The Changeling is one of two episodes in the second season of Star Trek that seem to have been, at least in part, inspired by Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series of stories. This episode is also an example of the well-worn Star Trek trope in which Captain Kirk talks a computer to death by turning its own logic against it.
In a way, this episode is somewhat like the middle stage in an evolution of a story. It either draws upon Saberhagen's Berserker stories or derives its inspiration from the same wellspring that Saberhagen drew upon. The Changeling, in turn, seems to have served as at least something of an inspiration for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This episode also has some thematic similarities to The Doomsday Machine, which originally aired a mere three weeks after this one, insofar as they both dealt with alien (or at least partially alien) machines intent on destroying life wherever they find it.
There is an interesting interplay between The Changeling, The Doomsday Machine, and Star Trek:The Motion Picture, or at least something of a progression (although given the fact that The Doomsday Machine came after The Changeling, a somewhat out of order progression). In The Doomsday Machine, Kirk and the Enterprise are confronted by an implacable enemy who can only be confronted and destroyed, and so they do. In The Changeling, by contrast, the antagonist is an almost wantonly destructive foe, but one that can (and ultimately is) reasoned with, although the application of reason has the ultimate result in destroying the machine. Finally, in Star Trek:The Motion Picture, the crew of the Enterprise is once again at odds with an Earth probe merged with alien technology that has returned to pose a danger to human life, but it is a machine that can be reasoned with, and in the end, they neutralize the threat while . . . well they don't destroy the machine, but they do make it go away.
In The Doomsday Machine, the heroes blow up the antagonist. In The Changeling, the heroes understand and then blow up the antagonist. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the heroes understand and then help the antagonist fulfill its destiny. The last seems to be the most in line with Roddenberry's vision for the future, but it produced the least interesting story: Raw idealism, it seems, simply doesn't produce compelling narratives. The Doomsday Machine has a lot of action and space battles, but other than Commodore Decker's emotional struggles, the episode could be any number of other science fiction shows - it just doesn't have that unique "Star Trek" feel. This episode, however, seems to capture the balance between action adventure and idealistic reason that made Star Trek something out of the ordinary in the history of televised science fiction.
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