Visiting a terraforming team, the Enterprise crew are present when a member of the team is inexplicably killed in an apparent equipment malfunction. Investigating this, they discover that a microscopic life form indigenous to the planet is responsible for this. On board the ship, the organism begins to multiply and threatens the safety of the ship and crew. Eventually, the crew is able to communicate with the organism and convince it of their benign intentions.
Teleplay by Robert Sabaroff. Story by Karl Geurs and Ralph Sanchez & Robert Sabaroff. Directed by Corey Allen.
Here was have another okay episode of Next Generation, with an okay plot and okay characterization (and for once, no need to create a sense of a grand civilization with just one or two sets and guest stars.) What we get instead is a lot of wasted hoo-ha at the start about what secrets the terraforming crew are holding, with all their strange behavior and guarded conversations. About a third of the way through the episode, we find out this is all for nothing, as basically the crew had no real idea of the non-organic life form that they were killing. It’s then that we get to the real story, which is the previously undiscovered life form that begins to multiply in Dr. Crusher’s lab, and eventually declares war on the Enterprise crew.
The Enterprise crew don’t really seem to be that up to this war, seemingly overlooking a number of obvious responses in the midst of their challenges. A big one is the overlooking of the use of the transporters. Why do they have to wait until the room is safe before beaming Malencon up? You’d think with the man critically ill as he is they’d beam him up from where he is, even if they had to toss a commbadge onto him. Along with that, why don’t they beam Data out as soon as he’s endangered? Why don’t they beam the new life form off the ship once it starts causing trouble (rather than waiting for it to take over the entire ship first)? So many obvious things that the flagship crew doesn’t seem to think of.
For all the profundity of discovering a new life form, this episode doesn’t add much to the Star Trek mythos, either in terms of the primary episode content or with the benefit of 25 years hindsight. There is a long and tedious infodump about the terraforming process with the crew is intense awe about. Riker spends some minor time semi-romancing another woman. The scientific investigation lends itself to some interesting moments, but the crew’s inability to deal with their situation, the ease with which the micro-brain seems to cripple the ship, and the irrelevance of the initial plot about the secrets of the terraformers all take away from the episode.
Shout Outs to the Past:
There are aspects of this story that are reminiscent of Devil in the Dark from the original series – but of course, it’s not as good. Also, the terraforming plot can’t help but remind of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which also featured stuff about a planet to be terraformed that harbored a life form that at first went unnoticed.
• Walter Gotell, who plays Kurt Mandl, was best known for playing General Gogol in several James Bond films.
• Elizabeth Lindsey, who plays Louisa Kim, was previously Miss Hawaii in 1978.
• There’s something out there called “Terraform Command” that has the ability to send, or at least ask, the Enterprise out on a mission.
• Troi offers some of her famously useless advice, but it’s a good use of her abilities that she is aware that Malencon is in danger before anyone else is.
• Arthur Malencon becomes the third character on the show to die. Both he and the first, Assistant Chief Engineer Singh from Lonely Among Us, are killed by unknown life forms that have bonded with Federation technology. (The second character to die was Admiral Mark Jameson from Too Short a Season).
• Why does Data assume it’s scanning them just because it isn’t humming.
• Once again, we see that the Enterprise has no Chief Engineer.
• I think this episode contains the first reference to the Universal translator in Next Generation
• At the end of the story, the lights turn off for about 5 seconds and the creature almost dies. Is it never night on their world?
Dialogue High Point
There’s not a lot of brilliance here, but the funniest bit is what the micro-brain call the Enterprise crew:
Ugly giant bags of mostly water!