Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Unseen Trek: 'The Planet Eater' by Norman Spinrad

Still from 'The Doomsday Machine' (1967)
I'd like to announce my new partnership with Orion Press. I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with the site's writing about Star Trek, but if you haven't visited Orion Press yet, I strongly encourage it.

In exchange for providing the site with the material needed to complete their page devoted to The Unseen Elements of the Original Series Episodes, I have been given permission to re-post new articles from that page, beginning with David Eversole's write-up of 'The Planet Eater,' Norman Spinrad's story outline that would become the episode 'The Doomsday Machine.'


Story outline written by Norman Spinrad, dated March 6, 1967
Report & Analysis by Dave Eversole

Ladies and gentlemen, I have almost nothing to say.

For something like seven years I have had the privilege of reviewing Star Trek's early draft scripts and story outlines for Orion Press, and have enjoyed cataloging all the changes a story goes through from its first broadly sketched strokes to the unveiling of the work on the canvas that is your television set. Some aired episodes bear almost no relation to the author's initial story treatment, some change very little.

This one changed less than little. It is that good, that concise! It says a lot when one of the three or so changes is the title change to the less-pulpy 'The Doomsday Machine.' And it was Spinrad's first stab at writing for the medium of film. Hard to believe. His story points are familiar to us, his characters make the same decisions. Well, Curt Decker does ram the shuttlecraft into the side of the planet eater, but it inspires Kirk to go down its maw with the Constellation.

The only noticeable change is that Spinrad posits that the "Eater" is a living entity. Not a machine in the least.

I've often heard that he was displeased with the final wind sock design, and had envisioned it covered entirely with wicked weaponry. This initial outline doesn't quite bear that complaint out.

From the description in the outline:

...a huge metallic creature...a kind of cylindrical "living atomic rocket" at least ten times the size of the Constellation, apparently from beyond the galaxy, with a posterior rocket and a great anterior funnel-mouth big enough to swallow a ship with a cluster of atomic blaster beams and tractor beams around the funnel, not a machine but a living organism with a nuclear metabolism.

Still, I can see how, over the years, the story might have been misremembered as "covered entirely" with weapons.

This has been Dave with little to say except, "Bravo, Norman!"

Oh, almost forgot, another change from outline to episode: Kirk relieves Decker of command and turns the ship back over to Spock through his authority as the Enterprise's "Captain-of-record."


Image courtesy of Trek Core.

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