Thursday, November 10, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 17 (Home Soil)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

In the 24th century, there’s a government called the United Federation of Planets, of which Earth is a member. It covers a wide area and would seem to include a lot of uninhabited but habitable planets. Still, the Federation has decided to teraform a planet. This involves the Federation first sending a ship to investigate candidates to make sure that they meet the right conditions. One of these conditions is that there be no possibility of life existing or developing on said planet.

The Enterprise is sent to check up on an operation that’s teraforming a planet that met all of the criteria. When speaking to the director, Counselor Troi (the ship’s resident empath) knows that he’s hiding something, and its something major. Of course, you wouldn’t need an empath to know that. The director is hostile towards Captain Picard, who insists on sending an away team unless the director outright refuses.

When the away team beams down, everyone is friendly and the director even apologizes for his earlier behavior. Everything seems to be in order until one of the teraformers is wounded by a laser drill. (He makes it back to the Enterprise, but doesn’t live very long.) When Data has the laser drill reactivated, the drill goes after him. He’s able to save himself, but only by destroying the laser drill.

Data and Geordi La Forge discover that the drill has been reprogrammed with a very complex set of instructions that allows the drill to adapt to someone’s movements. The remaining three teraformers are Picard’s first suspects, but Data and La Forge soon find a blinking light down a shaft that was being drilled. It turns out that the planet does have life. It was simply silicon based and thus not detectable by any known test or scan.

One of the silicon-based life forms is brought back to the Enterprise where the life form accesses the ships computers and declares war on the “big ugly bags of mostly water” that attacked it. Eventually, the crew of the Enterprise is able to appease the life form and it allows itself to be transported back to the surface. Picard agrees that there will be no contact by the Federation for 300 years.

The story for this episode was weak. It took elements from “Devil in the Dark” from the original series and the second Star Trek movie. Given that Kirk’s Enterprise encountered silicon-based life in “Devil in the Dark,” how could a ship looking for life not think to check for some sort of silicon-based life? There is at least some reference point. Also, all four of the teraformers saw signs, but couldn’t bring themselves to think that the Starfleet vessel was wrong about the planet being lifeless.

My biggest concern was that the life form was able to reproduce on the Enterprise with no apparent access to additional materials other than the inferred energy emitted by the lights in sickbay. Granted, one could argue that since it had access to the ships computers that it had access to the replicators, but it seems like a long shot.

One minor point was when Picard first contacted the teraforming operation. Picard wanted to talk to Troi without the director hearing what Picard was saying. The computer said, “Channel closed” when it was really muted in one direction. (The director said something that came through to the Enterprise.) I’ll admit that this could simply be a misinterpretation on my part. It caught my attention, though.

I think this might be the only episode where a restroom is mentioned. (Someone actually mentioned a programmers’ restroom, I think.) Also, it’s the only time that I can recall a translation request being announced. Usually, the translator either works or it doesn’t work.

It would be interesting to see what happens in 300 years. There were very few episodes that dealt with a timeframe that far into the show’s future and there was usually some ban on mentioning future events to people of the 24th century.

The episode is a two-star episode. The story was interesting, but wasn’t developed too well. I think it could have been done a lot better. 

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