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The Changeling

High concept, but very low execution. All of the ideas which make up this episode would be explored in the Star Trek universe much later -- and in most cases, much better. Here, however, we get essentially a collection of the cliches which would come to be identified with the series. From the ship under mysterious attack, to hailing frequencies, to the mind meld, to the unprecedented FOUR red shirts, everything bad about the series is on display in this episode. There's even a "He's dead, Jim" (which is thankfully premature).

The conceptual problems with the Nomad probe are many, but it's enough to concentrate on the dramatic problems. The cast is asked to interact with a prop on a wire (and alternately on a stand), which has only flashing lights, an overactive voice over, and a stilting, accusatory ("Non-sequitor. Your facts are uncoordinated."), semi-poetic ("That unit is a woman. A mass of conflicting impulses.") vocabulary. The creative team has decided to make Kirk its mommy, a cheap and unimaginative decision (perhaps driven by Shatner's much-documented ego). And poor Nimoy is asked to mind meld with a character which is acknowledged to be a computer -- and therefore without mind.

Or maybe it does have a mind. This would have made better fuel for this episode. Or maybe it's part computer and part living being. Or maybe its murderous tendencies have an interesting origin. Or maybe its real creator had a darker agenda than the official record states. Or maybe the person who it latches onto feels some remorse for what it has done. The truth is that all of the avenues of potential dramatic exploration are left on the floor. What's left is plot with no drama because no characters are explored. All of the characters, in fact, return to their basic type. Not even Nomad, a potentially interesting character (think Data), gets even the slightest exploration.

Though there are few redeeming qualities to this episode, Nichelle Nichols plays the blank Uhura with great charm (despite the fact that the idea, even as sci-fi concepts go, is extremely lame). And there is a wonderful scene when the Enterprise allows Nomad to probe its computers. Kirk gives the command, then he and Spock wait a full five seconds, without music or other distraction, to see what will happen. The resulting computer flame out is surprising and very effective. This type of deliberate calmness has rarely been seen in the later series.

Star Trek excelled when they put the people first, and used plot as a means of exploring the characters. Here there is only plot and undeveloped potential. One need only compare Spock's mind melds with Nomad and the Horta. The latter lead to the revelation that our episode's enemy needed to be reconsidered. It changed the characters and caused the episode to end much differently than may have been expected. In this episode, the mind meld just fills in the back story which has already been guessed by the characters. In microcosm, this is the difference between memorable episodes and forgettable ones. This episode is safely forgotten.

Rating: Bottom (6)

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