Director: Marc Daniels
Writer: Norman Spinrad
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, William Windom, James Doohan, George Takei, Elizabeth Rodgers, John Winston, Richard Compton, John Copage, Tim Burns, and Jerry Catron
Composer: Sol Kaplan
Air Date: 10/20/1967
Production #: 60335
After passing through the remains of systems L-370 and L-374, the Enterprise happens upon the battered ruins of her sister ship, the USS Constellation. Devastated by the loss of his crew, Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom) informs Kirk of a machine that utilizes an antiproton beam to annihilate any planets located in its path. Upon further investigation, Spock determines that if the planet killer is allowed to continue on its current trajectory, it will eventually arrive in the most densely populated region of the galaxy.
The quintessential Star Trek offering, “The Doomsday Machine” maintains a riveting atmosphere from start to finish. Though limited by 1960s practical effects, this episode will appeal to viewers who possess an interest in hypothetical technology coupled with penetrating social commentary.
By portraying the commodore as an anguished but ruthless man who passionately pursues a mindless beast across the cosmos, William Windom established the first of many “Captain Ahab” characters to appear within the Star Trek franchise. Traumatized by failure to save his crew, Decker creates enormous tension by choosing to engage the eponymous doomsday weapon and thus, endangering the lives of every person onboard the Enterprise. Sol Kaplan’s haunting score heightens the suspense caused by Decker’s duel with the planet killer, giving the battle between man and machine a nightmarish quality that would remain unparalleled until the introduction of the Borg, over two decades later.
Spock also gets a chance to shine during his heated interactions with Decker, whose fierce and unrelenting combat methods often clash with the Vulcan scientist’s more cautious sensibilities. The conflict involving both characters reaches its climax only when Spock, bound by the authority of a superior but dangerously unstable officer, is forced to decide between relieving Decker of his command and facing court martial as a result, and allowing the commodore to continue jeopardizing Kirk’s crew out of a futile desire for vengeance.
A commentary on mutual assured destruction, “The Doomsday Machine” offers a resonating analysis on one of the Cold War’s most frightening theoretical outcomes. As if nuclear weapons weren’t scary enough, Norman Spinrad’s narrative examines the aforementioned military doctrine on an interstellar scale, in which at least one of two planetary superpowers has unleashed a device capable of destroying not only its target, but also every populated planet in the entire galaxy. While this obvious critique on nuclear devastation seems less relevant in modern times, even young audiences should be able to appreciate the groundbreaking science fiction aspects that this episode explores.
Often regarded as the greatest and most thrilling Star Trek installment of all time, “The Doomsday Machine” remains a true series classic nearly fifty years after its initial broadcast. Science fiction enthusiasts should appreciate Spinrad’s use of futuristic technology as a vehicle for examining 20th century political themes, while others will enjoy Windom’s phenomenal performance as the tormented but ultimately heroic Commodore Decker.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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