Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Changeling”

“The Changeling”
Written by John Meredyth Lucas
Directed by Marc Daniels
Season 2, Episode 8
Production episode 60337
Original air date: September 29, 1967
Stardate: 3541.9

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is responding to a distress signal from the Malurian system, which has a population of four billion. However, the Enterprise arrives to find no signs of life—nor any signs of a disaster that would account for the population all dying. The Enterprise is then attacked by an energy beam that strikes with the force of ninety photon torpedoes. The beam moves at warp 15, but after three attacks, Spock is able to pinpoint the source. Sulu fires a photon torpedo at it, but whatever it is absorbs the energy of the torpedo and is undamaged.

Kirk tries contacting the craft, which Spock says is only about a meter long. It responds with an old interplanetary code from the 21st century, according to Uhura. Eventually the craft responds more directly, identifying itself as Nomad. It agrees to be beamed aboard. Scotty thinks that’s a terrible idea, but Kirk points out that if it’s on board, it won’t fire on the ship.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Nomad is a floating automaton, a sophisticated computer. Kirk and Spock recall an automated probe launched from Earth in the early 2000s called Nomad. It was believed destroyed. It also claims that its power source has changed since its encounter with “the other,” and is now perpetual.

They lead Nomad to auxiliary control, where they show him a chart of their home solar system. Nomad accurately deduces that it’s Earth, and says that the captain is “the creator, the Kirk.” It says its function is to sterilize any biological infestation that is not perfect. It also admits to eliminating the unstable biological infestation in the Malurian system.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Spock digs up information on the Nomad probe, which was indeed launched in the early 2000s and was damaged by a meteor. He hypothesizes that it repaired itself, and increased its capabilities. There was a great deal of damage to its memory banks, and it now remembers only the syllable “Kirk” as its creator—it was in fact created by a computer programmer named Jackson Roykirk. Spock believes that it has decided that any biological life form that doesn’t correspond to its relentless logic in terms of what’s perfect should be sterilized.

Kirk had left Nomad in auxiliary control with Technician Singh. When Uhura checks in for an update, Singh puts her on hold to check a few things, and while she’s waiting, she starts humming. Nomad responds to this by leaving auxiliary control and going to the bridge, where Uhura is now singing. Nomad doesn’t understand about music, and so probes Uhura’s mind. Scotty tries to stop it and gets zapped and killed. Uhura’s mind has been wiped, as Nomad deemed her mind to be a “mass of chaotic impulses.” Nomad does, however, offer to “repair the unit,” referring to Scotty. McCoy provides Nomad with all the data he has on human anatomy and neurological profiles in general and Scotty in particular, and then escorts it to sickbay.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Nomad is able to bring Scotty back to life—that is to say, he repairs the unit. However, it cannot repair Uhura, because she has suffered no structural damage. Her memory has simply been wiped. McCoy and Chapel work to reeducate her while Kirk sends Spock to examine Nomad’s memory banks. The former moves along slowly, while the latter is unproductive: Spock finds several vague references to “the other” and “the accident,” but without specifics.

Spock suggests a mind-meld, and Kirk agrees, ordering Nomad not to respond to Spock’s actions. Spock performs the meld and learns that Nomad did indeed get hit by a meteor in deep space, and merged with another machine, called Tan Ru. Its purpose was to sterilize soil samples as a prelude to colonization. Tan Ru repaired and enhanced Nomad, but their directives were merged, and now Nomad is compelled to seek out new life, as Roykirk programmed it, but to then sterilize it, as Tan Ru was programmed.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Nomad breaks out of the brig, disintegrating the two guards, and goes to engineering, where he starts to reprogram the warp engines to make them more efficient. However, sending the ship to warp eleven will damage the structural integrity. Kirk orders Nomad to reverse his “repairs” lest they’re all killed.

Spock reports that the guards are missing, probably dead. When Nomad tries to justify the murder by saying they were imperfect biological units, Kirk angrily points out to Nomad that he is a biological unit. Kirk orders Nomad to go back to the brig and do nothing. Nomad says it will reevaluate before returning to the launch point. Spock is concerned that it’s now reconsidering taking orders from Kirk and that the launch point it refers to is Earth, which it will be compelled to sterilize.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Nomad kills the guards escorting it to the brig, and goes to sickbay and examines Kirk’s medical records. Having determined that the creator is just as imperfect as everyone else, it takes over engineering and discontinues life support. Kirk goes to engineering, ordering Scotty to follow along with a pair of antigrav units. Kirk asks Nomad how an imperfect biological unit could have created something as perfect as it, but it cannot determine the answer.

Kirk reveals that he is not Nomad’s creator, that Jackson Roykirk created it and he’s long dead. It made an error by mistaking Kirk for the creator, and so it must sterilize itself. This confuses the heck out of the poor machine long enough for Scotty and Spock to slap the antigrav units on it and bring it to the transporter room. They beam it out to deep space, where it sterilizes itself.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

The episode ends with Kirk joking completely inappropriately about how Nomad was sorta-kinda his son, and he regrets what might have been with regard to this killing machine that wiped out four billion lives (that we know about), as well as four security guards, not to mention the damage to Uhura and several other crew.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Nomad can fix people who are dead, increase warp efficiency in a starship, fire energy blasts of seriously impressive strength, absorb the energy of a photon torpedo, float through the air and navigate with ease—but its logic circuits fry because an imperfect biological unit told him he was wrong. Sure.

 Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Fascinating. Somehow, Spock mind melds with a computer. Sure.

Oh, and we get more sexist Spock! He feels the need to point out that that “biological unit” is a woman, as if that’s relevant. Nomad’s response is just as sexist: “a mass of conflicting impulses.” Yeah, how ’bout those crazy gals—and they’re terrible drivers, too!

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

I’m a doctor not an escalator. Spock has to stop McCoy from yelling at Nomad, which probably saved his life.

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu fires a spot-on torpedo shot at Nomad, for all the good that it does.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty tries to save Uhura and gets killed for his trouble. This probably saves his life later, as when Nomad comes into engineering, he doesn’t physically interfere.

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura’s memory is erased in this episode, but she’s magically reeducated in time for her next appearance. It’s never made clear if, going forward, she has any real memories of what happened in her life prior to this episode, though she somehow manages to progress to college level in less than a day despite the fact that the only thing we see her do is reading second-grade-level kid books off a screen.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Go put on a red shirt. Four security guards are disintegrated by Nomad. After that, he only hurts Chapel and several engineers without killing them, having apparently learned that once you go redshirt, there’s no going back…

Channel open. “My congratulations, Captain. A dazzling display of logic.”

“You didn’t think I had it in me, did you, Spock?”

“No, sir.”

Spock being brutally honest with Kirk

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Welcome aboard. Vic Perrin, having previously done the voice of the Metron in “Arena,” returns to voice Nomad here. He’ll be back, and in front of the camera, in “Mirror, Mirror” as Tharn. Blaisdell Makee, Barbara Gates, Meade Martin, Arnold Lessing, and recurring regulars George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and Majel Barrett all play assorted Enterprise crew.

Also director Marc Daniels appeared in front of the camera, kind of, as the image of Jackson Roykirk.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Trivial matters: This is the first script by John Meredyth Lucas, who will both write and direct several, episodes of the show, and take over from Gene L. Coon as the show-runner for the back end of season 2.

Jackson Roykirk is mentioned in Greg Cox’s The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh Volume 2 as being part of the team that built the Botany Bay.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

While on the bridge, Uhura is singing “Beyond Antares,” the same song that she sang to Riley in “The Conscience of the King.”

Uhura speaking Swahili during her reeducation was at Nichelle Nichols’s insistence, as she felt that that was Uhura’s first language, and so the lines of dialogue in that language were put in by a native speaker.

The Malurians were seen onscreen in the Enterprise episode “Civilization,” and in prose in regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett’s Rise of the Federation series. It was revealed that a few Malurians survived Nomad’s attack in “Communications Breakdown” by Christine Boylan & Bettina M. Kurkoski in Kakan Ni Shinkou, the second volume of Star Trek: The Manga. That manga story was also one of two tales that dealt with Uhura’s recovery from Nomad’s mind-wipe, the other being Jill Sherwin’s “See No Evil” in the Star Trek: Constellations anthology.

This is the second time we see someone killed and then resurrected on Trek, having previously seen it with McCoy and Martine in “Shore Leave.” Rest assured, it will happen again

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

To boldly go. “It functions irrationally.” This is an episode that’s probably best remembered as the unintended first draft of The Motion Picture, as both this episode and the first feature film have the same general story structure: space probe sent out in the show’s fictional near-future, disappears and is believed destroyed, it merges with another alien construct, becomes something “greater” that actually makes it destructive, Spock mind-melds with it, and they solve the problem with human weirdness.

And honestly I don’t like either of them. The concept is a decent one, and Vic Perrin’s nasty monotone serves the role of Nomad nicely, but I just feel like everyone was a little to blasé about the whole thing. Nomad was able to bring Scotty back from the dead, and aside from a howlingly inappropriate joke by Kirk at the end, it’s barely even mentioned.

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

Far worse, though, is what happened to Uhura. Her memory was totally wiped out—she was, in essence, a vegetable. Everyone was talking about “reeducating” her, but that just brings her knowledge back. What about her personality? Her memories? All the things that make her a person? (This is exactly why TNG was wise to put a shrink on the ship.) That’s never even mentioned, or considered in any way, shape, or form relevant.

And then we have Kirk once again pulling the trick he pulled in “The Return of the Archons,” by unconvincingly convincing a computer to blow up in a puff of illogic. Never mind that Nomad had already decided that Kirk wasn’t worth listening to, had already decided that Kirk was a flawed biological unit. Why would Nomad—who had stopped taking Kirk’s orders—believe that he was telling the truth when he said he wasn’t the creator? And even if it believed Kirk, why would it so suddenly result in its voice getting all squeaky and it self-destructing?

Star Trek, the Original Series, season 2, The Changeling

 

Warp factor rating: 4

Next week:The Apple

Keith R.A. DeCandido liked the trailer for Star Trek Beyond. So there. His latest book is Thor: Dueling with Giants, Book 1 of the Marvel’s Tales of Asgard trilogy, which is on sale today as an eBook, with the print edition to come in the spring of 2016. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, or anywhere eBooks are sold. Coming soon are Books 2 & 3 of the trilogy, Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings and The Warriors Three: Godhood’s End.

57 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!