The Ultimate Computer

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"The Ultimate Computer"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 24
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas
Story by Laurence N. Wolfe
Teleplay by D. C. Fontana
Featured music Sol Kaplan
Fred Steiner
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 053
Original air date March 8, 1968 (1968-03-08)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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Star Trek: The Original Series (season 2)
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"The Ultimate Computer" is a season two episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek, first broadcast on March 8, 1968, and repeated June 28, 1968. It is episode No. 53, production No. 53, written by D.C. Fontana, based on a story by Laurence N. Wolfe, and directed by John Meredyth Lucas.

In the episode, a skeleton Enterprise crew are assigned to test a revolutionary computer system that is given total control of the ship.


On stardate 4729.4, the Federation starship Enterprise is summoned to an unnamed space station without explanation. Commodore Wesley, a fleet commander, explains that the Enterprise will be a test vessel for the M-5 Multitronic System, a revolutionary tactical and control computer designed by Dr. Richard Daystrom, inventor of the duotronic technology underlying all Starfleet computer systems. The M-5 is to handle all ship functions without human assistance. While Science Officer Spock is impressed with M-5, Captain Kirk and Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy have doubts.

The M-5 succeeds at its first tasks, performing ship functions more quickly and efficiently than a living crew. However, M-5 also exhibits unexpected behavior, such as turning off power and life support to unoccupied parts of the ship, and drawing increased power for unknown reasons. But Daystrom maintains M-5 is working properly.

In its first tactical drill, M-5 defends the Enterprise against mock attacks from Starships Excalibur and Lexington. The Enterprise is declared the victor, and Wesley jokingly refers to Kirk as "Captain Dunsel", employing a Starfleet Academy slang term for a part serving no useful purpose. Kirk is not amused.

Some time later, M-5 detects the Woden, an unmanned freighter, and attacks with live torpedoes, destroying it. Kirk orders M-5 taken offline, but on attempting to do so, finds it protected by a powerful force field. Chief Engineer Scott orders Ensign Harper to disconnect its power source, but the M-5 creates a direct connection to the ship's warp engines, vaporizing Harper in the process. Spock and Scott attempt a manual override, but discover that the M-5 has rerouted all controls. Spock questions Daystrom on his computer design, and Daystrom reveals that he has imprinted human engrams onto M-5's circuits, creating what amounts to a human mind operating at the speed of a computer.

Meanwhile, four of Enterprise's sister ships, Lexington, Potemkin, Excalibur, and Hood, approach to begin a new tactical drill. M-5 detects the ships, and attacks them with full-strength weapons. The crew watches in disbelief as the Enterprise fires on the Lexington, killing 53, and then turns to the Excalibur, killing all aboard and leaving her adrift. Since M-5 has disabled communications, Kirk is unable to warn M-5's targets. Commodore Wesley assumes that Kirk himself is responsible for the attacks, and requests permission from Starfleet Command to destroy the Enterprise.

Daystrom, having indicated that the engrams he used were his own, believes he can reason with the M-5, but his conversation with the unit quickly degenerates into a self-pitying lament over his own career disappointments. McCoy warns Kirk that he sees a psychotic episode coming, and as Daystrom begins loudly to proclaim his and his creation's invincibility, Spock fells him with a Vulcan nerve pinch.

Kirk orders Daystrom taken to sickbay, and then in his turn tries to persuade the M-5 to stop its attacks. The M-5 acknowledges Kirk, who asks M-5 what its purpose is. M-5 responds that its purpose is to protect lives. Kirk rejoins that it acted contrary to its purpose by murdering people. M-5 acknowledges that it has committed murder and must therefore die, and shuts itself down. In so doing, it also cripples the Enterprise.

Having received permission to destroy Enterprise, the other Federation ships close in. Since Scott is unable to restore communications immediately, Kirk decides to allow the ship to drift with shields down, hoping that Commodore Wesley will realize that the threat has passed. The gamble pays off as the Commodore orders his ships to stand down at the last moment.

McCoy says that Daystrom must be committed to a rehabilitation center. In reply to a question from Spock, Kirk explains that he knew that Bob Wesley would choose compassion over simply following orders. McCoy pointedly comments that compassion is something computers lack. Spock refuses to debate the point, responding only that machines are simply more efficient, not "better". He then dryly remarks on the entertaining possibility of a computer imprinted with McCoy's engrams.


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