Star Trek: Season 3, Episode One “Spock’s Brain”

Stardate: 5431.4 (2268)
Original Air Date: September 20, 1968
Writer: Lee Cronin (Gene L. Coon)
Director: Marc Daniels

“What have you done with Spock’s brain?”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

At last, we arrive at the infamous season three opener which many fans regard as the worst episode in the whole series! A strange object is rapidly moving through space toward the enterprise via ion propulsion at a high velocity. Scotty marvels at its beauty –it even has its own internal atmosphere. Suddenly, a female humanoid lifeform appears on the bridge. She pushes a button attached to her wrist which essentially renders all lifeforms on the Enterprise unconscious –we later learn her name is Kara (Marj Dusay).

When the crew awaken, they find that Spock is missing. He is later found in sickbay on a table. Is he dead? No, he is “worse than dead” –his brain missing! Thanks to his Vulcan autonomic functions, Spock’s body is able to survive absent his brain. Kirk decides to track down the thieves. With only twenty-four hours left to relocate Spock’s brain, the Enterprise begins following the ion trail of the invading ship. It leads them into the Sigma Draconis system where there are nine planets (three of them Class M). The third planet is categorized with a Letter B on the industrial scale (or the Earth equivalent of the year 1485), the fourth planet is categorized with the letter G (or the Earth equivalent of the year 2030), but the sixth planet has no sign of industrial development with a surface-level sapient life form living in a primitive state. Kirk and the crew deliberate over which planet to investigate, ultimately deciding on Sigma Draconis VI.

With time running out, a landing party encounters a primitive glacial planet where they are accosted by a band of hostile natives. After the scuffle these “Morgs” speak of others on the planet who visit and offer “pain and delight.” With a braindead Spock following the landing party, the crew find an underground cave where they meet Luma (Sheila Leighton), an “Eymorg,” and they receive a communicator transmission of Spock’s brain. However, they are quickly captured and learn these Eymorgs live under the rule of a great Controller which turns out to be Spock’s disembodied brain (his brain replaced an older Controller). The Controller keeps their civilization functioning. The Eymorgs were able to steal Spock’s brain via “old knowledge” from the builders of this civilization, a “Teacher” which turns out to be a computer. The Teacher provides knowledge that only lasts for a mere three hours. Dr. McCoy is given knowledge from The Teacher but he soon loses it so he is forced to rely on his own medical knowledge to revive Spock. Somehow, Spock himself is able to assist Dr. McCoy in the surgical procedure to reattach his brain (his vocal cords are attached first??).

The episode ends with Kirk assuring Kara that the women (or Eymorgs) can learn to live peacefully with the surface-level men (Morgs) on Sigma Draconis VI. Spock blabbers on about this civilization and Dr. McCoy whimsically regrets reattaching Spock’s brain.

This is surely a far cry from “Balance of Terror” or “The City on the Edge of Forever,” but at least it shows the versatility of a 1960s science fiction show. For all its faults, and there are many, I would still rank “Spock’s Brain” above “The Omega Glory” and “The Alternative Factor” and perhaps a few other season three episodes.

This is quite literally mindless entertainment –colorful and silly, campy and clumsy—I still enjoyed this ridiculous adventure, almost as if it had a laugh track. What makes this episode doubly absurd is that it stands out as the third season’s opening episode, rather than some late season filler. What can I say about this episode that has not already been said before? The brain in a vat concept has also been already used in “The Gamesters of Triskelion” –cue the Descartes memes. How is Spock’s brain able to communicate to the crew via a communicator? Who are the ancient builders of this planet? Are they connected to the Old Ones as featured in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” And why did they select Spock? How did they come upon the Enterprise? How are they able to survive as a civilization with such rampant institutional forgetfulness? There are many questions to be raised here, but perhaps it’s best to simply remove our brains and simply enjoy a goofy show for a while.

Former producer Gene L. Coon was still under contract to write a few more episodes for the show. Some suggest he wrote this script as a joke, or perhaps as a jab at NBC executives, hence why he used the pseudonym “Lee Cronin.” However, his original script received significant revisions before it was made into an episode.

This episode was Marc Daniels’s final episode. He was apparently sick of the chaotic production of Star Trek as well as budget cuts among other frustrations, though he did remain involved during the brief Animated Series.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • Almost everyone involved in this episode has publicly condemned it. William Shatner called this one of the series’ worst episodes, in his 2008 book he labeled the episode’s plot a “tribute” to NBC executives who slashed the show’s budget and placed it in a bad time slot. Leonard Nimoy wrote: “Frankly, during the entire shooting of that episode, I was embarrassed—a feeling that overcame me many times during the final season of Star Trek.”
  • With many other critical production crewmembers leaving the show, Marc Daniels joined their ranks. This was his last episode.
  • At this point, NBC moved Star Trek from 8:30pm to 10:00pm on Friday nights.
  • The third season was only made possible by the efforts of numerous Star Trek fans, not least of whom was Bjo Trimble, who wrote countless letters to the studio to keep the show alive.  

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Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Twenty-Six “Assignment: Earth”

Stardate: 4040.7 (2268)
Original Air Date: March 29, 1968
Writer: Art Wallace/Gene Roddenberry
Director: Marc Daniels

“I know this world needs help. That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Using the light speed break-away factor (or the “slingshot method” which was previously discovered in the Season 1 classic “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”), the Enterprise has once again moved backward through time to the 20th century. In orbit around earth, the year is 1968 and the Enterprise is conducting “historical research” when suddenly an alert rings out as a transponder beam hits the Enterprise from 1,000 light years away.

A suit-wearing man with a black cat (named Isis) beams aboard the Enterprise asking “why have you intercepted me?” His name is Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), a human being from the 20th century. He had been living on a distant planet, far more advanced, he was in the midst of beaming to earth when he was suddenly intercepted by the Enterprise. The planet secretive, not even the Enterprise in th e24th century can be made aware of its location. It is critical that he be sent down to earth immediately, but as Kirk notes, what if Gary Seven is a hostile alien invading earth? Kirk has him arrested, a battle ensues, and Kirk stuns him.

Dr. McCoy conducts a medical analysis wherein he finds Gary Seven does not possess any biological flaws, with certain human readings. Meanwhile, Spock offers a historical report –there will be an important assassination on this date, as well as a dangerous government coup, and the launching of an orbital nuclear device by the U.S. to counter other nations. The slightest miscalculation of orbiting H-bombs could lead to a highly volatile nuclear holocaust. Shortly thereafter, Gary Seven breaks free and successfully beams down to earth inside a tightly sealed office bunker in a New York City skyrise. He begins speaking to a computer, identifying himself as “194” and a “Class-1 Supervisor” but he soon learns that three other agents like himself have disappeared on earth. It appears to be an espionage program.

From here, the episode runs a bit off the rails with a flighty human secretary working in his office named Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr). She claims she was hired to work in an office building a new encyclopedia. A chase ensues as Kirk and Spock hunt down the whereabouts of Gary Seven. At one point, they encounter a pair of bumbling police officers who are accidentally beamed aboard the Enterprise. After some. hijinks with Roberta, the Enterprise eventually tracks Seven to the U.S. nuclear rocket launch wherein a warhead explodes about 104 miles above the earth –but this all happens exactly as it should have according to historical record tapes after all. The episode ends with Seven and Roberta facing an “interesting” future ahead of them.

Throughout Season 2 of TOS there have been numerous social commentaries sprinkled throughout on the culture and politics of the 1960s, however “Assignment: Earth” takes a more direct approach as we are brought backward in time to a serious nuclear crisis in 1968. The crew of the Enterprise are placed in the position of gods as they must decide the appropriate natural development of earth’s history. Can they trust Gary Seven? Should they allow him to commandeer a nuclear weapon? In the end, the typically villainous alien is proved to be benevolent and earth avoids nuclear catastrophe. “Assignment: Earth” is rife with Cold War espionage themes as Gary Seven is even mistaken for being a member of an intergalactic CIA or FBI at one point. Like James Bond, Seven uses a myriad of gadgets, most memorably his “servo” pen device. I found this episode to be a smirkingly intriguing episode, though boring during the middle section, and a bit heavy-handed. Despite the fact that it has not held up all too well, “Assignment: Earth” still has something to say about our ascendant nuclear age.

This episode was originally written as a stand-alone television series by Art Wallace and Gene Roddenberry (entitled “Seven”) but when no network bought the idea, it was reworked as a backdoor pilot Star Trek episode. The spin-off series was never produced. Shortly after this episode was released, Gene Roddenberry took a second job at MGM. This was one of two episodes drafted by Art Wallace.

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. This was the thirteen of fourteen episodes he directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • In this episode, Kirk refers to the Enterprise as the “United Spaceship Enterprise.”
  • Robert Lansing who played Gary Seven was a notable stage performer who reluctantly accepted this role on Star Trek from Gene Roddenberry. Lansing had previously appeared in several shows, including the Season 5 episode of the The Twilight Zone “The Long Morrow.”
  • Barbara Babcock performs the voice of the Beta 5 computer used by Gary Seven. Her voice was used in several other TOS episodes.
  • The uncredited human form of the cat Isis was portrayed by actress, dancer and contortionist April Tatro. Her identity was apparently unknown until 2019 when The Trek Files podcast cited a production call sheet for extras dated January 1968. Fans previously falsely believed Victoria Vetri was the actress. The real cat’s name was supposedly Sambo.
  • “McKinley Rocket Base” is a fictional base resembling Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Much of the stock footage in the episode was borrowed from Cape Canaveral. NASA provided Gene Roddenberry with the footage of a Saturn V rocket, the Apollo 4 capsule, and other footage.
  • Characters from this episode have been featured in various extended Treklore, including comic books and novels.
  • Teri Garr played the role of the secretary Roberta Lincoln, this was her first big break. She also appeared in classic movies like Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Tootsie. In 2002, she contracted multiple sclerosis and retired from acting in 2011. She is still alive as of the time I write this post (2022). Apparently, she had such an unpleasant experience with participating in this Star Trek episode that she has often been reluctant to discuss to it.
  • There is a fascinating website devoted to the fanlore surrounding this episode:
  • In this episode, Spock notes that an important assassination was soon to come. In a dark twist of fate, about a week after this episode aired Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
  • The wide sweeping shots of Manhattan were borrowed from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • The character Gary Seven was one of only a few characters who were impervious to the Vulcan Nerve Pinch –others being Vians and Khan. In the extended Treklore, he is apparently said to descend from an ancient alien race called the Aegis.
  • In “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” the Enterprise traveled back in time to 1969, whereas in “Assignment: Earth,” they travel back one year earlier in 1968. 
  • Elements of this episode were incorporated by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon into a made-for-TV-movie called The Questor Tapes in 1974.

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Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Twenty-Five “Bread and Circuses”

Stardate: 4040.7 (2268)
Original Air Date: March 15, 1968
Writer: Gene Roddenberry/Gene L. Coon
Director: Ralph Senensky

“Slaves and gladiators… what are we looking at? Twentieth Century Rome?”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Appropriately airing on the “Ides of March,” the Enterprise encounters space debris from a missing ship, the survey vessel S.S. Beagle, which has been missing for six years. Enterprise sensors pick up portions of the antimatter nacelles, personal belongings, but no signs of bodies. The S.S. Beagle was a small class-4 survey vessel with a crew of 47, commanded by R.M. Merik (William Smithers), a man Kirk whom once knew during his Academy days. However, Merik was dropped in his fifth year at the Academy so he entered the Merchant Service. The Enterprise traces the path of the Beagle’s debris which leads to a Class-M planet that Chekov notes is “somewhat similar to Earth” within “System 892.”

This planet is moderately industrialized, not yet nuclear, and it has a variety of advanced cities. In fact, it is a mirror of 20th century Earth with one caveat –it is ruled by Imperial Rome. In the hopes of discovering the survivors of the Beagle, Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy all beam down to a remote section of the planet’s surface (i.e. not a city). However, they are quickly accosted by a group of warriors hiding in the rocks who are concerned if the Enterprise crewmen are some new brand of Praetorian guard. The landing party is captured and prevented from beaming back up to the Enterprise as a result of the Prime Directive, they are led away by the warrior leader Flavius Maximus (Rhodes Reason) who guides them to a cave-dwelling populated by runaway Roman slaves. The Enterprise crewmen are interrogated and asked if they are slaves or children of the sun, to which Kirk responds that they hail from another Province and that their ship is away at sea. The ex-slaves grow to trust Kirk.

“May the blessings of the sun be upon you.”

We learn that Flavius Maximus was once the most successful gladiator for seven years until he escapes and heard the “words of the sun” –a strange religious cult practiced by these cave-dwellers. Flavius is strikingly similar to a Ben-Hur character (imagine if they had gotten Charlton Heston to play the role?) Slavery has always existed within this empire, but it has evolved over time so that slaves are treated with a modicum of dignity –they are granted housing, healthcare, and old-age pensions. At any rate, while out with Flavius one day, the whole band of “barbarians” is arrested by a group of Praetorian guards and they are imprisoned while Flavius is led away to fight in the arena.

Kirk, Spock, and Bones attempt to break out of prison and they immediately are confronted by none other than Merik, the missing leader of the Beagle. He tells Kirk that a meteor shower stranded him on this planet where he met the Roman Proconsul Claudius Marcus who explained that this conservative empire should not be “contaminated” by outside knowledge. Thus, they made a pact to keep the truth of the Beagle a secret. Merik explains that only his crewmen who have adjusted to this imperial world have survived, and the rest died in the gladiatorial games. The Proconsul Claudius Marcus (Logan Ramsey) demands that Kirk send down the rest of his crew to also serve as fodder for the games, but Kirk refuses. Only at gunpoint does he communicate with Scotty, and duing the course of their exchange Kirk says the condition is “Green” (which secretly means that the situation is dangerous). Shortly thereafter, Spock and Bones are set to fight in the arena, battling Achilles and Flavius in what is actually a makeshift television set studio designed to look like an ancient Roman coliseum complete with fake applause, cheers, and boos. Cue Gerald Fried’s classic fight music. Naturally, Spock gains the upper hand by defeating his opponent and using the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on Bones’s interlocuter.

After their gladiatorial victory, Spock and Bones are returned to prison, while Kirk is led back to the Proconsul’s quarters where a scantily clad slave named Drusilla (Lois Jewell) awaits him. She says she has been ordered to please Kirk as his slave and they embrace as the camera pans away… Later, the Proconsul arrives and claims that a communicator device has disappeared. He promises that Kirk will have a quick and easy death, and Kirk is then led away to the arena where he will battle several men, but just then the Enterprise shuts down the city’s power which leads to a battle royale. At the last moment, Merik is revealed to be the communicator thief as he orders “three to beam up” before being stabbed to death by the Proconsul.

The episode ends in a ridiculous eye roll as “Sun worship” is actually revealed to be “Son worship” or a misnomer for the early development of Christianity –the slaves were actually early Christians. Thus, concludes this mixed bag of an adventure.

Around this point, Star Trek was on the verge of cancellation. “Bread and Circuses” was actually an earlier Season 2 episode according to production order, though it was pushed back to the penultimate episode of Season 2 (hence why Gene Coon was still involved). With the show’s demise on the horizon, “Bread and Circuses” still offers a laughingly funny satire of network television. Citizens live in a neo-Roman Empire and eagerly watch gladiators battle to the death on television in a series of increasingly shocking and farcical spectacles. Consider the funniest line from the episode in my view: “You bring this network’s ratings down, Flavius, and we’ll do a special on you!” The jabs at network television are replete throughout this episode, after all the Enterprise is “centuries beyond anything as crude as television!”

This is also another Prime Directive episode. In some ways, an argument could be made that a violation of the Prime Directive would be justified in this situation, not unlike the situation on Neural in “A Private Little War.” Regardless, it poses an interesting question: what if Rome never fell? What might the world look like after centuries of Roman rule? In some ways it reminds me of science fiction alternative histories, like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Despite the fact that this was yet another tired “parallel earth” narrative in TOS, I thought there were at least some interesting threads worth exploring, particularly the once-mentioned “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development.” I wonder to what extent this theory implies not only to Rome but also Christianity –will it develop in a similar fashion to earth? And, therefore, will a futuristic Emperor Constantine ever arrive and elevate the status of enslaved Christians? Will Rome then collapse as Edward Gibbon suggests? Will other empires and religions necessarily emerge, as well? Or instead, as an optimistic show about the future of humanity, will the Federation ever attempt to make contact with the rulers of this Roman planet to improve their situation? I suppose these are far too speculative questions, but this was still an amusing adventure.

Producer Gene L. Coon wrote several drafts of this script idea that Gene Roddenberry then heavily revised and it was put into a teleplay by playwright and television writer John Kneubuhl (1990-1992), though he was uncredited in the final episode. This was the only episode of Star Trek he was involved with.  

This was the third episode directed by Ralph Senensky (1923-Present). It was the first episode completed after Paramount acquired Desilu Productions (Lucille Ball’s company). Gene Roddenberry was apparently revising the script as it was being filmed leading to some havoc behind the scenes.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The title for this episode is appropriately taken from Juvenal. “Panem et circenses” referred to the practice in ancient Rome of providing bread/grain and bloodthirsty entertainment to the lower classes in exchange for preventing civil unrest.
  • Hodgkin’s Law of parallel planetary development is invoked in this episode, referring to a parallel planet to earth wherein Rome never actually fell by the time the 20th century arrived.
  • The cave sets used in this episode were popularly used in a variety of other programs, including as the Bat Cave in the original Batman show, as well as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
  • During production of this episode, new producer John Meredyth Lucas briefly visited the set and noted how tense the atmosphere was –all the actors despised each other and some went out of their way not to speak to Gene Roddenberry.
  • Interestingly enough, Proconsul Marcus’s insignia used in this episode was not written in Latin/Roman at all (even though these Romans speak English). In fact, it was the coat of arms of English playwright William Shakespeare.
  • Many of the Roman costumes were borrowed from other productions, particularly some of Cecil B. DeMille’s epics.
  • Spock discusses the casualties of the three world wars in this episode –he claims six million died in WWI, eleven million in WWII, and thirty-seven million in WWIII (the actual casualty numbers for the first two world wars were significantly higher).
  • Apparently in later Treklore (the Autobiography of James T. Kirk), there is a continuation story wherein the slave girl Drusilla gives birth to Kirk’s son named Eugino.
  • Ironically, this episode was released on March 15 otherwise known as the “Ides of March,” when Julius Caesar was assassinated.
  • Regarding the Prime Directive, it was previously established in “The Omega Glory” that a captain and his crew would rather lay down their lives rather than violate their oath to the Prime Directive. In “Bread and Circuses,” Kirk gives a succinct definition of the Prime Directive as follows, the Prime Directive means there is “no identification of self or mission; no interference with the social development of said planet; no references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.”

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Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Twenty-Four “The Ultimate Computer”

Stardate: 4729.4 (2268)
Original Air Date: March 8, 1968
Writer: D. C. Fontana/Laurence N. Wolfe
Director: John Meredyth Lucas

“We’re all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that’s different. And it always will be different.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise has been inexplicably ordered to a remote space station where most of the crew has been ordered to a secure holding facility. What is going on? Kirk demands an explanation from Starfleet and so Commodore Enwright (voiced by James Doohan) decides to send another Starfleet Commodore aboard the Enterprise to explain the situation. Commodore Robert “Bob” Wesley (Barry Russo) arrives and says that the Enterprise is scheduled to be “the fox in the hunt” for a series of covert war games. The purpose is to test the strength and viability of a new “ultimate computer” called the M-5, the most ambitious computer ever developed which has been designed to correlate all computer activity aboard a starship. The M-5 was built by a brilliant computer engineer named Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall). It is actually the fifth such computer of its kind, a Multitronic unit (the first four versions, M-1 through M-4, all mysteriously failed). We learn all of this information thanks to Spock’s expertise as an A-7 classified computer expert. Additionally, we learn that Dr. Daystrom’s purpose in building this computer is actually altruistic, he believes it will alleviate a great burden on humanity. Like all forms of technology, it begins in a flurry of salvific optimism, but it faces a great degeneration in the face of human moral failings:

“Men no longer need die in space or on some alien world! Men can live and go on to achieve greater things than fact-finding and dying for galactic space, which is neither ours to give or to take!”

Thus, the game is set –the Enterprise will be used as a test for this new super computer amidst a series of conflict simulations. With a thinning crew of merely 20 people, one of whom is Dr. Daystrom, the Enterprise departs with M-5 at the helm. Spock remains cautiously optimistic about the computer’s efficiency, while Dr. McCoy is cynical about the idea of granting a computer such tremendous power over the ship. What happens if something goes awry? Are there enough crewmen aboard the ship to regain control? This episode sets up a brilliant confrontation between the organic ingenuity of Kirk versus the sterile encroachment of the M-5’s speed and efficiency. For Kirk, artificial intelligence quickly becomes a direct threat to his livelihood.

As part of the exercise, the Enterprise arrives at Alpha Carinae II, a class-M planet with two major land masses, a number of islands, and unspecified life form readings. Suddenly, the power is shut down on deck 4 and then on deck 5, as well. As it turns out, the M-5 computer has begun shutting down power to areas of the ship in order to absorb more power for itself (an ominous bit of foreshadowing). Kirk and the computer then disagree over the personnel who should be involved in the landing party on Alpha Carinae II. Notably, the M-5 computer believes Kirk and Dr. McCoy are “non-essential personnel” and are not necessary to on the planet’s surface. An angry Kirk defends the essential nature of his own value judgments as captain which are superior to mere computational calculations, but Dr. Daystrom continues to defend his machine. Next, two starships approach for the war games –the U.S.S. Lexington and the Excalibur– and the M-5 passes its first series of tests with flying colors leading Commodore Wesley to taunt Kirk for being “Captain Dunsel” –a “dunsel” is a pejorative term used around Starfleet which refers to a part without a purpose. Despite the apparent success of the M-5, Spock begins to expressly distrust the computer’s power. Speaking with Kirk privately, Spock remarks:

“Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them. Captain, the starship also runs on loyalty to one man. And nothing can replace it, or him.”

Soon a large unidentified ship approaches, but this time it is not a drill. The Woden, listed in the Starfleet Registry, is an old-style ore freighter converted into a fully automated ship with no crew aboard. However, the computer does not seem to understand the Woden’s purpose. The M-5 then takes full control of the Enterprise and fires photon torpedos, traveling far out of its way in order to destroy the ore freighter. The M-5 then goes rogue and prevents the Enterprise crew from disabling its own source of power. It kills a redshirt and taps the Enterprise’s warp engines in order to grant itself virtually unlimited power. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is set to reach its rendezvous point in one hour and Kirk and crew decide they must regain control of the ship before then. Spock develops an idea: the automatic helm navigation circuit relays might be disrupted from Engineering Level III so that he ship can be piloted manually, but the M-5 remains one step ahead and plan is quickly foiled.

Dr. Daystrom reveals how he built the computer –via a method of impressing human engrams onto the computer circuits, not unlike synapses in the human brain, and that he used his own engrams so that the M-5 is like a mirror of Dr. Daystrom’s mind. While they plot a way to regain control of the ship, the Enterprise arrives at the rendezvous point and the M-5 guides the Enterprise toward several Federation ships and begins firing phasers at the Hood, Potemkin, Lexington, and Excalibur (within moments 53 crewmen are killed aboard the Lexington and 12 are killed on the Excalibur, while 1,600 men and women still lie in the path of the M-5). Tragically, a computer which was designed to save mankind is now actually destroying it. Dr. Daystrom then appears on the edge of a nervous breakdown as he manically rants about his own greatness, he was once apparently known as the “boy wonder,” before Spock quickly knocks him out with a Vulcan nerve pinch.

In the end, with a bit of luck and human ingenuity, Kirk manages to persuade the M-5 that killing humans is contrary to its purpose, and he persuades the M-5 to destroy itself to atone for its own sin of committing murder (another scenario in which Kirk “talks a computer to death” similar to “The Return of the Archons” and “The Changeling”). Additionally, Kirk gambles his way out of further confrontation with Starfleet as Commodore Wesley decides not to launch a return attack on the Enterprise when Kirk surprisingly orders the shields lowered –thankfully Kirk’s unpredictable human know-how saves the day.

“Compassion. That’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them.”

In an age of rising artificial intelligence, wherein factories, spaceships, airplanes, and cars are increasingly powered by autonomous machines, and many forms of employment from cashiers and bank tellers to truck drivers and office administrators, remain under the looming threat of being “automated away,” this wonderful episode serves as a prescient reminder that our present-day conundrum has actually been a persistent source of anxiety since the 1960s (and even much earlier in the Industrial Revolution). The M-5 proves to be one of the most formidable opponents yet faced by the Enterprise, and once again it is the result of hubris among a cynical clutch of bureaucratic elites within Starfleet who seem all too eager to witness Kirk’s downfall. The notion that a starship captain’s unique role could simply be handed over to a computer for efficiency is patently absurd, especially for a ship like the Enterprise whose primary mission is to traverse into previously unexplored regions.  

This is also a smilingly fun episode. There is lots of playful banter between Spock and Dr. McCoy on an adventure which was obviously produced on the cheap as no additional sets were needed by the Star Trek production staff, however I was most struck by the character of Dr. Richard Daystrom. He is a brilliant scientist whose inventions quite literally power Starfleet, even if his most recent string of experimental computers (the M-1 through M-5) have all been failures. In some ways, he is equally as important as Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of Warp Drive (as featured in the TOS episode “The Metamorphosis” or the TNG movie First Contact among other iterations of Star Trek). At any rate, after Dr. Daystrom’s breakdown, he is set to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility. I would be curious to dive further into his story –perhaps it is a question for a future Star Trek writer if it has not already been done.

This was the only TOS episode written by Laurence N. Wolfe, a mathematician who was fascinated with computers. As a friend of Ray Bradbury, he gave Bradbury a “Spec script” and Bradbury then shared it with Gene Roddenberry who liked the idea (Roddenberry had always wanted Ray Bradbury to write a script for TOS but alas it never came to pass). The rough script was also given significant rewrites by D.C. Fontana. By all accounts at this point in the Star Trek production things were a bit haywire behind the scenes. Gene Coon had left as had Joseph Pevney and D.C. Fontana was soon to follow them. John Meredyth Lucas purchased this script because he knew it would be a cheap story to produce using only existing Enterprise sets and he decided to direct the episode himself.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • In this episode, Spock says he is a classified A-7 computer expert.
  • We learn that “Dunsel” is a term used by Starfleet to refer to a part that serves no use or purpose.
  • African American actor William Marshall was known for his baritone voice and for appearing in the 1970s Blacula blaxploitation film series as well as a variety of television shows. He portrays Dr. Richard Daystrom in this episode, whose name was originally John Daystrom in the original script draft.
  • Apparently, Dr. Daystrom appears in several Star Trek novels and the future “Daystrom Institute” is referred to in TNG. Kirk compares Daystrom to several geniuses: Einstein, Kazanga, and Sitar of Vulcan.
  • James Doohan once again provides the voice for the M-5 computer in this episode. He also provides the voice of the unseen Commodore Enwright.
  • George Duning’s score for “Metamorphosis” is re-used in portions of this episode, particularly when Kirk fantasizes about sailing on the high seas (he previously expressed a similar fantasy in “Balance of Terror”).
  • Barry Russo plays Commodore Wesley in this episode. Previously, he appeared as Commodore Giotto in “The Devil in the Dark.”
  • Sean Morgan plays the redshirt Ensign Harper in this episode. Previously, he appeared as Brenner in “Balance of Terror” and O’Neil in “The Return of the Archons” and “The Tholian Web.”
  • Interestingly enough, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released less than a month after this episode aired.
  • In this episode, it is revealed that there are 430 crewmen aboard a typical starship.

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