28 October 2016

I, Skynet (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.3, "The Changeling")

 Sorry, mate, she doesn't know either!

As we wait for news as to who on Sol 3 has been cast as 'Number One' in Star Trek: Discovery, I find myself imagining various actresses that I am familiar with in the TOS setting - as we know, the show will be set 10 years before that. One of them is Sarah Shahi, known to me as the 'grumpy commando' Sameen Shaw in Person of Interest.

And this episode did remind me a bit of that show...


Responding to another distress signal (they don't do a lot of 'exploring strange new worlds' at the moment...), the NCC-1701 Posse are attacked by a powerful source of energy. They discover it belongs to a lost Earth space probe called Nomad that has developed a rather dim view of biological life... and also believes that Kirk is its creator.


Artificial intelligence that decides it's so good that it can rather do without humanity is not entirely a new thing and this episode was indeed inspired by the last episode of the original run of the anthology series The Outer Limits, which also would provide a number of props. In that episode, a group of plane crash survivors are captured by an alien space probe on Earth. In this story, the probe is from Earth... but has been altered by an encounter with alien life.

A decade later, Star Trek: The Motion Picture would feature V'Ger... which does exactly the same thing. Well, you can't plagiarise yourself...

Nomad is a floating metal object about a metre tall that hovers about the whole time and talks by means of flashing lights. It is also rather Dalek like, both in voice and a quest to purify the galaxy of everything that does not match up to its ideal of perfection. Of course it isn't perfect, something that Kirk uses to his advantage to defeat it in a superb climax. Yes, he logic bombs the thing to death, an old trick, but he does it so well that it still seems great. When he's not getting his shirt ripped, Kirk is an excellent operator. The plot is strong all round, although one plot isn't that great, even if it does allow McCoy to say "He's dead, Jim"...

This is a strong episode for all the regulars bar Chekov, who isn't in it, but particular credit goes to Uhura, who gets her memory wiped and has to go back to school to learn everything again. The sight of a child-like Nyota Uhura struggling her way around basic reading is a well played scene by Nichelle Nichols, who gets to do a considerable bit more than being the lady who answers the phones, so to speak.

As a final point, the episode takes place pretty much entirely on ship, which spares us from alien worlds clearly in a studio, but doesn't spare us from some effects errors where phaser beams appear to stop in empty space... Well, at least the four redshirts had a go before being disintegrated.


I have to say that I found this one an exceptional episode of the show... but it loses points for the 'comedy' ending, which I really don't like.

A definite classic in my view... and a sight better than the later movie it inspired.



Next up, "Mirror, Mirror". The evil beards are in the house... 

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