In an episode of a sci-fi TV series, the main character asks his opponent (or antagonist) the simple question, why. When he receives an answer he again asks why, and this repeats I believe one final time. It is a classic attempt to outwit or unsettle an opponent.

I mistakenly assumed that this segment was in the original Star Trek episode "The Changeling" though there was an attempt by Kirk to unsettle his opponent Nomad but he didn't use the above line of questioning. I'm now thinking that it may have been an episode in the original Doctor Who with Tom Baker though its just as likely to be in Star Trek.


I believe this to be an episode of The Prisoner (1960s TV series starring Patrick McGoohan) called "The General".

During the episode, the main character (his name is never given, he's just called "Number Six") inputs the question "Why?" into a mainframe computer. The computer is one of the antagonists of the episode - it's a sort of allegory for rote learning and its failure to encourage critical thinking, but I digress. The computer is unable to handle the question, and is destroyed trying to process it.

After this has happened, the following verbal exchange occurs between Six and the current episode's authority figure ("Number Two"):

Number Two: What was the question?

Number Six: It's insoluble, for man or machine.

Number Two: What was it?

Number Six: W. H. Y. Question mark.

Number Two: Why?

Number Six: Why?

Number Two: ... Why?

There is a transcript of the episode here.

  • 1
    So this is why Matlab does funny things when asked "why"?
    – vsz
    Oct 28 '19 at 17:41
  • 4
    @vsz You may be interested to know that on his TV show, Jools Holland asked his Apple II "Why?" And on the screen there came the reply "Why not?" Oct 28 '19 at 17:49
  • 1
    @MarkRogers It also has a gnostic angle apparently: sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?ArticleId=802 ... hoping for a remake in Embassy of Equador. Oct 28 '19 at 23:26
  • 1
    @AJM-Reinstate-Monica Jools Holland has indeed parodied The Prisoner. Are you referring to the episode of The Tube? youtube.com/watch?v=VFDLi06MVK8
    – skyjack
    Oct 29 '19 at 1:27
  • 1
    @dominicfonde I certainly am! Oct 29 '19 at 10:21

Here it is:

Star Trek S02E24 The Ultimate Computer

At 44:20 is the sequence I was looking for. Looking at "The Changeling" reminded me of "The Ultimate Computer" called M5 in the original Star Trek because of the similarity in the mechanical voices.

The Prisoner episode is a good guess as are some of the Dr. Who clips. Maybe I'll look at some of them later tonight.

  • He only asked "Why?" twice in the clip.
    – Barmar
    Oct 28 '19 at 16:48
  • That's what made it difficult to recall.
    – hrh
    Oct 28 '19 at 16:50

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