The Man Trap | Where No Man Has Gone Before


E2 Star Trek episode guide : Original Series : Season One

Charlie X

Episode number:
8
Airdate: September 15, 1966
Stardate: 1533.6

Writer:D.C. Fontana, story by Gene Roddenberry
Director: Lawrence Dobkin
Cast:

Regulars: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Yeoman Rand
Others: Charlie Evans...Robert Walker, Jr.
Thasian...Abraham Sofaer
Yeoman 3rd Class Tina Lawton...Patricia McNulty
Captain Ramart...Charles J. Stewart

Background

This has been of my least favorite episodes because it seems like a lame Twilight Zone in outer space. The theme of a child unable to restrain his incredible powers has been handled far better elsewhere, perhaps most memorably in the Zone episode "It’s a Good Life" and the story it was based on. (Coincidentally, the man who wrote that story, Jerome Bixby, latter penned one of the best Trek episodes, "Mirror, Mirror".) Upon reflection, I realize I’ve been a bit unfair about this episode, as it is a psychologically driven character study which does well in not over-relying on the flashy use of Charlie’s powers.

Story (with spoilers)

The captain and first officer of the vessel Antares visit the Enterprise with a young man named Charlie Evans, who had been stranded alone since age 3 as a result of a crash on an isolated planet called Thasus. Charlie is now 17 and has grown up with only the company of a working computer, which taught him how to speak and find food. The officers sing Charlie’s praises, but they can’t return to their vessel fast enough and can’t be convinced to linger even with the promise of entertainment tapes or Saurian brandy. Charlie himself is excited to be around so many people and keeps interrupting conversations with his outbursts. Only 20 men man the Antares, but over 400 crew the Enterprise. He’s also excited by the first woman he’s seen, Yeoman Janice Rand. “Are you a girl?” he asks.

The Enterprise is taking him to Colony Alpha 5, where his only surviving relatives live, since they are headed that way anyway. After a medical exam in sick bay, Charlie surprises Rand with a gift of her favorite perfume, which isn’t stocked by the ship. They plan to meet after her shift. Before she goes, she has to instruct him that ass-slapping is not appropriate. Apparently Charlie picked up some bad habits from the crew of the Antares. Kirk assigns Spock and McCoy to put together a program to acclimate Charlie socially while Spock ponders the possibility that the planet Charlie was stranded on may still be inhabited by the Thasians, thought to be long gone.

Charlie shows up in the rec room at the end of a song Uhura is singing with Spock accompanying her on his Vulcan harp. Charlie can’t get Rand’s attention while the performance is going on, and to anger him even more, she starts singing about him. Two stanzas into the song, however, she suddenly loses her voice. Charlie is free to become the center of attention, dazzling Yeoman Rand and the crowd of crewmen with amazing card tricks he claims he learned on the Antares, like cards with Rand’s picture on them or producing aces from the deck, or Rand’s uniform, at will.

Kirk is in the galley demanding that the "synthetic meatloaf" be dressed up like turkey for Thanksgiving. Charlie finds Kirk there and he is charged with the difficult task of explaining why you can’t slap a woman on the ass. They are interrupted from a desperate call from Captain Ramart of the Antares which is not completed. A scan finds the debris of the doomed vessel. Then the galley calls with the strange announcement that they now have real, non-synthetic turkey on their hands.

Over a game of 3D chess, Kirk and Spock discuss the fate of the Antares. Spock’s suspicions of Charlie are interrupted by Charlie himself. Kirk leaves Charlie to play chess with Spock. Impatient and impetuous, Charlie is quickly defeated by Spock, who then leaves the room. If you didn’t figure out what was going on by now, the melted chess pieces are a good tip off. In the corridor, Rand introduces Charlie to young Yeoman Tina Lawton in an obvious fix up ploy, but Charlie rudely brushes off Lawton and does his best to spook Rand by announcing his attentions with a bizarre speech. This prompts Rand to bring the matter up with the captain, not out of fear but concern for Charlie’s feelings. Kirk has a man to man chat with Charlie about the birds and the bees, but Charlie is angry and overwhelmed.

Kirk’s answer for raging hormones is the gym to teach him self-defense. But Charlie is impatient and his fragile ego is wounded by being thrown about. When a crewman named Sam laughs at Charlie’s fall, Charlie screams “Don’t laugh at me!” and Sam disappears. Kirk summons security to bring Charlie to his quarters, but he uses his powers to brush them away and make a phaser disappear. Kirk uses the force of his personality to overwhelm Charlie and convince him to comply. But Charlie rebels by making all the ship’s phasers disappear.

Spock reports that legend has it the Thasians could transmute matter, but this has been regarded as myth. Is Charlie human or Thasian? Medically, he is human. Regardless, their dilemma is obvious: a boy with raging hormones and a confused sense of morality is lashing out with enormous power. Only Kirk, whom he looks up to as a male role model, can keep him in check with his influence over Charlie. All attempts to contact Colony 5 or alter course are stopped by Charlie because he’s eager to interact with a planet full of people. He makes Spock recite poetry for a bit and then leaves the bridge.

Charlie runs into Yeoman Lawton again, but this time instead of being rude he turns her into an iguana. He arrives at Rand’s quarters with a single flower in hand and professes his love for her. Unaware of what has transpired and tired of Charlie’s rude attentions, she decides to give him the big brushoff. Charlie is persistent, and she presses a button on her communications console. Hearing the confrontation in her quarters, Kirk and Spock rush there to confront him, but are swatted away by Charlie’s powers. Then he makes Yeoman Rand disappear. But Kirk still has some manner of control over Charlie, as Charlie complies with Kirk’s demand to restore Spock’s broken legs.

Kirk uses that influence to trick Charlie into walking into a room closed off with a force field, but Charlie makes the entire wall disappear. Enraged, Charlie begins terrorizing the crew, turning one person old and make another’s face disappear. Before long, Charlie has taken control of the Enterprise. Kirk conceives of a desperate plan to overtax Charlie’s powers by activating as many of the ship’s systems as possible, sapping them so Charlie can be attacked physically. It works, but before Kirk can thrash the boy, the Enterprise receives a message from a Thasian ship. Then, Janice Rand appears on the bridge.

Charlie pleads with Kirk, asking him not to let the Thasians take him away. A disembodied Thasian head explains that they gave Charlie his powers so he could survive and is too dangerous to live among humans. Kirk pleads Charlie’s case, saying that the boy belongs among his own kind and could be trained not to use his powers. But the Thasians do not relent, and Charlie, once a monster, becomes a tragic, sympathetic figure, as he is once again trapped as the only human in a world of insubstantial beings. The Thasians take Charlie and depart after restoring all the changes Charlie inflicted upon the crew.

Trivia

  • At the last minute, Gene Roddenberry penned the songs sung by Nichelle Nichols to the accompaniment of Spock’s harp. Spock is an amazingly good sport, apparently:

    Oh, on the Starship Enterprise
    There's someone who's in Satan's guise,
    Whose devil's ears and devil's eyes
    Could rip your heart from you!
    At first his look could hypnotize,
    And then his touch would barbarize.
    His alien love could victimize...
    And rip your heart from you!
    And that's why female astronauts
    Oh very female astronauts
    Wait terrified and overwrought
    To find what he will do.
    Oh fools in space, be wary, be wary, be wary!
    Fools in space, be wary!
    We know not what he'll do.

    And Uhura’s unfinished song about Charlie:

    Now from a planet out in space
    There comes a lad not commonplace
    A-seeking out his first embrace
    He's saving it for you.

    Oh, Charlie's our new darling,
    Our darling, our darling.
    Charlie's our new darling
    He knows not what to do
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