In Praise of the Doomsday Machine (and William Windom)

In this latest guest post by Joseph Dickerson, we dive into the Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine” and revisit why it might just be one of the best episodes of Star Trek. Dickerson’s review is timely, too, and, after William Windom’s (Commodore Decker) passing this month, serves as an homage to the great actor and a thank you for portraying one of our (dare I say?) favorite characters. Hit the jump for the review.

 

In praise of the Doomsday Machine (and William Windom)
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the official Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, and
one of the panels I went to was to determine the top ten episode of the original series.
It was a conference room that was only half-full, but the people who were there were
extremely engaged and vocal as they shouted feedback to the panel who was whittling the
suggested candidate episodes down to ten.

One episode, a particular favorite of mine, ended up in the list. Devin Faraci, a fine writer
and blogger, questioned the choice in this review of that list, which states, “The
Doomsday Machine? It’s a good episode, but top ten material?”

Yes, Mr. Faraci, it’s top 10 material. In fact, I think it should rank higher than #7. I think
it should be in the Top 5, and depending on my mood on any particular day I could say
it’s the Best. Episode. Ever.

Why? Let me provide some points to rationalize my opinion:

It’s a remake of Moby Dick. A pet theory of mine is that the best Trek has or uses Moby
Dick allusions (The Wrath of Khan, First Contact), and it starts here, with Commodore
Decker chasing his “white whale” and leaving a path of death and destruction in order to
get his revenge.

(Almost) Everyone has great moments. All the major characters get to shine here, with
great dialogue and scenes for Scotty, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Sulu and Uhura get left
out, unfortunately (Uhura isn’t even in the episode).

It’s got some epic space battles! We had space battles in other episode but this was the
first one to really amp the action up to 11. Yes, this one goes to 11.

It’s got a great villain! Yes, the “planet eater” may look like a giant cornucopia, but it
pre-dates the Borg, the Terminator and many other heartless “force of nature” bad-guys.
You can’t negotiate with it, and it appears unstoppable. It’s like Jaws, a literal “eating
machine.”

“Vulcans never bluff.” No explanation needed.

It shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s one of those “bottle” episodes, where the producers
had to shoot a whole episode on the ship, because they had no money to go on location
or to even create an alien planet on a different soundstage. That it is so entertaining is a
credit to the ingenuity of the production staff and to writer Norman Spinrad.

It was Scotty’s favorite episode! James Doohan frequently said it was his favorite
episode. You gonna argue with Scotty?

There’s huge stakes. The “planet eater” is going to go through the most densely part
of the galaxy, and it has to be stopped, a far cry from getting a delivery of grain to an
outpost or rescuing Spock’s brain…

The remastered version is even awesomer! The somewhat-good special effects of the
original episode was replaced with some beautiful new shots that give a great sense of
scale to the battle, and replaces some pretty shoddy (budget-limited) model work.

William Windom as Commodore Decker. Last, and certainly not least, it featured
one of the best guest star turns in the history of all Star Trek series by the great William
Windom. His performance as Commodore Decker is one for the ages, going from a
man in shock to a man obsessed to (finally) a man ready to die if it means stopping the
destruction being wrought.

Windom died this month at the age of 88, and he leaves this and many other great
performances as his legacy. To paraphrase a line Windom said in this episode: He was
there… but not anymore.

Goodnight, Mr. Windom. And thanks for the great work.


RIP William Windom

Joseph Dickerson is a writer, User Experience Architect (and Star Trek fan) focused on designing effective and innovative on-line and mobile applications. For more from Joseph visit josephdickerson.com or follow him on twitter: @josephdickerson.

 


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