4/17/12

Star Trek: Asterisk "The Doomsday Machine"

Vital Information
Series: The Original Series
Episode: S02E06
Air Date: October 20, 1967
Written by: Norman Spinrad
Directed by: Marc Daniels

Premise
The Enterprise investigates the destruction of a long line of planetary systems to find the culprit: an intergalactic planet-eating cornucopia of doom.

Review
So the Enterprise is going along in space, doing its thing, exploring, when suddenly a planetary system that was supposed to be there isn't. There's just a bunch of debris, but the star is still completely in tact. Upon further investigation, they get to the source of a distress signal and find the USS Constellation adrift and terribly damaged. And the worst part is that subspace interference is making it impossible for them to report all of this back to Starfleet. The logical thing to do: move closer to the fire.

Kirk takes a party over to the Constellation to find its commander, Matt Decker, and try to fix things up a bit. Scotty says the ship's warp drive is completely destroyed and the phaser banks are depleted, but impulse engines may be salvageable. He continues to suggest that they play back the tapes of the captain's log, so they go to the auxiliary control room to find Commodore Matt Decker in a state of shock. While Kirk and Scotty tend to him, Scotty plays the tapes. His memory boosted from the tapes, Decker explains frantically how his crew all abandoned ship to the third planet in the system before the transporter broke. Then the thing that ate all the other planets ate that one. Decker was left alone in an empty, decrepit ship. So, he is, understandably, a little mad.
Oh, yes. Quite mad.
So they get Decker on board the Enterprise, analyze the info that the Constellation gathered on the planet killer and pretty much just assume that it's a doomsday machine left over from an intergalactic species that has long since died. Well, then it shows up again. So Kirk and Scotty have to get the Constellation working  (or at least moving). Then Decker takes a tip from Captain Ahab, takes command of the Enterprise and goes after his white whale. He uses phasers. It's not very effective. Spock and Bones object, but he is the ranking officer and he can take charge. The only way they can get him out of the captain's chair is if Bones can prove he's gone insane.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Scotty are hard at work repairing the Constellation. They have no idea that Decker has taken command until Kirk gets a screen working and sees his lovely ship firing at the monster. He tries to get a hold of them, but subspace interference is still wreaking havoc with their communications. The Cornucopia of Doom brings the Enterprise closer with a tractor beam. Decker commands to keep going forward. Spock takes that as an opportunity to relieve him. Decker, therefore, relents. But it's too late.
The Cornucopia of Doom knows what it wants.
When suddenly Scotty repairs the impulse engines on the Constellation! Moving near the planet eater, Kirk successfully distracts it away from the Enterprise which gets away quickly. Now there's just one problem: the doomsday machine is headed for the Constellation! Now that the Enterprise is free of the planet killer, Decker comes back around and attacks. Both ships then move a good distance away and then Kirk hails the Enterprise. And that's when Mr. Jerkface Decker decides that he needs to speak for the ship instead of letting Kirk talk to Spock. They argue for a while and eventually Kirk orders that Decker give up command to Spock. Decker is whiney about it at first, but eventually relents. And while Spock orders Enterprise to rendezvous with the Constellation, Decker takes one of the shuttles and leaves.

As you can imagine, this is quite a surprise for all involved. They try to stop Decker, but Kirk and Spock end up just looking on helplessly as he rams a shuttlecraft down the Cornucopia of Doom's throat. It seems like such a waste, right? Except Sulu measures some significant power fluctuations when the shuttlecraft eventually explodes. They may have found the planet killer's Achilles' heel! Kirk's plan now is to rig the Constellation's engines to blow and set a course for the planet killer's mouth. He follows through and then expects to be transported back to the Enterprise... well, the transporter gives them some trouble, but it's nothing a little dramatic timing can't fix. Dramatic timing and the best engineer in Starfleet. Kirk eventually beams over to the Enterprise and rushes to the bridge to see the Constellation ram down the planet killer's throat.
And then it throws up all over the bathroom. Took all night to clean it up.
The danger (and Decker) now gone, Kirk opines on the irony of using something like an H-bomb, a doomsday machine of the middle 20th century, to destroy another doomsday machine. Because, as we all know, doomsday machines are bad, kids. Don't ever build them. Spock says there may be more doomsday machines out there in the cosmos to deal with, but Kirk says he found one to be quite sufficient.

Overall Thoughts
A classic episode if ever there was one, this goes down in history as the first instance that Star Trek drew from Moby Dick. The franchise ends up having a healthy relationship with the obsessed whale killer even through Star Trek: First Contact. The story of vengeance and obsession which eventually leads to death is one that rings throughout history - one from which we can ever learn. And in this episode is just looks awesome!