And let's not forget, one of the most memorable, mentally-unstable examples of senior leadership in any capacity: Commodore Decker. This character epitomized the concept of rash judgment, brought on by circumstances out of his control, and played so convincingly by the late, great William Windom. His experience being thrust into such a horrific chain of events evolved him from a rational commander to that of a Captain Ahab archetype.
Either way, this episode served to scare me as a child. As Decker laments he saw the devil, right out of hell, describing what it was like to witness the Doomsday Machine's relentless destruction, all I could key in on were those numbing, and effective musical cues from the brilliant Sol Kaplan score. The beauty part to all of this intensity? It made your imagination kick in, and actually try to visualize the horror that Decker went through, watching a planet he beamed his crew to in the hopes of saving, meet certain death. There was no need for elaborate special-effects with his anecdote, just one hell of a musical score, and convincing acting from Windom. Add to it, William Shatner's normally hammy acting, played the part of looking visually disturbed very well here.
Even as Kirk and McCoy banter back and forth about Earth's version of a “Doomsday Machine”, suggesting the one in their future was much like the old H-Bomb in Earth's history, you can't help but feel some level of unease knowing we all still live in an era that has an all-time high risk for one being used without warning. That makes this episode of Trek as relevant today, if not more than it was in the late 60s when it first aired. I mean seriously ladies and gentlemen, the subject matter presented here should strike a chord with all of us in today's world.
But what makes this quintessential Trek? For starters, punchy dialogue during the back and forth between Spock and Decker, like a game of chess between the Vulcan mastermind, and the out of his mind Commodore. Or McCoy ready to burst an artery as he suggests he can certify Decker unfit for command, but ultimately can't at that point. These are the kinds of moments that I would argue (some others would too) that were sorely a missed opportunity in the Next Generation (also a great show in its own right), but were alive and well in the original series. It made it fun, edgy, and just plain outlandish in the best way possible in episodes like this one.
And then you have the sheer genius in having Kirk stranded on the Constellation, as he is forced to watch his girl, the Enterprise, almost get sucked into oblivion by the planet killer. Getting to see Kirk be put into a position of no power, when in reality his ego feeds off always having to be in the drivers seat was the mark of great writing. The other really great facet to this episode was seeing Spock have to out-think Decker enough to have him relieved of command. It was one of the first times we got to see Spock put in such a precarious position having to take over command while Kirk was on another ship. In the end, it's the level of Spock's intellect that allows him to regain control from Decker. Oh, and speaking of Decker, I'm going to declare right now that the fight scene between him and the red shirt should go down as the most ridiculous but most fun of the Original Series. I mean really, what the hell was that behind the back head slap Decker pulled off? Unforgettable material.
Whether you're comparing the original version of this episode to the remastered one, as much of a treat as the spiced up one is, with new special-effects, that didn't matter to me as I was watching it for the first time on a sub-par VHS tape, on a barely 19” TV in 1986. What mattered was the content of this episode, and it was for my money, one of the greatest Treks of them all due to the story, pacing, acting, emotion, and action. My only regret is there was never a sequel to this story, either in later seasons, or perhaps in one of the feature films. Nonetheless, I'd love to hear some of your comments below on how the Doomsday Machine stacks up in your own mind. Thanks for reading!