Kirk : 22 March 2233 – 2371
Shatner – March 22, 1931 –
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before…”
So went the famous opening gambit of the Original series of Star Trek in 1966, spoken by the Captain – James T Kirk. Who burst onto the screens in full sweaty macho glory. Tripping over himself to romance the ladies,fight big lizards – or an annoying Irishman from his academy, or eulogise his way out of a situation with the kind of breathy dramatic insight that could have been afforded to a stage actor, musing his way through Richard III or MacBeth.
He was hammy – but this brought an incredible charisma and playful humour which was the complete antypothesis to Jeffrey Hunter’s sombre and clinical take on the Starship Captain in the original pilot The Cage – 1965
Kirk’s mission was simple, go out into the galaxy for five years and have a good poke around and see what could be discovered. He was Horatio Hornblower aboard the HMS Discovery, on a mission to “seek out new life and new civilisations” and alien women!
Shatner was a hardworking actor who had tread the boards throughout his youth and had transferred his breathy clipped dramatic tones to TV and Silver screen. Strangely, he never quite hit the big time in terms of a leading man as a number of projects either never quite got off the ground, or weren’t publicised as much as they deserved. Despite star turns in Judgement At Nuremberg – 1960 and The Intruder – 1962 which garnered much praise for Shatner, but nothing more.
Shatner was no stranger to Sci-Fi either, having appeared in the both The Outerlimits and The Twilight Zone.
Where No Man Has Gone Before, 1966 – S1 was actually Kirk’s pilot episode (the first few episodes of season one were shown out of order). It showcased Kirk at his best : Pumped up, ripped shirt, running around on an Alien planet with a big cannon and thinking on his toes, as his long time friend Lt. Gary tried to murder him with his newly developed extra sensory abilities.
This episode is notable for a few reasons :
1) Its Kirk’s first appearance (Obviously).
2) It begins with the Enterprise approaching the “rim” of the Galaxy, a theme explored more in Star Trek V – Final Frontier – 1989.
3) It sets the stall for Kirk out manoeuvring a mentally superior opponent through a combination of brawn and brains.
Kirk quickly showed he was more than just a superb quiff and chiselled jaw.
Shatner’s superbly hammy dynamic range was explored in The Enemy Within, 1966 – S1 in which he split into two. One good, effeminate and ineffectual Kirk and one evil, darker and angry Kirk – given to fits of rage, fetching eye mascara and attempted rape under the influence of Saurian Brandy.
This episode also showed Kirk in an attempted sexual attack on Yeoman Rand – a truly shocking thing to show on 1960’s American TV.
The episode’s high point was to show the good Kirk baffled and unable to command his ship, without his more driven darker side, to guide him in the harder decisions.
This formula of an duplicate Kirk would be repeated many times in Trek in What Little Girls Are Made Of, 1966 – S1 & Star Trek VI – Undiscovered Country – 1991.
What Little Girls Are Made Of had Kirk kidnapped and strapped to a revolving table by mad Robot android scientist Roger Korby, where a doppleganger android likeness is created of Kirk. The duplicate is sent upto the Enterprise to take command, but gives the game away by racially insulting Spock in front of the whole crew.
Kirk was a master tactician, whether he was playing the supreme bluff against a more powerful adversary or trying to charm the pants off of an Alien lady.
The Corbomite Maneuver, 1966 – S1 showed Kirk playing brinkmanship in a stand off between the Enterpise and a much larger ship. Kirk showed the wiles of a poker player, by informing his alien aggressor his ship was wired to explode with the highly volatile imaginery substance – Corbomite.
Kirk : “This is the Captain of the Enterprise. Our respect for other lifeforms requires that we give you this…… warning. There is one critical item of information that has never been incorporated into the memory banks of any Earth ship. Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them, a substance known as… Corbomite. It is a material and a device which prevents… attack… on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying…!”
Balok : “You now have TWO minutes!”
Kirk (cont) “…DE-STROYING the attacker. It may interest you to know… that since the initial use of Corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has… little meaning to us. If it has none to you…then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness!”
This was an attempt to checkmate an opponent who had scanned all of the Enterprise tactical banks and knew all of Star Fleet’s moves. Kirk’s gamble worked, as the powerful Alien capitulated and turned out to be the ugly Howard kid from Gentle Ben.
He was also able to out think mentally superior opponents, with an almost psychic abilities to spot and exploit his opponents flaws and weaknesses. He did this to Trelaine in Squire Of Gothos, 1967 – S1, realising that the all too powerful Trelaine was actually just a child in a mans body. Kirk, refusing to play with him any longer, brought the deadly game to an end. Khan in Star Trek II – Wrath Of Khan also underestimated Kirk, as the Enterprise, in a badly damaged state, tempted Khan into a game of hide and seek within the Mutares Nebula, where the odds were even once more.
Kirk was a career man through and through. He had taught at the Academy and studied and served under the best and knew the Starfleet regulations inside out. He mostly did everything by the book and many times this was to save him and his crews skin – only occaisonally would he bend the rules. He was also a strict disciplinarian when it came to his crew and wasn’t shy in scolding his junior Officers and Ensign’s – when they put a foot out of line.
Kirk was a man who led by example and expected as much from his crew. This was also a contradiction in terms of his personality. He could be indisposed to a slightly gung-ho and rash temperament. He was quick to lecture if protocol was not followed, but he himself would always be the first on the transporter pad to beam down. Even though as the Ship’s captain protocol dictated, he should send a junior Officer in his place. The experimental battle computer M5 reminded him of this fact in The Ultimate Computer, 1968 – S2 much to Kirk’s squirmy embarrassment.
So, with his strict nature and discipline he was much pained when an uncharacteristic slip of judgement (seemingly) allowed an ensign to die in Court Martial, 1966 – S1 and Kirk had to stand trial for having broke the very regulations he sought to uphold.
Kirk formed a strong bond with his immediate crew – Spock and “Bones” McCoy, this “friendship axis” would come to not only define Kirk, but become his lifeline, (pretty much the main core of the show!) as not only did they have Kirk’s back, they also counselled him in times of need.
He wasn’t oblivious to a bit of down time though, which he took regularly, rubbing shoulders with his crew as equals – unlike Picard who kept his distance. He was as much at home in the wild as he was on his Starship, whether he was climbing El Capitan in Yosemite in Star Trek V riding horses in Star Trek VII – Generations, 1994 or just wandering, as in Shore Leave, 1966 – S1. This showed a relaxed Kirk on leave taking time out on a alien world only to be rumbled by people from his past, his Starfleet Academy “old Irish stereotype” school bully Finnengan and his ex-squeeze Ruth – who he left to join Starfleet.
“The more complex the mind…. the greater the need for the simplicity…. of play!” Kirk – Shore Leave
In between making out with his ex Ruth and having punch ups with Finnegan, Kirk learns that the planet is bringing to life people from his past and it is all an illusion.
Another relaxing sourjourn was broken in Wolf In The Fold, 1968 – S2, Kirk had to disprove that Scotty hadn’t murdered a bunch of women, when infact it turned out to be an evil entity who had possessed some of the worst murderers in history – like Jack The Ripper!
Back on duty, Arena – 1966 is probably the most memorable Kirk moment from the Original series; it had Kirk forcibly beamed down to a desert world to face off against a Gorn. A hugely muscular Lizard with a static grin, a penchant for throwing huge rocks and hissing alot.
Kirk was at his ingenious best as finally realising he couldn’t match the Gorn hand to hand. Built a cannon out of Bamboo and rocks and shot the Gorn in the face. The A-Team would have been proud!
Return Of The Archons, 1966 – S1 had Kirk out-logic a powerful computer by telling it it had followed its program too literally and it was causing more harm than good and it should destroy itself. He did it again in The Changling, 1967 – S2 by out logicing and destroying Nomad, the deadly space probe. In Ultimate Computer, 1968 – S3 Kirk was able to talk the new Enterprise automated upgrade M5 to disconnect itself, as it had commited murder.
“You tend to express yourself in military terms, Mr. Khan!” Kirk – Spaceseed
Who took over the Enterprise by force but eventually relinquished his control, with help of nerve gas and Kirk talked him around into starting again on a new world. A decision that would come to haunt both Khan and Kirk – 15 years later in Star Trek II – Wrath Of Khan – 1982.
This side of Paradise, 1966 – S1 had an impromptu shore leave as the crew were overcome by hippie spores and beamed down to a planet in their droves. This left a highly strung Kirk attempting to stop the Enterprise burning up in the atmosphere. Realising he could snap his crew out of their spore induced hippie trance by maddening them, he sets about abusing Spock to bring him round – lucky to survive being pulverised by the much stronger Vulcan.
“All right, you mutinous, disloyal, computerized half-breed!!! We’ll see about you deserting my ship……!” Kirk – This Side Of Paradise
Mirror, Mirror, 1967 – S2 rightly considered as one of the finest trek episodes ever. Had Kirk flung into an alternate reality, due to a transporter mishap and an oppressive warlike Star Fleet presided over by evil goatie beard wearing Spock.
The Doomsday Machine – 1967 had undertones of Moby Dick and had Kirk on fine form, as he battled against a giant planet eating robotic leech and unstable Admiral Decker pulling rank on him at the moment the Doomsday Machine was bearing down on the Enterprise.
“Am I correct in assuming that a fusion explosion of 97 mega-tons will result if a starship impulse engine is overloaded?” Kirk – Doomsday Machine
He succeeded by piloting another damaged Federation starship (The U.S.S Constellation) right down its throat and blowing the Doomsday Machine up.
Journey To Babel – 1967 had Kirk with his diplomacy head on as he tried to transport a number of delegates and stop them from scrapping on the Enterprise, whilst a murderer was on the loose. Elaan of Troyius , 1968 – S3 had Kirk attempting to juggle the brokering of peace between the Elas and Troyius whilst attempting not to be distracted by the Dohlman Elaan and her aphrodisiac tears.
Kirk was driven by his own deep insecurities and violent past and every now and again his insecurities and inner torment would for Kirk, uncharacteristically resurface.
The Conscience of the King – 1966 was notable as it introduced a character from Kirk’s past – Kodos, a violent dictator who had murdered and pillaged and gone to ground. Kirk was one of the last people to see the man in the flesh and could identify him. Wracked with indecision about whether to accuse a travelling actor of being Kodos. This showed Kirk’s battle, when attempting to balance his own emotional torment against that of the measured Starship Captain he wanted to be – as he sought the truth.
In Obsession – 1967 Kirk relived his first deep space assignment as he met a deadly vampiric cloud which had terrorised and killed the crew of his first assignment – the U.S.S Farragut. Kirk uncharacteristically went against Star Fleet orders pursuing the cloud with a single mindness for retribution – to get even after 11 years.
“[narrating] Captain’s log, stardate 3289.8. I am faced with one of the most difficult decision of my life, unless we find a way to destroy the creatures without killing their Human hosts, my command responsibilities will force me to kill over a million people….” Kirk – Operation : Annihilate
Kirk takes the matter of genocide into his hands, by ordering the destruction of the whole omlette race, Kirk saw this as matchup for his brother’s untimely demise.
Much later, Kirk bucked Star Fleet orders to go and retrieve Spock’s body from planet Genesis in Star Trek III – Search For Spock after he felt guilty for leaving Spock’s body. Kirk also refused to allow the Vulcan Sybok to probe his past in Star Trek V – Final Frontier stating he “needed his pain” as it made him who he was.
Kirk was also a student of 20th Century culture and history. He would regularly recite parables to his crewmates about the folly of 20th Century mankind – consuming resources and playing with Nuclear weapons. So he must have been overjoyed to return to the 20th Century in Tomorrow Is Yesterday, 1967 – S1, Operation : Earth – 1968 – S2 and Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home, 1986. Also, to play the part of a 30’s Gangster in A piece of the Action – 1968, S2 and a Nazi officer in Patterns Of Force – 1968. In Star Trek VI He was quick to gain mutual respect for the Klingon General Chang at a formal dinner but just as quick to put the General in his place as the General spoke of the Klingon empire’s wish to expand.
General Chang: (About the Klingon empire’s expansion) “We need breathing room….”
Captain James T. Kirk: [sarcastically]”….Earth, Hitler, 1938!”
Kirk had an eye for the ladies man and would seduce his way through women of all colours and creeds (and species) to get what he wanted.
City On The Edge Of Forever, 1966 – S1 had Kirk and Spock time travel back to Earth during the 1930’s depression – through an Alien time portal, in pursuit of an erratic Dr McCoy who was looking like he had been chasing the dragon as he had accidentally injected himself with Cordrazine.
Here, Kirk meets and falls in love with mission worker Edith Keeler and learns he must sacrifice her to save McCoy and the future and return to his own time. This is probably the only time Kirk meets a potential serious love match and is pained when he has to give her up.
“Spock!… I believe… I’m in love with Edith Keeler….” Kirk – City On The Edge Of Forever
Requiem for Methuselah, 1969 – S3 had Kirk fall for a girl called Rayna only for her to turn out to be an android. He was glad for Spock to mindmeld him into forgetting her – handy that!
Kirk had also left Ruth to persue a career in Star Fleet and an innocent fling with Dr Carol Marcus would change Kirk’s life forever.
Kirk didn’t have it all his own way with women though, one of Kirk’s love interests came back to haunt him (literally) in Turnabout Intruder, 1969 – S3 as Dr Janice Lester tricked Kirk and swapped bodies to wreck damage on Kirk’s career. Que hilarious scenes of Kirk acting “feminine” and mincing around the Enterprise as his bemused crew looked on.
“MUTINY!!!! This is Mutiny!!” Kirk – Turnabout Intruder.
The Klingon’s were to become a regular thorn in the side of Kirk throughout his time in Starfleet. No where was this better realised than in Day Of The Dove, 1968 – S1 when a malevolent entity forced the crew and the Klingon’s to fight to the death on board of the Enterprise.
Kirk was to learn to hate the Klingon’s after they murdered his son – David, in Star Trek III – 1983 and his reluctance to help broker a peace deal between the Federation and the Klingon’s, is pretty self evident in Star Trek VI.
Star Trek I – 1978 had Kirk return to the bridge of the Enterprise after a long sabbatical pen-pushing at Star Fleet, only to be bested in his knowledge of regulation and Starship command by the much younger Captain Decker (son of the Admiral who had pulled rank on Kirk many years before).
“Two and a half years as Chief of Starfleet Operations may have made me a little stale, but I wouldn’t consider myself untried… They gave her back to me, Scotty!” Kirk – Star Trek – Motion Picture
He would come good though in the end by pulling rank on Decker Jnr, as if in revenge. Having assumed command of the Enterprise, Kirk managed to communicate with the V’ger probe and save earth.
Kirk was to lament about feeling old in Star Trek – II, 1982 and that his best years were behind him and that he felt Star Fleet was beginning to suffocate him, having tied him to a desk job as an Admiral.
“Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor!” Kirk – Star Trek II
Kirk seemed re-energized after his skirmish with Khan – who returned to quote Shakespear and battle with Kirk in space. Kirk was also to discover he had a son – David, with an old flame Dr Marcus who was in every way the likeness of a brash, arrogant young James T Kirk.
Kirk showed hints of arrogance in his character, this seemed to aid his confidence in his own belief. No where was this more sure than in Star Trek II – Wrath Of Khan, 1982 where Kirk beats the impossible Kobiyashi Maru Test by reprogramming the simulation.
“I changed the conditions of the test [answering how he was the only cadet to beat the Kobiyashi Maru test]; got a commendation for original thinking. I don’t like to lose. I don’t believe in a no-win scenario!!” Kirk – Star Trek II
Kirk said, which showed his determination to succeed at any cost. It was at some personal cost though, as his final victory over Khan meant the loss of his friend Spock.
The few friends Kirk had were important to him. So you could feel his pain at his hollow victory over Khan at the end of Star Trek II when Spock died whilst saving the Enterprise and something must have snapped in Kirk from that day forward.
Kirk was to prove his friends meant more to him than his Star Fleet career – or even the Enterprise itself, as he battled to save Spock and McCoy in Star Trek – III. Kirk’s ability to pull something from nothing was no better realised than with the Klingon’s about to board the Enterprise which was inoperable, rather than surrender Kirk set the self destruct and beamed off leaving the Klingons to go up with the Enterprise itself as it burnt up over Planet Genesis.
“Klingon Commander, This is Admiral James T. Kirk. I’m alive and well on the planet surface….. I know that this will come as a pleasant surprise to you, but our ship was a victim of an “unfortunate accident”. Sorry about your crew, but as we say on Earth, ‘c’est la vie!'” Kirk – Star Trek III
In Star Trek IV in between time travelling and chasing whales, Kirk returned to Star Fleet to be demoted from Admiral to Captain, a punishment which turned into a blessing as he received a new Enterprise “A” to command.
Kirk travelled beyond the great barrier, to the centre of the galaxy in Star Trek V to ask the greatest question of all, when he met the god like creature on Shakari. “What does god need with a Starship?” Only to be met with a lightening bolt to the chest in return.
It was in Star Trek – VI that we learn that Kirk’s middle initial T stood for Tiberius, whilst he was on trial by the Klingon’s. In many ways, Kirk manages to let go of his former hates and prejudices after he had uncovered a plot which went all of the way to the top of Star Fleet Command. Triumphant only to be brought back to earth being told to report back to Spacedock for decommissioning and in true Kirk style he lifted the mood with the kind of quote only he could think of.
Uhura : “Captain, Starfleet orders us to return to Spacedock… to be…… decommisioned!”
Spock : “If I were Human, my response would be…. GOTO HELL! If I were human!”
Kirk : (After some thought) “Second Star to the left, and on till morning…!”
In Star Trek VII – Generations – 1994 had Kirk recently retired from Starfleet, but true to form not for long as a routine tour round the newly commisioned Enterprise “B” ended up in Kirk being seemingly killed whilst saving the ship from an energy rift. Infact Kirk was transported into the “Nexus”, where he could live out his wildest fantasies forever. When Picard came knocking, Kirk was unsure what to make of this Captain of the future as he was the polar opposite of Kirk in every measure. They did however find enough common ground in the fact both were successful Captain’s of the Enterprise, for Picard to persuade Kirk to step once more into the breech. Kirk was to take one last shake of the dice, to help him defeat the evil Dr Soren.
“I don’t need to be lectured by you [at Picard] I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was in diapers. Besides which, I think the galaxy owes me one!!” Kirk – Star Trek VII
All that can be said of Kirk’s death is that it was terribly pointless, apart from the irony – (bridge on Captain? Captain on the……never mind!), having incapacitated Soren long enough for Picard to sabotage his evil plan – Kirk falls from a bridge to his death.
His last words “oh my!”, did nothing to clarify the legend and the lifetime he had lived and the friends he had made.
Indeed, his prophecy in Star Trek V came true when he said that he would die alone. In terms of his friends; McCoy and Spock – not being there – he did.
A terrible end to Star Fleet’s greatest officer and probably one of the most colourful Sci-Fi character’s ever to grace a TV screen.
RIP James T Kirk
After a succession of Next Gen Trek movies, the series seemed to suffer a blip as the producers were unsure where to take it next after the poor showings of Star Trek X – Nemesis, 2002 and the series Enterprise, 2001 – 2005. So they went back to basics with a loose reboot in Star Trek XI – 2009 centering around the original characters at the Academy played by younger actors. Shatner gave Chris Pine the golden nod for the role of Kirk but criminally was overlooked himself, for a cameo in this, part 2 (2012) and part 3 (2016). Lets hope that is put right in a future Star Trek Movie.
The last word though should go to the great man himself, from Shatner’s excellent autobiography Up Till Now.
“I tried to provide Kirk with the sense of awe and wonder that had been missing in the pilot. Kirk was a man who marvelled and greatly appreciated the endless surprises presented to him by the Universe after making that left turn. He didn’t take things for granted and, more than anything else respected life in every one of its weird weekly adventure forms…”.