Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Tin Man”

“Tin Man”
Written by Dennis Putman Bailey & David Bischoff
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 3, Episode 20
Production episode 40273-168
Original air date: April 2, 1990
Stardate: 43779.3

Captain’s log: While in the midst of a mission, the Enterprise has an unexpected rendezvous with the Hood. They are bringing a first-contact specialist for a mission that might cause issues with the Romulans, hence the secrecy regarding their arrival.

The specialist is a Betazoid named Tam Elbrun, who was responsible for a disaster at Ghorusda during a first-contact situation with the U.S.S. Adelphi. The Adelphi captain was posthumously held responsible during the board of inquiry, but Riker—who numbers two of his friends from the Academy among the 47 who died in the disaster—wonders what Elbrun was doing there if he couldn’t sense such hostility.

Elbrun is also an old friend of Troi’s. She met him at the university on Betazed when she was studying psychiatry there, and he was a patient. This does not fill Picard with warm fuzzies.

Neither does Elbrun, whose telepathy is as powerful as anyone this side of Troi’s mother, and he’s constantly anticipating what people are going to say before they can say it. He seems like he has a permanent headache, and he’s impatient and short with everyone—except, that is, for Data, whom he can’t sense due to his android nature, something Elbrun finds fascinating.

Their mission is to travel to Beta Stromgren, a star on the verge of going nova that has a living ship orbiting it. The bio-ship has been nicknamed “Tin Man” by Starfleet scientists. Attempts at communication have failed, so they are going to meet it.

The problem is the Romulans, who claim Beta Stromgren as their own, though it doesn’t actually fall within their borders. They’re sending two ships to Stromgren, but the Enterprise should arrive first.

Elbrun’s first response when Data brings up the Romulans is that he almost forgot about them, which once again neglects to fill Picard with warm fuzzies toward their first-contact specialist. He does, however, endear himself to the audience when he snaps at Riker and calls him “Billy Boy.”

Troi explains to Picard—worried about the continual lack of warm fuzzies—that Elbrun is a rare Betazoid who was born fully telepathic instead of developing psionic abilities at puberty. Such Betazoids never live normal lives, and Elbrun’s a textbook case. He complains to Troi that the thoughts of thousands of people crash in on him all the time. Data is the only one he can stand to be around.

He’d been on Chondra V, the lone Federation representative on that world of quiet, peaceful people. (They have a three-day ritual for saying “hello.”) But he gave it up because he was drawn to “Tin Man,” an alien that lives in space and feels so lonely.

Troi realizes that Elbrun’s been in subconscious contact with the alien ship this whole time. Nothing solid yet, but he’s getting a feel for the creature.

When they arrive at Stromgren, one of the Romulan vessels decloaks. They ran engines at 30% above standard so they could get there alongside the Enterprise, and their weapons damage the Enterprise enough so that the Romulans will get there first.

Elbrun gets pretty hysterical at that notion, but Picard points out that arriving first at all costs isn’t always the point. They undergo repairs and observe Tin Man some more—a plan that works right up until the Romulans, after failing to communicate, arm weapons to fire on Tin Man on the if-we-can’t-have-it-nobody-can theory of first contact.

Fearful for what will happen, Elbrun goes into a fugue state, sending a telepathic message to the alien. Tin Man responds by letting loose with a massive energy wave that destroys the Romulan ship and badly damages the Enterprise. With another Romulan ship on the way, La Forge works overtime to get everything up and running.

Meanwhile, Picard has now despaired of any warm fuzzies regarding Elbrun, who admits that he’s been in contact with Tin Man—whose real name is Gomtuu—all this time. It’s very old, and has been roaming the stars for ages, but it hasn’t seen another of its kind for millennia. Its crew was killed by a radiation wave, and it’s come to Stromgren to commit suicide when the star goes nova.

Elbrun wants to beam over to Gomtuu. Picard is reluctant, as he doesn’t trust Elbrun. He asks Troi and Data their opinion. Troi fears that Elbrun will lose himself in a telepathic merging with Gomtuu. Data offers to beam over with Elbrun, serving as an intermediary and reminding Elbrun of his responsibility.

The other Romulan vessel decloaks, and makes it clear that they will destroy “the star creature” out of vengeance for the other ship’s destruction. Now desperate, Picard beams Elbrun and Data to Gomtuu. The living ship then puts up a shield that keeps O’Brien from getting a lock on them.

But it’s just as well, because the Romulans are about to attack. Elbrun communicates more directly with Gomtuu while on board. Gomtuu creates a chair in the control center for Elbrun, who explains to Data that he and Gomtuu can save each other. It has been without purpose since its crew died, and Elbrun has sought peace, which he has finally found on board Gomtuu.

Data is intrigued by what has happened. He is returned to the Enterprise after Gomtuu uses its energy to send both ships far away.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Gomtuu is a living ship, born in space, but bred to have a crew, complete with interior atmosphere and workings and living quarters.

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi is concerned about Elbrun, whom she obviously cares deeply about as a friend. She withholds his communication with Gomtuu from Picard (which doesn’t have any consequences, as Elbrun doesn’t rat her out), and tries to convince Picard not to let Elbrun beam over to Gomtuu for fear that he will lose himself. Instead, he finds himself, proving her wrong, but her instincts are understandable, given Elbrun’s behavior to date.

This episode also establishes the rather bizarre notion that Betazoids don’t develop telepathy until puberty, a very humanocentric notion that immediately makes them less alien and, by extension, less interesting.

If I only had a brain…: Elbrun describes Data as restful. Troi diplomatically refers to that viewpoint on Data as unique. In the end, Data is fascinated by Elbrun and Gomtuu’s joining, and also realizes that the Enterprise is where he belongs.

I believe I said that: “I should’ve brought up the Romulans earlier, but I was—distracted.” (looks at Riker) “And no, Billy Boy, I wasn’t ‘distracted’ on Ghorusda. If Darson had listened to me, no one would’ve died.” (Riker looks away, dubious) “No? Well, I don’t care whether you believe that or not!”

Elbrun having a conversation with Riker’s brain.

Welcome aboard: Tony Award winner Harry Groener has always been a great character actor, often playing eccentrics, from the neurotic Ralph on Dear John to the scarily whitebread Mayor Wilkins on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Gunther the Chef on Las Vegas to Ted’s hippy dippy stepfather on How I Met Your Mother, and he is simply stellar here as the neurotic, acerbic über-telepath. His reactions are perfect, from his finishing of people’s sentences to his constant state of fatigue to his being completely startled at Data’s presence. Just a great performance.

Also of note is the brief appearance by Michael Cavanaugh as the oft-mentioned-but-never-before-seen Captain Robert DeSoto of the Hood, Riker’s former CO and Picard’s old friend.

Of less note is Peter Vogt’s one-dimensional portrayal of a Romulan commander. Where’s Andreas Katsulas when we need him?

Trivial matters: DeSoto had previously been mentioned in “Encounter at Farpoint” and would be mentioned again several times, notably in “The Pegasus” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River.” He also appears in several tie-in novels: Losing the Peace by William Leisner, The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett, Paths of Disharmony by Dayton Ward, Homecoming by Christie Golden, and the novel that established the most about the character, The Brave and the Bold Book 2 by your humble rewatcher.

In Data’s quarters, Elbrun looks at one of the android’s paintings, which appears to be of the spatial anomaly from “Time Squared.”

The episode was based on the short story “Tin Woodsman” by Dennis Russell Bailey and David Bischoff, which first appeared in Amazing Stories in 1976 (and was expanded into a novel in 1979, which was reprinted in a new eBook edition at the end of last year). In collaboration with Lisa Putman White, they reworked it into a teleplay, with Bailey and White using the pseudonym Dennis Putman Bailey.

Both the original story title and Gomtuu’s nickname derive from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its assorted adaptations over the years, though the nickname relating to the mechanical man who only wants a heart would appear to truly apply to Data, not Gomtuu. (Of course, that analogy has been made before, in “Skin of Evil” and “The Schizoid Man.”)

Make it so: “It seems you have awakened your Tin Man.” This almost automatically ranks as a strong episode due to the double whammy of being a true science fiction story and a superb guest turn by Groener as Tam Elbrun. Gomtuu is a wonderful example of a new life and a new civilization. The notion of living ships wasn’t even a new one when Bailey and Bischoff wrote “Tin Woodsman” back in the mid-70s, but it’s one Star Trek never really did much with prior to this (though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Moya, the living ship on which most of the action on Farscape took place, a show for which Richard Manning—at this point, a co-producer on TNG—was one of the main writers).

Still, the episode is far from perfect. The Romulan threat is perfunctory at best, and the logistics of the confrontations with the Romulans and with Gomtuu are kind of silly. The first Romulan ship disables the Enterprise with appalling ease—not aided by Picard never once giving the order to fire back—and then it takes the second Romulan ship forever to attack Gomtuu for no reason except the plot calls for it.

However, it’s a rare episode that truly lives up to the voiceover during the opening credits, and we get a nifty guest star on top of it. Fine stuff.

 

Warp factor rating: 7


Keith R.A. DeCandido was rather shocked to realize that none of the many billions of pieces of Star Trek tie-in fiction has looked in on Gomtuu and Tam Elbrun. That should probably be rectified at some point. However, he had fun fleshing out Captain DeSoto in The Brave and the Bold. Check out his web site for ordering info on his newest novels, plus links to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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