7/8/11

Star Trek: Asterisk "Dear Doctor"

Vital Information
Series: Enterprise
Episode: S01E13
Air Date: January 23, 2002
Written by: Maria & AndrĂ© Jacquemetton
Directed by: James A. Contner

Premise
Dr. Phlox, who is in the middle of recording a message to a human "pen pal" on his home planet, attempts to treat a planet-wide disease that seems to be affecting only one of two humanoid species.

Review
While attempting taking care of the many animals Phlox keeps in his sickbay, Hoshi comes in with a message for him. Because apparently they don't have the technology to send the message directly to sickbay. And if that weren't anachronistic enough, Hoshi goes talking about how she used to have a pen pal. That's right. Hundreds of years after the invention of the Internet, Hoshi had a pen pal. Thankfully, this is where the terribleness ends.

Phlox listens to his message and responds favorably. The message that he decides to record back to the human doctor who is taking his place in the medical exchange program acts as the narration for the rest of the episode. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the story. I think it worked here. The only thing I'm not sure about for the rest of the episode is that the theme seems to go back and forth. It starts as a good Samaritan lesson, goes on to a lesson about prejudice and segregation, then a lesson on different cultures, then it flips back and forth between love and the Prime Directive.

Of course the love part begins when Crewman Cutler begins to express an interest in Phlox. This starts to become clear when Phlox and Cutler sit together in a makeshift ship's theater. I actually really like that people actually watch movies in this series. I always found it a little odd that movies seemed to have fallen out of favor with future humans. Yes, there ends up being holodecks, but sometimes you just wanna sit down and watch things unfold. Like the romance between Phlox and Cutler.
Awkward...
It's interesting because Phlox sees the romance very scientifically. It's like he's more studying human mating habits than starting a relationship. He asks advice from the crew, looks things up, etc. And, in the end, he ends up confronting her directly. This confrontation is the culmination of the "different cultures" lesson where he explains to her that if she can't deal with the fact that the two alien species on this planet are totally different cultures to her, she'll have to suck that up if she wants to start a relationship with a Denubian.

Which brings us to the main plot. The Enterprise has happened upon a a pre-warp ship with two faint bio-signs. Now, if the Prime Directive had been in effect, they wouldn't have bothered contacting it. All Starfleet officers in the future are required to leave pre-warp civilizations alone. But for now, there is no such law. These pre-warp aliens are in need of assistance, and the Enterprise can do just that. They take the aliens on board and travel in two days the distance it took for them to travel in years.

When they get to the alien planet to have Phlox examine them, they find that there are actually two species that have evolved on the planet. One of them is slightly lesser evolved than the other and acts as a sort of work force. Not slave labor, though. They're adequately cared for in return for their work. And they seem to be quite happy about it. But, of course, humans, with their history of slave labor, don't take too kindly to it. This is where Phlox has to step in and remind them that this is a completely different culture.
What? We're building a pyramid now? Next you'll have us on cotton duty.
The plot thickens when not only do the advanced aliens want the Enterprise to give them warp technology, but Phlox finds that their disease is genetic and is likely intended to wipe them out in the course of natural evolution in order to allow the lesser aliens to become the dominant species. Now Phlox doesn't want to mess with natural evolution and Archer doesn't want to give the aliens technology that could wipe them out before their disease does.

The corniest part of this episode, though, comes when Archer makes a speech, not explicitly mentioning, but clearly pointing to the Prime Directive. "Someday my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine: something that tells us what we can and can't do out here – should and shouldn't do. But until somebody tells me that they've drafted that directive, I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God." I don't know... this speech could work, but just the way that Archer delivered it was cringe-worthy. So purposely emphasizing "doctrine" and "directive" like he's winking to the fanboys in the audience. What little of them were left at this point, anyway.
Prime Directive? What's that?
The episode ends when Phlox gives the aliens a treatment, but not a cure. Archer mentions that maybe this treatment can keep them alive long enough for them to find a cure on their own. And then Phlox asks Crewman Cutler to join him for lunch.

Overall Thoughts
The real charm in this episode is in Phlox studying his human companions and recording his thoughts in this message to his doctor friend. There's something about it that adds so much to both his character and the characters around him. It's pretty awesome, too, that this is pretty much the first allusion to the Prime Directive, but I'm not really sure how well that was handled. All-in-all, this was a worthwhile episode, if only to be able to get inside the head of such a lovable character as Dr. Phlox.