Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Trek Tuesday: Turnabout Intruder

As we begin our look at the final Star Trek episodes, it is important to start at the beginning (obviously).  So, today, we are going to look back at the final episode of the original series, “Turnabout Intruder”.

Shows from the 1960s did not really have final episodes the way we now know them today.  Today, series enders to big shows usually have some sort of fanfare and promotion.  Even shows which are cancelled usually know far enough (or can sense it) to bring some resolution to their stories and characters.  With some exceptions, earlier eras did not do this. A final episode was just a regular episode that happened to be the last.  This was the case with Star Trek.

It should also be noted that Star Trek was cancelled by the network and the end was not a creative decision.  The producers must have known the end was near.  The show barely got a third season and it was moved to the Friday night “death slot”.  Hurting things even more was that the third season was not nearly as creatively good as the previous two years.  A lot of that had to do with a large creative staff turnover (including Gene Roddenberry leaving due to frustrations with NBC).  There was also a reduced budget, so the writers couldn’t take episodes certain places even if they wanted to.  In short, by the third season, Star Trek was dead-show-walking.

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Kirk and Lester have a body swap.

Anyway, back on point.  “Turnabout Intruder” is not a finale episode in the sense that it gives any closure to the series.  It is just a plain, regular episode.  But we are still going to look at it, minus how it works as a series-ender.  Sound good?  Here we go.

Yeah, it’s not that great.  It is not the worst episode of Star Trek, but far from the best.  In it, the Enterprise responds to a distress signal, and, when they reach the planet, Kirk encounters one of his past loves, Janice Lester, seeming ill from whatever happened.  However, it turns out to be a trap!  Lester is fine, but she body swaps with Kirk when no one else is around.  See, Lester was so burned when Kirk left her that she became went insane.  She thinks that her relationship with Kirk was doomed because she could not become a Starfleet captain.  She blames this on her being a woman.

Yep.  We are already in trouble.

So, Lester is in Kirk’s body and pretends to be him.  She has Lester (who Kirk resides in) sedated as to not reveal the switch.  Lester is also in league with the other survivor.  Apparently, they were the ones who caused the deaths of everyone else on the planet in order to get the Enterprise there so Lester could body swap.

Yep.  This episode just hinges on all sorts of coincidences.

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Spock on trial for mutiny.

Lester then pretends to be Kirk and loves being a captain.  Spock and McCoy think something is up and eventually learn the truth.  They connect with the real Kirk in Lester’s body, but they cannot get any solid proof.  Lester-as-Kirk tries Lester, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty with mutany and sentences them to death.  Luckily, Lester completely snaps and breaks the body swap.  Kirk and Lester are returned to their original bodies.  End of Star Trek.

Sigh.  The basic idea of this episode is fine.  A body swap is a classic science fiction trope.  The execution is what doesn’t work.  The idea that the cause of Lester’s jealousy and possible insanity stems from a bad break-up is pretty offensive (even for 1969).  Couldn’t the episode have gone into other factors on what caused her unstable nature?  Maybe there was, but the episode really focuses on her hatred for Kirk.  That really brings it down, in my opinion.

What also brings it down is that this episode feels so long.  The story takes forever to get going, and then it just plods along.  To me, that is even more of a sin than the possible sexism.

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Is it really violence against women if a woman is in a guy’s body and a guy is in a woman’s body?

That said, there are elements that I really like.  I like the idea of a body swap.  It is something that Star Trek never really did a lot of, so the novelty of it never wore off.  It also sets up a unique situation by asking the question, “how do you prove this?”.  You really cannot unless you somehow catch them in the act.  This element falls apart at the resolution when the swap just happens to reverse when the episode needed it too.  The resolution is lazy.

I also liked William Shatner’s and guest-star Sandra Smith’s performances.  Shatner gets to play a new character with this.  He does it well and is able to sell Lester as a character.  Also, he is, in essence, playing a woman.  For most of the episode, he never goes too over-the-top to where it becomes a face.  Towards the end, when Lester’s sanity is completely breaking down, we get some classic over-acting, but that might have been more of a creative decision than anything else.

Smith is great as Kirk.  She could have displayed some more “Shatner-isms”, but she showed a strong determination completely in line with how Kirk would be.  I bought it and wish I could have seen more of it.

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The body swap begins to break.

So, that’s “Turnabout Intruder”.  Not a great episode due to a lot of narrative and production factors.  It has its moments, but you can probably skip it if you wanted to if going through a Star Trek rewatch.  Don’t worry.  The finales get better.

~N

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One response to “Trek Tuesday: Turnabout Intruder

  1. Pingback: Trek Tuesday: The Counter-Clock Incident | The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

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