The Ultimate Computer
|"The Ultimate Computer"|
|Star Trek: The Original Series episode|
The M5 computer
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||John Meredyth Lucas|
|Teleplay by||D. C. Fontana|
|Story by||Laurence N. Wolf|
|Featured music||Sol Kaplan
|Cinematography by||Jerry Finnerman|
|Original air date||March 8, 1968|
"The Ultimate Computer" is a season two episode of the original science fiction television series Star Trek, first broadcast on March 8, 1968 and repeated June 28, 1968. It is episode #53, production #53, written by D.C. Fontana, based on a story by Laurence N. Wolf and directed by John Meredyth Lucas.
In this episode, a skeleton Enterprise crew are assigned to test a revolutionary computer system that is given total control of the ship.
On stardate 4729.4, the Federation starship Enterprise is summoned to a space station without explanation. Commodore Wesley, commanding a group of starships from the USS Lexington, explains that the Enterprise will be a test vessel for a revolutionary tactical and control computer called the "M-5 Multitronic System", designed by the brilliant Dr. Richard Daystrom (who'd also invented the currently used computer systems). The M-5 will handle all ship functions without human assistance. While Captain Kirk and Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy are unhappy about the test, Science Officer Spock is impressed with M-5. However, Kirk learns that four earlier prototypes were unsuccessful, giving him further doubts.
At first M-5 works well, performing ship functions more quickly and efficiently than a living crew. Later, M-5 exhibits quirks such as turning off power and life support to unoccupied parts of the ship. It draws increased power for unknown reasons. But Daystrom maintains M-5 is working properly.
In a drill, M-5 defends the Enterprise against mock attacks from starships Excalibur and Lexington. The Enterprise is declared the victor, prompting Commodore Wesley to call Kirk "Captain Dunsail" (pronounced "dunsel"). Spock explains the term is used by midshipmen at Starfleet Academy to describe a part serving no useful purpose. Kirk is visibly shaken by this.
Soon after, M-5 detects the Woden, an unmanned freighter that is not part of the test, and attacks with real weapons, destroying it. Kirk orders M-5 taken offline, but Daystrom continues to believe it is working correctly, and refuses. Kirk tries to disconnect M-5, but discovers it is protecting itself with a force field. Chief Engineer Scott assigns Ensign Harper, a technician, to unplug the main connection, but the crewman is killed in the process. Spock and Scott desperately attempt a manual override, but they discover M-5 has bypassed its power source and now draws energy directly from the ship's warp engines. Daystrom persistently defends M-5 and refuses to disconnect it.
Spock questions Daystrom on his computer design. Daystrom reveals he has programmed human engrams into M-5. Pressed further, Daystrom admits the engrams he used were his own, meaning M-5 thinks similarly to Daystrom himself. With increased stress and anger, Daystrom appears unstable. M-5 now shows similar instability. An attempt by the Enterprise crew to isolate M-5 from the ship fails, as they are duped by a decoy.
Meanwhile the other ships in the test continue unaware of the problems with the Enterprise. Next follows a war game against Federation starships Lexington, Potemkin, Excalibur, and Hood. M-5 detects the ships, but does not treat them as part of the trial, instead firing on them with full-strength weapons. Daystrom states the M-5 is programmed to preserve itself by any means. Although surprised by M-5's actions, Daystrom simply views them as mistakes made by a learning "child." An angry Kirk asserts these "mistakes" are costing lives, and the computer must be shut down.
The crew watches as M-5 pounds the other ships relentlessly. The Enterprise fires on the Lexington, killing 53, then completely cripples the Excalibur - killing all aboard her and leaving her to drift in space. From the Lexington, Commodore Wesley contacts Starfleet Command for permission to destroy the Enterprise. Since M-5 has disabled communications, Kirk is unable to contact Commodore Wesley and explain what is happening. Kirk demands that Daystrom act, but the scientist will not accept M-5 as another failure. He rambles about proving his worth and curses colleagues taking credit for his work. McCoy sees a psychotic episode coming, and warns Kirk the scientist is becoming delusional.
Kirk has Daystrom taken to sickbay after Spock fells him with a Vulcan nerve pinch. Kirk then talks to M-5 to see whether he can persuade it to stop the attacks. The M-5 acknowledges Kirk, who asks M-5 what its purpose is. M-5 responds "To save men from the dangerous activities of space exploration". Kirk rejoins that it just acted contrary to its purpose by killing people. M-5 recognizes the penalty for murder is death, so it shuts itself down. In so doing, it cripples the Enterprise, setting the ship adrift.
Having permission from Starfleet, the other Federation ships now close on the Enterprise to destroy it. While Scotty frantically attempts to regain control of the ship, Kirk decides to let the ship drift with shields down, hoping that Commodore Wesley will realize what the situation is aboard the Enterprise. The gamble pays off as the Commodore orders his ships to stand down at the last moment.
McCoy says that Daystrom will be committed to a rehabilitation center. Kirk explains that he knew that Bob Wesley would not fire, because he gambled on his humanity. McCoy pointedly comments that compassion is something computers lack. Spock responds that machines are more efficient than human beings: not better. He then dryly remarks that if McCoy's engrams were impressed in a computer, the resulting torrential flood of illogic would be most entertaining.
40th anniversary remastering 
This episode was remastered in 2006 and aired February 9, 2008 as part of the remastered Original Series. It was preceded a week earlier by the remastered "The Changeling" and followed two weeks later by the remastered "Operation: Annihilate!". Aside from remastered video and audio, and the all-CGI animation of the USS Enterprise that is standard among the revisions, specific changes to this episode also include:
- The space station that the Enterprise arrives at has been redesigned. Originally it was a reuse of the model for Deep Space Station K7 seen in "The Trouble With Tribbles". The new station is of the same class as Starbase 47 from the Star Trek: Vanguard novels published by Pocket Books.
- The planet Alpha Carinae II has been given a more realistic appearance.
- The supply ship Woden has been changed to look similar to the drone supply ships from the animated Star Trek episode "More Tribbles, More Troubles". It is likewise similar to the SS Antares model seen briefly in the remastered episode "Charlie X" Originally, the Woden was a reuse of the SS Botany Bay from the episode "Space Seed".
- The other starships partaking in the battle simulation are Constitution-class like the Enterprise. However, each bears its own name and registration number, along with other subtle changes. The combat between the ships has been reanimated to establish more dramatic action sequences.
- The Lexington viewscreen, originally a reuse of the Enterprise viewscreen, has rounded edges to differentiate it from the Enterprise.
- The defensive beam projected by the M5 computer, originally appearing as a dark helix-like shape surrounded by a glow, has been changed to a solid glowing beam of energy, with a reflection on the Engineering-room deck.
- With a small crew complement, most of the ship's view ports are shown darkened on the exterior shots of the M-5 equipped–Enterprise.
- James Doohan (Chief Engineer Scott) was the voice of both the M-5 and the starbase commanding officer, Commodore Enright. Doohan pulled double duty doing many extra voices on the show.
- Robert Wesley was a pseudonym frequently used by Gene Roddenberry when he wrote episodes of Dragnet while still on the LAPD.
- The character of Robert Wesley also appears in the animated Star Trek episode "One of Our Planets Is Missing". He has apparently retired from Starfleet and is now the governor of the planet threatened by the intelligent cloud creature. That episode also reveals that Wesley has a daughter named Katie.
- In episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there are references to the Daystrom Institute.
- The M-5 computer makes another appearance in the video game Star Trek: Shattered Universe, in which it controls an area of space in the Mirror Universe and a multitude of Warships (at least 4 Constitution class ships)
- A Klingon copy of the M-5 appears in one of the simulated scenarios of the video game Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. This version can also be "talked to death" by the player, by appealing to Klingon rather than Federation values (pointing out that its success will make Klingon warriors obsolete and deprive them of the chance to die in battle).
- The M-5 also makes an appearance in the TNG novel Immortal Coil.
- This episode is one of two instances in the Star Trek universe where John Masefield's poem "Sea Fever" ("all I ask is a tall ship") is quoted by Kirk, here as he reflects his impending obsolescence. He also quotes the poem in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
- The strategy to show a computer its logic was nonsense was adapted in the movies WarGames (1982) and Echelon Conspiracy (2009).
- Marshall told Close-Ups interviewer John S. Davis in 1986, "The part [of Dr. Richard Daystrom] had originally been written for a white actor. Maybe they weren't able to get that and my agent, who they had contacted, put forth my name to Gene Roddenberry, who said, 'My God, I never thought of it,' he said. 'It would just be great.' That's what happened".
- In his 1999 essay "The Future is Already Here", science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer writes, "In the original Star Trek, we saw women and black people in important positions... the ship's computers, as seen in "The Ultimate Computer", were designed by a Nobel Prize-winning black cyberneticist, played with equal dignity by William Marshall. During the era of Martin Luther King and the Watts Riots, it was a powerful, important statement to have the white captain of the Enterprise deferring to black people; as Marshall observed thirty years later, the single most significant thing about his guest-starring role was that he, an African-American, was referred to as "Sir" throughout the episode."
- "Interview with Mike and Denise Okuda, and Dave Rossi". TrekMovie.com.
- "StarTrek History - Behind the Scenes: Voice-Over Talent". Retrieved September 3, 2012. "He had a phenomenal talent for creating character voices... He also did the majority of voice work as Sargon, from the episode 'Return to Tomorrow', was the voice of Commodore Enright in 'The Ultimate Computer', and the voice of M-5 from the same episode. He did a commercial for Bang-Bang, the sweetest little automatic in the world in 'A Piece of the Action' and was the voice of the Oracle from the episode with the longest TOS title ever, 'For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky'."
- "Gene Roddenberry". Memory Alpha. Retrieved September 3, 2012. "His middle name was also used as the last name of the TOS character Robert Wesley, which was also a pseudonym Roddenberry used in his early writing career. (Star Trek Encyclopedia 1st ed., p. 374)"
- Daystrom Institute - Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki
- Frederick (February 10, 2011). "1986 Close-Up on William "Dr. Daystrom" Marshall". My Star Trek Scrapbook. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
- Sawyer, Robert J. (1990). "The Future is Already Here: Is There A Place For Science Fiction in the 21st Century?". RJS. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: "The Ultimate Computer"|
- "The Ultimate Computer" at StarTrek.com
- "The Ultimate Computer" at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Ultimate Computer" at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- "The Ultimate Computer" at TV.com
- "The Ultimate Computer" Review of the remastered episode at TrekMovie.com
- Dunsel at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Richard Daystrom at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)