Episode 53 – TOS 2×24: “The Ultimate Computer”

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Now, I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, the habitual sci-fi consumer, but here’s a pro tip: when you give a New, Amazing, Cutting Edge Computer the sole charge of a starship/town/space station, Shit Goes Down.

In this episode, Dr. Richard Daystrom (who later gave his name to The Daystrom Institute, one of the Federation’s premiere scientific institutes of research and learning) is here to field-test his shiny new M5 computer, a device designed to take over the running of a starship in order to make a human crew redundant. Dr. Daystrom, as it happens, is, uh, a liiiiittle too emotionally involved with his Ultimate Computer.

Daystrom fondling the M5
As a rule, excessive fondling of the technology is not an encouraging sign.











Now, a nearly infinite number of questions might immediately spring to mind, but we think the principle ones are:

  1. why?
  2. wouldn’t that make the entire mission of Starfleet redundant?
  3. haven’t any of the top brass who approved this field test ever seen a sci-fi movie?
  4. moreover, why??

Also, naturally, the moment Daystrom comes on board he just can’t shut up about how pointless human crews and, more importantly, human Captains are, and how the future is all about super-genius computers doing the work of all these folks who have dedicated their lives to, uh, you know, running a starship, and making them obsolete. He’s getting a mystifying amount of support from Starfleet brass, even from Kirk’s so-called “old friend” Commodore Wesley, who after the M5’s first successful outing goes so far as to address Kirk as “Captain Dunsel,” which is Starfleet Academy-ese for “you serve no purpose.”

Commodore Wesley calling Kirk Captain Dunsel.
Your best man speech was great and everything, but now you’re obsolete.












Obviously, obviously, the M5 goes a little spare, takes over the entire ship, and – oops! – murders upwards of three dozen crew on the other ships involved in the field test. Even in tech support we couldn’t label that as “expected behaviour.” It comes out that the M5 isn’t actually a pure AI, but an “imprint” of Daystrom’s own brain, and it would appear that the hybridization isn’t exactly… what’s the word? Oh yes: stable.

M5 disintegrates an Engineering redshirt
Pro tip #2: hit the kill switch before the computer kills the first redshirt, not after.











Honestly, we think, as always, that the #1 qualification for admittance to Starfleet Academy is genre savvy, e.g. maybe a quick skim of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On the plus side, it appears that “once built a pseudo-computer that went rogue and murdered dozens of Starfleet personnel” is not a disqualifying CV item when it comes to getting vast, prestigious research facilities named after you, so there’s that. In the Federation, anyone really can be anything.

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