I Have Taken My Form Centuries Ago: TOS “Charlie X”

The Enterprise picks up a human orphan who’s grown up supposedly alone on an alien planet.

  • The enhanced graphics, which in an episode like this matter only in scenes of ships rendezvousing or sailing through space, show a more detailed Enterprise, but especially in the first scene, with Enterprise and Antares, they look obviously CGI, a bit artificially phony compared with the relative solidity of seeing models.
  • Interesting how the main guest character here has a telling tic, as in “The Man Trap,”  where Nancy or her other guises were constantly chewing on their knuckle – here Charlie, when provoked, rolls his eyes up into his head as he makes someone go away, or breaks Spock’s legs. These things might have been in the script, but sometimes they were inspired directorial suggestions.
  • Here we establish that each ship has a distinctive emblem patch sewn onto its crews’ uniforms.
  • Charlie is a classic awkward adolescent, but some of his behavior strikes autistic chords – he interrupts, he has no social skills, he frets about being liked. “I tried to make them like me!”
  • Trek physics: the ‘roar’ of the ship as it passes the POV, even in deep space.
  • As in other early episodes, there nice scenes of everyday crewmen busy about the ship, including a scene (with up and down scale harp music; music in this episode by Fred Steiner) as Charlie watches a technician guiding a plastic pipe downward through a hatch in the floor. And later, a key scene in which Spock, Uhura, and numerous random crewmen hang out in a rec room, with Spock playing his oddly-shaped harp, and Uhura singing, until Charlie interrupts and demands attention.
  • And later: a scene set in a gym, with random crewmen doing calisthenics in the background. We never see this gym again, in the entire series.
  • Set design: The astronomical photos mounted on the upper walls around the bridge are curious. They’re cool but pointless, like the huge galactic photo on the wall of Alpha Control at the very beginning of Lost in Space.
  • Set design: it’s been noted how much the set design benefited from lighting – especially in the corridors and rooms of the Enterprise, how colored lights gave the same sets different looks for different scenes.
  • Kirk isn’t actually particularly good at explaining awkward adolescent things to Charlie.
  • Tech anachronism, perhaps: in this episode we have Kirk instructing a chef to use meatloaf to simulate turkey for “Earth day’s Thanksgiving”, while later in the show (especially by Next Gen), virtually any food or drink can be manufactured with a push of a button, or voice command.
    • Of course he means the United States’ Thanksgiving, and it’s a parochial, nationalistic assumption in TOS that specifically American values will prevail, some 300 years from now. (Another example was how the list of potential starship names, as given in The Making of Star Trek (p164), includes Lexington and Yorktown, significant names in American history no doubt but hardly likely to be so in the world history of 300 years from now.)
  • I have a “Nitpicker’s Guide” book about TOS that points out continuity errors, and I’m trying not to look at it — but I noticed a huge continuity error while watching this evening. After Kirk tries to explain something to Charlie, Kirk is summoned to the bridge, and Charlie follows. Before leaving, Kirk is wearing his gold shirt. When they reach the bridge, he’s wearing his green lounge shirt.
  • Mention in captain’s log of “UESPA”, pronounced “you-spa”, which is never mentioned again.
  • Charlie’s awkward devotion to Yeoman Janice Rand: “If I had the whole universe, I’d give it to you.”
  • Trek physics: how the stars *stream by* as the Enterprise is underway to a new destination. Think about this: suppose the average distance between stars, in our area of the galaxy (not the galactic core) is roughly 4 light years, as our sun is from Alpha Centauri. When the Enterprise travels at warp 1, the speed of light [though I think the relationship between warp speeds and multiples of the speed of light is never specified in the show itself, but was extrapolated in various concordances and commentaries], it would take *four years* to travel from one star to the average next. At warp 10, 1000 times the speed of light [by those extrapolations], it would still take…. 1.5 days to travel from one star to the average next. So how fast would the Enterprise need to move for the stars to be visibly streaming past the camera?? It doesn’t bear close examination. But it makes for subjectively comfortable visuals.
  • Striking scenes from when I first saw this episode at age 11: Charlie turning a woman (a young woman, as is invariably referred to as a “girl” in this series) into an iguana. Another young woman he turns into a very old woman, who is horrified when she realizes her condition. And finally – as Charlie shuts down a raucous rec room, a victim, another woman, stumbles into the corridor *with no face at all*, just a featureless mask.
  • This story is tragic and has a sad ending. Charlie survived for 14 years on a desolate planet by being given special powers by the native Thasians – and now he can’t not use them, to qualm his adolescent fears and rejections, to strike back at those who offend or make fun of him. The Thasians come to take him back, and restore most of his damage. He pleads with his fellow humans. “I can’t even touch them! I want to stay….!”
  • Kirk, to give him credit, tries to negotiate.
  • Mysterious line: the Thasian appears on the bridge and says, “I have taken my form centuries ago so that I may communicate with you.” What does this mean? Centuries ago? No explanation – but its intriguing implications were the kind of thing that thrilled me about this show, more than its surface adventure. A sense of wonder moment, a momentary glimpse at something barely understandable.
  • Ending here also muted. Janice, having reappeared on the bridge (in the nightgown she was wearing when Charlie made her disappear from her quarters), weeps subtlety, stepping up to the comfort of the captain’s chair. Kirk comforts her: “It’s all over now.”
  • This was the first story adaptation by James Blish in his very first Star Trek book. He titled the story “Charlie’s Law”, and he ended it by emphasizing Janice’s anguish:

The boy and the Thasian vanished, in utter silence. The only remaining sound was the dim, multifarious humming surround of the Enterprise.

And the sound of Janice Rand weeping, as a woman weeps for a lost son.

  • After browsing Memory Alpha today – it seems to be the ultimate compendium for story details and production background of every Trek series and film that has ever existed – I should stand corrected on my comment two posts ago that Blish apparently improved on many of the scripts he turned into short story narratives. He was working from early versions of scripts – literally, early typewritten drafts the studio didn’t need any more and mailed to him – and so plot differences from broadcast episodes were at least in part for that reason. Thus, in his version of “The Man Trap”, which he called “The Unreal McCoy”, the characters were named Bierce, not Crater, and the planet was Regulus VIII, not M-113. Still, I should reread Blish’s versions, and follow Memory Alpha’s notes, and try to figure out why I thought Blish’s versions were sometimes superior to the broadcast episodes.

Blish’s adaptation, in ST1:

  • First, Blish renames the story “Charlie’s Law”, as in, be nice to Charlie or else.
  • As was common in these early books, Blish summarizes scenes as often as he transcribes all the dialogue from some scenes.
  • The story explicitly states that Kirk is fond of Rand – a point of possibility that, the producers of the show realized, led to Rand’s character being written out (so the possibility of a romance between them would not interfere with Kirk fraternizing with guest characters)
  • Twice in the book Blish calls Uhura “Bantu”.
  • He references the other ship’s “Nerst generator” – a term from his own Cities in Flight stories, I recall, since when I first read and reread Blish’s early Trek books, I also read his quartet of “Cities in Flight” novels.
  • Blish expands a last-word line from Charlie, p18t: “Being a man isn’t so much. I’m not a man and I can do anything. You can’t. Maybe I’m the man and you’re not”. The script did not include, or omitted, the final line.
  • Blish omits the silly scene of the bridge crew turning every device on to challenge Charlie’s control.
  • The line about “I have taken my form centuries ago….” Is missing, but Blish has a different mysterious reference, as the Thasian explains why they can’t restore the crew of the other ship: “We could not help them because they were exploded in this frame; but we have returned your people and your weapons to you, since they were only intact in the next frame.” The oddness of the reference has a similar effect.
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