Kirk confronts Dr. Daystrom.
Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshallnote
), creator of computer systems that ships all over Starfleet use, comes aboard to supervise a test of his new M-5 multitronic (?) computer. This computer would obsolete human crew, and cause marked improvements in efficiency among vessels in which it's installed.
After a series of tests including a great scare in which M-5 (in control of the Enterprise
and activated by a simple flip-switch toggle on the Captain's chair) destroys an unmanned freighter, Kirk is severely concerned that the M-5 is becoming self-aware and possessed of a (severely misdirected) survivor instinct, a point which is driven home when it makes a Red Shirt
who tries to unplug it live up to his title.
It's then revealed that Daystrom actually imprinted his own memory engrams on the M-5, giving it his human instincts and strategies; but, it turns out, none of his self-control or good sense. Soon the afore-planned wargames start, and M-5, tied into the Enterprise
, fatally cripples a manned starship.
The head of the games and Kirk's superior, Commodore Wesley, is unable to contact Kirk because of the radio silence rule of the games, and assumes Kirk is on a rogue bent. He prepares to fire on the Enterprise
even as Daystrom and Kirk are talking to M-5, trying to find out why it did what it did; then McCoy notices that while Kirk is accusing Daystrom of not being thorough enough in transferring his experiences to the M-5, Daystrom is becoming, first arrogant, then quite insane, that his own creation, powered by his own thoughts, could kill people when he himself was a sworn pacifist.
Just as the threads of poor Daystrom's psyche begin to unravel, he's treated to a Vulcan neck pinch, then Kirk explains to M-5 that what it's done is murder, and the penalty for murder, as M-5 agrees, is death. M-5 shuts itself down, leaving itself, and the Enterprise
, open for attack.
Commodore Wesley is just about to give orders to destroy the Enterprise
when he notices her shields are down... Hesitating long enough to wonder what's wrong with the Enterprise
was what caused our beloved crew to survive. The M-5 is sent back to the drawing board, Daystrom's sent to an asylum and the Enterprise
goes on its way, just as inefficient (and just as entertaining) as ever.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: And the dice were loaded, given who its "father" was...
- And That's Terrible: Daystrom has to tell the M5 that murder is wrong. Justified, as M5 is a machine, and therefore without compassion, conscience or anything beyond self preservation.
- Brain Uploading: How Daystrom created M5's AI. Spock sarcastically suggests Bones do the same thing, predicting the resulting AI would be completely dysfunctional.
- Catch Phrase: Bones warns Spock against his usual "Fascinating" Catch Phrase. Spock uses "Interesting" instead.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The M-5 destroys the Excalibur and seriously damages the Lexington, Hood and Potemkin within the first few minutes of the war game exercise. Justified, as none of the other ships expected M-5 to use full weapons.
- Cut the Juice: How the Enterprise crew tries to take out M5. Scratch one Red Shirt.
- Forgets to Eat: At first, it looks like Bones is reminding Kirk to eat when he brings in a covered dish. Turns out, he just figured Kirk needed a freaking drink after all that happened.
- Friendship Moment: The other two members of the Power Trio each try to support their captain and friend as he faces the possibility of losing his ship.
Kirk: To Captain Dunsel.
McCoy: To James Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise.
Spock: Computers are useful servants, but I do not wish to serve under one. Captain, a starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it, or him.
- Future Slang: A "dunsel" is a thing that serves no purpose.
- Glory Days: Daystrom's Freudian Excuse for being so obsessed with the success of the M5 is that he doesn't want anyone to think he's a Teen Genius who fizzled out.
- Gut Feeling: Kirk has an uncomfortable sensation that something is wrong about M-5, but he wonders if it's just because he's jealous. It isn't.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Daystrom (William Marshall) looks a lot like Blacula and The King Of Cartoons. Oh, and he once played some guy called Othello too.
- The casting of Marshall as Daystrom may be the best example of how forward-thinking TOS was for its day (the original script - as evidenced by the James Blish novelization of this episode - describes Daystrom as a mousy little man with a pipe). Marshall has stated in interviews how significant it was when Captain Kirk addressed a Black man in this episode as "sir."
- Hey, It's That Voice!: It's hard to notice at first, since he doesn't use a brogue and speaks very flatly, but that's Scotty as the voice of M5.
- Instant A.I., Just Add Water: M5 starts draining power from the Enterprise to be more powerful.
- Jerkass Woobie: Daystrom is being completely unreasonable where his precious computer is concerned. However, it's clear that he feels very guilty about the deaths that resulted from his machine and has to be committed.
- Presumably, he got better and went on to bigger and better things, judging by the existence of the "Daystrom Institute" by the TNG era.
- Job-Stealing Robot: M5. Kirk and Bones discuss the history of technology making certain jobs obsolete.
- Logic Bomb: This should just be called The Kirk Maneuver considering how many times Kirk has used this to take out out-of-control computers.
- Ludd Was Right: Kirk does not like the idea of his job being taken over by a computer.
- Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Daystrom stubbornly refuses to admit his computer was at fault.
- Mildly Military: If a current naval vessel so much as dented another during an exercise (let alone effectively destroyed it, like Enterprise did to Excalibur), the captain would be relieved even if it wasn't directly their fault.
- Reality Subtext: William Marshall stars as Dr. Richard Daystrom, a prideful and ultimately fanatical computer designer. His eventual Sanity Slippage carries a haunting subtext: Daystrom delivers a heartbreaking monologue about how he's been mocked and ridiculed and underestimated by people who did not understand him or his genius. In real life, Marshall was a classically trained actor and opera singer who likely suffered similar indignities and a shortage of opportunities because he was African-American.
- Redshirt: When M5 vaporizes one, Daystrom says "M5 needed more power...the Ensign merely got in the way". At that, Kirk growls "And how long before we all 'just get in the way'?"
- Red Shirt Army: The crews of the other Constitution-class ships. We only meet Commodore Wesley, and the Excalibur's captain is the only other one given a name (when he dies).
- Sanity Slippage: As M5's murderous misdeeds become more and more impossible to downplay, Dr. Daystrom attempts to rationalize them drive him over the edge until he is raving hysterically and has to be neckpinched into submission.
- Unseen Prototype: M1 through M4.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Spock and Bones snipe each other at every opportunity.