thu, Nov 27, 2014 - 8:44pm (USA Central)
I read that the production crew's name for Shatner's character in this episode was "Captain Kirk, Space Queen."
William B - Tue, Jan 27, 2015 - 3:00pm (USA Central)
I think the thing that distinguishes this episode from most of the 1960's-TV sexism of the original series is that it really does make broader implications about the world. Gene Roddenberry wanted to have a female first officer in "The Cage"; a few years later, he wrote the story to an episode which hinges on the *impossibility* of women becoming starship captains. It is true that we *can* believe that it's just a statement of the current state of starship captaincy that there are no women, and Janice Lester takes this as an unwritten policy but there are no rules on the books that actually prohibit female starship captains. Still, no one who isn't Lester ever makes a definitive statement, or replies to her angry tirades. Surely *someone* should say, "Women can be captains; it just has not happened yet," or some such, if that were the case. The thing is, the episode didn't *need* to be about misplaced feminist rage. A body swap, implausible or not, doesn't require a gender-flip as well. The idea of someone getting revenge on Kirk personally because Kirk succeeded in becoming a captain and the person having failed is actually the subject of "Court Martial," in which Finney's envy and anger over Starfleet's decision that he was unfit for command drives the plot. Someone like him, male or female, would be a great candidate to try to steal Kirk's life. But everything Lester says is specifically about her womanhood, and in particular a regular insistence that her womanhood is the cause of all her problems. She doesn't even hate *Starfleet* or *Kirk* the way she hates her own sex; but of course, she's undone because her Freudian starship envy still manifests in screaming fits and, as Scotty says, being "red-faced with hysteria," irrational, overly emotional, having poor impulse control, etc. even once she's got a man's body and all the perquisites that she thinks go with that. The episode's depiction of Lester relies so heavily on her femaleness, hatred of her own femaleness, and the impossibility of a woman ever doing a man's job, and has that last "if only" speech about how Lester could have had a much better life if she'd just gotten used to being a chick. It's funny that Shatner's acting as "crazy bitch pretending to be Kirk" is recognizably "Shatner playing Kirk," just ramped up to twelve (not even just to eleven), highlighting the overly emotional aspects of Kirk's usual comportment.

That's a shame, because the aspects of the episode which are *not* centrally about Lester and why women need to accept their inescapable womanhood to be happy have some merit and are even particularly appropriate for a series finale. The domino-effect of Kirk getting through to Spock, then consequently to McCoy and Scotty, and then to Sulu and Chekov and finally as a result to the whole of the ship is a pleasing demonstration of the bonds that have cropped up over the series. In his talk with Spock, Kirk-in-Lester's-body explicitly mentions "The Tholian Web" in one of the series' relatively rare direct nods to past episodes; that the two then share a mindmeld (for the first time? I forget) reinforces their closeness. I like that, during the recess, it's Scotty and not McCoy who suggests mutiny, because of course Scotty is the line officer there and the one who has to worry more directly about the ship. I love Sulu and Chekov's passive resistance. There's no Uhura (or Chapel), but maybe there's a good reason for the female cast members to miss out on this episode. That they have a greater loyalty to each other than the letter of the rules, and as such rally around their real captain rather than the impostor, is a good way to demonstrate how their time in space has brought this crew together.

Rating this episode is very hard. I guess I will say 1 star for the Lester material, 3 stars for the crew-mutiny material, for an average of 2 stars.

This leads to ratings for the season, overall. Ratings included where my rating disagrees with Jammer's (parenthetical is the difference between my rating and Jammer's):

The Paradise Syndrome: 1.5 (-1)
Is There in Truth No Beauty?: 3 (+1)
For the World is Hollow...: 2 (-.5)
Plato's Stepchildren: 2.5 (-.5)
Wink of an Eye: 1.5 (-1) (down from the 2 I suggested in the review, after more consideration)
Elaan of Troyius: 1 (-1)
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield: 2.5 (+1)
The Mark of Gideon: 1 (-1)
The Lights of Zetar: 1 (-1)
Requiem for Methuselah: 2.5 (-.5)
The Way to Eden: .5 (+.5)
The Cloud Minders: 2.5 (-.5)
The Savage Curtain: 1 (-.5)
Turnabout Intruder: 2 (-1)

The episodes I'd recommend this season are: The Enterprise Incident (****), The Empath and All You Yesterdays (***1/2), and Is There In Truth No Beauty?, Day of the Dove, and The Tholian Web (***), with a fair number of 2.5 star episodes (Spectre of the Gun, Plato's Stepchildren, Whom Gods Destroy, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, Requiem for Methuselah, The Cloud Minders) that sort of work for me. Overall, the season is one of the weakest in Trekdom, a rambling affair with few highlights and a great chunk of boring stories with maybe one or two decent ideas with wan execution, or sometimes terrible ideas with a few moments executed well. This sense that the show had run out of ideas and was running on fumes is sometimes present in TNG's last season, of course, but TNG's seventh season had many more memorable episodes and highlights, IMO. The thing that's frustrating about TOS season three isn't so much the worst-of-the-worst episodes, because "Spock's Brain" and "The Way to Eden" are fascinating, not just bad but endlessly *weird*. Episodes like "The Mark of Gideon" or "Wink of an Eye" or, at worst, "The Lights of Zetar" just sit there doing very little, having the appearance of a Trek episode with almost none of the passion that makes this series work.

While "The Lights of Zetar" is arguably Scotty-centric, Chekov gets big roles in "Spectre of the Gun" and "The Way to Eden," and there's a lot of Scotty and Sulu screentime in "That Which Survives," I mostly feel that the season boils down, even more than previous seasons, to the Big Three, to the point where in some episodes like "The Empath" or "All Our Yesterdays" the crew besides them are completely irrelevant to the story. Still, what the season does do well, in some of its better episodes, is depict the slow shift in Spock and McCoy's affection for each other, and the way Kirk fits into their new dynamic as a result. Spock and McCoy were "friends" before this season, but "The Tholian Web" and "All Our Yesterdays" place special emphasis on the relationship between those two with Kirk absent, and the strengthening of that bond makes episodes like "The Empath," about all three of them sacrificing for each other, with all three bonds (Kirk-Spock, Spock-McCoy, McCoy-Kirk) well developed, work. This puts the characters in good position for the movies, especially the way STII and STIII play with the Spock/McCoy bond.
William B - Thu, Jan 29, 2015 - 10:16am (USA Central)
Comments on TOS overall:

I was overall very pleased with TOS in this rewatch. Season one, in particular, is fantastic, even the weak episodes being quite fresh. Season two is a little bipolar, with some of the series' very best and very worst mixed together, and some mediocre periods as well. What really impressed me, and what I wasn't in a good position to note when I watched the series (scattershot, out of order) when younger, is how well the character development works, in particular Spock's subtle changes with respect to humanity (and his own humanity), and the Kirk/Spock/McCoy bond. There does seem to be a progression through the series, more so than is obvious at first glance. I was also a little surprised that the fairly routine Kirk-bangs-hot-alien-chick material didn't become a cliche until the second season. I was also impressed with Kirk's stoicism, particularly in season one; the exaggerated acting style Shatner is known for in the role is something that gathers steam as the series progresses (partly as the scripts get worse), but initially at least Kirk really does seem a balance between Spock's excessive dislike of emotionality and McCoy's excessive position against Spock's rational nature.

My personal top ten:

1. The City on the Edge of Forever
2. Mirror, Mirror
3. The Doomsday Machine
4. The Trouble with Tribbles
5. Balance of Terror
6. Amok Time
7. The Enterprise Incident
8. The Menagerie
9. Space Seed
10. Tomorrow is Yesterday

Some candidates for the top ten which just missed: The Enemy Within, The Galileo Seven, The Ultimate Computer, The Empath, All Our Yesterdays.

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