Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Changeling

*** (3 stars out of 5)

The entire Malurian race has been destroyed. Tragic? Probably. We never met them.

Somehow, that white glob from 'The Prisoner' crashes into the ship. Well, not really. It's the devastating attack of a pissed-off fire hydrant who could hover long before R2-D2. But not half so convincingly.
Kirk requests the enemy break off the attack and communicate... it does so in a pre-interstellar travel binary code. It identifies as Nomad, and declares that its mission is non-hostile. Yeah, right. Sterilize the other one.

Still in the belief that they are battling another spacecraft, they learn it is only a meter long and invite it aboard for coffee and celery. Conversation is stilted, its favourite phrase is the rather tiresome: "Non-sequitor. Your facts are unco-ordinated." I get the impression it would rather be shouting 'Danger Will Robinson! My hooks are flailing wildly!'

Launched in the early 2000's, the Nomad probe was presumed destroyed in a meteor collision. Could this be that probe? It looks nothing like its pictures, but... uh, sure, why not!

Learning that they are from Earth, Nomad concludes that Jim is 'The Creator' aka 'The Kirk'.
It reports its mission to sterilize all biological infestations is proceeding as planned.

Spock needs privacy to explain, so they leave this object which has destroyed 4 populated worlds with distracted, bored-looking technician Mr. Singh as babysitter. This works about as well as you'd expect. Singh turns his back 3 seconds later and Nomad's stringing along on his merry way.

Spock calls up the old files: the Nomad probe was an AI created by eccentric inventor Jackson Roykirk, still famous in certain circles. Jackson dressed in the red quasi-military uniform of Khan's regime. (Probably in the jeans & red-checked shirt of the grunge trend, too, but only after work.) Nomad was the first interstellar probe designed to seek out new life.

Nomad's damaged memory banks have responded to Kirk and broken off killing them only because of the similar name. Lucky! I conclude it is best to stay friends with people called Kirk.

Meanwhile, lured by Uhura's singing, Nomad has wobbled up to the bridge. Curious about 'music' it erases Uhura's entire mind. Wouldn't downloading some mp3's have been sufficient?

Scotty's attempts to protect women lately seem destined to bring him only pain... and today, death. Nomad's defence screen kills Scotty. He's beyond McCoy's aid. When Kirk seems displeased, Nomad simply offers to repair the Scott Unit using all Enterprise medical knowledge and Scotty's hyperencephalogram. Hey, presto! Instant resurrection. Easier than hatching sea monkeys.
"A man is not just a biological unit that you can patch together!" hollers McCoy against the evidence of his senses. More angry ingratitude. I nominate 'Angritude' as the emotion of the week! Spock regards Nomad as nearly a life form, but McCoy thinks that's a laugh.

Want another laugh? McCoy can't revive Scotty, but the "chaotic woman mind" of Uhura is restored to Swahili and first grade English almost immediately. With just Chapel's patience and a few learning tapes! Instead of finding this ridiculously unlikely, should I be crediting both women with being speed-reading geniuses? I'm not sure. Is this future restorative science where a life-time of experience can put Uhura back at her post by the end of the week? Or did she just lose her whole freaking childhood? Nobody seems at all worried about her recovery.

Further oddities as Spock mind-melds with the AI. If that is possible, I've gotta give it true life form status. If it ain't got a mind it couldn't meld, right? Broken, Nomad encountered another vastly more powerful broken probe called Tan Ru on a mission to collect and sterilize alien soil samples. They took the advice of the Hayley Mills twins who sang 'Let's Get Together'.
Nomad/Tan Ru have a less benign goal than undoing a mere divorce: they seek out and sterilize new life. And it's chosen to head back for the launch point... Earth.

Kirk must have taken an Academy Course in talking computers to death. He springs a logic sequence on Nomad: it must destroy all imperfection, but it is itself imperfect. While it starts to smoke and screech, they hustle it off the ship to explode quietly by itself.

What kind of alien jack-holes send out AI interstellar probes with near-infinite power and regenerative capacity and phasers and deadly defence screens and mind-erasing lights and presumably all of the non-Nomad based abilities... to sterilize soil samples? Nothing on TV that day?

I like robot stories, and as a kid 'The Changeling' was no exception. But the whole thing seems pretty dubious to me now. Why, the very premise is a little suspect. Broken probe seeks Creator, returns to Earth on mission of destruction, erasing things as it analyses them? Even if you revisited the notion after 10 years, threw hundreds of millions of dollars into such a story, and made the probe huge and eye-catching, it would still be profoundly underwhelming, wouldn't it?


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