So if the plot of this week’s episode feels familiar, that’s because it formed the basis of the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture: the Enterprise encounters an ancient, Earth-built space probe that promptly tries to kill them.
Initially, they think this is a tiny ship, full of teeny-tiny aliens.
It’s a theme often-repeated in later Trek. A probe, originally sent out by ancient Earth scientists (ancient to the Enterprise, but pretty-far-future to the writers of the ep), designed to do scientific research, is believed lost or destroyed. But surprise! The probe – in this story, called Nomad – is intact, and on its way home to Earth, but has been altered by accident or by the design of a more advanced civilization, its original, benign purpose warped into something destructive and dangerous. Nomad‘s new mission, by the time it encounters the Enterprise, is to destroy all biological “infestations.” You know… like the human race.
Prior to encountering the Enterprise, Nomad has wiped out at least 4 planets’ worth of people, and post-encounter, it kills off at least four redshirted security officers (minus sensible engineer Mr. Singh, who survives mainly due to rational fear), plus temporarily murdering Scotty (and then rebooting him, nbd) and mind-wiping Uhura (also apparently nbd, despite the extremely problematic nature of the only woman of colour in this episode to temporarily turn into a vegetable??). Despite a cold open with a body count higher than a Garth Nix novel, and Nomad’s stated intention of wiping out the population of the planet Earth, the stakes do not feel particularly high, at least not judging by the attitudes of the command staff.
There’s also a mostly-buried metaphor about the probe as a faerie changeling – see the title – which casts Nomad as the human child stolen by the faeries and replaced by an impostor. We started out pretty skeptical about this mostly-pretty-shaky premise, but mostly talked ourselves around to it pretty early on. Human beings have an intense emotional connection to the little bots and other machines we send out into the darkness to explore places we can’t go – watch any video of the reaction to the Philae touchdown, or follow the Curiosity rover’s Twitter account – perhaps because they can go places we can’t. So for one of them to return changed beyond all recognition, or to return with a dark purpose, is genuinely distressing (at least, to us).
Let’s hope that if any real space probes ever return home (presently unlikely – real space probes are sent out with no intention of recall), they’re pleased to see us, the descendants of those who sent them out into the universe.
We apparently skipped over the counts part of the episode for this one, so here they are: Deaths: approximately four billion (that we know of); eight ladies, 6 POC.
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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]
I don’t care what anyone says, I think The Motion Picture was a great movie, if not the best Star Trek film.
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