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Monthly Archives: January 2002

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Sleeping Dogs

Summary: A competent if not particularly original adventure episode with all the bells and whistles you would expect of a top dollar TV production.

star trek enterprise sleeping dogsSleeping Dogs is marketed as a Klingon episode, but in fact, the Klingons are essentially background to a submarine style “trapped crew” episode. The only Klingon with any significant role or lines of dialogue spends most of her time lying prone in sickbay, except when for reasons of plot convenience decides to help the Enterprise crew. The Klingons themselves are mainly set dressing with familiar Star Trek elements such as Klingon ideograms on the consoles, Gakgh and Targs there as much for nostalgia reasons as anything else.

In practice the Klingons could have been replaced with a newly invented Enterprise species (as the Orions actually were, it was probably decided that two familiar Trek races in an episode were too much) without any real difference except that the episode might have gone somewhere new. Instead it chooses to try and fill out a conventional adventure plot with Klingon nostalgia and the result is entertaining enough, but not particularly original.

One of the episode’s advantages is the decision to put Reed, T’Pol and Hoshi on board the Klingon vessel. Three strong characters played by three strong actors, while Trip and even Archer move into the background. This provides the oppurtunity for a little character work such as Hoshi’s meditation scene, which while not ground-breaking in and of themselves, provide some texture to what might have otherwise been a fairly hollow episode.

Archer’s role in the episode is mainly confined to demonstrating an inability to understand one more alien species besides the Vulcans. In Breaking the Ice he apparently managed to serve on a Vulcan ship and yet not understand that a Vulcan would not engage in small talk with him. In Sleeping Dogs, after two encounters with the Klingons, Archer still does not understand that the Klingons do not fit into his boy scout world and have no interest in friendly interaction with him. The lesson might have been communicated in the series pilot when the Klingon he came to rescue nearly beat his brains in and the Klingon chancellor all but threw him out at knife point. It might have been communicated in Unexpected where only T’Pol’s lie kept the Klingons from tearing the Enterprise apart.

Nevertheless, none of those encounters prepeared Archer to expect that the Klingons would not want his help and respond to it about as well as a vegetarian diet. And so Sleeping Dogs ends with the Enterprise retreating from two approaching Klingon warships as the Captain of the ship he rescued vows vengeance against him. Is there any reason to expect that he may have learned his lesson this time out? Otherwise those decades of war reaching into Kirk’s time may be somewhat self-explanatory.

Though if the Klingons are to become the enemies of Starfleet once again, the angry neo-Viking Klingons of the TNG era may need to be replaced by the cunning and ruthless TOS Klingons who would actually be worthy enemies for the Enteprise crew. Otherwise we may be doomed to a series of episodes like Sleeping Dogs in which the Klingons are enraged by everything while Archer struggles to grasp why this is the case, until he finally comprehends that xenophobia is pretty much what being a Klingon is all about.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Dear Doctor

“Dear Doctor”

Summary: A promising look at the character of Phlox and daily life on the Enterprise is wrecked first by a diversion into a Voyageresque moral dilemma featuring the Forehead Aliens of the Week and finally by studio revisions that leave the episode with a weak and compromised ending.

star trek enterprise dear doctorWhen TNG featured Data’s Day, the prototype for an episode like Dear Doctor, it was a clever, humorous and in-depth look at Data and the way that Enterprise’s social life functioned even in deep space and at war. Dear Doctor attempts to duplicate this but fails because it fuses these things with a contrived moral dilemma which is then edited and tampered with by studio fiat to produce something that could have been a great episode, but wasn’t.

Doctor Phlox is clearly one of Enterprise’s breakout characters. One of only two aliens on board the Enterprise, he’s also one of the more human characters with more depth than most. It’s a good sign that after focusing on Reed, Enterprise’s other breakout character, in Silent Enemy, Enterprise went forward with a Phlox episode. The problem is that the show lacked the confidence to simply do what Data’s Day did and showcase a period of time on the Enterprise and show how the crew lives in deep space.

Early on, Dear Doctor made great strides in that regard from Dr. Phlox’s letter (Data’s Day also occurred in the context of a letter dictation\narration), the movie night which had already been previously mentioned is a nice touch of continuity, his relationship with Cutler, medical visits with Porthos and T’Pol’s toothache. This draws out Phlox’s personality, his interaction with human culture and his human crew mates and the mechanism of the Enterprise’s social environment itself. But unlike TNG, Enterprise is not operating in a sufficiently complex environment to provide a good mix of external stories and so Dear Doctor decides to rely on a contrived ethical drama with an alien race. This diverts the episode from the key material showcasing the social intimacies of Enterprise and an alien trying to fit himself into it all and dives headfirst into a Voyageresque cliched moral dilemma featuring Forehead of the Week Aliens.

The two alien species who are the focus of the ethical dilemma are themselves indistinct and lack any real identity or personality that one could sympathize with. They’re little more than weird forehead aliens of the week. Walking and talking cardboard props for the episode. This kind of characterization is of course always a convenient prelude to genocide. Even if in this case it’s genocide by benign neglect driven by a philosophy which says that it’s better to wipe out a species than interfere in their natural development. Phlox’s excuse for refusing treatment has no rational scientific basis whatsoever. It is one thing to accept that the secondary species is evolving as a scientific fact and quite another to speculate that the only possible way for them to evolve is for the primary race to be extinct. If they truly did evolve on their own, they would naturally break free of the primary species, without the need to exterminate the primary species through genocide by neglect.

That is guesswork and speculation based on a limited acquaintanceship with an entirely alien species and is not valid grounds on which to callously throw away billions of lives and the existence of an entire species and this kind of decision-making is ironically enough the exact definition of playing God. To decide that a species would be better off extinct is callous enough. But to implement such a decision whether through action as Section 31 did during the Dominion War or through inaction as Enterprise does in Dear Doctor is essentially genocide. And of course there was far more justification for taking such action against the Founders, than against the Velakians. Vague references to this being “Nature’s Way” or “Nature’s Will” only adds a shifting of responsibility to some nebulous force, rather than the people actually making the decisions.

The assumption that you can predict what a species needs best and what should be done with their lives, rather than letting them make their own decisions for themselves and provide what help you can, is exactly why in episodes like this and Voyager’s “Natural Law”, the Prime Directive can at times come to seem like a patronizing and brutal form of colonialism dressed up in ethical clothing. And when you come right down to it, the essence of the Prime Directive is to judge a species’ decision-making abilities based on their level of technological achievement and to cut off all species below warp capability from being part of the community of sentient beings towards which we have the same ethical obligations as we do towards our fellow man. This is a questionable ideology at best since the notion that there is an absolute correlation between ethical and social maturity and technological ability is mildly absurd, especially when applied to an infinite variety of alien lifeforms. But especially in such episodes as Dear Doctor or Homeward, when we are not talking about one death or a million deaths but the death of an entire species.

Nevertheless, had the episode followed its original ending which had Phlox abide and maintain his point of view, while Archer followed a distinctly different point of view guided by compassion and his core ethical values, it could have touched off a real ethical debate. The shadow of the Prime Directive here has only a limited relevance since It is, after all, one thing to deny a species warp drive and another thing to deny them a cure for the disease that is wiping out their species. Good Captains like Kirk and Picard knew when to toss such rules aside in favor of helping people. In the original draft so did Archer, but that moral certainty he manages to express so clearly in the mess hall evaporates by studio fiat in favor of avoiding shipboard conflict. And so the ending is transformed into a simplistic “Hammer over the Head” message monologue by Archer that dances around how cute it’s being by referencing the Prime Directive without actually doing so. This kind of in-joke was mildly amusing when it was done with Cochrane’s speech in the pilot’s incorporation of the Star Trek tagline, but it will become increasingly irritating if it’s repeatedly overused. As will episodes where Archer’s decision making continues to be driven by the Vulcan-Human species conflict.

The result leaves us with an episode that tries to merge Data’s Day with Tuvix and does both poorly. The ending has a tone that is distinctly different from the rest of the episode like an action movie that’s been dramatically reedited for television. It’s an episode about an ethical dilemma that doesn’t allow two viewpoints about that dilemma to persist in the final act in the name of avoiding shipboard conflict. And finally it’s an episode that tried to take an intimate look at the social life of Enterprise and got sidetracked into a lost Voyager episode featuring the Forehead Aliens of the Week. And it is a shame because Dear Doctor had a lot of promise and some good performances and direction. Hopefully they’ll do better next time.

Next week: T’Pol gets up close and personal with a Targ.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Silent Enemy

“Silent Enemy”

Written by long time Star Trek science advisor Andre Bormanis and directed by long time Star Trek director Winrich Kolbe, Silent Enemy is a quality production which is one of the Enterprise episodes to fulfill the promise of a well-imagined look at isolated deep space exploration. From some of the best visual FX shots of the Enterprise yet, to long interior shots that emphasize the size of the ship and the isolation of the crew within it, Silent Enemy’s production merges the episode’s themes on visual and script levels.

Though Silent Enemy does feature an alien menace, its real emphasis is on the bonds that hold the crew together this far out from Earth, and for the first time we really get a sense of the mechanism that is the Enterprise. We get department meetings, birthday parties, hands on operation of weapons and a problem-solving process that persists throughout the bulk of the episode, instead of being a last minute afterthought as it often has been.

It is quite a step from the standard technobabble-in-engineering solution to the script’s Trip/Reed departmental meeting discussing the installation of the phase cannons and interdepartmental competition with Jupiter Station. We see the first often enough as a plot device meant to move the story along, but the second turns a plot device into something that provides context and depth for the characters and the engineering department and the attitudes of these people.

From the launch of a communications amplifier satellite meant to communicate with Earth, to the closing scene where the crew successfully discovers reticent Reed’s favorite desert, Silent Enemy is an episode about communication. Indeed Enterprise’s crew are the only important characters in this episode. The silent enemy of the title are unseen for most of the episode. They even communicate with recycled footage of the Enterprise’s crewmembers reflected back to them. The communications with Earth are limited to failed attempts to learn about Reed from his friends and family and this communication is itself cut off when the aliens destroy the amplifiers and the crew once again finds itself cut off from Earth and having to rely on each other.

The crew’s ability to come to know Reed in a way that neither his parents nor his friends and family were able to reemphasizes the crew’s interdependence and independence from Earth. As does Archer’s aborted attempt to return to Earth. Even the attempt to communicate with the Vulcan High Command fails, leaving the crew with no resources but their own and using those resources they persevere in the old TOS model of a starship alone against the entire galaxy. In this case it’s literally so as Enterprise faces an enemy they have to devise and build a weapon against, an enemy who seems to represent the silent menace of a dangerous galaxy that is willing to attack them simply because the Enterprise crew are inadequately prepared to face the dangers that are out there.

For an Enterprise episode, which so far have been rather simplistic and devoid of content, Silent Enemy is rather complicated. There is a continuity reference to the pilot which allows Archer to reflect on his decision to launch Enterprise prematurely. A tossed-off comment about the launch of another new starship fits in with Favorite Son continuity. We even have an historical continuity reference suggesting that England was still a separate nation with a monarchy and a navy less than a century ago. While Enterprise is clearly attempting to be fixed in a current cultural context with its baseball caps and religions, you have to wonder if the producers really thought out the implications of all that. The Doctor’s solution to the favorite food mystery is moderately clever and more common sense than you would normally expect from a Star Trek episode. Reed’s parents and sisters are cliches but still well-played cliches that have the resonance of real people.

The only flaw involves more references to the tiresome Vulcan-Human bickering storyline which we are apparently destined to see more of soon. Archer’s constant concern about showing independence from the Vulcans comes off as childish. It doesn’t betray hostility so much as it betrays a deep and fundamental insecurity. However Silent Enemy doesn’t go so far as to have Archer refuse to consider asking for help when the lives of his crew are at stake but uses a plausible enemy tactic to avoid that problem. Since in Breaking of the Ice, Archer nearly refused to do so, Silent Enemy at the very least shows that he has grown somewhat.

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