Monday, March 18, 2013

Getting The Most Out Of The Creepy Cave Budget, “Terra Nova” Moves Enterprise Back And Forward.

The Good: General concept, Moments of guest performance
The Bad: Specific acting issues, Huge continuity problem, Mood
The Basics: In “Terra Nova,” writer Antoinette Stella essentially rewrites “Miri” and creates another huge continuity problem in Enterprise.

Sometimes, when the writers of Star Trek episodes create something new, they make what came before make much less sense than it ought to. So, for example, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Wounded” (reviewed here!), the Cardassians are introduced and in doing so, the character reference how hostilities between the Federation and Cardassia have only recently ended. In writing the episode that way, the series undermined itself because it made no sense that the U.S.S. Enterprise, the most powerful ship in StarFleet (with the ability to disable a Cardassian warship with about two phaser hits) would have been tasked with an exploratory mission, as opposed to ending the war with Cardassia with expediency. In a similar way, “Terra Nova” makes the meandering mission of Enterprise make no real sense.

“Terra Nova” is an exploration/rescue mission story and given that Enterprise has been out in the galaxy for months at this point, if the mystery of the Terra Nova colony was such a compelling thing, why wouldn’t that have been the very first thing they went out to do?! In the context of “Terra Nova,” no one sufficiently answers T’Pol’s question of why other humans didn’t go after the colony before now.

Enterprise is closing in on Terra Nova, a lost human colony that stopped communicating with Earth some seventy-five years prior. When the ship arrives, they detect no life signs and they bring down a shuttlepod to investigate the colony. There, they discover primitive creatures, living in the caves, who shoot Reed. T’Pol reveals that the creatures are human.

Archer begins to negotiate with the filthy creatures living in the caves for Reed’s return. Dr. Phlox determines that the subterranean humans are suffering from lung cancer and other cellular decay and in healing them, the crew solves the mystery of the lost colony.

“Terra Nova” is a terrible episode from beginning to end. The acting is stiff and the plot is ridiculous and while director LeVar Burton gives it a good try, he can’t save the problems that come from a lame script. In fact, this is another episode where the quality of the seasoned guest actors (most notably Erick Avari) overshadow the regular performers. In his first moments on screen, Anthony Montgomery (Travis Mayweather) looks and sounds like he is reading his lines off cue cards. And from a script perspective, the resolution to the episode – which has Mayweather assigned to write up the mission report – makes no sense when his character sits out the bulk of the episode.

“Terra Nova” bears a strong resemblance to “Miri” (reviewed here!) and it is yet another episode where the producers go for trying to scare the audience (failing to do so in a compelling way) and they use the cave sets. Apparently, the Enterprise scanners absolutely suck because yet again, the scanners fail to find human life signs until it is plot-convenient and then they discover a whole separate group of colonists on a planet where one would think they should have stuck out like a sore thumb.

The episode further suffers from the regression of the human characters. Nadet is seventy years old and had a childhood on the colony before it was destroyed, so the language she spoke should have been pretty close to normal English. They claim not to like humans (which is fine), but in trying to prove to the Novans that they are human, it does not occur to Archer to do the obvious: give them a shower. The Novans are just dirty humans who live underground. Washing them off and standing next to them would pretty much prove to them that they are human, too . . .

“Terra Nova” is one of the first big failures of Enterprise where the biggest problems are within the episode itself, as opposed to how it fits into the larger Star Trek franchise. The plot is mediocre, the acting is terrible and there is no sensible character development (though there is another reference to Mayweather as a “Boomer”), making it a boring dud that starts with a terribly unengaging teaser.

The three biggest gaffes in “Terra Nova:”
3. Once again, Vulcans are characterized as remarkably ignorant. Why would T’Pol, a science officer, not learn anything about human colonization efforts before getting on a ship with them?!
2. Dr. Phlox is explicitly called a Denobulan, a race never before (or after) seen in the Star Trek franchise . . . or even referenced, so . . . what the hell happened to them?!
1. Given that the set-up is virtually identical to “This Side Of Paradise” (reviewed here!), the plot of “Terra Nova” makes it unsurprising that the Enterprise crew (decades later) would discover that lost colony alive and well.

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

For other works with Erick Avari, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Charlie Wilson's War
Heroes - Season 1
Mr. Deeds
The Mummy
ID4: Independence Day
"Dr. Strangechild" - VR.5
"Destiny" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Unification, Part 1" - Star Trek: The Next Generation


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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