Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Doomsday Machine"

4 stars

Air date: 10/20/1967
Written by Norman Spinrad
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise's sister ship, the USS Constellation, is found severely damaged and adrift in space. The ship's captain, Commodore Matthew Decker (William Windom) is the only person left of his crew, the remainder of which had been beamed down to a nearby planet for safety. Unfortunately, nothing is safe from the unstoppable device roaming the region, which destroys entire planets, consumes the debris, and then moves on to the next planet. The death of Decker's crew has sent him into an insane obsession to destroy the device, even if it means suicide.

"The Doomsday Machine" sets the standard for all-out TOS tactical space action, with flawless pacing, a terrific score by Sol Kaplan, and lots of boldness. With Kirk and Scotty trying to make repairs to the Constellation, we have a great conflict aboard the Enterprise, where Decker takes command of the ship while Spock and McCoy are initially powerless to stop him from launching a suicide mission. Spock's calm but firm action in the face of this adversity is an absolute joy to watch unfold.

Keeping in tune with the series' social commentary is the low-key allegory on nuclear weapons—which is implicitly present, but never threatens to eclipse the story.

Previous episode: The Apple
Next episode: Catspaw

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23 comments on this review

Anonymous
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 9:18pm (UTC -5)
Man what a great episode. I grew up in the 90s watching Voyager and always heard uninformed people say how the TOS was full of camp and 1960s era goofiness. They were so wrong.
mike
Thu, May 2, 2013, 6:30am (UTC -5)
If you can, view the remastered version of this episode. The updated graphics adds amazing visual punch.


This is by far Trek at its "man show" best. Guest star William Windom, who has said he knew nothing about Star Trek, turns in a master class performance as the obsessed Ahab-like Commodore Decker out destroy the doomsday device that killed his crew. Windom RULES this episode. He constantly reminds us "I'm in COMMAND here" and he certainly is. The crew's quiet contempt for him reflects exactly how the viewer is urge to see him.

The tension is palpable on both ships with malfunctions and pissing contests and a nicely done Decker-vs-redshirt fight scene that just spills testosterone all over floor. The pacing is perfection without a second of filler.


A lot of Trekkers have to defend Star Trek to their friends and family. This is one those episodes a non-fan could follow and appreciate.
redshirt28
Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 11:47pm (UTC -5)
My personal all time favorite. I cant think anyone from that time playing playing decker like w. Windom. 5 stars.
William
Tue, Sep 9, 2014, 12:03am (UTC -5)
Absolutely one of TOS' best outings.
todayshorse
Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 9:16am (UTC -5)
Awesome. Never heard of Mr Windom before but a quick google revealed that i had seen him before in other things, as well as 'murder she wrote'. He totally 'out Shatners' Shatner to great effect.
Ben Masters
Fri, Feb 12, 2016, 1:43pm (UTC -5)
"If you can, view the remastered version of this episode. The updated graphics adds amazing visual punch."

I've taken that recommendation and then some. I have seen through the remastered "Doomsday Machine" quite a few times, first from the standalone second-season remastered release, and then from the 2015 remastered full-series release, and it never ceases to amaze.
navamske
Sun, Jun 12, 2016, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
For me, the highlight of this episode is Decker's reply to Kirk's question "Where's your crew?" Decker answers with an anguished "The third planet." Now that's acting.
David
Sun, Aug 21, 2016, 8:48pm (UTC -5)
I was saddened to hear of the death of William Windom. Like so many other people from my past, gone now, but not forgotten by taking the role and owning it. So many others are gone now, but it is this episode and the serious respect given to the character that I will remember Mr. Windom for.
David
Thu, Sep 1, 2016, 2:44pm (UTC -5)
One last thought. I agree with the observations on the re-mastered version of the episode. It fixes flaws in the exterior scenes, perspective and proportion and emphasizes the feeling that these are really small ships in the vastness of space and all the weight of the fates millions of people rests on their shoulders.
JAT
Thu, Oct 13, 2016, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
An absolute favorite ep, and Windom (whom I understand had little use for Shatner) owned not only the role, but the episode as well, a brilliant performance. Some may not know the role was initially written for Robert Ryan, who would have essayed a very different Dekkard. The revised edition DOES do much to improve the effects and correct scale problems, BUT...in so doing they also eliminate, unnecessarily, some very key dialogue between Spock and Dekkard, unfortunate and avoidable, simply cutting out about 10-12 seconds of total special effects (which were somewhat repetitive anyway) would have allowed their exchange to remain.
Rahul
Mon, Feb 27, 2017, 3:20pm (UTC -5)
Absolutely my favorite Star Trek episode. As others have mentioned (not a single negative comment above), this episode gets everything right. Not a single wasted scene, a terrific plot with the 2 ships, Windom's acting, the dialog with Spock/Decker/McCoy, etc. -- it's perfect.
The episode does benefit greatly from the character of Decker that Windom brought to life beautifully -- from showing the anguish of his lost crew, to the shock of trying to remember the planet-killer when on the Constellation, to the resignation of his suicide mission on the shuttlecraft.
The enhanced graphics make a big difference, the detail of the asteroids (this is subtle - but I liked one asteroid crashing against the Constellation early in the episode).
Spock is terrific in this episode with his logic that doesn't become overbearing or condescending. Scotty also pulls off a minor miracle in getting the transporter working.
The other thing to not forget is the outstanding soundtrack. Highly recommend purchasing it (comes with Amok Time). The track "Kirk Does It Again" as the Constellation gets set to destroy the robot is a classic -- and one used in a handful of Trek episodes including a derivation of it for 1975's "Jaws".
No question 4/4 stars (maybe 4.5/4 stars as I think it is the best Trek episode objectively speaking aside from being my personal favorite).
RandomThoughts
Sun, Apr 30, 2017, 1:28am (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!

After doing a bit of research a few years ago, I found out William Windom was known as "The Crier". It seems if you needed an actor to have a scene with crying, or breaking down, you went and hired him (mostly for Westerns).

This heralded one of the most perfect castings we've had in the wide world of Trek. When he says "On the third planet.", it's pitch perfect. And when he later says "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..." I cannot think of an actor who could have conveyed the anguish he felt at the loss of his crew any more effectively then he did.

I really believe he was a great actor. When on the Enterprise, he truly looked like he was someone who was just barely holding it together, using only his will and training to keep from going mad on the bridge. And I believe that takes some talent, especially when you figure he was going from Westerns to imagining himself on the bridge of a Starship.

His acting set the stage for the whole episode...

Just some random thoughts... RT
TB
Mon, May 8, 2017, 4:24am (UTC -5)
I don't know whether this is because I'm watching the remaster, but I found it strange that the transporter beams were yellow in every episode up to this one*, in The Doomsday Machine, the beams turn blue. I wonder what the reason for the change was.

*Except Mirror Mirror, which had purple beams in the mirror universe, I assume to differentiate the universes
Richard
Mon, May 22, 2017, 11:13pm (UTC -5)
I think this is one of the two best episodes of Star Trek TOS. (The other one being "The Immunity Syndrome".)

A lot of drama, and superb acting. William Windom, in my opinion, gives the best performance of any guest actor on Star Trek TOS.
Alex
Mon, Aug 28, 2017, 1:02am (UTC -5)
A nice touch was Windom's playing with the tapes(which Windom has said was inspired by how Humphrey Bogart fiddled with ball bearings when he played Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny).
RedSportsCar
Wed, Sep 6, 2017, 7:19pm (UTC -5)
What a masterpiece of hour-long drama and action. With the updated effects, it stands up with anything being produced today. Echo the comments previous on Windom's performance... a man barely holding it together, crushed in defeat, loss and shame. Doohan's performance was memorable here too, especially his obvious and constant irritation with the finicky transporter tech. I also love Spock's quiet, grave condolence to Kirk on Deckard's death. Tense, exciting, perfectly paced... it's just great.
Trek fan
Fri, Sep 8, 2017, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
Perfection. As a Trek action show, this episode has it all -- thrills, heroism, conflict, amazing guest star, and an allegory about weapons of mass destruction. So very many episodes from various incarnations of Trek have tried and failed to equal this type of story. Despite all of the enhanced special effects of TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT that allowed them to feature multi-ship battles, this one still beats them all in exemplifying a strength of TOS ship battle episodes: Tactics. We see this in the TOS feature films (i.e. the cat and mouse battle with Reliant in TWOK) as well: Battles tend to unfold through a logical series of strategies that the audience can more or less follow, with great pacing and tension elicited from the filmmaking and acting rather than from the FX shots. Later Treks lost this virtue of strategy: Their battles are just a series of people pushing buttons and talking nonsense as dozens of ships shoot at each other in Star Wars fashion, causing sparks to fly and people to fall out of their chairs. And after age 12, many of us get bored of this schtick, as even the battle with the Borg cube at start of FC is just (now-dated) FX spectacle. And then we get Riker's joystick in Insurrection. Go back to TOS: They were really doing something original and special here so many decades before Trek became more slickly commercialized, to its detriment.
Loz
Mon, Oct 2, 2017, 6:02pm (UTC -5)
This episode still sticks out in my mind from when I watched it many years ago as a youngster. Have just watched again the remastered edition and have to say that it still ranks as my favourite Star Trek episode. The simple concept of a giant, self sufficient, seemingly invincible, machine capable of consuming planets, created by a race in another galaxy that nobody knows anything about shook me the very first time that I saw the episode and makes us realise just how vulnerable we are in this vast universe.

Dave
Tue, Oct 10, 2017, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
The only time there is only one security guard assigned to escort someone someplace is when the plot needs the escortee to get away. It's a little too convenient.
Derek
Fri, Oct 13, 2017, 3:10pm (UTC -5)
One of the great classic episodes of TOS. Love almost everything about this episode. For me there are just a couple blemishes: when Spock endangers the ship by not refusing Decker command even though in his gut he knows what he should do (Kirk would have NEVER allowed it) and when the Doomsday Machine hits the Enterprise a number of times with the same power beam that rips apart entire huge planets and it just weakens the shields (really?). Arena and Balance of Terror are my very favorites but this is right up there with my next group of favorites.
Peter Swinkels
Mon, Dec 18, 2017, 6:42am (UTC -5)
Okay, having complained about TOS a while back I have to admit that a Tomorrow is Yesterday, The City on the Edge of Forever and this episode were pretty good.
Brian
Sun, Jan 28, 2018, 12:09am (UTC -5)
I don't understand the positive comments. This episode was pretty bad. The plot went virtually nowhere. Some scenes were painfully drawn out. I was just bored for most of it.
Ian
Sun, Feb 4, 2018, 5:43pm (UTC -5)
I'm glad to see this episode get four stars. It's a rare treat to see another starship, in this case, the USS Constellation which is found adrift and abandoned except for Commodore Decker (a memorable performance by William Windom) after encountering planet-killer machine of unknown origin. The episode manages to touch on some Cold War themes (in this case nuclear weapons) in a subtle manner that doesn't alienate viewers or get in the way of telling a good story.

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