SCORE: (4/5 stars)
In what is certainly a commentary on the fears of mechanization eliminating jobs (certainly fears that continue to the present day, as I now check out my groceries at a computer instead of a cashier) the Enterprise is ordered to a starbase to have a brand new computer installed that, if successful, will render the entire crew of the Enterprise obsolete. The M-5 computer’s installation is being overseen by its creator, Doctor Richard Daystrom, a man whose prior computer advances have already made him the 23rd century Alan Turing (and notably played by a black man in a time when nobody would associate blacks with computer science). This is a test run to observe M5’s capabilities, and will include a planetary survey and a war games scenario against several other Constitution-class starships.
Spock’s initial reaction is one of intrigue and, dare I say, delight. McCoy in his predictable nature decries the whole thing as an abomination and boy howdy wouldn’t it be nice if we all still lived in pre-industrial eras when a man worked with his own two hands for a living? Kirk understands his duty but realizes that as the M5 shows promise in each test carried out, fending off a simulated ambush and selecting a planetary survey party above and beyond his own ability, his job is becoming obsolete. But cracks begin to appear in M-5’s perfect nature. It changes course and actively pursues an automated mining vessel, and destroys it with full-yield photon torpedoes. Only by sheer luck was it uninhabited. Daystrom tries to defend its behavior, as a parent might make excuses for a child, but Kirk won’t have it and wants M-5 deactivated. M-5, however, has no intention of letting itself be switched off, and even kills the redshirt who tries to unplug him.
Heading toward the scheduled war game with the remaining skeleton crew powerless to stop it, they realize it intends to do actual combat with the vessels, and it won’t let them transmit to warn the other ships. Spock comments on how, for a computer, it is behaving very irrationally, and Daystrom reveals that to achieve nuance and judgement in the machine, he copied his own memory engrams. But it’s soon evident that Daystrom himself is unstable, a man desperately trying to recreate past achievements and weary of hangers-on to his success, and this instability has passed on to the computer. The war games commence, and massive casualties are inflicted upon the other ships as the Enterprise fires with full power. The USS Excalibur is destroyed. Kirk is able to appeal to the emotional side of M-5, who believes it is defending itself against attack. Kirk convinces the computer that it has committed murder, and the penalty for murder is death. Yet another Kirk Logic Bomb succeeds and M-5 shuts itself off. Scotty runs down to unplug it from the ship, restores power, and alerts the fleet that the danger is over. I guess for the foreseeable future, ships will just have to be manned by man.
- The war games scenario has the ships firing phasers at each other at warp speeds. Again, you cannot fire phasers at warp speeds.
- McCoy: I don’t like it, Jim. A vessel this size cannot be run by one computer.
Spock: We are attempting to prove it can run this ship more efficiently than man.
McCoy: Maybe you’re trying to prove that, Spock; but don’t count me in on it.
- McCoy: Jim, you haven’t had much to say about this.
Kirk: What do you want me to say? M-5 is an honor, they tell me. Well, I’m honored.
- McCoy: Jim, we’ve all seen the advances of mechanization. After all, Daystrom did design the computers that run this ship.
Kirk: Under human control.
McCoy: We’re all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that’s different. And it always will be different.
- Spock: The ship reacted more rapidly than human control could have maneuvered her. Tactics, deployment of weapons, all indicate an immense sophistication in computer control.
Kirk: Machine over man, Spock? It was impressive. It might even be practical.
Spock: Practical, Captain? Perhaps. But not desirable. Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them. Captain, the starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it, or him.
- Wesley: Our compliments to the M-5 unit, and regards to Captain Dunsel. Wesley out.
McCoy: Dunsel? Who the blazes is Captain Dunsel? What does it mean, Jim? Spock? What does it mean?
Spock: Dunsel, Doctor, is a term used by midshipmen at Starfleet Academy. It refers to a part which serves no useful purpose.
- Spock: The M-5 itself has not behaved logically.
McCoy: Please, Spock, do me a favor and don’t say it’s fascinating.
Spock: No. But it is interesting.
- Uhura: Sir, sensors are picking up four Federation starships. M-5 is altering course to intercept.
Kirk: The main attack force. The war games.
McCoy: But M-5 doesn’t know it’s a game.
Kirk: Correction, Bones. Those four ships don’t know it’s M-5’s game. And M-5 is going to destroy them.