(written from a Production point of view)
"In Thy Image" was a 1977 script for the pilot Star Trek: Phase II episode, written by Harold Livingston. It was based on a story treatment by Alan Dean Foster, although the treatment itself was based on a story idea by Gene Roddenberry entitled "Robot's Return". (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 25)
The basic plot concept of "In Thy Image" was that a huge unknown object crossed the universe, looking for its creator on Earth. In the meantime, the USS Enterprise has been extensively refitted and is waiting re-launch under the command of Captain Wah Chan, with James T. Kirk awaiting promotion to admiral. However, the alien spaceship destroys three Klingon battleships, and is found to be on a direct course for Earth. With the Enterprise being the only starship that might be able to destroy the alien ship (if it were required) and Wah Chan stuck on the other side of the Federation, Kirk is given command of the ship for what he assumes will be one final mission. He finds some familiar faces on board, namely Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura, and three new ones in the shape of Willard Decker, Ilia and the new science officer, Ronak. However, Ronak dies when the transporter malfunctions and explodes as he is being beamed aboard the ship, requiring his late replacement by Xon, a Vulcan who is incredibly gifted academically, but has little experience of active duty.
Shortly after the Enterprise deploys, the USS Aslan, which has been monitoring the alien ship, is suddenly destroyed without provocation, increasing the urgency of the mission. Soon, the Enterprise confronts the alien ship and, after convincing it that they have friendly intentions, manage to gain access to the alien ship, where they are met by a spider-like robot that calls itself "Tasha," who reveals its master to be named "Veejur" and that it has been sent by "The Wan" (it is never explained exactly who or what the Wan are) to find whoever created Veejur. On the journey to Earth, Ilia is abducted and replaced by a lifelike android, so that Veejur may better understand humanoid life. Upon arriving at the planet, Veejur emits an energy field that burns out all of the planetary defense systems, and prepares to eradicate all life on the planet so that it can examine the planet better. Kirk, accompanied by Xon, Decker, the robot Ilia, and Tasha, manages to infiltrate the core of the ship, where it is revealed that "Veejur" is in fact Voyager XVIII; the final space probe launched by Earth before World War III, it was intended as a record of Earth civilization, in case the Human race were to be wiped out completely. However, Voyager/Veejur does not believe that such a warlike and destructive race could have created it, and intends to wipe out the Human elements on Earth to find whoever it thinks is its true creator.
Kirk tells the probe that Humanity is in fact its creator, and proves it by fixing a part of the probe that had been deliberately damaged, so that only the true creator would be able to prove itself. Voyager/Veejur accepts this, but tells Kirk that it no longer serves Humanity; it will continue its mission of exploration, but for its own sake rather than as part of its mission, although it may return some day. With that, Kirk, Xon, and Decker are beamed back onto the Enterprise, as is the real Ilia, and the alien ship departs. Kirk is congratulated by his superiors on the mission's success, and he asks if there is any way he can retain command. Starfleet Command agrees, but tells him that it will cost him his promotion and that he will probably remain a captain for the rest of his career if he turns down the chance to become an admiral. This is a price that Kirk is all too happy to pay, however, and the five-year mission of the Enterprise is begun anew.
Another story element featured was the Enterprise being reconstructed and relaunched, which had been included in earlier premises for unproduced Star Trek films such as Planet of the Titans and The God Thing, the latter of which served as a precursor to this one, with multiple similarities between them (despite technically being different projects). "In Thy Image" was rewritten to become the screenplay for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Differences from the film
- V'Ger (or Veejur as it is spelled in the script) does not digitize and absorb the Klingon vessels, instead it simply destroys them.
- Admiral Nogura is actually seen in the episode, both in discussion with Kirk at the start and in charge at Starfleet Command during the episode's climax.
- The Enterprise is mentioned as being the only Starfleet vessel in range in The Motion Picture, whereas "In Thy Image" has many more Starfleet vessels in the area (including the ill-fated Aslan), with the Enterprise being deployed instead as Starfleet's most powerful vessel.
- While Kirk forces Starfleet to give him command of the Enterprise in the film, and his obsession with the ship marks a major plot point in the film, the episode has him much more accepting of Wah Chan's imminent assuming of the vessel's command. Kirk in fact suggests several other candidates to command the Enterprise after it becomes clear that Wah Chan cannot make it to Earth in time for the launch, and only puts himself forward after exhausting the other candidates.
- Decker is executive officer from the start, and aside from a brief moment after Ilia's kidnapping, is never antagonistic towards Kirk.
- Commander Ronak is virtually the same as Sonak from the film, and his manner of death is very similar (albeit considerably less gruesome). Stangely, Ronak is never mentioned again after his death and the crew does not seem affected by his loss, whereas in the film Sonak's death visibly affects Kirk for some time afterward.
- The USS Aslan largely replaces Epsilon IX in the storyline and meets the same fate, although the script implied that it would not be shown on-screen.
- The character of Tasha is completely unique to the episode, and has no analogue in the film.
- Ilia is held in suspended animation in order to provide a physical and mental basis for the android, but is not absorbed as she is in the film, and is returned unharmed at the end of the episode.
- V'Ger/Veejur's true identity is given as Voyager VI in the film, and Voyager XVIII in the episode. The details relating to World War III are also unique to the episode.
- While the version of V'Ger in the film did not recognize humanoids (or "carbon units" as it called them) as true lifeforms, the episode's version was aware that Humanity was a distinct species, and had knowledge which suggested they were the creators; it simply didn't believe the data to be true.
- The internal damage to the Voyager VI probe in the film is done in the presence of Kirk and his crew, so as to force one of them to key in the key sequence. The episode features the damage having already been done a long time ago, as an identity test for the creator when they eventually arrived.
- V'Ger/Veejur does not evolve into a new lifeform at the end of the episode, and as a result Decker and Ilia are returned to the Enterprise intact.