The Rich Sense of History in Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks continues to pay tribute to the entirety of Star Trek history in unexpected ways.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 3 "Mining The Mind's Mines"
Photo: Paramount

This article contains Star Trek: Lower Decks spoilers.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 3

The alliteratively titled “Mining the Mind’s Mines” taps into the “lone space outpost on a forgotten planet” as one of the influences directing this week’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. It also recalls the helpless and mind-numbingly boring outpost scientists that the Enterprise and other vessels throughout Star Trek lore have had to either rescue, protect, or otherwise frustratingly work with to accomplish a mutual goal. 

In this episode, we see characters like the Scrubble – an alien race native to the planet of Jengus IV who are turning Federation scientists into stone. We learn that the USS Hood arrived on scene to manage a peace between the Scrubble and the scientists. After they leave, the crews of the USS Cerritos and the USS Carlsbad are tasked with doing the clean-up and arranging to relocate the outpost to maintain the peace. Other subplots in this episode include Ensign Tendi’s (Noel Wells) science mentorship with the irritatingly food-driven Dr. Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins) and the rivalry between the Lower Deck crews of the USS Cerritos and the USS Carlsbad. But what really ties it all together is how it calls back to more elements from classic Trek lore and settings.

“I really wanted to do one that felt like a classic ‘trapped-in-a-cave’ planetary episode. You know those sets?” Star Trek: Lower Decks showrunner Mike McMahan says. McMahan is referring to the numerous cave settings used throughout Trek history like the ones in the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark” or The Next Generation‘s “Silicon Avatar.” Even the set for the Klingon penal colony, Rura Penthe from the film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country comes to mind. Their similarity to each other and why they seem so familiar is because they were all filmed on Paramount Stage 16 and that sense of history was important to McMahan. 

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These are historical favorites in Star Trek that not only are easily recognized right away but also contribute to its history. 

“I wanted it to feel old.” Mike says. “I gave it the same type of feel like you’d see in an old Star Trek comic book.” Sure enough, that vibe is definitely there when you take into account the color scheme of greys, dull yellows, and other muted colors in the rocks in the animated scenery. It looks like the background you would find in an old Gold Key Star Trek comic. 

“This could be something from like a pre-Asimov story, or something that felt like an old soft-cover pulp novel, with Greek myth structures like the sirens included.” Mike continued. 

The opening to this episode shows exactly that, with one of the scientist’s fantasies emerging as a scantily-clad version of his 7th grade geology teacher dressed in a toga luring him to what must be his certain doom.  

Mike tells us more about another of the episode’s classical themes: the relationship between Starfleet officers and scientists. 

“We also wanted to push something that I came up with in season one. The Lower Deckers, and people in Starfleet, if [they] ever happened to wash out of Starfleet, they end up having to become an outpost scientist, which is the most boring gig that you could ever get.”

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Which, if you think about it, it’s true. Federation outpost scientists definitely haven’t been the most exciting of characters in this franchise. After all, think about guys like Roger Korby from the TOS episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of” … we really have no idea what Christine Chapel ever saw in him and it turns out he wasn’t even real. Not to mention guys like Doctor Apgar at the Tauga Station in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter of Perspective.” There’s a guy who had some real self-esteem issues. 

The distrust and antipathy between scientists and Starfleet that we saw in Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan or the Star Trek The Next Generation episode “Force of Nature” is a familiar theme in the franchise. The divide is driven home this episode with Jack Ransom’s (Jerry O’Connell) rant about how the crew of the USS Cerritos has to clean up the mess of outpost scientists “because they’re weirdos!”

“I wanted to do something that kind of underlined the ‘un fun-ness’ to the audience of being an outpost scientist,” McMahan says. And in that regard, “Mining the Mind’s Mines” is a tremendously fun success.

Star Trek: Lower Decks drops new episodes every Thursday.