While Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) commanded great respect from his crew in Star Trek: the original series, once earned the insulting title of “Captain Dunsel.“Captain Kirk was a Starfleet legend, whose exploits would inspire future generations of Starfleet officers. Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Lower Decks. However, this legendary status could have been ruined if things had gone according to plan in the Star Trek: TOS episode, “The Ultimate Computer.”
In Star Trek: the original series Season 2, Episode 24, “The Ultimate Computer,” Starfleet came up with the clever idea of replacing Kirk with a computer. Designed by Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshal), the M-5 multitronic unit (voiced by actor Scotty James Doohan) was brought aboard the Enterprise to test its capabilities. Battle exercises soon turned into a desperate fight for life as the M-5 focused solely on its own self-preservation. Captain Kirk defeated M-5 when he convinced it to self-destruct, ending any suggestion that he was Captain Dunsel of the Enterprise.
What Captain Dunsel means and why Kirk was so insulted
In “The Ultimate Computer,” Commodore Bob Wesley (Barry Russo) ironically referred to Kirk as Captain Dunsel, clearly hurting the Enterprise’s Captain’s pride. After Kirk left the bridge, Spock explained that “dunsel” was a term used by Starfleet midshipmen to describe a part of the ship that was no longer useful. With a computer running the Federation flagship, there was a very real risk of Kirk becoming redundant, the dunsel. Fortunately for Kirk, the M-5 did not replace a human, proving that he was still incredibly useful aboard the Enterprise.
Curiously, dunsel is not listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, suggesting that, unlike many terms in Star Trek, is not rooted in ancient nautical traditions, as some suspected. The first recorded use of “dunsel” is in the script for “The Ultimate Computer” by Star Trek writer DC Fontana. There is a company specializing in bags made from recycled sails and marine textiles called Dunsel, which has adopted the nautical implications of Fontana’s potentially invented word. Brilliantly, however, the concept of using recycled materials to reduce waste is very much in the spirit of Star Trek.
Starfleet made the same AI mistake in Star Trek: Lower Decks
A century later, Admiral Les Buenamigo (Carlos Alazraqui) attempted to succeed where Richard Daystrom had failed. In Star Trek: Lower DecksIn the season 3 finale, “The Stars of the Night”, Buenamigo launched its new Texas-class starships, which threatened to turn California-class starships like the USS Cerritos into dunsels. Like Daystrom’s M-5, the Texas-class starships also had a programming glitch, turning the entire navy against Buenamigo and Starfleet. Hilariously, Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) insulted the hostile AI when he threatened to turn her into a Dunsel if she didn’t stop attacking Douglas Station.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Journey to the stars: Picard Season 3 revealed that Starfleet had not learned from Daystrom and Buenamigo’s mistakes. Fleet formation mode was installed on all starships, handing control of the entire Starfleet armada to the AI. Tragically, this was hijacked by the Borg Collective, who used it as a last-ditch attempt to destroy all organic life. Only thanks to the USS Enterprise-D and Commodore Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) was the crisis averted. A century later Star Trek: the original seriesand, despite Starfleet’s best efforts, there is still no Captain Dunsel.
All episodes of Star Trek: the original series are streaming on Paramount+.
Star Trek Bottom Decks
The animated comedy series Star Trek: Lower Decks follows the support crew on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the USS Cerritos, in 2380. Ensigns Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Boimler (Jack Quaid), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Tendi (Noël Wells) have to keep up with their duties and social life frequently. At the same time, the ship is rocked by a multitude of science fiction anomalies.
Journey to the stars: Picard
After starring in Star Trek: The Next Generation for seven seasons and several other Star Trek projects, Patrick Stewart returns as Jean-Luc Picard. Star Trek: Picard centers on a retired Picard living on his family’s vineyard as he struggles to cope with the death of Data and the destruction of Romulus. But before long, Picard is back in action. The series also brings back fan-favorite characters from the Star Trek franchise, including Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Worf (Michael Dorn), and William Riker (Jonathan Frakes).