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Unnatural Selection

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 1
Disc No : 2.2 Episode : 32
First Aired : 30 Jan 1989 Stardate : 42494.8
Director : Paul Lynch Year : 2365
Writers : John Mason, Mike Gray Season : 2
Guest Cast :
Colm Meaney as Miles Edward O'Brien
Diana Muldaur as Doctor Katherine Pulaski
J. Patrick McNamara as Captain Taggert
Patricia Smith as Doctor Sara Kingsley
Scott Trost as Ensign
Moral :
Genetic Engineering : It's never a good idea to play God
YATI : When Pulaski is infected, Picard declared that saving her is now the ship's top priority. Huh? There are many people on the planet below, all infected. Shouldn't these take priority over a single person?
Great Moment : The destruction of the USS Lantree. So often the destruction of a Starship is treated as an everyday event, I love the way the E-D crew stand to salute the loss of this one.
Body Count : The entire crew of the USS Lantree.
Factoid : The same basic idea of rapid ageing was used in TOS's "The Deadly Years". The shuttle Sakharov is named for physicist Andrei Sakharov, and is the first shuttle in TNG to have a name of it's own.
Quote : "Scientists believe no experiment is a failure, that even a mistake advances the evolution of understanding... but all achievement has a price." - Pulaski; Log entry

Plotline

The Enterprise discovers the USS Lantree drifting in space; accessing the computer system on board the ship they are able to get an image of the bridge, where the entire crew are lying dead - apparently of old age! Some form of biological agent is suspected and the ship's contamination beacon is activated, warning any who approach to stay away lest they become infected.

Backtracking the Lantree's course, the Enterprise-D visits the Darwin genetic research station. Here Federation scientists are working to create a new breed of Humans, physically and mentally superior to the originals. The new breed are all designed to be perfectly healthy - their active immune systems seek out and destroy any infectious agents before they even get near to their bodies, so infection is simply not a problem for them. They have perfect health, are designed to be telepathic, and grow to adulthood in a very short period. Analysis reveals no danger from the children, but Picard remains unconvinced despite Pulaski's enthusiasm for them. She decides to transport one of the children to a shuttlecraft which she and Commander Data will fly near to the starship, allowing her to expose herself whilst keeping the rest of the crew completely safe. Picard agrees to the procedure, and Pulaski sets off to take up a position nearby.

She beams the child up - and is almost instantly stricken with severe arthritis, a sign of oncoming old age. Pulaski is forced to confess that the children are indeed the cause of the infection - their active immune systems are attacking the bodies of other people. As she ages visibly, Pulaski records what she believes to be her final log entry from the shuttle.

Picard, however, is not willing to give up. Data theorises that the genetic damage to Pulaski could be reversed using the transporter; the device keeps a pattern of each person who uses it, and by beaming her aboard and using this as a template to reassemble the body, she can be "reset" to her original condition. However, a problem presents itself - Pulaski came aboard by shuttlecraft, and has never used the Enterprise-D transporter! Picard contacts her previous command and finds that she has a deep dislike of transporter systems and refuses to use them. Her former captain also reveals that she was desperate to get the chief medical officer job aboard the Enterprise-D when it became available, in large part because it was a chance to work with Picard.

Unable to use a transporter record, the crew resort to searching Pulaski's quarters where they find strands of hair in a brush. Since the root contains DNA, they use this as a template for the transporter process. Pulaski is beamed back aboard, stepping off the platform completely cured and with her youth restored.

The Enterprise returns to the Lantree, now certain that the ship is infected and cannot ever be entered safely; as the senior officers stand in salute, a single photon torpedo vapourises the ship.

Analysis

A bit of a mis-step, this one. The idea of engineering a new and superior breed of Humanity is vaguely interesting, but ethically a bit dubious. Personally I don't hold with the idea of anybody being considered "better" than anybody else, and I'm rather surprised that the Federation would try something like this. later episodes of Trek would hold up genetic engineering as a dubious practice whose time is long past, and then go on to state that "augmenting" Humans is actually illegal and has been for a long time - which rather leaves this episode as a bit of an anachronism.

The children are also a bit silly in some respects. Engineering them to grow to adulthood in a short period? How is that meant to be an improvement? For the Dominion it works, producing Jem'Hadar rapidly to act as cannon fodder. But childhood is a vital part of Human life... why would anybody want to do away with it?

The idea of rapidly ageing characters is one that Trek has done before, notably in TOS "The Deadly Years", so the episode also lacks a bit of originality there. And the method of curing her deserves a bit of attention. The episode shows us that so long as you have a single piece of DNA, a transporter can use it as a template to completely rebuild your body, returning it to the state at which the DNA sample was taken. The implications of this are truly staggering - immortality! When you are twenty, you store a big load of DNA somewhere; we have the technology to store it without decay indefinitely right now so that's no problem. When you get to 100 or so you just break out the sample, step through the transporter, and hey presto, you're twenty again. There's no reason you couldn't do it over and over, essentially forever! Impressive indeed. And I'm forced to wonder what would happen, if you used somebody else's DNA... would it reconstruct your body to look like them? Maybe, maybe... But of course, the massive implications of this are never followed up and the idea is just dropped.

Overally, then, not amongst the worst of the worst at all but not really much to be had from this episode either.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 6,126 Last updated : 23 Nov 2014