“The Changeling” is an episode where a space probe, launched from Earth centuries before, returns a lot more powerful than it used to be. Said probe seems to be wiping out everything in its path. The probe fails to recognize organic life as anything other than flawed. And the Enterprise is the only thing standing between it and the destruction of the Earth.
If that sounds a lot like the first Star Trek movie, I am not sure if that is a coincidence or not.
However, much like the first movie, this episode comes down to a space probe knowing where it came from. If anything, the first movie is a bit gentler. VGER isn’t nearly as murderous as NOMAD. This episode opens with the Enterprise discovering first that something has wiped out all the life in a formerly populated solar system. Then that something attacks the Enterprise. The only thing that saves them is Kirk making a run-of-the-mill hail to the other vessel.
By the by, Spock’s sensors say the object shooting at them is about a meter and a half long. Scotty doesn’t see that as something big enough to hold intelligent life. Spock then points out size has nothing to do with intelligence. Spock’s obviously right, but the look Scotty gives him makes that exchange, like Scotty doesn’t believe that for a second.
As it is, Scotty isn’t wrong when the Enterprise beams this clunky-looking cylinder onto the ship. It’s called NOMAD. It does not have passengers. That would be ridiculous. And the only reason NOMAD didn’t destroy the Enterprise is because it believes Kirk is its creator. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to figure out NOMAD’s story even if NOMAD isn’t sharing. NOMAD was a deep space probe sent from Earth in the 21st century to find intelligent life. Its creator was one Dr. Jackson Roykirk, an unlikely name, but it sounds a lot like Captain James Kirk, so what are you going to do? NOMAD makes some mentions about an “other,” but somewhere along the line, NOMAD changed. NOMAD started out just looking for more life. At some point, it decided it had to seak and destroy imperfect life. And biological life, by definition, was imperfect.
So, a killer space probe, one that can’t be stopped by any weapons on the ship, is flying around doing whatever it wants to. The only real obstacle is it mostly listens to Kirk because it believes Kirk is The Creator. And even then, Kirk has to phrase his orders just right or NOMAD will just go off and do its own thing. Quite frankly, given how NOMAD reacts to irrational reactions to whatever it does, it’s a small wonder it doesn’t kill Dr. McCoy.
I mean, it does kill Scotty. For real. NOMAD hints he can revive a dead man, leading to Kirk explaining why he needs Scotty alive. And NOMAD does just that. Why did it kill Scotty in the first place? Well, he seems to have a bad habit of launching himself at anything resembling a threat to a female shipmate, and NOMAD wanted information from Uhura’s head. Sure, NOMAD could revive Scotty, but it couldn’t put the information back into Uhura’s head. That leads to McCoy and Chapel re-educating Uhura. Fortunately, she seems to be a quick study. But if NOMAD wiped all of Uhura’s memories, how does McCoy and Chapel teaching her how to read fix that? That’s the sort of thing that leads to fan dancing.
Oh, and did I see Chapel teaching Uhura Swahili? Does that seem…wrong to anyone else?
Now, Spock does eventually do a mind meld with NOMAD, and while I don’t understand how that works, it does tell Spock the problem. NOMAD collided in space with another probe, an alien one, whose purpose was to find and sterilize soil samples on other planets. The result is NOMAD now seeks to sterilize imperfections. About the worst thing Kirk could do then is tell NOMAD how a biological life form built NOMAD in the first place.
NOMAD doesn’t take that very well.
NOMAD is ultimately defeated when Kirk uses logic to point out NOMAD’s own uncorrected mistakes, leading the probe to self-destruct. Considering how much NOMAD was intent on “fixing” everything, that’s for the best. Nothing was good enough or efficient enough for NOMAD. This episode may have the highest body count of the series so far. NOMAD kills four different redshirt security guards early on, leaves two redshirt engineers in an undetermined state, and well, it did attack Scotty and Uhura as well. Those two also wear red. It knocked out Chapel as well, but she wears blue. NOMAD did make mistakes. It mistakenly believed Kirk was The Creator, didn’t correct itself, and didn’t take out the faulty lifeform (itself) either. That worked well enough.
Now, for all that NOMAD is a bit clunky-looking, the show used the prop well. It moved slowly, hovered, and while it was probably done with wires or a hidden dolly underneath the prop depending on the scene, NOMAD may not have looked dangerous, but the show treated it like it was. The upper limits of NOMAD’s power was only hinted at. I mean, it brought Scotty back to life after he’d been dead for a few minutes at least. It likewise boosted the ship to Warp 12, well past the normal top speed of Warp 9. Heck, it almost destroyed the Enterprise and did destroy who-knows-how-many other civilizations. If anything it shows why so many times on Star Trek, the weekly antagonist is a godlike being or a computer.
In the case of NOMAD, it was both.