SCORE: (3/5 stars)
Responding to a distress call from the USS Constellation, the Enterprise finds itself in a solar system that’s been obliterated. Five of seven planets have been turned to rubble. The Constellation herself is adrift, completely wrecked, and only one survivor: Commodore Matt Decker. He is disheveled and half-crazed, wracked with guilt. You see, he beamed the crew down to the third planet because of the damage the ship had sustained from an enemy spacecraft, but this craft turned out to be one of the most powerful weapons in the galaxy: a planet killer. It’s a self-sustaining robotic ship with an indestructible neutronium hull and an antiproton core that eats matter by the yottagram.
Decker is beamed to the Enterprise to be treated in sickbay when the planet killer returns. When they attempt to beam back the boarding party of Kirk and Scotty, the killer fires on the Enterprise, disabling many systems including the transporter. The Enterprise has to flee to evade the machine, leaving Kirk and Scotty to fend for themselves on the disabled Constellation. After putting a safe distance between themselves and the weapon, it sets course for the Rigel system, inhabited by millions. Decker wants to mount an assault on the planet killer, but Spock doesn’t think they have the firepower for it and wants to get far enough away from it that their subspace radio works to alert the fleet. Decker, desperate for revenge, pulls rank and claims command of the Enterprise. A strafing run on the weapon proves fruitless as Spock knew it would, and a blast from the machine severely damages the ship.
Despite being towed into the gaping maw of the weapon, Decker refuses to veer off. Since this would be suicide, Spock argues that he’ll cite it as proof of instability and remove him from command, so he relents. But it’s too late; they cannot break from the tractor beam. Luckily, Kirk and Scotty have been diligent in repairs on the Constellation, and have impulse power and one phaser bank. A shot is enough to distract the planet killer, allowing the Enterprise to break off. The machine resumes its course for Rigel, The Enterprise has no impulse or warp for a day while repairs are made. Kirk hails the Enterprise, and when he learns what Decker’s done in command of the vessel, he orders Spock to relieve him of command.
Of course, they only send a redshirt to escort Decker away, and redshirts are notoriously vulnerable to double-fisted punching. Decker makes his way to the shuttle bay and steals one before they can close the bay doors. Crazed, looking for revenge, Decker flies the shuttle right into the mouth of the machine. Kirk mourns the loss of a friend and colleague who sacrificed himself for nothing, but maybe that’s not so! Spock determines that the power of the planet killer reduced slightly when the shuttle exploded inside it. A larger explosion may be enough to destroy the ship. May being the operative word here, Spock cannot be certain.
But certainty never stopped Kirk! He and Scotty rig the impulse engines on the Constellation for a timed detonation, planning to fly it straight in. Scotty beams out after rigging a switch to initiate the countdown, but the transporter shorts out before Kirk can do the same, and Scotty is forced to climb into the Jefferies tubes to do some fast repair work. Kirk is beamed out with seconds to spare as the Constellation goes in a fiery ball right in the belly of the beast. The plan worked and the galaxy is safe for another week.
The story is rather straightforward, not one of TOS’s usual morality plays but a fairly standard science fiction plot. Of note is the increased number of special effects shots. I will issue a disclaimer that I am watching the remastered version of the series, and I was quite impressed with the new CGI shots in the episode. While most remastered episodes tend to just recreate frame for frame the effects of the original broadcast, this one took a few more liberties with the action, but it was for the better, and it never strayed from the feel of the original series. If anything, the menace of the planet killer was enhanced from its old days as a painted paper-mache cone.
- Scotty begins to walk off the transport pad before he’s finished materializing. If I were him, and I am, I’d wait.
- After the Constellation explodes inside the planet killer, Spock notes that its G output is now zero. This is, of course, wrong, and massively so. Anything with mass has more than a zero G output, but even ignoring the negligible amount given off by say, a tennis ball, the indestructible hull of the machine was made of solid neutronium, the stuff neutron stars are made of, and it was at least a few miles long. The mass of the hull would be comparable to a small star.
- 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!
- Kirk: Bones, did you ever hear of the doomsday machine?
McCoy: No. I’m a doctor, not a mechanic.
- Decker: I am assuming command of the Enterprise.
Spock: You have the right to do so, but I would advise against it.
Decker: That thing must be destroyed!
Spock: You tried to destroy it once before, Commodore. The result was a wrecked ship and a dead crew.
- 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!