Stardate: 4202.1 (2267)
Original Air Date: October 20, 1967
Writer: Norman Spinrad
Director: Marc Daniels
“Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard.”
The Enterprise receives an automated distress call from the partially destroyed ship, the USS Constellation. Something has destroyed system L-370 (seven planets) and system L-374, where only two planets remain. Spock notes that the U.S.S. Constellation is suspended in space with limited power but it is capable of sustaining life. In order to investigate this derelict ship, Kirk, Bones, Scotty, join a damage control team abeam aboard the Constellation.
Lying alone near the ship’s controls, they find a badly shaken Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom). Commodore Decker details a harrowing situation: the Constellation had attempted to contact Starfleet when it arrived in L-374 but the fourth planet seemed to be breaking apart and the interference prevented any communication to Starfleet. Most of his crew was on the third planet as it was destroyed along with everything else in the system by a giant machine, miles long, using beams of antiproton to destroy entire planets. In a word, it is a doomsday machine: a mindless robot which travels through the cosmos destroying planets and ships alike.
While Kirk and Scotty attempt repairs aboard the Constellation, the doomsday machine appears and suddenly attacks the Enterprise disabling its transporter. Kirk and Scotty are stranded as Commodore Decker assumes command of the Enterprise, very much against the wishes of Spock and Bones, and he proceeds to lead the Enterprise on a maniacal quest a la Captain Ahab in order to attack and destroy the doomsday machine. This leads to a wild chase which nearly destroys the Enterprise but eventually Spock relieves Commodore Decker under Kirk’s direct orders from afar. Embittered and questionably sane, Commodore Decker hijacks a shuttlecraft and leads it on a kamikaze suicide mission into the mouth of the doomsday machine but it tragically fails. The exterior of the machine is made of solid neutronium, and thus Kirk attempts a similar mission –Scotty rigs the full force and power of the ailing Constellation to detonate the power of a Hydrogen Bomb (equivalent to a fusion explosion 97 megatons) which destroys the doomsday machine. Kirk is beamed back aboard the Enterprise at the final moment. He and Spock are left to wonder if any other “Planet Killers” like this exist out in deep space.
“The Doomsday Machine” is classic Trek at its best –a derelict ships adrift in space, dark secrets, an all-powerful monster destroying solar systems, danger in deep space– these are all the hallmarks of a great episode. It bears striking similarity to episodes like “Space Seed” and echoes of others like “Balance of Terror.” Literary allusions also abound in this episode, from Moby Dick to The Bhagavad Gita. I cannot level enough praise upon this installment!
Writer Norman Spinrad (1940-Present) was a prolific science-fiction author. Unfortunately, this was the only produced episode of Star Trek he contributed though he worked on several other Sttar Trek related projects that were never completed.
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 was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1968 as “Best Dramatic Presentation” (it lost to “City on the Edge of Forever”).
- “The Doomsday Machine” features a completely original score by Sol Kaplan. It is a brilliant score with early echoes of the iconic score for Jaws.
- This episode often ranks among the best of Star Trek by fans, though curiously D.C. Fontana once remarked it was her least favorite.
- Episode writer Norman Spinrad based the script for this episode on his novelette “The Planet Eater” which had been rejected by a number of publishers. He later expressed disappointment in the casting selection for Commodore Decker and the “Planet Killer.”
- William Windom also took inspiration for his performance from Humphrey Bogart’s role as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954). In the film, Queeg fidgets with a pair of ball bearings while in the episode, Windom’s character fidgets two small square-shaped data/cassette disks.
- Some sources claim that the episode was influenced by Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker series.
- Interestingly enough, in Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Willard Decker is identified as Matt Decker’s son.