The Good: Moments of humor, Science, Acting
The Bad: Stereotypes, Character
The Basics: An episode involving farmers and clones leaves the Enterprise in a double bind, but the viewer laughing and thinking.
One of the most obscure episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation is a the second season episode "Up the Long Ladder." Why this one almost never received attention is a bit of a mystery, especially considering that it has one of the most solid science fiction plots of any Star Trek The Next Generation episode.
"Up the Long Ladder" finds the Enterprise rescuing a group of colonists who have abandoned technology and become farmers and adopted a traditional lifestyle. When the Enterprise rescues the settlers and their livestock, they are clued in to the existence of a sister ship that colonized a nearby planet. The Enterprise visits that other planet to discover a thriving colony of clones. Unfortunately, after so many generations, they need an infusing of new DNA. To that end, they turn on the Enterprise crewmembers that show up.
Part of the problem with the episode is the ethical half of it. "Up the Long Ladder" hinges on the idea that the Enterprise crew is revolted by the idea of donating DNA and having themselves cloned. Does it truly matter? By the time of Star Trek The Next Generation, it seems far-fetched. The crew of the Enterprise aids other cultures having medical problems, why would the donation of DNA be so heinous an idea to them? It makes little sense, though the inhabitants of that planet try to get the genetic material by force. But after that . . . Come on!
Also not terribly realistic are the character elements portrayed in this episode. While Picard shows some good character development by laughing in an awkward situation, it comes too soon in the series. He goes back to his usual stern demeanor the next week, so why does this twist come here? It seems out of place, though not so much in the episode as in the entire series. Riker's womanizing in "Up the Long Ladder" seems more a throwback to James Kirk of Star Trek than William Riker of Star Trek The Next Generation.
But outside that, the episode succeeds. There are moments that the usually deadpan 24th Century folk are confronted with basically hillbillies in space and the scenes are funny. I mean actually funny, as opposed to "here's a moment of humor in a serious episode" funny. The sequences are actually humorous.
And yes, the episode takes an abrupt shift from comedy to drama, but it concludes with an effective blending of the two. The science half is excellent, describing realistically a legitimate theoretical cloning issue without sounding like a biology lesson. It's a nice effect and this episode pulls it off well by using good guest actors.
In fact, all of the guest actors here pull off their jobs quite convincingly. While the words on the script are often standard or outright bland, the actors and actresses infuse the characters with life and vitality. It's a nice effect and it works in the episode's favor.
So who would like "Up the Long Ladder?" I think anyone who likes science fiction. This is a definite science fiction episode. Those who don't like science fiction won't be grabbed by this one. Everyone else will find this a great combination of science and fiction, doing what science fiction does best.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode and movies reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!
© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.