It’s time for…Star Trek Saturdays #37!
This week’s episode is “The Doomsday Machine,” and it’s a showcase not only for a powerful guest star, but also demonstrates why the remastered versions of the original episodes–which are the ones I’m watching if you don’t remember or are new to this feature–are worth watching.
We open with the Enterprise receiving a faint starship disaster beacon, the only word of which they can make out is the word “Constellation.” At the same time, they encounter heavy subspace interference. Proceeding to star system L-370, they find that all planets have been destroyed, which is odd because they only surveyed htis system last year with all the planets intact. Proceeding to star system L-374, they find the same thing, except two inner planets are still remaining.
They also find the drifting, powerless husk of the Enterprise‘s sister ship, the Constellation. Assuming at once that they were attacked, Kirk brings the Enterprise to red alert.
Subspace interference is still present, but the sensors are able to tell that the Constellation‘s bridge is uninhabitable, the ship’s power plants are dead, and it is running with minimal life support. Detecting no other ships in the area, Kirk brings his ship down to yellow alert and, leaving Spock in command, has himself, McCoy, Scotty and a damage control team beamed over.
Arriving there, they find the warp engines exhausted and the phaser banks depleted, signs that the ship fought a huge battle and lost. Kirk wonders if the crew couldn’t have beamed down to one of the two surviving planets, but Scotty informs him that’s impossible: the first planet has a surface temperature akin to the boiling point of lead and the second’s atmosphere is too toxic to support human life. Kirk and McCoy journey through the rest of the ship, finding no survivors or bodies until, hunched over in the auxiliary control room in a fugue state, they find the ship’s commander, Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom).
Decker is still blindly panicking about whatever his ship faced until McCoy gives him an injection. He begins to come around, eventually recognizing Kirk. Scott manages to restore communications on the ship and finds and begins to play back Decker’s captain’s log, which reveals that the Constellation initially entered the system to investigate readings showing one of the planets breaking up. Kirk orders the Constellation‘s sensor tapes beamed back to the Enterprise for analysis.
Beginning to recall what happened, Decker horrifically recounts how his ship was attacked and disabled and, unable to request assistance due to subspace interference, he was forced to beam his entire crew down to the third planet in the system. The ship was then attacked again with its transporters disabled, leaving Decker stranded. Then the planet was destroyed by “something right out of hell,” with Decker helpless to do anything but listen to his crew scream for help as they were destroyed and he collapses in grief.
Recovering, he says that the attacker was “miles long, with a maw that could swallow a dozen starships.” He says it uses a pure antiproton beam to carve planets up into rubble. He further says that he couldn’t tell if it was a ship or a living organism.
Spock reports from the Enterprise, saying that the sensor tapes indicate the “planet killer” is some sort of automated weapon created to destroy planets and then digest the matter for fuel. He says that he and Sulu have mapped out that the creature is from outside the galaxy and will continue to ravage planets as long as they are there for it to destroy.
Kirk theorizes to McCoy that the killer must be some sort of doomsday weapon created by a far-distant race and has now outlived the conflict for which it was created. McCoy, concerned about Decker’s mental state, wants to get him back to sickbay; Decker refuses to leave his ship, but agrees to do so when Kirk offers to tow the Constellation. McCoy and Decker beam back over to the Enterprise while Kirk and Scott stay on the other ship to prepare her for towing.
McCoy and Decker materialize in the transport room to find the red alert sounding and, rushing to the bridge, they find that the planet killer has returned, and has set its sights on the Enterprise.
Kirk orders that he and the rest be beamed back to the Enterprise, but the planet killer attacks and damages the ship’s transporters and communications before it can do so, leaving Kirk, Scott and the rest stranded on the Constellation with no way of moving.
The Enterprise, meanwhile, outruns the planet killer and Spock announces his intention to swing around the monster, pick up Kirk and the rest, and then, evading the planet killer’s subspace field which has been the cause of all the interference, connect with Starfleet. But Decker, saying that their primary duty is to defend the rest of the Federation, invokes regulation and uses his superior rank to take over, ordering the Enterprise to attack.
What will Decker do? And what will Kirk do, stranded far from his own ship?
There are three things this episode is a showcase for: 1. The performance of William Windom, who is absolutely captivating, giving us a portrayal of a man stricken and enraged by grief enough to attempt the impossible. 2. The music, which is incredible, full of tension and excitement. 3. The talents of the remastering effects team, who go all out in depicting the wreck of the Constellation, as well as the ferocity of the planet killer.
Besides Windom, the cast is stellar, although, oddly, Uhura isn’t present for this episode. Spock, strangely enough, in the course of his actions, demonstrates some parallels to Kirk in the 2009 Trek reboot; at least that’s how I see it.
This episode has been called “Moby Dick in space,” and even more so than The Wrath of Khan, the comparison is very apt, with the unfeeling planet killer a perfect stand-in for the white whale. Clearly, that’s the comparison script writer Norman Spinrod wanted to make, and he succeeds with some solid writing that gives us some very big stakes in an apocalyptic scenario. Marc Daniels returns to direct, and he amps up that tension with every shot, and nicely frames Windom so that he is the center of everything every time he appears on screen. This episode is tense, exciting and heartbreaking all at once, and you can see its shadow extend throughout the franchise.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you in two Saturday’s time and until then, live long and prosper.