The Doomsday Machine (Star Trek: The Original Series)

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"The Doomsday Machine"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
STDoomsday Machine.jpg
The USS Constellation enters the Doomsday Machine.
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 6
Directed by Marc Daniels
Written by Norman Spinrad
Featured music Sol Kaplan
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 035
Original air date October 20, 1967 (1967-10-20)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"The Doomsday Machine" is a second season episode of the science fiction television series, Star Trek. It is episode number 35, production number 35, and was first broadcast on October 20, 1967, and repeated on April 19, 1968. It was written by Norman Spinrad, and directed by Marc Daniels.

In this episode, the starship Enterprise comes into contact with her sister ship, the USS Constellation, which has been heavily damaged by a huge, apparently invulnerable planet-killing machine from another galaxy. Kirk and his crew must find a means to stop the device heading for heavily populated areas of our galaxy, and deal with the heavily traumatized Commodore Decker, the Constellation's only survivor.


The Federation starship USS Enterprise, following a trail of planets that have been destroyed by unknown means, receives a distress call from her sister ship, the USS Constellation. On arrival, they find the Constellation severely damaged and the bridge uninhabitable. Captain Kirk, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, Chief Engineer Scott and a damage control team transport to the ship to evaluate her, and in Auxiliary Control discover the only member of the crew still aboard, Commodore Matt Decker, her captain, who is suffering from mental trauma.

Through an anguished Q&A with Kirk, Decker explains that they had discovered a giant machine miles long that used beams of antiprotons to tear apart planets and consume the debris, fueling its progress through this sector of the galaxy. He had ordered the Constellation to attack the machine, but the ship suffered heavy damage from the planet-killer. Decker had evacuated his crew to one of the planets of the star system, but was aghast when the machine destroyed it. Kirk theorizes the machine may be an ancient doomsday machine, inadvertently activated, and they must find a way to stop it before it reaches more populated sectors of the galaxy. McCoy takes Decker back to Enterprise while Scott's damage control team attempt repairs on the Constellation's impulse engines and shields. Kirk attends to the Constellation's nonfunctional viewscreen, which will be his only means of monitoring events outside the ship (besides descriptions from Enterprise).

Enterprise detects the approach of the planet-killer, its presence disrupting communications with Starfleet and Constellation. On learning of the approach of the machine, Decker pulls rank on First Officer Spock, assumes command, and orders Enterprise to attack it. The attack fails to damage the machine, and Enterprise itself takes damage to its transporter system. Then Enterprise is caught in a tractor beam and is drawn towards the Doomsday Machine's maw. Kirk completes his repair of Constellation's viewscreen and is shocked to see Enterprise attacking the alien craft with phasers. He and Scott are able to use the Constellation to distract the machine long enough for Enterprise to escape. After repairing the transporter and reestablishing voice communications, Enterprise retreats to a safe distance. Spock relieves Decker of command on Captain Kirk's orders and Decker is escorted to Sickbay. However, Decker knocks out his escort and steals a shuttlecraft, driving it straight into the maw of the Doomsday Machine. Although he looks horrified as he is about to be swallowed by the planet killer, he does not deviate from his course despite Kirk's and Spock's pleading to turn back, and the shuttle explodes within the machine.

Lt. Sulu reports that the explosion has reduced the planet-killer's power output by a small amount. Kirk comes up with a plan to rig the Constellation as a bomb, reasoning that Decker had had the right idea but not enough power to accomplish his goal. Kirk insists on piloting the ship into the machine over Mr. Spock's objections. Scotty rigs the impulse engines with a thirty-second time delay before detonation, warning his captain that once the timer is started there is no way to stop it.

With the rest of the boarding party transported back to the Enterprise, now at a safe distance from the machine, Kirk aims the Constellation for the maw of the Doomsday Machine, triggers the timer, and orders the Enterprise to beam him aboard. However the transporter is still working with glitches left from Scott's previous hasty repair, and it malfunctions. Scott races to set it right, taking advice from Mr. Spock to get it working again. With no time to spare, Captain Kirk is beamed aboard the Enterprise as the Constellation explodes inside the planet-killer, leaving it a hulk adrift in space, its threat ended.


Episode writer Norman Spinrad based the script on a novelette "The Planet Eater" that had been rejected by a number of publishers. He revived the idea when he had a chance to pitch it to Executive Producer Gene Roddenberry. "I did The Doomsday Machine fast," he recalled.[1] Spinrad had written the script with actor Robert Ryan in mind to play Commodore Decker, but Ryan was unavailable owing to prior commitments.[2]

Some sources hold that the episode was influenced by Fred Saberhagen's series of berserker stories,[3] a series of robotic killing machines built as a doomsday device by a now-vanished race to wipe out their rivals.[4] However, author Norman Spinrad denies the influence — "I wasn't conscious of the Saberhagen stuff when I was doing this, but I was certainly conscious of Moby Dick. And, actually, my unpublished novelette, which was the genesis of ("The Doomsday Machine"), was written before the Saberhagen stuff."[5] Secondary sources in the Star Trek canon refer to the devices as a Berserker.[6]

According to one source the model for the USS Constellation was an off-the-shelf AMT Enterprise model painted and torched in places for the battle damage, while other sources claim that the smallest and least detailed Enterprise professional model was altered for the episode. It has also been stated that the Constellation's hull ID number of 1017 came from simply switching the digits of an Enterprise model's 1701 hull numbers.[7]

The episode was written as a bottle episode, i.e., one that could use existing ship sets to save time and money. According to Spinrad, the episode was so well received by Roddenberry that he commissioned him to write another for comedian Milton Berle who planned to do a dramatic turn on the show titled "He Walked Among Us".[5]


This is one of the few Star Trek episodes in the second season for which original music was written; in this case a full score, by Sol Kaplan. Writer James Lileks notes that the music cues for this episode are "intended to belong together, and that’s one of the reasons the episode works like few others: it has a unique symphonic score. Played start to finish, it holds together."[8] Jeff Bond notes, "Although he wrote only two scores for the series, New York composer Sol Kaplan's music was tracked endlessly throughout the show's first two seasons."[9] Both Lileks and Bond point out similarities between this music and John Williams' award-winning score for Jaws a decade later. The music for this episode was collected, along with the score for "Amok Time", on the second release from Crescendo Records of music from the series: the first release other than the music from the pilot episodes.

Unofficial sequels to the episode[edit]

In a non-official sequel to the episode, an advanced version of the Planet Killer appears in the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Vendetta. The novel depicts the original Planet Killer as a prototype for a weapon designed to combat the Borg, released in desperation when the weapon's designers realized that the Borg would defeat them before they could finish the more advanced version.

Another unofficial sequel to "The Doomsday Machine" appeared online in 2005 in an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages, a self-produced Star Trek fan series. Titled "In Harm's Way", William Windom reprises his role as Commodore Matt Decker almost 40 years later. Gene Roddenberry's son, Rod Roddenberry, was on set and fully involved with some of the filming of this episode in Northern New York.

Still another unofficial sequel appears in Star Trek Online, in the Federation storyline.


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an "A" rating, describing the episode as "very strong stuff", noting effective tension building and the development of Decker's character. Handlen also noted Sol Kaplan's score which "matches the actors' intensity."[10]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Spinrad VideoBlog On History Of Doomsday". Retrieved December 30, 2008. 
  3. ^ The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Berserkers
  4. ^ "Fred Saberhagen... was best known for his Berserker series, in which self-replicating robotic probes, a doomsday device left over from a vast interstellar conflict, are programmed to destroy all organic life... The series was an obvious influence on television's Star Trek, in an episode called The Doomsday Machine." Michael Carlson, "Obituary, Fred Saberhagen", The Guardian, Thursday 19 July 2007
  5. ^ a b ""Doomsday" & More With Norman Spinrad, Part 1". March 4, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2012. 
  6. ^ see Memory Alpha. The Star Trek Concordance refers to the device as the "Berserker"; The Monsters of Star Trek also used the berserker moniker in describing the weapon.
  7. ^ Okuda, Michael; Okuda, Denise; Mirek, Debbie (May 17, 2011). The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster. pp. 412–. ISBN 9781451646887. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  8. ^ "LILEKS (James) The Bleat". Retrieved December 30, 2008. 
  9. ^ Bond, Jeff (1999). The Music of Star Trek: Profiles in Style. Lone Eagle. ISBN 1580650120. 
  10. ^ Handlen, Zack (March 15, 2009). ""The Apple" / "The Doomsday Machine"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 1, 2009. 

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