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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"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.


On stardate 4202.9, following a trail of destroyed solar systems, the Federation starship USS Enterprise responds to a distress call, finding their sister ship, the USS Constellation, adrift and heavily damaged in a system whose two inner planets are still intact. Captain Kirk beams over to the Constellation with Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, Chief Engineer Scott and a damage control team to investigate. Mr. Scott reports that the ship's warp engines are damaged beyond repair and the weapons exhausted. They find the ship's commanding officer, Commodore Matt Decker – the sole survivor, half-conscious in the auxiliary control room. Meanwhile, an incoherent Decker claims that a machine was slicing up planets with "pure" antiproton.

The logs reveal that the ship investigated the breakup of a planet and was soon attacked by an enormous machine with a conical shell miles in length and a giant opening at one end filled with sparkling energy. After the attack, Decker ordered his surviving crew to the surface of a nearby planet, but to his horror, the machine destroyed that world next. Spock theorizes the machine breaks down planets into rubble which it then consumes for fuel and adds that given its past trajectory, it is likely to have come from outside the galaxy and will continue towards the "most densely populated region of our galaxy."

Kirk theorizes that they have encountered a doomsday machine, "like the old H-bombs", a device built to destroy both sides in a war. It was intended as a bluff or deterrent, not to be actually used, but was activated nonetheless. It wiped out its builders long ago but it lives on indefinitely, fueled by the very planets it destroys.

Kirk has Decker beamed back to the Enterprise, with McCoy, for medical treatment while he and Scott remain on the derelict Constellation. On the Enterprise bridge, First Officer Spock, having been left in command, is alerted to the approach of the alien machine which generates interference that makes communication with Starfleet Command impossible. As the machine attacks, Decker comes to the bridge, and quoting Starfleet regulations he pulls rank on Spock and assumes command. He then orders a full-on attack against the machine ignoring Spock's warning that the ship's weaponry is ineffective against the doomsday machine's pure neutronium hull. As a result, the warp engines are disabled and the Enterprise becomes drawn by a tractor beam towards the machine's glowing maw.

Aboard the Constellation, Scott has managed to restore partial phaser and thrust control. At the same time, Kirk has reactivated the viewing screen, and manages to create a diversion to distract the planet-killer away from the Enterprise . As the machine veers off, Kirk orders Spock to relieve Decker of command, based on Kirk's personal authority as officially designated Captain of the Enterprise. Eventually, Decker, recognizing that the Enterprise crew would support Spock without question, yields and is escorted off the bridge by security. En route to Sickbay, however, he knocks out his guard and quickly heads to the hangar bay and steals a shuttlecraft. He then pilots it on a kamikaze course into the planet killer's maw despite the pleas of Kirk and Spock to turn back.

Lt. Sulu reports that the shuttlecraft's subsequent explosion appears to have slightly decreased the planet killer's output power. Kirk realizes Decker had the right idea, but not enough energy to succeed. Kirk has Spock estimate if the overloading and subsequent thermonuclear detonation of the Constellation's impulse engines inside the planet-killer might destroy it. Spock is unsure, and he and Scott both object to Kirk's intention to remain on the Constellation to carry out the plan. Kirk has Scott rig a manual 30-second detonation timer, planning to start it and beam back to the Enterprise before detonation. Scott explains that once the timer is activated, it cannot be stopped.

With everything prepared, Kirk orders the others back to the Enterprise and steers the Constellation toward the planet killer's maw. At the right moment he activates the switch that begins the engine overload and asks to be beamed out. The damaged Enterprise transporter shorts out, and Kirk is now stranded on the Constellation. Scott rushes to make repairs. As the timer ticks toward zero, Science Officer Spock suggests to Chief Engineer Scott that he might complete the engineering task by trying "inverse phasing", Kirk issues an understated request: "Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard" as he watches the doomsday machine grow larger on the viewscreen. Scott's desperate fix succeeds and Kirk is beamed off the Constellation at the very last moment. The Constellation enters the maw of the planet killer and explodes, destroying the planet killer's internal mechanisms and leaving its indestructible shell adrift, dead in space.

In the epilogue, Kirk and Spock muse about the parallels between their doomsday machine and the "doomsday machines" of late 20th Century Earth, nuclear weapons. Kirk notes with irony that the Constellation‍ '​s impulse engines exploded in the same way, though this time it served a constructive purpose.


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 show 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 entitled "He Who Walks Among Us".[4]


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.


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]


  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". 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. 

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