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The Trek Nation - Dawn

Dawn

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 12, 2003 - 4:44 AM GMT

See Also: 'Dawn' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Tucker is aboard a shuttlepod doing a survey of a gas giant with 62 moons when an unknown alien craft fires on him. He manages to land on a nearby moon, but isotopes in the atmosphere disable his engines, and because the transceiver is damaged, he can't contact Enterprise. When he ventures outside he discovers that the alien who shot him down has also crashed on the moon, and that the alien has a hand pistol; he shoots at Tucker and steals the transceiver components. Tucker arranges an elaborate ruse to retrieve his equipment, but the alien captures him and binds his hands. Without a universal translator, Tucker has little luck convincing the alien of his good will, though he does learn the alien's name: Zho'Kaan.

Archer has his crew look for Tucker, but they are contacted by the Arkonians, whose ship tried to shoot Tucker down. They do not trust the Vulcans due to a century of poor relations and tell Archer to leave the system immediately, but he convinces the Arkonian captain to work with him to find their missing crewmembers on the plethora of moons. On one of those, Tucker -- who is being forced by Zho'Kaan to repair his transceiver -- has discovered that he can't drink Arkonian beverages but he can teach his captor to swear in English. Tucker manages to get Zho'Kaan's weapon and makes the alien return his equipment, but once the transceiver is repaired, he realizes that they must reach higher ground for it to send a signal out of the isotopes in the atmosphere. Zho'Kaan initially attacks Tucker once his hands are unbound, but after several minutes of fighting in increasingly hot temperatures, Tucker convinces Zho'Kaan to work with him so they may both survive.

T'Pol and Archer discover that Tucker is likely on a moon where the temperatures reach 170 degrees after sunrise. Tucker sends a transmission for more than two hours, but there is no response and he suspects Zho'Kaan is suffering from the heat even more than himself. Finally Enterprise arrives, but Phlox advises that they cannot beam the Arkonian aboard because in his present dehydrated state the transporter will undoubtedly kill him. So Tucker refuses to leave as well, suggesting that Archer ask the Arkonians to modify a shuttle so it can get through the isotopes and rescue them both. The plan is successful, both crash victims are saved, and T'Pol tells Archer that he developed better relations with the Arkonians in a day than the Vulcans managed in a century.


Analysis: Tucker, his arms wide. If you get the 'Darmok' reference -- or if the words Enemy Mine mean anything to you -- then you probably found 'Dawn' dreadfully derivative. For that matter, if you watched 'Cargo' a few weeks back, you might get a strong sense of déjà vu, except that that story was for fans of straight romance whereas 'Dawn' was a fantasy for slash fans. The episode was pre-empted in my market for a basketball game and did not air until Saturday night; in the interim I got four letters comparing it to Enemy Mine and untold dozens mentioning 'Darmok,' so I cannot claim originality in my observations about the borrowings in 'Dawn,' but I'd have to have been too young to watch Next Gen not to catch on. Maybe the producers were counting on that from their audience.

That said, this episode has Enterprise's biggest asset going for it: Connor Trinneer dominating the screen. He's the perfect guy for any two-character story, whether it's a romance like 'Cargo,' a buddy tale like 'Shuttlepod One' or something totally wacky and ill-conceived like 'Unexpected,' because he has chemistry with everyone he appears with. And he can play a wide range of emotions believably, no matter whether the scenario is utterly far-out or predictably clichéd.

In 'Dawn,' Tucker compares favorably with Kirk in 'Arena' and Picard in 'Darmok,' and that's saying something. Without benefit of a universal translator, he manages to negotiate with an alien, to form an alliance and ultimately to win a friend. We already know he's a gifted engineer, but now we see that he can get the job done even under adverse conditions without any assistance from his crew. He keeps his sense of humor under horribly adverse conditions -- personally, my favorite line all episode is when Trip reflects that the alien pilot has probably had similar experiences in space to his own, which include getting pregnant and picking up a princess. And that's played with a straight face.

'Dawn' does look cool and play stylishly. Though a bit derivative of the Jem'Hadar from Deep Space Nine and the alien from the aforementioned 'Darmok,' the Arkonians have neat physiology that allows them to cauterize wounds with their volatile spit-up! In the Parade magazine that hits the newsstands this morning inside many U.S. newspapers, there's a query about why there's so much vomiting on TV this season (answer: cheap and easy shock value), and here's Enterprise right on top of that trend. There's a bit of Survivor ethos -- should I wonder why an alien that can't sweat and is presumably designed for colder temperatures would need to light a fire in temperatures near freezing -- nah. Trip looks terribly clever setting up the voice synthesizer so he can steal his components back, and it's hysterical when he starts reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The little touches, really, are quite nice, just not enough.

I guess my biggest frustration is that this episode could easily have been saved with a halfway decent B-plot, even a comic one or something utterly disconnected from the A-plot (say, Mayweather having a personal crisis because while Trip is off speculating that soon they won't need pilots, he senses that he has no other function). I don't expect great originality from television science fiction -- Enterprise is still beating Andromeda this season on that score -- but when the entire storyline revolves around the issue of whether two characters will work out their differences so that they can survive, when it's a pretty obvious bet that the answer will be yes, there has to be something else going on to stop the storyline from dragging.

Long physical fights between the adversaries, while realistic and presumably exciting for audience members who enjoy that kind of action, can't replace plot and character development. Nor can contrived developments like Archer allowing Tucker to remain on the surface and risk death when he could insist on beaming him up after beaming down some sort of shelter for the exposed Arkonian. I won't rant about the [technobabble] isotopes that caused a problem with the [technobabble] of the transceiver but would apparently not cause a problem with the [technobabble] of the still-iffy transporter, which instead suffered from the [biobabble] problem with cellular degradation. That certainly isn't a problem isolated to this show. But it adds to the drag, and takes up time that could be better used in dialogue that means something.

What do we learn in 'Dawn'? That the Vulcans screwed up diplomatic relations with the Arkonians? Now there's a shock. That Archer isn't going to take crap from an adversarial captain who demands that he abandon a crewmember if he wants to save his ship? We saw that already in 'Minefield.' That Mayweather serves no useful purpose on Enterprise except to say "Yes, sir" on occasion? We see that week after week; I think that on average, Uhura had more lines per episode than he does. The episode simply doesn't take any real risks, offer any real challenge to viewer expectations or provide any real drama beyond that created by our respect for Trinneer's Trip and our desire to see him triumph.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She is also a staff writer at Green Man Review. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.