Written by John Meredyth Lucas and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels
There are several episodes of Star Trek that were later re-imagined either in one of the subsequent series or in the films. The Changeling is an episode that would seem by the title to be akin to the character of Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Instead, it has nothing to do to that and has more in common with the first Trek story to hit the big screen.
The Enterprise is traveling through a region of space where sensors once showed a population of four billion beings. Yet now they are showing no life signs at all, and no apparent reason for it.
The shields come up automatically as something is headed directly for the Enterprise. It strikes them once, and the Enterprise retaliates with photon torpedoes, only to have their energy completely absorbed. It strikes again, and their shields are now down. Chief Engineer Scotty (James Doohan) says they cannot stand another hit.
Once they manage to communicate with their opponent, both sides stand down. The readings they get suggest a very small object which is hurtling an unbelievable amount of energy at them. They finally agree to meet. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and company cannot beam over to the object, since it is so small, so they agree to beam it on board. What materializes is an object roughly half the size of a human.
There’s nothing inside of it and it calls itself NOMAD. Kirk first believes it is a probe Earth sent out in the early 21st Century. It calls Kirk “the creator” and talks of humans on the planets as “biological infestations”. This is why it wiped them out.
The Vulcan First Officer, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) surmises that the NOMAD probe was not destroyed in a collision with the asteroid, as is first believed, but was badly damaged and now appears before them. Captain Kirk remembers its mission as being peaceful, so there’s apparently no reason for its current actions.
Mr. Spock researches the history of NOMAD, and learns the creator was a scientist named “Jackson Roykirk” which is why it mistakes Captain Kirk for the creator. It was a thinking machine.
Again, Scotty is a hothead, charging after the probe when it is near Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and having a conversation with her. NOMAD sends out an energy beam which apparently kills him.
It also wipes Uhura’s mind after deciding she was “defective” because she sang. NOMAD repairs Scotty when Kirk explains the mistake. However, the solution for Uhura is not so easy. Nurse Chapel attempts to “re-educate” her. That she can be taught everything she ever knew in her life in a matter of hours is completely unbelievable and it’s actually stated that she can be back at work in a week.
Plot holes like that are what largely makes The Changeling a pretty bad episode. The idea that a well-trained Starfleet Communications Officer can receive a week of training and be back at work is ridiculous. The fact that so many have now viewed Star Trek: The Motion Picture also makes the ending incredibly predictable and the entire concept pretty boring. This is a worse take on the same concept than that picture, and I gave that three stars. At least most of the storyline holds up to scrutiny in the film.
Even the acting seems off here. For the second time in as many episodes, Scotty is acting like a hothead going off with what seems like an uncontrollable temper and disobeying orders. How could he have made it so far in Starfleet if this is his temperament? Captain Kirk is just the Captain here. There’s nothing that’s new about him. He doesn’t have to have a significant character moment in every episode, but it begins to get to the point where he’s having the same actions and reactions from one episode to the next.
Even Leonard Nimoy is unremarkable here. He takes his science seriously and comes up with a few good ideas, but once again it seems as if this is where Shatner started worrying about the number of lines each actor had and Kirk often comes out with the lines his science officer should. It’s a shame because Nimoy has proven that he can do much for the episode and it could have possibly risen the caliber of the episode to mediocre from pretty darn bad,
There are no special effects to speak of. NOMAD bops around the Enterprise and that’s about it aside from a few phaser blasts. The Changeling has the feeling of something cobbled together to be filler, and it’s a shame they chose this story to launch a film from.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Who Mourns for Adonais
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Mirror Mirror