As Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection delivers a new light-up Planet Killer Special, Clive Burrell considers the origins of ‘The Doomsday Machine’.
Out of the depths of space, it came, jagged, pointed, a gaping maw devouring all in its path; the Doomsday Machine.
Arriving 52 years ago, the Planet Killer was the first of the supersized, super-dangerous craft to be encountered by the Enterprise on its five-year mission. With an impenetrable neutronium hull and armed with a pure anti-proton beam, the giant craft seemed almost indestructible. It was only defeated once Captain Kirk had shoved a Constitution-Class starship down its throat, only narrowly escaping the fiery inferno himself in true dramatic style.
As with the Fesarius, this ship never appeared again and was almost ignored by the expanded Star Trek universe until fairly recently. Peter David’s The Next Generation novel, ‘Vendetta’ from 1991 manages to gel several of the franchise’s biggest threats into one package. The simple premise of the novel is that the Borg are back following their defeat in ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ and it turns out that there was a weapon created that could trounce them (before we’d ever heard of Species 8472) and in a neat twist that pulls canon in a bear hug, it’s a Doomsday Machine but this one is more in line with original episode writer Norman Spinrad’s concept for the destructive craft.
How this is explained goes along the lines that the one featured in ‘Vendetta’ and responsible for carving up some serious Borg opposition is a fully operational version while the one Kirk encountered was a prototype.
If you will recall, The Original Series’ episode leaves its origins ambiguous with only its presence and actions for the crew of the USS Enterprise to go on. Spock does mention that it’s path indicates it’s come from outside of the Milky Way and this novel spins the possibility that the machine was an automated prototype on its way to Borg space but something went wrong providing a classic conflict that would certainly rival any of the greatest battles featured in the history of Star Trek. However, if it’s from outside our galaxy would alien beings really have created something to defeat an enemy from a great distance away? Likely a “no”.
John Byrnes’s New Visions comic books offer up the possibility that the Planet Killer wasn’t alone. Instead, in ‘Cry Vengeance’ it was accompanied by a pilot vessel that acted to assist it on its destructive journey and is responsible for the obliteration of a science vessel sent to study the dormant Planet Killer.
Both the Planet Killer and V’Ger have been linked to the Borg (the latter by Gene Roddenberry no less) but tying the back stories of both these vessels into one of the franchise’s most famous nemeses isn’t the answer. Yes, the Borg do go back a long, long way (at least to the 14th Century according to ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ in Voyager) but their influence across the cosmos is too grandiose and it all can’t be down to them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are therefore responsible for every single super-sized spacecraft that happens to cross the Alpha Quadrant or responsible by association.
But where else has the Planet Killer cropped up? Beyond novels, it’s been used at least twice by different games as one of those classic ultimate weapons; the 1990’s game Starfleet Academy had the galactic barrier in existence to stop such ships from crossing into the Milky Way while Star Trek Online went one better having Klingons gain possession of another identical craft to the one from ‘The Doomsday Machine’.
This one’s fairly easy to defeat by ramming some Klingon torpedoes down its maw but its appearance is still spine-tingling even when you know it might not pose such a galaxy-shaking challenge. In some ways Online euthanizes the killer device through the simplicity of its defeat, not even requiring you to go slightly nuclear to take it out of action.
The Doomsday Machine’s murky origins and deadly weaponry are the stuff of franchise legend. It remains one of the great unanswered questions of Star Trek.
The latest special in the Star Trek: Official Starships Collection is the Planet Killer, the vast, ancient weapon, capable of destroying whole planets with its devastating proton beam.
This 22cm-long model also features an internal light, to glow as does in the Original Series episode ‘The Doomsday Machine’.
The “planet killer” was an informal name given by Spock-based Commodore Matt Decker description of a self-propelled doomsday machine capable of destroying entire planets. The Planet Killer Starship model is carefully hand-painted using high-class die-cast material.