Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Three “The Changeling”

Stardate: 3541.9 (2267)
Original Air Date: September 29, 1967
Writer: John Meredyth Lucas
Director: Marc Daniels

“I am Nomad.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Enterprise is investigating a distress call from the Malurian system, but when they arrive, there is no communication from any of the 4 billion people in the system nor any of the Federation staff stationed there. Spock registers no life readings and there does not seem to be a system-wide catastrophe. Suddenly an extremely powerful bolt of energy begins speeding toward the Enterprise at multiple warp speeds. It strikes the ship with the power of about 90 photon torpedoes, and the Enterprise begins losing power (it can only handle several more of these blasts).

Signals reveal an exceptionally tiny ship not far away. Kirk issues a message announcing the Enterprise as a peaceful ship. The enemy ship responds with an “old style interplanetary code” on multiple frequencies in binary. Spock quickly realizes it is a mathematical formula and the message comes from “Nomad” and he claims to be “peaceful.” Kirk negotiates with Nomad to beam aboard. Amazingly, Nomad agrees, revealing a ship which is only slightly smaller than a satellite. Spock and Scotty suggest Nomad is likely little more than a machine, perhaps a computer. Nomad freely moves about the ship and demands to know the “point of origin” of the crew before it begins scanning the ship’s star charts. Kirk recalls an early human project known as “NOMAD” launched in the early 2000’s, in particular it was part of a project launched in 2035 with an early interstellar directive. Nomad claims its function is to probe for “biological infestations” and then to destroy imperfect life forms. Nomad has actually destroyed all the “imperfect life” within the Malurian system.

Kirk leaves Nomad under the watch of a crewman in order to regroup with his leadership team. The group discusses the background of Nomad –they learn about the creator of Nomad, a brilliant scientist named Jackson Roykirk who built Nomad in search of a perfectly logical machine designed to explore the cosmos. It was initially designed to be a probe seeking out new life forms but its relentless logic evolved its mission is now to destroy “biological infestations.” Nomad was damaged in deep space and left to wander aimlessly until it happened upon Tan Ru, a probe from another alien civilization only referred to as “The Other.” The molded together to form a common purpose: to sterilize other planets as a prelude to colonization. Apparently, now Nomad actually believes Capt. Kirk is the same person as Jackson Roykirk, its long-lost “creator.” Upon realizing the extraordinary danger Nomad poses, and how lucky the Enterprise is to survive at all, Kirk decides Nomad must be destroyed. Meanwhile, Nomad escapes captivity while overhearing Uhura singing a song over the intercom. Nomad confronts her on the bridge and when Scotty tries to intervene he is killed by Nomad and Uhura’s memory is wiped, but Kirk immediately orders Nomad to repair Scotty (Nomad refers to humans as “units.” Meanwhile, Bones and Nurse Chapel assist Nomad in reviving Scotty and re-educating Uhura.

Spock suggests an analysis of Nomad’s unpredictable ways is warranted, and so he attempts a mind meld with the machine but it goes awry as Nomad gains control of Spock’s mind. It is a fascinating, albeit troubling, scene in the episode. Kirk recalls the ancient earth legend of the “changeling” though his purpose here is not entirely clear. Nomad is once again imprisoned but it easily escapes, kills two red-shirt guards (followed by two more), and attempts to “repair” the Enterprise’s power systems by over-running them at unsustainable levels. Kirk orders Nomad to stop and then reveals that he, himself, is a biological being who once made an “error” in creating Nomad. This forces NOMAD to reconsider revisiting its “launch point” (i.e. to possibly sterilize Earth), and thus Kirk persuades Nomad that it made an “error” by mistaking Kirk for Jackson Roykirk, and therefore nomad is imperfect and must be sterilized. Before it explodes, the crew beam it back out into space where it self-destructs.

The episode ends on a strangely whimsical note as Bones declares that Uhura is nearly re-educated back to a college-level student and she should be back on the job within a week while Spock laments the death of Nomad. Kirk facetiously agrees, amusingly commenting on his son’s doctoral status (referring to Nomad).

My Thoughts on “The Changeling”

While bearing certain similarities to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its requisite reveal of “V’ger,” as well as Kirk’s persuasive powers over Landru as in “The Return of the Archons,” “The Changeling” is a compelling glimpse of ancient machine learning, and artificial intelligence. This episode made me consider what might one day become of some of the extraordinary machines we 21st century humans have launched out into the cosmos such as the relatively recent voyage of the Webb Telescope. In contrast, Nomad is a highly volatile machine (once again, it’s nice to see a unique, non-humanoid foe), its language is unusual, and the Enterprise survives only by means of luck –Kirk’s last name just happens to be similar to Roykirk “The Creator.” Nevertheless, despite the remarkable force of technological power aboard the Enterprise, a small machine launched from Earth centuries ago still poses a grave threat. Perhaps we should be skeptical of technology’s self-professed moral neutrality to a certain extent when mere might makes right among competing technological powers. In this way, Nomad serves as a kind of perverse parallel to the mission of the Enterprise and forces us to pose certain troubling questions of Starfleet itself.

At any rate, I have a few frustrations with this episode. Why does Kirk rashly abandon supervision of Nomad on several occasions? Why does the crew not simply review old records in order to deactivate Nomad? Why does kirk not clearly instruct Nomad to simply turn himself off rather than self-destruct? Could Nomad have possibly reanimated the 4 billion people he destroyed recently? What happened to Tan Ru and the other alien civilization? How is Spock capable of completing a mind meld with a robot? And how is it that Uhura can be re-educated in a mere matter of weeks after having her brain was entirely wiped clean? Does this not undermine the years of education in Starfleet? What is the titular “changeling” a reference to? Despite these and several other questions, I thought this was a terrific installment in the series, another triumph for the second season. Technically speaking, I thought the cinematic acrobatics employed to make Nomad appear elevated through mid-air aboard the Enterprise were good fun.


Writer John Meredyth Lucas (1919-2002) wrote a total of four episodes for Star Trek at the invitation of Gene L. Coon. He took over as producer during the latter half of the second season of Star Trek. Later, he worked on several movies, as well as television adaptations of Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run. He died of leukemia in 2002 and his ashes were jettisoned into space.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode became the inspiration behind the first Star Trek film (leading some fans to dub it “Where Nomad Has Gone Before”). It also inspired “The Questor Tapes,” a 1974 series pilot written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon which features a damaged robot in search of its creator.
  • Director Marc Daniels amusingly appears as the computerized photograph of Dr. Jackson Roykirk in this episode. He can be seen wearing Scotty’s uniform in the photo.
  • Nichelle Nichols frequently told a story of getting into a dispute with director Marc Daniels over her request that Uhura speaks Swahili as her native tongue in this episode.
  • In this episode, Uhura sings “Beyond Antares,” the same ethereal tune she sung in “The Conscience of the King.”
  • Vic Perrin, known as the “control voice” in The Outer Limits, provides the voice of Nomad in this episode. He also provided voicing work in other Star Trek episodes: “The Menagerie,” “Arena,” “The City on the Edge of Forever,” and “Mirror, Mirror.”

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

3 thoughts on “Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Three “The Changeling”

  1. How is Spock capable of completing a mind meld with a robot?

    For all the bad press that Shatner gets for hogging the lime-light for Kirk, I feel the makers actually made Spock too much of a Mary Sue/ Superman combo: the mind-melts, the vulcan grip, even a hidden pair of eyes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I must now agree in retrospect that in certain ways, the trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy were too dominating over the classic Enterprise ensemble. Hence Roddenberry’s wise decision to take familiar traits from each of them and divide them evenly between the ensemble for The Next Generation.

      Liked by 2 people

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