Originally posted to ScoopMe! on March 20, 2002
Rogue Planet : Be Vewy, Vewy Qwiet…
Score one for PETS (People for the Ethical Treatment of Shape-shifters).
Tucker is being a pain while taking a picture of Archer for the walls of Starfleet. Archer gets saved when a rogue planet, a planet without a solar system, is found to be in their path. The planet has lifeforms, but no humanoid life is detected. When a spaceship is discovered, Archer decides to investigate.
While on foot with Sato and T’Pol, Archer and Malcolm get into a pissing contest about being Eagle Scouts and merit badges. With the aid of Borg-looking eye pieces, the team finds a camp site. They split up. T’Pol and Malcolm are ambused by what turns out to be a hunting party of Eska. Back ’round the campfire Damrus, their leader, explains that the planet, Dakala, is a special hunting place for them. They share a meal with the landing party, and Malcolm get himself invited on the next hunting excursion — even though on Earth, hunting has gone out of style.
Back on Enterprise, Hoshi is happy to be away for the nasty critters. Tucker takes her place and helps Malcolm get more camping gear.
At the campsite, Archer hears a woman calling his name. He follows the voice into the woods and catches a glimpse of a woman in what appears to be a nightgown. The Eska make light of Archer’s vision. The landing party isn’t convinced, either. Still, Malcolm goes off hunting with the Eska while Archer, T’Pol and Trip go off to check out some volcanic vents.
The hunting party tracks a Drayjin — a sort of boar. At the volcanic vents, T’Pol goes off exploring while Archer admits to Trip how dumb it was to go off into the woods alone.
The hunting party splits up after the Eska spot something.
While Trip takes pictures, Archer again goes off alone when he hears the woman’s voice. This time he catches her. She says that she needs him. As the hunting party starts shooting at prey, the woman gets anxious. When T’Pol and Tucker show up, she disappears. One of the hunters is attacked.
The injured hunter, Burzaan, is brought back to camp. Archer offers the aid of the Doctor, and theEska agree. Burzaan is taken to the ship. Archer tells T’Pol about his last meeting with the woman. T’Pol wonders if Archer would have been so determined to want to go off alone to find the apparition if it were a scantily-clad man.
Phlox has found unusual cells in the hunter’s wound that appear to be changing into — something.
Archer finds the woman again. She’s not human. She’s telepathic, which is how she knows his language, and how she’s able to appear as someone Archer knows, but can’t quite place. She chose Archer because he’s different — different than the Eska. Her kind are what the Eska hunt.
With Burzaan and Archer back with the landing parties at the campsite, Archer fishes for information — what he Ezra actually hunt, and what makes their prized quarry, Wraiths (the woman’s kind), so difficult to hunt. The Wraiths are shapeshifters that can only be detected from the chemical signature they emit when they are afraid.
On Enterprise, Archer wants to find a way to stop them. Archer wants Phlox to find a way mask the chemical signature the Wraiths emit — to level the playing field. Later, Trip and Archer talks. Archer’s mother recited a poem to him as a child– “The Song of the Wandering Angus” by Yeats. He made up an image in his mind of the woman in the poem — the same woman the Wraith appeared as.
The hunters track another Wraith. It changes into a tree. The hunters fire randomly to frighten it. They still can’t detect it, and Damrus is attacked before the Wraith gets away. The hunters beat a hasty retreat. Back at camp, Archer subtly gloats.
Archer meets up with the woman/Wraith again. She thanks him for the masking agent to keep them safe. He thanks her for reminding him of the poem. She then turns into a giant slug and slithers away.
The Song of Wandering Angus
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name;
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find were she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.
-W. B. Yeats
It’s tempting to read a lot into the fact that I used up a hunk of space for the Yeats quote above. Don’t. I put it in only because it was relatively short, and I was curious what the whole poem was.
That Vision Thing
I like to consider each of these episodes as independent entities, and critique them on their own merits. A show with a rogue planet floating in space outside of a solar system but still harboring life, tie that in with a literary allegory, and there’s the makings of some darned good science fiction storytelling (or even good Star Trek storytelling). And yet…
One thing that Gene Roddenberry did with the original series, and I so applaud him for this, was in getting actual well-respected science fiction authors (and some wannabes) to pen episodes. He and producer Gene L. Coon would take care of making it work for television. Often it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and sometimes a combination of both. What it left was a legacy of classic episodes that were strong science fiction stories.
Over the years, that’s changed. Star Trek is no longer that low-rated SF show that only a few die-hards knew about. It is now a franchise — which means that it has to stay true to a certain vision. Unfortunately, after over 600 episodes, a certain staleness can arise if some new blood isn’t brought in to shake things up.
Now, I’m not ragging on Berman and Braga, who’ve done a lion’s share of the writing tasks so far this season. It’s built into the system. Shows fall into a formula, or writers get trapped into just one particular vision. M*A*S*H succumbed to the weight of burned-out writers and a disinterested cast. The Simpsons, in contrast, has remained relatively fresh by rotating in a new staff of writers every few seasons.
A life-sustaining rogue planet floating in deep space is a hell of a story idea. A place in perpetual darkness whose only barrier to becoming an icy rock that is a hazard to navigation is the internal heating of the planet caused by the radioactive decay of its core. But wouldn’t a planet like this be too hot if it were in an Earth-like orbit around its star? That means it would have to be an outer planet — meaning that it never benefited from getting much external light or heat. How would life develop in such a place? Do they even know they were knocked out of orbit? And what knocked them out of orbit in the first place?
That would be the science part of the science fiction equation, and the makings of a fine setting. If we throw in a hunting party from a race that uses this place like a game preserve, then there’s the plot the binds everything together.
Instead, the writers give us a rehash of elements from three of the other series. The Eskan hunters are little more than nice Hirogen from Voyager. The shapeshifter speaks to Odo and the other Founders on Deep Space Nine. And Archer’s poetic vision can’t help but bring reminders of “Sub Rosa” from The Next Generation. There really wasn’t anything new, and that was such a waste of an opportunity to explore a strange new world.
Even something as simple as changing the hunters from chest-thumping macho types to a troupe of women, or little-people/aliens, or talking gerbils whose only form of transportation are these wire wheels that they run in — something different. Maybe a mix of various species on a Fantasy Island-esque adventure — or a group of reality-game show contestants competing for survival against another tribe on the opposite side of the planet <G>. (I confess, there were times when I thought this might be a kind of “Shore Leave” episode when Jon started seeing the woman.)
I don’t want to be one of those commentators who thinks that they can do the show better than the people doing it. That’s not my job here. Unfortunately, unless I’m given something to work with, there’s not a heck of a lot I can do. I want to not talk ill of the show, but sometimes there comes an episode that hits the disappointment nerve.
Now that Enterprise has emerged from the “ooo — this is how this happened first” phase of its run, the time has come for the powers that be to be willing to take some risks and not rely on retreads. At the very least let Mayweather be the one to get pregnant next — I mean gee whiz, Checkov got more air time.
TIDBITS, IRKS, and QUIRKS
- I was thrown for a second by all of the broad-leaf plants on a planet that doesn’t receive any appreciable light from a nearby star, but figured that they were green and big for a reason other than photosynthesis.
- When the Enterprise crew put on their one-eye green-glowing night-vision scopes, I can’t have been the only one who thought Borg.
- Speaking of their scopes — they can’t see infrared? You’re kidding me, right? They seriously need to pick up a military surplus catalog.
- Why does Archer have to bug the people already on the planet? There were other places to explore. To quote the great poet, Jar Jar Binks: “How wude.”
- Heh – what IF Jon had followed a half-naked pretty young man in the same dogged way he did the woman? Oh the fanfic from that.
- Those Drayjin looked a lot like The Princess Bride‘s R.O.U.S.’s.
Next week: Ferengi. Will I have a problem with this? Well, first contact with the Ferengi isn’t supposed to happen until 2364, and it’s only 2151. You do the math.
As always, comments, thoughts, and other sundry word assemblages are welcome over at the message boards.