The Enterprise investigates a distress call from the Malurian star system. Upon arrival, Science Officer Spock reports that all life in the system has been destroyed and Malur, a world with a recorded population of 4 billion, is now devoid of life, including the Federation science team that was on the planet.
Suddenly, the Enterprise 's shields activate when a meter-long cylindrical object attacks the ship with an energy bolt equivalent to 90 photon torpedoes. Kirk orders return fire, but the ship's weapon energy is simply absorbed by the object. Kirk then transmits a hail and the object stops firing. Curiously, the object responds and requests in-person communication with the Captain, allowing itself to be beamed aboard the ship.
Once on board, the object identifies itself as a space probe named Nomad, and oddly refers to Captain Kirk as "the Creator". Checking historical records, Mr. Spock finds that the Nomad space probe was launched from Earth during the early 21st Century; its mission was to explore the galaxy, just like the Enterprise.
Nomad has mistaken Captain Kirk for Dr. Jackson Roykirk, the scientist who created it. Nomad corrects Mr. Spock by saying that its mission is to "find and sterilize imperfection". Since Nomad's definition of imperfect includes all living things, it travels from world to world, killing everything and everyone. Though repulsed by the machine's words, Kirk decides to play along with Nomad's mistake, and tells Nomad not to "sterilize" anything further, which for now, it obeys.
The crew discovers Nomad's powers when Kirk leaves Nomad to be watched by Lt. Singh. However, Nomad leaves to investigate singing it overhears on the intercom and discovers the source: Lt. Uhura. Nomad asks her about this strange form of communication. When she responds that she's singing music, Nomad asks her to "think about music" while it probes her mind, but instead erases her memory. When Chief Engineer Scott tries to intervene, Nomad simply kills him. Spock rebukes Nomad for harming Uhura; Nomad retorts that she is "a mass of conflicting impulses". Kirk is disgusted over what has just happened, but Nomad offers to "repair the Scott unit", claiming that it was only acting in self-defense. In a display of its powers, Nomad returns Scott to life. Kirk then orders Nomad to repair Uhura, which it claims it cannot do since it has erased her "knowledge banks". Spock suggests that if there's no damage to her brain, she can be re-educated. There are sufficient tapes in the computer library to do this, and Nurse Chapel is assigned to work with Uhura.
Nomad is then escorted to a holding area where Spock attempts to study it further, Nomad noting that Spock is the only "well-organized" living being on the Enterprise. Spock is not able to learn full details from his scans, and resorts to a Vulcan mind meld with the machine. Spock discovers that Nomad collided with an alien probe called Tan Ru, designed to obtain and sterilize soil samples from other planets. The collision severely damaged both probes, and during the accident the programming of both machines somehow combined. Nomad confused Tan Ru 's mission directives, interpreting them to mean "sterilize imperfections". Furthermore, the merging of the two probes somehow imbued Nomad with Tan Ru 's vast, almost god-like, powers—powers strong enough to destroy the life of entire solar systems. Spock is disturbed by the experience of the "machine-to-Vulcan" mind meld, so much so that Kirk is forced to pull him away when he starts to exhibit the coldness of Nomad's logic.
Kirk now realizes Nomad is a conscience-less and apparently unstoppable device that is capable of wiping out entire solar systems in the blink of an eye. All Kirk can do is wait and once again confines Nomad to the holding area. Nomad has other plans, and it passes right through the security field, killing two guards who attempt to stop it. Nomad then makes its way to the engine room where it improves the efficiency of the ship's engines 57% by increasing the matter-antimatter reaction rate. Kirk orders Nomad to reverse the changes, as the Enterprise cannot handle the stress.
Kirk confronts Nomad, telling it that its sterilization of biological units is illogical, since the creator is a biological unit. Kirk tries to get the probe to return to the holding cell, but it kills the two security guards sent to escort it. Nomad then heads to sickbay and examines Kirk's medical files. Nurse Chapel is attacked when she tries to stop it. Nomad then decides to shut down all life support systems throughout the ship to destroy the imperfect units that "infest" the Enterprise.
Kirk again confronts Nomad and questions its logic of destroying imperfect beings. Kirk tells Nomad that Nomad itself has made a mistake, something only an imperfect being can do. He tells Nomad that it has committed an error by mistaking Captain Kirk for its creator, Jackson Roykirk, and Nomad's failure to discover its first error is a second error and further evidence of its own imperfection. Finally, Kirk points out that Nomad's delayed immediate-execution in light of these errors is a third error. Realizing the implications of Kirk's reasoning, Nomad is caught in a logic loop (as a fictional representation of a form of the real-world liar paradox) and begins to execute its primary function on itself. The machine begins self-destruction, shaking about in place instead of steadily hovering, its simulated voice rising in pitch. The ultra-logical Mr. Spock, who has been watching this confrontation, compliments Kirk, saying: "Your logic is impeccable, Captain. We are in grave danger." At the last moment, Kirk has Nomad rushed to the transporter room and beamed into space. Seconds after transport, an explosion is detected near the Enterprise and Nomad is no more.
Errors and ExplanationsEdit
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic TrekkersEdit
- When worrying about how to deal with Nomad, Kirk misses the simple solution. Why not order it back into the transporter, begin beaming it out, and then have a transporter accident? The Enterprise has enough of those by chance. Surely it wouldn't be that difficult to make it happen on purpose. Nomad may refuse to leave, and start attacking people at random.
- At one point, Nomad scans Uhura’s mind and erases her memory. Since there's no brain damage, McCoy and Chapel set about to retrain her. It generates some cute moments but a plot oversight as well. lf the teaching facilities aboard the Enterprise are so advanced that they can take a person and completely re-educate him or her to function on a starship in just one week, why does Starﬂeet need an Academy? The retraining could allow Uhura to access copies of her active memories from her sub-conscious.[N 1]
- To learn more about Nomad, Spock uses his Vulcan mind meld technique. In all other instances of the Vulcan mind meld, the participants shared each other’s thoughts completely. Then why doesn't Nomad learn the truth about Kirk from this incident? The complete sharing of thought may only occur when both participants of the meld are biological and/or sentient life forms.
- Equipment Oddities for “The Return of the Archons," mentions a statement by Scott that seemed to indicate that he was using the warp engines to supplement the shields. When Lieutenant Barclay did this in “The Nth Degree," everyone was amazed. This episode absolutely establishes that Scott can use the warp engines to supplement the shields. As the second energy bolt approaches the ship, Sulu reports a loss of navigational power, and Scott immediately pipes up that he has rerouted the energy from the warp engines into the shields. Changes in technology may have made the technique unnecessary.
- In retaliation for the attack, Kirk fires a photon torpedo at Nomad. It has no effect, and Kirk wonders out loud about what kind of entity could absorb that much energy. Wait a minute: Spock said that each of Nomads energy bolts had the power of ninety photon torpedoes. The shields of the Enterprise have absorbed three such attacks. That's equivalent to the power of 270 photon torpedoes, and Kirk is amazed that Nomad can absorb the power of one photon torpedo? Nomad is slightly smaller than the torpedo.
- The transporter room gains a sensor scanning station with this episode. Most likely part of an equipment upgrade.
- Mike Konczewski on Thursday, October 15, 1998 - 9:02 am: Apart from the problems with future history, there's the problem with Jackson Roykirk being the father of Nomad. Now, I realize that a deep space probe would be a significant leap foward in space science, but so was Voyager, or the Mariner probes, or Apollo. Can anyone name the "father" of these space ships? No, because such a massive undertaking has many "fathers." How could Nomad be different? Roykirk could have been in overall charge of the whole development process.
- Isn't Nomad's launch date (A.D. 2020) during the period of Earth's great economic and social problems, just prior to WWIII? How did that society have the resources to launch what must have been a very expensive probe? Maybe they managed to cobble it together from a load of spare parts!
- Brian Lombard on Saturday, February 13, 1999 - 10:31 pm: How exactly did Nomad operate the turbolift to get to the bridge? Mike Konczewski on Monday, February 15, 1999 - 7:17 am: The turbo-lift is voice operated; all he had to do was give it directions. Alternately, he could have directly interfaced with the controls, using his radio antenna.
Internet Movie DatabaseEdit
- When Spock, Kirk and McCoy view a diagram that shows the various parts of the NOMAD probe, the lower right of the diagram contains the annotation: "Computer Data Banks Recall & Transmition". The word "Transmition" should read "Transmission". Possibly a corruption of the records.
- When the security team is escorting Nomad back to the holding area, he goes his own way. As one of the security crewmen orders him to stop, he begins to reach for his phaser. But in the next camera angle, he has already got his phaser out and trained on Nomad. The security team are probably trained to get their weapons out as quickly as possible.
- (at around 30 mins) When the Sick Bay doors open and Nomad comes out after reading Captain Kirk's medical file, his antenna is extended, but in the next shot when he enters the hallway it's retracted. Nomad probably acquired the ability to quickly retract the antenna.
- During Nomad's initial attack on the Enterprise, the bridge crew react to the "hit" so violently that the helm/navigation console is lifted clear off the ground and almost tipped over. The support brackets could have been weakened.
- ↑ IMDB listed the following under Incorrectly regarded as goofs - Uhura's memory is erased, her mind emptied and left blank, yet she is trained to read up to a first grade level and converse in Swahili in about an hour. No attempt is made to explain her remarkably rapid progress, but since it is also never thoroughly explained what exactly Nomad did to her, it is anyone's speculation as to how quickly she could recover.