The Enterprise discovers a vessel in which the entire crew has died of a strange disease that causes unnatural aging. They trace the ship’s movements back to a facility where a genetics research lab is experiencing the same symptoms. Dr. Pulaski catches the disease whilst identifying that the lab’s “children” – super-powered genetically manipulated people – and their aggressive immune system are the cause of the disease. Picard is able to figure out a way to use the transporters to reverse the condition, saving Dr. Pulaski.
Written by John Mason & Mike Gray. Directed by Paul Lynch
Unnatural Selection has been compared unfavorably to the Original Series episode The Deadly Years because they both involve a disease which causes unnatural aging. However, beyond that, the episodes really don’t have much to do with each other. Where The Deadly Years made subtle commentaries on the plight of the aged, Unnatural Selection really just uses the disease is just a plot device. It could have been any sort of disease or debilitation and still have achieved exactly the same effect in what is basically a “space medical procedural” show. There is some intelligence on display as we see the Enterprise encounter the diseased ship, investigate it without accidentally exposing the crew, and trace the incident back to the planet. But old age makeup, no matter how well done, is always tricky to sell to the audience, so seeing how unnecessary it was the plot, it might have been less distracting to have done away with that element of the story all together.
However, the biggest weakness in the story is not this somewhat arbitrary aging, but rather the colossal stupidity of the geneticists led by Dr. Sara Kingsley. These people have grown super-powerful children who have an immune system so aggressive that it actively goes after diseases and imperfections to eradicate them as soon as it senses them, and yet they don’t seem to in any way detect that this could be, I don’t know, dangerous to someone? Seems like these guys are a bunch of mad scientists, if you ask me. Yet nobody really calls them out on it.
On the positive side, what the episode does well is showcase Dr. Pulaski and her relationship with Captain Picard. The two have a series of plausible clashes over their approach to the situation, and both seek Troi’s advice as to how to get along with the other. It’s the sort of character development we rarely see in Next Generation, and is very welcome here. It doesn’t make me actually like Pulaski any better than before, but as long as have this character around for the season than we may as well go as far with her as we can. The warmth that comes out at the end when they’ve managed to cure Pulaski feels very real in light of it all.
Shout outs to the Past
As already mentioned, there’s a superficial similarity to The Deadly Years here. There are also shades of Space Seed with more genetically manipulated super-beings (and we all remember how that turned out, right?)
Setting Up the Future
Well, of course there’s the fantastic multi-part epic where these “children” decide they’ve had enough of sitting around and playing telekinetic 3D Chess and break out of their cages, killing their “parents”, and set out to establish themselves as the dominant life form in the galaxy…!! Oh wait, that never happened.
Uh, ok, nothing, actually.
• Colm Meaney has now made his way onto the opening “Guest Stars” credits on the show. I think this is the first time this has happened. It’s definitely the first time his character has been given a name: O’Brien.
Dialogue High Point
There’s a nice exchange with Picard and Pulaski at the end, where Picard tells her that if the attempt to cure her with the transporter hadn’t worked, they would have been forced to beam her energy into space, scattering her atoms across the galaxy. Picard starts to apologize, but Pulaski interrupts
No, no, don’t, don’t be sorry. Every time I get into the damn thing, I’m convinced that’s what’s going to happen.