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 actors
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 #35, production #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.

Plot[edit]

The Federation starship USS Enterprise, following a trail of planets that have been destroyed by unknown means, receives a distress call from its sister ship, the USS Constellation. On arrival, they find the ship severely damaged. Captain Kirk, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, Chief Engineer Scott and a damage control team transport over and locate the only person aboard, Commodore Matt Decker, who is acting incoherently. After McCoy sedates him, Decker explains that they had discovered a giant machine that used beams of antiprotons to tear apart planets and consume the debris, fueling its process through this sector of galaxy. He had ordered the Constellation to attack the machine, but instead the ship suffered heavy damage. Decker had ordered the crew to evacuate to a nearby planet, but was aghast when the machine proceeded to devour that planet. 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 space. McCoy takes Decker back to the Enterprise while Kirk, Scott, and the damage control team effect repairs on Constellation.

The Enterprise sensors detect the approach of the giant conically machine, its presence disrupting communications with Starfleet. On hearing of the approach of the machine, Decker pulls rank on First Officer Spock and orders the Enterprise to attack the machine. The attack fails to damage the machine, and the Enterprise becomes caught in a tractor beam and is drawn towards the machine. Kirk and Scott, with what they have repaired already, are able to use the Constellation to distract the machine, long enough for the Enterprise to escape. They move to a save distance as Decker returns command to Spock and offers himself to be confided. However, en route to security, Decker escapes the security team and steals a shuttlecraft, heading straight into the mouth of the machine. The Enterprise attempt to transport Decker out but cannot, and the shuttle explodes within the machine.

Lt. Sulu reports that the explosion temporarily reduced the machine's power output. Kirk, Spock, and Scott come to a plan to rig the Constellation's engine to overload after a thirty-second timer, and then will pilot the doomed ship into the machine hopefully the explosion will have enough power to stop the machine. Kirk insists on piloting the ship into the machine against Spock's objections. With the remaining crew aboard the Enterprise and at a safe distance from the machine, Kirk sets course for the machine, and triggers the timer at the right time. However, the Constellation transporter has malfunctioned, and Scott races to use the Enterprise transporters, using advice from Spock to rescue Kirk at the last moment. The Constellation explodes within the machine, sufficiently damaging it to leave it as a dead husk floating in space, and ending its threat.

Production[edit]

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. Spinrad had written the script with actor Robert Ryan in mind to play Commodore Decker, but Ryan was unavailable owing to prior commitments.[1]

Some sources hold that the episode was influenced by Fred Saberhagen's series of berserker stories,[2] a series of robotic killing machines built as an Ultimate Weapon by a now-vanished race to wipe out their rivals.[3] 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."[4] Secondary sources in the Star Trek canon refer to the devices as a Berserker.[5]

According to one source the model for the USS Constellation was an off-the-shelf model 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.[6]

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 Who Walks Among Us".[4]

Music[edit]

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."[7] 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."[8] 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" appears in Star Trek: Phase II, a fan series. Titled "In Harm's Way", William Windom reprises his role almost 40 years later.

Reception[edit]

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."[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Spinrad VideoBlog On History Of Doomsday". Retrieved December 30, 2008. 
  2. ^ The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Berserkers
  3. ^ "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
  4. ^ a b ""Doomsday" & More With Norman Spinrad, Part 1". StarTrek.com. March 4, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2012. 
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Okuda, Michael; Okuda, Denise; Mirek, Debbie (May 17, 2011). The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster. pp. 412–. ISBN 9781451646887. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  7. ^ "LILEKS (James) The Bleat". Retrieved December 30, 2008. 
  8. ^ Bond, Jeff (1999). The Music of Star Trek: Profiles in Style. Lone Eagle. ISBN 1580650120. 
  9. ^ Handlen, Zack (March 15, 2009). ""The Apple" / "The Doomsday Machine"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 1, 2009. 

External links[edit]