The U.S.S. Enterprise is chosen to be the test ship for the new M-5 multitronic computer system, a computer meant to be able to run a starship without human intervention. Also aboard for the test is Dr. Richard Daystrom, the inventor of the M-5 and an obsessive and unstable individual. Initially the M-5 performs well, but when it decides to destroy a robot freighter, Kirk orders the test canceled. The M-5, however, protects itself and makes it impossible for it to be disconnected. The computer becomes increasingly erratic, a result of Dr. Daystrom's decision to impress his engram onto the computer as part of its programming. Starting a scheduled war games drill, M-5 uses the full arsenal of the U.S.S. Enterprise to attack four other Federation starships. In a last-ditch appeal to the M-5, Kirk makes the computer realize that it has committed the sin of murder. Since Dr. Daystrom would be ethically abhorred at such an act, the M-5 is equally penitent and tries to commit suicide by leaving the U.S.S. Enterprise defenseless against a counter-attack by the remaining other starships. At the last moment, Spock and Scott are able to finish disconnecting the M-5 unit. Kirk keeps the shields down, gambling successfully that the attacking ships would not fire on an undefended vessel. Restoring communications next, the fleet is called off. I thought that this was a very good TOS episode especialy for it's genertaion of technology
The Enterprise is selected to test the M-5, a new super-computer that supposedly doesn't need human intervention and could potentially replace Kirk as Captain. But the M-5 soon becomes a threat. An average, slightly filler affair, but with some good ideas
(Note that, as with all of my Original Series reviews, I am reviewing the original version; I have not seen the remastered versions at time of writing)
This ship-bound episode is very much an average instalment, and has touches of being a filler episode at times, but none-the-less has some interesting ideas which raise the episode up a few notches.
William Marshall gives a good performance as Dr. Richard Daystrom, the creator of the M-5. It is good to see a black actor get such a role in an era where it wasn't so common. The only thing I would say is that Daystrom needed a better, more distinguished costume – the one he wears makes him look like a lowly engineer or something.
As the M-5 starts to run amok, Daystrom continually defends and protects it, like an out of control child being protected by a parent refusing to see the truth.
Like many Original Series episodes, this story taps into the social status and fears of the time of which it was produced. The particular tale taps into the fears that computers and machines may one day replace humans in their jobs. It would be some 15+ years after this episode before computers really started developing and became powerful and complex enough that they could indeed be considered to replace a man's job, and in that respect the script is quite ahead of it's time.
The episode also seems to be a rather budget-saving outing, in keeping with it's slightly filler feel – the ore freighter that the M-5 destroys, for example, is recycled material of the S.S. Botany Bay from the first season episode "Space Seed". The resulting explosion is recycled from "The Changeling" earlier this season.
There are some dodgy effects as the M-5 computer takes aim at the other Starships – the other ships are all quite clearly models of the Enterprise, with four different shots awkwardly patched together. I understand that this has been rectified in the remastered version.
It is true that the 'outwitting a super-computer' plot has already been used in more than a couple of other episodes, and the story was verging on being overused. However here I did feel that it offered a different spin, with the Enterprise itself being controlled by the super-computer; it didn't feel overly like a recycled plot compared to some other examples.
At the end of the episode (as another reviewer has also commented), Kirk and co. see a bit over-cheery, and don't seem too upset that many lives have been lost, and one Starship, the Excalibur, has seemingly been totally destroyed. I would have preferred to see the episode finish on a more sombre, reflective note.
All-in-all, as I said at the beginning, a slightly average and filler episode, but with a fair story and some good ideas.
This episode does have special note to me, though. I have been a lifelong 'Star Trek' fan since birth, my father being a casual viewer which got me interested in the series at a very young age. But in the later 1990s and early 2000s, I did drift away from the series, not being so keen on some of the later spin-offs.
Then in around 2002/3, I was searching through some old VHS tapes I had recorded, and stumbled across an old recording of this episode that I had made. It was late at night and I sat and watched the whole thing; Even though it's not one of the best episodes, it pulled me in and reminded me why I liked the series so much. Since then, I have really got back into the series again (and even given some of the later spin-offs a second chance).
It's human nature to ask the question, "how is a computer superior to a person and how is a person superior to a computer?" In science fiction, it's natural to follow up with the question, "how much can we depend upon computers, and what's the limit of their abilities in the future?" Star Trek tackles all these questions in a shrewdly written bottle show that puts a computer in charge of the Enterprise and sends it out for wargames. Interestingly, producer John Meredyth Lucas liked the story so much, he hired himself as the director!
Along with rich Kirk/Spock/Bones interplay, the story brings aboard guest star William Marshall as Dr. Richard Daystrom, a former boy genius who's now grown up. Towering over the regulars and using his James Earl Jones-like diction, Marshall (a cousin of the actor who plays Captain Terrell in The Wrath of Khan) gives Daystrom a unique presence, helping the episode cover for the lack of personality offered by the M5 computer (voiced by James Doohan). Unfortunately, as the episode progresses, it becomes more about Daystrom than the regulars and becomes increasingly talky.
For Lucas, it's a solid directorial debut, though he'd do better with "The Enterprise Incident".
Remastered Version: With the war games and multiple starships, you'd think this one would be loaded with effects; but actually it's carefully written to include only a few, with the original version using recycled shots from previous episodes. Fortunately, what CBS Digital does get a chance to do is diverse enough to be interesting. The episode begins with a space station, with the original reusing the K7 station from "Trouble With Tribbles" and the new version using the design of Starbase 47, a station from the popular Star Trek: Vanguard novel series. Then there's a planet, which in the original is the one from "Operation Annihilate" (making its fourth appearance in six episodes) which is replaced in the new one with a nice looking Earth-like planet. An automated ore freighter is, in the original, just a reuse of Khan's ship in "Space Seed"; in the new version it's replaced with a "live action" shot of the robot ship seen in the animated series episode "More Tribbles, More Trouble". (This ship, with a command module, also appears in the remastered version of "Charlie X"). Curiously, CBS digital also redoes a beam coming from the M5 unit, though I'm not sure what's wrong with the original! The episode culminates with a big battle between the Enterprise and four other ships, which sounds more exciting than it is, with the original reusing static shots of the Enterprise firing phasers, reusing footage of the Constellation from "The Doomsday Machine" and creating a "copy and paste" shot (courtesy of an optical printer) to show the other ships in formation. The upgraded version does better with much more dynamic shots that show the ships in motion, making the battles seem more like Star Wars than TOS could originally offer.
Surprise, surprise... another story about computers replacing man and then realizing you need compassion to make everything flow smoothly. Although my childhood friend and I used to take turns poking fun at Daystrom's breakdown (Look at your four mighty starships! Four toys that I've grasped...) it was done quite well. My biggest gripe other than that this script has been done a million times in a million different books, movies and other TV shows, is that at the end of the episode, Kirk seems to be a little too jubilant in celebration of M5's demise considering the Excaliber was completely destroyed and that many other lives were lost on the other starships.
The bad news is that the plot is awfully familiar. Can there be a single person in the world who doesn't figure out in the first five minutes where this segment is going? We can trace this story back to Chaplin's MODERN TIMES and probably earlier if we include prose fiction as well. So zero points for story originality.
The good news is that Shakespearean actor William Marshall, as computer whiz Daystrom, brings some dignity to the rather wobbly proceedings and is, despite some iffy lines, a commanding presence as the disintegrating software designer.
But you have to wonder why someone like Daystrom wouldn't have undergone careful psychological screening before being (effectively) given control of a Starship. And why Commodore Wesley would immediately think his old friend Jim Kirk was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic (bearing in mind Kirk isn't in charge of the Enterprise - M-5 is!), rather than entertaining the notion that Daystrom could be the balmy one ...
Otherwise, this is a fairly routine filler segment and well below the standard of other episodes in the second season.
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