Archer must make a difficult ethical decision.
The crew discovers a new planet with two races, one in desperate need of medical and scientific assistance. In the course of trying to help, Dr. Phlox recalls his own Denobulan past to address the ethical dilemmas that arise in the present.
C.A. Voigts' "A View From The
Shuttlecraft" Enterprise Episode
Two quotes came to mind as I watched this episode. The first was from a
Robert Burns poem: “Oh would some power the giftee give us to see ourselves as
others see us.*” The other was Wizard's Second Rule from “The Stone of Tears”
by Terry Goodkind: “The greatest harm can result from the best intentions.
Kindness and good intentions can be an insidious path to destruction.”
Phlox's comment about Captain Archer talking to Porthos brought to mind the
first quote. Since the doctor spent the opening scene talking to all the
creatures in Sick Bay, I found it rather ironic that he thought it was strange
that humans talk to animals. To his credit, the doctor did realize that he did
have the habit himself, though he did not realize that his is as prevalent as
The rest of the show brought to mind the second quote. How often have we
tried to do what we believed was right only to have it blow up in our face? How
do we decide when to interfere and when not to? How do our own perceptions and
beliefs influence what we decide? This is an episode that challenged my
perceptions and my beliefs.
On the lighter side, it was great to see the doctor become a more well
rounded character. So often he has been the source of some great wry humor and
has been shown in only a humorous light. This episode shows more of his
interaction with the crew outside of Sick Bay, and we learn more about his
culture, his language, and his people. Yes, there is quite a serious side to
Things I liked: The use of the letter to tell us information. Well done and
not overdone. Musical transitions are pretty good. The mixture of regular items
in the doctor's life and the crisis he faces. How all the characters were worked
in naturally, even though many of them had only small scenes. The use of the
universal translator in sick bay. The fact that even Vulcan's don't like to go
to the dentist.
Niggles that bothered me. How many people would know what gerunds are?
Perhaps this was deliberate but I would have chosen a grammatical term a little
more well known. When the unknown ship was found, why didn't T’Pol check for
biassing right away? If Hooch had the UT, how did Phlox continue to speak with
the physicians on the planet and how did he learn to read their language so
fast? I also expected a little more discussion between Phlox and Archer before
the captain reached his decision. Yes, Archer said he was up all night, but the
mess hall scene, while good, could have been better.
Introductions: The Fearing. The prime directive being alluded to as a
Great line: “But until somebody tells me they've drafted that directive,
I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to
*Not an exact quote.
What does this rating mean?
C. A. Voigts starfleetlibrary.com
Copyright 2001, C. A. Voigts. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This
article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation
without due attribution and *express written consent of the
Laurie's No-Nonsense Review
Another good one! Woohoo!
Dr. Phlox's letter to his human friend (on his home planet Denobula!)
narrated the story, which seemed to be the first step towards the creation of
the Prime Directive. They found this planet where two different human species
were coexisting. One seemed more advanced than the other but all the people were
dying of an epidemic, while the more primitive species seemed to be thriving.
Dr. Phlox found the cure, but determined that from an ecological perspective,
the disease was really evolution, taking its course so the more primitive (but
smarter and gentler) people could eventually dominate. By that time the dying
species had asked for warp drive in addition to medical help. And so there was
another ethical dilemma for Captain Archer.
I'm still not really that excited about Captain Archer, but I like Dr. Phlox
and Hoshi and they were around a lot. There were lots of fun bits along the way,
like seeing the Enterprise crew watching a movie, and the chick who really
liiiiiiiiiked Dr. Phlox, and all the fun facts about Denobulans. They don't like
to be touched, they have several husbands or wives, they don't need very much
sleep at night but they hibernate for six days in winter. . .fun! T'Pol had a
cavity, which Dr. Phlox had to fill -- the first glimpse into the future of
dentistry. And then there were all those funny languages. I don't quite get the
whole universal translator thing, I mean, I get how it's supposed to work in the
Star Trek world, but it doesn't make any sense whatsoever! I can maybe almost a
little bit buy the concept (maybe) that a device could (possibly) translate so
that you could hear an alien speak and it would sound like English to you.
Maybe. But why would he look like his lips were moving perfectly to form the
English words you heard? Whatever. It's just funny.
But so was the rest of the show, where it was supposed to be. We also learned
more about the history of the Vulcans on Earth, which might almost make having
T'Pol on the ship worthwhile. Her outfit is distractingly ridiculous. But I
liked the show anyway! But I don't know, Enterprise seems a more plodding than
any of the other shows, and I can't tell if that's because of how they're
telling the stories, or because they have lame technology. It was good, but it
lacked. . .um. . .adrenaline.
I think the whole crew should get captured by some insanely powerful aliens.
Wouldn't that be fun?
Land of Laurie
Timothy Lynch's Enterprise Episode Review
WARNING: Greetings, salutations -- and spoilers for ENT's "Dear
In brief: Marvelous. Meaty and engrossing.
====== "Dear Doctor"
Enterprise Season 1, Episode 12
Written by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton
Directed by James A. Contner
Brief summary: A dying race forces a terrible choice on Dr. Phlox.
premise has at its core two elements. The "temporal cold war" put to
such entertaining use in "Cold Front" is the more flashy,
"sci-fi" element -- but Trek has enough "future history"
under its belt at this point that the historical viewpoint is much more
interesting to me personally. Setting this series in the days just prior to
the Federation's founding doesn't just mean that space travel is more arduous
and there are a lot more aliens out there we don't have a clue about -- it
means that many of the rules we're used to don't yet apply, and that indeed we
might see how some of them come about. Executed badly, that premise can lead
itself to very dry, almost didactic work -- but done well, it means we get to
see sides of arguments that were never really allowed to exist before.
"Dear Doctor" has just such an argument at its heart, and succeeds
You wouldn't know it to look at the first half of the episode, though. We
begin with our esteemed physician getting yet another letter from home: he's
keeping in touch with Dr. Jeremy Lucas, a human doctor living on Denobula,
Phlox's homeworld, and is trying to help him adjust and settle in. The
remainder of the show is narrated, in part, by Phlox's return letter to Lucas.
An old technique? Hell, yes -- "M*A*S*H," for example, tended to
have at least one "Radar/Hawkeye/Sidney writes a letter to his
family/father/idol Sigmund Freud" show a season, and voice-over narration
in general is very old hat. However, one of the reasons "M*A*S*H"
did it so often is that, done well, it *works* -- we get to see the characters
filtered so strongly through one character's perspective that we wind up
getting a new perspective ourselves. (Done badly, of course, you get narration
that seems to needlessly explain everything and talk down to the viewer --
check the original cut of "Blade Runner" for an example.) In this
case, all the characters are somewhat new to us, and Phlox's perceptions of
them even more so -- so there's a lot to be gained by this narration as long
as it's not intrusive.
And intrusive it's not. The early parts of this episode are strongly
reminiscent of TNG's "Data's Day," where Data summarizes a day in a
note to Dr. Maddox -- but where Data's letter got partially wrapped up in the
troubles of others (such as Miles and Keiko O'Brien's pre- wedding jitters),
Phlox is very much at the heart of the episode's events rather than an outside
Phlox takes special note of humans' unusual ability to form emotional bonds
with others, be it colleagues, pets, or characters on a movie screen. (We get
a very rare use of actual film footage at said movie, by the way -- "For
Whom the Bell Tolls," if I'm not mistaken.) After watching Archer talk to
Porthos and the crew's emotional reaction to the movie, Phlox walks Crewman
Cutler home -- and she lingers enough at her door that it's clear she's
interested in him, even more so when she kisses him good-night on the cheek.
At this point, anyone steeped in modern-Trek lore might be thinking
"oh, dear, this is 'In Theory' all over again," thinking of the TNG
episode featuring Data's brief experiment with romance. However, "Dear
Doctor" is far more interesting for several reasons.
The primary reason is Phlox himself. Although he's got the standard
"outside observer of humanity" role that Spock, Data, Worf, Odo, and
Seven of Nine all had in their series (possibly including others, but those
are sufficient), Phlox is unlike many of them in that he's already a mature
individual with his own life and his own culture. Data, especially early, was
the innocent child who wanted to be human -- Pinocchio, in other words. (He
certainly rose above that at times, particularly in episodes like "The
Measure of a Man," "The Most Toys," and the first half of
"Birthright," but all too often he wasn't.) Worf thought he had a
culture, but when the series began he didn't know much about what it actually
was to be Klingon -- his growing understanding of and conflict with "his
people" was part of many shows. Odo didn't even know who his people were
when DS9 began, and Seven was a former Borg drone who'd just been ripped from
the collective. None of them, other than Spock, was already someone with a
firmly rooted identity. Phlox is -- and that's already showing signs of being
a great character choice.
(I don't mean to imply that Data, Worf, etc. are intrinsically bad
characters, by the way -- they're not. Each type simply lends itself to
different stories, that's all.)
As a result, when Phlox realizes that Cutler is interested in him, he
doesn't get concerned due to inexperience -- he's simply not sure how his
culture and hers will mesh, if at all. He does, in time-honored outsider
tradition, ask a colleague or two for advice -- but also seems to understand
much better which parts of the advice to listen to and which parts are more a
reflection of the giver.
The other big reason why Phlox's proto-romance comes off so much better
than Data's is that it's thematically linked to the rest of the show. During
all of this, Phlox is also dealing with a medical crisis which explodes into a
full-fledged ethical quandary -- and the culture clash he deals with there
makes him keenly aware of potential clashes between himself and Cutler. As a
result, when he and Cutler talk about any possible relationship they might
have it comes off as a conversation between adults -- if anything, Cutler
comes off as the slightly more innocent one rather than Phlox. I find that
most intriguing. (A third reason, of course, is that John Billingsley and
Kellie Waymire seem to have pretty good chemistry together. That never hurts.)
Turning now to that medical crisis, one again gets the sense of something
other Trek series might have done ... at first. The crew finds a pre-warp
spacecraft with two faint life-signs. The astronauts are brought aboard and
end up in sickbay ("through an act of human compassion," as Phlox
puts it). We discover that their people, the Valakians, are suffering from a
plague which is killing millions, and that they left in the hope of finding a
technologically advanced civilization that can and is willing to help them.
Since they've contacted other civilizations before (no group our heroes know,
though viewers will recognize the Ferengi), T'Pol and Archer decide that it's
safe to try to help them.
So far, pretty routine.
Upon arrival at Valakia, Phlox starts gathering data about symptoms,
infection rates, patient profiles, and so on. He and the crew also discover,
however, that there are *two* distinct humanoid species on the planet, both
sentient: the Valakians, whom they've already met, and the Menk, who seem
somewhat less intelligent and certainly less technologically advanced, but
friendly and helpful -- and who are also immune to the plague. Phlox soon
learns that the Valakians' illness is genetic, and that unless something is
done the species will be extinct within two centuries. Archer urges Phlox to
keep working until he finds a cure -- difficult, but not impossible. Phlox
*also* discovers that the Menk are far more adaptable and versatile than they
appear, and that in a few centuries or millennia they could well become the
dominant species on the planet.
At this point, a typical TNG episode would have Picard developing Prime
Directive qualms about letting nature take its course, and Dr. Crusher would
be ardently in favor of helping the sick wherever and whenever possible.
"Dear Doctor" didn't do that. The twist may be a somewhat simple
one, but it's surprisingly effective.
That twist is simply this: since there *is* no Prime Directive, and since
Archer, like most humans, is predisposed to be compassionate and helpful, it
falls to Phlox, the physician, to, as he puts it, "consider the larger
issues" and argue against helping the very people Archer has committed
him to help. In the mess hall, he and Archer have a very quiet, but very
fundamental clash of values: what if, Phlox argues, an alien race had
interfered 35,000 years ago and given the Neanderthals a boost? Archer's
pretty glad *that* didn't happen, after all. Archer refuses to turn his back
on the Valakians for the sake of "a theory," and Phlox passionately
responds that evolution is "more than a theory," accusing Archer
(respectfully) of letting his compassion cloud his judgment.
From a performance standpoint, the scene succeeds because both Scott Bakula
and especially John Billingsley are in top form -- the entire scenario feels
natural, not remotely staged or over-the-top. From a writing standpoint,
however, the argument is one we never got to see taken to its full conclusion
in the past. Why? The Prime Directive.
Like it or hate it, the PD has been a backdrop hanging over every scenario
like this in the past. The arguments can begin, but they're always viewed
through a Prime Directive prism -- people (Picard, say, or Janeway) say that
the PD exists for a reason, but the ethical arguments are often truncated by
simply invoking the PD and hiding behind regulations. Internally, that might
be a good thing -- like an honor code, it's something that helps encourage
people who are wavering to "do the right thing." Externally,
however, it can short- circuit the drama.
This time, for *once*, the only thing Phlox could do was take the ethical
argument to its conclusion -- and frankly, doing so was extremely powerful.
Both characters truly seemed to believe everything they were saying, both
characters had the best of intentions -- they were just at odds due to
fundamentally different worldviews. Meaty, meaty stuff.
In the end, nobody gets an easy out. Phlox already has a cure (and we
discover that he almost withheld that information from Archer), and Archer
decides after a sleepless night that Phlox is right -- and that until the
folks back on Earth draft some sort of directive "telling us what we can
and can't do out here. [...] I'm going to have to remind myself every day that
we didn't come out here to play God." Archer and Phlox give the Valakians
as much medicine as they need to help with the symptoms, urge them to keep
trying in the hopes of finding a cure on their own, and then depart --
No bad guys, no one-sided preaching, no hiding behind rules and regs, no
magic-tech solutions. Just a nasty dilemma which puts no one in the absolute
right or absolute wrong, and which gives us a hint about *why* the Prime
Directive was eventually put in place. This particular show is one that really
couldn't have been done on another Trek series, and it's to the series' credit
that it made an episode like this ... and just as importantly, did it right.
(Archer's given another difficult choice at the same time, by the way. Some
time before Phlox's big revelation, the Valakians also ask Archer for warp
drive, so that they can search for other races more easily. Archer knows
enough about the technology to know that they're not ready, and wonders to
T'Pol if they could hang around and help them build it. She answers that
"the Vulcans stayed to help Earth ninety years ago. We're still
there." Archer muses, in what must come as a difficult admission, that
he's beginning to understand how the Vulcans must have felt a century earlier.
-- If you *really* want something to quibble about, the science is a
candidate. Although the general thrust of the argument works really well,
there are plenty of places where the specific points are a little weird (such
as wondering how a non-adaptive genetic trait can suddenly become prevalent in
a population, for instance). Since the broad strokes of the argument work for
me and set up a beautiful moral issue, though, I'm prepared to overlook it.
(Evolutionary biologists may disagree; Lisa certainly does. :-) )
-- A second quibble that there's probably no way around: once the
translator is working, suddenly Valakian *lip movements* even match English
words. Not likely.
-- I imagine some folks might object that we didn't really get to see how
Archer came to his final decision. I don't. This story wasn't his, though the
implications for him down the line should be interesting. [There's a line in
the preview for next week that really jars with this, though -- I wish it
-- Hoshi was put to extraordinarily good use here. We see her practicing
Denobulan with Phlox, helping get the translator working with the Valakians,
indirectly discovering the Menk, and so forth. Good job.
-- Trip, Mayweather, and Reed all had a line or two each, and all in places
which pretty much made sense. Much better than the "let's give all the
actors their residuals" scenes that sometimes seem forced.
-- Phlox gets a great line when asked about movies: his people had
something similar once, but gave it up "when people discovered their real
lives were more interesting." Of course, one could take that as an
argument to shut off the set then and there, which probably isn't the intent.
-- "Eggplant's not a vegetable, it's a nostril." Note to anyone
who thought "Star Trek VI" had a funny "people try to
translate" scene -- this is how you do it right.
-- I also liked the way the episode was bookended by the sickbay doors --
we begin one morning with Phlox walking in and wishing everyone good morning,
and end one night with Phlox wishing his pets sweet dreams on his way out.
That should pretty much do it -- anything else I could say would be
overkill (if I'm not a few hundred words past that point already). "Dear
Doctor" is playing very much to the strengths of Enterprise as a
series, both on a writing and an acting level, and I'm quite impressed.
Some summary thoughts:
Writing: No easy answers and no real pulled punches. The slight science
plausibility isn't enough to cause more than a hiccup. Directing: Nicely done,
particularly with the uses of shadow in the big Phlox/Archer scene. Acting: Is
it too early to suggest that John Billingsley is the Colm Meaney of this
series? Regardless, no concerns at all.
OVERALL: The first 10 of the series. Exceptional work.
The Klingons come for tea.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) email@example.com
<*> "If I hadn't trusted [Archer] to make the right choice, I'd
have been no better than the Vulcan diplomats who held your species back
because they felt you couldn't make proper decisions on your own." --
-- Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to
ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Where to Watch - Local channels and
VHS, Laserdisc and DVD availability.
Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer
Connor Trinneer as Chief Engineer Charles Tucker III
Jolene Blalock as Sub-commander T'Pol
Dominic Keating as Lt. Malcolm Reed
Anthony Montgomery as Ensign Travis Mayweather
Linda Park as Ensign Hoshi Sato
John Billingsley as Dr. Phlox
Kellie Waymire as Elizabeth Cutler
David A. Kimball as Esaak
Chris Rydell as Alien Astronaut
Karl Wiedergott as Larr
Alex Nevil as Menk Man
Director: James Contner
Teleplay By: Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton