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Unnatural Selection (episode)

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"Unnatural Selection"
TNG, Episode 2x07
Production number: 40272-133
First aired: 30 January 1989
32nd of 176 produced in TNG
32nd of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
138th of 728 released in all
Katherine Pulaski, prematurely aged
Written By
John Mason and Mike Gray

Directed By
Paul Lynch
42494.8 (2365)
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The Enterprise investigates the deaths of the crew of the USS Lantree, who all died of old age.

Summary

"Captain's Log, Stardate 42494.8. The Enterprise is bound for Star Station India to rendezvous with a Starfleet Medical courier. We've been told only that our presence is imperative. Hopefully, the mission will give me further opportunities to assess the performance of our new chief medical officer."

En route to the station, Captain Jean-Luc Picard asks Counselor Deanna Troi about his new chief medical officer, Katherine Pulaski. He has concerns about her dedication interfering with her objectivity. She senses his concerns, but believes she is a good choice for chief medical officer.

Lantree life sign scan

"They died of old age!"

Worf then receives a distress signal from the Federation supply ship USS Lantree. All they say is that they are dying, unable to give any more details. The voice on the other end of the comm is weak, and then falls silent.

When Enterprise arrives and hails the ship, there is no answer, and Data reads no life signs, but all systems seem functional. At Commander William T. Riker's suggestion, they establish a remote link with the Lantree's computer. With an uncharacteristic lapse in consistency, Picard gains access to the Lantree's on-board bridge-monitor, despite mis-identifiying the Captain of the Lantree as "Esi" Telaka. When they turn on the bridge monitor, the entire crew is dead. Dr. Pulaski's scans find they died of natural causes through aging.

In the conference room, everything is laid out on the table. They download and play back the captain's last entry:

"Captain's Log, Stardate 42493.1. There are only six of us left. We've set course for the nearest Federation outpost but I'm afraid it's too late. All attempts to analyze what is happening have failed. In the last few hours I've watched friends grow old and die. And I'm seeing it happen to me. Captain L.I. Telaka, USS Lantree."
Sara Kingsley

"We need your help."

Riker says that Captain Telaka was his age. The Doctor's search of medical records indicate nothing happened, except that the first officer was treated for the Thelusian flu at Darwin Genetic Research Station at Gagarin IV. She has the ship quarantined, and they head for Gagarin IV.

Once in orbit, they hail the station. Doctor Sara Kingsley answers, and explains they have declared a medical emergency. Their staff is suffering from the same thing. She is convinced they were infected from a supply ship that was there a few days ago. She wants Enterprise to help them evacuate their genetically-engineered children to protect them. Doctor Pulaski says there must be a full quarantine on the station, and that includes them. But Doctor Kingsley pleads that the children have no symptoms. The captain interrupts and says there is very little they can do, they will discuss it.

In the conference room, Doctor Pulaski says that the children should be evacuated after a full examination in a force field. Picard decides that they must err on the side of caution, and denies her permission for the examination. If they are carriers, the ship could quickly become infected. The doctor instead suggests she beam up a child encased in styrolite, in suspended animation, so she can scan for disease without it being able to spread. She doesn't know what to scan for, and the only way to is to collect some data.

Styrolite

A test subject beams aboard

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge sets up the force field, and the twelve-year-old child is beamed aboard. However, what materializes is a male whose age is closer to twenty. Worf is about to call it a trick, but Picard stops him from doing anything rash. Since the styrolite is intact, he orders the force field down, and lets the doctor scan him. Counselor Troi immediately detects a strong presence, even in stasis. She believes he is telepathic, a surprise to everyone.

After scanning with everything they've got, the doctor concludes ecstatically that he is in better health than the crew. In fact, his immune system is so advanced, it may not be possible for him to contract disease. She wants to release him to do further tests. Picard won't allow that. Despite her passionate opinion, the risk is too great. She tries to think of everything, suggesting force fields and separate environmental systems, but the captain knows they can fail, and to him, that is not acceptable. The best he can give her is an open door: if she can find a way which is more accident-proof, bring it to him, and he'll allow it.

When she talks to La Forge, he suggests the only independent environment is a shuttlecraft. When she takes her suggestion to Picard, he doesn't like it, since she would still be at risk. But as she is about to argue, he approves her request, much to her surprise. She takes Data to pilot the craft, and has the boy beamed aboard. She removes the styrolite, and immediately, he comes to life. She is surprised when he suddenly reaches out to her telepathically.

Pulaski communes with David

"He's telepathic!"

For eighteen minutes, she examines him, and when Data confirms that everything seems to be fine with her, she suddenly gets an arthritic cramp, the first stage of the disease. Still startled, in pain and very agitated, she tells them to return the boy to Darwin station, and says there is nothing they can do for her. She will not make herself an exception to the quarantine. She sets course for the station, to simply see what happens there.

When the rest of the senior staff meets in the conference room, they don't see what they can do for her. The children are carriers, and they can't screen out the disease because the boy was beamed twice already and he still had it. However, Transporter Chief Miles O'Brien gets an idea: they can use the transporter trace, a previous pattern when she didn't have the disease, to control the way she is reconstituted. Unfortunately, no one remembers her ever using the transporters; she possesses transporter phobia: fearing she may be transported into oblivion, her atoms scattered across the galaxy. They ask the captain of her last assignment, the USS Repulse.

Darwin children

"Perfect, in every way."

Aboard the station, the puzzled Kingsley still cannot believe it is the children who transmit the disease. She shows Data and Pulaski several telekinetic children, their finest achievement. These children, she proudly argues, are perfect in every way. In fact, their immune system is aggressive, creating an antibody to destroy the virus in midair by altering its genetic code. It works at a distance. That's when the light bulb goes on in Pulaski's mind; she tells Data to run an analysis of the genetic interaction between the flu virus and the antigen.

Back aboard Enterprise, Captain Taggart said they erased her pattern after she transferred, not that they used the transporter much. The captain even says that the moment there was an opening on Enterprise, she jumped at it, because she greatly admired Picard.

Data's analysis is conclusive, and unfortunate. As he explains to the astonished Kingsley and Pulaski, the antibody the children created to counteract the virus interacts with normal Human DNA to change sequences which affect the aging process. The children are in fact more than carriers; they're the cause. Since DNA is self-replicating, the effects are irreversible. Devastated, the two desperate women lose all hope and recognize defeat. Kate sadly and silently accepts her doomed fate, while Sara tries in vain to get a hold of herself, but can´t help but ending up crying.

Pulaski begins to age

"The rest of us are just about out of time."

Looking tired, Pulaski explains the situation to Picard through the viewscreen. She looks at least twenty years older, and in pain, but trying her best to look strong. He wishes to beam her aboard in suspended animation and keep her until they can repair this damage, but she is adamant against it. She doesn't want them to leap before they looked like she did. Instead, she reads a log entry over the com:

"Chief Medical Officer's log. This will be my final report to the Enterprise. Just as changes in evolution are known to be caused by changes in the environment we now know the process also works in reverse. An attempt to control Human evolution has resulted in a new species that's lethal to its predecessors. The children will be condemned to live out their lives in isolation. The quarantine of the Darwin Station must be maintained forever."
Pulaski in transporter

Transporter therapy

Data beams back aboard after a farewell to the now-white-haired Pulaski, who looks around a hundred years old by now, like the equally deteriorated Kingsley. Both women now seem to have accepted their terrible fate with more calm by now, but both still look very depressed. However, after Data is screened for organics and beamed aboard, Picard asks him about another idea. Since the genetic changes are the cause, they could take a sample of her genetic code and have the transporter reverse the transposition. Chief O'Brien says it will work, but it would be risky, since they will lose her pattern if it doesn't work.

It takes some doing to get a DNA sample; the records have not arrived from Starfleet Command yet. They search her quarters and finally find a hair follicle on her hairbrush. Picard calls Pulaski. The bridge crew and Picard are shocked by the image of severe deterioration, now looking much older than a hundred years.

The captain explains the possible solution to the terminal doctor. Pulaski, now totally exhausted, out of time and options, is willing to give it a try. Troi is very shaken and sad, seeing and possibly feeling Kate's terror, despair and unbearable suffering. Since the procedure is high risk, Picard takes the transporter controls, so that O'Brien will not be to blame should something go wrong, assuming full responsibility. After a tense several seconds of controlling the transporter during beam-in, the doctor, restored to her proper age, appears.

"Chief Medical Officer's log, supplemental. The adults of Darwin Station have been restored to normal health using our transporter. They will remain on Gagarin IV and continue their research in hopes of one day rejoining their children."
Enterprise destroys Lantree

"All achievement has a price."

The Enterprise returns to the USS Lantree and, after paying final respects, consigns the ship to oblivion.

"Scientists believe no experiment is a failure that even a mistake advances the evolution of understanding. But all achievement has a price. For one brief glimpse at the mysterious blueprint of Human evolution the men and women of the USS Lantree paid with their lives. Their sacrifice is thus noted in this scientist's log."


Memorable quotes

"A genetic analysis could take months."

- Dr. Sara Kingsley, to Dr. Katherine Pulaski, upon learning the children may be carriers of the disease


"Looks like they had a battle with time…"
"…and lost."

- Riker and Worf, about the Lantree crew


"Extreme caution. The USS Lantree is a quarantined vessel by order of Starfleet Command. Do not board."

- Automated quarantine message from the USS Lantree


"What is your condition, doctor?"
"Not exactly up to factory specs."

- Data after Pulaski is infected


"What if we used a sample of her DNA, say, from a blood test taken before she was exposed to the disease. Could that be used to filter out the genetic changes?"
"Well, I'd have to get into the biofilter bus and patch in a molecular matrix reader. That's no problem. But the wave form modulator will be overloaded without the regeneration limiter in the first stage circuit."
"Interesting. However, theoretically–"
"Data."

- Picard, O'Brien, and Data, discussing a method of using the transporter to treat Pulaski


"Apparently, she's been an admirer of yours for some time."
"Extraordinary."

- Taggert explains to Picard Pulaski's respect for him, surprising the Enterprise captain


"Doctor, God knows I'm not one to discourage input, but I would appreciate it if you'd let me finish my sentences once in a while."

- Picard, to Pulaski, shortly before leaving the room


"If this hadn't worked, it would have been necessary to beam your energy into empty space…"
"… and spread my atoms across the galaxy!"
"Yes, I'm sorry, it…"
"No, no, don't be sorry. Every time I get into the damn thing I'm convinced that's what's going to happen."

- Picard and Pulaski, after the transporter saves her life


"Chief Medical Officer's Log, this will be my final report to the Enterprise. Just as changes in evolution are known to be caused by changes in the environment, we now know the process also works in reverse. An attempt to control human evolution has resulted in a new species, which is lethal to its predecessors. The children will be condemned to live out their lives in isolation. The quarantine of the Darwin Station must be maintained forever."

- Dr. Katherine Pulaski

Background information

Story and production

Muldaur and Westmore

Michael Westmore working on Muldaur's makeup

  • Another change from earlier drafts of the script was the total deletion of a character named Rina, whose great beauty caused her fellow crewmembers to suffer a number of comic mishaps, and also had a romantic subplot with La Forge. In place of Rina, O'Brien was written into the episode to assist La Forge. [1]
  • The character of Dr. Kingsley was called Dr. Mandel in earlier drafts. [2]
  • According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, the Darwin children were originally to have appeared nude, but the use of transparent furniture nixed that idea.
  • According to director Paul Lynch, Muldaur had some difficulty remembering her lines in this episode. The producers solved this problem by putting her lines on cue cards. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • First UK airdate: 15th May 1991

Continuity

Modified sickbay, 2365

The modified sickbay

  • The sickbay set was modified and the corridor to the doctor's office replaced with a wall and a console.
  • The genetic engineering of advanced children apparently ignores the fact that such engineering is banned and outlawed in the Federation. This is stated in at least three different Star Trek series (ENT: "The Augments", DS9: "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", TNG: "A Matter of Time") albeit all of them were produced after this episode, so the script writers at the time may not have been aware of this stipulation.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion notes that this episode is similar to TOS: "The Deadly Years", which also featured crewmembers suffering premature aging. In both episodes, one character (McCoy and Pulaski) very close to death decides to risk all with a untested cure that could prove fatal. The method is a success, and all the remaining afflicted persons are cured off-screen.
  • The episode is also similar to TAS: "The Lorelei Signal" in that the transporter is used to reverse the effects of premature aging.
  • The matte painting of the research station is used again (slightly modified) in "Starship Mine" and "Descent".
  • This episode marks the first time Miles O'Brien is referred to as the transporter chief, and the first time he is referred to by his last name. It was also the first episode where Colm Meaney was credited as a guest star and not in the closing credits.
  • This is the first episode in which Dr. Pulaski's loathing of the transporter is mentioned, giving her a key commonality with previous Enterprise doctor Leonard McCoy.
  • The shuttle carrying Data and Dr. Pulaski appears to be a different class in the shuttle bay than the one seen in space.
  • This is the first appearance of the Miranda-class starship in TNG, albeit of stock footage of it exploding.

Reception

  • Colm Meaney remarked, "I liked the episode a lot. I thought it was really good. It held your interest, it was a marvelous sort of detective story in a way, while at the same time it was making a statement about the dangers of these wonderful scientific developments that can be used for great benefit. It also said something deeper about the dangers of them, and in a sense it begged the question should we really be trying this?" (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • A mission report for this episode by Robert Greenberger was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine Vol. 7, pp. 39-42.

Awards

  • This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series.

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Special appearance by

Guest stars

Co-stars

Uncredited co-stars

Stand-ins

References

2330; 2335; 2353; 2365; adenine; antibody; biofilter; chromosome; cytosine; courier; Darwin Genetic Research Station; Denkir IV; DNA; evolution; Federation; Gagarin IV; guanine; hair follicle; kilometer; Lantree, USS; "Linear Models of Viral Propagation"; marker beacon; meter; microscope; Milky Way Galaxy; milliparsecs; NCC-7100; parsec; pathology; quarantine; Repulse, USS; Sector Gamma 7; Sakharov; Serpent's World; Shuttlebay 3; Starfleet Academy; Starfleet Medical; Star Station India; styrolite; supply ship; telekinesis; Thelusian flu; thymine; transporter; transporter log

External links


Previous episode:
"The Schizoid Man"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2
Next episode:
"A Matter Of Honor"

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