Friday, March 24, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 89 (First Contact)

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

Starfleet, while ostensibly military, is ultimately motivated to explore space and meet new civilizations.  Some of those civilizations aren’t yet aware that they’re not alone in the universe.  They’re just creating warp drive to start exploring their own immediate neighborhood.  Normally, the Federation sends in people to covertly observe the culture.  You can learn only so much from radio transmissions and remote sensors.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem except that Commander Riker is caught in a riot and hospitalized.

It doesn’t take long for the Malcorians to figure out that Riker is a little different.  The prosthetics are meant to fool only at a distance; closer inspection reveals what they really are.  His organs aren’t where a Malcorian would expect them to be, either.  The doctors agree not to say anything until they can figure out who and what their patient is.  When Riker awakens, he gives a fake name and bio, which don’t check out, of course.  (You’d think by the 24th century, we’d have mastered doctoring an identity, or at least identity theft for covert purposes.)

Meanwhile, Captain Picard is looking for his missing officer, who was only there to check in on their operatives.  Since Riker lost his combadge, there’s no way of locating him or getting a message to him.  (This confused me, as the Enterprise’s sensors should be able to differentiate Malcorian from non-Malcorian life signs.  I don’t imagine that there are too many human males on the planet.)

This necessitates premature first contact.  Picard first contacts Science Minister Marista Yale, who he figures will be more receptive to aliens.  She agrees, as their security minister, Krola, is her philosophical opposite on the matter.  After meeting with their leader, Chancellor Durken, Picard is able to smooth things over, but finding Riker isn‘t going to be easy.

There are a lot of hospitals in the area where Riker was last seen and Yale doesn‘t think it would be a good idea to tell Durken for fear that Krola will find Riker first.  Eventually, Riker is located and he’s treated to a last-minute save.  It’s ultimately decided that the Malcorians should wait until they’re ready.  Their culture hasn’t caught up to their science and there are too many people like Krola for them to be venturing that far out just yet.  Yale does ask Picard to take her with them.  Durken tells Picard that she won’t be happy, as he’ll have to put restrictions on her.  Picard agrees and has quarters assigned to her.  This is, of course, the last we see of her.

I don’t know why I don’t remember two first-contact stories back to back.  Yes, they ended differently, but it’s odd how The Next Generation did this.  You might have five or six family episodes in a row.  You might have a few episodes centered around technology gone bad.  I even noticed six consecutive episodes in the third season that started with “the” in the title.  (Three of the five before that streak also fit the pattern.)

Overall, it was a good episode with a few minor points.  It’s always been a peeve of mine when an alien planet simply has directional continents.  I know we have places like North Dakota and West Virginia.  However, Malcor III has, simply, The Southern Continent.  What are the odds of an alien culture even having the same concept of direction as us?  I wonder if the writers ever get too lazy to come up with names.  Have you noticed how many characters are named after something?  (Sometimes, they at least spell it backwards.  Notice that this episode has a character named Dr. Nilrem.)

Another thing that got me was the 29-hour days.  Hours themselves tend to be arbitrary.  Our units of time are based on the vibration of the cesium atom.  The Malcorians could have used anything.  Ultimately, though, you’d probably want to pick a number of hours that are divisible by some other number.  24 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 12.  At least the Bajorans have 26, which can be divided into two 13-hour halves.  29 is prime.  I’m sure that there’s a good reason for it.  We’re left to wonder what that is.

One thing I liked was that the crew took Marista Yale with them.  It would have been so cruel to reveal the existence of alien life, only to leave her on Malcor III.  Even without the restrictions, could you imagine being the only one that had that kind of prolonged contact with aliens?  There would be a limited number of people you could discuss it with.  You’d also spend the rest of your life knowing that they’re out there enjoying themselves while you’re stuck on some backwater planet that probably won’t get its act together within your lifetime.  I would have at least liked to have seen her again, just to see how she’s adjusting to life in the Federation. 

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