Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Changeling"

2.5 stars

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™ 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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19 comments on this review

Strider
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.
Jack
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.
Legendary
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.
stallion
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.
todayshorse
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!
Beth
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.
elscotto
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.
Norvo
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 ;-)
Skeptical
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.
Snotrocket
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.
Rahul
Wed, Feb 22, 2017, 4:26pm (UTC -6)
Another mediocre episode for me after "Who Mourns for Adonais?". Just a lot of silliness with Scotty being killed then brought back to life, part of Uhura's memory being wiped out and her learning to read basic English again, Spock mind-melding with a computer...
The premise of an old Earth probe being damaged and turned into an ultra-powerful killing machine that adopts Kirk as its creator is interesting. As Nomad starts to piece together its next move (killing off the crew and heading for Earth while starting to disobey Kirk) works, however the story is slow paced, it does drag as if it was a struggle to fill the full hour.
I do agree with many of the comments already made that of all the instances where Kirk convinces a computer to destroy itself, this one's probably the most well done.
This one rates 2/4 stars for me. Very much a true science fiction story which has its silly quirks.
Peter
Sat, Apr 22, 2017, 9:19am (UTC -6)
Uhura's memory-wipe aside, I liked this episode. The two things that stood out for me were the cinematography, especially the shots looking over Nomad's "shoulder," and the music score. I realize many of the music quotes were reused later in the series, but wow they are good. I am not sure at what point they stopped composing new scores and simply used existing material. If the pieces in this episode were from earlier ones, I wish I knew which ones.

When watching TOS, I also keep in mind when it was done, and I'm frequently thinking the effects were so good for that time. The way Nomad floats around the Enterprise about 3 feet of the floor is so nicely executed. I couldn't tell if they had it on some kind of rolling dolly or suspended with wires, but neither was at all discernible. You can be sure none of it was digital! 3 stars for me on this one, just on the strength of the music and production values.
TB
Mon, May 8, 2017, 7:10am (UTC -6)
So many problems with this episode:

- Nomad conveniently thinks Kirk is the engineer who created it and also conveniently forgets that it was built by humans.... even tough it scans all the "units" to determine they are biological, it just "forgets" to do that with Kirk and doesn't realise until Kirk tells it at the end?

- Uhura remembers Swahili but has to be taught English? Wouldn't here entire personality be different, all her experiences and upbringing that made her herself have been lost?

- A mind meld with a robot? Come on they could have come up with a better solution than that.

- Some abysmal camera work following Nomad around the ship closely from behind. What was the director thinking?

Not a terrible episode but not one of the best. 2/4
Rahul
Mon, Sep 18, 2017, 5:18pm (UTC -6)
@Peter -

As for the musical score -- like most TOS episodes, it's a mish-mash from other ones that had original scores. I'm pretty sure nothing original was made exclusively (or mostly exclusively) for this episode. Probably the 2 most used episodes for the score are "Catspaw" (the impending danger music as Nomad wanders through the hallways) and "Amok Time". There's also a bit of "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and a bit of "Metamorphosis".

But I don't think of this episode, in particular, as being one of the TOS episodes with an outstanding score -- those would be (having original scores) "The Doomsday Machine", "Amok Time", or "The Conscience of the King". "Metamorphosis" had an excellent musical score as well. They wrote some great music for S3 as well in "The Empath".

NCC-1701-Z
Sun, Oct 1, 2017, 1:13am (UTC -6)
Not a super serious episode but certainly fun to watch over and over again. I love watching Kirk out-logic Nomad in the end - my dad and I loved to act that part out together when I was a kid. Good memories!

"A mass of conflicting impulses" - Nomad describing Uhura
Dave
Tue, Oct 10, 2017, 10:32am (UTC -6)
Why would the merged probe have the deadly firepower shown here? Surely this is vastly more potency than a probe would need to sterilize the quantity of soil a one meter probe could store.
Trek fan
Wed, Oct 18, 2017, 9:04pm (UTC -6)
A really fun and tense episode, "The Changeling" is also a neat look at how the same story can be done different on TV and in a feature film. While "Star Trek The Motion Picture" tells this story as an epic Heart of Darkness journey into the awesome unknown, keeping the big reveal secret until the end, the TOS source episode relies more on character and tension to get the job done. The coincidence that saves the ship here at the start is a bit extreme, but I give "Changeling" 3 stars because it's fun and tense.

The crew's efforts to manage and then defeat Nomad make for some intriguing conflict. Glad to see Uhura and Scotty mix it up a little in the plot, here, too. The theoretical implications of an Earth probe coming home to destroy Earth after mingling with aliens are better discussed in TMP, including the search for God aspect, but the TOS ep does a better job of highlighting what we love about the TV series: People working together to solve a problem. This episode is a good example of how TOS could sell minimal special effects -- the probe design is rather underwhelming and unthreatening compared to V'ger -- with convincing acting and stylish filmmaking. I especially love Kirk's logical victory at the end that actually feels logical for once: It's a clever leap of intuition to apply the implications of his own imperfection to Nomad's mistaken identification of him as "the Creator." This is a bit more reasonable than the TMP resolution of entering the transmission codes into V'ger, though perhaps less mystical than the Decker-Ilia merging. Anyway, "Changeling" is a good but not great TOS episode with iconic imagery, even though there's not much deep substance to the themes here.
Trent
Mon, Nov 27, 2017, 7:56am (UTC -6)
I thought Uhura's mind-wipe was meant to echo Nomad's. Uhura, like Nomad, is a life-seeking communication's device which upon contact with alien technology suffers a breakdown and loss of memory. Like Nomad, she then needs to be reeduacted.

IMO, the episode would have been better if Scotty's death was removed from the script. Devote that time, instead, to developping the Uhura subplot better (and with more gravity).

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