The Doomsday Machine is not only an intelligent episode, but it’s also entertaining. And it even has some remarkable special effects! In short, it showcases the full potential of Star Trek, even if this second season it’s turning out to be a mixed bag, clearly lower in quality with respect to the first one so far.
In fact, the plot is very similar to that of the last episode of the first season: Operation: Annihilate!. The USS Enterprise arrives in a system in which an unknown force is destroying one planet after another and the only thing to do is to use the force. In Operation: Annihilate! there was an unknown species coming from who knows where, and here there’s an unknown artifact coming from who knows where. But, you’re certainly wondering, if the story is so derivative, why did I like it so much?
I like it because there’s a very strong theme behind the story, especially considering that the episode aired at the end of the Sixties in the middle of the Cold War! Here we’re not facing a species driven by instinct. Here there’s a doomsday device, as Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove would call it. Kirk and company fight against a weapon created as a war deterrent which is now on a journey of destruction as devastating as it is meaningless. Could we ask for a more anti-militarist message than this in the years marked by the nuclear arms race, with more nuclear bombs in existence than those needed to destroy life on Earth?
Moreover, many of the plot elements make it compelling: the mysterious discovery of the USS Constellation wreck; poor Commodore Matthew Decker (William Windom), not too dissimilar from Captain Ahab obsessed with Moby Dick (there’s a fantastic scene in which he nervously plays with the cassette cartridges like Humphrey Bogart did in The Caine Mutiny, 1954); his conflict with Spock; Scott and Kirk stranded on a seriously damaged ship… So, the action is nothing short of spectacular, the message is strong and clear, all the actors offer credible performances perfectly in line with the actions of their characters, and the special effects are impressive for a 50-years-old television show. What more can we ask for? This is yet another reason why Star Trek has become the cultural phenomenon that it is now, not thanks to Discovery or to the horrible reboots made by J.J. Abrams! Ciao!
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