(written from a Production point of view)
The Enterprise tests a computer that, if successful, could replace Kirk as the captain.
The USS Enterprise is summoned to a space station without explanation. Commodore Bob Wesley, commanding officer of the USS Lexington, explains that the Enterprise will be a test vessel for a revolutionary tactical computer called the M-5 multitronic unit, designed by the brilliant Dr. Richard Daystrom. The M-5 will handle all ship functions without Human assistance, much to Captain Kirk's chagrin.
- "Captain's log, stardate 4729.4. The M-5 computer has been installed on board ship, and we have left the space station for test maneuvers."
Dr. Richard Daystrom, who designed the duotronic computers used on the Enterprise, arrives on board to install his new M-5 computer, which is capable of running a starship with minimal personnel. The system is to be tested in a war games exercise against four other starships, led by Commodore Wesley. Daystrom describes the M-5 as "a whole new approach" to logic systems; what he has done, in fact, is to create a computer that thinks like a person by impressing Human "engrams" – his own – onto the circuits. "The relays are not unlike the synapses in the brain," Daystrom explains to Captain Kirk. "M-5 thinks, captain."
Kirk, meanwhile, wrestles with his own unease about the advance in technology and his own possible obsolescence. Daystrom, on the other hand, defends the advance as liberating man from hazardous duties. Dr. McCoy notes that Daystrom reacts toward the computer as a father would to his child.
The Enterprise, under M-5 control approaches the planet Alpha Carinae II, achieves standard orbit and makes its recommendations for the landing party. Kirk is at odds with the M-5's call, and disagrees with its recommendation, which doesn't include Kirk and McCoy in the landing party, calling them "non-essential personnel." While this is going on, power on decks 4 and 5 is cut, along with environmental controls for each deck. Scotty traces the source of the power shutdowns to be the M-5 itself.
Dr. Daystrom examines the situation, but explains that the M-5 simply turned off the power to those decks since they were unoccupied crew quarters and there was no one there that needed it. Eventually, Dr. McCoy arrives on the bridge, since the sickbay's power was also cut. He is understandably infuriated by this computer's actions.
The Enterprise is approached by two ships, one of which turns out to be the Federation starship USS Excalibur. They engage in an unscheduled wargames drill, and the M-5 responds swiftly to simulated attacks, hitting back the "enemy" ships and maneuvering more quickly than it would have were a Human in command. Kirk tries to be gracious to the computer's ability, telling Spock that such applications might be practical, but Spock tells Kirk that although true, such a thing as a computer running a starship would be undesirable. He goes on to explain that a key attribute of Human command is loyalty, loyalty to one man, and that this should never change. Captain Kirk, whose ego has been somewhat beaten up by all that is going on, appreciates the comment. Meanwhile, the M-5 is seen to be drawing increasing amounts of power.
Afterward, Enterprise's sensors detect a ship moving slowly. It is the automated ore freighter Woden. M-5 abruptly changes the Enterprise's course to intercept the ship, speeding up to warp 3. It then engages the ship with photon torpedoes, destroying it, even though it gave no threat to the Enterprise, and then resumes its prior course. Captain Kirk tries to disengage the M-5 in the process, but neither he, Sulu, nor Scotty are able to regain manual control.
Dr. Daystrom still tries to make excuses and explanations for this, but there is clearly something very wrong.
Kirk, Spock and Scotty go to engineering and Kirk tries to approach the M-5 to shut it off, only to be thrown back by a force field. They attempt again to cut its power, but when Ensign Harper with a trident scanner moves to cut the power, the M-5 vaporizes him and makes a direct connection to the warp engines using a power beam of its own devising.
In setting up the programs, Daystrom had – unwittingly – instilled the urge for survival in the computer to the point where the automated freighter Woden encountered on the way to the war games coordinates is perceived as a threat and destroyed. In addition, M-5 taps into the matter/antimatter reactors as a new power source, giving it virtually unlimited power with no one able to shut the computer down.
When the war games exercise begins, M-5 attacks the opposing starships with all weapons at full power, crippling the Excalibur in the process, and cuts off all communication from Enterprise to the fleet. Despite knowing that M-5 will have full tactical and functional control of the Enterprise, Commodore Wesley blames Kirk for the attack. When Commodore Wesley cannot raise the Enterprise by radio, he requests approval from Starfleet Command to destroy her.
- "Captain's log, stardate 4731.3. The M-5 multitronic unit has taken over total control of the Enterprise."
Dr. Daystrom attempts to reason with his M-5 in an effort to stop the attack, but goes mad in the effort. Kirk then forces the computer to recognize its responsibility in the deaths of hundreds of people as there is no more life on the Excalibur. Feeling Daystrom's regret over the deaths, M-5 shuts down, dropping the deflector shields and leaving itself open to attack to atone for its crime. Spock and Scotty then disconnect the computer from ship's control. With communications not quite restored, Kirk orders that the shields be kept down, gambling that Wesley will be both compassionate and cautious and break off the battle force. Dr. Daystrom, meanwhile, is cared for in sickbay under sedation and heavy restraint to await transfer to a total rehabilitation facility.
"There are certain things men must do to remain men."
- - Kirk to Daystrom, after the M-5 is installed on the Enterprise
"Did you see the love light in Spock's eyes? The right computer finally came along."
- - McCoy to Kirk, after they walk away from Spock and Daystrom
"Only a fool would stand in the way of progress."
- - Kirk, on being replaced by the M-5
"We're all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that's different. And it always will be different."
- - McCoy, on technological progress
"Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them. Captain, the starship also runs on loyalty to one man. And nothing can replace it, or him."
- - Spock to Kirk, after the war games exercise
"Our compliments to the M-5 unit, and regards to Captain Dunsel. Wesley out."
- - Wesley, comparing Kirk's role to a part which serves no useful purpose
"To Captain Dunsel."
"To James T. Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise."
- - Kirk and McCoy, toasting in Kirk's quarters
"All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by."
- - Kirk, quoting the poem "Sea Fever" by John Masefield
"Fantastic machine, the M-5. No off switch."
- - McCoy, as the Enterprise chases the Woden
"Come along, Dr. Daystrom. M-5 is out of a job."
- - Kirk, to Dr. Daystrom
"I would say, Captain, that M-5 is not only capable of taking care of this ship, it is also capable of taking care of itself."
"You mean it's not going to let any of us turn it off?"
- - Spock and Kirk, expressing logic and horror respectively on M-5's self defense.
"Please, Spock, do me a favor and don't say it's fascinating."
"No. But it is ... interesting."
- - McCoy and Spock, on the M-5's increasing control of the Enterprise
"You don't shut a child off when it makes a mistake. M-5 is growing, learning."
"Learning to kill."
"To defend itself. It's quite a different thing."
- - Daystrom and McCoy, on the growing threat of the M-5
"Men no longer need die in space or on some alien world! Men can live and go on to achieve greater things than fact-finding and dying for galactic space, which is neither ours to give or to take!"
- - Daystrom, defending the need for the M-5
"Genius doesn't work on an assembly line basis."
- - Kirk to McCoy, on Daystrom
"You can't simply say, today I will be brilliant."
- - Kirk, on Daystrom's ingenuity
"It appears, Captain, we've been doing what used to be called pursuing a wild goose."
- - Spock, after M-5 outsmarts an attempted manual override
"Commodore Wesley is a dedicated commander. I should regret serving aboard the instrument of his death."
- - Spock, after Wesley receives orders from Starfleet to destroy the Enterprise
"Murder is contrary to the laws of man and God."
- - M-5, on why it cannot commit murder
"Compassion. That's the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it's the one thing that keeps men ahead of them."
- - McCoy, on why Wesley did not attack the Enterprise
"I simply maintain that computers are more efficient than Human beings, not better."
"But which do you prefer to have around, Mr. Spock?"
"...I believe I have already answered that question, doctor."
- - Spock and McCoy, reflecting on the M-5 computer's erratic behavior
"It would be most interesting to impress your memory engrams on a computer, doctor. The resulting torrential flood of illogic would be most entertaining."
- - Spock's last jab at McCoy, on comparing Humans and machines
Background information Edit
Production timeline Edit
- "Spec" teleplay by Laurence N. Wolfe: 13 October 1967
- Revised first draft teleplay: 9 November 1967
- First draft teleplay by D.C. Fontana: 1 December 1967, 2 December 1967, 3 December 1967, 4 December 1967
- Revised first draft: 5 December 1967
- Second revised first draft: 6 December 1967
- Additional page revisions by John Meredyth Lucas: 11 December 1967, 13 December 1967
- Filmed: 7 December 1967 – 14 December 1967
- Original airdate: 8 March 1968
- Rerun airdate: 28 June 1968
- First UK airdate: 7 October 1970
Story and production Edit
- Mathematician Laurence N. Wolfe wrote the original story for this episode, which was based on his fascination with computers. However, it emphasized the M-5 unit and its creator, Dr. Daystrom, and barely featured the Enterprise crew. It was heavily rewritten by D.C. Fontana, who focused the storyline around Kirk's fear of being replaced by a machine. 
- This episode was a social commentary on the American job losses caused by increased mechanization during the 1960s. (Star Trek Compendium, p. 99)
- Producer John Meredyth Lucas bought Wolfe's unsolicited teleplay because it could be made fast and cheap, using only the existing Enterprise sets, and decided to direct the episode himself. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Two)
- The evocative music by George Duning, composed for "Metamorphosis", was re-used when Kirk romanticizes about sailing on a tall ship.
Cast and characters Edit
- Barry Russo, who played Commodore Wesley in this episode, had previously portrayed Commander Giotto in "The Devil in the Dark".
- Sean Morgan, who portrayed Harper in this episode, also played Brenner in "Balance of Terror" and O'Neil in "The Return of the Archons" and "The Tholian Web".
- James Doohan provided the voices of the M-5 computer and the unseen Commodore Enwright.
- Fifteen of the 20 crew members who stay aboard the Enterprise during the M-5 exercise include: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Harper, Phillips, Rawlins, Carstairs, Brent, Hadley and Leslie (the two security guards who escort Daystrom from the bridge), and an unnamed nurse who appeared by Daystrom's bedside in sickbay.
Sets and props Edit
- Commodore Wesley's high-backed command chair appears to be the same one used on the ISS Enterprise's command chair in "Mirror, Mirror".
- Daystrom's scanning device, which he used to analyze the M-5, resembles McCoy's medical scanner. It also resembles the one used in "The Naked Time", when Scotty used it to point out the critical engineering wall circuits and when Joe Tormolen used it on the surface of Psi 2000.
- A close-up of the three scanning heads on the trident scanner in this episode seem to be a re-use of the disruptor weapons from "A Taste of Armageddon".
- This is the second time Kirk tells McCoy he would like to be on a long sea voyage. The first time happened in "Balance of Terror".
- Kirk recites the poem, "Sea Fever". He recites it again in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Quark paraphrases it in "Little Green Men" and it appears on the USS Defiant's dedication plaque.
- Spock mentions that there is nothing in 23rd century computer technology to replace a starship's medical officer. By the 24th century, Federation starships are equipped with Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) technology.
- Spock describes M-5's diversionary tactics as "pursuing a wild goose". In "The Gamesters of Triskelion", after McCoy calls Spock's search for Kirk, Uhura, & Chekov a wild goose chase, Spock retorts that he was not chasing "some wild aquatic fowl".
- In "The Menagerie, Part I" and "The Menagerie, Part II", General Order 7 was the only Starfleet directive which included the death penalty. M-5 states that the penalty for murder is also death. However, its remark that murder was "contrary to the laws of man and God" suggests that it might be referring to its – and perhaps Daystrom's – interpretation of what the punishment for murder should be, rather than Federation law.
- This is the fourth time Kirk "talks a computer to death". He used this skill in "The Changeling", "The Return of the Archons", and "I, Mudd".
- Alpha Carinae, whose second planet was scheduled for exploration by the scientific survey team, is better known as Canopus.
Other information Edit
- "The Ultimate Computer Affair" was an episode of The Man From UNCLE in 1965. Roger C. Carmel was a guest star.
Remastered information Edit
- The remastered version replaced the stock footage used in this episode. The space station, now named Starbase 6, used images of Deep Space Station K-7 from "The Trouble with Tribbles" in the original broadcast. In the remastered version, it was remodeled to look like Starbase 47, as seen in the Star Trek: Vanguard series of novels. The Woden, which used footage of the SS Botany Bay from "Space Seed", was redesigned as an Antares-type vessel. The crippled USS Excalibur, which reused footage of the USS Constellation from "The Doomsday Machine", and the space battle were redesigned with new computer generated images.
Video and DVD releasesEdit
- Original US Betamax release: 1986
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 28, catalog number VHR 2380, 6 August 1990
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 2.8, 21 July 1997
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 27, 10 July 2001
- As part of the TOS Season 2 DVD collection
Links and referencesEdit
- William Marshall as Richard Daystrom
- James Doohan as Scott
- George Takei as Sulu
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Frank da Vinci as Brent
- Roger Holloway as Roger Lemli
- Eddie Paskey as Leslie
Alpha Carinae II; Antares-type; astrobiolgoist; "Bones"; Carstairs; chicken soup; class M; comptronic; computer; death penalty; dunsel; duotronics; Earth; Einstein, Albert; engram; Excalibur, USS; Federation; Finagle's Folly; general quarters; geologist; goose; Harris; Hood, USS; Kazanga; kilometer; Lexington, USS; logic; M-1 multitronic unit; M-4 multitronic unit; M-5 computer; Merchant Marine; mining; multitronics; nervous breakdown; nitrogen; Nobel Prize; Orion; oxygen; patient; Phillips; Potemkin, USS; Rawlins; red alert; Sakar; Sea-Fever; sitar; skeleton crew; standard orbit; Starbase 6; Starfleet Academy; Starfleet battle simulation; Starfleet Command; suicide; tour of duty; Vulcan (planet); Vulcan neck pinch; warp power indicator; Woden; Zee-Magnees Prize
- "The Ultimate Computer" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Ultimate Computer" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Ultimate Computer" at Wikipedia
- "The Ultimate Computer" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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