Can a computer replace a person? This is the question posed on the episode that originally aired on March 8, 1968. This is The Ultimate Computer.
Captain’s Log Stardate 4729.4
After being summoned to Starbase 6, Kirk learns that Starfleet plans to test an M-5 Multitronic Unit aboard Enterprise that is indented to handle ‘all shipboard functions’ . After inventor Richard Daystrom arrives and installs the system, everything seems to go according to plan until the computer begins making choices that Kirk disagrees with and Scotty begins to notice that M-5 is beginning to shut down certain areas of the ship.
Things get bad after a simulated battle, when the M-5 destroys a nearby ore freighter seeing it as a threat. Kirk attempts to disable the computer but it has become much more powerful than they though, and is now attempting to gain complete control over the ship. When several nearby ships begin a war simulation, M-5 takes over and begins attacking the USS Hood, Potemkin, Excalibur and Lexington. After attacking and killing the crew of the Excalibur, Kirk tries all he can to end M-5’s reign of terror and Doctor Daystrom finally talks to the M-5 explaining to it that the deaths of the Excalibur crew was a crime the M-5 must face. The M-5 shuts down sensing the grief from it’s creator allowing them to disconnect the Ultimate Computer from Enterprise.
After Daystrom is dropped off for rehabilitation and the M-5 is successfully removed, Enterprise returns to Starbase 6 to continue their mission.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
This is an interesting episode as it explores not only the concept of replacing humans with machines but also explores the need of people to prove that they are still have viable contributions to society. The interesting thing about this is that it shows a juxtaposition between Kirk, who fears being replaced with Richard Daystrom who is trying to prove he can still contribute by replacing others with a computer system.
Both Kirk and Daystrom show both sides of the same coin as they are both facing redundancy while attempting to prove their worth. Of course, in this case, humans win out against a computer as the computer decides that humans are unnecessary and then tries to take over the ship. Then again, if they hadn’t then this series would have been a very different thing all together.
What I love about this episode is that Daystrom’s legacy doesn’t end here. In fact, while everything that happens in this story is ultimately his fault, Daystrom would become a massively important historical figure will into the 24th century where an entire scientific institute would be named after him. The Daystrom Institute would become a key part of the universe of Star Trek the Next Generation and beyond and is still mentioned even in future series. Daystrom did manage to find immortality, even without a new invention that would revolutionize space exploration for a second time.
Overall, This episode is a great study of the human need to ‘feel important’. Watching both Daystrom attempt to save his invention to Kirk attempting to maintain his career as a ship’s Captain, it is a great look on what it means to be human, especially when artificial intelligence is involved.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
- It is interesting to note that while the ship’s crew is not replaced, in the future there would be holographic crew members.
- This is the first time we see several Constitution Class ships together on screen. Unfortunately one doesn’t quite make it.
- Interestingly, James Doohan does triple Duty in this episode not only acting as Scotty but providing the voice work for Enwright and the M-5 Computer itself.
- You might recognize William Marshall (Daystrom) in later works such as Blakula as well as The King of Cartoons on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
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Late To The Game 4/1/2022
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One thought on “Retro TV Review: Star Trek the Original Series: Season Two: Episode 24 The Ultimate Computer”
I’ve been watching Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and it had a similar plot with Hank Pym (Ant-Man) building Ultron, whose brain was modeled after Hank himself. Though, honestly, this episode isn’t a favorite of mine despite the intriguing idea. I don’t think the problem with M-5 was that it was a computer, but that it was just born and modeled after a human brain. So it was just a baby and, when Daystrom created it, he basically gave a baby every screwed up thought he ever had, which was also the problem with Hank and Ultron. I’m not criticizing the characters, just pointing out that everyone’s had at least one screwed up thought in their head at one point. The difference is that we’re taught right from wrong at a young age so they don’t completely take over. M-5 and Ultron got overwhelmed with them right when they were born and it ruined their ability to function in society.
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