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Star Trek #53: Ultimate Comput

William Shatner , Leonard Nimoy , John Meredyth Lucas    Unrated   VHS Tape
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Kirk reluctantly agrees to play along with a Federation test of a new supercomputer, designed by the brilliant Dr. Daystrom (William Marshall, the booming baritone stage actor most famous for Blacula) to run a starship almost single-handedly. It does its job too well, locking the human crew out of ship operations and using deadly force during the Federation war games. Spock and McCoy continue their now-legendary banter about man versus machine while Kirk muses over the obsolescence of his own command. Marshall is excellent as a former-boy-wonder genius banking his reputation on this breakthrough, treating his creation like a son. That's not too far from the truth: designed after his brain pattern, this thinking, reasoning, learning machine carries with it the insecurities and desperation of its creator. The fears of the emerging digital revolution explored in The Ultimate Computer in 1968 remain today: what is the fate of man in the face of technological efficiency? Films from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Colossus: The Forbin Project to Demon Seed and The Matrix have echoed these themes, and this Trek episode--primitive special effects, zero-budget sets, and all--stands up to them quite nicely. --Sean Axmaker

From the Back Cover

Kirk stands by helplessly as his ship is used to test and advanced computer that turns out to be as flawed as its inventor. TREK TRIVIA
Barry Russo (Commodore Robert "Bob" Wesley) was previously seen in "The Devil in the Dark." Gene Roddenberry used Bob Wesley as a pseudonym early in his career (his middle name was Wesley and his brother's name is Bob).
William Marshall (Dr. Richard Daystrom) later gained film notoriety as Blacula.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
In this episode, a supercomputer called the M-5 is placed on board the Enterprise. It is so sophisticated that nearly all of the crew disembarks so that it can run the ship. However, it has been constructed using a human mind as a template. The creator of the computer, the brilliant Dr. Daystrom, used the patterns of his mind to build the circuits of the M-5. Unfortunately, Daystrom is mentally unstable, so the M-5 is also unstable.
When the M-5 is subjected to a war games exercise, it does not understand that it is a mock attack, so it treats it as a real one and destroys a star ship, killing everyone on board. The remaining ships then form an attack force, but Kirk is able to disable the computer and regain control of the Enterprise in the nick of time.
The most significant point in this episode is that a black man is portrayed as a very intelligent man who strongly defends his invention. He stands up to Kirk, interacting with the people in power as an equal, if not as a superior. Another point is that Dr. Daystrom has the most memorable reaction to the Vulcan neck pinch in the entire series.
I enjoyed the episode, it is often portrayed as anti-technology, but that is not true. I consider it an example of the reality of bleeding edge technology. Whenever a dramatic leap of technology has been attempted, there have been mishaps and deaths. Steam ships and locomotives blew up, ships sank, space shuttles exploded, planes crashed etc. Artificial intelligence (AI) remains an elusive goal with success being difficult to measure. However, one of the consequences of successfully implementing AI will be a computer behaving in a manner similar to that of the M-5, exhibiting a strong survival instinct. This is one of the episodes that is a safe prediction of a future event.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly above average Sept. 21 2003
This war games episode, in which command of the Enterprise is handed over to a computer (with predictable results) is a solid offering. The episode, in classic second season fashion, has more than it's share of action presented in a dramatic fashion with proper pacing and strong direction. The episode is simultaneously thoughtful as it touches on important issues such as human obsolescence, pratfalls (to put it mildly) of technology, introspection, fame and immortality, and the risks inherent in putting too much into your work. But the episode ultimately suffers from an ending that is too predictable (you'll never guess who outwits a computer!) and too pat (Kirk lectures M5 for only 1 minute!).
It should be noted that this is one of the most prominent roles played by an African-American on Star Trek TOS. While one is initially frustrated by the character's fate, further reflection suggests a lack of prejudice in this episode. Rather than walk on eggshells, the brain trust gave him the same fate (collapse of some sort) that (almost) always befell all Federation elite.
Despite McCoy writing him off as almost insane, Daystrom's motives are fairly complex. This creates the interesting paradox that Kirk exploits at the end of the episode. The computer is flawed whether it 'is' pure computer or part human!
Shatner performs well in one of his most symapathetic and demanding roles. The friendship between he, Spock, and McCoy is also presented in an unstilted and natural way. A good story is always the best route to character development, humor, and other supplimentals.
Wesley is one of the more sympathetic federation brass.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Do Not Trust Dr. Daystrom on computers. July 24 2003
The U.S.S. Enterprise is to be the new test ship for the new M-5 multitronic computer system, a computer meant to be able to run a starship without human intervention. Also aboard for the test is Dr. Richard Daystrom, the inventor of the M-5 and an obsessive and unstable man.
Initially the M-5 performs well, but when it decides to destroy a robot freighter, Kirk orders the test cancelled. The M-5, however, protects itself and makes it impossible for it to be disconnected. The computer becomes increasingly erratic, a result of Dr. Daystrom's decision to impress his engram onto the computer as part of its programming. Starting a scheduled war games drill, M-5 uses the full arsenal of the U.S.S. Enterprise to attack four other Federation starships.
In a last-ditch appeal to the M-5, Kirk makes the computer realize that it has committed the sin of murder for killing the crew of the U.S.S. Excalibur. Since Dr. Daystrom would be ethically abhorred at such an act, the M-5 is equally penitent and tries to commit suicide by leaving the U.S.S. Enterprise defenseless against a counter-attack by the remaining three Federation starships. The Federation fleet's intent is to destroy the U.S.S. Enterprise, for destroying the U.S.S. Excalibur. At the last moment, Spock and Scott are able to finish disconnecting the M-5 unit. Kirk keeps the shields down, gambling successfully that the attacking ships would not fire on an undefended vessel. Restoring communications next, the fleet is called off by Commodore Robert Wesley.
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5.0 out of 5 stars STAR TREK AT ITS FINEST July 25 2001
I am writing this review from the possibly heretical viewpoint that holds that the original Star Trek TV series was one of the finest series ever shown on television whereas the subsequent motion pictures and follow-up series (e.g. The Next Generation) were very poor. Given that point of view, I believe that "The Ulitmate Computer" was one of the very finest episodes ever made because it contains the elements that made the original series so good, i.e. the psychology of military command, the conflict between pure logic as a basis for the proper organization of society vs. the need to also incorporate man's innately emotional character into the equation, the proper role of technology in society and its possible misuse or loss of control, the psychology of the intelligent, creative man as well as his weaknesses and the dynamics of a group of resourceful men working to get out of a crisis situation. Although the episode is only 48 minutes long, the script writers were able to get it all into a single episode! Unfortunately, these elements were sadly missing in the later versions of Star Trek which get lost in the fog of mysticism, artificial virtual reality and escapism. What also adds to the episode's magic is the brilliant guest starring performance of William Marshall, who plays the unstable genius, Dr Richard Daystrom. All in all, a must for all fans of this marvelous TV series.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Kudos to Marshall for just being there!
Not only is this one of Star Trek's best episodes, it features an African-American actor in a groundbreaking role that impressed this then-thirteen-year-old upon its initial... Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2003 by Reginald D. Garrard
4.0 out of 5 stars Man vs. Computer
A famous inventor boards the Enterprise and brings his invention, a computer, onboard the ship with him. Read more
Published on March 28 2001 by jao
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Kirk vs the Computer episode
The Enterprise beams aboard Dr. Richard Daystorm, a scientist who developed the computer systems for many Federation starships, and now he's invented a new computer called the M-5,... Read more
Published on Sept. 30 2000 by D.W. Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars "A tall ship, and a star to steer her by"
A good episode and notable for Kirk's "A tall ship, and a star to steer her by" conversation with McCoy. Puts a lump in my throat every time! Pure Trek.
Published on Aug. 28 2000 by Greg Vincent
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Enlightening
In the 1960's, I suppose it was a growing concern that computers would one day take over Earth. This is demonstrated by the fact that many episodes of the Original Series involve... Read more
Published on April 29 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Gets a B+ grade on my grading scale. Makes Top 25
The U.S.S. Enterprise is chosen to be the test ship for the new M-5 Multitronic computer system, a computer meant to be able to run a starship without human intervention. Read more
Published on Oct. 15 1999 by "guerticusmaximus"
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