Meet Janice Lester: The Maligned ‘Star Trek’ Character Who Deserves Redemption In ‘Star Trek 3’

We don’t know a whole lot about the next Star Trek movie, but here is what we do know: Idris Elba might be in it, Bryan Cranston might be in it, and there are apparently three major female roles in it, one of whom is possibly being played by Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Who are these women? According to the rumors, they are an ex-wife of Dr. “Bones” McCoy, the President of the Federation of Planets, and a starship captain who is being set up as Captain Kirk’s match. No names have been released, but I have a pretty great idea for who that starship captain should be. She’s a woman from Star Trek: The Original Series who deserves the utmost redemption in the Star Trek universe because in her short time on the show, she was treated like garbage. Her name is Dr. Janice Lester.

Who is Dr. Janice Lester? Fans of Star Trek: The Original Series will recognize her name from the show’s final episode to air, “Turnabout Intruder,” which ran on June 3, 1969. The premise was set around Lester (played by Sandra Smith), a Federation scientist who was leading an expedition to Camus II, where she discovered an ancient device capable of “life energy transfer,” which does exactly what it says on the tin: it transfers someone’s consciousness into another body. Upon making this discovery, Lester lured Captain Kirk and the Enterprise to Camus II after killing her entire crew except for her companion, Dr. Arthur Coleman. Here is the very simple reason why she did that: she wanted to use the machine to switch bodies with Kirk. Why? So she could be a starship captain.

So, here we have an accomplished woman who has been through Starfleet and then became a scientist. She also worked alongside Kirk for about a year, during which time they had an affair that ended poorly. She was ambitious and smart, and by all accounts, she was competent. But Starfleet, as a rule, at least in the canon of TOS, did not make women starship captains. Janice Lester had a dream that was impossible to realize — until she discovered a way to take over a starship captain’s body. And that particular captain did her wrong, so he was a good target.

A batty dame with big hopes and dreams gets dumped by a guy who achieved those very hopes and dreams? Light up the gas because here we go!

After hijacking Kirk’s body when he came to her rescue — she faked radiation poisoning after sending out the distress call to get him to come to Camus II — William Shatner didn’t play Lester-Kirk in an overtly sassy or stereotypically feminine way, save for one scene in which he was sassily filing his nails. But Lester-Kirk was abusive, made rash decisions, yelled at people, and misunderstood protocol. Because Lester didn’t have the experience that a captain has, she was acted the way she assumed a no-nonsense captain would act. She wanted respect and she wanted people to listen to her. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the writers’ way of conveying this was by making Captain Kirk act like a stupid, dictator-bitch to his whole crew.

Eventually, Spock catches on to Lester’s plans by mind-melding with Kirk, who was stuck in sickbay while in Lester’s “dying” body. Once Spock started questioning “the captain,” Lester-Kirk accused Spock of mutiny and held a tribunal. Aghast at being questioned, Lester-Kirk starts getting shoutier and shoutier. Shrill, you might say. Kirk-Lester eventually breaks out of sickbay with the help of McCoy and while on the stand, Kirk-Lester says the following about Janice Lester:

“Janice has driven herself mad with jealousy, hatred, and ambition!”

And why would she jump into Jim Kirk’s body and do all the crazy stuff she’s done?

“To get the power she craved, to attain a position she doesn’t merit by temperament or training, and, most of all, she wanted to murder James Kirk – a man who once loved her – but her intense hatred of her own womanhood made life with her impossible.”

The emphasis is mine. Pretty appalling, right?

The whole Enterprise crew eventually decides that this is all pretty screwy-cuckoo, and Lester-Kirk sentences everyone, including Kirk-Lester, to death, to be carried out immediately.


A showdown between Kirk and Lester takes place and their bodies are reunited with the proper people in the scene that birthed this fantastic GIF:

Lester is led away sobbing, broken, an emotional Jell-O mold.

It’s horrible what the writers did to Janice Lester. First, they gave her a lofty dream. Then they banned her from it. Then they got her involved with an equally ambitious man who dumped her because she was too ambitious. And then they made her hate herself because she was a woman. Her heart was broken in three different places and they turned her into a villain.

Janice Lester is pilloried throughout the entire episode because she’s a woman who wanted to be a starship captain. She’s ridiculed and humiliated because she was ambitious, a word that was actually used as a pejorative in this episode. But Dr. Lester is mostly made to look like she’s crazy. Hysterical. A scorned, crazy, hysterical woman who wants to be the captain of a starship? Not in this Federation!

But what about the new, rebooted Federation? The one with a female president? Surely women are allowed to be starship captains in the rebooted Star Trek universe! And Janice Lester and James Kirk were in love with each other at one point while having similar ambitions — perfect matches for each other, you might say. Just like this rumored female character. It’s probably too late, but how amazing would it be if that character could be Janice Lester?

Answer: It would be really amazing. It could also be the source of so many great in-jokes for Trekkies. I’ve been imagining this scenario (read: writing fan fiction in my head) since the second movie ended:

Jim Kirk needs a favor. He knows exactly who he has to ask, the one woman he knows can manipulate and charm her way into getting just what she needs. The woman with whom he had a tumultuous but always engaging relationship that had to end because they were both running for the same finish line, but she was ready to sprint past him and he needed a breather. Janice Lester.

JIM approaches JANICE with open arms.

JIM: Janice…

JANICE: Oh, Jim. James. James Tiberius Delirious Kirk. What do you need?

JIM: Janice, you know me too well.

JANICE: Well, I always knew how to get in your head when it came to running a starship.

Come on. This would be so great. But by making this character Janice Lester, an ambitious woman could be redeemed. She wouldn’t be seen as crazy or “power hungry” because she’d just be powerful. She was always powerful, and now she can have the respect — and the position — she deserves.

And it’s not as if there isn’t room in the new Star Trek universe for another powerful woman in a position of authority. Just, you know, let her keep her clothes on at work, like most women do.