Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Star Trek: Season II, Episode III (32) The Changeling (1967) Directed by Marc Daniels, Written by John Meredyth Lucas, created by Gene Roddenberry
“Your logic was impeccable, Captain. We are in grave danger.”—Mr. Spock
When the Enterprise detects that all life has been extinguished in the Mentaka system, they must investigate. This brings them into conflict with a foe of far superior power. Just as all looks lost, and the Enterprise is doomed to destruction, the attack is broken off, and suddenly, diplomatic queries are being answered. Who is this foe, and why the sudden change in attitude?
The answer to the first is Nomad, a space probe launched from Earth in 2002. The second question is a bit fuzzier; it seems Nomad has mistaken Captain Kirk (William Shatner) for his creator, Jackson Roy Kirk (the picture of J.R. Kirk is actually episode director, Marc Daniels.) But how did a simple primitive probe sent from a pre-warp planet become an unstoppable killing machine? And more importantly, why? And how will the crew of the Enterprise stop it, before it exorcises its prime directive, and sterilizes the Enterprise of the imperfect biological beings that infest it?
This episode gets a lot of scrutiny now, because it is the basic premise for Star Trek The Motion Picture. Instead of Nomad, they had the Voyager, damaged, and now calling itself V-ger, encountering an alien probe. Somehow, the two mechanisms repaired themselves, becoming one entity with a merged mission. Nomad’s mission was to seek out new life. Tan Ru (the alien probe) was to seek out life supporting planets, locate imperfections that would preclude colonization, obtain soil samples, sterilize them, and return them home. From this, Nomad built the directive, “Seek out life. Find imperfections, and sterilize them, then return home.” Of course all life is imperfect, hence the problem.
With Nomad, the mechanism was tiny; a meter tall, floating about the ship (on a wire) and was voiced by Vic Perrin. This was of course budgetary. What they WANTED to do was make Nomad into V-ger, and the first chance they got, they did, vast unimaginable alien technology, and a really hot bald chick as the interface.
And it taught them a valuable lesson. Do not attempt to remake the show; it is a disservice to the original project, and the fans will turn on you like rabid wolverines.
But all these comparisons to ST the Movie do the episode a disservice. It rarely gets judged on its own merits. And there is some good stuff here. First, and foremost, I think this episode is a cautionary tale about the dangers of artificial intelligence; Nomad was the most sophisticated computer earth could make in 2002. It mimicked thought, and learning. In this much, Star Trek was prophetic, because we did achieve that benchmark. The problem with a thinking machine is that it will still carry out its programming. You can teach it to think, but can you teach it to feel? Can you instill in it the instinct of when to go against logic on moral grounds? A machine will do what you tell it, even if your instructions are stupid, or somehow corrupted.
The episode had some good bits for the second string; Scotty (James Doohan) got killed, (and McCoy got to say “He’s dead, Jim.”) but got better, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) got her mind wiped, got reeducated by Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett), got to speak Swahili, and read the classic line “The ball is…bluey?” Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) demonstrate something that is observed countless more times, but never quite so well; they don’t touch, but when they do, it’s not casual. This episode contains the dreaded “Vulcan nipple pinch” that pranksters on the interwebs so enjoy incorporating into their little fan videos.
Actually, Kirk and Spock do show a great deal of emotion, in subtext. When Kirk has rendered Nomad catatonic by pointing out his faults, Kirk explains his thinking, leading to our lead in quote. The second sentence should be read in a downward inflection, with a hint of exasperation, and a suggestion of emphasis on “grave”.
And then there is this bit:
Spock: My congratulations, Captain - a dazzling display of logic.
Capt. Kirk: You didn't think I had it in me, did you, Spock?
Spock: [deadpan] No, sir.
[Kirk looks wounded, but then carries on.]
And I think it is that combination of the two extremes that make this episode work; Nomad is a cold and calculating threat that kills four men (five if you count Scotty) and four inhabited planets, and the warmth and caring, even the humor of the flawed, imperfect, uncoordinated biological infestation of the Enterprise.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8