Star Trek Re-Watch: “Charlie X”

Charlie X
Teleplay By D.C. Fontana
Story By Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Lawrence Dobkin

Season 1, Episode 2
Production Episode: 1×07
Original air date: September 15, 1966
Star date: 1533.6

Mission summary
The Enterprise rendezvouses with the Antares, a trade (later, survey) ship that has picked up an unusual passenger: Charles Evans. Charlie is a seventeen-year-old boy who was the only survivor of a crash into the planet Thasus, fourteen years ago. He’s been living alone on the planet for as long as he can remember, until he was rescued by the Antares. Captain Ramart and Tom Nellis of the Antares beam over with Charlie to pass him off to the Enterprise, which is headed in the direction of Colony Alpha 5, the location of Charlie’s only living relatives. In between sweating profusely and otherwise looking incredibly sketchy, the two men swear up and down that Charlie is the greatest thing since sliced food cubes. They then get the hell out of there, refusing even an offer of Saurian brandy!

The boy has clearly never been around other people: he interrupts Kirk’s conversation (that makes Kirk grumpy), bounces around hoping for a ship tour, and fixates on Janice Rand. “Is that a girl?” he asks Kirk. “That’s a girl,” Kirk responds. Makes you wonder what the atmosphere on the Antares was like…

Doctor McCoy finds him in perfect health but is suspicious of his story that he was able to subsist for fourteen years on Thasus’ sparse local fare. How did he survive? And does it seem weird to anyone else that the boy spent his entire life alone and yet he doesn’t get so much as a routine psych screening when he comes onboard? Charlie then wanders somewhat aimlessly through the ship, sweating and widening his eyes at passersby. He watches a man feed a pipe through a grate (what for?), and then sees two different men wrapping up some task. The first man says, “See you in the rec room, huh?” to which his buddy replies, “You’ve got a deal, friend!” Man #1 then proceeds to slap the other guy’s ass before walking off camera. Charlie finds this confusing (as does the audience…), but he makes a mental note.

He then runs into Janice Rand and produces, seemingly from nowhere, a gift of perfume for her—perfume not available in the ship’s stores. She politely tries to deflect him, but invites him to the rec room later. Taking the earlier manly interaction as a cue, he then slaps her on the ass as he walks away. The Enterprise has such great role models for young people! Janice gets upset (obviously) but won’t explain how what he did was wrong—she’s not much for awkward conversations—and suggests he ask McCoy or Kirk for an explanation. Oh please say he asks Kirk, please say he asks Kirk…

Things on the Enterprise start to get weird. (I mean, other than the ass-slapping.) Charlie makes a card appear in Janice’s shirt, Uhura lose her voice during a song, and all the meatloaf is miraculously transformed into turkeys. I mean, that’s what I’d do with godlike powers… But Charlie’s only got one thing on his mind, and that’s Janice Rand, so he chases down Kirk to find out what the deal was with that ill-fated ass-slap (and hopefully win her heart). Awkward conversation alert! Charlie tells Kirk what happened—well, actually, he shows him, bringing the ass-slap count up to three—and Kirk explains,

I see. Well, um, er, there are things you can do with a lady, er, Charlie, that you er. There’s no right way to hit a woman. I mean, man to man is one thing, but, er, man and woman, er, it’s, er, it’s, er. Well it’s, er, another thing. Do you understand?

Perfectly. Things get even more strange when the Antares calls into the Enterprise to warn them of something. Just as the Great Terrible Thing is about to be revealed…the signal is suddenly lost. Charlie says ominously, “It wasn’t very well constructed.” We then learn that the Antares has been blown to bits. Why is no one catching on yet? They all look at Charlie suspiciously and then the whole thing just sort of fades from memory. Poor Antares crew.

In an effort to reach out to Charlie (who is seriously creeping Janice out at this point), Kirk gives him a pep talk about being a man and takes him to do some real mano-a-mano work: falling. They go to the gymnasium, don some spectacularly tight little red-orange man-tights, and prepare for hand-to-hand combat! This scene was cut for syndication, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t seen the uncut version. Young Shatner in killer salmon-colored tights is the kind of image that gets printed indelibly on the brain for all eternity. You’ll be sitting there eating breakfast, or listening to your iPod, or reading The Great Gatsby, and boom! Shatner in tights. You just can’t escape it. Anyhoo, Charlie chickens out from fighting Kirk so Kirk uses another crewmember to demonstrate the technique. Ta-da! Man fight accomplished. Slightly more relaxed, Charlie agrees to wrestle Kirk—and to no one’s surprise, Kirk is way more man than that scrawny seventeen-year-old. The crewmember in the demonstration laughs at the spectacle, and Charlie doesn’t like that one bit: he makes him disappear.

Finally Kirk understands what’s been going on and orders Charlie to quarters. Charlie doesn’t want to go, and begins overtly threatening Kirk and the crew. The captain and Spock attempt to toss him in a brig, but Charlie just disintegrates the walls. He then takes over the ship, plugs in an unalterable course to Colony 5, and uses his powers to intimidate and dispose of anyone who gets in his way—including Janice Rand, whom he makes disappear after she rejects him. To save the day, Kirk decides to try and make him overreach his powers, taxing them as best he can by turning on every system in the ship. Kirk attacks Charlie, who is weakened by stretching his powers. They begin to fight, but before it goes too far a ship appears—the Thasians.

A discombobulated head appears (no one seems perturbed by this, either) and explains that the Thasians gave Charlie his powers so that he could survive on the planet. They’re convinced now more than ever that he would be a mortal danger to not just the people on Colony 5, but the whole human race, and could destroy them all (or be destroyed in the process). They decide to take him back to Thasus. Charlie gets frantic, screaming and begging not to go back there, alone, for the rest of his life. The Thasians beam him away, and our final image is the crew of the Enterprise somberly contemplating the misfortune that awaits poor Charlie.


First of all, Robert Walker, Jr. (the actor who plays Charlie) delivers an amazing performance. He’s able to display the whole range of violent teenage emotions without it looking corny or pathetic. This is a boy that hurts so much, and all he wants is to not hurt anymore—not hurt for want of love, of company, of friendship. After Dr. McCoy’s examination, Charlie asks: “Do you like me?… The other ship, they didn’t like me. I tried. I’m trying to make people like me. I want them to like me.” He does terrible things but he does them because he doesn’t know how to be a person, let alone an adult, and his loneliness and desperation are wrenching. When Kirk tries to talk to him about it, Charlie says

Everything I do or say is wrong. I’m in the way, I don’t know the rules, and when I learn something and try to do it, suddenly I’m wrong! … I don’t know what I am or what I’m supposed to be, or even who. I don’t know why I hurt so much inside all the time.

I think most of us can relate to not knowing who we are, or why we do the things we do, or why we hurt so much. I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me being a teenager was such a powerful experience because you feel everything much more strongly than you do as an adult—the highs are so much higher and the lows are so much lower. Everything seems like the most important thing, and both love and loneliness are amplified so greatly that you think you’ll just burst. I really loved the line when Charlie describes his love for Janice as the feeling of being “hungry all over.” Robert Walker, Jr. encapsulated that need, that want, and those feelings of alienation and disconnect astonishingly well.

I also particularly enjoyed the pep talk scene between Kirk and Charlie in which Kirk explains the harder side of being an adult:

KIRK: Charlie, there are a million things in this universe you can have and there are a million things you can’t have. It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way things are.
CHARLIE: Then what am I going to do?
KIRK: Hang on tight and survive. Everybody does.
CHARLIE: You don’t.
KIRK: Everybody, Charlie. Me, too.

He may display confidence, but he struggles just like everyone else. It’s a really nice Kirk moment.

This episode, by the way, is the one with Uhura’s song, “Oh, On the Starship Enterprise,” a beautiful but weirdly disturbing tribute to Spock. She then sings a song about Charlie to the same tune (it’s apparently based on an Irish folk song). The whole scene is wonderful and sweet and weird and adds dimension to the players involved. We get to see what they do when they’re not working, and the way that they play and interact with each other. Another syndication edit to be aware of: when Spock is tuning up his lyre, Uhura distracts him. Spock then smiles, amused. Oops!

And finally, the ending. I’m going to say it right now—this is one of the few episodes I’ve seen before (a few times now) and it chokes me up every time. The look on Charlie’s face as he begs and pleads with Kirk to let him stay is just heartbreaking. All he wants is contact with other people, and yet he lacks all of the skills to actually interact with them. I find his last line in particular utterly devastating: “Oh, please, don’t let them take me. I can’t even touch them! Janice, they can’t feel. Not like you! They don’t love! Please, I want to stay.” It’s not his fault he was given these powers; it’s not his fault he survived. I can’t help but think at that moment that maybe he wishes he had died there, at age three, instead of lived to know such despair.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Factor 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I kept thinking of this episode as “It’s a Good Life, Charlie X.” Did anyone else get a creepy Twilight Zone vibe from this one? When we see the uneasiness of the Antares crew when they unload him on the Enterprise, I practically heard them thinking, “It’s good that you did that, Charlie. Real good.” I mean, where else did he send Rand, if not to the cornfield?

I don’t have much to add to Torie’s comments and observations above. Like “The Man Trap,” this episode is about someone, effectively an alien by upbringing, who desperately needs love to survive. Charlie’s life among the Thasians, without any kind of human contact, is truly horrific. Banishing him back to that existence is perhaps worse than killing him—this is the road not taken with the salt creature in the previous episode, perhaps the first real “no win scenario.”

What bothered me throughout this episode is that as willing as the crew is to help Charlie, they also seem to take pleasure in his ignorance, in the way they so quickly point out his mistakes. We learn from making mistakes, this is how you teach children after all, but Spock is practically smug about checkmating Charlie, and Kirk is as rough with his words as his wrestling in the gym. Uhura outright embarrasses him in public over his crush on Rand!

Kirk observes that Charlie’s “a boy in a man’s body, trying to be an adult with the adolescence in him getting in the way,” but Charlie is really more a child than a teenager when it comes to other humans. Rand tells the lovestruck boy that he isn’t alone anymore, but even on a ship with over 400 people, he’s more alone than ever with no way to relate to any of them.

Maybe we’re meant to see things as Charlie sees them, in which case his anger, however misguided, is largely sympathetic. I think Kirk, Spock, and Rand could have taken more care with him, taught him more gently. But just as they are blissfully unaware of all the signs of his hidden power, they miss his deeper pain and his needs until it’s too late to do anything for him. I see Walker’s strong performance as Charlie as what Anakin Skywalker could have been in the Star Wars prequels—in the hands of an actor with more range and a better script.

In fact, maybe this episode strikes a little too close to home for some geeks. Who among us hasn’t felt alienated at one time or another (probably in high school)? Most people want to be liked, and when you have strong feelings for someone who doesn’t return them, it’s hard to let go of them. Is D.C. Fontana slyly trying to spare the boys at home some future angst when she has Kirk offer some dating advice to the awkward teen?

You go slow. You be gentle. I mean, it’s not a one-way street, you know, how you feel and that’s all. It’s how the girl feels, too. Don’t press, Charlie. If the girl feels anything for you at all, you’ll know it. Do you understand?

This episode does have a lot of great character moments. It’s the first time we see three-dimensional chess, a staple in Classic Trek. Kirk randomly wears the wraparound version of his uniform, which unfortunately introduces some continuity errors in the episode (on the way to the bridge, he and Charlie must have stopped off at his quarters so he could change his shirt). And this is the first real debate between Spock and McCoy, as they argue on the bridge over Charlie’s mysterious past.

Ultimately, despite the emotional weight of this episode, it’s also frequently goofy. I don’t know how I forgot the shirtless Kirk prancing around in red tights, but I wish I could forget it again. I liked Uhura’s singing just fine, but there was a little too much of it. (BTW, how did they know this early that fangirls would be so taken with Spock?) But I’ve also seen this story done on Star Trek in later episodes, and better; the ending is particularly evocative of “The Squire of Gothos.”

Eugene’s Rating: Warp Factor 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: Kirk: “There’s no right way to hit a woman.”

Syndication Edits: As I mentioned above, Spock warming up on the lyre and the Kirk/Charlie falling lesson were cut from the final version. There were a whole host of minor cuts—part of Charlie’s beam-in, the totally random women in orange leotards that do cartwheels as they enter the gym, a bit of the briefing room discussion and some of the final pleading from Charlie at the finale. The other significant cut was the initial man-on-man ass-slapping that Charlie witnesses. This changes a chunk of the episode because that takes away the whole motivation behind Charlie ass-slapping Janice.

Trivia: The pictures on the back of the playing cards that Charlie transformed are Grace Lee Whitney’s (Janice’s) publicity photos. The galley chef is actually voiced by Gene Roddenberry, in his only performing role in the series.

Other notes: Fans of this episode (and really the show in general) should check out Of Gods and Men, a 40th anniversary Star Trek fan (well, semi-pro) movie. The film is essentially a direct sequel to this episode, and it features both Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols in their original roles (along with a slew of other ST alums). Charlie Evans, 40 years later, is still pretty damn pissed about the whole thing (can’t blame him, really) and decides to exact revenge. I liked it a lot and would recommend it to any fan.

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 1 – “The Man Trap.”

Next Episode: Season 1, Episode 3 – “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

This post originally appeared at

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.