Spinrad Talks TOSR Doomsday – Plus A New VideoBlog On ‘Saving Star Trek’

Norman Spinrad, the writer of "The Doomsday Machine" has now seen the new remastered version and  gave some of his reactions to TrekMovie.com.

TrekMovie.com: What did you think of it?
Norman Spinrad: I haven’t watched it at all for a while and it is a strange experience. My first take is that everything looked cleaner – not just the effects but the whole episode looked cleaned up. For the new special effects it seems the biggest change is that they seem to be able to do motion a lot better. Things are moving in a more complicated way. The doomsday machine isn’t that different. The way I conceived it, it was something else. It should look both alive and robotic..and neither the new or the old looked either.

TrekMovie.com: CBS has tried to be as faithful the original as possible, would you have liked to see them go back to your original design?
Norman Spinrad: Well this is a philosophic question. I don’t have the original design and they don’t. I guess they could have contacted me and we could have talked it through. In a way it is like the argument if black and white movies should be colorized or not

TrekMovie.com: Where do you stand on that?
Norman Spinrad: (laughs) well I guess it depends on the movie. There are some black and white movies that are meant to be that way and only work that way, but something that was made before color was available maybe could be colored to some advantage.

TrekMovie.com: The parallel to that with Star Trek Remastered is that it is now being prepared for high definition…
Norman Spinrad: Well the technology now is way improved over what they could do back then. The reason they couldn’t follow the design originally is because it was too complicated and expensive. It was all model work, now it is just computer stuff and easier and cheaper to do. The decision originally was not a creative decision it was a question of budget and technology. I don’t think Gene [Roddenberry] or I or [director of ‘Doomsday’] Marc Daniels or anyone involved with the original episode would have felt slighted if they had done whatever they wanted to do with the doomsday machine itself, because nobody was passionately involved with the way the thing ended up. And I would imagine that this would apply to many episodes of Star Trek. There were just many more limits than what you can do now. The other side to this is that if you just put the original effects into high definition they would look bad. I have seen these episodes projected up on a large screen and the effects didn’t hold up well at that size. High definition will expose these things like the stars shining through and the blue fringes which you don’t see on a regular television set.

TrekMovie.com: So you feel CBS shouldn’t be so concerned with being so faithful to the originals.
Norman Spinrad: No they shouldn’t – well I don’t think thing should be messing around with the actors and screwing around with that. Although later on in the 3rd season when some of them put on some weight they might have the occasion to do that (laughs) maybe some electronic liposuction.

…an extended version of my interview with Spinrad and other Doomsday coverage should be available in an upcoming issue of Star Trek Magazine.  


Spinrad talks ‘Save Star Trek’ Campaign:
As he suggested in his last video message, Norman Spinrad has made a new video about the campaigns to keep the show on the air back in the 60s. The writer pokes a few holes in the myth that the campaign was just a grass roots effort from the fans.  

…and this brings an end to the wall to wall ‘Doomsdayapalooza’ coverage on TrekMovie.com…bring on Amok Time.

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This was an outstanding tentpole episode to feature what CBS Digital is capable of. If any changes are ultimately made to the films, or future (gasp) series, CBS Digital should get the posh assignment for a unified and coherent stylistic vision of the future.

This Star Trek Renaissance we are experiencing is really an exciting time to be a fan again. To be honest, I never thought it would happen in my life time. Star Trek truly lives.

Its too bad that the team at CBS didn’t consider consulting with Mr. Spinrad when they redid this episode. If worse came to worse he could have least given them some sort of creative input and how he first envisioned it and perhaps made it all that much better. What a waste in not asking him!

I would be very interested to see a model of the planet killer based on Spinrad’s concepts. At the same time, that’s not the version of the planet killer that I want to see in the episode itself. I want CBS-D to do exactly what they did: a better version of what was originally done 40 years ago, but still closely based on the original. The show no longer belongs exclusively to Roddenberry and Spinrad. As one of the producers said, it also belongs to fans like me who want the show as I remember it, only better. I really don’t want to see a radically different planet killer.

Hmmmm…he claims only five thousand science fiction fans in the whole world in the 1960’s and mainly concentrated in the United States? How could he possibly know that? Baloney!

Mike :o

Maybe it would be an idea if the guys at cbs d contacted any of the original writers that are still alive for imput.

As for the five thousand SF fans in the 60’s that is total hoowie

He’s a bit of a mad old mare isn’t he?

Fun stuff! Thanks for posting Anthony and Mr. Spinrad.

Although — no disrepect intended — I would take some of what is said with a grain of salt. The idea of 5,000 wordlwide SF fans is a bit suspect (nobody would ever have published an SF novel or made an SF movie with those numbers!) and I’m pretty sure the Shat was absent from the shuttle rollout, but hey, I can barely remember what I was doing last week, let alone 30 or 40 years ago!

Look for yourself:


I see everyone from the original cast except Shatner and Majel. Even the Great Bird himself is in this shot. Shatner being the camera hog that he is, I would be amazed if he was there and wasn’t in this photo.

…..I don’t think Shatner was at the launch, but that bit of jaded memory doesn’t change his point. Fans did write in, resulting in the first shuttle being named Enterprise, perhaps Star Trek’s finest moment. Interesting stuff for sure and I welcome more of this kind of insight from those who were there. Thanks for a great article.

I still wish the remastered version had more closely matched the exact shape proportions, and colours of the show’s wonderful original…

This is my favourite piece of “Doomsday Machine” artwork that I’ve come across, for anyone that missed it:


Thanks Mr. Spinrad! Hoping for to see more from you in the future.

I can’t see Shatner on the last photo that Spinrad showed us…

I wonder whether Mr. Spinrad has seen “In Harm’s Way.” I find the story disturbing (in a literal sense – it disturbs so many other story lines) but perhaps the DDM is closer to what he envisioned as being “robotic and alive.” To me, it’s interesting but looks too much like a humongous killer sperm.

On the slim chance that Mr. Spinrad is reading this, I would just like to express my thanks for everything he has contributed in a long and interestingly varied career. My kudos for Bug Jack Barron, Russian Spring, The Void Captain\’s Tale, and most of all Child of Fortune, a book so filled with the bittersweet joy of living that reading it can be a life-changing experience in itself. Not to mention “A Thing of Beauty” and “The Lost Continent,” two of the best (and, in the case of the former, funniest) SF short stories ever written. Readers here should be aware that there\’s a lot more to Mr. Spinrad than “The Doomsday Machine,” or even, in his recent work, the SF genre itself, but you\’ll be rewarded if you check it out.

It was a quarter-century ago that Spinrad wrote about artists and hackers using what he called “wizard software” to create digital illusion (in his case, synthetic rock stars) in his novel Little Heroes. William Gibson got there first with the cyberpunk, but no one prior to Spinrad had written in fiction about the computer\’s potential as an artisic tool. How fitting that his most famous contribution to American pop culture has now gotten the once-over by talented people using the very software he\’d predicted, and I\’m gratified he was pleased with the results.

#4 – I think Mr. Spinrad was, in a not very clear way, referring to those people that tended to go to events like WorldCon (the World Science Fiction Convention).

#8 – Scott, thank you for that great picture!

…The only problem is that Norman’s been whining about the “cement windsock” for 40 years now, and while I can see his frustration as a writer whose creation didn’t turn out on TV like he envisioned, it would be in his best interests not to eventually turn it into a vendetta against TOS. That way lies the madness that the “Midget with a Big Mouth”, Li’l Harlie Ellison, succumed to shortly after he turned in his final draft to “City”.

[Slaps head] D’OH! What am I saying? Norman’s a *far* better writer than Harlan! He’d *never* succumb to that sort of obsession! Nor would he try to make lots of bucks writing books on how Gene Roddenberry screwed him, or demand high fees to speak about it at conventions, either!

But still, hearing about what the DDM was supposed to be, and the fact that what we did get wasn’t as horrible as he puts it, does get a little tedious after a while…

Yes, Spinrad’s is a bit off on a few details (the SF writers, called “The committee,” handled the first letter campaign–including Desilu still, not Paramount (and that was before David Gerold sold “Tribbles,” he was still an unknown college student), and the Trimbles didn’t get involved til the Season 2 drive; not only was Shatner not at the roll-out, neither was Pres. Ford–that’s the NASA honchos there)–but he’s mostly on target. Including that “5.000 fans” remark; yes, he meant active, con-going fans. No such thing as a media-con then, really; they were all lit-cons, and no one cared in the “mundane” world.

#16: I don’t think Spinrad is complaining anywhere near as obsessively as Ellison. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him voicing his opinion, especially since he doesn’t seem to be turning it into an Ellison-esque vendetta/career.

And yes, Spinrad is a much better writer.

“Amok Time” this weekend!!!

Nice to hear from Mr. Spinrad. I would like to see him do another episode should there be a new TV series. Yes, I know he did one for Phase II which is in the book. That was good also, though very different from DDM. I will read Bug Jack Barron.

I’m wearily amused by the outrage of some of the posters over Norman Spinrad’s comments. It’s the same old story; some Star Trek fans are just physically incapable of hearing a single criticism of their beloved religion voiced by anyone, at any time, for any reason, without suffering some kind of fundamentalist meltdown. (I choose that word “religion” with full knowledge of what I’m implying, by the way; I’ve seen religious fundamentalists react in precisely the same manner when their faith is questioned.)

Look, I’m a Star Trek fan too, okay? Been one since about 1967. I haunt this blog on a daily basis precisely because I AM a Star Trek fan, and my little heart goes just as pitter-patter as all of yours do over anything to do with a fictional universe that has excited my imagination for a full forty years. I’m just saying this so no one goes all rabid with holy furor, accusing me of being some kind of Trek-hater. What I do hate are people who can’t seem to enjoy what they enjoy without acting like idiotic children.

Spinrad’s a heavy dude, folks; he’s been one of America’s best science fiction writers for almost half a century, and I for one am glad he’s still out there pulling the plow. He wrote the damned episode. He’s arguably more entitled to voice his reminisces and opinions of it than anyone currently alive, and if he happens to have slight reservations about the way it was handled, then or now, I very much doubt it’s going to bring The Holy Temple of Roddenberry crashing to the ground.

I don’t say “get a life,” because as a sci-fi fan myself I’m as guilty of occasionally not having one as any of you. What I do say is this: grow up a little, huh? Please? It won’t kill you, I promise… well, not for several decades, anyway.

(Re: ‘5000 fans’)

#15 (Clinton) wrote: > “I think Mr. Spinrad was … referring
to those people that tended to go to events like WorldCon ….”

#17 (Larryn75) wrote: > “… that ‘5.000 fans’ remark
… meant active, con-going fans.”

Your comments got me curious about the Worldcon attendance figures.
200 attended the first con in 1939. Some of the high points:
1952: 870 — 1956: 850 — 1966: 850 (just before ST premiered) —
1967: 1500 — 1974: 3587 — 1978: 4700 — 1980: 5850 — 1984: 8365.
Hit the link to see the complete list.

From the cautionary notes for that page:
“The available data is very incomplete and imprecise
and many of these numbers are probably substantially in error.”

It’s worth pointing out that any network would kill for a 20 rating these days, as no one gets that any more on a weekly basis.

For comparison, here are this season’s Nielsen ratings so far…


Note that the top show, Fox’s ratings juggernaut American Idol, has been averaging around a 19 rating, while the rest of the top 20 shows are in the 9-13 rating range.

Note also that in 1967, 20 million people was 10% of the entire U.S. population (which was just under 200 million then, compared to 300 million today).

Pretty amazing.

Great videoblog Mr. Spinrad, hope you will continue to contribute here because it’s always interesting to hear about things from people who were actually there.

If you folks can find old issues of Starlog from the early/mid-70’s, there’s a lot of history…Gerrold and Bjo Trimble had columns, and for awhile there was a monthly “Star Trek Movie Report” that featured scoops and photos from the first film. Of course, now we have the Internet to spoil everything, but back then I couldn’t wait for each issue every month and see what was going on.

Also, I’ll never forget my utter glee as a kid in school when NASA named the first shuttle Enterprise, I sure felt vindicated as an early Trekker :D My friends became interested in the show after that and we’d all watch it after school.

And finally…anyone remember a show called “Sci-Fi Buzz” that Sci-Fi Channel had when it first launched? It featured a roundtable discussion that had famous SF authors and so forth. I remember Ellison being on there but only saw a few episodes of that before that show got canned.

I believe Spinrad’s estimate of real science fiction fans in 1967. 5000 sounds right to me. That’s not the casual reader who might pick up one science fiction book a year. He means the hardcore convention attending fans. Even in 1980 I think there were no more than 30000 of those. The largest convention today is Dragoncon and they get around 20000 warm bodies, which isn’t much in a country of 300 million. Here’s a page that shows the growth of the con. (at the bottom of the page)


#24 (Surak) wrote: > “5000 sounds right to me. That’s not the
casual reader who might pick up one science fiction book a year.
He means the hardcore convention attending fans.”

OK, but I choose to take the estimate with a grain of salt.
I assume it was probably just an impromptu ‘guesstimate’,
anyway. No harm in that!

If 850+ fans attended Worldcons in 1952, 1956, and in
1966 (just before ST premiered), one can surely imagine
that there were more than 5000 ‘real SF fans’ out there
(i.e., of course there were many people who didn’t attend
the cons but nonetheless took enough interest in SF lit to
qualify as ‘real fans’).

According to the (admittedly unreliable) Worldcon attendance
numbers, attendance jumped after 1966 but climbed rather slowly
(see post #21 above for a link to the Worldcon attendance list).
Just to play around with the “5000” number in that context:
Estimated Worldcon attendance didn’t approach 5000 until
1978 (4700) and 1980 (5850). (After Star Wars.). ;-)

BTW, when “Doctor Who” (UK) premiered in late 1963,
it quickly drew six million viewers plus;
hitting 10 million in January 1964, and 13 million a year later.
If we are willing to call that show “science fiction”, we
must admit that it had more than 5000 fans. (Before Star Trek.)

Anyway … Trek made some contribution to SF fandom.
Just how much of a contribution it actually made to
actual sales and readership of quality SF literature,
is of course debatable …

Excuse my presumptions. I know very little about SF.
I’m just a googling nobody.

As I said, if the “5000” figure was just a guesstimate,
I see no harm in that. I doubt it was meant as a hard
estimate, but if it was, there’s no harm in that either.

I thank Mr. Spinrad for his commentary, and for his
contributions to SF. Now I’m off to buy a couple of his books …

He’s off in thinking that a change to his original design would have been welcomed, I think; though I agree in principal. Had CBS-D altered the design too much, even to match the original vision of the machine, it would have been met with a lot of brickbats.

…#20, you’re missing the point. It’s not that we’re worried about Trek writers throwing stones at Gene’s glass house, it’s that they’re whining about things that for reasons that are trivial, and about changes that were made for really valid reasons that were applicable to the day, and even hold up quite well even in today’s “hardware out the ass” SFX days. That “cement windsock” he’s forever complained about is actually what you would want if you’re designing a machine that’s supposed to destroy planets, break them down into rubble, and consume them as fuel. Especially if you weren’t building it so it could swallow the planet whole. Having the hull “bristling with big guns” is one thing, but consider the maintainance issues? For something to have existed for millennia, it would have had to have been as simple as possible even if built out of solid neutronium(*).

…No, this time the budget restrictions imposed on Gene, Bob, Herb, Matt and the rest of the team actually worked in their favor on this one. “Cement Windsock” it may be, but it’s become an icon of just how well you can create something on a cheap budget and have it become one of the more memorable icons of science fiction. While Norm’s argument that CGI should have allowed for his vision to look(**) has some validity, while you can get away with doing a matte showing the place of Koon ut Kal-i-Fee 300′ feet in the air, or showing us what the Orion attack ship looked like, or even having a Gorn blink, those weren’t as drastic a change as making the DDM look like what Norm wanted all along. That sort of change would have been way too drastic for even the most accepting fans to tolerate.

Oh, and for the record: Norm has whined nowhere nearly as bad as Li’l Harlie has – remind me to tell the “Jellybean” story sometime just to show how much of a dick he is – but because DDMR is out, his stories about the “Cement Windsock” have become incessantly repeated, and that’s what’s causing the concern. Norm *IS* a superior writer *and* person to the Midget with a Big Mouth, and nobody wants to see him lower himself to that sort of spilt milk crying.

(*) That, in itself is problematic, as that much neutronium would have a significant gravitational field. But that’s another nit to pick.

(**) And that vision, based on the one or two concept napkins I’ve seen in years past, was actually more closer to V’Ger.

…#24, major convention attendance is not reflective of the actual number of serious fans. It’s more of a variable sample that will range from 3% to possibly 15%, with a variance of +/- 1-3% depending on the subject of the convention and local tourist interest. The key reason is transportation – i.e., there’s about 14 million who’d love to go to San Diego in a few weeks for the comic convention there, but only about 1% of that will actually go, and only about 85% of those will find hotel rooms.

I live in San Diego, and still have yet to go to one of those things–tickets are expensive and parking is just too much of a hassle. Plus there’s the New Yorker’s attitude towards the Statue of Liberty at work: I can always go, so I never do. :-)

And just for the record: I would tend to agree that Harlan Ellison’s over-the-top anger, even to this day, over the re-writes of “City On the Edge of Forever” has long since gotten pretty tedious, even as I come around to his view that the aired version (much as I still love it) was seriously watered-down from his original script. But Norman Spinrad would be the first to tell you you’re wrong regarding Ellison’s talents. However you regard him as a person–I’d say he’s a mixed bag, just like the rest of us–his place as one of SF’s most honored and revered writers is secure, and rightfully so.

#27: Tell us the jellybean story!!!