|The beginning of a proud tradition,|
“The Doomsday Machine” is one of the episodes I most fondly remember from the Original Series. For me it was always a highlight of the second season: I enjoyed the tense, thriller-like pacing as the crew races against time to prevent the planet killer from destroying everything, I thought splitting the main cast up was a great way to play up the drama of the situation (though it’s been done before this season, I think it might be the most effective here) and I loved the fact Kirk, Scotty and the away team get the Constellation up and running by themselves and operate it all on their own. I also loved the design and concept of the planet killer itself, a big, scary automaton of destruction that the crew had to out-think and outmaneuver and I thought Commodore Decker’s tragic fall from grace was a particularly well-executed and memorable character moment. Naturally, it would seem few people agree with me as this seems to be one of the more contentious episodes of the year.
James Doohan seems to have considered this his favourite episode of the Original Series and said so at conventions on a number of occasions. Apparently, however, he was frequently met with eye-rolls and groans from the audience whenever he said so. D.C. Fontana as well has been quoted as saying this is the weakest episode of the series and her least favourite. I must say I’m at something at a loss to explain why: I always thought this episode was both a critical and fan favourite, and I really can’t see how Fontana can claim “The Doomsday Machine” is in any way worse than, say, “The Omega Glory” or indeed her own “Friday’s Child” and that’s just from this season alone. Expand your lens to the years that bookended season two and you’ve got “The Enemy Within”, “Mudd’s Women” and “Space Seed” to pick three particularly egregious examples of episodes that weigh down the first season considerably, not to mention, well, pretty much all of season three. Even the episode’s own cast isn’t completely on the same page: While the regulars are as fantastic as always (special notice being paid to William Shatner, James Doohan and Leonard Nimoy, who all deliver compellingly intense and colourful performances), William Windom, who played Decker, has gone on record a number of times to say he didn’t take Star Trek at all seriously because it was science fiction and played his role basically as a cartoon character in an attempt to mock it (ironically, Windom’s performance remains commendable and memorable, despite a few instances of obvious gurning).
What “The Doomsday Machine” seems like to me is a very simple, straightforward and more than sufficiently entertaining thriller. This is important to take note of, because this the first time Star Trek has actually done “straightforward” all year: “Catspaw” and “Amok Time” were by necessity bombshell game-changing episodes while “Metamorphosis” was Gene Coon’s reaction to this and the next step in his evolving vision for the series.…