Tue
Nov 27 2012 4:15pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Chase”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase“The Chase”
Written by Ronald D. Moore & Joe Menosky
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Season 6, Episode 20
Production episode 40276-246
Original air date: April 26, 1993
Stardate: 46731.5

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is in the midst of a three-week exploration of a stellar nursery. Riker summons Picard to the observation lounge—and the captain finds the room darkened, save for one light on an artifact on the table. The lights go up, and Picard is reunited with Professor Richard Galen, the person who got him interested in archaeology back at Starfleet Academy. The artifact is a Kurlan naiskos, which Picard initially identifies as fifth dynasty, but Galen goes into full professorial mode. “Is that your conclusion, Mr. Picard?” (And it’s a testament to how highly Picard thinks of Galen that he allows him to use the honorific of “mister” rather than “captain.”) After some study, Picard realizes that it’s third dynasty and a piece by the mysterious Master of Tarquin Hill, an artist never identified by name, known only through the work. The naiskos is 12,000 years old.

Riker points out that Kurl is very far from Federation territory, and Picard adds that he thought Galen’s Kurlan research was complete, but he was apparently in the neighborhood.

Galen then encourages Picard to open it, at which point Picard is rapturous. There are small figurines inside, symbolizing the community of the Kurlan people, and the many voices that are inside an individual. Finding a naiskos with the figurines intact is exceedingly rare, and Picard is overwhelmed when Galen offers it to the captain as a gift.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

It turns out the naiskos is a bit of a bribe. Galen hasn’t been seen much, either at symposia or in the literature, and many of his scheduled appearances have been cancelled at the last minute. Galen explains to Picard over drinks in Ten-Forward that he made a discovery that was so spectacular that silence was his only recourse. He needs to prove his findings, and he’s close—three months, perhaps a year. He won’t tell Picard what it is unless the captain agrees to come along with him. Galen’s not a young man, and he could use some help.

Picard says he needs to sleep on it. The following morning, he meets Crusher for breakfast. He knows that he can’t do it—his responsibility to the Enterprise is too great—but he hates saying no to Galen. He also explains to Crusher that his and Galen’s relationship was very paternal; Picard’s own father never understood him, nor did Galen’s own children understand him.

When Picard turns Galen down, Galen rips into him. As far as Galen is concerned, he’s just a dilettante, where he could’ve been the finest archaeologist in history. Instead, he’s mapping stars like a Roman centurion patrolling the outer reaches. Galen leaves the ship after that, even though his rendezvous isn’t for another two days, as there’s nothing for him here.

The Enterprise completes the mission to the stellar nursery and proceeds to her next mission, though Picard is mopey. Worf then says there’s a distress call from Galen. His shuttle is under attack by a Yridian vessel. The Enterprise moves to rescue him, but while the Yridians are destroyed by Worf’s phaser fire, Galen himself is killed by a disruptor blast.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

La Forge and Data are able to reconstruct some of Galen’s shuttle computer, which has seemingly random blocks of numbers. Galen had been able to protect some of the data, but not all. According to the shuttle’s logs, Galen went to Ruah IV before coming to see Picard, but when they get there, there’s nothing useful. He had told Picard that his next destination was to be Indri VIII, and Picard orders the Enterprise there.

Indri VIII’s atmosphere is being consumed by a plasma storm of some kind that is wiping out all life on the planet. It’s an odd thing for someone to do—wipe out all life on a neutral uninhabited planet with no strategic value—but it prompts the notion that Galen’s numbers might relate to biological life. Narrowing the search to the biological database, the computer determines that the number blocks represent DNA fragments from species all over the galaxy, but have protein sequences that are uniform. When you link the protein sequences (which, in the case of the one in human DNA, is something that’s been part of life on earth for countless millennia), they form an algorithm. It’s incomplete, but it’s some kind of computer program that was apparently inserted into the primordial soup of at least nineteen worlds.

This, Picard realizes, is what Galen was looking for. Obviously—based on the Yridian attack on Galen and the destruction of Indri VIII—other people know about this. Picard then remembers that Galen had said he was “in the neighborhood” of Kurl when he picked up the naiskos that he gave Picard. He sets a course for the one planet in Kurl space still capable of supporting life, and they arrive to find two Cardassian ships.

While Picard speaks with Gul Ocett, a Klingon battle cruiser decloaks, demanding to know what they’re all doing here. Picard invites Ocett and the Klingon captain, Nu’Daq, on board the Enterprise to discuss their next move. Obviously, they’re all there for the same reason, and Picard puts his cards on the table that they’re all trying to finish Galen’s work. Nu’Daq admits to destroying Indri VIII’s biosphere after taking a biological sample from it, and Ocett makes it clear that if anyone tries to take a similar sample from the planet below, as she has already done, she’ll fire on them.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

Nobody has all the fragments, so the only way to determine what the program is—the Cardassians think it a power source, the Klingons a weapon—is to combine the fragments they already have. They agree, but even combining all three gives an incomplete picture. However, they have enough that they might be able to extrapolate the location of the still-missing piece based on where the fragments they have came from. Because they have to compensate for billions of years of stellar drift, it’ll take a while to run that program.

Nu’Daq stays on the Enterprise, and he challenges Data to Klingon arm wrestling, at which Nu’Daq loses rather badly, and then he attempts to bribe Data into giving him the results of the program ahead of time.

The program finishes, and they discover that the missing fragment is at the Rahm-Izad system. Ocett then beams off the Enterprise and fires on both ships before heading there. However, La Forge detected Ocett’s attempt to tamper with the Enterprise’s defensive systems, and so they fed her false information and faked damage. The Klingon ship was less successful at pretending to be damaged, and can’t go anywhere, so Picard offers Nu’Daq passage on the Enterprise to the real source of the missing piece: the Vilmoran system. The second planet is dead now, but it used to support life. Picard, Crusher, Worf, and Nu’Daq transport to a spot where there’s some fossilized plant life.

The Cardassians show up—and so do the Romulans. A Romulan commander intercepted communiqués between the Yridians and Cardassians, and were there, under cloak, when Galen’s shuttle was destroyed. They’ve been shadowing the Enterprise ever since, and now are claiming the final piece of the puzzle.

Ocett threatens to destroy the fossilized plant. She, the Romulan, and Nu’Daq bicker back and forth, while Picard whispers a suggestion to Crusher to scan the bed of what used to be the ocean for biological samples. The final DNA fragment activates the program and emits a hologram from Picard’s tricorder of a humanoid woman, with no hair, small ears, and unformed features. Her people were the first life to exist in this part of the galaxy, and they explored the stars, but found none like themselves. They seeded the primordial oceans of life on many planets, which would result in life very much like them. It was hoped that the peoples of many worlds would come together in fellowship to see this message.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

The Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans are all greatly disappointed that they went through all this for a glorified “Kumbaya” moment—though the Romulan does later take the time to contact Picard with a message of hope before heading home.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Somehow, linking pictures of protein sequences can form a computer program that can alter a tricorder built billions of years after it was written. SCIENCE!

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi tries to cheer Picard up after Galen’s departure with a walk in the arboretum, which is cut off by Galen’s distress call. After Galen’s death, Troi tries and fails to remind Picard that he has duties as a starship captain that supersede a wild goose chase.

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data’s arm-wrestle with Nu’Daq is funny. Nu’Daq’s attempt to head-butt Data afterward is hilarious, as the impact with Data’s very hard head sends the Klingon ass over teakettle. Data also proves difficult to bribe.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf fires on the Yridian ship, destroying it with one shot. It’s never explained how that happened, as Worf himself expresses confusion over it, and then the whole thing is forgotten.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard and Crusher are still having breakfast together every morning. It’s adorable.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

I Believe I Said That: “As far as we know, it might be a recipe for biscuits.”

“Biscuits? If that is what you believe, than go back to Cardassia. I will send you my mother’s recipe.”

Ocett and Nu’Daq being pissy.

Welcome Aboard. Some fine actors in this: Linda Thorson, probably best known as Tara King on The Avengers alongside Patrick Macnee, plays Ocett—the first adult female Cardassian seen onscreen—while the venerable Norman Lloyd, probably best known as Dr. Auschlander on St. Elsewhere, plays Galen, while Maurice Roëves has gravitas as the Romulan captain.

Two others make their Trek debut here. John Cothran Jr. leaves no piece of scenery unchewed as Nu’Daq. He’ll be back on Deep Space Nine as another Klingon, on Enterprise as a Xindi, and in two videogames, Klingon and Borg (the former as yet another Klingon, the latter in his only human role on Trek). Salome Jens provides something of a warmup for her best-known Trek role as the female changeling on DS9, a role that recurred from season three all the way to the end.

Trivial Matters: Picard spends the entire teaser going on (and on and on) about how amazing the naiskos is, how rare it is, how valuable it is, how old it is, and how stupendously honored he is to be given it as a gift by his mentor/father-figure. So it’s kind of hilarious that, when the Enterprise crashes at the end of Star Trek Generations, Picard casually tosses the naiskos aside atop the wreckage.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

This is the first time humans, Cardassians, Klingons, and Romulans have all appeared together in a single episode. It’ll happen again a lot on DS9, especially once the Dominion War storyline kicks in.

This episode was shown before its airdate at the StarFest convention in Denver in April 1993 to a generally favorable response.

Two of the inspirations for this episode were Carl Sagan’s Contact and (in the early drafts, at least, before Michael Piller and Rick Berman asked Moore and Menosky to tone it down) It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Any resemblance between the ancient humanoid seen at the end of the episode and the Preservers from the original series’ “The Paradise Syndrome” (or Sargon’s people from “Return to Tomorrow”) is purely not-very-coincidental. Co-writer Ronald D. Moore has said that he deliberately left it open so that these were the same Preservers, but didn’t want to state it overtly.

There are apparently seventeen people serving on the Enterprise who are from non-Federation worlds. We know at least two of them: Worf and Ro. One draft of the script had Crusher testing Mr. Mot, which would have established that Bolians aren’t Federation members, either.

The Kurlans will be reference again, in Unjoined by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, the Trill portion of the Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book series, which establishes a link between the Kurlans and the Trill, and shows that the naiskos design was more than metaphorical... (Thanks to Christopher L. Bennett in the comments for the reminder.)

 

Make it So: “You are a monument, not to our greatness, but to our existence.” Until I had to for this rewatch, I have never watched “The Chase” since I saw it the first time. And the reason for this is quite simple: it’s not an episode of Star Trek, it’s a big-ass retcon pretending to be an episode of Star Trek. Worse, it’s an explanation for something that doesn’t even need to be explained. Given the limits of time, budget, and the fact that, y’know, all our actors are human beings, of course the aliens are all going to be at least vaguely humanoid. Even on a show like Farscape, for which the Henson Creature Shop created all manner of fascinating creatures, the vast majority of the aliens we met were people in makeup and/or prosthetics.

And yet, they decided to take an entire episode to explain it. I suppose it’s not as bad as Enterprise, which took two episodes to explain the smooth-forehead Klingons versus the bumpy-forehead Klingons issue, something that had already been perfectly well handled by a brief conversation in the “Trials and Tribble-ations” episode of Deep Space Nine, but still pretty ridiculous. Besides which, the original series already covered this ground, not just in the aforementioned “Return to Tomorrow” and “This Side of Paradise,” but in “Bread and Circuses,” with Kirk’s citation of Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development, and in all three cases actually built a story around it, rather than trying to make a glorified wink at the viewer be the plot.

Watching it again for the first time in two decades, therefore, I was reminded of what was good about the episode: Picard’s relationship with Galen, explicating the former’s love of archaeology (established way back in “Contagion”), but also making it clear that it’s always been a hobby. For Galen, though, it’s an obsession, and he resents Picard for not sharing it. I like that the episode wasn’t afraid to make Picard’s father-figure a flaming asshat. The Kurlan naiskos is a very nifty bit of sculpture, as well, and I like the philosophy behind its design, plus watching Picard geek out over it is an absolute joy to watch.

In addition, the guest casting is superb, from Norman Lloyd selling Galen’s churlishness and brilliance to the nicely understated Maurice Roëves as the never-named Romulan captain to the always-wonderful Linda Thorson kicking ass as our first female Cardassian gul. But the best part of the episode for me is John Cothran Jr. as Nu’Daq. Yes, he’s an obnoxious, stereotypical boisterous Klingon, but he so totally owns that he’s an obnoxious, stereotypical boisterous Klingon. He’s just having so much fun in the role that you can’t help but enjoy his performance. (Well, okay, I can’t help but enjoy it...)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

Sadly, watching it again also reminded me of the bad parts, which are legion, most of them boiling down to how little any of it makes, y’know, sense. First of all, Worf doesn’t know how he destroyed the Yridian ship—and neither does anyone else, nor does anyone seem too concerned about the destruction of a ship full of people. And the whole story depends on the notion that protein sequences can be an algorithm for a computer program, and just the act of putting a graphic of them together on a tiny computing device is enough to create a magical hologram containing a shiny happy message of unity that’s mostly lost on its audience. That sound you hear is my disbelief dying of asphyxiation.

Having said that, the message is a good one, and very Roddenberry. But after all the ridiculous gadding about, I had to agree with Nu’Daq in the end: “That’s it!?”

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido hopes everyone had a great Thanksgiving and has at last digested all their food.

52 comments
StrongDreams
1. StrongDreams
So it’s kind of hilarious that, when the Enterprisecrashes at the end of Star Trek Generations, Picard casually tosses the naiskos aside atop the wreckage.

I think that was supposed to symbolize Picard realizing what was really important, or something. He could have donated it to a museum, though.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
2. Lisamarie
All this episode needed is a Ferengi thinking the final product would be a perpetual money making machine ;)

But yeah, this episode was kind of blah to me, especially because the existence of many 'humanoid' looking species could also just be explained by convergent evolution. It's not something that really needed to be explained.

Plus, I didn't find the ultimate revelation (that they were all related in some way and it wasn't just convergent evolution happening idependently on multiple worlds) THAT astounding or shattering. I predicted it from the start, so as a result there wasn't a whole lot of suspense in this episode for me.
StrongDreams
3. Uncle Mikey
I find it fascinating, in a deeply nerdy way, that both Classic Doctor Who and Star Trek had stories called "The Chase" that are forgettable, lame filler; and both had stories that tried to do something with the OK Corral that were utterly terrible.

I think there's a lesson here for future SF writers, really...
Mike Kelmachter
4. MikeKelm
Once again I find myself going "What a great multi-episode arc this could have been." Think about it- the point of Star Trek is to explore and discover and here is the ultimate discovery: Where did all life come from? And we wrap it up in 42 minutes??? It could have been some sort of uber-mystery that could take all season to unravel. Professor Galen and his search, different races searching planets, having conflicts with each other, general mystery and a build up to a mysterious discovery. Could it be something that would give one race a superiority? Oh... it's only the mystery of life itself. Never mind...
Keith DeCandido
5. krad
Lisamarie: In the earlier, funnier versions of the script -- the ones that were more like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World -- the Ferengi were part of it...

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Keith DeCandido
6. krad
StrongDreams: It was a gift from the guy who he told Crusher in this episode was the father he always wanted. It was also the last thing ever given to him by the father he always wanted. And it was an INCREDIBLY RARE ARTIFACT.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
Personally I like it that they tried to justify the ubiquity of humanoids -- not to mention their ability to interbreed. "Convergent evolution" doesn't come close to explaining the former (maybe a roughly bipedal form, but not aliens that have identically shaped eyes and mouths and can wear human clothes off the rack), and it has no chance of explaining the latter. Sure, the explanation is fanciful and rushed, but it's better than nothing. (And it's not complete nonsense. DNA as a basis for computers and nanotechnology is a subject of serious research today, since DNA has remarkable abilities both for data storage and self-assembly.)

I'm deeply annoyed, however, that so many people -- Ron Moore included -- have mistaken these First Humanoids for the Preservers. That's an error of chronology so vast it makes Fred Flintstone coexisting with dinosaurs seem credible. The one known instance we have of Preserver activity was the transplantation of Native American populations that Spock identified as "Delaware, Navajo, and Mohican" from Earth to an alien planet in order to protect them from extinction (though given that they put them on a planet in the middle of an asteroid field, the Preservers don't seem to have been very good at their job). The only time in known history when those populations would've been in simultaneous danger of extinction was the 17th century or after, as European diseases ravaged the continent and then European settlers did the same. Also, since cultures are not static and unchanging, the only way Spock could've recognized them as having the traits of those cultures is if they'd been taken sometime relatively close to European contact with and documentation of those cultures.

In short, the Preservers are unmistakeably a modern civilization, existing contemporaneously with our own species and culture. (Personally I think they could be the same as the Vians from "The Empath," who had an identical mission.) The idea that they could have anything to do with a civilization that existed four billion years ago, before even single-celled life arose on Earth, is ludicrous beyond my ability to express. It's the most grotesque example I've ever seen of the fallacy that everything in the past happened at the same time. Not to mention that their methods are totally different. The First Humanoids were advanced enough to design genetic programming that directed the evolution of life on thousands of worlds for billions of years thereafter. All the Preservers did was kidnap a bunch of people and truck them to another place, and stick a big tractor beam down next to them without even explaining its workings to more than one person. They didn't show evidence of any technology more advanced than what Starfleet has by the 24th century (and yes, Starfleet does have memory-wiping by then -- see "Pen Pals" and "Who Watches the Watchers?"). The Preservers are nothing like the godlike, ancient beings that too many Trek fans mistakenly imagine them to be.

Ahem. Anyway, getting back to the episode -- yay, Norman Lloyd! Forget St. Elsewhere, the man worked with Charlie Chaplin and was a member of Orson Welles's Mercury Theater! As for Linda Thorson, I never cared for her as Tara King. Mrs. Peel was a hard act to follow, granted, but she was a very disappointing replacement. As for John Cothran, Jr., he was fantastic in Enterprise.

An item for Trivial Matters: the Kurlan civilization was revisited in Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Trill: Unjoined by Andy Mangels & Mike Martin, in which the Kurlans were linked with the Trill, and the meaning of the naiksos was revealed to be less metaphorical than the episode suggested.
Keith DeCandido
8. krad
Christopher: Thanks for the reminder about Unjoined -- it's been duly added. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
StrongDreams
9. StrongDreams
@Krad,
tell that to Braga and Moore. I didn't say it was a sensible reaction that Picard had. Especially since Picard never needed convincing about the importance of living in the here and now. He was trying to get out of the nexus from the first moment.

(Of course, all the NG Trek movies suffer from bad writing of one kind or another, most notably turning the cerebral, diplomatic Picard into bald Rambo over and over again...as pointed out to me by Red Letter Media, I think it was.)
StrongDreams
10. critter42
All this episode needed was a rendition of "One Tin Soldier" somewhere and I think my head would have exploded...
StrongDreams
11. Earl Rogers
Oh, well. At least it's not as bad as the Voyager episode that not only depicted evolution as some godly, sentient, mystical force reaching out to guide life, it claimed that humans trapped on a shuttlecraft could be "evolved" into giant salamanders.

(If anything, their descendants could potentially become a species better adapted to life on a shuttlecraft. Which giant salamanders aren't.)
Joseph Newton
12. crzydroid
One of the things I liked about this episode was the log at the end where he explains they have to sit still for a while because of their frequent use of high warp in a short period of time. A nice on-screen confirmation of why they are not constantly going at Warp 9.

Does anyone know if it's a widespread hypothesis that the ancient beings from this episode were the solid-state form of the Founders before moving to the Gamma Quadrant? I mean, Salome Jens by herself could be dismissed, but creating races is something the Founders still do, and the facial features seem somewhat similar to what Founders take on when assuming a generic humanoid shape. We know that "eons ago" they were like the Solids. Not saying I'm a huge proponent of this theory, but I'm just wondering if others have had this thought.
Christopher Bennett
13. ChristopherLBennett
@12: I've heard the idea before, due to Jens and the similar makeup, but again, we're talking four billion years here. No species lasts that long. Certainly not in the Trekverse, where intelligent life tends to evolve into an incorporeal state eventually. (Okay, the Q have individuals that are at least 5 billion years old, reputedly, but they're hardly corporeal.)

And remember, the form we see the Founders take is not their "natural" appearance in any way. The other Founders are just mimicking Odo's face as a courtesy or something, and Odo's face looks the way it does because he was never very good at mimicking humanoids.
Joseph Newton
14. crzydroid
@13: I had thought that about them mimicking Odo as well...it does sort of raise an interesting question as to what they appeared like to the Vorta before having met Odo though.
Keith DeCandido
15. krad
StrongDreams: That's not on Braga and Moore, that's on the set designers and David Carson.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Alan Courchene
16. Majicou
I just caught the end of Generations on IFC the other day and winced at Picard tossing away the naiskos. Nobody could go back and remember the episode it came from and what it was for? It was bad enough that they ignored Livingston the Lionfish.

@11: If there's ever a Voyager rewatch, that'll be a hell of a thread.

@14: Probably they appeared as any damned thing they wanted--gods tend to behave that way.
Jenny Thrash
17. Sihaya
"Given the limits of time, budget, and the fact that, y’know, all our actors are human beings, of course the aliens are all going to be at least vaguely humanoid."

Yeah, you know this and I totally agree, but I get the impression that many fans have complained so LOUDLY about it for so many decades. It's a little like your recurring wish that aliens would be "more alien" rather than carrying exaggerated or isolated aspects of some human trait - it's just that one thing that bugs one group of fans, but not another.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
18. Lisamarie
@7 - Well, yes, realistically, there probably would be more differences (and I actually totally forgot about the ability to interbreed), but I just figured that perhaps bipedalism happens to be the most effective body structure. Not that I was opposed to the idea of some single life form spreading from planet to planet eons and eons ago. I guess it just didn't bug me one way or the other.

That being said, I have often wondered, if life did exist on other planets, if they would even use DNA. Who is to say that some other method of genetic transfer couldn't develop? Like, if we find a bunch of bacteria on Mars that evolved on their own there (and I know there have been fossils found but I can't recall at the moment if we've ever gotten genetic material) would we even be able to sequence it, would there be a 16S ribosomal sequence, could we compare it at all to the phylogenetics of bacteria on Earth? Or maybe that would suggest that there is some common thread...
Christopher Bennett
19. ChristopherLBennett
@18: Any life we find elsewhere in the Solar System is likely to have the same chemical and molecular basis as ours, due to billions of years of impact-driven panspermia. Rocks blasted off of Mars by impact events have fallen to Earth, and rocks blasted off of Earth have no doubt made their way to Mars. Probably the whole system's been mutually cross-contaminated by now.

As far as other solar systems are concerned, it's harder to say. There are other possible nucleic acids that could potentially support life. But it could be that DNA is the one that works best and outcompetes all the others; or it could be that panspermia works on an interstellar scale too (although it's believed it would only be likely to happen between stars that started out as members of the same birth cluster, and there'd be a relatively narrow window between the origin of life and the point when they'd spread too far apart for transfer to occur).

I'll say this, anyway: at least the idea that Earth's primordial soup was seeded with programmed DNA 4 gigayears ago is less stupid than the common sci-fi cliche that humans alone were seeded here by aliens (an idea I'd thought was a relic of the '70s ancient-astronaut fad but has been resurrected in recent years in Stargate SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, and Prometheus). Even TOS: "Return to Tomorrow," which implied that Sargon's people were the ancestral race of all the humanoids, was smart enough to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that humans evolved here on Earth and are intimately connected to the rest of the biosphere.

Essentially ST has given us three explanations for humanoid aliens, and I think they all fit together rather than conflicting. The way I see it: The "Chase" progenitors are the explanation for all roughly humanoid creatures, even the weird ones like Cardassians and Klingons and Jem'Hadar and Xindi. Sargon's people are the ancestors of Vulcanoids and possibly other fairly human-appearing humanoids such as Betazoids, Deltans, and Bajorans. And the Preservers are responsible for the occasional Earth-duplicate culture like Miramanee's people and maybe the "Bread and Circuses" Romans.
alastair chadwin
20. a-j
MikeKelm@4
"What a great multi-episode arc this could have been."
I think that might have been what JM Straczynski had in mind when he pitched a Star Trek reboot to Paramount. Certainly, he intended an arc plot that would slowly be revealed throughout the series.

For those unaware of this, iirc, the idea was to reboot Star Trek with new actors playing Kirk et al and while each episode would be pretty much standalone, there would be a running underlying arc which involved a secret mission that Kirk was on for Starfleet.

Or was the whole thing an internet hoax?
StrongDreams
21. James Moar
Something I like about the appearance of the First Humanoids is that, considered as the basic model, they effectively make humans look like another species of Forehead Alien.
Rob Rater
22. Quasarmodo
What I found odd was that the Federation was completely out of the loop on this whole process, especially considering Picard's link to Galen. All these other races are right on this guy's heels, and the Federation just blunders its way into the middle of it.
StrongDreams
23. rowanblaze
I never thought the stuff like the naiskos were just left in the wreckage of the Enterprise. What Picard was doing was more of a grab and go. Almost like he said, "Hey I need to get my photo album before we evacuate for the debriefing." And Riker just accompanied him. I would like to think they came back later for thingd like the naiskos, Riker's trombone, Data's paintings, etc. In fact, Picard had the Mintakan tapestry from "Who Watches the Watchers" on the Enterprise-E, which he did not remove from the Enterprise-D onscreen.

I was going to question the use of the term "retcon," especially in reference to Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development. But reading more about "Return to Tomorrow," it does seem to explain the relationship of at least Humans and Vulcans (and Romulans). Thanks to CLB @19 for showing how the three explanations can mesh without conflicting. After all, couldn't the Theory of Relativity be considered a retcon of Newtonian Mechanics? It's a different explantion of the underlying reality, but it doesn't invalidate the laws of motion.

Assuming it is a valid explanation, I'm surprised "The Chase" wasn't at least a two-parter. It was all resolved rather quickly, really. And to the satisfaction of few. One of the most momentous discoveries of galactic history, and it's never mentioned again. I guess a 4 is right, if only for that.
StrongDreams
24. rowanblaze
Heading off a potential correction, I realize that Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development is from "Bread and Circuses," not "Return to Tomorrow."
Jack Flynn
25. JackofMidworld
I realized when I started reading this yesterday that I hadn't ever seen the episode, so I watched it this morning. If nothing else, like Keith said, the guest stars made it palatable, even if the storyline was a little meh. Another thing that I appreciated, though, was that they didn't do a"beat you over the head with what we learned today" soliloquy about how we're all the same at the end. I thought that the call from the Romulan did the same thing without making it feel like a "very special episode."
Alan Courchene
26. Majicou
@23: Well, I suppose they would have had to remove all extraplanetary artifacts from Veridian III, one way or another. And Starfleet wouldn't tie up the whole senior staff overseeing that operation. There was also presumably an inquiry about the ship's destruction.

Actually, that brings up another point that in canon, Kirk's body remains on Veridian III indefinitely, with his Starfleet badge. Maybe not a big deal for the Prime Directive, but I always wondered why an unmarked grave on a planet where Kirk was for maybe 5 minutes, even if he did save said planet. My sister suggested that Picard wanted to keep Kirk's brief return quiet because of the time travel aspect. The DTI would have been leaping down his throat about it, no doubt.

Okay, that has nothing to do with this episode, but whatever.
Mike Kelmachter
27. MikeKelm
@ 23, 26, and a whole bunch of others.... Majicou beat me to it. I sort of figured that Picard and Riker were getting the stuff they wanted to take with them immediately on the Farragut on their way back to Earth and that someone after the fact picked everything up and cargo shipped what was salvageable back to the crewmember.

@20 I vaguely recall that reboot idea of Star Trek, but I was never sure if that was a solicited or unsolicited idea. I sort of figure that the search for the origin of life (why are there so many bipedal humanoids with compatible DNA and similar climate tolerances) might be an overarching mission that was what you turned to when there weren't immediate demand. Fleshing out the Chase into a season or multi-season arc would be a doable thing. It would mean a random scene or lines being put into an episode where nothing else was going on as well as what I call character memory of previous episodes (the characters actively make reference/are changed by what happened to them in a previous episode) which was only starting to be a norm broken on TV at the time.

So maybe in the season opener Picard runs into Galen at a starbase- Galen says he's onto something big and invites Picard, who turns them down. The two fight and go on their way. At the end of the episode the Enterprise gets a distress message that he is under attack. Episode two starts with them responding too late to the attack and Galen dying. (Act 1 of the chase) The next few episodes are "normal" missions until Picard decides to abandon the ships mission to follow the clues. They follow the clues and find the planet with the atmosphere being destroyed. (Act 2) A few more normal epsisodes and then Data uncovers a hidden file of Galens, and they go to the planet with the Cardassians/Klingons. After some tension and perhaps a non-decisive combat, they call a truce, have the meeting, the Enterprise gets tampered with, they tamper with the data, the Cardassians attempt a double cross (Act 3/4)

In the arc finale they put together the last pieces, go to the planet, run into the Romulans, Ferengi, Denobulans, etc. Throw in one of those wacky ancient defense mechanisms and the usual mystery planet that the Federation solves and has to get everyone to trust them. They put together their data, get the kumbaya moment, but then have some sort of early warning of some strange acting Borg...

Again- this could be a much more interesting arc instead of a 42 minute Rodenberry-esque episode.
Christopher Bennett
28. ChristopherLBennett
@28: "After all, couldn't the Theory of Relativity be considered a retcon of Newtonian Mechanics?"

More of a broadening. Newton's laws are a special case of Einstein's laws for velocities significantly below the speed of light, or at least a good approximation thereof.
StrongDreams
29. JMH
I think I was at the perfect age for this when it aired: old enough to be knowledgable, young enough to be credulous.

*I* always took it for pure symbolism. The science on the face of it is ridiculous. But the idea has merit; it could theorectically be possible to build some sort of message like that into DNA. It'd take forever to find, and forever to figure out, and in the end would look more like the
Arecibo message, but it's hypothetically possible. And also terrible tv. So they can't be realistic about it, of course not.
Christopher Hatton
30. Xopher
This is a terrible episode. And let's figure out how much data there is in DNA, vs. how much it takes for a lengthy holovid, shall we?
StrongDreams
31. Alden O'Swine
I've never commented on here before, but I felt it had to be said: Worst. Episode. Ever.
I definitely think this episode is a contender for worst TNG episode, because it isn't just bad, it's offensive. It not only misunderstands natural selection, but it ends up resorting to the kind of mumbo jumbo that Erich Von Daniken was peddling in the seventies.
This episode is contrary to what I consider the entire ethos of TNG, which is on the side of rationalism and science. And as others on this forum have observed, the explanation it offers isn't even necessary.
Alan Courchene
32. Majicou
@30:
http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/134672-harvard-cracks-dna-storage-crams-700-terabytes-of-data-into-a-single-gram

I can't remember how much DNA they were working with in the episode, nor do I know what kind of holography compression algorithms ancient aliens may have used, but the storage density of the stuff is still damned impressive.

@31: I don't know. Have you seen "Shades of Gray"? Of course, as I said in that thread, I'm divided on whether it should be deemed the worst episode ever or not even an episode.
Christopher Bennett
33. ChristopherLBennett
@31: No, Von Daniken stuff would be what the original Battlestar Galactica did, or Stargate in its later seasons when they established that the Ancients came from another galaxy rather than evolving on Earth, or what Ridley Scott's Prometheus did -- the idea that humans specifically were seeded/engineered by aliens, which is ridiculous because it ignores how much our DNA and biology has in common with the rest of the life on Earth. Even "Return to Tomorrow" got that right and refused to say that Sargon's people had seeded humanity, insisting we'd evolved on this planet.

What "The Chase" did is orders of magnitude further back in time, going all the way back to the beginnings of single-celled life. That is far more plausible, because it allows an "aliens influenced our evolution" premise without denying or glossing over our intimate connection to the rest of the biosphere, since it's the whole biosphere that was influenced from the very beginning.

And no, I don't agree it runs against rationalism and science. Applied to the real world? Yes, it would in that case. But it's different when it's applied to the fictional world Star Trek takes place in. In that world, as we've seen for decades, most aliens are humanoid, sometimes even indistinguishable from human, and different aliens are often interfertile. And not just humanoids, but other species as well -- alien dogs, alien horses, whole planets full of green grass and familiar-looking trees. And we can assume that other planets have their equivalent of grapes and barley, given how many types of alien brandy and ale there are. So entire biospheres seem to have evolved in parallel across the galaxy. The idea that such an improbable situation just came about by chance would be completely irrational. So given the evidence we have, the idea that there's a single underlying origin that links all these biospheres together is very rational, even if we can quibble about the technicalities. Science is not about reinforcing our prejudices and preferences. It's about following the evidence and formulating a consistent explanation for it. And when we're following evidence from a fictional universe, the rational, scientific conclusion may be very different from one based on evidence of the real universe.
StrongDreams
35. Alden O'Swine
Apologies, my previous post is missing a paragraph. The full post is as follows:

@33: I hear you, but I still think this episode propagates a common misunderstanding of natural selection, and as a result is against science. Evolution is adaptation to a given environment, and the idea that human beings might be developing towards a predetermined state is not only contrary to Darwinism, but would alter our understanding of life in a very profound way.

I take on board what you say about needing an explanation within the fiction to justify similarity between different alien species and plant life. However, this explanation is not necessary because evolutionary theory tells us that other inhabited planets are likely to be similar to our own.

Sharks and whales have both evolved fins because it's the best means for an animal to swim - even though they come from entirely different branches of the evolutionary tree. By the same rationale, in order to build spaceships an alien would likely need to be bipedal and have opposable thumbs.

The same theory also explains similarities across plant life. For example, fruit is favoured by natural selection if it is sweet and carries small seeds, so you end up with something resembling a grape.

When looked at like this, similarities between alien species aren’t improbable, as you suggest, but are actually likely.

@32: I retract my 'worst episode ever' criticism, because 'Shades of Gray' is indeed the worst by far. This episode is, I think, second worst.
Christopher Bennett
36. ChristopherLBennett
@35: I couldn't disagree more. Yes, parallel evolution has often been used in fiction to justify humanoid aliens, but it's a bogus idea if you really think about it -- and since I've been writing science fiction for decades and put a lot of care into working out alien evolution, I've thought about it very, very extensively. Yes, there are advantages to our form, but it's narrow-minded to think it's the only form that has those advantages. Bipedalism is good, sure, but if you look at the various bipedal forms of life that have existed in Earth's history -- therapod dinosaurs/avians, kangaroos, indrid lemurs, hominids -- they split about evenly between bipeds with upright bodies and no tails and bipeds with horizontal bodies and cantilevering tails. And they also split about evenly between walkers and hoppers, though the split is different. So realistically, alien bipeds could be built more like a velociraptor than a human.

Not to mention that it's just chance that we have five fingers instead of four or six, that there are many different possible jaw and mouth shapes besides the ones that vertebrates happen to use, etc. Not to mention such specific details as the shape and size of our heads, the positioning of our joints, and so on. Particular the human chin, and the way it tapers to a relative point. That's a unique feature of anatomically modern Homo sapiens. Even Neandertals, our closest genetic relatives in the universe, didn't have it. So I can't buy that aliens would have it either.

So parallel evolution could explain the occasional biped that broadly resembles our shape, alongside other bipeds that look more like kangaroos or therapods or lemurs. But it's ludicrous to claim that it even remotely begins to explain a galaxy full of thousands of alien species who look like human actors with latex glued to their foreheads. It just plain doesn't work.

And no, the idea of "The Chase" does not mislead the audience about evolution, because it states explicitly that the evolutionary process has been artificially mediated, that there's something other than natural selection affecting the outcomes. And it's only saying that's true about a fictional universe, not the real one. The clear implication is that in our universe, without some alien program forcing us to evolve in a certain direction, the only mechanism is natural selection.
Christopher Hatton
37. Xopher
@32: But we're actually not talking about the entire human genome...just the part that has remained unchanged since the primordial soup! Which would be approximately none.
Christopher Bennett
38. ChristopherLBennett
#37: DNA is complicated. One part can affect other parts. Consider how what used to be thought of as the "non-coding" majority of the DNA molecule is increasingly being understood to play a role in epigenetic factors like the proteins that determine the shape in which the DNA molecule is configured and what base pairs are accessible for coding. It's not completely absurd (at least, no more absurd than a lot of stuff we routinely suspend disbelief about in ST) that a programmed sequence encoded into DNA could be capable of influencing the evolution of other parts while also protecting itself from overwriting. And it could easily be fragmented, stored in many pieces across the length of the molecule and with redundant copies of the relevant sequences, as a protection against data corruption/erasure.

And you're wrong that none of that original DNA remains. We have at least a couple of percent of our genes in common with bacteria, 17% with plants, 30-40% with invertebrates, better than 85% with fish, etc. And those are just the coding genes, which make up only a tiny part of the total genome (the rest being the non-coding stuff I mentioned before).
StrongDreams
39. Alden O'Swine
@35: I really didn't expect a debate about this. I feel like we're going in circles here, so this will be my last post on the matter. Also, I honestly can't see how writing sci-fi necessarily qualifies you to talk about evolutionary theory. I gather L Ron Hubbard wrote a lot of science fiction, and he had some very questionable ideas indeed.

To clarify my point for the last time: I'm not saying that all aliens would evolve to be like humans - of course they wouldn't. I'm saying that many of the ones able to build spaceships might resemble us - the "occasional bipeds" you refer to.

Yes, aliens could evolve to be like velociraptors, but they aren't going to be the ones charting the galaxies or attending peace talks. This would explain why the races appearing in Star Trek could be mostly but not exclusively humanoid, and why there are no indrid lemurs hopping around Picard's ready room.

This debate rages on between people far more learned that either of us, so I suggest readers look elsewhere for a sensible debate on this matter.
Joseph Newton
40. crzydroid
@39: I'm not trying to debate you, I'm just going to throw in some ideas here, so don't take this the wrong way. Also feel free to not respond.

It seems like species capable of space travel would need appendages that allow them to manipulate things sufficiently to create machinery and things, so they would need something akin to hands. Also, it may be useful to have these appendages freely available when in locomotion, but I don't know if it's absolutely necessary. They would also need fairly advanced brains, obviously. Eyes in the front of the head? I'm not sure, but it seems like it would be useful if you were doing things like inventing microchips. Communication ability would also seem to be very useful.

So a lemur-descended creature with a larger brain and speech capability would meet these requirements. Velociraptors, maybe not so much. But velociraptor descended creatures with opposable thumbs, and big brains? Maybe.
Christopher Bennett
41. ChristopherLBennett
@39: My work as a writer gives me perspective on this because I write hard science fiction, based on research into real science. L. Ron Hubbard wrote a very different style of SF. Don't lump all SF writers into a single category. I've spent decades thinking about how alien evolution might work and researching the science involved. Here are a couple of articles by scientists debunking the "inevitability" of the human shape for intelligent life:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2012/10/27/dinosauroids-revisited-revisited/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=will-e-t-look-like-us


"Yes, aliens could evolve to be like velociraptors, but they aren't going to be the ones charting the galaxies or attending peace talks. This would explain why the races appearing in Star Trek could be mostly but not exclusively humanoid, and why there are no indrid lemurs hopping around Picard's ready room."

You're missing the point. Of course I'm not saying they'd be exactly like those species -- my whole argument is that it's nonsensical to expect any alien life forms to be anywhere near an exact match for any Earth species, human or otherwise. I'm talking only about the variety of bipedal body plans that are potentially available. An alien could have the body shape of a theropod, the fur of a mammal, and mandibles similar to those of a crustacean, perhaps. The aliens in my first published story looked kind of like kangaroos with chameleon heads and horselike manes. Convergent evolution doesn't mean everything is the same, just that certain specific traits correspond even if everything else is different. Like the convergent evolution of the mammalian eye and the cephalopod eye. Or the pterosaur wing, the bird wing, and the bat wing -- three roughly similar solutions to the same problem, but with clear differences as well. It's a failure of imagination to think the human shape is the only one that can build starships or attend conferences.

And for the record, in the Star Trek: Titan novels, the chief medical officer, Dr. Ree, actually is built very much like a theropod dinosaur.
StrongDreams
43. RMS
I'm really surprised you didn't like this episode. It is one of my top 10 favourites.

I thought it was incredibly suspenseful, showing four races of beings trying to find a supposed hidden treasure, only to find out that they all need to work together to solve the puzzle.

I thought it was a good allegory for racial tension on contemporary Earth. All of these races depicted on the episode were antagonistic towards each other at some point in the series, but the science behind the episode made them realize than they had more in common than they had ever thought. I think they wanted people to realize that racial superiority on Earth is just as silly because we are actually all related and decended from a common ancestor.

It also poked holes in the theory that we are creations of some "supernatural" being and showed the possiblity that life was started through natural means from other sentient species.

And the tricorder scene does make sense to me. I thought the human computer technology on the show was advanced enough to piece together and understand computer programs of all stripes, even alien technology that had never been encountered before. I thought when they put the DNA sequences together, the tricorder was able to find a hidden message within them, which it could then project as an image rather than simply show it on the screen.
Joseph Newton
44. crzydroid
@43: I don't think this episode precludes the notion that the original race of aliens could've been created by a supernatural creator.
StrongDreams
45. dokes
This episode is bad, because there's too much stuff put into 45 minutes.

They inexplicably waste way too much time on exposition, all that Picard screen-time in the beginning. It's nice, but there's already 400 minutes fewer than required.

And then it rushes through scenes and dialogue and nothing seems to really matter. Even the revelation in the end.

In today's matured TV landscape, the plot of "The Chase" would have been used as a season arc. It could have been wonderfully used to hang all sorts of other episodes onto it, what with the Enterprise chasing around the Galaxy and running into every humanoid species.
StrongDreams
46. RMS
Another thing I loved about this episode: it was the first time we got to see the Romulans and Cardassians together. I always wondered how each one would perceive the other.

I always wondered which race was more ruthless and nasty towards other people, but as time passed I came to see the the Cardassians as ultimately worse by the end of DS9. I think they believed in using "scorched Earth" tactics, they were driven to subjugate other people, and were beyond reason, whereas the Romulans seemed more driven by an irrational and over-the-top need for self-preservation (like US Republicans, haha) and using subterfuge and less confrontational tactics to further their agenda
Christopher Bennett
48. ChristopherLBennett
Here's another article suggesting that "The Chase" may have made more sense than we thought:


http://io9.com/scientists-say-an-alien-code-may-be-hidden-inside-our-d-472157262
StrongDreams
49. SnookyTLC
I really enjoyed this episode. My main issue, touched on numerous times above, is that is went too fast! It would have made an awesome season-long arc, like was done so well on BSG (Temple of Athena, anyone?). Or at the least, a two-parter.

I loved having so many species gathered together in one place -- though the reaction of the Klingons and Cardassians was a little disappointing, albeit in character. I also would have liked the message to be more elaborate, and presented with more gravitas, but the content of the message was awesome.

At least this explains our obvious similarities as well as helps to explain the ability to mate (though it's still a stretch). After seeing a Klingon/Romulan girl a couple of episodes ago, and of course Spock (though I had thought he might be the product of genetic manipulation enabling two different species to mate), I have been thinking a lot about how the species in ST are really more like cultures here on Earth. They're stand-ins for various human cultures, because none of them are that alien (Klingons any one of various warlike cultures, Vulcans like Buddhist monks, Romulans like ancient Romans, Cardassians being like a more modern-day ruthless power--I have yet to see DS9, so I don't have a firm handle on them yet.)

Anyway, I digress. I really love archaeology, paleontology, and evolutionary theory, so I enjoyed this one a lot. It just went by way too fast, once the "chase" began. And it's ridiculous they intended to pattern it after "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," which I also love but is a madcap romp. This just doesn't have the same tone.
StrongDreams
50. SnookyTLC
Vikings. The Klingons remind me of the Vikings (I just watched that series on the History channel.) The warrior ethic, the longing to die in battle, the rewards in the afterlife, family sharing shame, women warriors -- all shared with the Vikings. For instance, one middle-aged man goes out of his way to try to die in battle, so he can be honored in Valhalla.

I just Googled it, and I'm not the first to see this connection (obviously!).
http://www.northlightgroup.com/runes/klingvik.htm

My point being the "races" are really all reflections of us, and none are truly alien.
StrongDreams
51. ScottM
Where Lessons felt rushed to the detriment of any sense of tension, The Chase feels rushed for the opposite reason. There are too many pieces of the plot to fit into this short amount of time. There are four (!) enemies and a benevolent species in addition to Picard's old mentor, all thrown into the mix -- and still enough time to sit around for the entire middle act. I think this episode would have been MUCH better spread out over two parts. They could have given us much more time with the Cardassians, and the Romulans wouldn't have been reduced to a simple cameo. As it is, the different players barely have enough time to appear on screen and recite the lines needed to advance the plot.

I'm not necessarily saying it is a story deserving of a two parter, but it would have been better than some others they had. And a stronger ending could have made it a classic.
StrongDreams
52. KLR
Thanks for those links, Christopher. This is a fascinating subject for me, bumping the rating up to, oh, a 7? Agree with others that it would have worked better as a multi-episode story, and also various plot holes drove down the entertainment value here - the exploding ship, the wholly non-essential scene in Ten Forward - what was that meant to explicate, exactly?

But this was a subject that needed addressing, or could have made for fascinating TV if done so thoughtfully, anyway. Interestingly enough Ridley Scott threw in billions year old humanoids meddling with our genetic code into his Alien universe with his recent film Prometheus - and they were bald, too! Hair is a step forward, eh?

A much much much more thoughful/plausible approach to having a galaxy full of two armed/eyed/legged bipeds of roughly the same size was thrown together by Ursula Leguin in her Hainish stories - the Hain were aliens who explored the local area of the Milky Way, futzing about with the local DNA in various ways - for Earth, they crossbred their own geneotype with that of the indigenous primates, thus explaining our rather aggressive tendencies. Using a similar device in the Star Trek universe would explain the (love this coinage) Forehead Alien Phenomenon, up to a point, anyway. It's still wholly absurd that species disparate as humans and vulcans could interbreed, of course.
Christopher Bennett
53. ChristopherLBennett
@52: If I could reinvent the Trek universe from scratch, I'd set it thousands of years in the future, after humanity has colonized multiple worlds and engineered itself into numerous distinct species adapted to those worlds. Maybe say that space was colonized only at sublight speeds and it was millennia before warp drive was perfected, so that these different humanoid species had plenty of time to develop distinct cultures and histories. Although, given sufficient budget, I'd want some of the species to be CGI or animatronic nonhumanoids. Like, maybe something more insectoid for the Andorians, or a fully reptilian form for the Cardassians.

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