The Joy Machine

James Kirk and Spock
Captain Kirk and Spock in “Whom Gods Destroy” (Trekcore)

Science-fiction author Theodore Sturgeon wrote several episodes for The Original Series. Only two, “Shore Leave” and “Amok Time”, were produced.

One of his unproduced stories was “The Joy Machine”. The Enterprise is sent to investigate a planet that has cut off all communication with the Federation. Among the missing is a former lover of Kirk’s. The crew discover that the population has been enslaved by a machine.

Producer Robert Justman planned to film “The Joy Machine” during Season 2. His successor, Fred Freiberger, brought it back in Season 3, when Meyer Dolinsky rewrote the script to include a love story for Scotty. It was meant to be the twenty-fifth episode of the season, but the studio canceled Star Trek after twenty-four episodes.

The script was turned into novel by Sturgeon’s friend and fellow science-fiction writer, James Gunn, in 1996


In his quarters, Kirk stares at a photograph of a beautiful young woman. An inscription reads: “Soon, darling — then forever.”

Kirk hastily turns the photo facedown when McCoy enters. The officers discuss their mission. The Enterprise is approaching the planet Timshel, which shut its borders to outsiders two years ago. Federation investigators who beamed down promptly resigned their commission. Among them was Danielle “Dannie” Du Molin, Kirk’s one-time fiancée. The crew will be aided by Marouk, a native of Timshel Kirk met when he first visited the planet years ago.

As Kirk leaves for the transporter room, McCoy contemplates Danielle’s inscription, “Soon, darling — then forever.”

Act 1

On Timshel, Kirk is met by Mareen, Marouk’s wife. She hastily whisks him away to the family’s apartment, sneaking Kirk past a policeman. Kirk is puzzled. The Timshel police are known for their fairness and tolerance.

Marouk, a warm, intelligent man, arrives home and Kirk is full of questions. There will be time for that later, Marouk says. Mareen takes Kirk to a room, opens the door and beckons him inside. Dannie Du Molin is waiting for him.

She, too, ignores Kirk’s questions when a rectangular bracelet on her arm begins to glow. She rushes to a couch, lies down and positions a small metal hood over her head. She explains that it is “payday”. She whimpers with excitement as she places her bracelet against a socket in the hood. A bright flash of rosy light floods her face. Her expression changes to one of ecstasy. She then slumps asleep and the glow fades. Kirk tries to wake her but can’t.

Kirk calls for Mareen but no one answers. Tandy, the couple’s 15 year-old daughter, comes to see what the noise is about. She explains that people always sleep heavy for the first hour after payday. She cannot wait until she is 16 and can get her own bracelet ID and start enjoying payday.

Tandy shows Kirk to his room. A payday hood is attached to the headboard of his bed.

Act 2

The following morning, Marouk pages Kirk on a speaker. He tells him to leave his weapons and other devices behind and to dress in the Timshel clothes left for him.

Kirk is taken on a tour of Timshel City. The city is modern, yet all the work is being done by hand. People work obsessively, barely speaking. Police are everywhere. Their only job is to make sure people don’t hurt themselves by overwork. Soon we learn that the people work only for the pleasure of payday. The bracelets record the amount of work done and payday is apportioned accordingly. It turns out Marouk is the paymaster.

In a ceramic bowl factory, Kirk catches sight of Dannie with a wheelbarrow full of clay, which she throws through a sieve. He follows her outside, where she shovels the wheelbarrow full of clay again. He confronts her. Is this the work she found so compelling that she broke off their engagement? Dannie won’t listen and keeps shoveling. Kirk grabs her wrist. A policeman approaches and demands to see Kirk’s ID.

On the ship, Spock, McCoy and Uhura, who have been listening in, head for the transporter to beam down.

On Timshel, Kirk is cornered by the police officer. But then Marouk appears and waves the officer away.

Marouk asks Kirk’s opinion of their “perfect society”.

“Perfect insanity,” Kirk retorts. Marouk assures him he will come to love it. Everyone does.

Spock, McCoy and Uhura materialize on the surface. The instant they are fully solid, they and Kirk are struck by an immobility beam. Timshel police approach and disarm them. Marouk stares at the four Enterprise officers. “You’re all going to love it here,” he says.

Act 3

The officers awaken in Marouk’s apartment. There is police all around. Marouk informs them they must resign their commissions in Starfleet, renounce their Federation citizenship and remain on Timshel. Kirk, McCoy and Uhura scoff at this notion, but Spock slowly stands, stares at them and declares, “It is the only logical thing to do.”

Spock fills in Kirk (and the audience) on the background of the “Joy Machine”. In experiments on Earth, scientists stimulated the pleasure center of rat brains with electrodes. Pushing a pedal delivered the stimulus. The rats remained at the pedal and pushed it incessantly, ignoring their need for food, water and procreation. They stayed and pushed the pedal until they died of exhaustion.

Spock warns that when a human subject is denied the pleasure, they turn into raving maniacs. This is why the payday device induces an hour of deep sleep after it is turned off. The sleep calms the subject, leaving them looking forward to the next payday.

Spock reveals that Marouk has built a projector powerful enough to reach the Enterprise. Marouk can fire a single stimulus bolt at the ship, then turn it off. For the crew, there would be an instant of ecstasy, followed by rage as the pleasure is taken away. They would run amok. If Kirk does not publicly renounce his citizenship, that is.

Kirk gives in but asks permission to record a farewell message to his crew. He delivers a moving speech that concludes it with, “And don’t forget to feed my cat.”

Sulu sits up straight. It is obviously code since Kirk has no cat. He checks the master codebooks. It means “Disregard these orders and continue those previous.”

Kirk asks Marouk to explain what has happened on Timshel. Marouk tells him a brilliant doctor invented the Joy Machine. The doctor, convinced that mankind needed guidance, created the device while Marouk was off-planet. Marouk does not like the device either, but if it is taken away, or turned off, the planet’s entire adult population will kill each other in rage — in front of their children. Kirk tells Marouk that the Federation might have to bring in a planet-buster bomb if all else fails. Marouk says that is what he fears.

Kirk realizes that Marouk has manipulated him into taking action to put an end to the Joy Machine, and manages to transport him to the Enterprise.

Act 4

Kirk now commands Timshel and his ship is safe. Nothing will be done against it with Marouk on board. Spock, McCoy and Uhura have worked out a plan to extricate Timshel from the payday machine. They believe that the machine can shift the frequencies of all the Timshel brains. This way the addicted can continue to enjoy it, but the children and outsiders will not fall under its influence.

It is tried on Spock and works. He becomes ecstatic and then goes through withdrawal. But his brain pattern can be used as an example to make the shift. The children of Timshel will never have to worry about payday.

Dannie Du Molin and Kirk talk. She wants to return to him, but the payday machine beckons. She weeps as she rushes to get her fix.

On the Enterprise, Spock, still feeling the effect of the payday machine, is “having fun.” Kirk, McCoy and the others wonder if he will outgrow it.


Very cool. It touches on themes similar to other produced episodes of TOS and TNG, but is sufficiently unique. Too bad it wasn’t made.

Benjamin I. Waddell (Mar 4, 2019)

I read this when I was 14. Such a cool book!

Luke (Jan 23, 2020)

It sounds similar to “Return of the Archons” only Landru is not the manipulator.

Mike Sciotto (Jan 7, 2022)

Submit comments by email.