Star Trek : The Ultimate Computer

March 17, 2014 in Guest Blogs, Star Trek by GuestBlogs

A Guest blog by Mindless-Droid

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This week’s classic Star Trek episode is The Ultimate Computer. The episode synopsis is here at the official site. The Enterprise is summoned to a deep space station. Commodore Wesley beams aboard and informs Kirk that the Enterprise has been chosen for war games and to test a new computer system designed by Richard Daystrom who twenty five years earlier designed the ships current system. The M5 will run a starship with only twenty crewman. Kirk is taken aback by this development.


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Kirk, Spock and McCoy head to engineering meeting Doctor Daystrom. Kirk orders Scotty to allow the M5 to be hooked into the main power plants of the ship as the unit draws power there is a fluctuation and Daystrom says it is just a minor settling in. McCoy raises concern that if the test fails there are not enough crewman to operate the ship. Daystrom confident to the point of arrogance tells them that the M5 can do everything it was designed to do. Telling Kirk that it can do so and implying that Kirk doesn’t want to lose the prestige of being a starship captain. After leaving engineering Kirk tells McCoy that he feels the M5 is dangerous but also questions if Daystrom is right.

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The M5 passes its initial tests flawlessly. Including a planet orbit and landing party recommendations that match Kirk’s except for Kirk and McCoy who the M5 deem to be nonessential personal. As this is happening the power on certain decks is being cut off. Scotty finds that it is the M5 that is responsible. Daystrom tells Kirk that the power shut downs are just the M5 shutting down areas of the ship that are not occupied. Spock notices that the M5 is different than anything he has seen Daystrom informs him that the M5 is a whole new approach in computers. Just then Uhura reports a ship closing on the Enterprise it is a surprise war games test for the M5 which it passes perfectly. Kirk and Spock discuss the outcome of the mock attack with Spock telling Kirk that although the M5 performed perfectly he would not wish to serve under a machine and that a starship also runs on loyalty to its captain. Commodore Wesley contacts the ship awarding the encounter to the M5. He congratulates it and gives his regards to Captain Dunsel. Kirk is struck by the comment and leaves the bridge. McCoy unaware of the meaning asks who the blazes is Dunsel. Spock explains that Dunsel is a term used by midshipmen at Starfleet academy it refers to a part that serves no useful purpose.

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Kirk feels he is losing his ship and command. McCoy brings him a “prescription” to cheer him up. Kirk is somewhat cheered up then suddenly a call from the bridge comes in an automated freighter has entered sensor range. The M5 destroys the ship as the crew is unable to disengage the M5. In engineering the M5 has put up a force field to protect itself Kirk orders Scotty to disconnect the M5 from its power source as Ensign Harper goes to disconnect the M5 kills him by a power beam that connects it directly to the warp engines. Spock comes up with a plan to disconnect the M5. McCoy talks to Daystrom and pulls his bio file he discusses Daystrom’s mental state with Kirk. Against Daystrom’s protests Spock and Scotty cut off the M5. Having apparently succeeded Kirk tells Sulu to change course but the controls won’t respond. The M5 had figured out what they were up to and rerouted the control circuits Kirk asks Daystrom what his new approach was in designing the M5. Daystro
m explains that he has developed a way impress human engrams onto the computer circuit making it similar to a human brain. Just as he is explaining this to Kirk the main attack force for the war games contacts the Enterprise.

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The M5 acknowledges the drill but attacks the opposing ships with full phasers. Kirk and the bridge crew are helpless as the M5 attacks the other starships damaging the Lexington and killing the entire crew of the Excalibur. Daystrom has no answer on how to regain control from the M5. The Enterprise picks up a message from the attack force asking for permission to disable the Enterprise. Spock suggests that Daystrom talk to the M5 as it is his engrams that have been impressed on the M5. Daystrom at first is remorseful at the deaths caused by the M5. Daystrom with the guilt of the deaths caused by the M5 and years of trying to prove himself again cracks under the pressure and as Kirk confronts him and states that the M5 must be destroyed Daystrom becomes incensed telling Kirk that the M5 is invincible and grabs Kirk. Spock subdues Daystrom with the Vulcan nerve pinch. As Daystrom is taken away the attack force is given the go ahead to destroy the Enterprise. Kirk in a desperate gamble talks to the M5 convincing it that it has murdered the unit having absorbed Daystrom’s guilt shuts down and leaves the Enterprise open to attack committing suicide to atone for the sin of murder. Having disable all M5 systems and gaining control over some systems except communications Kirk leaves the shields down hoping that Commodore Wesley would not attack. The gamble pays off and the attack force stands down.

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Although this is another of the Kirk versus a computer episodes it is one of the best and one of my favorite episodes overall. It is episodes like this one where Star Trek is at its best straight forward science fiction. When the series stayed away from all powerful beings and the end of all life in the galaxy type of episodes that’s when the show was at its best. I like the foreshadowing of Kirk getting a “red alert” soon after the M5 is installed and after Daystrom tells him that the M1 through M4 were not entirely successful. He of course has doubts but are his doubts justified or is he just afraid of losing his job. Of course Kirk is proven right in the end but we get to see the human side of Captain Kirk.

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As the episode progresses we see the M5 at first proves very efficient handling numerous tasks. As the M5 passes each test Kirk feels more and more useless. This comes to a head after M5 passes a surprise war games test. Here we see Spock show some of his human side as he tells Kirk that a starship also runs on loyalty to its Captain. During that scene I thought of the line “I have been and always will be your friend” Right after Spock’s speech Commodore Wesley calls to cede the war games to M5. The scene when he gives his regards to Captain Dunsel is quite poignant. Everyone with the exception of McCoy knows the reference. It’s quite dramatic as the camera pans to each crew member as Kirk walks off the bridge. You even can sense Spock’s sympathy in his answer to McCoy’s “who the blazes is Dunsel.”

The war games is one of the best sequences in the series. Kirk’s angst as his ship attacks the other starships. When he screams “Daystrom” right before the M5 destroys the Excalibur reminds me of the more iconic Khan scream. It’s sad to see Daystrom’s breakdown as his quest to prove himself once again fails. His guilt at what the M5 has done turns into anger as he remembers his past and Kirk presses him to destroy the M5. The Vulcan nerve pinch in this episode has to be the best one of the series.

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The re-mastered battle sequence is one of the best of the re-mastered scenes. How cool is it to see four starships flying in formation. It was also good to see another competent starship captain like commodore Wesley after having seen captains like Decker and Tracey. I liked the way the used a different camera angle when they showed Wesley on the bridge of the Lexington it really gave you a sense that it was a different ship. A quick bit of trivia Barry Russo who played Commodore Wesley also appeared in the first season episode The Devil in the Dark as Lieutenant Commander Giotto.

The way Kirk defeats this computer is different than most of the other Kirk versus a computer episodes. Instead of the usual use of illogic and contradiction Kirk uses M5’s and ultimately Daystrom’s guilt since the M5 was basically a mirror of Daystrom’s mind at having committed murder to get the M5 to leave itself open to attack in essence committing suicide to atone for the sin of murder. One thing how though at the end of the episode how did they get the Enterprise back to the space station with only nineteen crewman bad move taking all the crew off the ship.