**** (4 stars out of 5)
Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Richard Daystrom designed the duotronic systems used on starships like Enterprise. Now, he's sold the Federation government "The Ultimate Computer" called the M-5 multitronic unit. It was designed to save lives by replacing the starship captain.
Starship Captain Kirk greets this news with little enthusiasm.
Spock, it should be noted, likes computers. "The most unfortunate lack in current computer programming, is that there is nothing immediately available to replace the starship surgeon."
Daystrom unfolds from beneath his device, approximately nine feet high and with a voice equally imposing. The actor William H. Marshall was amazing, I loved his Othello but I loved his Daystrom first.
Commodore Bob Wesley runs an unscheduled drill on the M-5 with a mock attack from starship Lexington. It's a rapid victory for the automaton.
Spock prizes loyalty above the new machine. "Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them."
Bob, however, has to pour salt in the wound, calls Kirk useless. While Kirk drinks and moans poetry to Bones, M-5 makes a small boo-boo.
"Your brilliant young computer just destroyed an ore freighter." growls Bones. "In fact, it went out of its way to destroy an ore freighter!"
When they try to shut M-5 down it casually disintegrates a guy (and his red shirt) to tap a new power source.
Daystrom regards M-5 as his learning, growing child, and despite all the murder, he is still driven to protect it. He impressed human engrams into M-5's synapse-like relays. It thinks... and it does so with a copy of Dick's Big Brain. Sadly, Daystrom has serious emotional problems.
How much did the government pay for this? Who signed off on it? 'Let's hand the power to destroy a planet to a prototype! Don't ask it to pass the Turing Test, don't ask it to pour drinks for a few years to work its way through college, just give it torpedos and then attack it 'for pretend'!'
They try to stop it with a fleet. It fights back, and hard.
"It misunderstood!" sobs Daystrom.
Nearly 600 dead, including everybody on the Excalibur. Kirk lays a guilt trip on M-5, using its erroneous belief that the penalty for murder is death. But, in fact, we were told last year that there is only one death penalty left: for breaking quarantine on Talos IV, and they let the guy who did that off with a warning. Murderers go to Rehab Colonies. That's where Daystrom is bound, after his breakdown.
But the M-5's suicide solves the problem, too. And only Daystrom feels bad about it. Because as we learned today, compassion keeps men ahead of machines.