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Retro Review: Relics

Posted by Michelle - 29/01/10 at 06:01 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 04 (s06e04)

Original US airdate: 10/12/1992

When the Enterprise crew discovers a Dyson Sphere, they also find the chief engineer from an earlier Enterprise suspended in transporter limbo.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise picks up a distress call from the USS Jenolen, which disappeared 75 years earlier. They track the ship to the surface of a massive Dyson Sphere built to surround a sun and harness its power. The Jenolen has crashed on the surface and an away team discovers Captain Montgomery Scott suspended in the ship’s transporter. LaForge rematerializes him and brings him aboard the Enterprise, where Scotty is awed by the technological developments and eager to work in engineering. But LaForge is impatient with the gaps in Scotty’s knowledge and bored by his stories of life aboard the NCC-1701, leaving Scotty depressed. After a visit to Ten Forward, he takes a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey to the holodeck, where he recreates the bridge of Kirk’s Enterprise. When Picard finds him there, feeling old and useless, the captain is inspired to ask LaForge to take Scotty back aboard the Jenolen to see if they can recover the old ship’s surveys of the Dyson Sphere. While the two engineers work, the Enterprise inadvertently triggers a mechanism that causes a hatch to open, pulling them inside the Dyson Sphere and toward its unstable star. When LaForge loses contact with the Enterprise, Scotty hypothesizes that the ship might be trapped inside the sphere and traces its ion trail to the now-closed hatch. He proposes that he and LaForge use the Jenolen to reopen the hatch and jam its doors to allow the Enterprise to escape. The plan works, but LaForge can’t drop the Jenolen’s shields to fly free. Realizing that he will have to destroy the smaller ship, Picard beams the engineers to safety and orders Worf to blow up the Jenolen so that the Enterprise can fly through the hatch before it can close. To thank him for his help, the crew offers Scotty the use of one of the Enterprise’s shuttlecraft so that he can get to the retirement colony that was his original destination on the Jenolen. Scotty scoffs that retirement is for old men, and he isn’t ready to quit exploring.

Analysis: As happy as I was to see Scotty again, I didn’t love “Relics” when it first aired. I thought it made some of the same mistakes that became frequent on Next Gen during the later seasons – a sense of complacency, an attitude among the crew that they were the best the galaxy could possibly have to offer, and no clue about how a counselor might best be employed – not that I’m complaining that they got Troi away from feeling everyone’s pain, but they don’t seem to know enough to have her spend time with orphaned children, aliens in crisis, and lost crewmembers from a different era. As powerful and touching as I found the scene where Scotty visits the original Enterprise bridge on the holodeck (footage, I believe, from “The Mark of Gideon” when Kirk finds himself alone on his ship), that scene should not be necessary because this crew should be ecstatic to have someone on board who can share so much living history, and Picard should have Troi sitting with Scotty right from the start to help him study the new tech specs and look up what became of his old friends.

This time, I guess the nostalgia factor is stronger for me, because although I think those flaws are still there, they didn’t distract me at all from the storyline. Nor did the continuity errors that have crept in after the fact, like Scotty’s thinking Jim Kirk must have come looking for him – Scotty will be there the day Kirk disappears aboard the Enterprise-B, so Scotty of Picard’s era should believe Kirk is dead, though that flashback won’t occur until Star Trek: Generations. It’s just such a delight to see Scotty and LaForge working together, and Scotty and Picard reflecting together on the starships that were their first loves. James Doohan was rarely called upon to show much range as an actor on the original series – he was either in panic mode about his engines or commanding mode when Kirk left him in charge on the ship, with a few moments of drunken or possessed glee – and he gets as much to do here as in most of those original episodes, giving a lovely, nuanced performance which both makes reference to his classic Trek style and demonstrates how many more layers there are to Montgomery Scott.

Many, many moments make this episode a lovely journey through Star Trek history for long-time viewers. Scotty recalls the bad temper of the Dohlman (“Elaan of Troyius”), the trouble he got into on Argelius (“Wolf in the Fold”), and his feelings about Kirk asking for a cold start to the engines at Psi 2000 (“The Naked Time”) – all minor incidents that were presumably footnotes in the annals of Starfleet, and the details described by Scotty probably didn’t get into the history books at all. Someone should have been following him around with a recording device for whoever in the 24th century is working on an unauthorized biography of Kirk’s crew! Picard’s crew by contrast seems very stuffy and boring – Picard is quick to get back to studying the Dyson Sphere without first asking Scotty whether he learned anything of interest on the Jenolen, Crusher’s quick to dismiss the old flirt from her sickbay, the ensign who shows him his guest quarters is quick to deliver basic information and get back to some other task, LaForge is quick to become annoyed with the gaps in Scotty’s knowledge and demand to be left alone so he can get back to his spectrographic analysis. There’s a delightful moment when Scotty tries to convince LaForge that he should treat his captain like a child – giving him exactly what he needs but not all he wants – and is then horrified to learn that LaForge tells Picard exactly how long he expects his tasks to take rather than doubling the estimates so he can be thought of as a miracle worker. LaForge is downright nasty, telling Scotty that he’s in the way, even though Scotty is deserving of his respect due to his rank as well as basic human decency. Is LaForge threatened by the legendary engineer? But then why doesn’t he seem more aware of Scotty’s achievements? He should not need that lecture from Picard about making Scotty feel useful.

The arbitrariness is one of the things that initially irritated me about the storyline. I could believe that Data would be dismissive to an elderly engineer messing with the dilithium crystals, not out of intentional rudeness but because an android simply wouldn’t know how to make the situation better – although really I’d expect Data to have a tireless interest in Scotty’s stories about life in the 23rd century. And LaForge is usually relatively tuned in to people’s feelings, even when it’s someone as annoying as Barclay; Scotty doesn’t seem any more incompetent than Barclay has on occasion and he’s got a much better excuse. So where is Troi, who should have arrived in sickbay at the same moment as Scotty, to learn how he feels about the time displacement and the deaths of his companions aboard the Jenolen if nothing else? (A scene was written and discarded in which she comes to counsel Scotty, only to have him dismiss her upon learning that she’s a professional psychologist rather than an admiring crewmember; the fact that it wasn’t included seems typical to me of how the show’s writers frequently discount Troi and her profession.) I accept that Picard and Riker have so much on their plates that they can’t take the time to get to know Scotty right away, but everyone else is missing a golden opportunity for a personal glimpse into the past of several Starfleet legends. Having met and melded with Spock and Sarek, isn’t Picard at least curious to know the insights of someone who served with him for so long?

What I’m saying, I guess, is that this episode probably should have been a two-parter, though it’s probably too soon after “Unification” and would have required a more substantive plot involving the Dyson Sphere…which would have been easy enough to pull off, since it feels like a tease having it turn out to be abandoned. We only see Scotty’s initial astonishment at the sight of Worf in a Starfleet uniform – imagine if we’d had the opportunity to see them working together! It’s also nice to see a side of Picard we never glimpse among his own crewmembers, when he’s talking captain to captain about how you never forget your first starship. Guinan is mentioned several times, but she never appears, which is a shame because like Scotty she’s a woman out of her era and her element. I’d also have loved to see Scotty looking up his old crewmates – I can understand why the writers might not have wanted to discuss all of them in case they decided to have one or another in a future film, but we’ve all seen McCoy and Spock already in this generation, and I’d think the news that Spock is alive and on a top-secret mission Picard isn’t at liberty to discuss would make Scotty feel both happy and more a part of the current universe.

The fact that so much of the equipment is basically the same after 75 years suggests that maybe the Federation isn’t as evolved as everyone thinks it is, assuming they have nothing to learn from Mark Twain or Scotty; if an engineer from the Navy 75 years ago woke up on a current Naval vessel, can you imagine his first glimpse of the navigational computers and ship-to-shore communication devices? And nobody seems convinced that synthehol is any improvement on grog! The episode’s conclusion, at least, makes up for most of its flaws, even if it’s a bit improbable that Starfleet would let Picard hand a shuttle over to Captain Scott without first having Scotty fill out some paperwork at the nearest starbase. How do they know he won’t slingshot around the nearest star and try to go back in time to his own era? Of course, it has the virtue of leaving Scotty out there for a future encounter, which happens in the Pocket Books novels if not on screen again. I hope he shows this generation a thing or two…I bet Scotty could have turned back the Dominion and gotten Voyager home.

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