REVIEW: “The Doomsday Machine” (“Star Trek: Remastered” edition)

Star Trek (Remastered): “The Doomsday Machine”
Remastered Episode #20 (2/10/2007)

From the day CBS announced Star Trek: Remastered, pretty much everyone knew that the real test for this concept would come with “The Doomsday Machine.” The Remastered team wisely decided against kicking off the series with this episode, though I’m sure they were tempted.

“The Doomsday Machine” is, after all, not only the most effects-heavy episode of the original Star Trek series, but also one of the most highly regarded. For Star Trek: The Next Generation, the episode “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” could have been expanded into a great movie. For the original series, “The Doomsday Machine” was one that could have made a breathtaking film.

Attempting “The Doomsday Machine” too early in Remastered’s run would have been a huge mistake, though. The computer-generated updates to Star Trek‘s effects had a rather shaky start, after all. The first several episodes featured a cartoony Enterprise that often looked less real than the original model.

Despite a tight timeline, the production team acknowledged the issues with the starship and introduced a new CGI model in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” the ninth episode of Star Trek: Remastered. The new model also freed up more time to work on other aspects of each episode, and the quality has, for the most part, been steadily improving since then.

The other aspect that held back the team on earlier episodes was a well-intentioned but unnecessary goal of essentially duplicating the original shots each time. The results were CGI vessels that were still inexplicably constrained by 1960’s television production technology.

The reaction from most fans, including this one, was that if you’re going to go forward with a concept like Star Trek: Remastered, then you have to take that concept to its fullest extent. Show off some of that CGI technology, show us what could never have been done in 1967. Otherwise, why bother to upgrade them at all? We can just as easily enjoy the originals. Trust me, classic Trek fans don’t get hung up on the effects, anyway. There’s a lot more to the show than that.

While “The Doomsday Machine” is full of effects, it’s ultimately the top-notch writing and acting that has made the episode so memorable over the years. “You mean you’re the lunatic who’s responsible for almost destroying my ship?” demands Kirk of Commodore Matt Decker at one point.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. After the standard beauty shots of the Enterprise, the first real test for the Remastered version of “The Doomsday Machine” is the battle-damaged USS Constellation, Decker’s ship. The work from CBS Digital here is nothing short of incredible. The warp engine’s nacelle caps are dead. Entire sections of the outer hull of the ship have been ripped away.

Apparently, her shields are now holding pretty well, though, as Spock soon tells us that, other than the bridge, the rest of the Constellation is still inhabitable. This is consistent with the shield technology later seen for the Enterprise-B in Star Trek Generations, so I’m not going to harp on the Remastered team for taking the battle damage to such a new level compared to the original episode.

Decker is the Constellation‘s lone survivor, having beamed his crew down to the solar system’s third planet after a devastating attack from a robotic war machine. Though he was trying to save his crew, he actually signed their death sentence for the weapon then blasted the planet and consumed its remains to generate energy.

Nearing a nervous breakdown over the loss, Decker is beamed back to the Enterprise while Kirk, Scotty, and a couple of technicians ready the Constellation for towing. The planet killer returns, knocking out communications between the two ships.

I always loved the simplicity of the planet killer in the original episode, and I was glad to see that the Remastered version doesn’t stray too far from the original design. It gives the same feeling, though certainly with more detail. The best part has to be looking down its “throat” to view the enormous, sun-like power within. Beautiful and effective.

When Spock refuses to battle the planet killer, Decker assumes command of the Enterprise and the real effects highlights of the episode begin. The CGI effects add a whole new dimension to the E’s attack. The result is one of the most exciting Star Trek moments I’ve seen in a long time.

Seeing that the Enterprise is about to be destroyed, Kirk uses the Constellation to divert the attention of the planet killer. Once communications are restored, he demands that Spock take command away from Decker.

Decker steals a shuttlecraft and flies it down the planet killer’s maw, sacrificing himself. The CGI shuttlecraft looks absolutely real, another stunning piece of work by the Remastered team.

Contemplating the death of his friend, Kirk says, “He gave his life in an attempt to save others. Not the worst way to go.” Appropriate from the man who would later give his own life to save millions in Star Trek Generations.

Though Decker’s attack fails, it does expose a weakness in the planet killer. It soon becomes obvious that Kirk has a plan.

Despite their brilliant work in this episode, the Remastered team is still uncredited within the episodes themselves. While I can understand their desire not to disturb the original credits of the show, I think a new title card after the closing credits proper would be more than appropriate.

With “The Doomsday Machine,” they’ve just earned their pay for the week. And they’ve earned their credit, too.

Dramatic Content: 10 (out of 10)
Effects Upgrades: 9
Overall Experience: 10
Recommended: Yes