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Star Trek – Turnabout Intruder (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

This is the end.

And what an ignominious ending it is. Turnabout Intruder is the last episode of the original Star Trek run, bringing down the curtain on three years of boldly going and bidding farewell to this cast… at least for the moment. It is also an infamously terrible episode of television, in which Captain Kirk finds himself swapping bodies with the psychotic scientist Janice Lester. Lester is repeatedly categorised as insane, but her primary motivation seems to be rebellion against Starfleet’s institutional sexism.

It's full of stars.

It’s full of stars.

Seen as this is a Gene Roddenberry story, Turnabout Intruder sides entirely with Starfleet on the matter. This was the same writer and producer who would later balk at The Measure of a Man because he thought that Data should willingly surrender himself to Starfleet experimentation. So, instead of becoming an exploration of sexism and discrimination, Turnabout Intruder instead becomes a vigorous defense of institutionalised misogyny. Of course Starfleet doesn’t allow women captains, the episode suggests, they could never handle the strain!

It is an episode that really puts paid to the show’s claims of liberal progressivism, credited to a writer who would in later years cultivate a mythology of himself as the architect of that liberal progressivism. Turnabout Intruder is just about the most damning argument against the franchise’s utopian idealism imaginable, which makes it particularly insulting as a series finale.

William Shatner did not react well to news of cancelation.

William Shatner did not react well to news of cancellation.

Star Trek had never been too kind to its female characters or its female performers. Just look at how the show treated Janice Rand in The Enemy Within and how the series treated actor Grace Lee Whitney during that first season. Nurse Chapel was frequently cast as a love interest, whether as a fiancée to Donald Korby in What Are Little Girls Made Of? or pining over Mister Spock in stories like The Naked Time or Amok Time. Uhura was frequently overlooked by the narrative, most glaringly in the casual way that her entire identity is wiping by Nomad in The Changeling.

Those are just the recurring players. One-off guest stars seldom fared any better. Lieutenant Marla McGivers would fall head-over-heels for Khan Noonien Singh in Space Seed, committing mutiny in service of a man whom she had only met a few days earlier. Lieutenant Helen Noel allows her attraction to Captain Kirk foil her judgement in Dagger of the Mind, using an incredibly sinister mind-altering device to play with Kirk’s emotions. Generally speaking, Star Trek was not kind to its female guest characters.

Empowerment.

Empowerment.

This was particularly true during the third season. The third season is packed with disposable women. Miramanee and her unborn child are stoned to death at the end of The Paradise Syndrome, so that Kirk can return to the Enterprise. Although McCoy has the courtesy to break up with Natrina at the end of For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, he neglects to mention that he is cured of his fatal illness. Lieutenant Romaine is the love of Scotty’s life, but somehow disappears between The Lights of Zetar and The Cloud Minders.

(To be clear, the issue is not so much that the women are written out at the end of the episode. After all, the demands of episodic television make long-term romance impossible. However, it is the casualness with which the third season disposes of these characters. Episodes like Wink of an Eye or The Mark of Gideon or even All Our Yesterdays manage to write their female characters out in a manner that feels appropriate, even tragic. However, they provide a sharp contrast to the dismissive endings of those other episodes.)

"Yes, Captain. It's hysteria."

“Yes, Captain. It’s hysteria.”

Women in authority have a particularly hard time during the third season. Repeatedly over the course of the third season, it is suggested that women are inherently irrational and that their inability to keep their emotions in check render them unfit for command. In The Enterprise Incident, Spock is able to outwit the female Romulan Commander simply by flirting with her; it falls to her male subordinate to catch Spock in the act of espionage. Natrina’s authority is undermined by her irrational attraction to McCoy in For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.

As such, Turnabout Intruder feels like a culmination of all these ideas. In its own offensive and insulting way, Turnabout Intruder is the perfect encapsulation of the third season’s anxiety about women in positions of authority. It might not be the culmination that many fans would want or expect, but it is a grim reminder of just how blind Star Trek could be. For a franchise that took such pride in its liberal progressivism, the original show could make some incredibly ill-judged decisions in its handling of issues like sexism and racism.

It's a headscratcher, all right.

It’s a headscratcher, all right.

Turnabout Intruder starts very much as it means to go on. The teaser sets the tone for the awfulness that will follow. Kirk’s first line to Janice effectively silences her, “Janice, you must remain absolutely quiet. Those are doctor’s orders, not mine.” It recalls the way that the male crew treated Lieutenant Romaine in The Lights of Zetar, speaking for her or over her. Watching The Lights of Zetar, it was difficult to tell if the script was criticising that attitude. In Turnabout Intruder, the script is quite pointedly endorsing it.

The real kicker comes later in the same scene, when Kirk wonders why Janice left him. “I never stopped you from going on with your space work,” he insists, which is a delightfully pulpy piece of dialogue. “Space work” sounds like the best profession ever. Janice responds by stating, “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women. It isn’t fair.” The line is perhaps a tiny bit ambiguous. The most charitable reading of the line would be to read it in the style of Deela’s wry comment in Wink of an Eye about how Kirk would have no time for love in his life.

Kirk carries Janice.

Kirk carries Janice.

However, there is little to support such a reading. Even if it did, it would present Janice Lester as nothing more than a clingy ex-girlfriend, which does not fit with the rest of the episode. After all, Janice is primarily motivated to become a commanding officer herself. If Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Singer intended for the line to suggest that the Enterprise was the only woman in Kirk’s life, the finished script represents a misfire of spectacular proportions. Then again, this would not be out of character.

More likely, the line was intended to suggest exactly what it ultimately suggests. There are no female captains in Starfleet. Indeed, there have been very few female authority figures featured on the show to this point. The franchise would have to wait until Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home before a female officer appeared in command of a Starfleet vessel. Star Trek: Voyager would eventually focus on a vessel commanded by a female lead. Star Trek: Enterprise would introducing a recurring female captain in its final season, perhaps a response to Turnabout Intruder.

"Alright, Kirk. Keep your shirt on."

“Alright, Kirk. Keep your shirt on.”

The third season of Star Trek has worked very hard to treat twenty-third century humanity as a utopian society. In The Empath, it was revealed that other species would do well to learn from humanity’s compassion. In Day of the Dove, it is confirmed that mankind has effectively consigned war to the past. In Whom Gods Destroy, Kirk confronts a broken “prototype” version of a Starfleet captain, suggesting that the institution no longer needs warriors. The third season strongly sets up the idea that the Federation is a paradise.

As such, this casual sexism feels frustrating. This is an idea that might have worked under the pen of Gene L. Coon, a writer who was not convinced that mankind could vanquish their demons so easily and so readily. Coon’s scripts for episodes like Arena or A Taste of Armageddon or Errand of Mercy toyed with the idea that the Federation was a power with impulses that drew it towards imperialism. Roddenberry was a lot less critical of the Federation, as evidenced by scripts for episodes like The Omega Glory.

Kirk, you'll be a woman soon...

Kirk, you’ll be a woman soon…

This leads to a weird situation where Turnabout Intruder both portrays Starfleet as a sexist institution and defends Starfleet as entirely correct at the same time. Turnabout Intruder demonstrates a lot of familiar Roddenberry tropes, right down to the fetishisation of military procedure. Whereas The Savage Curtain devoted its opening act to exploring how Kirk would welcome the President of the United States on board the ship, Turnabout Intruder pauses the action half-way through so that it might run through a generic court martial plot.

Even in matters unrelated to institutional sexism, Turnabout Intruder goes out of its way to praise Starfleet as a model organisation. When McCoy (quite rightly) questions Coleman’s medical qualifications based on his occupational history, janice!Kirk tries to shrug it off as an example of bureaucratic politics. “Promotions and demotions can be politically manoeuvred,” janice!Kirk suggests. “You know that, Bones.” McCoy seems offended by the idea. “Not in Starfleet Headquarters, Captain. And certainly not in the Surgeon General’s office.”

Face to face.

Face to face.

There is a sense that Starfleet exists above it all, a model institution and a standard bearer. Roddenberry would continue to develop this theme in his later work in the franchise, culminating in Captain Picard’s (somewhat strained) insistence that Starfleet is not a military organisation in episodes like Peak Performance. That said, is notable that Roddenberry’s scripts for The Menagerie, Part I and Turnabout Intruder emphasise that Starfleet still has the death penalty. (For “general order number seven” and “general order number four” respectively.)

Still, Turnabout Intruder is completely unambiguous on Starfleet’s virtue. While it might at first appear that Janice Lester has a valid point about Starfleet’s refusal to allow women to command starships, Turnabout Intruder makes it perfectly clear that Starfleet has made the right choice. (Much like Roddenberry would later insist that Starfleet made the right choice in wanting to vivisect Data in The Measure of a Man.) Once Janice hijacks Kirk’s body, the episode makes it clear that Janice is far too emotional and irrational to hold down a position of authority.

Kirk's back is against the wall.

Kirk’s back is against the wall.

As with other third season episodes like And the Children Shall Lead and The Way to Eden, there is something uncomfortably reactionary about all this. In American Masculinity Under Clinton, Brenton J. Malin argues that the episode was very much a reaction to the feminism movement of the late sixties:

Here, this early Star Trek reacts hegemonically against the changing, “liberal” social values of its moment – the same values outwardly embraced in its multicast crew. Doctor Lester’s desire to kill Kirk and take over his role offers a caricature and condemnation of the feminism of the late ’60s, evoking a fear of powerful, power hungry women. Captain Kirk’s testimony clearly decries Doctor Lester’s thirst for power (no doubt further evidence of her intense hatred of her own womanhood) and her desire for the position she does not and, the program suggests, ultimately should not have. For in the end, Doctor Lester cannot replace Kirk, evidence, it seems, of the misdirection of this movement to empower women. Doctor Lester’s inability to handle the stress of command eventually overcoming her, she collapses on the bridge, reversing the bodily transference she had forced upon Kirk. The message seems clear: women want to kill men and their jobs, but ultimately they can’t handle them. Returned to his proper body, Captain Kirk is free, once again, to command the ship in an appropriate masculine manner.

This is a truly reprehensible position, and one that is particularly damning for a series that prides itself on being liberal and progressive. If anything, it makes Star Trek seem truly regressive and backwards.

Shakedown.

Shakedown.

Then again, it is worth noting that the franchise’s progressiveness has been subject to much exaggeration over the years. Roddenberry is largely responsible for this, in seeking to cultivate a myth around himself (and the show) on the convention circuit during the years when the series was off the air. The franchise was forward-looking in a number of respects, and did provide an optimistic vision of the future at a point when it seemed like mankind was destined to destroy itself in a nuclear inferno. However, this does not excuse some of the show’s more unfortunate choices.

There is something rather conservative about Star Trek. This makes a certain degree of sense; it was a programme airing in the late sixties, with a significant number of Second World War veterans on its production staff. As such, Star Trek was always going to come down on the side of the the “greatest generation” on the inevitable generational conflicts. Episodes like This Side of Paradise, And the Children Shall Lead, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield and The Way to Eden betrayed an unease about movements like counter-culture or civil rights.

Putting the matter to rest.

Putting the matter to rest.

The late sixties had seen feminism exploding into the public consciousness. To many observers, this cultural conversation emerged from out of nowhere, coming as something of a shock. Alice Kessler-Harris provides a sense of context in Out to Work:

To make a woman completely content, headlined a 1962 Saturday Evening Post article, “it takes a man, but the chief purpose of her life is motherhood.” George Gallup and Evan Hill, the authors, based their observations on a scientific sample of interviews with 2,300 women. Their results confirmed what everyone already believed. “Our study,” they wrote, “shows that few people are as happy as a housewife.” Ninety-six percent of married women reported that they were either extremely happy or fairly happy. The American woman of the fifties said she was uninterested in either business or politics. She didn’t want equality, and if she had a job she awaited “the day when she could assume the full-time role of housewife and eventually mother.”

After all, the logic suggested, women had fought hard to earn suffrage and recognition in the early years of the twentieth century. Now that they had those basic rights, the train of thought continued, what more could women possibly want?

Flying Sulu.

Flying Sulu.

Towards the end of the sixties, a new form of feminism emerged focused on broader issues and greater freedoms. The origin of the word “sexism” is commonly dated to the mid to late sixties. Upon the assassination of her husband in April 1968, Coretta Scott King became a crucial figure in the civil rights movement and brought a significant feminist slant to it. In September 1968, feminists attracted a lot of press attention for their protests of the Miss America pageant. The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws would be found in 1969, organising protests and marches.

Just as Star Trek had been wary of hippie culture, it seemed like the show was uncomfortable with this second-wave feminism. In the context of the late sixties, Star Trek seemed incredibly uncomfortable about threats to the established order. Insanity is presented as a recurring threat, often accompanying the breakdown of social order. The two go hand-in-hand in Operation — Annihilate! and And the Children Shall Lead. More precisely, Sevrin is branded insane as the leader of the hippies in The Way to Eden and Janice Lester is branded insane in Turnabout Intruder.

This is how most fans react to the news that they have to watch Turnabout Intruder.

This is how most fans react to the news that they have to watch Turnabout Intruder.

It should be noted that the episode made the cast deeply uncomfortable while it was being produced. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy reflected upon the finale in the pages of Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath’s Where No Man…:

“What is easier for me to deal with on that particular script is the knowledge that the writer was making a script in which his goal was to prove, quote, ‘That women, although they claim equality, cannot really do things as well as, under certain circumstances, as a man – like the command function, for example. And it was a rather chauvinistic, clumsy handling of an interesting question. What he set out to prove was that this lady, given command of the ship, would blow it. That’s really what the script was about. Just that simple. You see.”

“Yeah,” Bill agrees. “The problems were solved without really -“

Leonard cuts in, nodding “That’s, what I was dealing with when we were shooting that show – the knowledge that that was the concept. And I rebelled against the concept. I was uncomfortable doing the whole show because I didn’t believe in the concept.”

Turnabout Intruder is not embarrassing in hindsight. It is an episode that embarrassing from the very moment that the story was developed, that continued to be embarrassing through production, and which will be embarrassing until the moment that either people stop watching Star Trek or mankind goes extinct.

"It's okay. The episode's over."

“It’s okay. The episode’s over.”

It would be one thing if Janice Lester were portrayed as a generic insane antagonist in the mold of Garth of Izar, another psychotic who tried to take control of the Enterprise by impersonating Kirk. After all, insanity would seem to be a prerequisite for any plot that relies on a convenient body-swapping device. However, Turnabout Intruder makes a point to link Lester’s insanity to her politics. Janice has not been driven insane because she has been dismissed and ignored for decades; she is presented as insane because she dares to question the orthodoxy.

Asked to explain Janice’s motivations, kirk!Janice insists that she concocted the plan “to get the power she craved, to attain a position she doesn’t merit by temperament or training. And most of all, she wanted to murder James Kirk, a man who once loved her. But her intense hatred of her own womanhood made life with her impossible.” As such, Janice’s refusal to accept conventional womanhood is the cause of this chaos, recalling the suggestion in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield that Lokai’s refusal to accept oppression led to the destruction of Charon.

Mirror, mirror.

Mirror, mirror.

Even Scotty’s description of janice!Kirk as “red-faced with hysteria” is a pointedly gendered criticism. After all, the world itself has a decidedly sexist origin and connotation. It also seems strange that Scotty should seem more willing to tolerate Kirk’s emotional volatility when it comes packaged in a more stereotypical masculine fashion – “feverish, sick, drunk, delirious, terrified, overjoyed, boiling mad.” It seems rather strange that Scotty should put such emphasis on janice!Kirk being “red-faced with hysteria” rather than just “raving psychotically.”

This was particularly insulting to the franchise’s female fans. Although the importance of female fandom has been somewhat downplayed in favour of stereotypes about male nerds, female fans were hugely active and important from the very beginning of Star Trek. Tellingly, the bulk of fan writers on the third season of Star Trek were female; Jean Lisette Aroeste, Joyce Muskat and Judy Burns. The letter campaign to save Star Trek was spearheaded by Bjo Trimble. A lot of the earliest fandom activities – art, fan fiction, poetry – are those traditionally associated with female fandoms.

Let Lester be Lester.

Let Lester be Lester.

Indeed, an editorial in the first issue of the 1974 fanzine Sol III was still justifiably angry at the fact that Turnabout Intruder stood as the closing statement on Star Trek:

Why is it, feminist fen demand, that Roddenberry can envision beings of all races working together in harmony, ships that can travel even faster than light, aliens who are neither cannibalistic nor giant snails, yet cannot seem to realise that women of the 22nd or 23rd century will undoubtedly fit very well in to the ‘world of starship captains’??? Why was it necessary for Janice Lester to be presented as a madwoman, rather than a woman whose potential was wasted because she was a woman? I sincerely hope the ST movie, when it comes, will not repeat these mistakes.

Turnabout Intruder would have been offensive in any context, but it was particularly offensive to a segment of fandom that had been key to the success (and even salvation) of the show.

Kirk reenacts what NBC did to Star Trek.

Kirk reenacts what NBC did to Star Trek.

The issues with Turnabout Intruder are particularly frustrating given that it is the last episode of Star Trek. It would be the last new episode of the franchise until the broadcast of Beyond the Farthest Star in September 1973. It would be the last live action Star Trek project until the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979. It would be the last new episode of Star Trek to air in prime-time until Encounter at Farpoint in September 1987. This would be the series’ closing statement, and what a damning statement it would be.

It would be comforting to be write off Turnabout Intruder as an aberration or a deviation, to suggestion that it was a momentary slip in judgment owing to the tremendous pressure facing the production team during this most stressful of seasons. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Turnabout Intruder represents the culmination of a particularly unpleasant brand of misogyny that played out across the entirety of the show’s run, written by the show’s creator and one of its most important creative figures. This is not an exception, as comforting as that would be to believe.

"Yeah. This is not our finest hour."

“Yeah. This is not our finest hour.”

To be fair to Gene Roddenberry, he seems to have acknowledged as much in his later years. Roddenberry conceded that the treatment of female characters on the original Star Trek left a lot to be desired, but he would try to do better:

We have never had anyone in Trek who wasn’t into growth. During my first Trek, for instance, I didn’t pay any attention to women. In the years I have grown into something of a strong feminist. I was the product of a southern family background. My parents never spoke of any race with contempt. They encouraged me to try strange ideas and philosophies.

Of course, it should also be noted that Roddenberry considered himself a “strong feminist” at the point in time when he decided that Angel One was a good script to produce for the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So mileage may vary.

"And my only character-centric episode this season was The Way to Eden."

“… and my only character-centric episode this season was The Way to Eden.”

Indeed, the Star Trek franchise as a whole seems to have learned little from the mistakes that are so horribly exemplified here. Ironically, the worst offender might just be the most modern of the shows, the prequel series Enterprise that frequently traded in creepy PG-13 objectification and unreconstructed sexism. There are plenty of examples from the early seasons; Unexpected, Precious Cargo, Bounty, any scene in the decon chamber. However, this casual sexism remained with the show through to Bound in the final season.

The most interesting part of this whole mess is the performance given by William Shatner as janice!Kirk. Shatner’s contributions to the franchise and the show are frequently overlooked, in large part because his delivery is so readily mockable. However, Shatner’s stylised theatrical approach to Star Trek goes a long way towards redeeming many of the show’s worst episodes. The short scene with Spock in the cave in And the Children Shall Lead is the best part of the episode. His scenery chewing in The Omega Glory breathes life into an abysmal episode.

Ray of hope.

Ray of hope.

Although not quite a thespian on the level of Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner is an actor capable of subtlety and nuance. After all, Shatner was a well-regarded stage actor by the time he took the role of James Tiberius Kirk. Even within the franchise, there are moments in which Shatner demonstrates very moving and affecting low-key performances; look at episodes like The City on the Edge of Forever or the quieter moments of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However, these are not the moments that fans and critics associate with Shatner. They are not mimetic.

When audiences think about William Shatner, they remember the big moments. Kirk screaming “KHAAAAAN!!!!!” into a communicator, veins and eyes bulging with rage; the scenery chewing of The Enemy Within; the flamboyant camp of Turnabout Intruder. These are the moments that imprint themselves on the cultural memory, and are effectively the corner stones of Shatner’s status as a pop culture institution. Although Spock was (and is) the franchise’s breakout character, William Shatner’s performance is almost as crucial an aspect of its iconography.

"Stop being so coy, McCoy."

“Stop being so coy, McCoy.”

Shatner’s distinctive performance style is divisive among fans, much like that of Avery Brooks on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Perhaps the issue with Shatner’s performance for those fans is that it so brazenly acknowledges the unreality of the show, adopting an outsized theatrical approach that eschews naturalism. It is consciously unreal. Frank Ahrens argues this performative quality cuts to the very heart of William Shatner:

He has so conflated the lines between life and art, between self and self-parody, between reality and surreality, that he exists in a singular orbit around Planet Celebrity.

He once told actor Kevin Pollak, who does the definitive Capt. Kirk impersonation: “At ‘Star Trek’ conventions, I do you doing me and it kills!”

Years ago, on a late-night talk show, Shatner told a story about taking his kids trick-or-treating. Naturally, he dressed in costume, donning not one but two Kirk masks.

“They’d open the door, and there I was,” Shatner said. “I’d take off the first mask, and it was Captain Kirk! And I’d take off the second mask — and it was Captain Kirk!”

Somewhere within this joke lies the meaning of Shatner.

After all, certain segments of fandom place a very high degree of value on the sense of “realism” within the franchise, the idea that Star Trek should be taken entirely seriously at all times. To acknowledge the unreality of it is to spoil the illusion, to reduce Star Trek to mockery. Certainly, this attitude has been mirrored by those working on the franchise, with Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman putting self-seriousness at a premium.

Smooth as silk.

Smooth as silk.

Shatner’s performance style represents a clear affront to that philosophy, with his staccato rhythm and heightened delivery constantly reminding viewers that Kirk is a fictional character played by an actor who is behaving in a manner that would seem bizarre outside the context of a late sixties science-fiction television series. Nobody speaks like that, at least in the world, unless they are imitating Shatner. Then again, Kirk is traveling on a ship faster than the speed of light with a best friend who is half-alien. Unreality comes with the territory.

Shatner’s ability to turn his performance to high camp might threaten to bring the wooden sets around him, but it also provide an energy and dynamism to scripts that would otherwise be dead on arrival. Turnabout Intruder is a great such example. The episode is, quite frankly, terrible. Shatner and the production team are clearly aware of this. However, rather than recoiling from the script, Shatner doubles down. Shatner turns in a performance that so ridiculous it threaten to turn the self-serious script into self-mockery. And it almost works.

"Hold on... must... summon... mygreatacting strength!"

“Hold on… must… summon… mygreatacting strength!”

More interestingly, Shatner’s performance represents a very clear “queering” of Star Trek, with the actor casting janice!Kirk as something akin to drag king Bette Davis. The result, as David Greven notes in Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek, is something breathtaking:

Kirk emerges as a third-sex Kirk. He does not register as either “Kirk” or “Janice” but as the third space of possibility, a liminal, undecidable zone of fluctuating gendered identities. This may be largely the result of Shatner’s courageously wild, flamboyant, theatrical performance. He comes across as a hyperemotional, theatrical male, emerging as a fascinating queer figure who disrupts codes of gendered identity, especially those governing the disciplined masculine performance of Starship Captain.

Janice has an accomplice: Doctor Coleman (Harry Landers). Coleman exudes sympathy for Janice, coming across, though a sexual relationship is implied, more as the Gay Best Friend then as her lover – Rupert Everett to her Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding. There is an extraordinary moment that demands a queer reading. Plotting “Janice’s” death, “Kirk” attempts to seduce Coleman into murdering her. Coleman initially balks. But “Kirk”, behind him, puts his hand on Coleman’s shoulder and whispers insinuatingly in his ear. Whether not this is the Real-Kirk, we still see the Kirk of William Shatner coming on to another man … “Kirk” or Kirk, the Captain Kirk of Turnabout Intruder is a radical embodiment of queer energy, a standout figure of queerness in sixties television.

Of course, it is debatable how much of this is intentional, and it is very clear that Shatner is running counter to the script. At the same time, there is something intriguing is seeing sixties Star Trek flirt with these ideas, even in so broad (and camp) a fashion.

CAUTION: Acting in progress.

CAUTION: Acting in progress.

To be fair, this is not the first time that Star Trek teased its audience with a healthy dose of queer subtext. This Side of Paradise finds Spock getting over a girl by throwing down with Kirk in the transporter room. Amok Time is remarkable for its willingness to play up the sexual subtext to the relationship between Kirk and Spock, as the two wrestle while Spock’s mating impulses kick into overdrive. Even Metamorphosis hints at unconventional attraction, before finally settling on a more heteronormative dynamic.

None of this is to offer a defense of Turnabout Intruder. After all, if the relationship between janice!Kirk and Coleman is intended to be a gay love affair, it is still layered with homophobic subtext. Janice is quite clearly insane, while Coleman is portrayed as emasculated and weak-willed. They would be Star Trek‘s answer to Mister Wink and Mister Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever. What subversion exists in that dynamic is largely down to Shatner’s performance choices, pitching it as something on par with the high camp of Bride of Frankenstein.

A touching reunion.

A touching reunion.

Even leaving aside the issues with the episode’s politics, Turnabout Intruder is just a terrible piece of scripted drama. The court martial subplot stops the episode dead, revealing that Turnabout Intruder really has nowhere to go beyond “Janice hijacks Kirk’s body.” The resolution is similarly trite, with Janice’s consciousness bouncing back to her body just in time, right before the closing credits role. It is hardly a satisfactory ending. Then again, this is true of Turnabout Intruder as a whole. It is a rather unsatisfactory closing episode.

Still, whether or not is is an appropriate final episode does not matter. This is where Star Trek ends. This is where the adventure concludes, at least for the short-term. It is an ignominious end. There is little here to suggest a final episode in the traditional sense. There is no tidy resolution, no meaningful conclusion. Indeed, Turnabout Intruder is one of the few episodes of the third season that doesn’t feature large-scale destruction and apocalyptic dread, although the episode does open at an archeological dig exploring a long-dead civilisation.

"You know, I'm kinda blaisé about the whole 'extinct civilisation' thing by this point."

“You know, I’m kinda blaisé about the whole ‘extinct civilisation’ thing by this point.”

The reason for this abruptness is quite straightforward. The cast and crew only found out that the show was ending while they were actually filming it. As Don Hardon explains:

It was learned during the filming of the last episode, Turnabout Intruder, that not only did NBC not renew Star Trek for a fourth season, but also passed on their option for to additional programs for the third season. According to Winston, Roddenberry said that William Shatner was to be the director of the last episode. Shatner became incensed, and finally had an fiery encounter with Herb Wallerstein, the director of Turnabout when the director asked him to exit through what had been established as a wall.

Shatner would eventually get his chance to direct, albeit after Leonard Nimoy. Leonard Nimoy would direct Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and its direct follow-up. William Shatner would get to direct Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

"The show's dead, Jim."

“The show’s dead, Jim.”

The production team working on the episode did not know that it would be the finale until after filming began. The cast and crew were under no illusions about the possibility of a fourth season, but many on staff were expecting NBC to order two more episodes and bring the third season order to twenty-six episodes. The network had been slow to offer that approval before. Instead of ordering the final eight episodes of the season at once, NBC had made an interim order for The Mark of Gideon and The Lights of Zetar before committing to another six. Two more episodes seemed possible.

As a result, Turnabout Intruder is not structured as a last episode. The closest thing to an acknowledgement of the episode’s place in the canon comes in the closing moments of the remastered version of the episode released in April 2008, altering the closing shot of the Enterprise to show the ship flying towards a nebula in keeping with the closing shots of All Good Things…, What You Leave Behind and These Are the Voyages… Indeed, the production team would include the same nebula in the opening of their remastered version of The Cage as “a bookend.”

Where no man has gone before.

Where no man has gone before.

Turnabout Intruder landed with a whimper rather than a thud, which might have been for the best. The episode was originally intended to air in late March, in the Friday evening graveyard slot that had been allocated to Star Trek at the start of the production year. However, real life intervened and the show was preempted. As Robert Greenberger explains in The Complete Unauthorized History:

As it was, Turnabout Intruder was pre-empted March 28 with a news special on the death of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It finally aired June 3, well after the official primetime season ended. After the leftover finale, Star Trek reruns replaced The Jerry Lewis Show until September 2, then faded out without fanfare.

In some small way, All Our Yesterdays was allowed to serve as the series finale, with Turnabout Intruder instead shuffled into the summer reruns. That was no bad thing, serving to deflate and diminish the importance of Turnabout Intruder in the larger context of the franchise, while also rendering it something of a bookend with The Cage; neither episode debuted within the regular television season.

"If you want a souvenir, best take it now."

“If you want a souvenir, best take it now.”

There is no small irony in all of this. Turnabout Intruder aired on a Tuesday evening, taking over the slot from The Jerry Lewis Show. At the start of the season, Gene Roddenberry had expected NBC to air Star Trek in the Tuesday night slot. However, when NBC were unable to offer Star Trek that slot owing to contractual commitments to Jerry Lewis and scheduled Star Trek fro Friday nights, Roddenberry had resigned in protest. That scheduling choice was largely responsible for shaping the mess that the third season became.

There was no small irony in how all of this worked out. After exiling Star Trek to Friday nights, The Jerry Lewis Show bombed spectacularly. To be fair, there is little to suggest that Star Trek would have competed much better against The Mod Squad, but it was still a massive and humiliating failure for all involved. In many respects, Lewis was a performer who found himself being left behind by the radical social and cultural upheaval of the late sixties, subject to “generational conflict and niche audiences.”

"Remember."

“Remember.”

As such, it is almost appropriate that Turnabout Intruder would air in the Tuesday night slot that had caused so much trouble and consternation for the third season. Sure, the show was cancelled and the season was over, but it counted as some small symbolic victory. At this point, it was better than nothing. Small victories were all that Star Trek would achieve for quite some time.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series:

 

 

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13 Responses

  1. Author appeal: Gene Roddenberry and the name “Janice.”

    I know – I just know – there must be slash-fic about Kirk-in-Lester visiting Spock after hours.

    Darren, in the James Blish novelization of this episode Spock gets the last word: “If only she had been able to take pride in being a woman.” Did your research turn up anything indicating it was in the script but left out because Nimoy simply did not want to say that line? From what you’ve stated here, it sounds likely.

    • James Blish got preliminary scripts to write the novelizations, and nearly all of them differed from the episode as broadcast. Some of them differed only slightly, but some of them differed quite a lot. It’s certainly possible that Mr. Nimoy refused to say that line, but all of the Blish versions differ from the final episode; that’s just the way they are.

    • I also believe that slash must be out there. (Although, I also suspect there’s Janice-in-Kirk slash as well.) But no way I am googling that to be sure.

      Not sure about the last line. As Cory points out, Blish tended to work from the scripts, but he could also improvise. So I’m not entirely sure. I may revisit These Are the Voyages… in the next few days to see if there’s anything one way or the other.

  2. Thanks for another great review! I’m glad that you’ve now reviewed all of TOS; even on the rare occasions when I disagree with you (as I still do about the Romulan Commander in “The Enterprise Incident,”) you give me interesting things to think about.

    It’s true that TOS is saturated with sexism, but sexism was so pervasive at the time that it was invisible to nearly all men and to a great many women, as well. There’s the well-known adage that a fish isn’t aware that water is wet, because it’s never experienced any other environment, and sexism was like that. Sexism was so much a part of the culture in the 60’s that most people had no idea it was even there. Nor is this limited to Star Trek; there were plenty of SF stories in that era that imagined wildly different places with wildly different people … and the same old gender roles. Sexism and gender roles were truly invisible to most people at the time. Thanks heavens (and thank Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan) that times have changed!

    I know you’ve read Marc Cushman’s These Are the Voyages, so I know you’ll have read about Roddenberry’s bringing O. J. Simpson to the set while this episode was filming, and his saying, “You have seen an ACTOR,” talking about William Shatner. It’s a pity that Roddenberry never seemed to appreciate what Leonard Nimoy was doing; he preferred Shatner’s showier performance.

    In Shatner’s defense, I think a lot of people overlook the fact that what we see today — watching DVD’s or blu-rays or streaming video on big color televisions — is NOT what people saw when TOS first aired. Consider these facts:

    a. In 1966, the average television screen was 19″ – 21″. A really BIG television screen was 25″. Many viewers probably have computer monitors bigger than that now. 🙂

    b. There was no cable television in 1966, no DVD’s, no blu-ray, no streaming video. People watched these episodes on broadcast TV, and broadcast TV was rarely all that clear. Sometimes the focus was just a little fuzzy, sometimes the picture was overlaid by little dots that were called “snow” (because it looked like it was snowing, even though it wasn’t), sometimes there were wavy lines … in 1966, we could only DREAM of the nice, clear pictures that people take for granted today.

    c. In 1966, most television sets were black-and-white; color television sets were luxury items, and only the relatively well-to-do owned one.

    d. At the time, people thought that sitting too close to the television was bad for you, that they emitted some sort of radiation that would damage your body. So most people sat 6 to 10 feet (1.8 meters to 3 meters) away from these small, fuzzy, black-and-white images.

    Conclusion: Bill Shatner’s acting in such episodes as “The Enemy Within” was intended to make it clear when audiences were looking at the “good” Kirk and when they were looking at the “evil” one, even though they were seeing small, fuzzy, black-and-white images from far away. It’s to his credit that we’re always sure which Kirk we’re seeing, and if you take into account the size and lack of clarity of the television pictures of the time, his performance in “The Enemy Within” is actually very good, even brilliant.

    Shatner does chew the scenery in some other episodes, but far less than he’s blamed for; watch what he does while sitting eight feet away from a 19″ black-and-white television that’s overlaid with “snow,” and you’ll get a different perspective on his performance.

    Here’s a screenshot from “The Enemy Within” that shows the difference:

    I adore Leonard Nimoy — I admire both the actor and the man, and I think the person revealed in his autobiographies is just wonderful — but it IS true that the historical trend toward larger, clearer television sets has been a lot kinder to his performance than it’s been to Shatner’s.

    A couple of things you might want to correct:

    1. You say, “The Paradise Syndrome finds Spock getting over a girl by throwing down with Kirk in the transporter room,” but of course you meant “This Side of Paradise,” not “The Paradise Syndrome.” (My husband claims that all TOS episodes are named “Return to the Paradise of Yesterday.” :-D)

    2. You say, “but many on staff were expecting NBC to order two more episodes and bring the third season order to twenty-two episodes.” The third season already has 24 episodes, so you must mean 26, not 22.

    Thanks again for all the time, care, thought, and erudition you’ve brought to these reviews of TOS. Even though I rarely manage to get out to the movies (though I have, of course, seen Star Trek Beyond), I’ve just bought your book, because I figure I owe you a present of some sort, and since you don’t have a tip jar or anything, I figure this is what I can do.

    I guess I’ll still “see” you around, as I continue to work my way through Enterprise. And when that’s done, I hope to get back to working my way through Voyager, or maybe I’ll try DS9. Best wishes!

    • Looks like my screenshot was suppressed. You can see it at this post on Trek Core.

    • Thanks Cory!

      And those are corrected now, thanks for the heads up. It seems like a rough draft of the post went up; a large section of it didn’t even have screenshots.

      With regards to Roddenberry’s preference for Nimoy over Shatner, I suspect that a large part of it was political. I believe that Roddenberry never quite forgave Nimoy for his (or his agent’s) negotiating stance between the first and second season. There are other reasons, I suspect; Nimoy’s frequent memos critiquing the scripts may have led to better storytelling, but they are hardly the best way for an actor to endear himself to a producer.

      By all accounts, Shatner had a better relationship with the producers than Nimoy. (Which is ironic, given his strained relationship with the cast.) Freiberger did not get along with Nimoy, in large part due to Nimoy’s continuing criticisms and the fact that Nimoy would openly flout Freiberger’s authority, but apparently Shatner got along very well with the new producer.

      Part of me suspects that’s down to Shatner’s “game” nature with weaker (or “out of character”) writing. Nimoy seemed very protective of Spock, and seemed to approach the show from Spock’s perspective. If Spock did something out of character, Nimoy saw it as a problem with the script. While Shatner fought hard for equal (or superior) footing, he seemed much more willing to tailor his interpretation of Kirk for a given script. I can see why a stressed-out writing staff would favour Shatner’s “go with it” approach over Nimoy’s “fix it” approach.

      You make a good point about Shatner’s outsized performance and the nature of sixties television. I think that’s reasonable. However, I don’t think that Shatner’s style needs that sort of qualification or defense. After all, Shatner is still giving that same style of performance in the modern age, with gigantic high-definition televisions. He won multiple Emmys for his work on Boston Legal, which was a great performance from what I saw of it.

  3. Interesting review as always Darren.

    I find ‘Turnabout Intruder’ fascinating (so to speak) because, as I’ve said before, it takes a plot line normally used for humour (and usually romantic humour at that), more rarely for drama and plays it as a horror story.

    The ‘man/woman body swap’ had a long history before this episode and a long history after. Even the title alludes to the 1931 novel ‘Turnabout’ and it’s 1940 film adaptation where a husband and wife swap bodies. It also has a long history after it. ‘It’s a Boy Girl Thing’ 2006 span the trope as romantic teen comedy where the football jock and the bookish girl next door ended up in each others heads, the 2009 Martin Freeman miniseries ‘Boy Meets Girl’ ran it as a comedy drama as much about classism as gender and any number of speculative fiction TV shows have run with the idea (to say nothing of a large chunk of the webcomic industry.) ‘Voyager’ of course would give us ‘Body and Soul’, giving Jeri Ryan a chance to play Robert Picardo.

    ‘Turnabout Intruder’ is almost a… well, Mirror-universe version of the body/gender swap comedy. Kirk learns nothing from being Lester, Lester learns nothing from being Kirk. It is just bizarre, which to be honest is one of the reasons I think it so well recalled alongside the (as you accurately point out) egregious sexism.

    • The ending is delightfully bizarre.

      “We might have to put Kirk to death…”
      “We might have to mutiny…”
      “Oh, wait. I’m feeling a bit dizzy. Has it been fifty minutes already? I don’t know what came over me. Everything’s back to normal. Let’s go.”

  4. Hey Darren, what’s the next season of the Star Trek reviews going to be? TNG? Voyager? (I’m rooting for Voyager S3, I’m interested to see what lead Voyager from the lows of season 2, to ending on Scorpion, like some weird parallel to TNG)

  5. I can’t believe this episode exists…

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