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The Enterprise arrives at Camus II, the location of a research expedition, to answer a distress call. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to discover that everyone on the research team has died from radiation poisoning, except Dr. Arthur Coleman and Dr. Janice Lester. Dr. Coleman is fine, but he says Dr. Lester is suffering from the effects of the radiation. Dr. Lester is an old girlfriend of Kirk's, so he stays with her while the others search for any other survivors.
Janice seems sick and cranky, recognizing Kirk and complaining about how he left her. They were at Starfleet Academy together for awhile, until Janice claims she realized that the gender bias in Starfleet command would never let her become a starship captain like he wanted to. Their breakup was not pleasant. With these few lines, we see Janice's driving motivation: to attain the power of a Starfleet captain, and if possible, to do it by destroying Kirk. When Kirk turns his back, she zaps him with some device, pinning him against an alien machine; clearly the emergency situation has been engineered by her to lure Kirk to her. We learn later that she has been planning for months, studying the Enterprise and ship's operations so she can fit in.
Janice operates the alien device, which has some special effects that cheesily convey to us the idea that the "spirits" of Janice and Kirk have switched bodies. While their spirits are switched, I will denote the characters by the bodies being inhabited. After the switch, Kirk-body wakes up immediately, and Janice's spirit in the body rejoices at the powerful male body. Janice-body falls unconscious for some reason, and Kirk-body quickly puts her back in the sickbed. Kirk-body gripes about past issues in their relationship and prepares to strangle Janice-body. However, the others return and prevent him from doing so.
We can tell that Dr. Coleman is privy to the body-switching plan, because he gives Kirk-body and Janice-body odd looks, trying to see if the plan succeeded. Kirk-body orders them to be beamed up to the ship, with Janice-body sent to sickbay. Kirk-body and Coleman have a quick conversation in sickbay, where Kirk-body whines that he didn't get the chance to kill Janice-body and asks Coleman to do so. Coleman refuses. McCoy arrives and it develops that he and Coleman disagree on the cause of Janice-body's illness. Kirk-body orders Coleman to care for Janice-body and relieves McCoy of that duty, over McCoy's extreme protests. Coleman orders Janice-body to be kept sedated - we know that this is to keep Kirk's spirit in Janice's body from causing problems.
Kirk-body goes to the bridge and orders the ship to the Benecia Colony, ostensibly so that Janice-body can receive medical care as soon as possible. Spock points out that a faster speed will get them to the superior facilities on Starbase 2 just as quickly; Kirk arbitrarily dismisses this. The communications officer and Spock prod Kirk-body about notifying Starfleet of the change in plans, and Kirk-body snaps that it's unnecessary until Spock reminds him about the planned rendezvous with the starship Potemkin.
Janice-body has finally awoken and claims that she's really James Kirk. Before she can contact any of the ship's officers, Dr. Coleman intervenes and tells her (and Nurse Chapel) that she's having delusions. He gets her strapped into the bed in sickbay and sedated again.
Kirk-body's erratic behavior has not gone unnoticed. McCoy confronts him about it in his quarters, but Kirk-body brushes it off until McCoy uses his medical authority to order Kirk-body to sickbay for a complete examination. There are two nice things about this. First, even though many people denigrate William Shatner's acting, I think he did a great job of altering his behavior to show that he's "possessed". Some of the changes, such as filing his nails, are obvious "female" behavior, but there are lots of more subtle changes, such as running his hand through his hair, puckering his lips up when he's frustrated, and even a slightly higher-pitched voice show that he's "different". Sure, these things seem obvious to the viewer, but we know about the body-switch, and we get to observe Kirk-body all the time, not just in the brief interactions the different crewmembers have with him.
The second thing about this scene that is nice is that it shows that the other characters, namely McCoy and Spock (as we'll see momentarily) are not stupid. First, they have noticed Kirk-body is acting oddly - it seems that in many science fiction shows, no one notices strange behavior such as that occurring here. Second, it's very smart on the part of McCoy and Spock that they waste no time in doing something about it. First McCoy tries to show Kirk-body he's acting oddly vis a vis the order that Dr. Coleman care for Janice-body. Then, McCoy looks for a medical reason for the behavioral changes, fully aware of the fact that they have encountered plenty of alien diseases and other oddities. Unfortunately, McCoy and Spock are bound by Starfleet regulations in what they can do.
In sickbay, McCoy and Spock discuss Kirk-body's behavior, with McCoy reporting that he's going to fully examine Kirk-body. Spock hopes that McCoy's examination will turn up some evidence of what is wrong with Kirk-body. He also decides to talk to Janice-body. At the same time, Janice-body has woken again and managed to cut her restraints; she heads to sickbay to find Spock and McCoy. Unfortunately, Kirk-body had just arrived in sickbay. He sees Janice-body and immediately knocks her unconscious, despite McCoy's shock and outrage. Kirk-body orders Janice-body to be confined to her quarters under guard, and that no one may visit her without his order.
McCoy proceeds with Kirk-body's physical and emotional examination. Unfortunately, all of the tests show that Kirk-body is perfectly healthy, with no physical or emotional problems.
During this, Spock has decided to talk to Janice-body, after using leading statements to convince the security guards that Kirk-body's no-visit order doesn't apply to him. Janice-body tells Spock all she remembers about the body-switch, then tries to convince him by mentioning different events that have happened between them. However, while she mentions events from past episodes, as Spock says, they are all in mission logs and might have been accessible to others. Really, Janice-body needed to come up with more personal memories to convince Spock. Either way, this is all lead-in to Janice-body's offer to let Spock read her mind. Spock does this with a brief touch that doesn't have all the ritual of a full mind-meld; I liked that when he was done, he took a moment to compose himself before turning and admitting to Janice-body that he believed her.
Unfortunately, the guard that has been observing them doesn't believe her and causes problems when Spock wants to leave with Janice-body. One of the guards calls for back up, and Kirk-body and more security guards arrive while Spock is red-handed in Janice-body's company. Spock announces that he believes Janice-body and that Kirk-body is not really the captain. Kirk-body announces over the ship's intercom that Spock is under arrest for mutiny and that a court-martial will be held immediately.
Kirk-body, McCoy, and Scotty are on the court-martial board, while Sulu and Chekov are in the audience and the communications officer records the proceedings. Kirk-body questions Spock relentlessly, pointing out that Spock has no evidence to back up his wild story. Spock calmly requests that Janice-body be brought in as a witness for questioning, to which Kirk-body finally agrees.
Janice-body answers Kirk-body's questions very calmly and with utter certainty. First Kirk-body ridicules her story of how Janice Lester could overpower James Kirk and force the body-switch. But when Janice-body starts talking about how the real Janice Lester was mad with jealousy over his captaincy, Kirk-body starts to get angry. When Spock refuses to retract his accusation, Kirk-body finally flies off the handle and declares that after a short recess, the board will vote on Spock's court-martial.
McCoy and Scotty step out into the corridor for a quick conversation. It had been interesting to watch them during Kirk-body's speeches previously. We know that McCoy already had his doubts, but as Kirk-body got more and more enraged and erratic, we could see Scotty gradually realizing Spock is right. Now both McCoy and Scotty instinctively know that Spock is right, but as McCoy points out, they don't have any evidence that Starfleet would accept. Scotty says they need to deal with the immediate problem of Kirk-body first, and then they can deal with Starfleet. He and McCoy plan to vote for Spock and then to mutiny if Kirk-body doesn't abide by the result of the vote, which they don't expect him to.
When they re-enter the room, Kirk-body plays the recording of their discussion in the corridor. He immediately charges Scotty and McCoy with mutiny and summarily declares that their sentence is death. This draws vigorous objections from Sulu and Chekov, since Starfleet has prohibited the death penalty. (Except for violation of General Order IV - is that visiting Talos, as the Enterprise did in the first season's episode The Menagerie?) Kirk-body cuts them short with the obvious implication that they could be next if they don't cooperate. Kirk-body orders Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Janice-body to the brig to await their executions - it's implied that Spock and Janice-body are also to be executed, but it's not clear.
On the bridge, Sulu, Chekov, and the communications officer discuss the events. Sulu and Chekov are so outraged that the ordered executions that they discuss a possible mutiny themselves, but they realize that if the security section doesn't go along, then they'll just be the next ones executed. When Kirk-body comes to the bridge, they refuse to obey any commands. Kirk-body becomes enraged again, but his tantrum is cut short because the body-switch suddenly seems to be reversing; the bodies' spirits almost transfer back, but not quite.
Kirk-body runs to consult Dr. Coleman, who claims that the only way to keep the body-switch from reversing is to kill Janice-body. Again, Kirk-body begs Coleman to do it, saying that Coleman is an accessory to Kirk-body's crimes anyway. Coleman loads up a hypospray with a lethal injection, and they go to the brig, ostensibly to separate the prisoners.
They let Janice-body out of the brig, and she immediately begins to wrestle with Coleman to try to escape. Suddenly the body-switch reverses and both spirits are back in the correct bodies. Janice grabs the hypopray and rushes Kirk, but Kirk carefully grabs the hypo and lets Janice wear herself out against him. She seems to have suffered a complete emotional breakdown. It's so obvious to everyone by Kirk's actions that the right spirit is back in Kirk's body that no one even asks the question.
Coleman asks to be able to care for Janice. They obviously have a strange relationship, as he says to her that she's back the way he loves her, and she mumbles how all she wanted to do was to kill Kirk. After Coleman takes Janice to sickbay, Kirk shakes his head about the waste of Janice's life.
This episode is a bit of a mixed bag, although overall it's an enjoyable episode. As I mentioned in places above, the portrayal of Kirk vs. Kirk-body was excellent; the only thing that could have improved this was for us to have had more of a chance to see the real Janice Lester for a little longer to see her own mannerisms in order to see them later transferred to Kirk-body.
The other strong point was the interaction between the characters other than Kirk to watch them realizing that something's wrong and then working together to fix it. The trust and understanding between the characters was great to see.
The negatives of the episode were various. The alien body-switching device was completely unexplained, but we have certainly seen enough other strange technology (such as Sargon and his people inhabiting crewmen's bodies in the second season's "Return to Tomorrow") to be OK with this. The aspect of this technology I didn't like was how suddenly we found out that the body-switch could just reverse with no warning and no alien device. What causes the switch to reverse? Why would it be designed to reverse without the device? This was a plot convenience.
I wish we could have found out more about Janice Lester and her past relationship with Kirk. When Kirk thinks Janice is sick and she complains that she would never be a Starfleet captain because she was a woman, Kirk agreed. Was he just humoring a sick person? Or did he seriously agree? If that's the case, what does that say about Starfleet? In TOS, we never see a female captain or admiral, although Star Trek: The Next Generation is full of them.
The episode's conclusion is far too quick. Kirk has allowed Coleman to take care of Janice. This must be a temporary situation, because if Janice is found mentally incompetent, she will need specialized care. If she's sane, then she will certainly be charged with a number of crimes. Either way, it's obvious that Coleman was in on Janice's plan and so he is also guilty of various crimes. I can't believe that Starfleet will overlook this just because Janice's plan didn't succeed.
Another unresolved issue is how the court-martial of Spock (and the summary court-martials of Scotty and McCoy) will be dealt with. One would hope all of those would essentially be erased. However, these officers were in fact planning a mutiny against a captain without any substantive evidence supporting them. Spock's whole court-martial was arranged around the fact that he had no objective evidence that Kirk-body wasn't the real captain. At least he had a mind-meld to go one, whereas Scotty and McCoy didn't even have that. Starfleet cannot look favorably on their actions, even though they turned out to be correct in the end.