Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Dear Doctor”

“Dear Doctor”
Written by Maria Jacquemetton & André Jacquemetton
Directed by James A. Conter
Season 1, Episode 13
Production episode 013
Original air date: January 23, 2002
Date: unknown

Captain’s star log. Phlox enters sickbay at the start of alpha shift and feeds his various animals. Sato comes in with a recorded letter from Denobula, but it’s from a human: Dr. Jeremy Lucas, who, like Phlox, is part of the Interspecies Medical Exchange, currently serving on Phlox’s homeworld.

The rest of the episode sees Phlox writing to Lucas. He talks about various human habits that he finds curious, including movie night and eating habits and other fun things. He watches For Whom the Bell Tolls with Cutler and various other folks, with the two of them discussing the movie as well as the dynamics of group watching. Phlox is concerned that Cutler might be flirting with him.

Enterprise rescues a ship that is adrift. It is crewed by two Valakians who are very ill. Phlox is able to treat them, though a full cure eludes him. While they do not have faster-than-light travel, they have encountered other species with warp drive, and they are out in space looking for help from someone more advanced. Archer agrees to assist them.

They travel to the Valakian homeworld. En route, Phlox continues to examine the Valakians in sickbay. He is also teaching Sato how to speak Denobulan, and they have an interesting conversation in the mess hall that bounces back and forth between Denobulan and English that discusses medicine, the Valakians, Lucas, and Cutler’s apparent flirting.

Phlox, aided by Cutler (for medical assistance) and Sato (for translation assistance), goes to the surface and examines several patients. There is a second sentient species, the Menk, on the world. The Valakians see them as less developed, and they also are immune to the disease.

After examining several Valakians, Phlox comes to the conclusion that they’re suffering from a genetic disorder—that’s why the Menk are unaffected—and that they’ll be extinct within two centuries at the current rate.

Star Trek: Enterprise "Dear Doctor"

Screenshot: CBS

Phlox and Cutler have a frank conversation, where we find out that Denobulans are polygamous—Phlox has three wives, and each of those wives have other additional husbands. Cutler allows as how she’s not really interested in becoming wife #4, but she is definitely flirting, though whether or not its with intent of anything beyond friendship she’s not sure yet.

The Valakians want warp drive so they can travel further to find a possible cure. Enterprise is also contacted by people all over the world, some of whom think they have a cure. The Valakians have not yet developed the science necessary to create their own warp drive—helping them along would be a massive commitment of decades.

Phlox then reveals that the Valakians have reached an evolutionary dead end, hence the genetic difficulties. The Menk need to be untethered from the Valakians in order to survive and thrive. He therefore advocates letting nature take its course, as it were. Archer disagrees, and when Phlox reveals that he has a cure, Archer is appalled to realize that Phlox wants to deny the Valakians that cure.

The next day, having mulled it over, Archer decides that it’s not their job to play god, and so agrees to only give the Valakians medicine that will aid their symptoms and to not give them warp drive.

Phlox finishes his letter to Lucas and gives it to Sato to send to Denobula, then asks Cutler out on a date. Enterprise leaves orbit, secure in the knowledge that they’re a bunch of murdering bastards who’ve condemned a species to death for absolutely no good reason.

The gazelle speech. Archer’s instinct from jump is to help the Valakians from the moment they come across their ship. He only backs off from that at the very end of the episode because he doesn’t want to play god, supposedly.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. When Archer talks about possibly helping the Valakians, T’Pol reminds him that the Vulcans decided to help humans ninety years earlier, and they’re still there because this is a major commitment.

Florida Man. Florida Man Cries During Old Movie, Tries To Cover It Up.

Optimism, Captain! Phlox gets to feed his menagerie, write a letter to a colleague, struggle with flirting, continue to teach Sato Denobulan, see a movie, treat an engineer and the captain’s dog, learn all about the Valakians’ genetic condition, and advocate genocide. It’s a busy episode for him.

Good boy, Porthos! Archer brings Porthos to sickbay with some gastrointenstinal distress because Archer keeps giving in and feeding him cheese even though it’s bad for the poor pooch.

Star Trek: Enterprise "Dear Doctor"

Screenshot: CBS

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Cutler has been flirting with Phlox. It’s actually kind of adorable.

Also, not only are Denobulans polygamous, but mating season is apparently quite a crazy time on that planet…

More on this later… Archer speaks clumsily about how maybe some day there’ll be a directive that will tell them what to do when dealing with less advanced civilizations. Maybe it’ll even be a prime one!

Also, the Valakians mention the Ferengi, whom neither T’Pol nor Archer have ever heard of.

I’ve got faith…

“The captain has committed all our resources to helping people he didn’t even know existed two days ago. Once again, I’m struck by your species’ desire to help others.”

–Phlox coming to understand the philosophical underpinning of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Enterprise "Dear Doctor"

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Kelly Waymire is back as Culter, last seen in “Strange New World,” establishing that character as recurring. She’ll next appear in “Two Days and Two Nights.”

Various Valakians are played by David A. Kimball, Christopher Rydell, and Alex Nevil, while the Menk orderly Larr is played by Karl Wiendergott (who previously appeared on Voyager’s “Warlord“).

Trivial matters: Lucas will be seen, played by Richard Riehle, in “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments.”

Christopher Rydell is the son of Joanne Linville, who played the Romulan commander in the original series’ “The Enterprise Incident.”

The M’klexa have never been seen or mentioned onscreen again, but they do appear in the novel The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm by Michael A. Martin. The Ferengi will be seen in “Acquisition.”

In the original draft of the script, Phlox withheld that he had a cure from Archer. The executives at UPN demanded that the ending be changed, to show that the crew was all on the same page and that everyone supported the captain. This change meant that Phlox now has conspirators in his genocide.

Star Trek: Enterprise "Dear Doctor"

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “My people are dying—will you allow him to help us?” I despise this episode with the fiery passion of a thousand white-hot suns. Twenty years ago, after watching this episode, I decided to stop watching Enterprise, I was so utterly disgusted by it.

It’s always nice, especially given that this episode aired during the early days of the “creation science” movement, to see Star Trek reiterating the reality of evolution, but it’s undermined by them so totally not understanding how evolution works. Evolution is not a predestined set of outcomes. Rick Berman-era Trek has been particularly inept in this regard—e.g., the otherwise-excellent Voyager episode “Distant Origin,” in which the EMH is able to extrapolate how one species of dinosaur would have evolved over millions of years. That is utterly impossible to properly extrapolate because evolution is not a set, predetermined process. And one of the major factors in how a species evolves is its external environment, which can change. (As an example, most dinosaurs were rendered extinct, not because they were an evolutionary dead end or anything like that, but because a big rock unexpectedly hit the planet.)

For all that Trek’s embrace of evolution is noble in the abstract, it winds up coming down way too much on the creation science side of things, embracing the ridiculous notion that every species has a predetermined plan on how it “should” evolve, which is utter total fucking nonsense. Living beings continue to live or die based on millions of factors, none of which are predetermined.

So for Phlox and Archer to withhold a cure for a disease that will wipe out an entire species is an act of genocide.

The original ending might have made this work better. Since Phlox is an alien, we could, for example, show that some Denobulans believe that evolution is a sacred thing, and that it should not be interfered with. But by having Archer go along with it, any chance of cultural relativism goes out the window.

Archer’s feeble “we shouldn’t play god” excuse is pathetic, because withholding the cure is also playing god. Except in this case, it’s being a cruel, heartless, murdering god.

In much the same way TNG’s “Homeward” disgusted me because it turned our theoretical heroes into murderers, so too with this episode. Just a morally repugnant, despicable, horrible, awful, revolting episode that’s a blight on the franchise.

I was going to give this a 0, but the 75% or so of the episode prior to Phlox making his reprehensible decision is actually a good, if slow-paced tale. Giving John Billingsley lots of screen time is always a good thing, and we really get a good feel for the doctor.

But that last 25% so totally ruins it I can only knock it up one point. Especially the very ending where the protagonists (they can no longer legitimately be called heroes) congratulate themselves on how enlightened they are for condemning an entire species to death and go off to have dates and things…

Warp factor rating: 1

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the anthology The Fans are Buried Tales, edited by veteran Star Trek novelist Peter David and Kathleen O. David, to which Keith is one of the contributors. It features cosplayers telling stories in character for whoever they’re dressed as, and other contributors include fellow Trek prose stylists Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Rigel Ailur, Robert T. Jeschonek, and John Peel, and tons more besides. Here’s the link to the anthology’s Kickstarter.


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