Reviving the Doomsday Machine:
Wildstorm Sets Smith and Rusch on a Planet Killer
"They say there's no devil, Jim, but there is, right out of hell -- I saw it," Commodore Matt Decker told Captain James T. Kirk in the classic Star Trek episode "The Doomsday Machine." The titular devil, a massive weapon that powered itself by destroying planets, was advancing steadily toward the most densely populated region of the Milky Way. Kirk dubbed it "The Doomsday Machine" because it reminded him of a hydrogen bomb -- a weapon so deadly that neither side would really benefit from its use in a war.
Spock hypothesized that the Doomsday Machine came from outside the galaxy. Logically, he concurred with Kirk's belief that the creators of this monstrosity no longer existed to turn off the weapon. Though Decker lost his life when he blew up a shuttle inside the planet killer's maw, Kirk later destroyed it by turning Decker's ship, the Constellation, into a giant explosive. Spock, who had not believed a single starship could defeat the Doomsday Machine, remained troubled; "I cannot help wondering if there are any more of these weapons wandering around the universe," the Vulcan said.
In a new four-issue miniseries from Wildstorm Comics, Captain Janeway and her crew discover that Spock had cause for concern. Star Trek Voyager: Planet Killer begins with another Doomsday Machine crushing planets in the Delta Quadrant. Although Janeway studies the records of Kirk's mission, she doesn't have another starship to blast apart inside the deadly device. Not only the lives of her crew, but the millions of natives in a nearby solar system depend on Janeway's ability to come up with another tactic to use against the planet killer.
Though they appeared in The Next Generation novel Vendetta, planet killers have been absent from the Trek universe for decades, making some backstory necessary for fans of the newer shows. "[Our] story jumps from the original series episode in flashback to Voyager," explains Dean Wesley Smith, who co-wrote Planet Killer with Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
A married couple who have collaborated on several Star Trek novels as well as other projects, Rusch and Smith proposed the miniseries to Wildstorm Comics editor Jeff Mariotte because "Kris always liked 'The Doomsday Machine' episode," scripted by acclaimed science fiction writer Norman Spinrad. Smith and Rusch decided to parallel the plot of the original episode: "Basically, Voyager must deal with this machine for the same reasons the Enterprise did. We wanted that to run the same."
In "The Doomsday Machine," the Enterprise finds only rubble in systems that previously had several planets. The crew then finds the U.S.S. Constellation drifting dead in space, with only Commodore Decker on board. Subspace interference stopped him from contacting Starfleet about the destroyed planets and subsequent attack on the Constellation. After the alien weapon disabled his ship, Decker beamed his crew down to a nearby planet, only to witness its destruction by the planet killer while he remained helpless as the last man on board.
Decker describes the monstrosity as "miles long, with a maw that could swallow a dozen starships," blasting apart worlds with a beam of pure anti-protons. Spock adds that its hull is solid neutronium; phasers bounce off it without causing damage. One of the Enterprise engineers says the machine shot right through the Constellation's deflectors and wiped out the generators. In addition, the crew learns that the device is equipped with a tractor beam when it tries to tow the Enterprise inside. Spock concludes that it has a programmed defensive sphere, and any energy source detected within that sphere will trigger an attack.
So Janeway will be up against a weapon that resists phasers, blocks communication, and has the ability to destroy entire planets, meaning it should have no trouble capturing or destroying a single starship -- even a relatively advanced Intrepid Class vessel. We know from Voyager episodes like "Year of Hell" and "Dreadnought" (which features a similar planet-destroying device) that Janeway shares Decker's belief that a captain should go down with his or her ship. We also know from those episodes that Janeway is willing to sacrifice her ship to save millions of innocent lives.
Might it come to that? Kirk's encounter with the weapon was not one of his more impressive exploits -- without Decker's sacrifice, he might never have realized that the Doomsday Machine could be disabled by creating a large explosion inside its maw. "Janeway is very aware of the original Jim Kirk solution as she fights this new Planet Killer," reveals Smith. "The plot, in a fashion, parallels the original plot of 'The Doomsday Machine,' on purpose. But I can't tell you any of the details without giving away the comics' plot."
Designing Planet Killers
Smith and Rusch collaborated with artists Robert Teranishi and Claude St. Aubin, who had the task of rendering in comic form the rocky exterior and starburst-like interior of the cornucopia-shaped planet smasher. Since the original device and its force-beam look somewhat two-dimensional onscreen, given the limited special effects of the 1960s show, it translates well onto the page. "We did the script and have so far only seen the pencils on the first comic, but they look wonderful," claim the writers.
"The most difficult part of this story was to figure out different ways to present the Planet Killer as threatening on paper as it was on the screen," says Teranishi. "What I found most enjoyable was drawing the final battle sequences in book number three. Lots of action, explosions, flying debris, chaos everywhere. I had the script when I started sketching, and having seen the "Doomsday Machine" episode, I had a general idea as to how I would approach this story."
James Doohan told the Sci-Fi Channel during an interview aired with the restored original series that "The Doomsday Machine" is his favorite episode, on the strength of William Windom's moving performance as Matt Decker. Yet despite the popularity of the original story, numerous questions remain unanswered. Spock states that the device's trajectory indicates it came from another galaxy, but how did it find enough systems to devour for fuel in intergalactic space? Do the machines have a reason for existence other than to destroy worlds? Is their planet-smashing power an end in itself, or does it provide energy for the devices so they can be used for other purposes, assuming that someone can access their hidden controls? Whatever happened to the giant dead hulk of the first Doomsday Machine, which was floating in space at the end of the original series episode?
Scripter Spinrad, a New Wave science fiction writer best known in the 1960s for his novel Bug Jack Barron, unfortunately never answered those questions within the Trek universe. Still, "The Doomsday Machine" remained so well-liked by other Trek writers that Matt Decker's son Will made an appearance as Captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (Spinrad is not pleased that his episode has spawned a comic series, though he acknowledges that Paramount owns the rights to the concept. He writes, "Having [Decker's] son appear as a minor character in a movie I considered an amusing homage...[but to] have my script turned into someone else's comic series without so much as even informing me is, at least morally speaking, theft as far as I'm concerned.")
Assuming Smith and Rusch were given a free hand by Paramount to explore the origins and purpose of the machines, what sort of backstory did they come up with? "We'll leave that to be read in the comic," teases Smith. "The end of the final comic does leave some details open...you'll have to read it and see which ones." The Decker family does not show up in Planet Killer, though Smith reports that the comics will flash back to the events of "The Doomsday Machine."
"Kris was very much a fan of the episode; I thought there were better ones, and worse ones," he observes. Despite occasional criticisms, both writers have enjoyed watching all four Star Trek shows. "Kris and I have written numbers of novels in all four series, plus I did the first novel in the new Star Trek: Starfleet Corp of Engineers series of books. We both tend to like all the series. All four have different strengths and weaknesses, which we like."
For Planet Killer, the writers chose to concentrate on the Voyager crew and Delta Quadrant aliens, with flashbacks to the original episode. "We pretty much use all the major characters. We like almost all of the Voyager characters," Rusch and Smith agree. "Neither of us much cared that Kes left, and Neelix doesn't do much for us either. Chakotay seems to be under-used more often than not, and we don't pay him that much attention either. The rest are pretty even in our minds. Kim, Paris, B'Elanna, Tuvok, Seven, and Janeway would be a fine cast all by themselves, and those tend to be the ones we focus on in our novels."
Artist Teranishi adds that he particularly liked sketching the Doctor. "My favorite characters were the Doctor and Janeway. They both enjoy a distinctive look that, for me, was fun to draw. Also, having the opportunity in this story to draw the 'classic' Star Trek cast was great fun too."
Of course, the central dilemma of the story is Janeway's. Like Kirk, she must balance the survival of her crew against the safety of the inhabitants of planets in the path of the machine. Subspace interference notwithstanding, she will also have a much harder time warning Starfleet from her distant vantage, and there's no hope whatsoever of requesting assistance from them. It's possible that Seven has knowledge of the planet killers from the Borg, or that Neelix knows of other Delta Quadrant races who have encountered the devices. But the writers just grin mysteriously and refuse to give anything away.
Smith and Rusch would seem to be a well-matched pair. They live in the mountains outside of Eugene, Oregon, where they host Tuesday writer's workshops for local scribes. Rusch edits The Magazine of Fantasy of Science Fiction; Smith publishes Pulphouse magazine and books. A Campbell Award winner for Best New Writer in 1990, Rusch was nominated for Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards for her novella "Gallery of His Dreams;" her novels include The White Mists of Power and Sins of the Blood. Smith -- whose novel Laying the Music to Rest was a Stoker Award finalist -- has written more than 60 short stories and received four Hugo nominations for editing.
The two have collaborated under the name Sandy Schofield on Deep Space Nine novel The Big Game, among other projects. They have written a pair of previous Voyager novels under their real names. Smith and Rusch also penned Shadow, a Seven of Nine novel, for the upcoming Section 31 Pocket Books miniseries.
How do these two formidable genre writers and editors collaborate? "On novels, I tend to always do the first "plot" draft, then give it to Kris and let her add character and setting and stuff," explains Smith. "Then I do a third polish draft to make sure her details fit with the plot." Because of their divergent interests, however, Planet Killer required some variations in their roles. "Kris did the outline, I did the main script, Kris fixed it. So comics are a little different for us. I've always been a comic collector and reader, so I love the form a little more than Kris, and she loved the Planet Killer original episode a little more than me, so it balanced well."
Saving A Killer
At the end of "The Doomsday Machine," Kirk made a speech comparing the planet killer to an H-bomb, remarking on the irony that they used the equivalent of a bomb to destroy the machine -- "probably the first time such a weapon has ever been used for constructive purposes." Despite the deadly threat it poses, a planet killer whose energy could be harnessed would make a powerful asset for Starfleet -- as long as it didn't fall into the hands of a group like Section 31, which wouldn't have hesitated to adopt such technology to destroy the Founders' homeworld during the Dominion War if they'd gotten the chance.
The use of extreme force is usually anathema to Starfleet principles, but Kirk once threatened to destroy a planet to stop a war, and the prototype missile created by B'Elanna Torres in "Dreadnought" also had the ability to wipe out a world. Even planet killer technology pales in comparison to a force like the Genesis Wave. Surely Torres or some other engineer could learn to access a planet killer's controls and redirect its energies, if anyone could survive in proximity to one for long enough to do so. And imagine if the Borg tried to assimilate one!
Might we expect to see Doomsday Machines in future comics or books, either menacing the Federation or offering unexpected power? "I can tell you that we didn't close any doors for future machines," promises Smith, though he refuses to provide details; "You'll have to read the comic." Given the way planet killers have survived in the imaginations of fans over the past three decades, it seems a certainty that we'll see them again someday.