May 26 2024


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Spinrad: Filming The Doomsday Machine

3 min read

Being on the Star Trek set while The Doomsday Machine was being filmed meant that writer Norman Spinrad could give useful advice when egos got in the way of a good story.

Spinrad was there for all of the filming, which was not common. “That was very rare,” he said. “They usually don’t allow writers on the set. I was twenty-seven years old at the time. It was the first thing I had done. I’d done what he’d asked me to do, in terms of writing the episode to budget, and so I guess he trusted me to be there.”

When it came time to film, there were problems due to William Shatner‘s interference with the script. “…There’s a sequence in there, dialogue, that goes Spock, Kirk, Spock, Kirk,” said Spinrad. “While I’m on the set I see that William Shatner, in between takes, is sitting somewhere. He’s got the script and penciling out Spock lines, because he had something in contract saying that he had to have the most lines, that Nimoy couldn’t have more lines than he did.

“So, Marc Daniels, who was the director, starts to shoot this. Five blown takes. I’m there. It’s really an [un]usual honor. You’re not really supposed to stick your nose into this. But I can’t stand it finally. I know what’s wrong. There’s a reaction line from Spock that’s missing. It just can’t work (without it). So I call Marc Daniels over into the corner. I said, ‘Listen, Marc, the reason you’re having trouble with this is because of the missing Spock line that Shatner took out. I know the whole reason why that is. We can’t put it back in, but maybe you just tell Leonard to grunt. Can you get away with a grunt?’ And that’s the way they shot it.”

A disappointment for Spinrad when it came to The Doomsday Machine episode was the Doomsday Machine itself. “The original idea, which was complicated, is maybe a machine, but it’s maybe an artificial organism, to serve the same purpose,” said Spinrad. “Then you have the question, ‘When does an artificial organism become a machine and when does a machine become an artificial organism?’ The thing I had in my head was not like the thing that they shot.

“Gene said to me after I finished the script, ‘Look, can you draw the thing for us, please?’ I’m not much of an artist. I paint a little bit now, but I still can’t do it very well. So I really worked on it. I drew the thing. It had complicated tentacle things that had the laser or whatever on the tips. So the thing looked ambiguous; you wondered looking at it, ‘Is this alive or is it a robot?’ Then, when they shot it, they showed me what they’d do it with. I said to Gene, ‘After I went through all the work on this, this is what you shoot? It looks like a wind sock dipped in cement.’ Gene, having been a pilot, said to me, ‘That’s what it is, it’s a wind sock dipped in cement. We didn’t have any money for anything else.'”

Still writing, Spinrad’s most recent work includes a new novel called Police State, a “near-future novel set in New Orleans in which the police, step by step, become revolutionaries in a strange kind of way. It’s also about the nature of New Orleans, and what’s going to happen in the future to New Orleans.”

Spinrad will also direct a Star Trek fan film, He Walked Among Us, which was another Star Trek script written by the author for the original series.

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8 thoughts on “Spinrad: Filming The Doomsday Machine

  1. With today’s CGI and SFX, maybe we can see what Spinrad originally envisioned. I’m curious about his Police State novel. Sounds interesting.

  2. does anybody know where this “grunt” is? i just watched the episode and never noticed a grunt.

  3. I had heard about Shatner’s line-count fixation, but this is the first time I’ve heard a firsthand report. Wow.

  4. Spinrad’s idea for the Doomsday Machine/organism sounds like the tech in Babylon 5 with the Shadow and Vorlon ships.

  5. Thankfully, Star Trek – New Voyages/Phase II will be handling the filming of the episode. Norman Spinrad will be directing. Mr. Cawley immediately got in contact with Mr. Spinrad about filming the episode the way he wanted it filmed, and the rest they say, is history. Better James Cawley and his company handling the production than Vic Mignogna and his upcoming farce of a Star Trek fan film series(he’s ‘supposedly’ in partnership with those crooks at Farragut Films). After that fiasco last December, I wouldn’t trust Mignogna and his associates with anything Star Trek or fan film related.

  6. My all time favorite episode. I always thought of the “machine” as something that once looked very “tech,” but over millenia of pounding, had become basically a hammered shape. It always worked for me, a simple structure with a simple purpose: destroy everything. A more complicated device wouldn’t have had that same effect for me. So I’m sorry Mr. Spinrad didn’t get his vision, but for me, it worked perfectly, and thank you sir, you wrote my all time favorite piece of Trek.

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