Star Trek TOS: Turns Out ‘Independence Day’ Stole Stuff from Star Trek
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 6
The Doomsday Machine
A solar system was destroyed, a distress signal was sent to Enterprise, and that was the agenda for The Doomsday Machine. The crew happened upon a shipwrecked-in-space vessel, the Constellation, in terribly rough shape.
Kirk opted to board the ship, leaving Spock in command of Enterprise. Interestingly, the initial exploration of Constellation by Kirk and his team felt like an investigation of a wrecked ship at sea.
The crew encountered a man, Decker, who was totally lethargic while sitting at his post. He was also incredibly emotional, beset by a state of shock. Decker claimed the devil attacked the ship, only sparing him, the captain. He could not truly describe what the devil actually was, but he did stress the enormity and ferocity — presumably the Doomsday Machine.
Spock determined the devil was a robot weapon that chops planets in its path to rubble. The stakes elevated when Spock announced the devil was heading toward their galaxy.
Meanwhile, the episode established through implication early on the Doomsday Machine was a parable for a nuclear weapon. Kirk’s thoughts on the weapon closely mirrored discussions of nuclear fallout — unsurprising for the Cold War Era in which the show was created.
The first glimpse on screen at the Doomsday Machine looked like a blue whale mixed with an eel — with fire in its mouth. Shortly after, Kirk’s communication channel with Enterprise died, so Spock and Kirk were left to their respective defenses.
Decker, back on Enterprise, had disagreements with Spock’s leadership. Spock was interested in caution, whereas Decker wanted a hawkish attack on the Doomsday Machine. Decker flexed, removing Spock from command — Kirk could not be contacted — under Starfleet regulations.
When Decker debuted in the episode, he was a sad, sympathetic figure. With his removal of Spock from command, he morphed into a secondary antagonist behind the Doomsday Machine. It took about 15 minutes of television time. Impressive.
Displaying a Nixonian five o’clock shadow, Decker plotted course for an armed battle with the Doomsday Machine.
When Kirk’s away, the tyrants play.
Spock urged immediate cease-fire, but Decker flatly ignored everything. In fact, Decker did precisely the opposite of what Spock recommended every step of the way.
Decker’s idiotic malfeasance caused Enterprise to be dragged into the mouth of the Doomsday Machine. On Decker’s idle ship, Kirk and Scott frantically searched for a fix. When communications resumed, Kirk learned of Spock’s removal command — and he was pissed. So, he banished Decker from command — much to Decker’s disheveled-looking chagrin.
Then, Spock famously announced, “Vulcans never bluff.”
Resultingly, Decker decided a kamikaze mission was his only shot at redemption. He pirated a small ship, steering it directly into the mouth of the Doomsday Machine in a suicidal manner. Indeed, Decker committed suicide.
The episode portrayed the delicate nature of war when a lunatic was in charge. With weapons like whale-eel doomsday machines in play — or nuclear warheads in real life — one man or woman can determine the life and death of millions. See: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Finally, Decker’s fate, Kirk’s solution — leaving a detonation device inside the Doomsday Machine — and the stakes of the danger were all themes adopted in 1996’s Independence Day about 30 years later.
Through 36 episodes of the series, this one was the best.
Themes: Nuclear War, Suicide
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).