Friday, December 13, 2013

Really?! “Doctor’s Orders” Is A Cheap Retread Of “Bliss” And “One!”

The Good: John Billingsley’s performance, A good moment between Archer and Phlox
The Bad: Entirely derivative plot, Performance/character issues in the latter half come way too quickly for realism
The Basics: “Doctor’s Orders” might have been a fine episode if it were not for the obvious comparison to episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Back in the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the episode “Oasis” (reviewed here!) featured Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor Rene Auberjonois in a guest role. One of my favorite convention stories was Rene Auberjonois talking about how he reacted to cast members who thought the derivative episode was original and clever. The moment “Doctor’s Orders” began, I wondered why I never heard a similar story from Roxann Dawson. Dawson directed “Doctor’s Orders” and the episode is essentially a remashing together of the Star Trek: Voyager episodes “One” (reviewed here!) and “Bliss” (reviewed here!). It’s entirely possible that Roxann Dawson did not complain about the derivative nature of “Doctor’s Orders” because she was happy to get the work directing or because Dawson’s character B’Elanna Torres had such a minimal role in both episodes that she did not read the rest of the script for those episodes or watch the finished works to know just how much the Star Trek: Enterprise writers were stealing from the Star Trek: Voyager episodes.

Regardless, “Doctor’s Orders” is a mild horror episode of Star Trek: Enterprise and it is unfortunately similar to prior episodes in the Star Trek franchise. Moreover, “Doctor’s Orders” has a premise that seems unfortunately contrived. T’Pol has been a valued confidant of Captain Archer, so the idea that Archer would turn over command to Dr. Phlox is thoroughly formulated as opposed to organic (until the penultimate scene).

En route to Azati Prime, the Enterprise encounters a massive stellar phenomenon that would detour the crew for two weeks. Unwilling to put off their trip for such an amount of time, Dr. Phlox theorizes that he can protect the crew’s neocortexes (which would be disrupted by the spatial anomaly) by inducing a coma for each of the members of the crew. After training in all the key systems, Dr. Phlox assumes command from Archer and puts the Captain into his coma. After spending time with Porthos, walking around naked, and dictating a letter to a colleague, Phlox hears a loud noise and reports to Engineering where he finds a conduit venting.

There, he also finds T’Pol awake and walking around. Despite hearing more noises around the ship, T’Pol, Porthos, and Phlox are supposedly the only life forms still on Enterprise. After having a dinner with T’Pol wherein Phlox admits he is having difficulty with the solitude of the situation (and T’Pol expressing the exact opposite), Phlox sees a life form out one of the windows. T’Pol dismisses the existence of the creature, but Phlox remains certain he saw it. Shortly thereafter, Phlox sees two Xindi Insectoids and the he hallucinates Sato as a zombie. Fearing that he is going crazy, Phlox makes a troubling discovery that causes him to question his judgment.

“Doctor’s Orders” uses a number of traditional horror conceits in order to maintain the suspense surrounding Dr. Phlox and his apparent hallucinations. The horror aspects work far less well than the character elements in “Doctors Orders,” probably because the episode includes important cuts – like Phlox seeing the Xindi Insectoid, but none evident behind him when he thinks one is chasing him and external shots of the Enterprise that do not have any other ships in the area. The character aspects of “Doctor’s Orders” give viewers quite a bit more information on Denobulans and Vulcans.

T’Pol notes that the Vulcans prefer solitude and that the days without the rest of the crew have actually been like a vacation to her. By contrast, Phlox reveals that the highly-social Denobulans like himself find the lack of company torturous. The interplay between the two outsider characters in “Doctor’s Orders” is good and the moment the two realize they are trapped deep within the phenomenon, the character work is instantly compelling.

Unfortunately, that is also the time the episode falls apart. As my wife noted, the episode becomes especially whiny and while it makes sense that T’Pol would be affected by the mysterious space, the rate at which she starts degrading after the ship’s location within the anomaly is way too fast. Jolene Blalock’s performance falls apart in the latter quarter of the episode and while it makes for humorous moments, it does not make a lick of character sense. In fact, the changes in Blalock’s body language makes little rational sense for T’Pol’s character. Even with the ultimate resolution to the episode (the episode has a pretty obvious reversal near the end), the performance aspects Blalock brings to the character do not make sense.

On the other hand, John Billingsley gives a solid performance as Dr. Phlox. As his character comes unglued, Phlox changes his body language and he sells the unsettling nature of the situation more than the music does.

Unfortunately, the reversal near the very end of the episode is much more predictable than surprising and as a result, the episode has a very floppy quality to it. The episode stole from two better episodes and made something dramatically worse.

The three biggest gaffes in “Doctor’s Orders:”
3. Given how Phlox seems to know all about inducing comas through technology and applies that effortlessly in the episode, it seems like someone like in Section 31 would have long ago come up with a standard countermeasure to such devices or technology so it could not be used as a weapon against StarFleet. As such, “Bliss” should never have happened,
2. Given the sophistication of Dr. Phlox’s coma-inducing devices, it seems like StarFleet would have been able to recognize the effects of being forced into comas, like in “Clues” (reviewed here!),
1. If suspended animation or induced comas were a matter of fact in 22nd Century StarFleet, it seems like they would have had far better technology to induce comas in the 24th Century (as opposed to the bulky tubes used in “One.”

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the penultimate season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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