The Good: Acting, Quasi-sensible plot, Characters
The Bad: Recycled plot, Unconvincing make-up
The Basics: When Dr. Pulaski begins to age rapidly, the rushes to find a reason, the viewer tries to stay awake.
In one of the closer calls as to recommend or not a second season Star Trek The Next Generation episode, "Unnatural Selection" actually came down to a split decision and I ended up opting not to recommend it. Is it an all right episode? Sure. Is it something to write home about, no. It's probably a hair's width below average.
"Unnatural Selection" takes a cue from Star Trek's "The Deadly Years" (reviewed here!) and decides to explore the nature of aging. In this instance, Dr. Katherine Pulaski begins to age significantly while investigating an outbreak of rapid aging from a dead starship and then a genetic research center. After taking every possible precaution to attempt to discover the cause, Pulaski exposes herself to a genetically engineered youth and soon after begins to age rapidly.
So, it's fairly obvious to us, the viewer, who is the cause of this affliction and the rest of the episode is spent attempting to determine how or why the genetically enhanced youth are causing this malaise. Is it enough to keep us in our seats? Probably, but certainly not on the edge of them.
This episode suffers from being occasionally obvious - from the solution to the problem to the naming of the genetic research center Darwin Station. Similarly, the make-up is unconvincing and too often, the viewer finds themself thinking, "Well, Diana Muldaur must have hated having all that put on" or "I can still tell it's Diana Muldaur" instead of actually believing the changes in Dr. Pulaski.
However, "Unnatural Selection" has both a more sensible cause and a more reasonable resolution to the aging problem than "The Deadly Years" ever did. In fact, the science of this episode is often fun to watch and intriguing to listen to, if not wholly plausible. This is one of the episodes that very effectively balances the human aspect with the scientific.
Part of the way that balance is maintained is through the use of Pulaski and her foil Data. I know I've said in previous reviews that the Pulaski/Data relationship is detrimental to the series in that it attempts to recreate a Spock/McCoy relationship that is out of place in the new environment. In this episode, the bitter quips are gone, the two are operating in a stalemate derived from sensibility. This is less of an adversarial foil relationship and more a "these are opposite sides of the same coin" experience.
And the actors, especially Diana Muldaur and Brent Spiner, come out in this episode with strength. Diana Muldaur, especially, makes the whole experience plausible and her character strength is enhanced only by the actress performing with great delivery and charisma.
In the end, however, all of the character development that is exposed or developed in this episode turns on a simple trick and that leaves us ultimately unfulfilled. This episode is quite accessible to those who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation but is unlikely to be enjoyable to anyone who doesn't like science fiction. At best, a nice way to spend a Saturday night.
[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!
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© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.