Part Three of mocking a thirty-year-old scifi series for being hokey and rubbish. In this installment, we learn about Data’s backstory, Riker’s sexual fantasies (SPOILER ALERT: they involve trombones) and how to fix the ozone layer.
Data, we learn, was found 26 years ago, the sole survivor of some catastrophic tragedy, like a waxen-skinned Harry Potter. The Enterprise returns to his planet and finds a SECOND Data – called Lore – who seems really nice and eager to be friends with everyone. OR IS HE?
This episode is a tricky one — bits of it are good, and yet the whole is so irretrievably stupid. On the plus side, Data does a cracking performance as Evil Twin Lore, and the idea of a double agent is a satisfying one – the crew of the Enterprise are so persistently wholesome and nice to each other all the damn time that it’s a joy to watch a snake get in the toybox. All the drama takes place aboard the ship with characters we know and care about, rather than some one-off alien with motives spelled out in the opening voiceover, and it even manages to get in a bit of its favourite “what does it mean to be human?” stuff without being as annoying as it usually is.
On the downside, the plot is woefully feeble and relies on the cast being even more suggestible than usual, if that’s something you can comfortably imagine. Lore incapacitates Data and takes his place, something which Wes spots, but doesn’t really communicate to a grown-up in any meaningful fashion. When he does try, they totally ignore him for no reason, so he gives up, despite this whole situation being y’know, quite serious. While under attack, Lore persuades the captain to lower the shields by suggesting he “use the transporter to put a tree in space which the Enterprise can then blow up, demonstrating its firepower” AND PICARD AGREES. The fight scene has Dr Bev showing up with a phaser and threatening Lore, then he just sort-of grabs her (while she makes no attempt to defend herself or indeed shoot him with the phaser), takes the weapon off her and tells her to leave her son with him WHICH SHE DOES (see ‘females are passive’ plotting from previous episodes). And Lore’s motivation for trying to destroy The Enterprise boils down to “he’s BAD like that”.
This level of round-eyed credulity even includes Lore himself. Early on, Riker pulls the-oldest-trick-in-the-book by saying the first half of Pythagoras’ Theorem, which Lore casually completes. Riker, having set a cunning trap which proves that Lore is a) FAR MORE KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT STUFF than he has made out and b) actively lying to the crew, does NOTHING with this information. (This bit also tells us that, in the Star Trek Universe, knowing what the square of the hypotenuse equals is a closely-guarded secret, known only by those with access to arcane and sinister sources. Rather than by basically everyone over twelve, like it is now.)
Brent Spiner hated the stand-in used for the doubling-up scenes so much, he made sure he was never used again in any episode. Don’t fuck with Data.
Bingo! The crew visit a female-dominated society. I predicted this way back in episode four, and I would get points for that, if it wasn’t so very, very predictable. And awful. This episode is awful.
While the Upper Fourth Junior Debate Team (Riker, Troi, Yar and Data) are down on the planet’s surface, wondering out loud about the moral implications of keeping half the population subjugated on the grounds of their gender, back on The Enterprise the Holodeck has outdone itself by creating a virus which threatens to incapacitate the whole crew, only Dr Bev makes an antidote and everyone gets better.
What is the Holodeck? The name suggests that it produces holograms, but it seems to operate more like a magic wardrobe to Narnia. It doesn’t require any kind of brain-implant (like, say, Red Dwarf’s AI unit or The Matrix) which could stimulate different areas of the brain into experiencing sensations like heat, smell, touch and so on – you just walk into it. So it can make, not just pictures composed of light, but actual solid forms and, it seems, viruses which can enter the rest of the ship. If that is what it does, why don’t they use it to create basically anything they need?
Wiki Trivia: This is the first time the Romulans get a mention. But they don’t play any part in the story, because that might be exciting, and this series prefers to concentrate on dead-ends like “will Dr Bev make an antidote for the virus, just like she did last time?”
The Enterprise goes in for a computer refit, to fix that pesky Holodeck which keeps breaking the laws of physics. This is undertaken by a pair of aliens called Bynars, whom no one seems to trust much, but they let them get on with it. Because it’s only the ship’s brain they’re messing with.
Riker tests out the newly-upgraded Holodeck by immediately requesting a “companion” and spends a few minutes getting the computer to alter this pixilated concubine to his precise specifications, including making her “more sultry”. Yeah, Riker, we know you mean “bigger tits”. Then he woos her by PLAYING THE TROMBONE. I don’t know which is more tragic: summoning a holographic girlfriend to have sex with you, or just to have her look impressed while you show off. No, I do. It’s the second one. Why not get her to mist over with pride at your report card and watch while you do a wheelie as well?
Riker is enthusiastically making out with his CGI hooker, when who should appear but Jean-Luc himself, putting Riker in the unenviable position of having to introduce his boss to his wank-fantasy, presumably with an erection pressing uncomfortably against the inside of his jumpsuit. Jean-Luc displays his lack of people-reading to the utmost by joining them on their date and going on about how lovely and realistic “Minuet” is when Riker is clearly longing to get down to some serious boning.
Meanwhile, in the real world, there is a problem with the dark matter, and the ship needs to be evacuated. Data takes charge in a thoroughly logical, cool-headed and arousing way, and everyone gets off safely. Everyone that is, except Riker and Jean-Luc who are still midway through what we can imagine are some pretty delicate threesome negotiations.
But it was a trick all long! The Bynars have stolen the Enterprise (with Picard and Riker aboard) and taken it to their planet, in order to transfer the computer data their world needs to survive. Riker and Picard crack the file’s codename, in the briefest and least-exciting hacking scene ever, and everyone is saved.
15. Too Short a Season:
OK, by now, the writers seem to have fixed some of the problems with earlier episodes: there’s one clear plotline, it doesn’t rely on dealing with wacky alien “customs” (“But Captain, if you make a single grammatical error when addressing the Jaradan in their own hideously complex language, they will attack!” “Why?” “Because…that’s just what they do!”) and there are no comic subplots.
Admiral Jameson is called out of retirement for one last negotiation, and The Enterprise have to deliver him to the planet where some hostages have been taken. On the way, we discover that he has been taking a rare anti-ageing serum, which gradually restores his youthful appearance and cures his terminal Iverson’s Disease. By the time he reaches the planet, he is a fit-and-lovely twentysomething, ready to take on his old nemesis and atone for the mistakes he made 45 years ago, which plunged this same planet into civil war.
This is all a pretty good build up. We get dark hints that the mission is “personal” as well as professional, and issues about whether you should negotiate with hostage-takers are raised but not poked in your eye. I can even forgive the hilarious “I’m old” acting Clayton Rohner lays on, constantly trembling and working his jaw like a tortoise, because I respect actors who thoroughly commit to ludicrous situations.
Sadly, after all this, the ending is a massive dry-hump. Jameson works out that the “hostages” are just bait to lure him to the planet, and gives himself up to save them. He then dies of alien-anti-ageing-serum overdose right in front of his nemesis who is so – what? Moved? Turned-on? Confused? – by watching this that he he agrees to let everyone go and be peaceful from now on.
This is the next issue that ST:TNG has to fix: wrapping up complex situations without yet another Deus Ex Machina in the final ten minutes. Will the next episode be the one to manage it?
16. When the Bough Breaks:
The Enterprise finds a planet which has long been the subject of space-myth, viz. a civilisation so advanced that all their material wants are met, allowing them to live in harmony and concentrate solely on artistic expression, and which is cloaked so well that no one has ever found it. The Enterprise finds it (natch) only to find that the population of Aldea is sterile and wants to steal their children. This is why you shouldn’t trust hippies.
I’m losing track of the number of times I’ve said this, but it all starts so well. The children are beamed down (only six kids and Wesley get taken, which any GCSE-biology student could tell you is nowhere near enough genetic variety to rebuild a species. Presumably elementary heredity had to take a backseat to the practicalities of filming with kids) and The Enterprise can’t penetrate the planet’s shields, since Aldea has a technology far in advance of the Federation.
What can they do? Luckily they actually can penetrate the impenetrable shields and Dr Bev works out why the population has become sterile – the giant computer on which they have become totally reliant has destroyed the ozone layer (the ozone layer! Remember when we all worried about that in the Nineties?) and radiation is getting in. Luckily, it’s the sort of radiation that only causes reversible damage. Phew. The crew teach the Aldeans not to become so reliant on technology, then they all get into their massive spaceship that supplies their every need and fly away.
If YOU’VE ever summoned a CGI companion to watch you play any kind of brass instrument, why not comment below?