Sep 5 2011 1:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Unnatural Selection”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “Unnatural Selection”“Unnatural Selection”
Written by John Mason & Mike Gray
Directed by Paul Lynch
Season 2, Episode 7
Production episode 40272-133
Original air date: January 30, 1989
Stardate: 42494.8

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise picks up a distress call from the U.S.S. Lantree. The captain, Telaka, says that they’re dying. The Enterprise moves to intercept, but they find no life signs. Remote access to the ship reveals a bridge full of old, decrepit corpses. Pulaski’s scan reveals that they died of natural causes, and Riker points out that he and Telaka were the same age.

The Lantree’s last port of call was Darwin Station on Gagarin IV. Upon arrival, the crew is told that they’re suffering a similar fate — Dr. Kingsley, who answers the call, looks to be in her 50s, but is only 35.

She insists that their children must be evacuated, as they aren’t showing symptoms, but Picard is reluctant to do so, especially since Pulaski wishes to quarantine Gagarin IV. The children, who are part of the genetic experiments being done on Darwin Station, are the pride and joy of Kingsley and the other scientists. They beam up one of those children encased in styrolite and in stasis. Though he is supposed to be twelve years old, Troi can sense his presence even in stasis, and he also appears to be fully mature.

Pulaski wishes to examine him further out of the styrolite, but Picard isn’t convinced that it can be done under safe conditions. At La Forge’s suggestion, Pulaski takes the boy onto a shuttlecraft — piloted by Data, who would likely not be affected by the disease — and examines him after removing the styrolite.

After being with the child for twenty minutes, Pulaski suffers an arthrtitc cramp — the initial symptom of the disease. The children are, in fact, carriers of the disease. Pulaski gets the disease and starts aging — which means she gets dipped in the most latex I’ve seen since Admiral Jameson.

Picard comes up with a technobabble solution to the disease involving running Pulaski through the transporter, and he operates the transporter himself, since if it doesn’t work, they can’t transport her back.

But, of course, it works because, well, this is television. After the adults of Darwin Station are restored, the Enterprise returns to the Lantree and scuttles her.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “Unnatural Selection”

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Chief O’Brien suggests using the transporter trace to use as a guide to reconstitute Pulaski. Since the biofilter doesn’t work on the disease, he suggests using the trace. However, Pulaski has never taken the transporter, so they have no trace to work with — until they use a hair from her hairbrush. O’Brien comes up with a ton of technobabble to explain how difficult it will be to modify the transporter, involving terms like biofilter bus, molecular matrix reader, waveform modulator, regeneration limiter, first-stage circuit, and Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator. (I may have made that last one up). Regardless, he can do it. Because he’s just that awesome.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi does her usual “she’s hiding something” routine with Dr. Kingsley, and she gets to be the recipient of Pulaski and Picard going all he-said-she-said. She also figures out that the genetically engineered kids are telepathic. Because she’s just that awesome.

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data determines how the children are the ones responsible for the disease. Because he’s just that awesome.

I’m a Doctor, Not an Escalator. We get all of Pulaski’s worst traits in this episode: her stubbornness, her intensity, her constant interrupting of people, her bitching out Data (though at least this time she apologizes to him when he expresses concern over her health), and we get an added bonus: transporter-phobia, because apparently she wasn’t enough like Dr. McCoy yet. To make matters worse, Pulaski is wholly incompetent in this episode. She insists on examining the child outside of stasis, a bull-headed move that nearly kills her. It’s Data who figures out what happened, and O’Brien and Picard who come up with the solution.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “Unnatural Selection”

We also learn from her previous CO, Captain Taggart, that she requested the transfer to the Enterprise, and knows Picard’s service record backward and forwards. You’d think, given that, she wouldn’t interrupt him so much....

Her snarking of Data continues, even though she pretty much relies on him all throughout, arrogantly pointing out that taking risks is something humans do that he wouldn’t understand and chiding him for his lousy bedside manner — though she does have the good grace to apologize at one point. All it does is make the character look bad. McCoy’s snarking of Spock was mainly because McCoy was trying to get Spock to admit to his human half; Spock also gave as good as McCoy got. Pulaski going after Data, however, is not the same thing because he’s not denying half his heritage, he simply is what he is, and is actually trying to be more. Pulaski picking on Data is very much like kicking a puppy, and nobody wants to see their heroes doing that.

Welcome Aboard. After showing up three times in the first season and appearing as the transporter operator a few times this season, Colm Meaney gets a last name (O’Brien) and a substantial supporting role, as he is instrumental in saving Pulaski. Patricia Smith is dreadful as the snotty, stubborn, arrogant Dr. Kingsley. J. Patrick McNamara makes an entertaining cameo as Taggart.

I Believe I Said That: “And Doctor? God knows, I’m not one to discourage input. But I would appreciate it if you’d let me finish my sentences once in a while.”

Picard, putting Pulaski in her place.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “Unnatural Selection”

Trivial Matters: Besides providing O’Brien with a name, and setting the stage for his future career as the miracle worker on Deep Space Nine, this episode also marks the one and only time humans are seen performing legal genetic engineering, since it will later be established that genetically engineering humans is illegal in the Federation — a state of affairs at odds with this episode, but what can you do?

Make it so. “Not exactly up to factory specs.” A warmed-over rehash of the original seriers’ “The Deadly Years,” without even the fun of having a cool Walter Koenig girly-scream. Bad enough that this is an episode that focuses on Pulaski that mostly makes her look like an idiot, it also gives us the lamest of technobabble solutions: the transporter fixes it!

The episode does give us a new recurring character — yet another example of the second season trying to expand the crew of the Enterprise, as with Selar last week — and O’Brien would become one of the most popular supporting characters on the show, and later becoming a regular on the first spinoff.

It’s just a pity it happened in this dreadful episode. Leaving aside the inherent doofiness of an “old-age virus,” this episode is a smorgasbord of many of TNG’s worst qualities, down to the technobabble solution and the ineffectiveness of every character not named Picard or Data.

Worse, it reinforces Pulaski’s status as a lame McCoy clone thanks to her transporter phobia, and also reinforces the character’s inability to problem-solve. Not once in the entire season do we see the character does she ever actually research and come up with a solution. She either instantly knows the answer or never does — this episode is a prime example, as she never figures anything out, and gives herself a potentially fatal illness while not doing so.

I will, however, give them points for the scuttling of the Lantree at the end of the episode, which was handled with dignity and respect.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “Unnatural Selection”


Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido got to write the character of O’Brien in his short story “Broken Oaths” in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine anthology Prophecy and Change, one of his many many many pieces of Trek fiction. His latest books include the fantastical police procedurals Unicorn Precinct and SCPD: The Case of the Claw. He’s working on sequels to both books for 2012 release: Goblin Precinct and SCPD: Avenging Amethyst. For more about Keith, go to his web site, from which you can order his latest books, and check out his blog, his Facebook page, and his Twitter feed, not to mention his twice-monthly podcast Dead Kitchen Radio.

Mike S.
1. Mike S.
I didn't think this was that bad. It's not that GOOD, but it's not bad either. I'd give it a 5 or a 6.

Yes, the ending is drowned in technobabble, but it was also good to see the crew explore a totally different possibility for rescue then had ever been done, (at least in terms of how the transporter was used, though I was screaming "hair sample!" long before Riker and Data hit on the idea - it's pretty much established that this had never been tried before, even offscrean, and that I liked).

However, if there is one thing we've learned through 5 TV series, it's that medical episodes tend to fall in to the weaker catigories of series. Despite the fact that I liked this more then you, I would not call this a classic by any means, and I can't think of one medical show on any of the series that I would give that title to.
Mike S.
2. StrongDreams
Since the disease was caused by the children's immune systems proactively seeking out and attacking perceived threats, I'm now wondering why the Lantree had to be scuttled at all.
no children on board=no continuing source of disease. There are any number of ways the ship could have been decontaminated (including the lethal-to-all-life baryon sweep introduced later in the series). Surely it would have been more cost effective to suit up, space the crew (with the necessary ceremony) then tow the ship back to spacedock for cleaning.
Mike S.
3. Seryddwr
Wow - 3 out of 10. That's grim. Granted, it's not a brilliant episode - the premise is too contrived, and the pacing way too slow - but I might have given it a point or two more.

The worst part of it all is, as Krad points out, the ending. Picard - that's the captain, everybody - and O'Brien come up with a cruddy deux ex machina solution that (as many Trek fans have already pointed out ) seemingly gives anyone with the DNA of somebody else the ability to recreate that person using the transporter - or did I misunderstand?

Has Colm Meaney ever published an autobiography? The computer says he hasn't, but I have always wondered how he felt, getting firstly very occasional bit parts that became regular bit parts, then bit parts with a named character, then supporting semi-regular roles with a named character, and then star of DS9.
David Levinson
4. DemetriosX
Oh, man. Absolutely everything I hated about Pulaski wrapped up in one big package. After all her constant snarking at Data, deliberately mispronouncing his name, calling him "it", etc., this just sealed the deal. I have never been so happy to see a character leave a show. It probably even added to my delight at seeing Rosalyn Shays fall down an elevator shaft.

Believe it or not, this wasn't the first time they had resorted to the magic transporter to solve an age problem. In the final TAS episode, "The Counter-Clock Incident", the whole crew gets turned into Star Trek Babies and they use almost exactly this solution. Of course, they wound up using it again later at least once in the episode where Picard, Guinan and Roh get turned into tweens.

Colm Meaney's autogiography would probably be pretty interesting. He's a better actor than he usually gets credit for and he's done a lot of interesting work. Fun fact: his first name has TWO syllables, rhymes with Gollum. Ah, the vagaries of Irish spelling.
Mike S.
5. Pah
Though I did like the actual desease, essentially a case of "external" allergy, where the immune system of the children affect the people around them insted of giving the children itching throats. I only wish there were transporters that would cure my hay fever.
Eduardo Gisbert
6. xgisbert
I'll have to completely agree with StrongDreams, scuttling an entire ship (And a Miranda Class, no less) should have been done with a more serious consideration. I know the premise that there is no money in the Federation (At least not in the sense we know it), but there should be still something reminiscent of a cost structure that should give value to Starfleet assets. And a ship should count as a big asset. Unless the cleansing of the ship proves to be more resource intensive than building a new ship from scratch.

Anyway, a somewhat passable episode. Mike S. is right, maybe the technobabble was too much, but it offered a good insight into solutions that come in the form knowledge and experience from the crew. Is not exactly a Deus Ex Machina solution but it comes close.

And yes, I hate Pulaski too.
Mike S.
7. Pendard
Agreed, this episode was awful. Not only did they copy "The Deadly Years" but they seem to have missed the point of it as well. It wasn't just the "cool" sci-fi concept of rapid aging, it was an opportunity to explore how even Captain Kirk and company are powerless to fight the ravages of time, and to watch as everything they care about is taken away -- "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything" -- before the inevitable cure is found. "Unnatural Selection" seems to have forgotten about that part. At least when TNG copied "The Naked Time" they knew that the real point of it was to give us an "in vino veritas" look into who the characters are.
Mike S.
8. John R. Ellis
Well, at least it was better than the X-Files episode where Scully figures out the reason why she, Mulder, and a ship's crew are rapidly aging is because of super-salt-saturated air, right?



Bob Weld
9. WaitingShadows
I liked this episode enough to say it should have gotten at least a 4. I know everyone's hating on the technobabble, but I really liked Data's role in this episode (which may be why I like this episode so much in the first place). He also proves quite stoic when indicating that he had already thought of the possibility that he might not me immune to the disease. I started thinking of the disease in The Andromeda Strain that evolves to dissolve plastic and/or rubber (its been a while since I read it - and I don't consider this a spoiler because I don't elaborate in any way. Please let me know if that's incorrect). If the (at the time) unknown disease could do that, then Data could be more vulnerable than humans, but he agrees to pilot the shuttle with no complaints, even though his comments indicate he is aware of it.

I am sad that Colm Meany couldn't be formally introduced as transporter whiz a couple of episodes ago. The transport at the beginning of Loud as a Whisper could have used his touch. Incidentally, I also loved him in Get Him to the Greek. I would definitely read his autobiography.

Edit - Thanks to @18. I watched the episode again, I had forgotten he really was at the controls.

@2 and @6. I do agree that the ship could (and probably should) have been salvaged. However, I did like the scuttling scene in general, as a good look into the structure of Star Fleet as a military organization. It is much the same feeling I get when a character is "resigning" and they line the crew up along the corridors. It's a glance into the structure that all the characters get at the Academy regarding solemn protocol, which I love. Incidentally, I also liked the scene at the beginning where Picard gets control access to the Lantree, probably for similar reasons.

Also, love 3-D Chess...
Michael Burke
10. Ludon
First, let me go on record as loving Dr. Pulaski for all the reasons that everyone else hated her. I loved that loose cannon she brought to season two. I've known a few loose cannons like her and while they're not people I'd want to hang out with as friends, I enjoyed seeing someone like that depicted in Star Fleet. She made it less of a one-big-happy-Love-Boat crew.

On the fate of the Lantree. Would you want to be the person who goes on it to see if it has been decontaminated? Would you feel comfortable being assigned to crew that ship? Additionally. It is doubtful that every member of the Lantree crew had direct exposure to the children so they likely didn't all get it telepathically. The illness was spread among the crew through an unknown method. If you don't really know the illness was spread how can you be sure you've eliminated the threat? In my opinion scuttling the Lantree was the best choice.

Colm Meany was a lot of fun in The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain.
Mike S.
11. euphbass
I loved O'Brien's technobabble in this episode - best yet! Most impressed. In fact, it was probably my favourite bit of the episode.

Also, I thought Pulaski's arguments against Picard's were not so unreasonable - she could have been right (she wasn't, but she could have been). They seemed plausible. After all, she's the Chief Medical Officer and therefore her judgement should be best on medical matters. I guess it's ingrained in me to trust a doctor!
Mike S.
12. Lsana
The one point I have to disagree on is that I don't think Pulaski was quite so much of an idiot for wanting to bring the kid out of stasis as she's being made out to be. The evidence seemed to indicate that the children didn't have the disease, but the only way to be sure was what she did. Without that, it seems that we'd stay pretty much indefinitely at the "stare at the guy in stasis" stage of the research.

Other than that, yeah, pretty much what the post said.
Fredrik Coulter
13. fcoulter
@10 Why wouldn't you want to be the person who checks out the Lantree. After all, if it's still contaminated, just run to the closest transporter.
Margot Virzana
14. LuvURphleb
Hey i loved this episode simply because it lets us see that in a way you can never die in the 24 th century from old age. Just preserve some hair from your twenties and go thru the transporter when youre in your seventies. Also you could age yourself as we will see in "rascals".

Um thats really the only reason why i liked this episode.
Mike S.
15. StrongDreams
Blowing up a starship that is the modern day equivalent of an aircraft carrier, representing a significant fraction of the Federation's gross domestic product, is just sloppy thinking. Even if the disease was not removable and the ship was not decontaminable, there are lots of components that could be salvaged and decontaminated (antimatter, warp coils, phase emitters, etc.)

But in this case we are told that they know exactly what the "disease" was, airborne antibodies produced by the children. Since the children are alive and still living at Darwin station, presumably the scientists there have figured out how to deal with it, and have decontaminated the station (otherwise they would just get sick again after the transporter fix). So it must be relatively easy to do.

Even with an unknown disease, wouldn't it be worth a couple of person-months of study by medical personnel to determine how to safely decontaminate the ship, before blowing it up?
Mike S.
16. Eugene R.
Where was the 'Ka-boom'?
There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering 'Ka-boom'.
The Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator!
That creature has stolen the Space Modulator!

- Marty M., in pursuit of B. Bunny ...
Daniel Goss
17. Beren
Have to completely agree re: the wastefulness of scuttling the contaminated ship. The first thought I had upon seeing that was something akin to "Wait, you mean to tell me they can't just remotely vent the ship into space, then send a team over in suits to scrub the place?"
Mike S.
18. Chessara
Please Dr. Crusher, come back!!!! :p

Yeah, this was a horrible episode. I wonder how Diana Muldaur felt at the time about finally getting an episode that focused on her character but then portrayed her sooo negatively!

What I liked about it was Colm Meany finally getting a name! :) :) And being shown as a quite capable transporter chief, thinking outside the box and all that. And @9, he WAS the one who transported Picard & party in Loud as a whisper...

As for the scuttling of the Lantree, I think they just felt that the risk was too great of something going wrong during cleanup, so it was better to destroy it.

@3: I thought too at first that they could go and recreate out of thin air whomever they wanted as long as they had a DNA sample, but it seems that they used the DNA pattern as a subtitute for the transporter trace, to compare it with Pulaski as she was being they would still need to transport a real living person.

I'm looking forward to the next two rewatch episodes, "A Matter of Honor" is probably the only Riker -centric episode I like, and as for "Measure of a Man"...well...need I say more?? :D
Mike S.
19. Pendard
I didn't hate Pulaski as much as some people here seem to. She was a bit like Wesley, actually -- the writers refused to write her in a likeable way. They made you work very hard to find something you could consistantly like.
Mike S.
20. Christopher L. Bennett
I remember that I rather liked this episode, for all its conceptual flaws. I don't quite remember why, though, since as a rule I hate "rapid aging" episodes. It's almost always executed so nonsensically. Even if you did come down with a condition like progeria that caused your body's systems to swiftly break down analogously to old age, it wouldn't make you turn white-haired overnight -- because even if your follicles stopped producing pigment, it would still take months for the white hairs to grow out and replace the pigmented hairs -- and it wouldn't turn you wrinkled, because that's the result of decades of cumulative skin exposure to the sun and elements. The only time I've ever seen those cliches avoided was in a fourth-season Sliders episode.

Still, at least this episode's rationalization of the aging disease as the result of genetic damage makes more sense than the radiation exposure of "The Deadly Years" or, so help me, the "life energy transfer" of the animated series' "The Lorelei Signal" or (uggghhhh) TNG's "Man of the People." Aging is the result of long-term, cumulative genetic damage to the body's cells, so it's not completely nonsensical that something which accelerated the genetic damage could have the effect of accelerated aging (though it would still take weeks or months to manifest).

And despite this episode's claim that the "transporter trace" repair had never been done before, it's essentially the same solution they used for rapid aging in "The Lorelei Signal." Luckily, the line is just that Geordi doesn't think it's ever been tried that way. He could've just been unaware of the earlier incident.

The Lantree always bothered me. As scripted, it's a supply ship with only 26 people aboard. It was pretty ridiculous for the FX people to represent it onscreen with the Miranda-class miniature. It's a symptom of the limited number of miniatures they had at the time, but even so, wouldn't it have made more sense to use the Oberth-class miniature or the freighter from ST III?
Mike S.
21. DLFerguson
Bad as she is, I'll still take Dr. Pulaski over Beverly Crusher who gets my vote for Worse Doctor In Starfleet.
Mike S.
22. don3comp
@20. CL Bennett: Re your remarks on the scientific implausibility of the rapid aging: problem is, they had to make it clear how serious the virus was in a 50-minute show, so in all cases they erred on the side of extreme/severe. : )

One review aptly commented "too bad they couldn't just use McCoy's vaccine from the original show."

For all of the faults of the episode and Pulaski, I like the moment when she tells Data "you're in a class by yourself," however left-handed the compliment may have been. And, despite the fact that Humans in general and Starfleet people in particular are supposed to be more enlightened in the 24th century, Pulaski wasn't the only person to have android prejudice issues, as the forthcoming "The Measure of a Man," "Redemption, part II," and the episode with Data's daughter, Lal (sorry, my mind's blanking on the title) make clear.
Mike S.
23. DianeB
"...Rosalind Shays down an elevator shaft." OMFG, I haven't thought about that scene in years, and even now when I recall it, it still makes me screech out loud!

Oh, sorry. This was about Krad's rewatch review of Unnatural Selection, wasn't it? I thought it deserved more than a 3, simply because we got to see just how nasty and unprofessional Pulaski could be and we got a name for my favorite Irishman!
Justin Devlin
24. EnsignJayburd
I prefer to forget this episode ever existed due to the genetically engineered elephant in the room...
Mike S.
25. crzydroid
#20: What are the odds? I was going to leave a note that it was curious a Miranda-class only had a crew of 26, and there you go and leave that note yourself. When I first heard that number, I too, thought of Oberth-class. Maybe the reasoning is that it's used as a supply ship?

As much as I love watching ships getting blown up by photon torpedoes, I also thought they should've tried to find a way to decontaminate it now that they know what was causing it. At this time, Starfleet seemingly has thousands of ships (at least hundreds), but I'm sure they probably regretted that during the Dominion War.

It's interesting that though Colm's character now gets a name, "Chief O'Brien", his uniform still shows a rank of Lieutenant, instead of Chief Petty Officer. Oh well, what can you do?
Mike S.
26. mugwump
Wasn't the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulater (or something like it) from the old Marvin the Martian cartoons?
Mike S.
27. NullNix
The 'advanced aging' thing is done properly exactly once in Trek that I know of: DS9's hallucinatory _Distant Voices_. Notably, it neatly dodges all the technobabble and implausibility by setting the whole thing up as a metaphor for Bashir's worsening state while he lies there in some sort of telepathically-induced coma with added lucid dreaming.
Mike S.
My only problem is, why can't they just use the supposed transporter trace to cure ANY illness or to stay young forever. It just seems like a solution that solves every problem..... Oh yeah, Pulaski is horrible.

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