Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Changeling"


Air date: 9/29/1967
Written by John Meredyth Lucas
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The crew encounters Nomad, a computerized Earth probe that somehow merged with an alien probe and subsequently launched a mission to "sterilize" (read: destroy) anything that is "imperfect." Nomad has already killed millions. Fortunately, Nomad mistakes Kirk for its creator, a scientist who died hundreds of years ago. This gives Kirk just enough perceived authority over the machine to keep it from destroying the Enterprise and its crew.

Nomad and the mystery behind its existence is neat in story terms, and it being on the verge of destroying everything keeps us mindful of the danger. A scene where Spock mind melds with Nomad is interesting (even though I wondered how he could read the thoughts of a computer). But the episode suffers from a few too many unproductive gimmicks: Scotty dying and then undying; Uhura's mind being wiped of all information; and, of course, the cliche where Kirk Outsmarts the Computer [TM] yet again—although this time it seems a little more plausible than in previous episodes.

Unfortunately, the ridiculously implausible idea of Uhura's wiped mind being retrained with basic education (she is reading sentences on the level of "See the dog run" at one point in the episode) is more than just a little absurd. The fact that she's on the bridge the next week as if nothing happened is just plain silly.

Previous episode: Who Mourns for Adonais?
Next episode: Mirror, Mirror

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11 comments on this review

Fri, Jun 1, 2012, 1:13am (UTC -6)
I didn't get how Spock could mind-meld with the computer/robot, either. And I'm not sure it was a good writing choice; Spock's telepathic powers aren't to be bandied about or used lightly--it's just not Spocklike to do that.
Thu, Jan 2, 2014, 11:15pm (UTC -6)
How can we see the pulses approaching if they're going "Warp 15"?
William B
Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 12:55pm (UTC -6)
That Uhura learning to read scene is high comedy, especially when Chapel goes over to McCoy and asks with seriousness and dejection, does he think they can really teach her again!? And then Uhura pronounces "blue" as "bloo-ey" and McCoy and Chapel laugh indulgently like Uhura's an adorable two-year-old. I think what makes it so bizarre, funny, and extreme is that only the most half-hearted effort is made to acknowledge how devastating this total loss of memory would be, and how difficult retraining would be, while still providing enough of an effort that it is not wholly glossed over. If they glossed it over entirely ("she'll be retrained for next week!") then it would be clear that the writers et al. didn't really expect us to buy it in any realistic way, but needed us to accept it and move on. The slow-approaching but "warp 15" pulses (as Jack mentions) and Spock's mindmeld with the totally non-biological machine (as Jammer and Strider mention) are examples of this -- they are totally goofy concepts, but they are part of the plot, so, deal with it and move on. If they actually took the thing *really* seriously, even ending the episode on something of a downbeat the way TNG's "The Mind's Eye" ends with Troi saying that it would take Geordi a long time to deal with the events of the episode (even though he's fine next week), there would be a sense that they were lending it the proper gravity. This business has essentially one or two lines which tell us this is Serious!, and then end with a joke; it's one of my favourite "bad" moments from the original series, perhaps because it's bad in a bizarre, audacious way that only this show could do.

Another moment I found quite funny, but I'm not sure is actually a poor decision, is a few times during the final Kirk/Nomad confrontation there would be a shot of Kirk saying something, and then a reaction shot of Nomad floating in stunned silence. Hee. It's funny how easily this anthropomorphization goes down, to the point where we look to a machine that literally cannot express any reaction visually in order to "see" its reaction. In general I think the episode does a good job of making Nomad seem like a recognizable character even though it's just a machine wandering about; one of the details I like is the way its attitude toward Kirk subtly changes from reverent awe to confused reluctant compliance to outright hostility as it becomes more and more disenchanted with Kirk's decisions.

The rest of the episode is pretty okay, if not thrilling. The Scotty death and rebirth business I agree is a little pointless. The extent of the social commentary comes down to the idea that well-intentioned missions can become twisted; *probably* we're not going to be sending out any probes which will merge with other probes to become super-probes which kill people, but it's a common theme in science-fiction that computers can sometimes go astray of the original *intent* of the programming, and something like that happens with Nomad. Nomad's emphasis on perfection and sterilization is also one of the series' frequent reminders that humanity is flawed, and this is not actually a "bad thing": ability to accept imperfection is necessary in order to go on with life, and Nomad's extremism comes down to its arbitrarily high standard for existence and perfection. The search for self-improvement and improvement of the world *is* a valuable one, but let's keep things in perspective. Like Jammer, I find Kirk's short-circuiting Nomad's logic more plausible than in other Kirk Outsmarts the Computer episodes, partly because the specific problem Nomad had, the impossible standards for perfection and the programming to destroy anything falling short of that problem, is one that obviously *would* implicate Nomad, as a sub-perfect machine.

I think I'd say 2.5 stars for the package, too.
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 4:55pm (UTC -6)
I rather like the theory some fans have that Uhura only lost her LANGUAGE, and that she had everything else just fine. It makes the consequences still real but averts the obvious issues of her TOTALLY losing her memory.
Mon, Sep 1, 2014, 11:36pm (UTC -6)
I enjoyed this episode a lot more than I enjoyed the Star Trek the motionless I mean the motion picture. It would had been funny if Nomad was a Dalek. It would had been better if McCoy discovered the effect on Uhura was only temporarily due to Scotty interrupting the process.

Great use of the cast with a few exception.

1. I wish they replaced Mr. Singer with Chekov or transporter chief kyle.

2. Replace Scott with Sulu for the last act when they grabbed the anti grab.
Wed, Nov 12, 2014, 1:13pm (UTC -6)
Saw this today for the first time, ive been watching quite a few of series 1 and 2 mainly because tomorrow is 'Mirror Mirror' which im eager to see. But this episode left me.....speechless! Ludicrously bizarre, laugh out loud-able in the most part. I thought the previous episode with Adonais and his 'giant hand' holding the ship was somthing but 'nomad'...well...I guess this episode had somthing to do with 'The Motion Picture'...carbon units/units, the basic premise etc, ill have to read up on it. How the crew kept a straight face whilst 'wobbly' nomad wandered around the ship i dont really know. Love Spocks reactions to some of the things 'nomad' said though and Uhura 'see dog run'...sigh!
Wed, Dec 17, 2014, 12:27pm (UTC -6)
Ah yes, yet ANOTHER episode where Kirk "outwits" the machine with self-destructive "logic". But wow, I was face-palming through a lot of this. From Spock's mind-meld (with a tin can?) to Uhura going from pre-school English to "College level" in a short time (wtf, do they have some kind of learn-by-osmosis machines in the 23rd century, ala the "lesson feeds" in "The Matrix"?), to the lovely (laughable) Nomad-perspective camera angles, to Kirk's TERRIBLE joke at the end that REALLY made me put palm to face...

And yet, it was still an enjoyable episode, and I could get past the hokeyness and silliness. It was also interesting to see this story again, and realize what I somehow hadn't realized before: "Oh hey, this is where they got that whole V'Ger thing from The Motionless Picture!" [The movie being a slightly different case, where the story was oversimple and the plot not all that well thought-out, and the pace plodding with somewhat stiff acting, but nonetheless still was somehow an enjoyable thing to sit through].

I give it 1.5 out of 4. Stupid, but fun.
Sun, Mar 8, 2015, 1:04pm (UTC -6)
I realize not everything has to make complete sense, but the thing with Uhura made not sense. How did she still know Swahili if her mind had been wiped? Wouldn't there be major psychological implications if she had lost all her memory? How would it be possible to relearn everything in a matter of weeks?

The joking at the end was unnecessary, too. Seems weird to make jokes about a thing that just killed 4 billion people.

Altogether, this is a pretty weak episode.
Sat, Apr 23, 2016, 4:33am (UTC -6)
I've never seen the episode, but I did see Star Trek: The Motion Picture... Judging from this synopsis, they're basically the same story. Which only proves the movie could have been half as long and with twice as many laughs ;-)
Sun, Jan 1, 2017, 9:18pm (UTC -6)
So last episode was the advanced alien who was like a god, this episode is Kirk outwitting a computer, and next episode is bearded Spock. It's the TOS trope trifecta! Toss in some red shirt deaths and a few "He's dead Jim"s and we've got it all!

I have to admit the Uhura thing was odd. So, Nomad wiped out everything in her brain? So then how did she still know Swahili? It's not like the language is innate within her, and its highly unlikely anyone on board would have taught her Swahili first. So I guess Nomad just wiped out some of her brain. But why keep Swahili and not English? Did it just wipe her brain down to a 4 year old? Do our brains really work that way, with a "date learned" stamp on everything? I guess what I'm saying is that glossing over Uhura relearning everything within a week is slightly forgivable since it's not clear what she really lost. I guess we can fanwank it away that she really didn't lose that much of her knowledge, even though that's what Nomad implied. Oh well, best not to think too much about it.

Also best not to think too much about Nomad's origin story. We had, what, two different non-sapient robots cram together to suddenly become a sentient AI with a garbled mission combined from the mission of the two different programs they had. Does assembly code really work like that? Wouldn't the programming be less in English and more in producing the protocols and logic trees to carry out the mission? Instead, it seemed more like what a human would think, combining two vague mission statements into one. To me, it seems clever on the surface, but underneath is just kinda stupid. Although hey, who knows how the whole AI think works in the Trek universe.

I will admit though, that while the "outwitting a computer" thing is thoroughly mocked in TOS, it was reasonably well done here. I like the way it was done, with Kirk slowly getting to the point to show Nomad his logical flaw. Going the route of getting Nomad to agree that his role is to destroy anything perfect, then pointing out that Nomad himself is perfect, was well done. And hey, the rising crescendo of Kirk's demands on Nomad keeps the tension going well enough, followed by the race to getting him off the ship. It's a lot better than just demanding him the last digit of pi or something. Oh well. It's a simple plot, but one that works well enough.
Fri, Jan 6, 2017, 1:11pm (UTC -6)
I love Kirk's final remark/joke. Only the original crew had the chemistry to pull that kind of thing off.

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