Thursday, November 29, 2012


Given its pedigree Metamorphosis is a disappointment. Ralph Senensky, who filmed some beautiful footage for This Side Of Paradise, directing a Gene L. Coon script should be a dream combination but the end result is flabby and disappointing. Occasionally Metamorphosis feels like an episode where some crucial external context is missing. Read the story as a metaphor for interracial love rather than just a mismatched couple (he's an out of time space pioneer, she's an energy cloud) and it's easy to see how it might have felt more significant in 1967.

Imagine replacing the characters with the most obvious stereotypes possible. Cochrane is literally part of an older generation (the Companion has kept him alive and young for 150 years) so make him an elderly southern gentleman with a lone black housekeeper (the Companion) in an isolated house. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy visit, maybe their car breaks down, and they see the relationship between Cochrane and the Companion. The pair have fallen in love without realising it, but when Kirk articulates the relationship Cochrane reacts with the disgust you would expect from someone with his upbringing. “Do you know what you're saying?... It's disgusting.... Is this what the future holds? Men who have no notion of decency or morality?”

Was this racial parable what Gene L. Coon had in mind? Metamorphosis appears to be trying for some sort of allegory. Cochrane has an odd line at the end of the story, “I might try to plant a fig tree. A man's entitled to that, isn't he?” The fig tree suggests a biblical reference to Adam and Eve, but maybe this is investing the line with more significance than it deserves. It's perfectly possible to just want an episode written by Gene L. Coon (who wrote Arena and The Devil In The Dark) to be better and this scrabbling for meaning is a way of lessening the inevitable disappointment. Sometimes a fig tree is just a fig tree, and sometimes even good writers have an off day.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are on a shuttle carrying Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford from Epsilon Canaris III, where Hedford is working to prevent a war, to the Enterprise so Hedford can be treated for Sakuro's disease before her condition becomes terminal. The shuttle is pulled off course and crashes. They meet a man who turns out to be Zefram Cochrane discoverer of the space warp, who is technically 237 but looks in his mid 30s. And there's a mysterious being called the Companion.

etamorphosis is packed with ideas but in an undisciplined way. Half a dozen plots are competing for space at the end of act one. The race against time for the dying Hedford and her work to prevent a war. The mystery of why the shuttle doesn't work when nothing is wrong. What is the Companion? The Rip Van Winkle/man out of time story of Zefram Cochrane. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meeting an important historical figure who should be dead. The relationship between Cochrane and the Companion.

Over the next 35 minutes all those stories are whittled away until only the love story between Cochrane and the Companion remains. A good shape for a story is like a pyramid. Multiple plots at the beginning making a wide base which converge to the same point at the climax. When Edith Keeler steps onto the road in The City On The Edge Of Forever, it resolves several stories at the same time; Kirk and Spock's trip back to 1930; the search for McCoy; Kirk's love affair with Edith; the question of whether Kirk will sacrifice history for his love of Edith; restoring history to the right path. In Metamorphosis plot lines are simply discarded. Cochrane being the inventor of the space warp adds nothing to the story. It's just forgotten along with the idea that he is 237. For all the impact both plot threads have on the story Cochrane could have been no one special and crashed five years ago. The potential war on Epsilon Canaris III is dismissed by Kirk in a single line, “Well, I'm sure the Federation can find another woman somewhere who'll stop that war.” In the end Hedford effectively just dies, and she dies off screen. In The World Of Star Trek David Gerrold defines good drama as being about a character making a decision. Here we don't get to see Hedford decide whether she wants to die, or live but as a merged, and different, personality. Unfortunately the only person we do get to see make a choice is Cochrane who goes from disgust at the idea of loving the Companion to choosing a relationship, but only once the Companion is safely inside a human body. If Metamorphosis is a parable about interracial relationships then it undercuts its own message of tolerance. The deliberately stereotypical version outlined above would end with crusty old Colonel Cochrane only accepting the reality of his love once his black housemaid's brain was transplanted into the body of a southern belle.

Ralph Senensky proves his fantastic direction on This Side Of Paradise was no fluke. He works hard to inject visual interest into the story. Often he includes characters in scenes even if they have no lines. Senensky has Hedford stand in the back of a two shot of Kirk and McCoy as they discuss the mystery of Cochrane. Then later, at Cochrane's house, Kirk and Spock talk in the background as Cochrane sits right at the front of a shot. Most memorable is a much praised shot where Hedford/Companion lifts up a multi-coloured scarf and looks through it at Cochrane, seeing him as the audience saw him earlier when the cloud-like form of the Companion surrounded him.

As on
This Side Of Paradise, Senensky's eye for a good shot encourages the Star Trek technical crew to some of their best work. The unnamed planet of the Companion is the best studio interior world so far, it even has clouds in the sky; little puffs of smoke which go a long way towards making this look like a living world. It's brilliant work by art directors Rolland Brooks and Matt Jefferies. Director of photography Jerry Finnerman also does a tremendous job, using light and deep focus photography to add depth to planet surface shots. He also makes good use of lenses to make the sound stage seem huge. In the shot of Cochrane waving at the shuttle Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Hedford look like tiny dolls. Film editor James D. Ballas can't really do anything to inject pace into the story but he handles little moments like the first reveal of the Companion in an unusual way. After McCoy and Kirk join Spock at the door of Cochrane's house we get a well composed shot of the trio looking out of the doorway. This is followed by a reaction shot of Spock, which then pans to Kirk and then to McCoy. Only then do we briefly see the Companion.

Metamorphosis shares one concept with The Devil In The Dark which makes the pair almost unique among Star Trek episodes. There is no outright villain. In both stories the real problem is an inability to communicate and see things from the other persons point of view. Metamorphosis may have been a miss for Gene L. Coon but he always had a very clear philosophical vision for the series.

Enterprise crew deaths: None, although it's unclear how Kirk accounts for the loss of Hedford. “She died en route to the Enterprise so we shoved her corpse out of an airlock,” seems most likely. Let's hope her family never asked any awkward questions.
Running total: 35

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I, Mudd

A lot of the criticisms applied to Catspaw should also apply to I, Mudd. Another frothy undemanding episode involving familiar story elements; instead of playing hunt-the-power-source, the Enterprise crew play hunt-the-controlling-android, and at the end the superior androids are confused to death by a bunch of silly humans. There's no great secret to why I, Mudd works and Catspaw doesn't; I, Mudd is better.

The tone helps. I, Mudd is unambiguously a comedy. Not a genre Star Trek has attempted before. There's been funny lines, and funny scenes, and since Gene L. Coon arrived as producer a lot of episodes have ended with a joke but the closet Star Trek came to outright comedy was Tomorrow Is Yesterday. An episode with moments of farce as characters were unexpectedly beamed up to the Enterprise. Now suddenly, in production order, there are two comedy episodes in a row I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles. Perhaps Gene Roddenberry took a couple of weeks holiday.

The lighter touch definitely helps. Catspaw is not a po-faced episode (Spock's line, “very bad poetry, Captain,” is a decent quip) but attempts to present Syliva and Korob as serious threats don't work. Suspension of disbelief is finally pushed to breaking point with the reveal of the pair's true forms. As a representation of, “a life form totally alien to our galaxy,” the cute puppets don't work. In the context of a Buffy The Vampire Slayer gag (the ending to Fear Itself where Grachnar the fear demon turns out to be tiny) they might have been more acceptable. However, comedy may cover a multitude of sins but it would still take more than a few jokes to make Catspaw work successfully as a story. Yes, I, Mudd has some laughs but at its core is a well constructed script.

Unlike Syliva and Korob the motivations of the androids are clearly laid out and easy to understand. They have decided the human race is too dangerous to have free run of the galaxy. They will take the hijacked Enterprise and use it to serve man, curbing humans most acquisitive instincts and subtly controlling them in the process. The plot puts a different spin on the androids plan by having them act out misguided good intentions. Like
The Changeling, I, Mudd shows us a threat which keeps escalating. First android Norman hijacks the Enterprise. Then Harry Mudd is revealed to be the brains behind the plan. Then Mudd explains his goal is to take over the Enterprise and fly it round the galaxy with his own android crew. And then the androids play their joker, they have their own plan and Harry Mudd is as much a prisoner as Kirk. The plot of I, Mudd is actually a little more sophisticated than The Changeling. In The Changeling the plot is a series of pull-back and reveals with each pull-back showing a little more of the bigger picture; the threat to the Enterprise is a damaged space probe called Nomad; Kirk must keep Nomad friendly; even friendly Nomad is a danger; Nomad learns the location of Earth. It's a linear plot whereas the android double-cross means I, Mudd ends on a twist. The audience are expecting the last act to be Kirk and crew against Mudd and androids, when it actually becomes Kirk, and crew, and Mudd against the androids.

If this is beginning to make I, Mudd sound like Shakespeare it shouldn't. By Star Trek's standards this remains a lightweight story, but it clearly demonstrates the care that even lightweight stories require. I, Mudd is full of moments which show the script has been carefully thought through. Most notably when Uhura pretends to betray Kirk and exposes his fake escape attempt because the androids are alert for an attempt and will relax their guard once it has been thwarted. Another script might have skipped this scene and jumped straight to the real escape. It's a character moment, and is not essential to the plot, but because it shows the Enterprise crew thinking through the implications of their captivity it adds a little fine detail to the story. Gene L. Coon's fingerprints seem to be all over this script, all of the characters get something to do (with the exception of poor Mr Sulu who only gets lines in the teaser and then disappears from the story). It's tempting to wonder if there was some anxiety about doing a straight comedy, because extra work does seem to have been done to bolster the script and it withstands scrutiny much better than Catspaw or The Alternative Factor.

Opinions about the comedy will depend on the viewer. It's often quite broad, and much of it relies on Shatner and Nimoy's deadpan reactions to Roger C. Carmel blustering (“That, sir, is an outrageous assumption!”). There's some real fun with the use of language (“Next, we take the Alices on a trip through Wonderland.”) but the highlight is Spock's use of logic to confuse two of the Alice model androids. A sequence which pulls of the difficult trick of being funny, in character for Spock, and also weirdly logical. 

ALICE 27: Mister Spock, you have a remarkably logical and analytical mind.
SPOCK: Thank you. [Spock attempts a neck pinch on Alice 210, it has no effect.]
ALICE 210: Is there some significance to this action?
SPOCK: I love you [points at Alice 27]. However, I hate you. [looks at Alice 210]
ALICE 210: But I'm identical in every way with Alice Twenty Seven.
SPOCK: Yes, of course. That is exactly why I hate you. Because you are identical.

That exchange is part of the climax of the episode. An audacious ten minute scene of Kirk, Spock, Harry Mudd, and the rest of the bridge crew confusing the androids into shutting down. It's tempting to label this sequence as indescribable but that gives the impression I watched I, Mudd babbling, “no words... should have sent a poet,” like Jodi Foster in Contact. It's a ten minute absurdist segment, like a freeform surrealist play within the episode itself. The cast play invisible violins and dance to imaginary music, 'kill' Scotty by pointing their fingers at him and whistling, and mess around with non-existent explosives. I don't like it much but have to admire the simple fact it exists and was broadcast in primetime on NBC.

I'm not keen on the sequence because it pushes the limits of believability of Star Trek. I can buy Kirk being Starfleet's greatest Captain, and irresistible to any woman in a thirty light year radius, but here he, and the rest of the bridge crew, suddenly become expert actors and improvisers. Either their flawless routine is made up on the spot or they've spent time scripting and rehearsing it; neither explanation works for me. To be fair, someone at the time must have held similar concerns because there is an attempt to have Kirk direct the action, pointing at people and cueing their lines, but this just emphasises the play acting nature of the scene and leaves me wondering why the androids get so confused. And that's probably my biggest complaint. The androids can be shut down by playing let's pretend. Derek Griffiths pretending to be a jelly on Play School would blow their minds. Presumably the original creators never let their children near the androids or their brains would be fused by the sight of a six year old gallumphing around and telling everyone she was a ballet dancing princess.

Director Marc Daniels keeps the story grounded and someone, possibly assistant director Phil Rawlins, does excellent work keeping track of the extras used for the duplicate androids. A few split screen effects, most notably when Harry Mudd introduces the Alice series, sell the idea of identical androids but for the most part the androids are achieved with one set of twins, a lot of identical costumes and some wigs. The clever use of extras is demonstrated in the scene where the androids reveal their true plan.

[A wide shot of the throne room. Harry fusses around saying goodbye to the androids. The camera pushes forwards and Kirk enters the rear of the throne room set with Spock and the other Alice twin]
KIRK: Mudd, a few questions I want to ask you.
MUDD: Afraid I won't have time to answer them. My bags are all packed. The androids will take the Enterprise out of orbit in less than twenty four hours. But it's been a real pleasure having you here, Kirk. Is there anything I can get for you?
...Skipped the bit with Stella...
MUDD: Alice Number 2, my little love. Will you have my bags transported up to the ship? [During this line the camera pulls back at an angle favouring both the twins, until we can see four Alices. The two twins and the two extras]

ANDROIDS: No, my Lord Mudd.

MUDD: What?

NORMAN: We can no longer take your orders, Harry Mudd.

MUDD: Why not?

 NORMAN: Our makers were wise. They programmed us to serve.

MUDD: Yes, but that's what I'm saying. Put my bags on the ship.

KIRK: Harry, I think they have something else in mind.
NORMAN: You are correct, Captain. Harry Mudd is flawed, even for a human being...

NORMAN:[Continues over reaction shot] We recognised this from the beginning but used his knowledge to obtain more specimens....

 NORMAN:[Continues in close-up]Your species is self-destructive...

 NORMAN:[Continues over reaction shot] You need our help.

KIRK: We prefer to help ourselves. We make mistakes, but we're human. And maybe that's the word that best explains us.

NORMAN: We will not harm you, but we will take the starship...

NORMAN:[Continues] and you will remain on this planet.
MUDD: Now, look here. You can't do that! Now, listen. To serve us, you must obey us.

ANDROIDS: No, my Lord Mudd.
MUDD: Alice number One... [still the same shot, the camera pans showing Spock and one of the Alice twins at the back of the room, Harry walks towards her] 

MUDD: [Continues] obey me. Put my bags on that ship!
[Alice 1 gives him a push. Harry goes reeling backwards]

NORMAN: We cannot allow any race as greedy and corruptible as yours...

NORMAN:[Continues over reaction shot] to have free run of the galaxy.

SPOCK: [As Spock speaks he walks forwards and the camera pans with him. One of the Alice twins follows and moves to stand behind Spock] I'm curious, Norman. Just how do you intend to stop them?

NORMAN: We shall serve them. Their kind will be eager to accept our service....

NORMAN:[Continues over reaction shot] Soon they will become completely dependent upon us.

ALICE 99: Their aggressive and acquisitive instincts will be under our control.
NORMAN: We shall take care of them.

SPOCK: Eminently practical.
KIRK: The whole galaxy controlled by your kind?
NORMAN: Yes, Captain.... 

Norman: [Continues in close-up] And we shall serve them and you will be happy, and controlled.

If that seems confusing to read, it was even more complicated to write, and I suspect it was most complicated of all to film. Kudos to whoever staged the scene for keeping track of the geography and making sure the two twins were used as effectively as possible. They are moved between shots and positioned very carefully though the sequence to make sure they give the impression of a planet full of identical androids.

Enterprise crew deaths: None, True to his word Norman is very careful not to kill anyone.
Running total: 35

Sunday, November 18, 2012


“Star Trek obviously solicits all-out suspension of disbelief but it won't work. It was an incredible mess of dreary complexities and confusion at the kick-off... By a generous stretch of the imagination it could lure a small coterie of the smallfry, though not happily time slotted in that direction. It's better suited to the Saturday morning kidvid bloc.”

Robert Justman and Herbert Solow quote from the The Weekly Variety's stinker of a review of The Man Trap in their book Inside Star Trek. It never gets any kinder than the section quoted above, also describing Shatner and Nimoy as, “wooden” and wondering, “how this lowercase fantasy broke into the sked.” Frustratingly the complete review doesn't appear online but the sections in Justman and Solow's book suggest the review reserves much of its criticism for surface details (“[Mr Spock] socalled chief science officer whose bizarre hairdo (etc.) is a dilly”) rather than anything much of substance. Having said that, the quoted section is very perceptive about Star Trek's scheduling. It may not have ended up on Saturday mornings but the series only achieved mass popularity in syndication after it was bought by Kaiser Broadcasting who targeted young males by putting Star Trek on at 6pm opposite their competitor's news broadcasts.

The Weekly Variety's review may be off target for The Man Trap but it sums up Catspaw very well because it does look look like, “lowercase fantasy suitable for smallfry”.

There's a lack of depth to Robert Bloch's script. It is very superficial, in a way no other
Star Trek script has been before. Even a flawed episode like The Apple contains a Garden of Eden metaphor; Kirk gets some maudlin reflection about the weight of command; McCoy and Spock have an ongoing debate about the right way to treat the feeders of Vaal; there's some “nudge nudge, wink wink,” talk about sex; and the suggestion that humans stagnate in paradise and need to suffer to achieve their potential (a recurring theme in Star Trek). The Weekly Variety's favourite episode The Man Trap uses the extinct buffalo as a metaphor for the salt vampire; McCoy must kill a creature which looks like the love of his life; there's the disturbing question of Crater's relationship with the salt vampire (he appears to have fallen in love with the creature which killed his wife because it can make itself look like the woman it killed- to quote Homer Simpson “who's gonna pay for that wedding?”); and even the title is a pun, like a real man trap the salt vampire is a snare for the unwary.

Viewers can watch both stories on one of several levels. They can question the motivation of characters and decide who is right and who is wrong. They can pick up hints of themes too risky for network television to talk about in any detail. They can draw parallels with other stories. Or, they can watch them purely as the exciting space adventures of Captain Kirk and his fight against Vaal, or the salt vampire.

However, it's not just lashings of subtext which make a story work. The Apple's discussion of sex among the feeders of Vaal is handled in such a juvenile way (Spock is embarrassed by the subject: why?) the script would probably be marginally better if it was removed. The weakest part of The Doomsday Machine is the planet killer/nuclear weapons parallel; if only because Kirk unambiguously spells out the message to the audience. Mirror, Mirror makes no attempt at allegory and the cast are driven by the desire to escape; one of the most basic motives possible.

Why then do Mirror, Mirror and The Doomsday Machine feel more sophisticated than Catspaw? Both episodes give us something different. The Doomsday Machine works because the threat to the Enterprise is doubled; externally from the planet killer and internally from the obsessed Commodore Decker. Mirror, Mirror shows us a world where friends are enemies and everything familiar seems dangerous and new.

In contrast Catspaw has nothing new to offer except the set dressing. Scrape away the skeletons, black cats, and torch lit dungeons and there's a familiar stew of ideas the audience has already been presented with too many times. In Bloch's earlier script What Are Little Girls Made Of? the android Andrea goes mad after being kissed by Kirk. Here Sylvia is driven insane by the rush of sensations in her new human body. Sylvia mentions a transmuter and we're off on a game of hunt-the-power source as seen in The Squire Of Gothos. As in The Return Of The Archons members of the Enterprise crew become zombie puppets under external control. Kirk attempts to seduce Sylvia as he did with Karidian's daughter Lenore in The Conscience Of The King. Catspaw ends up feeling juvenile because it's problems are threefold. The story has no depth, the setting is just about the only original element, and the motivations of Korob and Sylvia, the two aliens who drive the plot by accidentally tapping into the human collective unconsciousness and creating a planet of witches and haunted castles (another concept done before in The Squire Of Gothos where Trelane accidentally builds his world based on outdated images from Earth), are too vague and undefined to be of any real interest.

One of the few moments of real interest comes when Korob reminds Sylvia, “We have a duty to the old ones.” Bloch was a H.P. Lovecraft fan so it seems likely he intended the reference to refer to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft described Cthulhu as, “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers,” which does slightly match the otherwise terrible puppets which represent the true forms of Korob and Sylvia at the end of the story. Also, if you are equipped with a dirty sense of humour, there's unintentional comedy in the moment Sylvia declares,I am a woman. I am all women,” before kneeling before Kirk and placing her hands on his hips. It looks as if she is about to commit a most indecorous act. Sylvia may be all women but she's clearly no lady.

Given this script director Joseph Pevney does his best but, as with
The Apple, he's clearly struggling to engage with the material. Korob gets an unusual close-up when he argues with Sylvia. There's a terrific tracking shot as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy search the planet at the beginning of the episode; the trio walk down a shallow gulley which allows rocks to move in the foreground and background. The jump cut from the dungeon to throne room, as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy struggle with Sulu and Scotty, is effective and momentarily disorientating but weirdly the most effective piece of editing isn't in the episode itself. The Next Voyage advert for Catspaw includes the sequence where Sylvia demonstrates her ability to change between different female forms. As she changes someone, probably film editor Bruce Shoengarth, inserts short shots of the cat snarling as a transition between the different forms. It's more creepy and effective than anything in the episode.

Enterprise crew deaths: One, Lieutenant Jackson who does a spectacular belly flop onto the transporter pad after beaming up dead.
Running total: 35

Journey Into Terror a 1965 episode of Doctor Who features the TARDIS crew landing in what appears to be the collective human unconscious while on the run from the Daleks. As in Catspaw, spooky haunted house imagery is the order of the day (along with Dracula and Frankenstein).
There must have been something in the air, or possibly the collective unconscious, during the mid sixties for two series on both sides of the Atlantic to reference Jung's theories in such similar ways, and so close together. Jung died in 1961 but his last book Man And His Symbols was published in 1964.
Possibly it was this which raised awareness of his work.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Doomsday Machine

William Windom is brilliant as Commodore Matt Decker. It's probably the best performance by a guest star on a series not always notable for allowing guest stars to shine. Unless an actor is extremely good, or very lucky, they stand little chance of making an impression against Star Trek's regular cast and attendant science-fiction gubbins (winking lights, strange makeup, weird noises, bizarre creatures, etc). Pity poor Alfred Ryder credited as the guest star of The Man Trap when all the audience remembers is the salt vampire, or Robert Brown dropped at the last minute into a thankless role (technically two thankless roles) in The Alternative Factor and unable to make an impression against the special effects of that episode. There are actors who make Star Trek work for them. William Campbell, as Trelane in The Squire Of Gothos, and Ricardo Montalban, as Khan in Space Seed both take big central characters and make them their own. More impressively Mark Lenard, as the Romulan Commander with no name in Balance Of Terror, and Celia Lovsky as T'Pau in Amok Time both make very good impressions in considerably smaller roles than those given to Ricardo Montalban or William Campbell. Generally speaking though Star Trek tends to be a series which treats the guest star role as disposable. A slot which can be filled by simply giving the star something different to do (evil Kirk in The Enemy Within), or by a prop (Nomad in The Changeling), or a costume (the Gorn, Arena), or by not bothering with a guest star at all (Operation – Annihilate!).

William Windom is so good it comes as something of a disappointment to discover he thought the role, “seemed kind of silly, with the planet eater and spaceships. It's like doing a cartoon, so I acted accordingly!” As a fan, his blunt comment disappoints for two reasons. First because as a non-actor it's easy to assume an actor has to like the material to turn in a good performance (an assumption most actors would probably consider an insult to their professionalism). Secondly because The Doomsday Machine is great. It would be nice to think some of that greatness rubbed off on Windom and made him remember this job as different from the more run of the mill material. Still, it's a reasonable assessment from an actor with an amazingly long career, who seemed to regard television as the disposable portion of his work. The Doomsday Machine was one of ten jobs Windom had in 1967 (the others being parts in Run for Your Life, The Fugitive, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Hour of the Gun, The Invaders, Custer, Gentle Ben, Dundee and the Culhane, and Judd for the Defense). Imagine how the job must have appeared from his perspective. Five days schlepping across Los Angeles to a soundstage at Desilu (a company past its prime), surrounded by the aforementioned blinking lights and actors in strange makeup, and being told to look scared at something the production team will add later.

There's a surprising similarity between Commodore Decker and Finney from Court Martial. Most obviously in both cases the production team dress the character in a gold coloured top, and give them stubble; apparently the ultimate sign in the 1960s of someone losing their mind. Both actors use the same performance style for their character; letting their voice crack, bulging their eyes, and making quick transitions between emotional states. The key difference is Windom's performance works while Richard Webb's seems melodramatic and over the top. Party this is down to the way each character is introduced to the audience. Court Martial spends a great deal of its running time telling us how everyone loves Finney; he's popular in Starfleet (certainly much more popular than Kirk judging by the welcome he gets at Starbase 11), and generally together enough to assemble (and fake evidence for) an elaborate revenge plot against Captain Kirk. When Finney is finally revealed as a ranting, barely in control madman there's a mismatch between what the audience has been told, and what they are shown, and Webb's performance seems wrong. By contrast The Doomsday Machine sets up two destroyed planetary systems, and a wrecked starship. After Matt Decker is introduced in a virtually catatonic state Windom's performance seems appropriate because his character has obviously gone through hell. Also, Windom is a better actor than Webb. That's not to run down Webb's performance too much because he's fine in Court Martial, but Windom is just astonishing.

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. They called me. They begged me for help, four hundred of them. I couldn't. I couldn't.

Windom brings those lines to life. His red-eyed, crumpled face delivery of “don't you think I know that,” is pure melodrama but it works perfectly and sets a doom-laden tone for the rest of the episode. It's no surprise to learn he used to self-deprecatingly refer to himself as Willie the Weeper.

It's the addition of Matt Decker to The Doomsday Machine which makes Norman Spinrad's script sing. His character defines the threat to the Enterprise, acting as a warning from the future of what Kirk could become if his luck ever runs out. Decker also doubles the threat to the Enterprise crew. There's the external threat from the planet killer, and the internal one from Decker who is obsessed with taking revenge against the machine which killed his crew. Decker's presence also makes Kirk more heroic. It's not accidental that Decker as a Commodore outranks both Spock and Kirk. If Decker was a mere Captain he would still be able to take charge of the Enterprise but there would be no drama in the scene where Kirk orders Spock to relieve Decker. It would simply be one Captain taking action against another, the scene only works because Kirk has to undercut the chain of command. The script also shows why Spock is a natural second in command. He knows Decker is wrong but he plays things by the book and follows regulations. He lacks Kirk's ability to make an intuitive leap and find another solution. Essentially Spock's plan is to keep confronting Decker with the facts until he listens to reason. “You tried to destroy it once before, Commodore. The result was a wrecked ship and a dead crew.” Spock doesn't understand emotion enough to realise that saying astonishingly brutal things like that don't help; especially not to someone still grieving over the deaths of 430 crew. The scenes where Decker assumes command of the Enterprise show what an asset Leonard Nimoy is to Star Trek. When Deforest Kelly yells, “do something,” Nimoy's stone-faced stare manages to project the impression that Spock's mind is going at a million miles an hour trying to find a way to relieve Decker of command; really Nimoy was probably wondering what to have for lunch.

The presence of Commodore Decker is also what separates the threat in The Doomsday Machine from the similar one posed by Nomad three episodes ago in The Changeling. Both are apparently unstoppable machines capable of wiping out planetary systems, and both pose a massive threat to the Enterprise. Apart from the difference in size, it's only Nomad's ability to talk which separates the two. The dividing line between good and average stories is very fine and it's easy to imagine transplanting elements from The Changeling into The Doomsday Machine. Nomad could easily have sterilized the Constellation crew, leaving Decker out for revenge and shocked by the threat posed by something so small. Or, Kirk could have beamed inside the planet killer and talked the controlling computer to death with illogic. Kirk is also dealing with a considerable ramping up of threat. Over the last year and a bit he's gone from dealing with a single salt vampire on the Enterprise, to planetary outbreaks of insanity, to machines capable of destroying entire planetary systems.

Marc Daniels, a solid workmanlike director, injects some flourishes into the bridge scenes. Most notably in a lovely tracking shot which starts on Sulu, follows a yellow shirted ensign round to Kirk who then walks in front of the bridge screen and around to Spock. Daniels must have been, understandably, proud of this shot as he repeats it with Kirk and Spock at the end of the episode. Film editor Donald R. Rode also does good work intercutting Kirk and McCoy searching the Constellation with Scotty and the damage control team examining engineering. He also manages to extend the final 30 second countdown to 90 seconds. Something which he makes tense, rather than silly, by cutting frantically between the Enterprise bridge, Scotty attempting to fix the transporter, the transporter room, exterior shots, and Kirk on the Constellation, “Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard.”

Helping Donald R. Rode's cutting in the 30 second countdown is Sol Kaplan's astonishing score. As the planet killer closes on the Constellation, Kaplan gives us a pulsing rhythm which speeds up and increases the tension as the Constellation and the planet killer close on each other, and ends on cornets blaring as the planet killer is destroyed. Kaplan's music is what makes The Doomsday Machine such an outstanding Star Trek episode. It perfectly underscores big moments like Decker flying the shuttle into the planet killer's maw and small ones like the first sighting of the crippled Constellation. Just as important, Kaplan understands the value of silence. When the Enterprise is caught in the planet killer's tractor beam, and Spock threatens to relieve Decker on the grounds that his actions would amount to suicide, the whole scene plays out with no music, and instead the score is brought back on Sulu's line, “we're being pulled inside” to make the ending of act two more dramatic.

Kaplan also composes a theme for people using the transporter which leads to a great musical double-bluff as Kirk sets the timer running on Scotty's lashed up self-destruct system for the Constellation. In the build up to Kirk pressing the red button the music is playing the pulsing planet killer pursuit theme. As he presses the button a trumpet plays a little flurry which extends out into a single held note. The same note as the one which starts the already established transporter theme. As the film cuts to a shot of the transporter the music sounds as if it is making a transition between the theme for the planet killer and the one for the transporter and it tricks the audience into expecting to see Kirk beamed safely aboard. Instead the transporter gives out a puff of smoke, and the held note breaks up into a musical sting. Amusingly, Kaplan is the name of one of the unfortunate guards killed in The Apple (the 9th episode filmed, after The Doomsday Machine but shown the week before), he's the one zapped by lightning, maybe someone on the writing team was having a joke.

Enterprise crew deaths: None.
Running total: 34