Here, Kirk is hauled before a panel of judges because he stands accused of terrible crimes (negligence and perjury). It is up to his shipmate and friends, as well as an idiosyncratic lawyer -- played by Elisha Cook Jr. -- to clear his good name and save his career.
Star Trek itself returned to the idea of a main character standing trial in episodes of The Next Generation (1987-1994) including “The Measure of a Man,” “A Matter of Perspective” and “The Drumhead.”
Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) presented court room dramas in “Dax” and “Rules of Engagement,” not to mention “Tribunal.”
And Voyager’s Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) was framed for a crime he didn’t commit in “Ex Post Facto.”
Lt.Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), meanwhile, had to fight a charge of murder in Battlestar Galactica’s (1978-1979) “Murder on the Rising Star.”
The same trope was also ported to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) in episodes such as “Time of the Hawk” and “Testimony of a Traitor.”
Generally (and broadly) speaking, these are not particularly good or memorable episodes of their respective franchises. In part because the central Perry Mason dynamic is actually reversed.
Some amount of tension or suspense is deflected because viewers understand the series is over if Kirk loses command, or Buck goes to jail, or Starbuck becomes a convict living on the prison barge.
Also, audiences never really believe that Kirk is negligent, or Buck is a traitor, no matter what evidence happens to be presented/manufactured.
So each such court-room story is its own little dead end, in a sense, with rare exceptions (again, “The Menagerie,” or the brilliant “Measure of a Man” come to mind) It all becomes a game of technicalities. How can Apollo, or Wilma, or Spock, or Picard find the evidence needed to exonerate a friend?
What's the appeal? Well, court martial or trial shows are self-contained in some fashion. You need a court-room and not much else.
For instance, in any episode -- of any series -- about crime/trials, motivation is a key question. Here, Ben Finney wanted his own command, and to punish Kirk for the delay in that goal. Finney’s plan only satisfies one of those two agendas.
If Finney is dead, at least according to Starfleet records, he is certainly never going to rise to be captain of a starship, is he?
How did Finney expect to maintain the fiction that he had died?
For the rest of his life, he would, by necessity, be an outcast from all his friends and family. As long as he was visible -- working, or just living in a region inhabited by Starfleet personnel -- his plan to ruin Kirk would be at risk. He would be discovered. Basically, he has given up his entire life -- friends and family -- just to get back at Kirk.
Talk about wrath. This guy puts Khan to shame. Finney has eliminated the possibility of his own future for pure revenge.
Today, we have digital footage with time stamps, and other ways too to get to the truth of whether or not visual footage has been manipulated to tell a false story.
Similarly, what about the command chair/center seat instrumentation or unit itself, which should certainly be able to be accessed and the truth determined about precisely when -- and in what order -- Kirk activated certain switches?
There ought to be redundant systems, so that contradictions can be reported. What if the button deice shows one thing, while the log entry recorder shows something else? This seems like it would be a crucial back-p.
Cogley argues passionately about man being de-humanized by his machines, by technology. He states that Kirk has never had the right to face his accuser: a computer.
But the fact of the matter is that the computer was tampered with by a flesh-and-blood person, an act which showcases the dominance not of machines, but of man himself. Kirk stands trial not because a computer lies to the court room, but because a resentful man has the knowledge, imagination, and cunning to execute a scheme of lies and manipulation.
It goes without saying, its a device...technology.
The key to exonerating Kirk in both instances rests with the use of or understanding of a machine. I sure hope in Finney’s defense, Cogley calls as witnesses the ship’s computer, and the white noise machine, since they -- by his way of thinking -- testified against his client (and saved Kirk).
Whole law books, unexpurgated, can be presented on the net, or read on a modern e-reader or iPad.
There’s nothing de-humanizing or illegitimate about that fact.
Sure, I love a printed book as much as the next guy, but the law isn’t located on “pages” made of tree pulp, it is located in the ideas and philosophies written down on those pages.
Those ideas and philosophies can just as easily by discovered, explored, internalized, and synthesized on a computer or e-reader screen as they are in a dusty old volume.
I totally understand why "Court Martial" applauds written books. This shows that Cogley is a quirky individual, and one who remembers the past. More importantly, the existence of these books says something about human beings in Star Trek's universe. History will stay with us. Comfortable things (like books) won't disappear just because the final frontier is opened.
I get it, but I still don't think Cogley's case about the law being in books, not in computers, makes a lick of sense today. I love seeing an old book in Kirk's hands in The Wrath of Khan (1982), and it's an important statement that books 'survive' to the 23rd century. But the law is about ideas and ideals, not about how you access them.
Kirk is, at this point, the youngest man to command a starship.
He has -- in just the last year -- defended the Federation from a Romulan incursion ("Balance of Terror"), opened negotiations with a technologically advanced alien race, The First Federation (“The Corbomite Maneuver,”) and even opened the doorway to a dialogue with the Talosians (“The Menagerie.”)
He has stopped another war (“Arena,”) and a planned invasion by androids too (“What are Little Girls Made of”) too.
And without even contemplating the idea that the log entries have been manipulated, Stone wants to stamp him down and drum him out of the service?
There's something not quite true or honest about how this episode is presented. It feels like a ginned up, gimmicky story, not an authentic one.
He states he has spent his whole life in preparation for such events, and worries that when one occurred…he failed.
This is a potentially identity-destroying moment for Kirk, a possible negation that everything that he stands for. But even in this contemplation, Kirk is indomitable. He stops questioning, and refuses to believe that he made such a mistake.
“Court Martial” thus shows his spine of steel. He may question himself and his choices, but there is also a point where he knows must trust -- if he is to continue as captain -- his ability to make a responsible decision. He is not a panicky guy, and so he knows the charges are false.