|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season Two: Ep. 2.6 “The Doomsday Machine” – (Original air date: Friday, October 20, 1967)

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “The Doomsday Machine.”

  • On this date in history: The #1 song on the US charts this week was Lulu’s “To Sir With Love.” A bit of a tempo change after weeks of “The Letter,” but I’ve always liked this song. Lulu was, and still is, a Scottish singer-songwriter, and she also acted in the Sidney Poitier movie To Sir, with Love, which this song was written for. It went on to become the best-selling US single of 1967, but only charted at #11 as a B-side to another song in the UK.
  • Meanwhile, in the UK, the Bee Gees still rule the charts with “Massachusetts.”
  • On Wednesday, October 18, 1967, the animated version of The Jungle Book was released. It was the last Disney production that Walt was involved with before he passed. I remember first seeing this on television, and particularly remember the “Bare Necessities” sequence.
  • On this same day, the famous Patterson-Gimlin film featuring a creature purported to be Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, is recorded in Bluff Creek, California. You know the film I’m talking about. It’s the one with Bigfoot looking back over its shoulder at the camera operator.
  • Believe it or not, the authenticity of this film is still being hotly debated to this day. For the record: I land on the side of “fake.”
  • The following day, the Egyptians sink an Israeli destroyer, killing 47 Israeli sailors. Israel retaliates by bombing Egyptian refineries along the Suez Canal.
  • This is not the trouble in the Suez that Billy Joel was singing about in “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” That was the earlier Arab-Israeli conflict in the ’50s. I looked it up.
  • When I watched this episode for my personal rewatch, I found that I had virtually no recollection of ever seeing it at all. I’m sure I did. Maybe it was one of those episodes that wasn’t shown as often in syndication.
  • Or, it may be because I’m watching the remastered versions this time, and this episode had approximately three times the average remastered effects. So, in a sense, I was watching a lot of it for the first time.
  • James Doohan, our favorite chief engineer, mentioned several times that “The Doomsday Machine” was his favorite TOS episode, even though it wasn’t a particularly Scotty-centric episode.
  • On the other hand, D.C. Fontana has named this her least favorite TOS episode.
  • If anyone has ever asked Lulu what she thinks about this episode, it hasn’t been recorded.
  • I’m somewhere in the middle in this particular debate.
  • In the teaser, some blonde named Palmer is sitting where Uhura should be. Uhura doesn’t appear in this episode. Neither does Chekov.
  • Plus, Kirk is wearing that damned green wraparound tunic that I despise. Major negative points right off the bat.
  • Lt. Palmer is picking up a signal that is apparently from a ship’s disaster beacon. She can make out the word “Constellation,” but that’s pretty much all.
  • Also, all the planets in System L-370 have been destroyed, although the star itself remains intact.
  • Subspace interference prevents the USS Enterprise from reporting their findings to Starfleet Command.
  • They continue on to System L-374 and discover a similar phenomenon. It appears all planets in the sector have been destroyed except for the two inner planets of this system.
  • In L-374 they also discover the USS Constellation, floating damaged and dead in space.
  • The Constellation looks just like Enterprise. It is another Constitution-Class starship. The first we’ve seen, I believe.
  • Captain Kirk naturally assumes the ship has been attacked and orders the Enterprise to go to red-alert status. End of Teaser.
  • As Act One begins, Kirk orders the ship’s status dropped to yellow alert after no other ships are detected in the area.
  • Spock is left in charge of the Enterprise while a boarding party consisting of Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and some cannon fodder beams aboard the Constellation. Commander Scott announces that the warp engines are completely destroyed and the impulse engines damaged.
  • The phaser banks are exhausted as well, which indicates the ship engaged in a fierce battle and, obviously, lost.
  • But, there are no bodies or any obvious signs of life (as far as they can tell: the subspace inference is mucking up their sensor readings).
  • As Kirk points out, there also isn’t any clutter or half-empty cups of coffee. Whatever happened didn’t happen without warning. Not quite the mystery of the Mary Celeste, but in the same ballpark.
  • Where could the crew of 400-plus be? Kirk wants to know, too.
  • Spock says the two planets that remain in the system could not sustain human life. The inner planet has a surface temperature of molten lead. The other has an atmosphere poisonous to human life.
  • They should still have checked the one with the poisonous atmosphere. There could be survivors in EVA suits (which we never saw in TOS up to this point) still alive.
  • The point is moot, however, after they discover Commodore Matt Decker in the Auxiliary Control Room. He is conscious, but obviously in a state of shock.
  • Since the guys over at 15-Minute Federation are wrapping up their dissection of Star Trek: The Motion Picture even as I write this, I have to point out that Williard “Belay That Phaser Order” Decker was meant to be the son of Commodore Decker from “The Doomsday Machine.” This was never mentioned in the movie, of course.
  • If it had been mentioned, Kirk and the crew would have had to talk about how the whole V’ger mess seemed to be a plot cobbled together from this episode and “The Changeling,” another Season 2 episode which aired less than a month before “The Doomsday Machine.”
  • Just sayin’.
  • McCoy injects Commodore Decker with a hypospray, and he begins to come around. Although, in the vernacular of my people, that ol’ boy still ain’t right in the head.
  • Decker beamed his crew down to the third planet. He’s the last one on the ship, as is fitting. Since the planet eater out there destroyed the third planet, the entire crew is dead. That is a bad day at work.
  • Decker: “They say there’s no devil, Jim, but there is. Right out of Hell, I saw it.”
  • PTSD, for sure. And, who could blame him?
  • Decker describes the thing that attacked him and ate all the planets as being miles long, with a maw that could swallow a dozen starships. It slices chunks out of the planets with a pure antiproton force beam.
  • Two things I want to point out while I halt the narrative for a moment.
  • First, Galactus, the cosmic planet-eater created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, first appeared a few years before this episode. I’m not saying that the idea was stolen since I’m sure the idea of planet-eaters appeared in science fiction literature even before the 1960s (plus, Kirby and Lee didn’t deal in wholly original ideas, strictly speaking).
  • Second, a question: Could the Thresher Maws of the Mass Effect video game series have been the offspring of the creature from this episode?
  • I’ll answer my own question here. No, they could not, because this episode goes out of its way to say that the planet eater is a machine, not a living creature.
  • I’m not certain why this distinction was necessary. Writer Norman Spinrad wanted it to be a living creature, we’re told. But Trek made it into a machine. A Doomsday Machine.
  • If nothing else, it makes for a great episode title.
  • The antimatter in the ship’s warp drive pods has somehow been deactivated, possibly by an energy dampening field, which could also account for the subspace interference.
  • Based on the path that the planet-eater has been taking, Sulu determines that the killer robot originated from outside the galaxy, and, if it stays on its present course, it will go through the most densely populated section of our galaxy.
  • Kirk speculates that the planet-eater could be a doomsday machine, which is a weapon built primarily as a bluff. It’s the type of weapon that’s never intended to be used, like the H-bomb was supposed to be.
  • Since the Cold War was still going on while this episode aired, MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) was a very real thing, with the nuclear weapons stockpiled by both the USA and USSR serving as a type of doomsday machine that no one ever wanted to see used.
  • Commodore Decker doesn’t really care why the doomsday machine was created. He just wants to know what they’re going to do about it.
  • When McCoy and Decker are beamed on board the Enterprise, Spock is calling for a Red Alert. The planet-eater is pursuing the Enterprise now, attracted by the energy in her power nacelles.
  • We go into Act Two with the Enterprise under attack by what appears to be a giant windsock.
  • The original model for the planet killer was, in fact, a windsock dipped in cement. This design didn’t bother me, although it gives the machine a more organic than robotic appearance, in my opinion. I still prefer to think of it as a living creature.
  • Anyway, after the giant windsock attack, Kirk and the rest of the landing party are stuck on the Constellation. Transporters are out, Kirk has no way to maneuver the Constellation, or to communicate with the Enterprise.
  • Now, if Uhura were around, it might be a different story. She’d find a way to communicate.
  • Scotty, meanwhile, is trying to repair the Constellation‘s impulse engines.
  • Back on the Enterprise, however, Decker is using his rank of commodore to assume command. The actor claims he didn’t realize that he was basically playing Captain Ahab in his scenes, but that seems unlikely, unless he was wholly unfamiliar with the story of Moby Dick.
  • Since the Enterprise‘s warp and impulse engines are undamaged, they manage to evade the planet killer, which resumes its previous course towards the Rigel system.
  • Spock’s plan is to keep their distance from the planet killer, circle around and pick up the landing party from the Constellation, and stay clear of subspace interference so that they can contact Starfleet Command and warn it of the danger.
  • Decker pulls rank, rattling off some General Order number such-and-such, and countermands Spock’s orders. Their first duty is to protect Federation citizens, and he wants to attack the planet killer at once, using full phasers, even though Spock points out that phasers stand little chance of penetrating the killer’s solid neutronium hull.
  • That cement windsock has some heavy duty skin, even though neutronium is only another example of bolognium.
  • McCoy offers to declare Decker unfit for command (which would allow Spock to resume the role), but, since he hadn’t the time to complete Decker’s examination, his ruling might carry little weight.
  • So Decker remains in command, even though he looks like hell.
  • Meanwhile, back on Decker’s last ship, the viewscreen has been repaired in time for Kirk and the gang to watch the Enterprise getting dangerously close to the planet-eating windsock. Phasers fire, having no effect (as Spock said they wouldn’t).
  • Decker continues to refuse Spock’s suggestions to retreat.
  • While Kirk can now see the action taking place, the engines still haven’t been repaired and he is still unable to communicate with his old ship. Kirk is effectively impotent, and he’s not familiar with that particular affliction.
  • The windsock fires on the Enterprise again, disabling shields. Lt. Palmer—this episode’s Uhura—reports casualties on decks 3 and 4. And, by the way, there is an inner hull breach. That sounds dangerous.
  • The doomsday machine uses a tractor beam to begin pulling the Enterprise into its vast maw. It’s decided to turn the irritating starship into a tiny snack.
  • Spock says they must veer off from the killer machine now. Without warp drive capabilities, they must break away from the tractor beam in the next 60 seconds, or they never will.
  • Decker has his full-Ahab on now, though, and insists on continuing to attack the planet killer. Spock threatens to relieve Decker of command, since Decker’s orders are evidence of attempted suicide, proof of Decker’s instability.
  • Decker relents and orders Sulu to veer off from the planet killer.
  • Of course, the order comes too late. The tractor beam continues to pull the ship inside. End of Act Two.
  • Scotty always waits for Act Three to begin, so he can start to look like a hero. The Constellation now has impulse engines, though Kirk has to move from station to station to maneuver the wounded ship through space.
  • Back on our favorite ship, full power astern isn’t enough juice to break free of the tractor beam.
  • Kirk wishes for phasers, and Scotty—engineering genie that he is—provides one bank of phasers fully recharged. Kirk fires at the windsock, which causes it to release the Enterprise and come about to pursue Decker’s old ship.
  • Suddenly, Kirk’s plan seems to have at least one major flaw: Kirk and the landing party are surely about to die.
  • Only, they don’t, because Decker returns the favor by firing phasers at the doomsday device again, then calling for a retreat.
  • Spock says warp drive and deflectors will be out for a full solar day.
  • Meanwhile, the planet killer is refueling itself by continuing to consume planet chunks. Spock estimates that the Enterprise can maintain their current speed for only seven hours before they exhaust their own fuel supply.
  • To Decker, this means their logical course of action is to fight the machine now.
  • Spock dismisses this as illogical. He insists that they need to rescue the boarding party from the Constellation and escape the subspace interference to warn Starfleet Command.
  • Uh, basically, what he’s been saying since the beginning.
  • Ship-to-ship communications are restored. Captain Kirk is, understandably, peeved at Decker’s actions. He is generally insubordinate to the commodore, and then orders Spock to assume command of the Enterprise on his authority as its captain.
  • Spock does as ordered by Kirk. To heck with regulations. He even threatens to place Decker under arrest. Decker relents, and Spock sends him to sickbay, where his medical examination can be continued.
  • In time-honored tradition, Commodore Decker overpowers the security guard escorting him to sickbay, and immediately heads for the hangar deck where the shuttlecraft are parked.
  • Decker intends to fly the shuttlecraft right down the machine’s throat, since they can’t penetrate its hull. He tells this to Kirk over comms. Decker’s been prepared to die ever since he accidentally killed his entire crew.
  • Decker flies into the hungry maw and dies. Apparently for nothing, since it has no effect on the doomsday machine.
  • In Act Four, Kirk suggests that Decker may have had the right idea, but not enough power to carry it out. Overloading the impulse engines of the Constellation will result in a fusion explosion of 97.835 megatons (according to Spock).
  • If you require a frame of reference for comparison, the Hiroshima bomb, “Little Boy,” measured around 0.018 megatons. So this explosion would be more than 5,000 times the size of that one. In other words, a big-ass bomb.
  • Kirk intends to follow Decker’s plan of “ramming this thing down its throat.” Maybe they can’t penetrate the supermanium hull of the doomsday machine, but they can certainly give its innards a stir. It’s like swallowing a ghost pepper whole.
  • Scotty rigs up a thirty-second delay detonation device which Kirk plans to set off from the Constellation‘s auxiliary control room. Scotty makes it back to the Enterprise, but the transporter immediately goes on the fritz again and must be repaired before Kirk can be beamed aboard.
  • The dramatic clock is ticking loudly as Scotty jury-rigs the transporter circuits and Kirk activates the detonation device. Kirk may just possibly die in this last heroic ride into the doomsday machine’s planet eating maw.
  • But, of course, he doesn’t. Scotty grants Kirk his third wish and saves him at the last minute.
  • It wouldn’t have made any sense at the time, since this episode predates Jaws by at least eight or nine years, but, in my mind, Kirk says, “Smile, you son of a bitch” as the planet killer is itself killed.
  • During the customary bridge outro, Commodore Decker’s death is lamented and Kirk points of the irony of using a form of the H-bomb, the 20th Century doomsday machine, to kill this 23rd Century version. Spock wonders if there might be other such devices wandering the universe.
  • As the movies will reveal, there are. But, this one won’t be mentioned again when they are encountered.
  • End of episode.

I discovered quite a lot to like about this episode. It was a high-stakes, high-drama story, both with the threat of the massive planet eater and another douchey commodore throwing his rank around. They also managed to find a guest star who could out-overact Shatner. William Windom wonderfully portrayed the obsessive madness of Commodore Decker to the point where I questioned whether the actor himself was on some sort of drug-and-alcohol bender during the filming of the episode. He probably wasn’t, but it was the late ’60s.

After some hair-pulling and self-reflection, this one doesn’t quite make my All-Time Best Trek List, but it comes close. “The Doomsday Machine” earns 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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