Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Unnatural Selection

The Enterprise stumbles upon a template for eternal youth in this week's TNG season 2 look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

2.7 Unnatural Selection

The Enterprise intercepts a distress signal from the USS Lantree and discovers it adrift in space. Utilising a highly suspicious-sounding security loophole, Picard takes remote control of the ship and activates the viewscreen, discovering to his horror that the crew are all dead – apparently of old age! After tracing the ship’s journeys back to a genetic research facility (don’t worry, it’s probably nothing to do with that) the Enterprise heads there, only to find as they approach that the team on the planet are themselves developing symptoms of rapid aging. Probably nothing to do with their insane Frankenstein genetic experiments, I’m sure.

When the ship arrives at their planet, the leader of the researchers begs Picard to take their perfectly healthy, genetically-engineered children up to the ship, because they remain uninfected and represent a life’s work. Picard is understandably cautious, but eventually agrees to beam one up as long as he (the kid, not Picard) is encased in germ-containing plastic, which seems to satisfy everyone. After running every test she knows, Pulaski reassures Picard that the child is safe, but the Captain still refuses to release him because… you know, common sense.

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Pulaski tries to explain that this child is completely healthy, and indeed, “the next step in human evolution” – which frankly, demonstrates a terrible understanding of evolutionary theory considering that she’s a doctor and supposed to know about genetics. Eventually, Picard agrees to let Pulaski take the child onto a shuttlecraft for further study, and Pulaski does just that. And it takes only seconds after removing the shrink wrap for her to develop symptoms as well. Well, at least we know now.

Heading to the research facility, Pulaski and her pilot, Data, try to figure out what’s gone wrong. Back on the Enterprise, the crew invents a load of Transporter science-nonsense that can probably save the day, if only they can get it invented in time. Pulaski and Data realise that the children’s hyper-evolved immune system doesn’t just protect them against threats, it actively seeks out and destroys them. By what mechanism is never revealed, but apparently it means certain death for everyone. The planet is quarantined and she resigns herself to dying with the Federation’s foremost genetic experts.

Luckily, back on the Enterprise, a bunch of people who know nothing about genetics have solved the problem. They’re going to use the transporter to magic Pulaski back to her real age using ideas inspired by gene science. Unfortunately, because Pulaski doesn’t like the Transporter they don’t have her DNA on file, so Riker and Worf go and root around in her quarters until they can find some, eventually settling on a hair follicle. A woman made of dandruff? That’ll never work. The first time she takes a shower with medicated shampoo she’ll disappear!

Luckily, it does work. The Enterprise de-ages Pulaski and then the rest of the research crew before blowing up the USS Lantree to make sure no-one else is ever infected. Then, presumably, they file a report to explain to their superiors that they’ve found the template for eternal youth and sit back, awaiting the praise they deserve for granting immortality to us all.

TNG WTF:  Okay, so admittedly the USS Lantree wasn’t exactly in optimal shape when they found it, but is a SINGLE photon torpedo really enough to vaporise an entire Starship? And they pack the Enterprise full of these things? Jesus.

In fact, for that matter, why are they blowing up the ship at all!? Come on! Call in a decontamination team, scrub the decks, put on a fresh coat of paint and everything’ll be fine! They know what causes the problem AND how to fix it, surely there’s a better course of action than this?! Are starships really that cheap!?

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TNG LOL: It might be because it was never intended to be seen in HD, but Pulaski’s aged-look make-up is hilarious. She looks more like Zombie Pulaski

Mistakes and Minutiae: Chief O’Brien finally gets named! And a whole bunch of scenes! He’ll be playing darts and complaining about “the bloody Cardies” before you know it.

Time Until Meeting: 8:34. Straight in there!

Captain’s Log: Ah yes, this is one of those episodes where the transporter turns out to have magic science in it. There are bits of this which are interesting – the mystery of what caused the disease, the exploration of the character work between Picard and Pulaski – but the solution is almost the worst kind of technobabble. Only the requirement for the characters to locate an unaffected DNA sample from Pulaski gives it any weight at all.

That said, it’s interesting that the writers decided the give Picard and Pulaski a strained relationship. It’s almost like Picard is serving as the mouthpiece for the show’s fans. To the credit of the writers, they do finally give Pulaski some personality that doesn’t involve insulting Data (specifically a near-obsession with her work) but this doesn’t quite solve the issue of her being fundamentally annoying in the manner that they seem to believe it does by the episode’s conclusion.

Watch or Skip? Depends on how much you like Dr. Pulaski and episodes that go completely off the rails in the final act. So, er, skip, obviously.

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