Director: John Meredyth Lucas
Writer: D.C. Fontana
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, William Marshall, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Sean Morgan, and Barry Russo
Composers: Sol Kaplan and Fred Steiner
Air Date: 3/8/1968
Production #: 60353
Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall) invents a multitronic unit capable of making tactical decisions more effectively than a starship captain ever could. After a successful battle simulation, Kirk fears for the security of his job; however, upon assuming total control of the Enterprise, the M-5 computer continues to engage starships Lexington and Excalibur as if legitimately threatened by their benign attacks.
A classic episode, “The Ultimate Computer” pits Captain Kirk against a most unlikely, albeit formidable, opponent. In addition to its riveting action sequences, this episode will appeal to Star Trek fans with its commentary on artificial intelligence as a potential threat to the distinct abilities and talents of human beings.
When the M-5 satisfies every expectation and more, sensitive viewers will no doubt feel tremendous sympathy for Kirk given his superfluous position aboard the Enterprise. Also worth mentioning is an almost gloating reaction from Commodore Wesley (Barry Russo), which further establishes Kirk’s apparent loss of purpose (of course, the commodore’s insensitive attitude seems to contradict his compassionate nature as demonstrated during the climactic scene).
An abrupt twist of fate occurs around the halfway mark, with Daystrom now forced to defend the need for an artificial intelligence gone horribly awry. William Marshall’s subtle performance lends credibility to Daystrom’s genius prior to this point, while a gradual sense of helplessness culminating in a nervous breakdown provides the audience with sufficient reason to connect with this brilliant but terribly misguided individual. Given that Kirk and Daystrom are both confronted with the prospect of failed careers at different points in D.C. Fontana’s narrative, the latter character’s eventual descent into madness will leave fans wondering whether a similar fate could have befallen the captain had he not been vindicated by the M-5’s disastrous outcome.
A jovial conclusion centering on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy serves to undermine the tragic results of Daystrom’s invention.
“The Ultimate Computer” operates on the premise of technology one day allowing for automation to supersede the judgement of a person, with Daystrom going so far as to suggest that mankind would no longer be required to explore the cosmos now that machines imprinted with human memory engrams could supposedly complete such a task at greater efficiency. Daystrom fails to realize, however, that a computer would never be able to experience the sense of wonder felt by a human being when confronted with the unknown, regardless of whether it possessed the same technical capabilities as a flesh-and-blood counterpart. This notion appears to reinforce the humanist philosophy upon which Star Trek was based, even if an improved model of Daystrom’s computer could hypothetically perform in a superior fashion to a starship captain and crew.
Thanks to Marshall’s convincing portrayal of an accomplished inventor driven to insanity and disgrace as a result of personal failure, “The Ultimate Computer” will satisfy those who enjoy Star Trek’s more intense offerings. Science fiction fans should likewise be intrigued by Fontana’s central thesis, which highlights the necessity of human reasoning skills in occupations involving uncertain variables.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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