And yet another iconic episode. Dr. Richard Daystrom is the genius who as a very young man invented the computer systems that are currently used on all Federation star ships. Now Daystrom has progressed to a new computer the M-5 that can run a star ship without a human captain or almost any crew at all. Commodore Bob Wesley has selected the Enterprise to test out the new system by setting up a war game between the Enterprise and four other star ships.
Daystrom comes aboard to set up the M-5 and continuously antagonizes Kirk and McCoy by stressing the fact that the M-5 will eliminate the need for a star ship captain and most of the crew. Spock on the other hand is very familiar with Daystrom’s work and once the testing of the system commences, he agrees that the M-5’s performance far exceeds the results expected from a human crew and captain.
But in route to the second war game trial, the M-5 randomly attacks and destroys an ore freighter that luckily had no crew. In addition, when Scotty’s engineering staff attempts to de-energize the M-5 the machine vaporizes one of the red shirts and employs a force field to prevent any human intervention in its control of the Enterprise. After unsuccessfully trying to outwit the machine and disconnect it from the ship’s controls they are forced to watch in horror as the M-5 attacks the four star ships with full powered weapons. One ship is completely incapacitated and its entire crew killed. Commodore Wesley gets permission to use his remaining ships to destroy the Enterprise. At this point we learn that the M-5 is acting illogically because it was constructed from the “engrams” of Dr. Daystrom’s own brain who as it turns out is mentally unstable. This explains Daystrom’s very personal relationship with the machine and his erratic behavior now reinforces the fact that M-5 is quite mad.
In a final attempt to prevent the M-5 from destroying the remaining star ships Daystrom attempts to reason with the computer. He attempts to convince M-5 that killing humans is murder and against the laws of man and God. But Daystrom begins to identify with his creation and begins justifying self-preservation as the M-5’s right. He begins ranting about the unfairness of how he was treated after his initial successes and finally he starts to gloat over M-5’s superiority over its human opponents. Finally, he has to be sedated and hauled away to sick bay.
Kirk takes over and finishes the job of convincing M-5 that it is guilty of murder. Unfortunately, he does too good a job and the computer decides to commit suicide by deactivating itself and thereby leave the Enterprise vulnerable to destruction by the Star Fleet squadron. Scotty is able to restore only the shields but not communications. Kirk orders the shields to remain lowered and he gambles that Bob Wesley will break off the attack rather than destroy the defenseless ship at least until the situation can be clarified. When this succeeds Kirk explains to Spock that he gambled on Wesley’s humanity. McCoy then uses this human virtue to assail Spock’s seeming preference for machines over humans. Spock reiterates his already stated preference for humans over machines but states that a computer that has McCoy’s mental makeup would spout so much illogic that it would be a great source of amusement. The End.
Everybody loves this episode. When the M-5 flawlessly passes the first war game against the star ships, Commodore Wesley congratulates the M-5 on its performance and also sends his greetings to Captain Dunsail. When he hears this Kirk storms off the bridge while the rest of the bridge officers look shocked. When McCoy asks “who the blazes is Dunsail?” Spock explains that dunsail is a term used at Starfleet Academy to describe a part serving no useful purpose.
McCoy goes to Kirk’s cabin to give him some medicinal alcohol. Kirk admits to feeling useless and asks McCoy whether he himself is guilty of vanity, fearing the loss of his prestige as captain McCoy tells him to ask Jim Kirk because Jim Kirk is an honest guy. But sixty million Americans were yelling that night at their tv’s saying, “Yes you conceited blowhard, you strutting prima donna, that’s what this is about!”
But Kirk does have one great line. When the M-5 shuts itself off. Kirk yells to Scotty to go down to engineering and permanently deactivate the M-5. His final words to the engineer are to shout, “PULL THE PLUG ON IT!”
The other attraction in this episode is the characterization of Doctor Daystrom. He has both delusions of grandeur and a persecution complex. At one point while he was reasoning with the M-5 he attempted to salve the computer’s feelings about being in error and when the machine stated its record of achievement Daystrom concurred stating, “Yes, I am great, you are great.” Then when he went completely bonkers, he started reciting his grievances against his colleagues, “They laughed behind my back at the boy genius and got rich on my invention, my work!”
I really like this episode. Two blowhards sharing the stage, Daystrom and Kirk. Wonderful.
9 // 6.
Update: Chemist had some good feedback that I thought I’d share:
“With all due respect Photog, you missed the best line in the show. It was McCoy’s to Kirk:
“Did you see the love light in Spock’s eyes? The right computer finally came along.”