Star Trek – The Doomsday Machine

★★★★★ October 20, 1967 Season 2 Episode 6

If you want to see where we are…and you missed a few…HERE is a list of the episodes in my index located at the top of my blog. 

This show was written by Gene Roddenberry and Norman Spinrad

A true 5-star episode. This would be in my top 5 Star Trek episodes of all time. The story is about obsession…if you get too caught up in it…it can hurt you or worse. This could be the most well-written episode. 

The crew of the Enterprise comes across the wrecked hull of the Constellation with only its commander, Commodore William Windom aboard. His crew was sent down to a planet that no longer exists because it was destroyed by a Doomsday device, a miles-long machine that looks like a hollowed-out log floating through space. It’s not floating and it isn’t hollow. It is self-fueling feeding on the planets and other objects in its path and its hull is impervious to starship phaser fire. It doesn’t look like it but it’s one of the best weapons I’ve ever seen. When it comes to your galaxy…you would have no galaxy left. 

Commodore William Windom is in shock, for good reason, and he is beamed to the Enterprise so the doctor can take a look at him.  

Star Trek - The Doomsday Device - Uss Constellation

While Kirk is away trying to repair the other ship, communications are circumvented, allowing Dekker, crazy as he is, to take over the Enterprise. He decides to wage war with this gaint eater of planets, endangering another crew. The episode draws on some wonderful twists and turns as Kirk has to deal with Dekker and then with the force that is now a danger to everyone. 

The cosmic threat of this huge alien weapon, while exciting in itself, takes on a much more darker tone thanks to the presence of Decker on the bridge of the Enterprise. The whole plot seems to take a back seat, for a while at least, to the strange, awful relationship between Dekker and this unfeeling machine. Everyone else becomes an incidental side player to the conflict between these two, but, of course, it’s Decker who sees this thing as his personal devil who killed his crew. 

Spock didn’t give up power easily but he had to when faced with Starfleet rules. Dekker wants to kill a machine with phasers that he knows won’t hurt it. On the communicator, Kirk gives Spock the command to relieve Dekker of power…against regulations but Spock complies and the following exchange takes place…video below of this. 

Capt. Kirk: Mr. Spock, relieve Commodore Decker immediately. That’s a direct order.

Matt Decker: You can’t relieve me and you know it, according to regulations…

Capt. Kirk: BLAST REGULATIONS! Mr. Spock, I order you to assume command on my personal authority as Captain of the Enterprise.

Mr. Spock: Commodore Decker, you are relieved of command.

Matt Decker: I don’t recognize your authority to relieve me.

Mr. Spock: You may file a formal protest with Starfleet Command, assuming we survive to reach a Starbase, but you are relieved. Commodore, I do not wish to place you under arrest.

Matt Decker: You wouldn’t dare.

[Mr. Spock signals two security guards who immediately step forward at his command]

Matt Decker: You’re bluffing.

Mr. Spock: Vulcans never bluff.

Matt Decker: [sadly] No. No, I don’t suppose that they do. Very well, Mr. Spock, the bridge is yours.

It’s a well-written episode and the acting by William Windom as Dekker is flawless. If I say too much more it will give it away…watch this episode. 

From IMDB:

James Doohan’s favorite episode for its highlighting of the engineering aspects of the Star Trek world.

According to William Windom, he did not enjoy working on the show. He said that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were not getting along at the time, which made the set’s atmosphere tense. He also said that he felt that the episode was silly so he purposely overacted. It was not until many years later that he realized that his character was a reference to Captain Ahab from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”.

This episode marks the first time Scotty is heard cursing in Gaelic. He later utters the same expletive in Star Trek: I, Mudd (1967) and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989).

This is the most effects-heavy episode of the second season. When the series was digitally remastered for its 2007 DVD release, the upgrade required nearly 200 new effects shots.

According to William Windom, he had Decker compulsively twiddle with “cassette cartridges” (sic; data tapes) as an homage to Humphrey Bogart, who did the same thing with ball-bearings as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954).

Norman Spinrad was displeased with the model used for the planet killer. As he told Allen Asherman in The Star Trek Interview Book, he envisioned a doomsday machine bristling with all sorts of evil-looking weapons. For budgetary reasons, the actual Doomsday Machine model was made by dipping a windsock in cement.

Director Marc Daniels finished this episode in five days instead of the usual schedule of six. Daniels made a bet with the producers that he could finish the episode in five days. When he succeeded, he got a $500 bonus.

Nichelle Nichols does not appear in this episode. Uhura’s duties were assumed by Lt. Palmer, played by Elizabeth Rogers. Walter Koenig is also absent.

This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, at the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention.

When Spock describes the two innermost planets of the solar system that was destroyed, he says “The surface temperature of the inner planet is that of molten lead. The other has an atmosphere poisonous to human life”. Commodore Decker says he beamed his crew down to the third planet. This accurately describes the first three planets in our solar system.

The first of two appearances of Elizabeth Rogers as communications officer Lt. Palmer, the other being season three’s Star Trek: The Way to Eden (1969).

This episode marks the debut of the re-designed engineering set. The dilithium crystal storage units now occupy the center of the floor (complete with recycled Horta eggs), a ladder and upper level have been added into what was just a high bank of lighted panels in the first season. The set also is entered through a short spur hallway now, rather than as a side door off a main corridor. The console across from the forced-perspective end of the set has been replaced by a doorway and moved to the main wall to the left of the red grid. The huge structures among which Kirk’s evil self and Ben Finney once hid are not seen in detail again, but the emergency manual monitor set was built on stilts on that spot, making its debut in Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror (1967).

Besides the Constellation and the Enterprise, the other Constitution class ships seen in the original series are Hood, Potemkin, Excalibur, Lexington, Defiant, and the Exeter.

Re-used stock footage of Scott being tossed around engineering is from Star Trek: Tomorrow Is Yesterday (1967). A console that appears only in that episode can be seen. Scott wears a tricorder throughout this episode. But, when the old footage of him being thrown against the grating in “Tomorrow is Yesterday” is spliced in, the tricorder vanishes.

Captain Willard Decker from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), played by Stephen Collins, is the son of Commodore Decker from this episode. In the William Shatner vehicle T.J. Hooker: Second Chance (1982) there was a character named Decker.

Commodore Decker’s first name was originally to be Curt, but it was felt that it sounded too much like “Kirk”, so it was changed to Matt.

This is the first appearance in the series of another vessel identical to the Enterprise. The Constellation is a Constitution class vessel which is virtually the same as the Enterprise. Its registry number is NCC-1017, which implies that it was produced earlier than the Enterprise. Kirk said in an earlier show that there were only 12 Constitution class ships in service.

Writer Norman Spinrad recycled a short story of his called “The Planet Eater” which had been roundly rejected by publishing houses, despite being heavily influenced by “Moby Dick”. He was able to convince Gene Roddenberry that it would make a viable subject for an episode.

Although considered to be a classic episode by fans and critics alike, story editor D.C. Fontana named this as her least favourite episode.

This was one of very few episodes to have its entire score composed specifically for it. Sol Kaplan’s outstanding music was subsequently used in several of the other best episodes of the 2nd season, including Star Trek: The Immunity Syndrome (1968), Star Trek: Obsession (1967) and Star Trek: The Ultimate Computer (1968). Many listeners have noted similarities between its “planet killer” theme and the “shark” theme of John Williams’ score for Jaws (1975).

Strangely, there are two armed red-shirt guards posted on the bridge throughout much of this episode, even though there is no apparent reason requiring their presence. This doesn’t happen on any other episode of the series, unless there is an apparent security threat.

Norman Spinrad has expressed disappointment that the actor whom he envisioned playing Decker, Robert Ryan, was not cast. Ryan was a fan of the series and wanted to do the episode. Scheduling conflicts prevented this, so William Windom was cast.

The auxiliary control room is first seen in this episode aboard the Constellation. Its large viewing screen was previously used in the briefing room in Star Trek: The Menagerie: Part I (1966), Star Trek: The Menagerie: Part II (1966), and Star Trek: Space Seed (1967), and on the bridge set used in Star Trek: Where No Man Has Gone Before (1966).

The character of Lt. Washburn (played by Richard Compton) was named after the show’s longtime assistant director, Charles Washburn.

In the original script, Enterprise actually fires several phaser shots into the machine’s mouth, but the beams just ricochet around harmlessly, if energy beams can be said to ricochet. (‘Reflect’ is probably a better word.)

In Norman Spinrad’s original version, Spock makes an unusual comment after the machine has been destroyed. He calls the weapon “not very efficient”, pointing out that a fusion bomb disguised as space rubble could be easily fed to another version of the machine, should one appear.

The picture of the star field on the bulkhead of the transporter room makes its last appearance in this episode.

Kirk’s second season green wraparound tunic debuts in this episode and will appear intermittently throughout the season. In contrast with the first season version, the collar is now edged with gold piping, although it lacks the black trim that it will gain for later (shooting order) second-season episodes such as Star Trek: The Apple (1967) and Star Trek: The Immunity Syndrome (1968). The other key difference is the location of the rank braids: these were seen on the shoulders in the first season, whereas this version of the tunic sports the standard braids on the sleeves. Kirk never wore the green tunic in the third season.

In many of its profile shots, the planet killer is semi-transparent and stars show through it. This was an overlay of film footage of the doomsday machine model over an existing star field. This money-saving technique also was used in Star Trek: The Squire of Gothos (1967) when Trelane’s planet blocks the Enterprise’s path.

The modified Nuclear-Chicago Model 2586 Radiation Survey Meter is again used by a member of the landing party as a sensor device.

In the Star Trek novel “Vendetta”, author Peter David related that the planet-killer was actually a prototype for a much larger version. The weapon had been built by a race called The Preservers, who were fighting (and losing) a war with the Borg.

The three crewmen who beam over to the Constellation with Kirk, McCoy, and Scott were named after three of the series’ assistant directors. Washburn’s namesake was Charles Washburn; Russ’ was Rusty Meek, and Elliott’s was Elliot Schick.

The digitally remastered episode shows a much better idea of the doomsday machine’s ominous design. There is also a believable view of the disabled and heavily damaged Constellation.

This episode has six alumni from The Twilight Zone (1959): William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei, William Windom, and Jerry Catron.

The trident scanner Scott pulls out of the new storage area near the doorway to engineering is the same prop Spock uses in Star Trek: Metamorphosis (1967) as he works on the shuttlecraft, and which Ensign Harper uses to plug in the M-5 multitronic unit in Star Trek: The Ultimate Computer (1968). It is identified in The Making of Star Trek as a “Ray Generator and Energy Neutralizer (Spock-Built).”

Here we see a Federation style of martial art in the fight scene between Mr. Montgomery and Commodore Decker. In most episodes, the fighting is not as structured. Two of Kirk’s default moves are to use a knife-hand strike to the neck (strike with the side of the hand, commonly known as a ‘karate chop’) and a flying side kick.

One of the legendary “bloopers” occurred during the filming of this episode: Spock says to Decker, “If you don’t veer off, I shall relieve you on that basis!” In the blooper, Leonard Nimoy forgets part of his line and says, “If you don’t veer off, I shall…blow my brains out!”


While on patrol, the Enterprise approaches a recently mapped solar system only to find that all but two of its planets have been destroyed. They also find another starship, the USS Constellation, floating in space and apparently abandoned. Beaming aboard the Constellation, they find only one occupant, Kirk’s friend and the ship’s commander, Commodore Matt Decker, who tells them of his encounter with a huge planet-killing machine. With Kirk attempting to re-start the Constellation’s engines, Decker takes command of the Enterprise and, in his irrational state, announces he is going to try and destroy the doomsday machine.


William Shatner … Captain James Tiberius ‘Jim’ Kirk
Leonard Nimoy … Mister Spock
DeForest Kelley … Doctor Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy
William Windom … Commodore Decker
James Doohan … Lieutenant Commander Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott
George Takei … Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu
Elizabeth Rogers … Lt. Palmer
John Winston … Lieutenant Kyle
Richard Compton … Washburn
John Copage … Elliott
Tim Burns … Russ
Jerry Catron … Montgomery
Bill Blackburn … Lieutenant Hadley (uncredited)
Roger Holloway … Roger Lemli (uncredited)
Jeannie Malone … Yeoman (uncredited)
Eddie Paskey … Lieutenant Leslie (uncredited)


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

8 thoughts on “Star Trek – The Doomsday Machine”

  1. A lot going on in that one! Did you see the original or the remastered? I didn’t know they added in new effects on the re-releases. That seems like it might detract from the original’s slightly dated-looking charm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve seen both…you know…on some of the remasters…the planets don’t look as good to me…on some…I thought the original looked better. There are some though…they replace a crummy painting in the back with something else and it looks better…this one…looks great with CGI I have to say.


  2. “Vulcans don’t bluff.” One of the greatest lines in the entire series. I liked Ahab captain but I think someone else could have done a better job. (Don’t ask me who, just someone else.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had to keep that line in there! I’m glad you think the same. Overall it’s in my top 5 I would say….the fourth movie about the Humpback Whales reminds me of this

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter David’s “Vendetta” was a fantastic book, I’ll never understand why that wasn’t made into a Trek movie. Even a remake/reboot with TNG crew coming across a star system being annihilated by another Doomsday Machine… how great could that have been?

    I think Doomsday Machine is one of the strongest TOS episodes, its possibly the one I rewatch most often. So cinematic and ambitious, considering the limitations of a TV show at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was one of the best episodes to me also… it’s up there with The City On The Edge Of Forever. I love the plot and what a deadly machine.


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