It’s time for…Star Trek Saturdays #39!
This week’s episode is “The Changeling,” which puts Kirk in an interesting position and tests his command, while giving us a much better “menace aboard the story” than, say, “The Man Trap.”
We open with the Enterprise en route to the Malurian star system, responding to a distress signal. Uhura, however, has received no response to her hails on any frequency, even a special wavelength to a transmitter operated by a Federation science team that Kirk reminds her of. Spock’s sensor data reports the unfathomable: although there should be over four million Malurians in the system, there’s no trace of any life whatsoever. Kirk and Spock postulate what could have caused such a genocide, when a large, green bolt of energy comes out of nowhere and abruptly attacks the Enterprise, knocking everyone on the bridge down to the floor.
The ship remains intact thanks to its shields, which Scotty reports are down by 20% and can only survive three more attacks like that. The ship eventually loses its shields to the repeated attacks; they attempt to launch a photon torpedo at the small object emitting the energy, but the torpedo is quickly absorbed. Desperate, Kirk orders Uhura to hail the small object. She does, with Kirk sending a message, and the object responds in an unintelligible pattern that Spock eventually recognizes as very old binary code. The Enterprise‘s science team eventually translates the code, and the object eventually identifies itself as Nomad, saying its mission is non-hostile.
With sensors reporting that Nomad is only a little over a meter tall, Kirk orders it beamed aboard. Scotty protests, but Kirk says it’s better that they can monitor Nomad at close range, rather than have it attack them. He, Spock and McCoy meet it in the transporter room.
Nomad (voiced by Vic Perrin) addresses Kirk as “Creator” and every other member of the crew as a “biological unit” belonging to the “Creator.” Left to its own devices, Nomad hears Uhura singing on an open channel. Curious, it goes to the bridge and asks Uhura as to what purpose singing serves. When she can’t come up with an answer it deems satisfactory, it extends a probe and emits a weird ray of light around her head, wiping her memory.
Enraged, Scotty rushes towards Nomad, but it fires a laser at him just as Kirk, Spock and McCoy arrive at the bridge. Scotty is thrown back against a bulkhead and, as McCoy grimly reports, “He’s dead, Jim.”
Furious, Kirk shouts at Nomad, asking it why it would do such a thing, as Uhura and Scotty’s body are carried off to sickbay. Nomad responds that it was only protecting itself, that Uhura was imperfect, and offers to restore Scotty to life, which it does after being fed information on human anatomy and Scotty in particular. Still angry, Kirk and Spock research Nomad in the ship’s historical archives, learning that Nomad is actually an historical Earth probe sent out to discover interstellar life in, according to Memory Alpha, 2002. However, contact was lost when Nomad got caught in a meteor shower, and it was believed to be destroyed. It’s also learned that Nomad was also created by one Dr. Jackson Roykirk; Spock postulates that, with its memory banks damaged as a result of the meteor shower, Nomad believes Kirk to be Roykirk.
Putting Nomad in a holding area guarded by security personnel, Spock, despite the danger, mind melds with Nomad, although the process overwhelms him and Kirk has to force Nomad to disconnect the mind-meld. Spock, exhausted, informs Kirk that after being caught in the meteor shower, Nomad, heavily damaged, came into contact with an alien probe named Tan Ru, which was sent out by an alien civilization to collect and sterilize soil samples from other planets (as prelude to conquest). The two probes repaired and merged with one another, with the memory-impaired Nomad now believing its mission is to seek out new lifeforms and correct all that is imperfect by sterilizing it.
Unfortunately, the mind meld and a slip of the tongue from Kirk makes Nomad realize that its creator is an “imperfect biological unit” and, by its parameters, must be eradicated. It decides to commandeer the ship. Can Kirk and Spock stop it in time…?
This episode is the closest we’ve had to a bottle episode, taking place entirely onboard the ship. Although the notion of a monster stalking the ship is something we’ve seen on Trek before, Nomad is easily the best villain that this sort of story has had yet.
Credit for this goes to John Meredyth Lucas’s script, which gives every spotlighted crew member a bone to pick with Nomad and makes the probe a formidable adversary. In particular, the final gambit Kirk undertakes–which plays out like a Batman Gambit— against Nomad is breathtaking in its audacity and highlights just how heroic the captain is.
Having to work largely with pre-existing sets, Marc Daniels turns in some remarkable work, exploring every facet of the ship and making it feel like a real, breathing space. He also gives what happens to Scotty and Uhura some real heft, rather than just random incidents.
The cast is what sells it, though. In particular, Vic Perrin–returning after having previously voiced the Metron in “Arena”–is a standout as the voice of Nomad. Although this film was a year away when this episode aired, I saw bits of HAL 9000 in his performance, as a being governed by logic going to horrifying extremes to stick by it. William Shatner is dynamite as Kirk, showing the wily captain at the very height of his cunning. Nichelle Nichols actually gets something to do as Uhura, for a change; the naivete with which she has to imbue the memory-wiped Uhura is marvelously done, even if Uhura’s ultimate fate is kinda glossed over. Jim Doohan gives Scotty some great heroic feeling, and it’s not hard to see, watching his selflessness towards Uhura here, why, in the ’80s, it was decided to flesh out the relationship between Scotty and Uhura more.
Despite no alien threats, this is still a great episode because it pits the crew up against something they can’t even begin to understand. Check it out.
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 next time and until then, live long and prosper.