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May 20 2024


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Strange New World

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 11, 2001 - 12:00 PM GMT

See Also: 'Strange New World' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Enterprise approaches a planet with an atmosphere and vegetation reminiscent of Earth's. T'Pol recommends reconnaissance with automated probes, but the captain doesn't want to "tiptoe around" and asks T'Pol to put together a survey team. Tucker, Mayweather and the rest of the team are thrilled to be on an away mission and spend some time enjoying themselves while making their initial analyses. When T'Pol requests permission to camp overnight with crewmembers Elizabeth Cutler and Ethan Novakovich to conduct further studies, Tucker and Mayweather volunteer to remain as well. A late-night storm forces them all to take shelter in a cave, where most of the officers begin to see humanoid life forms lurking in the rocks. Panicking, Novakovich flees outside.

Cutler follows T'Pol deep into the cave and believes she sees the Vulcan talking to someone. Hearing her report, Tucker becomes convinced that T'Pol is involved in a conspiracy with aliens on the planet to destroy Enterprise's human crew. He pulls a weapon on her; she counters by drawing her own. Meanwhile Archer and Reed track down Novakovich and beam him back to Enterprise. Dr. Phlox determines that the crewman is suffering from the effects of a psychotropic compound, probably produced by plants on the surface. Though the captain warns the away team, Tucker maintains his belief that T'Pol is working to destroy Earth's space program. She becomes agitated and begins to speak in Vulcan.

When Phlox realizes that Novakovich's condition could be fatal, he recommends beaming down an injection to protect the away team from the effects of the psychotropic drug. Because Tucker refuses to believe that he could be hallucinating, Archer and T'Pol must improvise an elaborate distraction concerning top-secret negotiations with silicon-based aliens. The captain and science officer successfully convince Tucker to lower his weapon, allowing T'Pol to stun him and inoculate the entire away team. After he wakes, Tucker remembers something he learned from his tenth grade biology teacher, who was Vulcan: "Challenge your preconceptions or they will challenge you."

Analysis: Despite having a highly unoriginal plot, 'Strange New World' tells a highly enjoyable story. It's sort of a merger between the Classic Trek episodes 'The Naked Time' and 'This Side of Paradise' crossed with DS9's 'Dramatis Personae' and 'The Voyager Conspiracy,' yet manages to be creepier than the former and wittier than the latter. This is mostly due to a fantastic performance by Connor Trinneer, who owns this episode; he manages to play believable insanity without sacrificing either his authoritative demeanor or his comic timing. For this reason alone, 'Strange New World' is easily my favorite Enterprise episode so far.

We get introduced to some "lower decks" crewmembers, Elizabeth Cutler and Ethan Novakovich, who manage not to become red-shirts, meaning that we might actually see them again. They're mostly forgettable, though it's nice to see a man play the screamer while Sato's knowledge of Vulcan enables Archer and T'Pol to exchange secret messages when Tucker is listening. Unfortunately Mayweather and Reed are mostly forgettable as well, though we learn that the navigator can tell a good ghost story and isn't afraid to brave storms to recover lost food packs. His most endearing moment comes when he worries about the ethics of squashing a scorpion-type creature that has crawled into Tucker's sleeping bag. I'm not really complaining, because the sparks between Archer, T'Pol and Tucker have provided most of the great scenes in previous episodes, but I'd like to see the supporting cast given stronger roles or at least more memorable dialogue.

Archer seems to have learned something from 'Fight or Flight' when he expresses concern about beaming down into someone's backyard, but goes on to demonstrate typical foolhardiness when he sends down an away team without decent planetary surveys -- and takes his dog with him! Too bad Porthos isn't exposed to the spores; I'd love to know whether paranoid dogs envision cats or doorbells no one else can hear. If Enterprise followed horror movie patterns, Archer would be the first to die, a punishment for his lackadaisical attitude. Instead he gets a nice sojourn on a planet that looks just like the one from Voyager's 'Resolutions,' which undoubtedly helped endear it to me.

They take some photos, they pick some flowers, Tucker asks Mayweather if he wants to sleep under the stars with him...OK, I won't go there. We get a brief, terrifying Final Frontier flashback as the crew sits around the campfire, but they don't sing, and T'Pol keeps her distance. She sounds more Vulcan in 'Strange New World,' partly because we finally get some contrast with her uncontrolled side when she starts snapping at Tucker in the cave. Her recommendations seem muted, less focused on making Archer look like a fool and more on protecting their crew. And since she makes the very silly suggestion to remain overnight on the planet she wanted to spend a week surveying from space, their relationship seems more balanced.

The paranoia develops nicely because we view the rock creatures from the point of view of the crewmembers before we know their faculties have been compromised. We see the creatures with our own eyes, so we're inclined to believe Cutler when she says she saw T'Pol talking to mysterious aliens. I'm still uncomfortable with the level of Vulcan-baiting on this series, but maybe the point is to suggest to us that we'll accept irrational suggestions over Vulcan logic. However, the effect is undercut when we see paranormal events with our own eyes. But hey, we get to see the Vulcan neck pinch, even if she does perform it upside down and backwards, so Vulcans must be cool after all, right?

While we're on the subject of racial difference, though, I want to ask a question. How come Enterprise -- whose crew is overwhelmingly human -- has an alien doctor managing sickbay without a single human serving as backup during a crisis? A human M.D. might not realize that the psychotropic drug contains a variant deadly to humans any more quickly than Phlox does, but Phlox's uncertainty about whether T'Pol might be affected doesn't inspire confidence in him. The situation seems akin to sending women with breast cancer to an all-male gynecological staff who learned everything they know about female anatomy during a crash course in med school, or to sending men with prostate trouble to an all-female proctology group who first saw a naked man only a few weeks ago. There are verifiable biological differences between men and women, humans and Vulcans, and while we may want them to be treated equally in every other regard, we don't want one-size-fits-all medical care. Archer needs a bigger sickbay staff.

His first officer, however, needs no improvement. I love the scene where Archer asks Tucker to remember the time the latter got nitrogen narcosis and tried to take off his helmet in zero-gee. "Trust me now," the captain begs, and we see the struggle on Tucker's face -- but then the good ole boy asserts himself and declares that he won't die with a hypospray in his hand, forcing Archer and T'Pol to do some pretty clever acting. It's even funnier that Archer sort of makes up the Horta decades before Kirk and crew will encounter it -- a creature that crawls out of rocks and that was also initially dismissed as a hallucination.

Tucker -- who's going to have lots of preconceptions challenged in next week's episode if the previews are any indication -- manages to regain his senses and his dignity in time to admit that his distrust of T'Pol stems from a bad high school experience with a Vulcan teacher who threatened his world view. That's a better explanation for prejudice than the knee-jerk reactions exhibited by many of the other humans on the series so far, though it's nice to know he's already growing out of it. Trinneer's obviously having a lot of fun with the role yet taking it entirely seriously at appropriate moments. And in truth, the part of me that still despises T'Pol's catsuit, curved eyebrows and sexpot demeanor was quietly rooting for Tucker to shoot her, though she's growing on me.

Even though I like him, I know Tucker's on the show to appeal to same demographic as T'Pol. I watched this episode with my pre-teen son, who adores the first officer particularly because he curses so much (in 'Strange New World' we got one 'son-of-a-bitch,' at least one 'hell' and a couple of 'damn's). That's not necessarily a good thing. But my son also recognized Amelia Earhart in the opening credits, which is wonderful. I still can't decide whether Enterprise represents progress or regression for Star Trek, but I'm having fun trying to figure it out.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written television reviews, interviews and other features for sites such as Cinescape and Another Universe, as well as a a number of other web sites and magazines.

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