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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52 comments on this post

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.
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.
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.
Tue, Sep 9, 2014, 12:03am (UTC -5)
Absolutely one of TOS' best outings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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).
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lennie K.
Mon, Aug 6, 2018, 1:33am (UTC -5)
William Windom was amazing in this episode. When they first find him, he is in shock, then anguish. Then on the ship he was essentially a bad guy. Then, in the final scene where he is dying, it was an amazing portrayal of fear and suffering by radiation exposure. Windom portrayed these varied aspects incredibly. Everything else in the show is powerfully done. The story is superb and filled with Star Trek technology (all the engineering tools were shown). The ending with the transporter failing repeatedly was maybe the most dramatic in the entire series.

I'm not a fan of the new special effects. The ones I've seen on Netflix are not as good as in the original series. Also, when the Constellation explodes inside the planet killer, the new special effects are lame. The original version was much better for that final scene. I wish I could watch Star Trek with the original effects.
Mon, Aug 6, 2018, 7:58am (UTC -5)
@Lennie K

The Blu-Ray box set lets you choose between the original effects and the new effects. I personally always watch with the original version effects, they have a certain charm that the CGI stuff lacks.
Sat, Oct 6, 2018, 5:39pm (UTC -5)
This is one of the few TOS episodes that remains competitive with the best of modern Trek. There is such a gulf between TOS and every other live action sequel, in terms of how they are presented, written and acted, that TOS really does exist in its own (warp) bubble. Men were far more masculine in the 60s than the whipped, complaining snowflakes of today. It's refreshing to take a trip out with the space cowboys... but only on specific occasions.

This is also one of the few TOS episodes that makes me wish modern Trek HAD been like its parent show. I miss the dynamism, the strong characters, who act and talk like contemporary people being the absolute best they can be. The "perfect" 24th century humans are boring by comparison. I would rather aspire to be Kirk than Picard!

The Doomsday Machine (what a title!) is intense and exciting throughout, with a gripping sense of dread from the moment Dekker speaks about hell; that speech would never be allowed in today's ultra-PC Trek shows, by the way. Spock handled himself superbly. I wish the idea of the device coming from outside our galaxy had been expanded on as I believe that is unique in all of Trek? I can't really say anything that hasn't already been said about how wonderful the episode is. It's one of Trek's finest hours and remains compelling to this day. No remodulating the tertiary bollock machine, no re-routing a high-bandwidth tachyon pulse through the deflectors. Instead we have Scotty working his arse off to fix a broken ship and coming through at the last moment.

One question: did they have some sort of fuel crisis in their day? This is not the first time I've heard Spock talk about someone's ship running out of fuel. How can they only run for seven hours at maximum impulse? Space is quite big. We don't fly planes from New York to Manchester with 70 litres of fuel in the tank - Starfleet needs to work on its logistics!

Now for the VFX rant.

The special effects were better than usual for the TOS Remaster. I am not sold on the Remastered effects at all; they fail hard in comparison to ENT for example which I believe was being made at the same time. TOS:R retains all the inconsistencies of the original episodes (phaser colours for one thing), looks just as amateurish when phaser blasts are striking the Doomsday Machine, and the Constitution class starships still travel at that weird diagonal angle as if they are strafing in Doom.

TOS:R is just an expensive warmover of dated effects and can only be viewed as "good" in comparison to the originals. In the TOS:R trailer one of the VFX blokes actually slips up and says "The Enterprise won't be doing barrel rolls or anything, it's just going to make people's mouths water a little more. A lot more." His self-correction was a warning that the Remaster wasn't going to be special.

The main improvement IMO is how much they cleared up the live action scenes. Now they ARE impressive: every episode of TOS looks like it was filmed yesterday. TNG, DS9 and to some extent VOY have that weird, glossy, glowy visual quality inherent to American television shows in the 80s and 90s. A kind of softness, making the special effects seem a blurry and low-res. Funny how the 1960s original show looks sharper and clearer.
Wed, Jan 23, 2019, 4:07pm (UTC -5)
One of the very best episodes in TOS, and in all of ST. 4/4
Sun, Mar 17, 2019, 12:39pm (UTC -5)
That communications officer never shuts up.
Thu, Apr 25, 2019, 12:22am (UTC -5)
One of my favorite and one of the best, Its a shame windom hated his character.
Thu, Apr 25, 2019, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!


He did? I hadn't read that, but there are many things I haven't read. :)

He did do a reprise of his role in a fan-fic story/filmed episode. It was quite a few years ago, so I don't recall the name of the not-for-profit production, but the Enterprise goes back in time (shocked! :) ), and they find him in some way by accident, I think.

It seems the Doomsday Machine had a singularity at it's core, or something, and when he went in to commit suicide, it instead sent Decker through space and time. And there he was, on a viewscreen only (as I recall), talking to their version of Captain Kirk. He'd ended up living out his days on "old" Earth.

Perhaps, in the end, he didn't feel as bad about it as he had before. Hopefully, anyway. At least, he was nice enough to help them with their ST project. :)

Regards... RT
Sat, Apr 27, 2019, 10:19pm (UTC -5)
A good one. Windom makes the episode. His exchanges with Nimoy are especially good. The plot is nothing too special, but the presentation and acting (and lack of flirty sexy lady! Yay!) sell it.

A winner.
Blake Davis
Mon, May 13, 2019, 11:28pm (UTC -5)
Saw this as an 9 year old when it came out and it had me on the edge of the bed the whole time. The “machine” was scary as heck! This episode simply outclasses everything else in the original show - this deserved a movie treatment. No surprise it was written by Spinrad. Darn this was scary to a nine year old and I still think it is as I said just better than the others episodes - far better.
Sarjenka's Brother
Sun, Jun 16, 2019, 2:09pm (UTC -5)
One of the best episodes of TOS and any Trek. I keep hoping for canonical treatment of the DM again.
Sleeper Agent
Tue, Jan 7, 2020, 2:13am (UTC -5)
A great one for sure. But where was Uhura? =[
Sleeper Agent
Thu, Jan 9, 2020, 12:07am (UTC -5)
By the way, I'm watching TOS for the first time (yeah I know in 2020, sic!) and unfortunately the batch I have only feature the re-mastered versions with CGI. So far I've preferred the original version for every episode (I'm comparing with clips on YT), but "The Doomsday Machine" might very well be the first one which actually looks better with the new graphics. For one, the scale of the ships has been greatly improved.
Jason R.
Thu, Jan 9, 2020, 6:37am (UTC -5)
"The Doomsday Machine" might very well be the first one which actually looks better with the new graphics"

Normally I don't get much out of these attempts to retroactively upgrade the effects for old TV and movies like with the Star Wars re-releases.

But something about this particular episode seems to really come alive with the remastering, especially for the doomsday machine itself. I just love the color and scale of it. The episode was always a classic but the remastered version is like they took that greatness and perfected it.
Thu, Jul 23, 2020, 4:49pm (UTC -5)
This for me is the best episode of the original series and maybe even of Star Trek in general. It kept replaying in my mind for several days after and still when I think about it it gives me goosebumps. I compared the original and the remastered version and this is one of the few where I prefer the remastered. They did an amazing job. Also the music fits perfectly. 5 stars!
Thu, Jul 23, 2020, 7:24pm (UTC -5)

Couldn't agree with you more. For me, the best episode of the entire Star Trek franchise. Absolute perfection.
Thu, Jul 23, 2020, 7:53pm (UTC -5)

For me - too.
Thu, Aug 20, 2020, 4:23pm (UTC -5)
A classic, one of the best of the series.

As for the remasters—- seasons 2 and 3 titles with the opera lady singing. Holy crap, I hate how they’ve ramped up the volume of that, especially the last wail. I literally always mute it.

It’s comical to me they did that. A new recording I guess? I don’t know, but I think exactly zero percent of Trek’s longevity was due to its title theme song.
Thu, Aug 20, 2020, 4:33pm (UTC -5)
Haha, I just realized, I personally occasionally use Windom’s “don’t you think I know that!!!” when I want to be melodramatic. I picked that up 30+ years ago and long since forgot where it came from.
Tue, Sep 8, 2020, 9:31pm (UTC -5)
Great episode. but @hifijohn, I don't know why you say Windom hated his character. He reprised it in 2004 for New Voyages, his last credit, according to Wiki the Almighty. Considering how prolific he was, and what a strong performance he put on here, I have trouble with the idea that he hated the character.
PJ Finnerty
Thu, Sep 17, 2020, 1:40am (UTC -5)
Sol Kaplan's dramatic and spectacularly cinematic score is one the elements that makes this episode one of the high-water marks not only of the series, but in the history of television. Has there ever been a more intimate, close-up presentation of the death of a character than what we have in the last minutes of Commodore Decker? City on the Edge of Forever and The Doomsday Machine are as good as 1960s Star Trek ever got, and are as good as as anything that has been done since, right up there with Walter White's I am the one who knocks! Classic.
Tue, Dec 15, 2020, 11:08am (UTC -5)
How did I only now just realize that Captain Decker from The Motion Picture was meant to be Commodore Decker's son?

Slap me twice and call me Ishmael.

When was the last time Star Trek was brave enough to take a captain off his bridge and replace him with a formidable actor? Chain of Command, maybe?

Even when they paired Bakula with the superior Katsulas in the ENT episode "Cogenitor," it wasn't on the bridge of the Enterprise. And Bakula was there in every scene.

But to leave Decker there on the bridge, no Kirk in sight - now that took balls.

Then again, TPTB must have been very confident in Shatner and Nimoy, in that they risked outshining them on multiple occasions: Montalban (Khan), Ihnat (Garth), Lovsky (T'Pau), Colicos (Kor). Sheer charisma oozing out of every pore.

I think only Jean Simmons (Admiral Satie on TNG) ever came close to that level of screen presence.

Meanwhile, Voyager had The Rock and George Costanza.
Tue, Dec 15, 2020, 12:02pm (UTC -5)
@Mal (or Ishmael)

Being the Trek geek I am, I once compiled a list of who I thought were the best guest actors performances to appear (as one-offs) and William Windom's Commodore Matt Decker was right up at the top of the list (with Harris Yulin from "Duet" right behind him). You're right in that this episode took balls. I think a fair bit has been written about Windom and this episode.
Tue, Dec 15, 2020, 8:23pm (UTC -5)
@Rahul, who else was on your list of greatest guest characters?

I agree, Marritza was amazing, and "Duet" is epic. I think that episode - and two similarly powerful episodes: "Progress" and "Ties of Blood and Water" - work so well because Kira (Nana Visitor) is perfect across from these larger-than-life men.

Spock and Kira seemed to have had that in common, no doubt a key advantage in a first officer. They both brought out the best in their superiors.
Sun, Dec 20, 2020, 8:53pm (UTC -5)
Too bad Nichelle Nichols was busy performing at a concert to appear in this episode since the communications officer actually has a lot of dialog.

I think Lt. Palmer comes off as professional and no-nonsense right out of the gate when compared to some of Lt. Uhura's more subdued exchanges with Captain Kirk or her exaggerated fear when reacting to strange aliens or dangerous situations. Makes me wonder how Nichelle Nichols would have played it for this installment.
Bob (a different one)
Thu, Feb 25, 2021, 10:25am (UTC -5)
Here's an animated gif of Commodore Decker doing his best Captain Queeg impersonation, if anyone is interested:
Mon, Apr 5, 2021, 8:58am (UTC -5)
I think this episode is a LITTLE overrated - I'd give it 3 stars, perhaps a bit more.

There are so many good elements - Decker's neurotic need for revenge after losing his entire crew; Spock's level-headedness (as usual!); the anti-nuclear weapons message; and of course the tense but action-packed development of the story.

I thought the machine was too variable in scale (the relative size of shuttle craft and starship entering its maw was horribly inconsistent), and its belching of fire was nonsensical - there should have been something to suggest the 'doomsday' aspect. I do realise though that the contemporary special effects abilities weren't exactly brilliant, and the budget was limited.

There were also silly aspects like puffs of smoke as the transporter malfunctioned - what??

On the whole though, while not as good as Mirror, Mirror or The Balance Of Terror, this was a good action episode.
Mon, Apr 5, 2021, 10:16am (UTC -5)

I think your criticisms of this episode are pretty weak -- don't mean to be so blunt about it but not sure how else to express it. Yes, occasionally the ship/shuttle in scale don't jive with how big the doomsday machine should be, but when it counts the monstrous size and power of the machine is clearly conveyed. It's not a "belching of fire" either -- that I believe is an effect of the enhanced version (I don't think the original was that way).

"there should have been something to suggest the 'doomsday' aspect."

I think there's plenty here to suggest the 'doomsday' aspect -- Kirk's theorizing about how it continues to destroy solar systems long after the war between the 2 sides (where one side built it) was long over, and the fact that it has destroyed numerous solar systems just to get to where the Constellation was. Leaves just the right amount for the imagination, which is what good sci-fi should do. I really feel "The Doomsday Machine" is as close to perfection as a Trek episode could be.
Tue, Apr 6, 2021, 2:35am (UTC -5)

You’re entitled to your opinion just as I’m entitled to mine!

I think it’s a very good episode but there have been at least 3 before it that are even better. However I can see why so many rate it so highly.
Mon, Sep 13, 2021, 8:41pm (UTC -5)
WTF is with all other captains and Starfleet officials being complete mentally-unhinged douchebags in every episode they're in? It gets tiresome quickly. And like the mirror universe, you have to wonder how Starfleet actually managed to progress.

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