Right out of hell, I saw it!"
The crew encounters a decimated ship, eerily similar in design to the Enterprise, floating helplessly in the wake of a planet killer. Its captain, maddened after the death of his crew, takes control of the Enterprise when Kirk is trapped on the ghost ship.
If that sounds exciting, well, that's because it is. "The Doomsday Machine" is one of the most notable entries in Star Trek's illustrious logbook, and it earns its place solely through the exemplary dramatization of its situational tension. From the tantalizing setup of a dead vessel to the frustrations of inter-military conflict as the mad commodore wrestles command from Spock, this episode is a fine-tuned machine of drama and production value.
In the way of subtextual complexity or interpretable theme, however, this episode is its own Doomsday Machine. As with many of the best of Trek, here the limits of the hour-long format are felt as the machinations of the plot consume most of the runtime. Thankfully, the story gifted is an excellent one, superbly executed in both direction as well as a virtuoso performance by the week's guest star.
In light of the relative excellence of all presented elements, the deficiencies in other areas hardly register as such. Upon reflection, however, one's mind can't help but wander to the potentially striking narrative juxtapositions that could have been made given its own feature. If any concept were deserving of the luxury of a two-parter, this would certainly be it.
Kirk's relation to Decker, their diverging approaches, the weight of responsibility, the toll of command, and the virtue of self-sacrifice; all seem to naturally imply themselves through the brilliance of the established story, but are hardly explored. Passing mentions in dialogue tease our minds and beg the question:
Will the Doomsday Machine have its day?