Don’t miss this incredible second part of Featured Writer Keith Parker’s look back at The Doomsday Machine in this installment of What Trek Meant to Me.
Do the things the buttons tell you to do!
Commodore Matt Decker, half-mad with exhaustion, grief and vengeance, leans forward in the command chair. He focuses on a portion of Sulu’s helm console and yells, “Fire!”
I don’t know how many times they fired on the “The Doomsday Machine,” but I bet it was a lot. For a boy like me who battled imaginary aliens on imaginary planets with imaginary (but high-powered) lasers, this episode was like seeing my own imagination plastered across a TV screen. It was so action-packed it was sublime.
But when you look a little deeper, one of the curious things was that this episode of Star Trek had very little violence. That always amused me. Think about it: Aside from the fact that Commodore Decker was burned alive by an anti-proton field,
there weren’t any deaths in this episode,
if you exclude the 400 crewmen crying for help on Planet L-374-III
and yet “The Doomsday Machine” managed to be nothing but violence. It was an extraordinary combination.
Here was the Enterprise and a crippled Constellation battling an ancient weapon that ate planets for a living, and yet nobody got killed on screen except for Decker. Do you know how hard it is to pull that off? It’s true, there were severe casualties mentioned at one point aboard the Enterprise, but we don’t see the carnage. Less is more. This was a monumental space battle. Starships are huge; the planet killer, even bigger. The scale is immense. The Starfleet vessels were fortresses themselves, and were battling a weaponized artifact capable of “slicing a planet to rubble.” I remember telling dad how weird it must be to drop out of warp and see that beast hovering over a planet.
“It could suck an entire planet into its mouth!” I said.
“Nope,” Dad said. “Want some ice cream?”
Sure (he explained), the planet killer was a big-ass piece of space hardware, but it wasn’t bigger than a planet. Silly rabbit… Trix are for kids.
I scrunched my eyebrows.
Dad had grabbed a ratty old spiral notebook, licked the pencil tip, and began scribbling some numbers. After a minute of chewing on his lip, he put down the notebook and told me that you could fit about 5,000 doomsday machines end to end through planet Earth. I stared, mouth agape. Dad had a ninth grade education. No high school, no college. He was drafted off the farm into World War II, and he’d just done some geometry homework that I didn’t even know how to do. I checked his numbers years later. He was essentially correct.
I’m not sure I paid close attention to the rest of the episode. I’d seen it seven or eight times anyway. I just couldn’t get that out of my head. I wished I were half as astute.
Dad got up during the final commercial break, limped to the kitchen and got his ice cream. When the show came back for the grand finale, as the Constellation erupted in ninety-seven point eight-three-five megatons of thermonuclear wrath, Dad leaned forward in his own chair.
“That fellow who needed a shave was the only one killed,” Dad said.
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