Thursday, June 4, 2009

Star Trek--"The Doomsday Machine"

“The Doomsday Machine” is my favorite episode of TOS. Feel free to groan because I have passed over several more popular choices. The episode had a rare double intensity because two dramatic situations were occurring at once. the first was the sparring between Decker and Spock over command of the Enterprise and the proper way to deal with the doomsday machine. The other was Kirk and Scotty’s desperate attempt to get the Constellation fit to booby trap the doomsday machine. Every episode of TOS featured only an “A“ story, so episodes odten felt padded. Not here. The writer, Norman Spinrad, began tightening the screws in the first reel and did not stop until Kirk was narrowly beamed out before it all went kablooey.

It was also rare for a guest character to play as important a role as did Matt Decker. He got to play mad Ahab obsessed over hunting his whale to the hilt. While I will give Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the gold for its overt Moby Dick references, I appreciated the more subtle nuances here. The only aspect left out--and I debate whether it would have improved the episode--was Decker’s self-s sacrifice actually destroying the doomsaday machine. I suppose it would, as it would have robbed Kirk of the chance to swoop in at the last minute and save the day. It is his show, after all.

In short, this episode was the complete package. There as tons of action, both in space battles and a rather amusing fist fight with a red shirt who miraculously does not die because of it before Decker stole the shuttlecraft he committed suicide in. There was a worthy menace in the planet killing robot. The alpha dog struggle for command between cool, logical Spock who knows the increasingly crazy Decker should not be in charge, but there is nothing he can do about it, was played out perfectly. The sense the crew feared suffering the same fate as the Constellation’s crew was palpable, yet they soldiered on. ’The Doomsday Machine” reminded me of all the best elements of “The Balance of Terror,” which I called my favorite of the first season.

I have written before how I like stories of doomsday scenarios. Perhaps if I felt differently, I would be annoyed this episode came so soon after “The Changeling.” the two share quite a few elements. But I consider that you can never have too much of a good thing. I can even overlook the fact Kirk just speculates out of the blue what the planet killer is and everyone takes for granted he has hit the nail right on the head. He even delivers two separate speeches comparing it to the H-bomb. I have a tough time seeing a correlation between Mutually Assured Destruction and the insatiable force of nature he was battling at the time, but he is the captain. I shall trust his judgment.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)
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