ST:TNG Treadmill Review #3: Unnatural Selection

Unnatural Selection
Season 2 Episode 7
Original airdate: January 28, 1989

Netflix Synopsis

The Enterprise receives a distress signal from the USS Lantree. When they arrive, they find everyone aboard the Lantree dead from old age.

My Brief Review

Another classic episode, albeit a slightly unoriginal one, with echoes of the scientific-hubris-on-a-remote-research-station-gone-wrong vibe of The Wrath of Khan. But there are definitely worse ideas you could copy.

This episode feels painfully relevant at the moment, as it revolves around a mysterious virus that is rapidly killing people, and children seem to be asymptomatic carriers. As it happens, the disease is caused by these genetically engineered superhumans’ aggressive immune systems.

It’s a unique episode in that it involves the potential death of a main character, that feels like it actually could happen, since it’s the newly introduced Dr. Pulaski, and we in the audience didn’t know for sure how long she’d be around. But she is saved by another classic (and logically questionable) Star Trek plot device — transporter manipulation! Chief O’Brien modifies the transporter to alter an infected (and severely aged) Dr. Pulaski’s DNA as she’s transported, and of course it works.

I’ve never liked that (ab)use of the transporter technology, partly because it raises questions about the nature of the device in a way the show never properly addresses.

And there’s something else that troubles me at the end of this episode: Enterprise returns to the quarantined USS Lantree, its crew all dead of “natural causes” (old age), and completely obliterates it, with a single photon torpedo. Doesn’t it concern the crew at all to be racing around the universe at warp speed inside what this shows is little more than a powder keg? I mean, early in the episode Picard uses a special code to take remote control of the Lantree so he can turn on the bridge viewscreen. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to do that again, to initiate the ship’s own auto-destruct? (I suspect the real answer to that question comes down to the episode’s runtime.)

Despite these quibbles though, this is a truly excellent episode.

Memorable Moment

Chief O’Brien gets into some serious Star Trek pseudo-scientific gibberish when he’s explaining his idea about fixing Dr. Pulaski’s altered DNA in the transporter. It was so good, I took screenshots of the captions so I could get it exactly right here:

O’Brien: Well, I’d have to get into the bio-filter bus and patch in a molecular matrix reader. That’s no problem. But the waveform modulator will be overloaded without the regeneration limiter in the first stage circuit.

Data: Hmm, interesting. However, theoretically…

Picard: Data.

Data: Yes, sir.

Picard: Can you do the modifications?

O’Brien: I think so, sir.

Picard: Then make it so.

Crew Rando

There aren’t any crew randos who are prominent enough to actually have their names spoken in this episode, but there’s an unnamed crewman assisting O’Brien in the transporter room whose haircut is so similar to Data’s that in one shot, where we just see him from behind, in shadows, I was convinced for a moment he was Data… except he was in the process of beaming Data back to the ship.

Distance Rating: 6K

ST:TNG Treadmill Review #2: The Schizoid Man

The Schizoid Man
Season 2 Episode 6
Original airdate: January 21, 1989

Netflix Synopsis

The Enterprise responds to a request for medical assistance from Dr. Ira Graves, considered by many to be the greatest living mind in the universe.

My Brief Review

I skipped a few episodes between yesterday and today. Data on the Holodeck as Sherlock Holmes? No thanks. Two episodes in a row where the Enterprise has to mediate between warring factions on some random planet? Yawn. An episode with a title that references King Crimson? Hell yeah!

This is quintessential TNG. Data, longing to be human, begins the episode by modeling his new Riker-inspired beard to Geordi and Troi. Eventually the crew ends up on a planet occupied only by a dying mad scientist and his young assistant. And guess what? The scientist is the guy who taught Data’s maker cybernetics. You can see where this is going, can’t you? It’s hard to believe it took the crew more than five seconds to figure out why Data returned to the ship with a newfound swagger and insubordination.

Memorable Moment

This was an episode that followed a familiar pattern for me: most of it was only vaguely familiar, since the premise of just about any Star Trek episode is vaguely familiar when you’ve seen so many of them, but then there were moments that would pop out of nowhere, like when Data begins delivering an over-the-top eulogy for the deceased Dr. Graves (“to know him is to love him is to know him”). As the crew begin looking around at each other with bemusement, and Captain Picard interrupts Data, I remembered distinctly what comes next: “I’m almost finished, sir.” “You are finished, Mr. Data.”

Crew Rando

My memory of TNG is that there are very, very few Vulcans in the series. Personally I’d much rather have more Vulcans and fewer Ferengi. But here we have a rando Vulcan in a prominent role in the episode! Lt. Selar is the doctor sent with the away team, because Dr. Pulaski had to go with the rest of the crew to rescue passengers on a damaged ship, a plot device that barely figures in the episode, but I suspect it owes to the fact that Diana Muldaur, as Dr. Pulaski, was not young and attractive enough to figure in one early scene where the leering, sexist Dr. Graves comments repeatedly on her appearance. So we get a young and attractive Vulcan doctor, who never existed before or after this episode. Hmmm. I kind of wish I hadn’t thought this through, because it diminishes my appreciation of the episode. Still… a Vulcan! On TNG!

Distance Rating: 5K

ST:TNG Treadmill Review #1: Where Silence Has Lease

Where Silence Has Lease
Season 2 Episode 2
Original airdate: November 28, 1988

Netflix Synopsis

The enterprise encounters a mysterious void in space and when they move in closer to investigate further, it envelops them and they can’t get out.

My Brief Review

This is a classic Star Trek scenario, and one of my favorite types of episodes: a spatial anomaly where the crew has to confront the unknown. It actually ended up being slightly disappointing to me though because it was almost too predictable… it went into territory tread heavily both in the original series and in subsequent installments, plus, in the context of TNG, it felt too much like a scenario Q would put them in (and already had by this point). Bonus points for an immortal, formless space being taking on a semi-human appearance in order to interact with the crew. Classic Trek.

Memorable Moment

After Riker and Worf beam over to what appears to be Enterprise’s sister ship, the USS Yamato, they find themselves in a surreal moment where the turbolift door from the bridge leads into a mirror image of the same bridge, and Worf loses it. “A ship has one bridge. One bridge!!!”

Crew Rando

We get a true “red shirt” moment, which TNG seemed specifically designed not to allow after swapping the use of red and gold uniforms between command and operations crew, when the immortal, formless space being kills helmsman Lt. Haskell (who?)… a red shirt!

Distance Rating: 4K

ST:TNG Treadmill Review: A new blog series

Introducing a new blog series here on UoP: ST:TNG Treadmill Reviews!

What’s all this then? It’s a long story.

Let’s start with ST:TNG. If you don’t know what that stands for, I’m not going to bother to explain, because you won’t be interested anyway. I have seen almost every episode of the series at least twice: First, when it was originally airing in first-run syndication in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was in high school, and my dad and I would watch it every Saturday night with our Tendermaid hamburgers. (I liked mine with cheese, onions and mustard.) Then I rewatched almost the entire series with friends in the dorm my freshman year of college, when it was on in weeknight rerun syndication, at 10:30 PM. (Snack of choice: microwave popcorn and Pepsi.) But I haven’t really watched it much at all since then.

Now, on to treadmill. I’ve been running since 2011. I run outside most of the year, but I have a hip issue that makes running on ice and snow dangerous, so in the winters I’d run on the indoor track at the local YWCA. For reasons I won’t get into here, we canceled our Y membership last year, and finally broke down and bought a treadmill.

I previously hated treadmills, but I learned to tolerate it by watching TV episodes on Netflix or Hulu. In particular, I got into watching Star Trek: Enterprise, which I had not really given a fair shake when it first aired. (I haaaaaaate the theme song, and that was enough to turn me off entirely, back when I couldn’t fast-forward through it.) Well, I finished all of Enterprise, so this winter I’m going to have to watch something else. I’ve been trying to watch the final season of The Good Place, but I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I just don’t like it, and not liking something makes it hard for me to keep running on the treadmill while I’m watching it.

That last point inspired Sara to inspire me to start this blog series. I can, to some extent, rate the quality of a TV episode by how long I’m willing to run on the treadmill while watching it. So I’m going to write reviews of all of the ST:TNG episodes I watch this winter on the treadmill, giving them a rating based on how far I run before I lose enthusiasm and switch to walking.

I’m not watching the series systematically. I watched a smattering of the first season late last winter, after I finished Enterprise, but I skipped some because they were… not good. The first season of TNG is notoriously inconsistent, and even includes unquestionably the worst episode in all of Star Trek. So I’m starting with season two. But a lot of these episodes are pretty bad, too. In particular, I have little patience for episodes that take place entirely on the Holodeck, as well as ones that are too dependent on Deanna Troi’s empathic powers. So I’m reading the one-sentence synopses on Netflix, and using those to determine whether or not to watch a particular episode.

I’ve done two episodes so far, yesterday and today, so I’ll be posting those first two entries shortly after this one. Then, I’ll post new ones as I watch the episodes.

Just like the worst Star Trek episodes, there will be a formula to these posts:

Title / season and episode number / original airdate
Netflix synopsis
My brief review
Memorable moment
Crew rando
Distance rating

Engage!

#rpm12 day 5: Pocket Symphonies

Progress on the RPM album continues. Five days in, I have seven tracks finished, two more in progress, and I’m hovering around 35 minutes (one of the two minimum requirements of the challenge). And there’s a lot more to come.

The most notable achievement of the day, however, is that I have settled on a final title for the album. I had been tentatively calling it i, owing to the fact that its central conceit is that all sounds on the album are being produced on an iPhone. But I was never totally happy with that title.

Then this morning, it hit me: Pocket Symphonies. The term was coined by Brian Wilson (or, if Wikipedia is to be believed, his publicist Derek Taylor) in 1966, used to describe what might be considered his crowning achievement as a composer and producer: the brilliantly crafted hit single “Good Vibrations”.

It is not my intention in the least to claim that what I’m producing this month is even from the same planet of artistic achievement as the greatest pop single ever recorded. But I think the idea of a “pocket symphony” is intriguing, and while Wilson simply meant that his song packed the compositional structure of a symphony into a 4-minute package, I am taking it in an entirely different direction.

I’ve been asked if I had considered also using my iPad in recording this album. No, is my answer. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to try it; many of the apps I’m using have fuller-featured iPad versions, and there are other great music apps that exist only for the iPad. But the thing that I find most compelling for this project is that every sound on it is coming from a device that I carry around in my pocket.

I suspect that Brian Wilson could not have imagined in 1966 that, in his lifetime, millions of people would be carrying around portable music studios in their pockets, masquerading as phones. And while only a small fraction of us iPhone owners are using them as musical instruments, the potential is there, for everyone. A “pocket symphony” means something in 2012 that was beyond the farthest realm of possibility in the mid-’60s. (Come on, Star Trek had only just premiered a month before “Good Vibrations” was released.)

And so, Pocket Symphonies it is. It’s exciting to watch this nebulous concept begin to take shape as the month wears on.