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Recap / Star Trek S2 E6 "The Doomsday Machine"

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A vengeful, PTSD-ridden Commodore Decker takes over the Enterprise.
Decker: They say there's no devil, Jim. But there is a... Right out of hell, I saw it!!!
Kirk: Matt. Where's your crew?
Decker: On the third planet.
Kirk: There is no third planet!
Decker: Don't you think I know that?!? There was! But not anymore! They called me, they begged me for help! Four hundred of them! I couldn't!! I... I couldn't... [breaks into sobs]

Original air date: October 20, 1967

The Enterprise is investigating the destruction of several planetary systems when they come across a crippled starship, the U.S.S Constellation. The only person on board is Commodore Matthew Decker, the ship's captain. Through the disturbed captain's rantings and the pre-recorded Captain's Log, Kirk and co. deduce that after the ship was severely damaged, the entire crew was beamed down to a local planet, the captain taking the duty of going down with the ship after seeing to his crew's safety. However, a planet-destroying weapon constructed long ago by a long-dead race destroyed the very planet where the captain thought his crew would be safe, leaving him alive and grieving. While Kirk, Scotty and a small repair crew stay on board the Constellation, Decker is beamed back with McCoy.

Decker isn't taking Survivor Guilt very well and takes command of the Enterprise upon learning that Spock would rather take logical steps than press forward and destroy the planet killer at all costs. Decker recklessly endangers the crew in his attempts to destroy the thing that killed his own crew. When Kirk finds out about this, he is not amused to say the least. He orders Spock to relieve Decker, but the commodore is only finally removed when Spock threatens to arrest him. Spock sends him to sick bay, but instead of going there he attacks his guard and steals a shuttlecraft, intending to shove it down the machine's gullet — with himself inside.

No one is able to save Decker. He doesn't want to be saved. However, Kirk believes he had the right idea to destroy the device. They just need to use something bigger than a shuttlecraft. Hmmm...this junked up starship that no one's using just might do....

The Doomsday Tropes:

  • Abandon Ship: The crew of the Constellation (save for Decker) did this prior to the episode. Unfortunately, not realizing what they were dealing with, they evacuated to a planet that the planet killer then destroyed.
  • Asteroid Thicket: A more justified example than most, as it's the remains of a planet that was recently blasted to pieces. There hasn't been enough time for it to either dissipate or coalesce into a new planetoid.
  • Beard of Sorrow: It's probably been a few days since the destruction of the crew of the Constellation, as Decker has grown some hefty stubble. His unkempt appearance makes him stand out among the clean and neat members of the Enterprise crew.
  • Big Red Button: The button to start the 30 second overload timer is naturally this color.
  • Blatant Lies: An accidental case created by the remastered version. It is stated that other than the bridge, the Constellation is habitable. One look at the huge portions of the primary hull in particular which have been reduced to their structural framework makes that laughably wrong.
  • Bottle Episode: All the scenes are filmed on the Enterprise sets, including those on the Constellation (which is of the same class, so of course they'd be designed the same way).
  • Captain Obvious: Quite a literal example this time, when Kirk observes that the Constellation was attacked. Really, Jim? You don't think that kind of damage could be accidental?
    • There's a downright heartbreaking one when they find Decker.
      Kirk: Matt, where's your crew?
      Decker: (can barely speak it) ...On the third planet.
      Kirk: There is no third planet!
      Decker: (all but sobbing) DON'T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT? There was...but not anymore!
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Kirk is still cool, despite being seconds from being blown apart.
    Kirk: Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard.
  • Catastrophic Countdown: Kirk has 30 seconds to get off the Constellation.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The first damage report Scotty gives is that the impulse engines are the only things on the Constellation that are still in decent condition. He then gets them working enough for Constellation to maneuver.
  • Damage Control: Despite the severe damage to the Constellation, Scotty the Miracle Worker manages to get the ship moving on impulse, raise the Deflector Shields, and recharge a phaser bank.
    Kirk: If only I had some phasers...
    Scotty: Phasers? You got 'em. I have one bank recharged.
    Kirk: Scotty, you just earned your pay for the week.
  • Death Seeker: Decker.
  • Death World: The two remaining planets in the system that the planet killer has not eaten. The innermost planet has a temperature hot enough to melt lead (327.5 degrees Celsius or 621.5 degrees Fahrenheit at standard atmospheric pressure). The other has an atmosphere poisonous to human life. It is unclear whether planets we humans would judge inhospitable are also unappetizing for the planet killer, but there isn't any other explanation as to why it is leaving them behind to move onto the next star system.
    • If it was designed as a weapon against enemies who lived on Earthlike planets, it makes sense that it would focus its attacks on such worlds rather than waste time on uninhabitable rockballs.
  • Doctor's Orders: Commodore Decker takes advantage of Kirk being stuck on his crippled ship to take command of the Enterprise and avenge his lost crew. Bones tries, but can't relieve him because Decker refuses to submit to an evaluation, and holds Bones and Spock to regulations that allow him to pull rank. Kirk and Spock risk a court martial to finally force Decker to stand down and proceed to sickbay for his evaluation, but it never gets that far as Decker gets away from his security escort and pilots a shuttlecraft into the maw of the machine.
  • Doomsday Device: Obviously, although any theories about the planet killer's actual origin and purpose remain just that.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: The very first thing we notice about Decker is the "Lord, kill me now!" look in his eyes.
  • Due to the Dead: Me TV (who was showing the episodes in order) reran this episode shortly after the death of William Windom.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Nothing says "transporter malfunction" like a couple of smoke-plumed explosions.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Decker tries, but he clearly loses it seconds before the end. Kirk does a much better job of it.
  • Feed It a Bomb: And 97.835 megatons of fusion energy make for one hell of a bomb.
  • First-Name Basis:
    • As an old friend, Kirk calls Decker "Matt" when the damage control party first finds him. After he realizes the risk Decker is causing to the Enterprise, he switches to "Commodore" when telling him to give command back to Spock. Later, starting with "Matt, you'll be killed," he goes back to his friend's first name, begging him not to kamikaze the planet killer.
    • Decker also does this. When he's first found, he calls Kirk "Jim." Later, though, after taking command of the Enterprise, he calls him "Kirk" or "Captain."
  • Forced to Watch: A big part of why Commodore Decker is so traumatized; not only did he beam his crew onto a planet in the machine's path, but he had to listen to them die from his crippled ship.
    Decker: They called me, they begged me for help, four hundred of them! I couldn't! I-I couldn't! (breaks down in tears)
  • General Ripper: Commodore Decker. His goal is fine, but his methods are suicidal... literally, as it turned out.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: A giant cone mindlessly bent on planetary destruction spinning around in space like a forgotten land mine.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The remastered episode holds fairly close to the original scenes in spirit, but includes a few more dynamic shots of the Enterprise as it tries to evade the Planet Killer. The Constellation was also originally rendered as a toy model of the Enterprise with some scorch marks and a bent nacelle, the CGI update includes more detail to the damage with sections of the hull blown off and parts of the skeleton exposed.
  • Ghost Extras:
    • One of the most decisive aversions of this trope in franchise history. Throughout the episode, as the power struggle between Spock and Decker escalates, the camera routinely highlights a nameless officer in the background observing the conflict, sometimes even cutting to the reactions of the crew members directly. None of them have any dialogue, but their facial expressions speak volumes.
    • When Spock accepts Kirk's order to relieve Decker of duty and assume command of the Enterprise, Decker (knowing that Spock doesn't have the authority to relieve him) resists. But then Spock silently gestures to the security redshirts stationed by the turbolift, and they advance forward — ready to subdue Decker by force if necessary, proving that the crew of the ship is behind Spock and will back his play. Spock could have very easily nerve-pinched Decker if he hadn't cooperated, so Spock is going out of his way to demonstrate how important their support (or lack thereof) is in the power struggle. If he had survived and tried to bring charges against Kirk and Spock, it wouldn't have gone far.
  • Going Down with the Ship: Decker intended to do this. Tragically, however, the planet killer wasn't interested in his ship, so his entire crew was killed while he lived. Decker ends up going down with a shuttlecraft later on.
  • Hand Signals: One of the reasons Decker realizes he is fighting a losing battle asserting his authority on the ship is when Spock just has to make a hand gesture and the bridge's security officers eagerly step forward for the word to drag the Commodore out.
  • Heroic BSoD: Decker is in the midst of one when he's found on board the Constellation. He has another, major one when he makes his suicide run at the planet killer.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • No one considers firing into the obvious weak point of the planet killer until Decker completely loses it and flies a shuttle into it, revealing the weakness. Of course, this is equivalent to firing down the barrel of a gun and hoping not to be shot, but it's not like they had many options, especially when it had them in a tractor beam. Star Trek Online actually went with this route, but the player can only cause damage with special, high-powered weapons, not their standard loadout (and "firing down the barrel of a planet-killing gun" is exactly as dangerous as it sounds; when the planet killer charges its weapon, you have a very short time to get your ship clear or die when the weapon fires).
      • In the "Star Trek Logs" book version, they do try to fire phasers into the Planet Killer's maw. Problem is the wall of beams it uses to break down and digest what it eats blocks the phasers and makes it impossible to get a clear shot at its interior.
    • One that happens offscreen is Decker's initial decision to have the crew evacuate to a planet. It was cutting up a planet when the Constellation found it, so they should have considered it would continue doing so. Instead, he fails to consider it would go right back to what it was doing before it engaged his ship, and his entire crew is killed as a result.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
    Kirk: Bones, have you ever heard of the Doomsday Machine?
    Bones: No, I'm a doctor, not a mechanic.
  • Irrevocable Order: Once the self-destruct on the Constellation is triggered, there's no stopping it (apparently because of the ship's damaged condition, with the engines already on the edge of blowing up without any extra nudge in that direction). This causes some consternation when the Enterprise transporters pick a bad time to go offline.
  • It's Personal: Decker takes the destruction of the crew of the Constellation very personally.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Decker argues that running to warn Starfleet from the planet killer will allow it to destroy more defenseless planets. Nobody denies this, the problem is that his insistence on attacking the planet killer will get the Enterprise destroyed for nothing.
  • The Juggernaut: The planet killer is indestructible; repeated attacks by the Enterprise can't scratch it.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Much of the internal conflict of the episode is Commodore Decker asserting command of the Enterprise while Kirk is occupied on the Constellation, all the while making rash and sloppy decisions. While he is technically the ranking officer, and even outranks Kirk, he isn't assigned to the Enterprise and only has provisionary authority on the ship. Decker is shrewd enough to know their only option was for McCoy to deem him mentally unfit, but Spock knows the Rules Lawyer game being played as without a proper physical and no one above him to order him to sickbay so McCoy can't make an official declaration. It isn't until they regain communication with Kirk that Decker is ousted and Spock resumes command. If he had survived he might have been able to file charges through Starfleet, but it's highly unlikely he would have a case.
  • Large Ham: William Windom thought the story was ridiculous and purposely overacted, not realizing he was supposed to be channeling Captain Ahab. Ironically, he wound up giving what is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most memorable performances of his career. He came to appreciate the irony of this in his later life, and he even reprised the role of Decker for Star Trek: New Voyages.
  • Leitmotif: Interestingly enough, the episode's score is based on the technology instead of the characters. The planet killer, the Constellation, even the transporter all have their own themes.
  • Ludicrous Precision: Spock, as usual.
    Kirk: Am I correct in assuming that a fusion explosion of 97 megatons will result if a starship impulse engine is overloaded?
    Spock: No, sir. 97.835 megatons.
  • Magic Countdown: The 30 second timer for the impulse engine detonation lasts a little over a minute, giving more time to cut between Kirk, the bridge and Scotty frantically repairing the transporter.
  • Made of Indestructium: The planet killer's hull is composed of neutronium, which is the super-compressed material that makes up neutron stars (to give an idea of how dense it is, a matchbox-sized amount of neutronium weighs six million tons). This allows it to easily shrug off everything both the Constellation and the Enterprise throw at it from the outside. Even the self destruct of the Constellation, which does stop the machine, only works because its more vulnerable internal systems are destroyed. The hull isn't scratched.
  • Made of Iron: The Constellation is able to move, maneuver, and attack after some TLC from Scotty, even with one nacelle blown in half and holes all over her structure.
  • Manly Tears: Decker openly weeps for the loss of his entire crew, burying his face in his hands.
  • Mechanical Abomination: The planet killer. Let's see, it's very old, its origins and motives are unknown (Kirk's speculations about it being a doomsday machine not withstanding), it's virtually indestructible, and is capable of generating a jamming field preventing the Enterprise and Constellation from calling for help. Decker notes they're not even sure whether it's a living organism or a machine. Or both.
  • Mega-Maw Maneuver: Inverted. The Constellation deliberately flies into the planet killer's maw, rather than the other way around.
  • Moby Schtick: One of the earliest examples in Trek, starting a recurring trend. Kirk, Khan and Picard all fall prey to the vengeance trend started by Decker. However, this particular incident was resolved when Kirk directly ordered Spock to to remove Decker from command before his reckless vindictiveness destroyed the USS Enterprise.
  • My Greatest Failure: Decker sees the death of the Constellation's crew as a failure on his part, and very nearly puts the Enterprise in the same peril.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Decker got his entire crew killed in a well-meaning but poorly thought out attempt to save their lives by beaming them to the nearest planet, that being the next one in the planet killer's path. Had he simply done nothing, most if not all of his crew would still be alive.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The show's budget wouldn't stretch to building a model of the Constellation at the same level of detail as the Enterprise (since, unlike the Enterprise, they couldn't spread the cost out by reusing it in other episodes), so the damaged Constellation was represented by a shop-bought Enterprise model with the serial number stickers applied in a different order. Averted in the remastered version, wherein the CGI of the Constellation has quite detailed battle damage.
  • Oh, Crap!: Kirk, thanks to Scotty, manages to get the wrecked USS Constellation to move and fire on the planet killer before it swallows the Enterprise, unfortunately...
    Kirk: Mister Scott, it worked. Great.
    (sees the planet killer is now turning towards his ship)
    Kirk: I think it's great. Scotty, get us out of here.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Scotty loses his brogue for a sentence when he's telling Kirk how to detonate the Constellation.
  • Orchestral Bombing: Sol Kaplan's dramatic and thrilling score for this episode was so effective, it would be tracked into many later episodes of the show's second season.
  • Outside-Context Problem: An indestructible and implacable mechanical monstrosity which devours worlds for fuel. Safe to say that Starfleet didn't have a plan for that.
  • Planet Looters: The planet killer smashes and eats entire planets for fuel.
  • Playing Sick: Inverted when Decker insists he's competent to command a starship when he is clearly mentally unbalanced. Played straight when he fakes a cough just before slugging Lt. Montgomery while being escorted to sick bay.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: The planet killer's first salvo knocks out the Enterprise's transporter and damages the communications systems, trapping Kirk on the Constellation and preventing him from either assuming command of the situation or finding out what is going on aboard his ship until repairs are made.
  • Precision F-Strike: Contrary to popular belief, never once on the TV series did Bones say "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a X!" (In this ep, for example, he says "No, I'm a doctor, not a mechanic.") Laws about swearing on TV were strictly enforced at the time. However, Decker does manage to slip in a "Hell" when comparing the machine to a devil.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Decker vs. the planet killer.
  • Reverse Polarity: What finally gets the transporter to work properly after malfunctioning for the whole episode is when Spock tells Scotty to try something called "inverse phasing". This is reversing the polarity with help from a thesaurus.
  • Sacrificial Planet: The titular weapon has already annihilated a solar system and all but two planets of another by the time the Enterprise gets on the scene. It's set on a course through the most densely populated section of the galaxy to sustain itself.
  • Scenery Gorn: The damaged USS Constellation.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale:
    • In the real world, a 97-megaton explosion would be much more powerful.
    • The planet killer size, as depicted relative to the Constellation, is nowhere near sufficient to contain the mass of a single planet, much less the multiple planets it does eat/would have eaten. Either it converts all that mass to energy at an astonishing rate, or leaves far more debris than we see.
      • Nowhere in the episode is it stated that the planet killer ingests the entire shattered planet, only that it digests the debris for fuel. Once the machine has taken in a sufficient amount of material it moves on.
    • Decker's stolen shuttlecraft appears much too large in the exterior shots of it approaching the planet killer, especially in comparison to the latter shots of the Constellation. However if it were shown at an accurate scale it would be too tiny to be seen clearly.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Capt. Kirk finally has to use this trope by invoking his personal authority as ship's captain to get Mr. Spock to resume command of the Enterprise from Commodore Decker, who is doing his Moby Schtick. Of course, Kirk would have liked his chances facing a Board of Inquiry about this move, considering he would be arguing against a Commodore who impetuously attacked an unstoppable Juggernaut when he should have been escaping the planet killer's jamming field to alert Starfleet Command.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Kirk orders Scotty to rig the Constellation's impulse engines to overload so that the fusion explosion can destroy the planet killer from the inside. It's not hard as, according to Scotty, "The shape the thing's in, it's hard to keep her from blowing."
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Subverted, actually. Decker really shouldn't have had to sacrifice himself to the machine. But the method did end up revealing a weakness they could use to destroy the machine. And really, there would have been no other more satisfying way of rounding up his emotional arc.
  • Sequel Hook: The episode ends with Spock and Kirk wondering if there are any more planet-killers out there. A sequel to this episode has never been produced; Harve Bennett passed it over when looking for potential follow-up stories for the second Star Trek film in favor of "Space Seed". The popular Fan Film series Star Trek: New Voyages did a sequel of sorts to this episode (and "The City on the Edge of Forever", and "The Menagerie", among others) in their first proper episode, "In Harm's Way".
    • That said, the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel "Vendetta" was basically a sequel to this episode when the Enterprise-D has to deal with someone discovering an upgraded version of the doomsday machine, which also confirms that the machine was intended as a weapon against the Borg. Later novels would re-introduce the original Doomsday Machine and also feature the discovery of a 'proto-prototype' (a more primitive version of the machine featured here).
  • Shout-Out: William Windom had Decker compulsively twiddle with cassette cartridges in his hand as an homage to Humphrey Bogart, who did the same thing with ball-bearings as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: It was cut for time, but at the end, Spock notes that all Starfleet might have to do if another planet killer appears is to get an asteroid, hollow it out, stuff it full of photon torpedoes, then toss it into the planet killer's path and wait for the boom.
  • Stock Footage: A shot of Scotty tossed around in engineering is recycled from "Tomorrow is Yesterday". His equipment bag disappears in this shot.
  • Suicide Mission: Decker wants that machine destroyed at any cost, even his own life.
  • Survivor Guilt: Poor Decker has a horrible case of this.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Kirk and Spock try to stop Decker from flying into the planet killer's maw. They fail.
    Spock: Commodore, I must insist that you return to the ship.
    Decker: You said it yourself, Spock. There is no way to blast through the hull of that machine, so I'm going to take this thing right down its throat.
    Kirk: This is Kirk. Matt, you'll be killed.
    Decker: I've been prepared for death ever since I...ever since I killed my crew.
    Kirk: No one expects you to die for an error in judgment.
    Decker: The commander is responsible for the lives of his crew, and for their deaths. Well, I should have died with mine.
    Spock: You cannot succeed, Commodore. Your only logical alternative is to return to the ship.
    Kirk: Matt. Matt, listen to me. You can't throw your life away like this. Matt, you're a starship commander. That makes you a valuable commodity. We need you, your experience, your judgment! Matt! We're stronger with you than without you!
  • Temporary Substitute: Uhura doesn't appear in this episode, her duties assumed by Lt. Palmer, played by Elizabeth Rogers.
  • Tempting Fate: Lampshaded by Scotty when he points out to Kirk that "a cranky transporter is a pretty finicky piece of machinery to be gambling your life on". So of course it shorts out at the big moment.
  • That Was the Last Entry: Decker's final log entry stated that they were going to investigate the fourth planet of System L-374 breaking up.
    Kirk: Fourth planet...only two left now.
  • Tuckerization: Washburn, Russ, and Elliott (the damage control party) are named after assistant directors Charlie Washburn, Rusty Meek and Elliot Schick.
  • Wave-Motion Gun: The planet killer's antiproton particle beam used to slice up planets for consumption and attack the starships.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: The planet killer, hence Kirk's reference to "the Doomsday Machine" — an allusion to a popular 1960s term for thermonuclear warheads (or "the H-bomb"), as he himself points out.
  • We Need a Distraction: Kirk uses the Constellation to divert the planet-killer from moving in on the Enterprise.
  • With Due Respect: McCoy is not shy about expressing his feelings when Decker relieves Spock of command.
    McCoy: You can't let him do this, Spock!
    Decker: Doctor, you are out of line.
    McCoy: So are you! (beat) Sir!
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Spock calls Kirk, not "Captain" but "Jim" when he protests his plan to destroy the machine.
    Spock: Captain, you're getting dangerously close to the planet killer.
    Kirk: I intend to get a lot closer. I'm going to ram her right down that thing's throat.
    Spock: (stands up straight) Jim, you'll be killed, just like Decker.