When the Enterprise is selected as a test ship for the M-5 computer – an advanced machine capable of taking over many of the ship’s functions – it should be an honour. But for Captain Kirk, it only makes him uneasy – of what use is a starship captain in a world where computers can run ships better than humans? Will the M-5 prove its worth in the field, and if it does, are Kirk and his crew out of a job?
Amidst a cluster of poor episodes, we finally come across one that is pretty good. Once again, we have a classic Star Trek allegorical bent, this time focussing on the threat of mechanisation, and the potential for humans to eventually be replaced by machines that can outperform them. Space is a dangerous place where redshirts die every week – wouldn’t it be better if exploration were left to machines, who could withstand the danger and easily be replaced? But then, where’s the fun in that? Aren’t Kirk and crew out in space because they want to be there, to see the wonders of new life and new civilisations with their own eyes?
Along with the M-5 computer, the Enterprise also takes aboard its creator, Dr Richard Daystrom. Despite some Shakespearean overacting from William Marshall, Daystrom is an interesting character – once a boy genius who invented the duotronic circuitry that exists within a normal starship computer, he peaked too soon, and was left a has-been who could only watch others profit from his ideas and theories. The multitronic computer series, culminating in M-5, was meant to be his great comeback, but of course it turns out to be fatally flawed, a murderous machine that can only be deactivated with a classic Kirk logic bomb.
Star Trek Bingo
- Kirk destroys yet another computer by pointing out a contradiction in its behaviour.
- Spock and McCoy banter about whether computers are better than humans.
- A redshirt is tasked with doing a dangerous job, and immediately gets killed.
- Despite the ever dwindling numbers of Constitution-class starships, several of them are used in wargames, and then severely damaged. Take care of these things, people!
- Starfleet starships prove to be as flimsy and shoddily built as ever. Maybe it doesn’t matter that they’re destroyed so easily – these shoddy contractor-built starships can be swiftly replaced.
- “All I ask is a tall ship…” will be quoted by Kirk to McCoy again in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
- A point of interest from last episode – with Kirk and Spock away, Sulu was left in command. Where was Scotty, who holds a higher rank and is usually third-in-command? Also, Sulu and Uhura are bridge officers of the same rank and much the same levels of experience. Why can’t Uhura be left in charge sometimes?
Summary – The Ultimate Computer: Don’t put computers in charge of starships. And don’t put Kirk near any computer you want to keep long-term.