Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 6 (The Doomsday Machine)

There were certain things about Star Trek that didn’t always make sense.  For instance, there were omnipotent or near-omnipotent beings that could have crushed the Enterprise, yet were eventually defeated.  There was also a planet that acted as a giant recreation area, yet came with no warning of how powerful the technology was.  Now, we get a gigantic planet-eating vessel of unknown origin built for some unimaginable mission.  It’s already killed the crew of the USS Constellation and left the ship itself in ruins and now threatens to do the same to The Enterprise.

When Kirk finds The Constellation, only it’s commander, Commodore Decker, is alive.  He’s not very responsive to questions, making it difficult to ascertain what happened.  From what Decker tells Kirk, he beamed his crew down to the surface of the third planet before the transporters gave out.  Kirk is quick to point out that there are only two planets.  It’s not until the giant Planet-Eater shows up that he fully understands what Decker’s talking about.

The thing is a long, huge cone with energy beams in the large end.  The opening is large enough to allow the machine to eat planets whole.  There’s no indication of where it came from or why it was deployed.  All anyone knows is that it will consume all of the planets in a system for energy before moving on to the next system.

Kirk and Scotty are trapped on the Constellation, leaving Decker to take command of the Enterprise.  Decker is intent on destroying the Planet-Eater at all costs.  Eventually, Scotty gets off, leaving Kirk to hopefully destroy the Planet-Eater.  All is saved at the last minute and the crew are off to their next adventure.

I have several questions about this episode.  The most obvious is why one would build such a large machine in the first place.  Kirk compares it to the nuclear weapons of our time.  Why would we have something that could render a large part of our planet uninhabitable?  Neither scenario makes much sense.

But why would you build a machine large enough to consume planets and set it off on a course that might come in contact with inhabited worlds?  In fact, part of the tension in the episode comes from the fact that the next system will be the most densely populated in Federation territory.  If you were out to kill an enemy, why not build the weapon there and make sure it stays there?  It seems like an awfully inefficient way to destroy your enemy.

Of course, I’m assuming that it was meant for that purpose, but I can think of no reason why you’d need a large machine that seems to exist only to eat planets.  But that’s another problem.  We have no indication of exactly what necessitated the machine.  It has no regard for life.  It has no clear purpose other than to consume planets.  It exists to give The Enterprise something to fight.  Kirk compares the machine to nuclear weapons, but a better analogy might be war in general.  War takes life and would seem to have no purpose other than to destroy.

The episode was followed up in a book called Vendetta.  I remember reading it decades ago and recall that it was designed to be a weapon against the Borg, which would make sense.  It’s still a little unsettling that it was just wandering the galaxy like that.  There are still easier, more efficient ways to destroy the Borg.

I will admit that there is a certain simplicity to the episode.  It doesn’t go off on too many tangents and doesn’t have a lot of characters.  This is likely due to budget constraints, though.   The Constellation is the same type of ship as The Enterprise, allowing the studio to avoid building new sets.  I’ve often wondered what Star Trek would have looked like had it been given a larger budget.

It’s a shame that the story was never got an in-series explanation.  It would have been perfect for an episode for one of the spin-off series.  Maybe the crew of Voyager would find another or the race that built it.  Even Deep Space Nine had access to a different part of the galaxy.  Maybe it was something designed by The Dominion.  There are so many possibilities with this episode.


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