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 cliché 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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42 comments on this post

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.
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.
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.
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
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".
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
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.
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).
Debra Petersen
Wed, Jun 6, 2018, 8:10pm (UTC -6)
Just finished watching this one again on H&I. Isn't it a little odd that Kirk would say Nomad "thought I was it's MOTHER"? Wouldn't a man more naturally say FATHER? I guess the writer was going for some humor and thought it sounded funnier that way, but to me it just sounds...strange.
Wed, Oct 3, 2018, 10:21am (UTC -6)
Just watched the episode expecting it to be the one where that woman turns into a yeti. Instead we got the same storyline that would feature in TMP, that crappy TNG episode about mining robots and no less than two Voyager episodes: Dreadnought and Warhead. Talk about returning to the well.

TOS is something I view with ambivalence. To me it is undoubtedly the weakest Trek series. Even though season 1 of ENT is generally not good, it's wishy-washy and boring rather than embarrassingly absurd like TOS. It seems that either a TOS episode is a masterpiece, or it's a laughable dud which nobody in their right minds would even think of, let alone pitch, sell and get someone else to produce. The general quality of this series would be totally unacceptable today.

Unfortunately The Changeling is just such embarrassing tosh. The threat emanated by Nomad is undone by, well, everything else about it, from the cheesy robot voice to the way it wobbles when flying. It regards itself as perfect and yet looks like the exhaust of an old car. As for Spock mind melding with it, this is one of the great WTF moments in sci-fi. So if I possessed telepathic abilities, I would mind-meld with my computer's hard drive? Perhaps Spock can also read a book just by sitting on it.

I'm trying to be nice since this is vintage sci-fi and it's probably someone's favourite episode (although I fear the thought that such a person exists). Give me TNG's Masks instead, at least that has eerie music and a creepy atmosphere of dread. And it has a robot talking in a silly voice.
Fri, Apr 19, 2019, 5:39am (UTC -6)
Standard issue fare for TOS, hitting all the notes except "starry-eyed sexy lady falling for Kirk." Instead, it is an eyeless, floating piece of metal which falls for Kirk.

The Uhura thing was beyond silly, though it was nice to see her get some screen time.

A good sci fi concept, not particularly well played out. Average.
Bobbington Mc Bob
Sat, Oct 5, 2019, 11:18am (UTC -6)
Ah the original Star Trek "Unrecoverable change, remedied by next week" reset episode. This must surely have been the model for the entire series run of Voyager :D

I liked this one, the sense of foreboding from Nomad felt very real, and I could see the seeds for V-ger in this too. Watching TOS for the first time having seen everything that came after first can be a really fun exercise in deja-vu like a-ha moments.
Fri, Jan 31, 2020, 11:03pm (UTC -6)
They were totally going for a Star Trek meets a Dalek episode right? They did a good job. The probe did come across as weirdly creepy.
Sat, Jun 13, 2020, 9:55pm (UTC -6)
James T. Kirk. Jackson Roykirk. Doesn’t sound similar to me. Really a sophisticated computer couldn’t tell the difference?
Neo the Beagle
Sun, Jul 12, 2020, 3:09pm (UTC -6)
Warp 15 bolts, equal to 90 photon torpedoes?!? From little Nomad? And to absorb (1) torpedo from Enterprise?
Nomad and the Doomsday Machine should have had their own spin-off series: which one could destroy the most planets in the least amount of time...
Neo the Beagle
Mon, Sep 14, 2020, 1:55pm (UTC -6)
Anyone notice the 4 episodes in a row that puts Scotty thru hell?
Last week : Apollo backhanding Scotty (enough to appreciate the stunt work involved, btw) several feet, having his arm paralyzed, and of course having his phaser zapped when he drew it, injuring his hand.
Apollo almost killed him.
This week: Now it's Nomad's turn: NOMAD kills Scotty! Sorry for that spoiler alert. But he comes back to life! Sorry for that spoiler alert also.
Next week: no chance to rest, as Scotty is under extreme pressure in the Mirror Universe, with death a certainty if he fails
Finally: Scotty gets fired by Kirk because Scotty can't find a way to counteract Vaal in "The Apple",
thus dooming the Enterprise to a fiery disintegration.
As the Enterprise starts to burn up in the atmosphere, Scotty probably had second thoughts about not taking that vacation last month that he had coming....
Wed, Nov 25, 2020, 10:24am (UTC -6)
@Beth, I agree with every single word you wrote! Silly & enjoyable :-)
Mon, Apr 5, 2021, 9:50am (UTC -6)
I quite liked elements of this:
- the AI story including the crashing and merging of two probes (presumably both had self-repair routines built in)
- Uhura's greater contribution than usual, including getting to hear her sing. (I've assumed that the 'mind wipe' was actually induced amnesia which left some abilities intact, e.g. knowledge of Swahili)
- the use of logic from Kirk (would have been better from Spock!) to cause NOMAD to self destruct (but why does that always mean a speeding up falsetto voice? Kubrick's HAL going slower and deeper singing 'Daisy Daisy' was more effective).

But other elements were ludicrous if not downright offensive:
- huge destructive pulses from NOMAD at the start - what, from something that looked like an interplanetary vacuum cleaner??
- the crew's underwhelming reaction to the destruction of billions of people - yet how on earth did NOMAD actually achieve that? It's only a tin can after all.
- NOMAD's categorisation of its scan of Uhura as a mass of chaotic impulses - WHAT, BECAUSE SHE'S A WOMAN?????

Not an outright poor episode - I'll give it 2 or perhaps 2.5 stars
Sun, Jul 11, 2021, 12:55pm (UTC -6)
I liked this version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture better than that feature film remake. The work with the Nomad prop was pretty skillful.

They could have easily improved the Uhura situation by a line or two saying the damage wasn't as severe as it first appeared, was just temporary like being stunned, or whatever. A cop out, but way less than what they went with!
Sun, Jul 11, 2021, 1:03pm (UTC -6)
(Skillful for TV of that era)

I think Nomad basically was indeed a Dalek knock-off. Dalekmania was HUGE in the mid 60s and there were even two Dalek oriented feature films by the time this episode was made. British films, but there's no way that would have gone unnoticed by contemporary American sci-fi writers.

(For those less familiar with Doctor Who history, the Daleks were so popular initially that they overshadowed the Doctor himself.)
Sat, Aug 28, 2021, 7:47pm (UTC -6)
@ Trek fan and NoPoet et al, I'm sorry but besides the idea of an old soace probe from earth, isnt the plot of The Motion Picture very different and more original and richly imaginative than this episode..not that thuw episode is bad or unoriginal..but it had the vger cloud and unique alien environment ofnthe cloud where vger was in and those potential otber alken lifeforms/galactic structures within the cloud and the Ilea life form?
Wed, Sep 29, 2021, 7:25am (UTC -6)
Spock's mind-meld with Nomad wasn't as ridiculous as some here have stated. Spock once or twice mentioned that Nomad was incredibly sophisticated, almost biological in its makeup - - which I suppose was included by the writer specifically so the mind-meld option would work.

One thing that bothered me about Nomad's destructive energy bolts at the beginning was that they became progressively less destructive after the first one. Another thing that I wondered was why the Enterprise didn't just move slightly to the side to get out of their way, since the crew could see them coming and had plenty of time to react.

Also, the part about Uhura, a woman, being "a mass of conflicting impulses" highlights the societal sexism of the time in which the show was produced. Remember, during the TOS period, women were still not allowed to be starship captains.
Sun, Nov 14, 2021, 6:06pm (UTC -6)
A LOT of people in these comments need to watch the episode again - Uhura didn't lose her memory (she retained Swa'hili, knew who Christine was, had language skills, retained her intelligence, mathematical aptitude etc.)

What she lost was her knowledge. They make that point several times. Which is why she's able to re-educate so quickly, the intelligence and ability is still there - they just have to feed the information back in.
Proud Capitalist Pig
Sun, Jun 19, 2022, 11:26am (UTC -6)
In folklore, a “changeling” is a sprite that has been sent as a replacement for an infant child that has been stolen by other sprites.

How perfect for this little examination of AI -- we indeed are selling our souls to this technology, and I’m sure will soon be creating bastardized machine-children in the place of offspring.

Nomad was a hoot -- a little flying vacuum cleaner with a testy voice and a bad attitude that’s responsible for killing “billions.” I too got a kick out of those over-the-shoulder shots as Nomad is stalking the ship. One question (just a nitpick) -- why did it zap Scotty but *vaporize* that unfortunate crewmember that no one cares about? The only reason that Nomad could "repair" Scotty's unit was that Scotty wasn't disintegrated. How convenient!

I always appreciate stories that warn us about powerful AI’s but as Jammer and other commenters have indicated, this one was a tad silly as well. An interesting notion is that when imperfect beings (such as we humans) create “perfect” technology, the technology would usually end up just as imperfect as we are. The logic puzzle that Kirk introduced to Nomad in order to end the threat was damn obvious and simplistic but fine for a 50-minute science fiction tale I guess.

Yes the plights of Scotty and Uhura were as dead-on-arrival as Scotty was on the Bridge. But I loved when Uhura provided her own “On-Hold” muzak over the proverbial ship’s phone -- using her own beautiful voice, of course!

Nomad (re: McCoy) -- “This is one of your units, Creator?”
Kirk -- “Yes, he is.”
Nomad -- “It functions irrationally.”
Kirk -- “Sometimes.”

My Grade: C-
Sun, Jun 19, 2022, 2:10pm (UTC -6)
I fully agree that this episode is meant to show perfect AI as a threat: the more perfect a computer is, the more difficult it is to keep it under control – sooner or later it will reach a point where it no longer needs its “creator” and starts programming itself independently. The episode makes a very valid point why AI still needs human control. At first, Kirk and Spock wonder about Nomad’s purpose and if it is indeed the probe built by Roykirk centuries ago, because they remember its mission was a peaceful one. In Spock’s mind-meld with Nomad, he learns that Nomad merged with that other probe called Tan Ru. I think it’s essential to note that none of them was a killing device, the missions of both probes were scientific ones: Nomad was “supposed to be the first interstellar probe to seek new life-forms”, and Tan Ru was sent out “to secure and sterilise soil samples from other planets”. In a way, their missions could even be called similar to that of the Enterprise! When the probes merged, a perfect computer was created… but it has a screw loose. Yet it doesn’t notice… how could it? This kind of superior control can only be performed by humans, which leads to the point that AI will always need and should always remain under our control. Which still sounds pretty relevant today.
Proud Capitalist Pig
Sun, Jun 19, 2022, 3:25pm (UTC -6)

Great points, Lannion. I like how you highlighted that the original mission of Nomad went awry *because* of its interstellar journey--what it was designed to do. When AI learns "too much," it becomes too dangerous.
Peter G.
Sun, Jun 19, 2022, 5:07pm (UTC -6)
If the idea of a changeling is that fairies exchange a normal baby for a spite, then I think it becomes difficult to see this episode as being about the dangers of AI. The Ultimate Computer is much more obviously about that. But if we're taking the title seriously then it seems to me much more relevant to marvel at the existence of fairies rather than the changeling itself and how it's causing you problems. Or put another way, the fact that space contains such wonders, some of them dangerous or capricious, makes it both enticing and menacing. Nomad is a terror, but also did sort of do what it was supposed to: discover something new and bring back that information. It's just that the manner of bringing it back isn't what we would have ever wanted. Better be careful what you ask for: sometimes if you ask a question you'll get an answer when you are not ready for it.

It seems to me that if I wanted to draw out a general message, which is a bit tough since this is more of a horror show than an exploration episode, it would be more about what's out there than about Nomad itself. Things very strange can change what you know and switch them for terrors. This happened to one probe, and caused so much damage it could have destroyed the Earth. What happens if mankind itself meets something out there that changes us for the worse?
Proud Capitalist Pig
Sun, Jun 19, 2022, 8:50pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G

"Things very strange can change what you know and switch them for terrors. This happened to one probe, and caused so much damage it could have destroyed the Earth."

I tip my hat to you, Peter G. I think you captured the message perfectly. Such a reading does place the Nomad AI in a more innocent light, even though we still brought about its destructive path by creating it in the first place. I think a lot of science fiction stories that are similar to this are meant to put a check on our hubris.
Fri, Jan 27, 2023, 2:50pm (UTC -6)
@William B:

))and Spock's mindmeld with the totally non-biological machine (as Jammer and Strider mention) are examples of this -- they are totally goofy concepts((

Nomad was a fusion/hybrid of the original Earth space probe and an ALIEN space probe named "Tan Ru."

For all we know, "Tan Ru" may have been at least partially biological (maybe it had Voyager's "gel packs" or what-not).
Fri, Jan 27, 2023, 2:59pm (UTC -6)

))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?((

Uhura was singing ENGLISH when Nomad scanned her. The scan thus affected only her ENGLISH. Bones and the others refer to her mind being "wiped," but that was obviously before an in-depth examination could be performed; it was not an exact diagnosis.

The scan Nomad performed thus merely "clouded" her English-language skills, and so it was relatively easy to "re-activate" them.

Sheesh! You people are all so *literal*. Uhura faints, Bones flippantly says that her "mind was wiped" (a mere FIGURE OF SPEECH!), and you folks go so far as to complain that she should have been reduced to a drooling idiot, pooping in her panties, PERMANENTLY!
Sun, Jun 25, 2023, 7:16pm (UTC -6)
This episode is definitely a little weak from a plot mechanics standpoint. Scotty’s death/resurrection was a bit much and really served no purpose, Spock mind-melding with Nomad is a bit of a stretch only partially salvaged by how little we really know about Nomad, the crew ripping off pithy quips in the wake of billions of deaths is a tad tone deaf, and of course Uhura having to relearn English in a week seems unlikely. I will say on that last point tho, it’s possible Uhura was just suffering from a severe case of disorientation rather than a total mind blowout, the episode isn’t really that specific about it.

But all that being said, I still enjoyed this one. It’s a pretty solid core idea, which I’m sure is why they chose to recycle it for ST:TMP. This episode probably became much more prescient in the wake of the Voyager probe launches in the 70s and as such seemed like a no-brainer as the basis for V’Ger.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Kirk-kills-computer-with-logic cliche, and agree with the above commenters that it’s probably done best here.

I think what saves this episode from total ridicule is that despite the questionable creative choices written into it, none of the characters act out of character. Scotty doesn’t get killed because he does something un-Scotty-like, his actions are pretty understandable, same with Uhura. So while the episode strains credulity and has some pretty improbable contrivances, the heart of the show isn’t disrespected. It’s enough for me to still find this outing fun to watch.

2.5/4 masses of conflicting impulses.

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