Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Dear Doctor"


Air date: 1/23/2002
Written by Marie Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton
Directed by James A. Contner

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Someday my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine, something that tells us what we can and can't do out here, should and shouldn't do. But until somebody tells me that they've drafted that directive, I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God." — Archer

In brief: By miles the best episode so far. An excellent outing in its quiet, pleasant, and startlingly observant way.

John Billingsley's performance of Dr. Phlox makes for a supporting character of the highest order, and it's only because of trying to stay focused on the main points (or perhaps simply because of an oversight on my part) that I have yet to single him out for praise — or any sort of analysis, for that matter — in my 11 Enterprise reviews preceding this one.

Billingsley's Phlox has been a supporting role that's incredibly pleasant to watch; it's just been hard to mention as much without it coming across as an aside. But in "Dear Doctor" he finally has the spotlight and I can turn my attention in his direction, giving the character and the actor their due.

I think the key word for this episode is "perspective." This is a story that's all about insights gained through perspective. Also through listening, careful observation, patience, conscience, and understanding. This is a remarkably quiet episode in its presentation. It's almost entirely devoid of histrionics and completely lacking in action. The story simply takes us in a direction and follows it through to its destination, while Phlox carefully observes what goes on around him and serves as our running commentary.

The results are extremely effective. The narrative framing device comes in the form of a letter Phlox is composing to his human counterpart in the interspecies exchange program. Phlox, a Denobulan, is the only one of his species serving with a Starfleet crew. His counterpart, Dr. Lucas, is the only human serving among Denobulans. Of course, we never actually meet Dr. Lucas, because he isn't really a person so much as the story's avenue for Phlox's monologue. And in hearing what Phlox has to say we gain a very unique perspective on what's happening on board the Enterprise — ranging from his take on how humans invest an emotional stake in fictional movie characters to the major scientific ethics issue involving the natural evolution of an entire world and whether we should interfere in such matters.

The monologue voice-over approach is not an uncommon device in film, but it has only occasionally been used on Trek to such an extent. Most memorably and recently would be DS9's "In the Pale Moonlight," but TNG followers may recognize elements of "Dear Doctor's" narration device being most similar to "Data's Day" (1991) from TNG's fourth season. In that episode, Data chronicled a day in his life aboard the USS Enterprise, also in the form of a letter to a colleague. And in that story, as in this one, the overall theme was witnessing human behavior from a unique outsider's perspective. Here it's even more effective because through Phlox we see more compelling events — an outsider's view of humanity's early steps into a larger universe, and the responsibilities that come with those steps.

Captain Archer finds himself in a situation where he might be able to help an entire world when representatives from a people called the Valakians ask for help in curing a deadly disease. Treating the disease is beyond their society's medical abilities, so they've turned to off-worlders with better medical technology for help. Unfortunately, it's taken them years just to find anybody, because they don't have warp drive and basically have to wait until other travelers find them. Archer announces his intention to help, and the challenge of curing the disease falls on our good doctor, Phlox.

The alien world medical crisis storyline is hardly new to Trek, but here it serves as the backdrop for (1) a great deal of wonderful observation and insight, and (2) a dilemma that sets a wonderfully appropriate stage for a Prime Directive dilemma, in an era where the Prime Directive does not yet exist.

It starts off routinely enough, as Phlox begins his research by running tests, analyzing DNA, etc. We meet the Valakians and some of their representatives, and we also meet another humanoid species indigenous to their planet, the Menk. It's of a certain peculiar interest that the Valakians and the Menk, two separate and genetically incompatible groups, have both survived as sentient humanoid species. As Phlox points out, in a typical case of the evolutionary process with two distinct species, one group would've likely wiped the other out long ago.

On this planet, both species have evolved alongside each other. The Menk, however, are not as advanced in their intellectual capacities. They are much more primitive, whereas the Valakians have technology and space travel and have made contact with people from other worlds. Phlox believes the cure to the Valakian epidemic may lie in the genetic code of the Menk, who are not suffering from the disease.

Phlox's challenging medical research provides the foreground. In the background are the constantly compelling perspectives as we get a chance to get into Phlox's head and take a look at human behavior, at ourselves, through this perspective. Marie and Andre Jacquemetton deserve high praise for their ability to write a story that manages to truly and insightfully step just a little bit outside and provide a look at human behavior in a way that feels absolutely genuine and unique. All the while it maintains a sort of meta-humanistic attitude; we can relate to Phlox's point of view and understand how we're observed from within it, while at the same time noticing that it's not really all that different. It's just different enough to serve as the story's avenue for examination. Very nice.

Consider this voice-over narration by Phlox: "Despite the Menk's insistence that they're treated well, my human crewmates seem to see things differently. They think the Menk are being exploited by the Valakians, so their first instinct is to rise to their defense despite the fact that the Menk don't appear to need or want a defender." This is great stuff, and so very true. Indeed, the first thought that went through my mind as I watched the Menk (who largely operate as primitive laborers), was that they were capable of something more but that the Valakians were exploiting them and keeping them in their place. I figured this would play into the storyline in some way. But instead, Phlox's narration reveals the human attitude that lurks beneath the situation and exposes an alternate viewpoint — one that says perhaps this is simply their way of coexisting. And indeed, he's more or less right. The Menk are happy and well treated. It's our gut humanistic values that believe they should be independent and capable of achieving more.

The cultural examination is further demonstrated through the very pleasantly depicted subplot of Crewman Cutler's (Kellie Waymire, reprising her role from "Strange New World") developing romantic interest in Phlox. Throughout the episode Cutler gives Phlox signs of interest, which he's not entirely comfortable in deciphering. He recognizes the cultural and behavioral differences. Later, he explains to her how he has three wives (each of which has two other husbands), which is quite normal in Denobulan culture. This provides a nice point showing how not all cultures operate like human culture, which ties back into the observations of the Menk.

I also very much liked the scene between Phlox and Hoshi where they're talking with each other in Denobulan. (At last, a TV episode of Trek that has subtitles, something long avoided, intentionally, I believe.) I appreciate the supporting use of Hoshi, who continues to have an easy friendship with Phlox, and I like her interest in his culture from the viewpoint of a linguist.

We also see Phlox's take on T'Pol (who apparently doesn't like dental work very much). T'Pol warns him about how humans are curious of new things, and that could explain why Cutler is expressing interest in him. I like how this provides us with T'Pol's own perspective, and I like even more how Phlox explains that he is unsettled by T'Pol's pure logic, which seems to be missing something that an emotional catalyst might add.

By the time the story's key issue comes around, the episode has already accomplished more than most. The key issue, however, is perfectly suited to what Enterprise as a series is about — confronting new issues. Phlox discovers a cure, along with the fact that the disease is genetic and not caused by any sort of viral or bacterial infection. In short, the epidemic is a natural genetic process of their evolution as people, and the Valakians are likely to be extinct within two centuries. Furthermore, he has evidence that the Menk, living independently, could realize an evolutionary awakening and eventually dominate the planet.

The question no longer is whether Phlox can cure them (he can), but whether he should, and as a scientist, Phlox realizes that he shouldn't interfere with the natural development of an isolated society. When he explains his reasoning to Archer, there's a new tension where Archer finds that his human belief to help the Valakians must be weighed against the moral questions of interfering in a natural process. Subsequently, Archer uses T'Pol as a sounding board in a way that is quite admirable, and explains to her how for the first time he understands why the Vulcans were so reluctant to let humans venture out without a safety net. Archer gets his own new perspective through these events, and decides, even though it goes against his beliefs as a human, that he can't dictate the natural evolution of another world.

Through a series of considered opinions from different perspectives, everyone learns a little bit of something. Phlox realizes that he might have underestimated his captain — that humans are capable of reacting independent of their feelings and initial instincts.

The episode's closing scene featuring Archer's prophetic statements about the Prime Directive is abundantly clear to the core Trek audience, but by this point the episode has earned every word of Archer's speech. It's earned by putting Phlox and Archer in tough positions with no easy answers and no convenient solutions.

From an execution standpoint, all of this benefits from a careful, consistently even-handed touch by director James A. Contner, who never, ever, pushes for an unnecessary effect and instead maintains the position of staying as invisible as possible. Also helpful is the understated score by David Bell, which provides us with the pleasant emotional cues but without ever coming close to getting in the way. The restraint is admirable and the episode is all the better because of it; I must say that after sitting through scenes of brain-dead action in just about every episode of Andromeda, "Dear Doctor" is evidence that television absolutely does not have to pander to the lowest common denominator or hit us over the head with obvious dialog to get our attention. This episode earns our attention by simply telling a good story.

"Dear Doctor" is, I fear, a rarer treasure than we might at first give it credit for. This episode stops and listens. It hears. It observes. It has a true understanding of human nature. It has perspectives of a kind that I want to see more of. And it believes in an audience that is interested in the true spirit of Star Trek and exploration rather than selling out in the name of being the hip flavor of the week.

This is a real story.

Next week: Return of the Klingons ... and also that decontamination chamber. (Return to reality, I suppose.)

Previous episode: Silent Enemy
Next episode: Sleeping Dogs

Season Index

143 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Fri, Sep 26, 2008 - 11:58am (USA Central)
I absolutely agree with Jammer on this one! This is Star Trek at its best!

I wonder why the creators, especially of Voyager and Enterprise never seemed to realize that the best episodes of Star Trek are those that have an interesting story to tell and not those with the most fighting scenes.
When I think of episodes of that kind, I think about episodes like "The city on the edge of forever", "The Inner Light", "Darmok", "Tapestry", "Duet", "The Visitor", "Jetrel", "Tuvix". Granted, some battle scenes were real eye-candy, but episodes like those mentioned above are the reason I watch Star Trek.
Dear Doctor is so far the first outing of Enterprise really competing for a place on this list!
Josh - Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - 3:05am (USA Central)
You seem to be in the minority, Jammer. Many other reviewers knocked one or two (or ten) points off for having Archer and Phlox act like Hitler without any recognition.
Oren Ashkenazi - Wed, Mar 4, 2009 - 12:54am (USA Central)
Seriously? You're giving this episode four stars? An episode where they let an entire race die off for absolutely no reason?

Even if we accept Phlox's ridiculous interpretation of Evolution, which is really hard to do, it's still bullshit. The Menk clearly rely on the Valakians for food and shelter. If their protectors die, most of the Menk-if not all-are going to die to.

This is Trek at its worse, touting noninterference as an excuse to allow atrocities.
David Key - Sat, Mar 7, 2009 - 5:26am (USA Central)
This episode isn't bad. It isn't horrible, or bullshit, or ignorant, or misguided. No, none of these adjectives go far enough to describe Dear Doctor. In fact, I can only think of one that fits.

This episode is evil.

There is no question about this: Captain Jonathan Archer and Doctor Phlox, by their inaction, are complicit in the genocide of an entire species. This is not a statement of opinion, this is a fact.

Not only that, but their justification for murdering the Valakians is not a single iota different from ANY philosophy that has been used to justify the termination of a large group of people in history. We're talking about killing millions of people solely because it will benefit a different group of people. This is unequivocally evil.

Phlox: I'm saying we let nature decide.

This is supposed to be the voice of scientific reason? Nature is not an entity capable of making choices. For that matter, evolution is not a higher power that has a plan for all creatures. It is not Allah, Jehovah, Zeus, or the one true Cylon God. Nature simply is. It is simply a process, and to elevate that process into almost a divine plan that must not be interfered with is to descend wholly into insanity.
SimonC - Tue, Mar 31, 2009 - 5:46pm (USA Central)
There have been plenty of Trek episodes that have left me annoyed at their bad plots, ludicrous technobabble, or lack of anything really happening, but this episode is the only one that has ever made me angry. I cannot believe it's been given a positive review, with its "It's wrong to throw a float to a drowning man" message.

Look back to the days when it was fine for TV to be racist or sexist. "Dear Doctor" stands out for sheer offensiveness even amongst that lot.
limey - Sun, Apr 19, 2009 - 4:40am (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer, this is Star Trek at its best, and perfectly written for Enterprise's exploration of humanaty's first steps grappling with these kinds of issues.

Don't want to start an argument here, but I'm not sure why some of the earlier comments equate holding back alien technology from a society that would have massive implications, some good some bad, for both these species, with the worst moments of our own history. I feel Archer and Phlox faced an honest moral dilemma here.

Btw, I see on the interweb that the actress who played Crewman Cutler died a few years ago. What a cutie she was. Sorry to hear the news.
Bertie - Tue, Jun 16, 2009 - 5:52pm (USA Central)
This is it. Not TOS: "Spock's Brain", not VOY: "Threshold", but ENT: "Dear Doctor" — the single worst episode in all of Trek.

Because it's immoral.

Of all the systems of ethics ever devised, religion and secular, the only one that I can think of that would justify the crew's actions here is Social Darwinism in its most crude, perverted form. The strong survive, the weak perish.

Come to think of it, that puts Starfleet at about the same level of Species 8472.
David - Sun, Jun 21, 2009 - 9:26pm (USA Central)
How interesting that, 7 years after this episode first aired, its ethical stance is still being vigorously debated. If nothing else, that's a sign that the cast and writers did their job.
Though I believe that Jammer is far too harsh on Trek in all of his reviews (not every episode has to break new ground for me - it just has to tell a good story and tell it well). I'm glad there's still a forum for discussing all the incarnations of one of television's finest achievements. Thanks, Jammer!
Hecktar - Tue, Jun 23, 2009 - 5:11pm (USA Central)
The problem is not the quality of the script or the acting. The problem is that a misinterpretation (I choose to believe that it was done in ignorance) of scientific and ethical concepts has twisted a moral story into an immoral one.
As David Key said, it seems that the writers have attributed divine properties to the process of evolution. Evolution does not strive towards a specific goal. Natural selection simply means that individual organisms who succeed are more likely to pass their traits to the next generation.
Phlox says the disease is genetic, implying that evolution has marked the Valakians for extinction, providing more moral justification for his actions. But again, this is not how evolution works. There's no reason that a genetic condition which kills the organism will allow him to survive better then it's counter parts who lack it, making it so common the whole race carries it. We might assume that perhaps this suicidal trait has piggy backed on a successful trait. An organism might carry a trait that facilitate a better survival rate while at the same time carrying a "bad" trait that is transmitted along with the "good" one. But it's hard to imagine how such a trait survived if it kills the carrier. The chances that a non-carrier will survive are always greater.
But even if the race is doomed to extinction, why not help them? There's a second reason of course, the Menk. Should the Valakians die, the Menk might evolve to take their place as a sentient civilization. It's almost comical how the logical progression of events is depicted as a preordained destiny. When a meteor facilitate the extinction of dinosaurs other organisms quickly evolved and filled the niches left. There's nothing magical about it, its just how things work. If you fill a tub with water and then remove a volume of it out in a bucket, water quickly rush to fill the hole. You wont say that the rushing water were 'meant' to fill that hole, it's just how liquid behaves.
So the Valakians are not meant to die, the Menk are not meant to survive. What other reasons are there? Cultural contamination is moot since the Valakians had contact with two warp civilization prior to the enterprise. Giving them a technology is moot because what is given to them is a cure, not the technology to synthesize it.
The only valid reason is a religious one. And make no mistake, this is a religious decision. Archer doesn't want to play God. he doesn't want to interfere in god's plan. They refuse to save countless lives because god might have meant them to die. But this argument is ultimately just as flawed as the others. Lets assume the religious stance for a moment: There's a divine will that has the power to orchestrate any and all events in the universe. We can infare his will from the state of the world around us. He obviously wanted the Valakians to die, why else would they have this genetic flaw. If he wanted them to survive, he might have orchestrated events that would cure them. Like bringing a well meaning race with a advanced enough technology to cure them into the vicinity...
But even this is a stretch. We are supposed to believe that both Archer and Phlox are secular and educated moral people who are faced with a difficult moral decision. No doubt that was the script's intention. But through ignorance, misunderstanding scientific principles and a certain blindness to the moral reprecussions this story raised - an episode was created which supported an immoral decision through inconsequential arguments.
Christina - Mon, Aug 10, 2009 - 12:17pm (USA Central)
Zero stars from me, too.
Oren Ashkenazi, David Key, SimonC, Bertie and Hecktar have already brought up many of the points I was about to make.

You'd hope that Science Fiction writers have at least a basic grip of the natural sciences, but Star Trek writers seem to lack even that. We the audience accept the basic premise of faster than light travel and transporter technology as part of the background setting. No problem with that. But Star Trek writers seem to have a special problem grasping even the fundamentals of genetics and the Theory of evolution through genetic variation and natural selection (for thr sake of brevity, I won't get into the topics of epigenetics, proteomics and lateral gene-transfer here). Over the years Trek writers have produced a number of groanworthy "fun with DNA" episodes that had more in common with creationism than sound science. But this episode takes the cake.

David wrote:
"If nothing else, that's a sign that the cast and writers did their job."

No, if the writers had "done their job", these points of discussion would've been brought up by the characters within the episode! Instead, Archer and Phlox are in total agreement. Worse, why are Cpt. Archer and general physician Phlox the ones to make a decision on which hinges the survival of a whole sentient species? Why not call a number of Earth and Vulcan geneticists for help?

It's another false ethical dilemma, dreamt up for the sake of cheap drama.

Worse, Phlox starts from a number of wonky premises. First of all, he simply proclaims that two sentient species cannot coexist on the same planet, or as Jammer put it: "in a typical case of the evolutionary process with two distinct species, one group would've likely wiped the other out long ago". What?? The writers have obviously never heard about co-evolution.

After observing a handful of Menk individuums working in a Valakian household for a few minutes, Phlox comes to the questionable conclusion that the Menk as a species are getting smarter. (Raising the question of how Dear Doctor Phlox measures "intelligence".)

He then proclaims that for some unexplained reason he's 100% certain that Mother Nature is just waiting to make the Menk a fully intelligent species, but the Valakians are in the way of the Menk "realizing their full potential". Again, this is nonsense. (Please note that the writers never try to claim that the Valakians enslaved the Menk.)

We're supposed to feel warm charitable feelings towards the poor semi-intelligent Menk. But the Menk will not die out if the Valakians survive, not will the existance of the Valakians stop the Menk for getting more intelligent... because it hasn't done so up to now!

Furthermore, none of the characters in the episode ever voices the hypothesis that maybe the reason why some Menk are getting smarter (if indeed they do) is because co-evolution and interaction with the more intelligent Valakians is accelerating the development of their brains. On a genetic level, maybe the Valakians select those Menk as household pets that already show a high degree of intelligence, and these Menk become sought-after partners among the other Menk, plus a Menk child born in a Valakian household will have a greater chance not to die in infancy from some disease or malnutrician than those born "in the wild".

More importantly, brains are not static but highly adaptive. Menk living and working in a Valakian household come in contact with completely different stimuli than Menk living among their own. They hear the Valakian language, and have to learn to understand what the Valakians want of them, and in turn learn to make themselves understood. They are trained to work with technology. Adaptive pressure influences brain development. On the other hand, a brain that is not subjected to stimuli becomes retarded, as has been demonstrated both on animals and human case studies.

Furthermore, modern medicine is a product of intelligence. Denying te Valakians medical help is like denying surgery to someone with a burst appendix by claiming that his appendicitis proves that he is "genetically inferior" and should die already.
Christina - Mon, Aug 10, 2009 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
[Correction: That sentence should have read: "...nor will the continued existence of the Valakians stop the Menk from getting more intelligent..."
I thought I had caught all the typos, but obviously I didn't.]
Christina - Mon, Aug 10, 2009 - 1:46pm (USA Central)
Addendum to my posting(s) above:

If the script writers really wanted an episode that explored the need for developing the Prime Directive, they could easily have taken the premise (two sentient species sharing the same planet and civilisation, the technologically dominant species is threatened with extinction by a disease) and twisted it in a variety of more interesting ways:

1) Give the quasi-religious conviction voiced by Phlox and Archer to the Valakians. They are faced with extinction and most of them believe this is their Destiny or the will of their God(s) and that their souls will be reborn in the "primitive but strong" Menk species. A minority of "heretics" disagrees and sends pleas for help into Space in the hopes of attracting an advances alien race.

Phlox comes up with a cure, and Archer has to decide if he wants to intervene, if he has the moral authority to intervene, or even the diplomatic ability to convince these people.

2) The Menk and Valakians are equally intelligent, but for some reason the Menk are still stuck in a bronze age or stone age society... either because the Valakians didn't want to intervene in their social development, or because the Valakians have only recently discovered the region of a far-away continent where the Menk live, or because the Menk tribal elders shun all technology as foreign and fear the danger of assimilation. Contact with the Valakians on the other hand has brought advantages to a few less xenophobic Menk tribes, such as trade, medicine, artificial wells, better nutrition and the idea of peaceful coexistence. But the more xenophobic of the Menk see the Valakian's disease as a divine sign that the Valakians are supposed by divine providence to die out and the Menk are supposed to inherit all their nifty techno toys.
jack - Sat, Aug 22, 2009 - 4:27am (USA Central)
First of all, this episode is really well done in its quite and insightful way. If only more ENT episodes were done in that fashion...

I do not agree with some of the comments here. This episode is certainly not "evil". Archer and Phloxs decision is understandable. They simply can't bear the weight of determining the fate of millions of people.

Archer is right. He is not there to interfere. It's not his place to jugde on who lives and who dies.

Christina - Sun, Sep 6, 2009 - 7:53am (USA Central)
"Archer is right. He is not there to interfere. It's not his place to jugde on who lives and who dies."

Sorry, Jack, but that is nonsense. It's a cowardly excuse. By refusing to help despite being ASKED for help, Archer and Phlox have already made a judgement on who will die. They could have easily refered the decision to their higher-ups or to the Vulcan Science Council, but they didn't. They had a cure, but they decided to hold it back for reasons that are wholly religious and based on ridiculous bogus biology. Legally, that is failure to render assistance, despite there being no risk to themselves!

If you are asked for help by a diabetic woman who desperately needs a shot of insulin, and you have insulin but refuse to give it to her because you think God decided for her to die, or that her underage child is more worthy and would upon her death inherit all her money, and she subsequently dies as a result of your decision, I'm pretty sure that would be considered manslaughter or even murder. And causing a whole race and civilisation to die is genocide.

The Prime Directive, which didn't even exist at this point in time yet, only states that Star Fleet is not supposed to interfere in non-warp cultures which, and this is important, are not aware of the existence of other space-faring cultures Out There. This especially refers to things like intra-cultural wars, that is wars the race is waging among themselves between different nations for example, or to things like natural catastrophes.

Once a race is aware that there are "aliens" out there who can help them, however, Star Fleet is allowed to swoop in and save them with their advanced technology, because it is assumed that cultural contact has already been made.

Archer and Phlox were not asked to interfere in a territorial or cultural dispute or war between the Valakians and the Menk. Phlox was asked to give medical assistance and refused for reasons that do not hold up either scientifically nor ethically, and Archer went along with it.

Archer could have told others about the disease and extinction the Valakians face. As far as I remember, he didn't. Some hero.
Christina - Sun, Sep 6, 2009 - 9:22am (USA Central)
After I hit Send on my above comment I realized I had allowed the Archer-apologizers to frame the discussion in a way that narrows it down to a single topic: interference vs non-interference.

Now, while the script writers do their best to pretend that this episode is about the origin of the Prime Directive, it really isn't.

The whole idea of the Prime Directive is about not interfering in the CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT of a LESS technologically advanced species. But as Hecktar stated above: "Cultural contamination is moot since the Valakians had contact with two warp civilization prior to the enterprise."

What Archer and Phlox refused to "interfere" with here is their idea of the BIOLOGICAL "destiny" of the Valakians.

Furthermore, if Archer and Phlox were so determined to *not* interfere with alien cultures, they should have said "Sorry, won't." and warped-speeded away right after their contact with the Valakian representatives asking for their help. But they didn't.

Instead, Archer and Phlox initially promised the Valakians to try and help them. They went down to the planet. They interacted with the natives. Phlox started medical testing. He started working on a cure.

The whole bogus ethical dilemma started only when
1) Phlox announced that the disease is a species-wide genetical plot device.
2) Phlox encounters the Menk (or rather, a few individuums) and immediately makes three dubious claims:
a) That two sentient species cannot peacefully coexist on the same planet without the more technologically advanced wiping out the other one (despite the fact this hasn't obviously happened there), and
b) That the Menk *as a species* are getting more intelligent (compared to what?) because some trained individuums can function on the level of parrots.
c) That the Valakians are meant to die out so that the Menk can fulfill their preordained destiny.

At which point Archer and Phlox declare the Valakians obsolete and interfere on the side of the Menk.

When the episode was over, I remember viciously hoping the reason we had never seen Denobulans in Kirk's time was that the whole species had died out from incest and arrogance.
OddJohn - Thu, Dec 3, 2009 - 9:50pm (USA Central)
"The question no longer is whether Phlox can cure them (he can), but whether he should, and as a scientist, Phlox realizes that he shouldn't interfere with the natural development of an isolated society. When he explains his reasoning to Archer, there's a new tension where Archer finds that his human belief to help the Valakians must be weighed against the moral questions of interfering in a natural process...

"This episode stops and listens. It hears. It observes. It has a true understanding of human nature. It has perspectives of a kind that I want to see more of. And it believes in an audience that is interested in the true spirit of Star Trek and exploration rather than selling out in the name of being the hip flavor of the week."

Elliot Wilson - Tue, Feb 16, 2010 - 1:03pm (USA Central)
I have but just one question to contribute to this debate: What would Archer do were the situations REVERSED? i.e. Humankind has contracted a deadly disease, asked for help from an outside source, and was subsequently turned down for the same reasons? Does anyone honestly believe that Starfleet would permit such a thing because it's "the natural order of things"? Hell, they were willing to trick the Romulans into war, assassinate a chancellor to protect their fleets, and abet in the genocide of the Founders.

(To those last two posts there will be people who would undoubtedly claim that the Federation wasn't truly aware of any of it happening, but once they found out there as hell wasn't any consequences. They refused to give the cure to the Founders and Worf got off scot-free; not even a reprimand on his record like when he killed Duras. Why? Because they conveniently "needed" the Klingons to help defend themselves. How very interesting...)

NOW I know how they came up with the Prime Directive: Archer and Phlox's genocide covered up by "the moral high road". Thank God they fine-tuned it over the centuries. The Valakians were PEOPLE: They were allowing men, women, even CHILDREN to die as a race. Innocent beings who had done them no harm and were only guilty of conscripting a "genetic disease," whatever the hell THAT is. I'm more than convinced that the main reason Archer came to this ambiguous decision is in part because he wanted the Menk to be free. But Kirk himself said it: "Freedom isn't a gift, it has to be earned."

It's like this: If you saw someone holding a gun to somebody in a back alley and you had a gun to shoot THEM (unlikely, but just hear me out) would you in all good faith (if you were moral like Archer and Phlox claim to be?) not shoot that individual to save the other? Even if you just limited yourself to wounding and not killing? Chrstina highlighted a lot of points I think are pertinent but alas, some will like this, some will hate it. Different views, different opinions.....
Joonatan Renel - Mon, Apr 5, 2010 - 6:07am (USA Central)
Whenever we analyze tv shows or movies under the criteria of their morality we should always consider the message that an episode sends. And therefore that is really what's truly the most important thing. If a crewman wears the wrong insignia or we are left with another deus ex machina technobabble solution, then these things are just minor mistakes compared to the essence of an episode.

So let's view the message given to us by this episode. Essentially this isn't an episode about cultural non interference or giving weapons to some primitive society. It is about giving humanitarian aid to a people who are dying out. Now let's forget the prime directive(which doesn't really excist at this point anyway), let's forget about Phlox-s strange ethical code for just a second. Let's see how this would reflect a decision in the real world.

According this principle we shouldn't give any humanitarian aid to Africa because that would be intervention. So basically we'll let people die of diseases because well their civilization is inferior to ours. By all right they should be fine by themselves and if they're not then it's just evolution running its natural path. Furthermore if let's say in Palestine the Israelites would have a disease which only affected them and the palestinians would be free of it because of some genetic anomaly then we shouldn't give medicine to anybody because well we should just let them die out.

Let's take it even further, the prime directive meant that the federation could not attempt to free Bajor from the cardassian occupation because well their borders were drawn in that way

In the real world - In WWII it would've been "highly immoral" to liberate countries from the nazi regime because well the nazis said their border now runs from here. Basically nazi occupied Europe would've been an internal matter.

Also a derivative of this philosophy would be that the nazis would have had the right to murder millions and declare themselves superior because well they survived and they had guns and they conquered so essentially they would gain the evolutionary right to exist.

Now I truly hope that virtually all star trek fans have problems with such decisions and frame of "morality". Episodes such as "Dear Doctor" and "Homeward" were both written after Gene Roddenberrys death. I do believe that his prime directive was never intended to be something as despicable and vile as the writers have described it to be.

This episode disgusted me completely. The worst thing was that both Archer and Phlox ended in complete agreement of their actions - therefore there was only one conclusion to the viewer this was the absolutely right thing to do and it should be done again at all times. This is the essence of this episode and therefore it can only be concluded that morally speaking it has about as much value as a Hitler's speech
Joonatanr - Mon, Apr 5, 2010 - 6:28am (USA Central)
quote : ../When the episode was over, I remember viciously hoping the reason we had never seen Denobulans in Kirk's time was that the whole species had died out from incest and arrogance./...

Actually I believe something of the sort happened:

In the early 23rd century a huge asteroid was detected heading towards the denobulan homeworld. Originally the federation planned to just tow it
outout of the way, but then it was discovered that a rather peculiar type of fungi lived on the asteroid. While the denobulans would perish in the fiery cataclysm this fungi would probably thrive in the post apocalyptic denobulan homeworld. Also in 2.5 billion years the fungi could evolve into a sentient being. Therefore the federation just sat there and watched how the asteroid impacted the planet. Ofcourse that was not the end since there were a couple of hundred survivors hiding in bunkers sending out constant distress calls to the federation. Ofcourse the federation let EVOLUTION run its course in accordance with the prime directive and therefore slowly and painfully the denobulans succumbed to the incest and poisonous atmosphere. (The fungus actually evolved into a warrior race of lizardmen 2.5 billion years later therefore giving perfect justification for the obliteration of 20 billion denobulans.)
AR - Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - 2:29am (USA Central)
Not sure how religion entered this topic, but to address a specific point:
"I have but just one question to contribute to this debate: What would Archer do were the situations REVERSED? i.e. Humankind has contracted a deadly disease, asked for help from an outside source, and was subsequently turned down for the same reasons?"

Ironically, it WAS reversed in "Observer Effect". Even worse, the Organians actually had some justification for wanting to not intefere, and Archer had no problem begging THEM to help, and accusing THEM of lacking compassion, and that was after just TWO deaths.
Latex Zebra - Thu, May 13, 2010 - 6:24am (USA Central)
Picard and Janeway must have left millions to die because of the Prime Directive. Why give Phlox and Archer such a hard time?
lost4 - Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - 5:18am (USA Central)
Ugh, just watched this episode for the first time and need to vent my disgust.

I agree with most of the criticism of the ethics but I'll just place my own analogy as I understand it.

So Phlox doesn't want to help the Valakians because that might prevent the Menk from achieving their potential as the dominant species? Is that about right?

He also claims that normaly there is only one dominant species on the planet and that they normaly wipe out all competitors.

So if the Valakians had done that; wiped out the Menk instead, you know, co-existing peacefully with them, then they would have Phlox's cure right about now?

Is that the moral? Is that the message? Idiots should done made sure they were the dominant species first? Is it too late to wipe out the Menk?

Ugh, so angry with this 'moral' episode. What happened, Star Trek?
HarperMaddie - Thu, Jul 22, 2010 - 6:42pm (USA Central)
Ugh. I really wish, at least once, Star Trek could have gotten evolution right. This episode is the worst offender - even worse than "Threshold" - because where "Threshold" is silly nonsense, "Dear, Doctor" is vile nonsense. This isn't just a low point for Star Trek, it's probably a low point for all of televised drama. I just can't see any other series using bad science to justify genocide and the fans not, en masse, crying foul. It's an embarrassment.

Apparently it needs to be shouted from the rooftops: Evolution is NOT predestined! It's just what replicating molecules tend do over long periods of time. Genes don't think - they don't decide on some course and then move in that direction. The idea that a species could be "on the verge of an evolutionary breakthrough" is nonsense.
ippolite - Wed, Aug 18, 2010 - 10:53am (USA Central)
I agree that this was an abhorrent, vile piece of misinformed garbage that should be killed with fire. I've often been disgusted with some of Trek's usage of the Prime Directive, but this was by far the most offensive morality play I've ever seen. A lot of good points have already been made (especially about The Observer Effect) so I'll just say that the Prime Directive (which basically sets limits on the 'self' and 'other' thus determining who is deserving of moral consideration) was supposedly meant to prevent Starfleet from damaging other cultures that "weren't ready" (ie. too primitive in comparison to the almighty Starfleet) for "interference" (eg. humanitarian aid) which could have unintended and unpredictable consequences. In this mind-blowing episode, the Prime Directive is ratched up another notch to simply "let them eat cake."
Chris - Wed, Aug 18, 2010 - 1:08pm (USA Central)
This episode obviously generated a lot of controversy, which still rumbles on eight years later!

I think Archer and Phlox were wrong, but I still think it was a great episode. I also think Sisko sometimes did the wrong thing in DS9, as did Bartlet in the West Wing, but that didn't make me like and admire these series any the less.

So I'm willing to be more generous to the writers than most of the commenters here. Don't forget there was no prime directive at this time. Maybe the framers of the prime directive reviewed Archer and Phlox's actions in this episode and found them as wrong as the majority of us have. So they drafted the prime directive in such a way that it allowed assistance to be given to cultures who were in this position. Who knows, maybe they went back to the Valakians and gave them the cure at the same time.
Marco P. - Fri, Sep 10, 2010 - 5:26am (USA Central)
Before I begin commenting on the moral issues at stake, I want to say this is the first Enterprise episode that actually and truly *engaged* me. Whether we agree with Archer & Phlox's final decision, it can safely be stated that this is by far the most *relevant* episode up-to-date, not only because it tackles a concept very dear to the Star Trek franchise (the famous/infamous Prime Directive), but because the topic covered resonates of moral & philosophical implications so far above anything the show has thrown at us so far, I can't think of any episode having even come CLOSE to this level.

I have to admit that immediately after viewing, I felt for the first time I had seen something interesting on Star Trek Enterprise and and was satisfied with the experience. Better yet, despite I recognized Archer's final decision was questionable, it rang somewhat "right" for me. After all, I saw it no different (or at least, very similar) to the would-be Prime Directive adopted by StarFleet years later in the Trek chronology.

After reading some of the comments above (and the episode review on sfdebris.com), I was forced to re-evaluate.

Let me first say that the question of moral validity of the Prime Directive isn't an easy one. More often than not the Directive is presented to us through a "Nation 1 vs. Nation 2" war-conflict on a foreign planet. The question then becomes "what right does humanity (or at large, the United Federation of Planets) have to interfere and aid one nation over the other, particularly by giving them advanced technology that would turn the tide of war?". Non-action in this case can justifiably be the logical, easy choice, at any rate far easier than the situation presented to us in this Enterprise episode. "Dear Doctor" is a perfect example of just how controversial the Prime Directive can be.

I feel sufficient evidence has been presented before me to argue the case one way or the other (particularly the *against* side). So I will state my opinion briefly: the minute Archer & Phlox had a cure in their possession, it was a moral OBLIGATION for them to provide help to the Valakians. Not only because they had requested it, but because as a doctor Phlox was required by the Hippocratic Oath to do so. I will also add that after making contact with a technologically-inferior species, it seems to me the humans (i.e. StarFleet) from that point on, had the *responsibility* to be involved in their progress. Similarly I suppose, the way the Vulcans had stayed on Earth to monitor (many characters in this series would say "spy") the progress of humanity. But I digress.

All in all, I can see what the writers were trying to do here. In many ways, the attempt can be lauded: this episode was designed to explore the future-Prime Directive on one end, but also to parallel the degree of involvement between Humans-Valakians to that of Vulcans-Humans back on Earth. The regret, is that the way it was carried out was less than graceful. Previous Trek shows have dealt with Prime Directive issues far more successfully, at the very least keeping the moral ambiguity high enough to prevent viewer outrage reaching the levels of *this* episode. A commendable venture, but an awkward result in retrospect.
Marco P. - Fri, Sep 10, 2010 - 5:45am (USA Central)
To Archer & Phlox's (and by extension, the writers') defense, I will add two key factors some readers might be forgetting.
1) The choice to withold the cure from the Valakians isn't an *immediate* act of genocide. Dr. Phlox said it would take the mutation / disease 200 years to wipe out the species.
2) Archer & Phlox are hoping that during this time, the Valakians will find a cure to the disease on their own.

In this light comparing Phlox to Hitler, as some readers suggested, is a bit exaggerated. Not throwing someone a life preserver (in the hope they will reach shore on their own) and actively pushing them off the boat with cement shoes, well that's not exactly the same thing.

It'd have perhaps been better (certainly I think, generated less controversy), if Archer had left a probe or some kind of monitoring device on the planet, with the intent to come back and help the Valakians in the future should they still not have reached a cure when close to extinction. But I guess that would not have fit the philosophy Archer & Phlox had chosen to adopt for this episode, as flawed as it might be.
Nic - Thu, Sep 23, 2010 - 2:46pm (USA Central)
Just the fact that so many people have commented on the episode gives it its 4-star rating in my opinion. I thought Archer's "Prime Directive" speech was a bit too prophetic, but otherwise a very thought-provoking episode. I'm not sure I agree with Archer's choice here, but I am 100% pro-Prime Directive in its 24th century incarnation. Just look at how much damage U.S. intervention in Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan has caused in the name of "creating democracies". I say pull out, let the countries evolve at their own rhythm. People (and societies) need to make their own mistakes, learn their own lessons, in order to improve themselves. Yes, in the short term perhaps more people will suffer, but in the long term it will be more than worth it. Same thing with pre-warp civilizations.

One story I wish Enterprise had done was one where they DO interfere. They go to a pre-warp planet and introduce themselves and offer to share all their technology. And then you could see all the horrible consequences these actions would have on the planet... which years later would incite the Federation to adopt the Prime Directive. That story arc would have been far more original than another "aliens want to destroy Earth" scenario.
Marco P. - Thu, Sep 23, 2010 - 3:05pm (USA Central)
Those examples you cited Nic are a bit more complex. Personal interest from the US government was also involved. Which is why it's easier to point the finger and say "mind your own business".

In this episode, Archer & Phlox have no personal gain at stake: they act out of principle. The fact that this very principle is flawed is what makes this episode so controversial.

An another note, I have now almost finished viewing season 1. The positive side one can take from "Dear Doctor" is that it is by far, the most thought-provoking of the season, which has otherwise been very mediocre. I'd even be willing to bet, alas, the rest of the series will be more of the same.
RussS - Mon, Nov 8, 2010 - 5:07am (USA Central)
Good show.

But the theme misrepresents 'evolution' and its moral implications. Evolution describes how changes take place over time. It is not a thing to be 'helped' or 'let alone.' It contains no moral guidance for us. It is merely a decscription.

Letting the people die of a disease is as much an interference in fate as helping them live. The doctor and Archer misunderstand the nature of fate. They were already involved. They had a cure. The prime directive does not allow humans to behave cruelly.

Besides, Archer seems to have little problem 'interfering' with cultures in other episodes. Every planetary visit, every contact with a ship, every subspace transmission inadvertently picked up - it's all interference to some degree.

It's not even an issue with room for opinion. Humans are moral creatures. Our morality, whatever that is, guides our behavior. Either it is right to help people or it is right to let them die. One or the other. Hiding behind a 'prime directive' doesn't avoid the choice. it just clouds your mind.

Besides, if the Prime Directive were so prime it wouldn't even allow for space exploration at all. In fact, it would demand that we blow up Earth for fear that some distant world world look at us through a telescope and have their culture affected.

Were it real, this is the kind of thing that would come to haunt the doctor and Archer later in life.
RussS - Mon, Nov 8, 2010 - 6:12am (USA Central)
One more thing.

This episode is not 'contraversial.' It is offensive. This issue is not debatable. There are not two sides. You either understand it or need to see it.

You are human. Yes, you can go through life thinking all morality is relative, but since it isn't you will never act that way. You will just be unware of your motives. And corrupted over and over again, like Archer was here.

You don't even need to believe in some 'God' to see this.
Jay - Mon, Dec 27, 2010 - 8:23am (USA Central)
In a way, this episode is "Tuvix" writ large, with a bit of "Children Of Time" thrown in.

In all three cases I highly agree with the actions that the episodes ultimately took, even though those outcomes were in some ways opposite. Bringing back Tuvok and Neelix was a restoration to the natural state...and both were entitled to that restoration. So too was the Valakian "extinction". I'm curious...all the people calling Phlox's act evil - would he still be evil if he had been unable to create a "cure"? Just because you can do a thing does not mean that you should do a thing.
Paul Smith - Wed, Jan 5, 2011 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
All of the foam-mouthed, fist-pumping college students who've commented here have missed entirely the reason this episode was given four stars: it has provoked them to the point where they feel emotional about it. They talk about it, post about it, and debate it.

"Shadows of P'Jem"? Not so much.

BTW, the decision made by Archer was the right one.
Limiting Factor - Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - 7:40am (USA Central)
About the "people are commenting on this episode, so it must be good" argument - some of the very worst ST episodes reviewed on this site are also heavily commented (as are some of the best). So no, the number of comments is no indication on the quality of the episode. People just like to complain about things.

And speaking of complaining, this episode killed all interest I had in this show. Others before me have already given reasons for this - the idiotic misinterpretation of the theory of evolution and the morally appalling decision based on it.
Phlonx just KNOWS that the Menks are evolving to replace the Valakian civilisation. The Valakians are simply in the way of this grand natural plan (that Phlonx just made up) and should just stop resisting and die. So our "heroes" are withholding the cure that would save millions for the sake of the possibility that another civilisation might replace them after they are all dead. WTF?!
When I was watching this nightmare I kept hoping that T'Pol or maybe somebody else with a shred of intelligence in their brains would put a stop to this insanity by delivering a verbal (and maybe physical as well) smack-down on the "dear doctor" for his ignorance and the captain for even considering his opinion and not firing him on the spot. No such luck.

@Paul Smith
Ah, the good old ad hominem. That will show everyone just how wrong their arguments are.
Paul - Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - 11:25pm (USA Central)
People saying this episode is "evil" or "immoral" are being utterly ridiculous!

How is "not curing a disease" of a pre-warp civilisation any more immoral than any other example of Prime Directive non-interference that has been portrayed over the course of all the other series?

Surely, according to the Prime Directive, Archer shouldn't have been agreeing to help with this disease at all in the first place - but only did in this case because there is no prime directive yet, and the humans are still so all-fired annoyed at the Vulcans for holding US back "for no good reason" for the last 90 years.

Archer goes into this with a "no WAY we're going to behave like those stuffy Vulcans" attitude. He ends it with an appreciation of why some of those rules exist, even if it is difficult to understand the reasons for them.

I think Archer made the right decision here, too - and don't start telling ME that's because *I* don't understand how evolution works either.
Jay - Fri, Feb 4, 2011 - 4:39pm (USA Central)
@ Limiting Factor

If Phlox had no business presenting his philosophical and scientific assessment of the situation, then surely he had no business curing the affliction in the first place.

Limiting Factor - Fri, Feb 11, 2011 - 3:47pm (USA Central)
The problem is Phlox's "philosophical and scientific assessment of the situation" is pure nonsense. And the morally appalling decision to let Valakians die is then based solely on this nonsense (note that Phlox and Archer don't have any problem with helping Valakians before meeting the Menk).

How does Phlox know that Menk are ever going to evolve to replace the Valakians? What, did he see it in his crystal ball? Because theory of evolution sure as hell doesn't say that. For all he knows, Menk are also going to die out when Valakians are no longer around - certainly many of them will once there is nobody to take care of them. But Phlonx just handwaves it all as inevitable and is so sure he is fine with letting Valakians die. Christina's analogy with a diabetic is right on the money here - this is genocide. For the sake of an imagined future civilisation that exists only in his head he is letting millions of very real people die now. And this guy is supposed to be a doctor?!
doctor Peelix - Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - 8:09am (USA Central)
This is easily the worst Trek episode ever. Phlex's or Phlox (or however is he called) understanding of evolution are beyond appalling. ZERO STARS.
Cloudane - Sat, Apr 23, 2011 - 9:52am (USA Central)
This was completely the wrong way to introduce the Prime Directive concept. It was always going to happen with a prequel, but it had no thought put into what it was doing (kind of like Voyager).

I've never liked this aspect of the PD in the first place (ISTR the "this culture is dying but we should let them" has been done in at least TNG) but it was always just a stated fact that we were to accept, that at one stage in the past they learned A Great Lesson that scarred Starfleet for centuries to come and made sure they never want to interfere with the evolution of pre-warp cultures for as long as they remember whatever incident it was.

We were never shown this incident, but I always just kind of accepted that "Something Happened" and that the PD "Exists For A Reason."

So that's what I would've expected from Enterprise: show us exactly this incident. Show us WHY Starfleet decided that "interfering" in this way is an Extremely Bad Thing. Archer's initial response was spot-on, but for no apparent reason he does a 180 and agrees with this supposed scientific morality. If helping out a dying species will cause the universe to end, conjure up a plausible reason for it and show us - that way at least it becomes a genuine understandable tragedy of "we'd love to save these people but the universe will implode so we have to let them die".

Instead we just get Archer accepting what Phlox and T'Pol say and believing them unquestioningly. ("We're not out here to play God" he says to justify it to himself. Eh? Playing God would be creating, altering and destroying life via means other than reproduction like they do willy nilly in the 24th century with sentient holograms - saving lives isn't Playing God). I guess this shows a glimmer of maturity in his relationship with those with more experience than him (at last) but one of them needs to explain to him (and therefore the audience) why their equivalent of the PD came to be. Otherwise why should he just accept it?

It's a poorly executed attempt at trying to show us a pre-PD dilemma without explaining why such a callous directive came to be and doesn't do the Trek philosophy any favours at all. Instead of answering the question, it just makes the Prime Directive (at least this aspect of it; I understand the non-interference in conflict or culture) look even more pointless and callous than it did before!

(That said, I don't see it as "murder" or "genocide". They're not killing these people, they're just not saving them - it's still wrong, but it's different.)
Jack - Sat, Sep 24, 2011 - 10:11am (USA Central)
The people who seem to be arguing for the technological fix over the natural flow here (presumably they are the same people that would argue for Tuvix's continued artificial existence over the natural lives of Tuvok and Neelix)...I wonder...if an alien race were at Earth approximately 65 million years ago, either as a race indigenous to that era, or having time travelled there deliberately, and prevented the impact, would that have also been moral? I suspect I'll hear the "dinosaurs weren't saentient" argument, but even if we knew that for certain (we don't), is that relevent? They would have eventually become so, and the aliens were permitting it to happen...a change in the natural flow. Even here it was 200 years away.
historypeats - Sat, Oct 8, 2011 - 1:33am (USA Central)
Trek is more comfortable with slapping weird foreheads on non-human characters than in actually exploring non-human mindsets. When it does the latter, it often pulls back and “sides with the humans” by episode’s end – or, even worse, spends most of its time contemplating similarities between the two, always with humanity as the baseline for comparisons. Even the Klingons, who acquire a genuine culture on TNG, eventually get homogenized into something safe. (They may take honor more seriously than we do, but each race refers to the same concept when it uses the same word.)

When it comes to diversity and unity, Trek has always wanted to have its cake and eat it too; the similarities inevitably matter more than the differences. That’s fine – it’s a hopeful message, and since so much of televised science fiction essentially functions as comfort food, that approach makes sense. After all, it’s insanely difficult to try to understand and restate the thought processes of a non-human mind, whether it’s a fictional alien or a culture’s chosen divinity.

But I’d submit that Trek loses something when it does this, even though it positively influenced my attitudes towards the Other as a child. (I will always be grateful for that.) At its core, the people we see on the screen are supposed to be explorers. In the best cases, we’d learn something new from the screen, or at least be challenged by it. When the “human perspective” consistently wins the day – when it, in fact, never loses – Trek begins preaching to the choir.

We understand how humans are supposed to react to the Valakians’ plight. As Phlox states, baldly and repeatedly, we have an obsession with helping those in need – particularly if, in a neat twist, we can convince ourselves we’re superior to them.

This, along with one other thread, is the tie that binds the episode together. Archer “anthropomorphizes” Porthos, something that flummoxes Phlox. Tucker’s moved to tears by the plights of fictional characters, sympathizing with them despite his powerlessness (how could he change what’s been written?). Cutler criticizes the Valakian/Menk sociological structure not on the basis of whether it “works” (which is Phlox’s primary criterion), but whether it’s “right” (a moralistic viewpoint, with moralism equated with humanity repeatedly during the episode). And that moralism isn’t even consistent: she chooses to evaluate the Valakians’ behavior from an anthrocentric perspective, but barely raises an eyebrow over Phlox’s complicated marital situation because, well, he’s Denobulan, and they’re different.

That difference is that aforementioned other tie binding the episode together: Phlox’s sheer alienness. To us, he seems jovial, knowledgeable, and kind. But that’s our anthrocentric (ugh, I’ve used that word twice) bias creeping in. In actuality, Phlox sees the world in a fundamentally separate way from the rest of us. That’s why he’s writing to his Counterpart in No Man’s Land, the single human living amongst the Denobulans. Both men are in situations where most of what goes on around them is kind of recognizable while still being kind of baffling.

This is why we get the sequence where Phlox is confused by Porthos, confused by the movie, and confused by Cutler’s advances: he reacts differently from us to the same stimuli.

So Archer states that every principle he holds dear demands that he help the Valakians – indeed, that compassion guides his judgment, not blinds it. I imagine those who were most offended by Phlox’s “misunderstanding of evolution,” as I’ve seen it phrased elsewhere (because God forbid an alien see the same thing differently), stood and cheered. And for Phlox to be unmoved by compassion, to be “unmoved” by these people’s plight…well, that means he’s a monster.

But the episode very clearly shows that Phlox feels, if not exactly identically to Archer, something very close to his level of sympathy for the Valakians. The difference between the two men lies not in their feelings, but in the degree to which they allow those feelings to guide their judgment. Phlox ISN’T an unfeeling monster: he feels.

Instead, the doctor essentially argues that, by helping the Valakians, we’d be interfering in something that we perhaps shouldn’t be messing with. Think back to Tucker’s tears in that movie theatre. If we gave him editing control in mid-movie, let him change the script and re-shoot the scenes, it might have a happier ending. He’s also savaging the movie’s integrity and fundamentally changing “the way it was supposed to be.” (This would have been more interesting if Enterprise had ever figured out what to do with the Temporal Cold War and its focus on altering vs. restoring timelines, but I digress.)

Phlox’s argument is that nature has been writing and composing the Valakians’ extinction for thousands of years, repeating the same pattern that’s taken hold on thousands of other worlds that weren’t subjected to outside interference (even in the name of compassion). In those places – alluded to throughout the episode – coexistence doesn’t work for whatever reason, and the end result is that one humanoid race ultimately reigns supreme, not two.

Archer’s objection – OUR objection – is to say, “Well, if that’s what nature’s written, then it’s a damn good thing the universe gave us editing powers.” And indeed, we believe – many have passionately argued – that to voluntarily withhold one’s editing powers, one’s ability to assist, is tantamount to committing the atrocity itself.

That is how we see it. That’s how we’re SUPPOSED to see it. That’s how years of civilization have conditioned us to react.

But Phlox isn’t conditioned that way. His thoughts seem nonsensical or illogical to many, as they should – he’s not human. So he says that we shouldn’t interfere.

That’s the point of the episode, if I may speak for the authors: to see the universe filtered through a decidedly inhuman mindset, to have our willingness to invest emotion in others (at least to the degree that we allow that empathy and consideration for the needs of others to dictate our decisions) questioned.

The point is NOT to be the “first Prime Directive story.” Yes, Archer makes an allusion to the future creation of the Directive. But T’Pol points out that the Valakians have made first contact with warp-capable species. In fact, the story neatly decouples noninterference from the far more baggage-ridden Directive, and chooses to use that ideal – one we’d surely struggle with were we ever forced to abide by it – as a mirror to use for questioning the nature and justification for our ideologies and thought processes.

So yes, you can be offended by the episode’s conclusion. In fact, you’re supposed to be: the human rationale didn’t carry the day, and there’s really no way for us to cope with that.

But since the episode set out to be a show in which alien mindsets and opinions weren’t immediately dismissed (as poor T’Pol is throughout the first twelve episodes) or reshaped into something that reflects humanity’s versions of the same things, I can’t understand why people are giving it zeros, let alone saying it’s the worst episode of all time.

“It offends me!” Yeah. And? Was the acting bad? The score unimpressive? The characterization insincere? (That’s kind of a big deal, but “Dear Doctor” is relentlessly true to its characters even as it allows them, in Archer’s case, to change a bit.)

To the point that one can make objective statements about art, I don’t believe one can objectively say any of those things. By television’s standards, the acting, score, and characterization are good, fine, or excellent – take your pick, but they’re not bad. The makeup design is perhaps a bit bland, and maybe the CGed city is showing its age, but we all know that’s not why people freaked out over the episode.

People reacted as they did because the writers went looking for ways to freak them out by allowing an inhuman mindset to carry the day. Even though that’s a difficult thing to convincingly write, they did it: the prevailing reaction was that Phlox’s conclusion was inhuman, was offensive.

Those people who share that reaction are the ones who should be giving this show high praise. I can’t think of another episode – not “A Matter of Honor,” “Darmok,” “The Inner Light,” or too many DS9 eps to count – where Trek more convincingly explored how an alien would approach existence, let alone existence’s grayer areas.

Thus I can say something I rarely say: the conclusion bothered me, and in doing so earned my respect.
Angular - Tue, Oct 11, 2011 - 10:17am (USA Central)
I agree with historypeats that aliens are bound to have an "inhuman mindset". But while I might accept that Phlox comes to his conclusion, I will never accept that Archer, who has the ultimate decision, can justify this outcome on moral grounds.

Phlox might have this crude, almost religious view on evolution, where you cannot interfere in nature even if someone begs you for help. But Archer would have to overrule Phlox on this one, and if the cost is losing Phlox as the ship's doctor, than this is a small price to pay.

If this is truly part of the morality Phlox lives by, he is not fit to serve in Starfleet anyway. By the same reasoning he could deny mankind a cure for a deadly disease in the future, because we hinder the evolution of chimpanzees. Hello Planet of the Apes.

Michael - Sun, Oct 30, 2011 - 10:34am (USA Central)
Uh... Horrendous.

Maybe I'm being naive and simplistic, but my perspective on the situation is thus: Somebody is sick, I have a cure, I cure the sick. End of story.

What the "doctor" did and was supported by the "captain" in doing is unconscionable and, in some jurisdictions, actually illegal.

Archer himself said it, and I paraphrase: Every time you help somebody who is sick you are interfering with nature, i.e. evolution. I cannot see how that, entirely correct, view has been disannulled by the present circumstances. Should a bully not have his/her cancer treated? Should the Tutsi tribe of Rwanda be denied cure for AIDS?

Not giving them warp technology is one thing, and perfectly justifiable, but this is an outrage. And for the two to be cast as some sort of morally-superior benefactors causes a really uneasy feeling in me toward Star Trek.

Having said all that, this IS a good, intriguing show. It might not merit four stars but three, yes.
Nathan - Wed, Nov 16, 2011 - 7:03am (USA Central)
Certainly Archer's decision here isn't nearly as bad as Picard's in "Homeward", since the Menk would preserve culture even if the Valakians die off. Still I agree with most of the points brought up against Archer here.

By the way, according to Memory Alpha, we have UPN to blame for Archer agreeing with Phlox. The original script had Phlox disobeying Archer's orders to give them the cure.
Nathaniel - Thu, Jan 19, 2012 - 11:12pm (USA Central)
To anyone who defends this episode, I say this: You are defending an episode where the characters commit genocide. Not merely genocide, but extinction of an intelligent species. Genocide through withholding rather than act, but genocide nonetheless. Which the episode holds as the preferable outcome.

If your conclusions lead to genocide, I'd say that's a crystal clear sign that you screwed up somewhere down the line.
Jack - Sat, Feb 25, 2012 - 7:40pm (USA Central)
The way its presented here, it's Nature itself that wants the Valakinas out of the picture to make way for the Menk awakening. If that's the case, then even if Phlox "cures" them, Nature will just do it some other way, and probably a faster and harsher method the second time around...
EnsignBeavis - Mon, Mar 19, 2012 - 11:31pm (USA Central)
Genocide would be a willful act of murder upon a group of people, Archer simply chose not to interfere with the progression of a planet's natural cycle. Plus the Valakians were exploitative, and allowing for the underclass to more quickly revolutionize and make it so that the planet isn't divided by thin lines of wealth makes his decision even more understandable. This is called ambiguity: You can keep a race alive that has another race enslaved forever, or allow that power-holding race to die and let the Menk flourish for the first time in history. There is no clearly correct answer. This isn't a children's fairy tale.
Nathaniel - Thu, Mar 22, 2012 - 12:06pm (USA Central)
Except "Nature" isn't an intelligent planning entity with a grand scheme. Hell, that kind of reasoning is what lead people to believe the AIDs was God's judgement and doom on gay people.

If a doctor can cure someone of a deadly disease, is asked to do so, but doesn't, that's called malpractice. At minimum. Murder in most people's minds.

Was eradicating small pox horrible interference in our planet's "natural cycle?"
Samael - Fri, Mar 30, 2012 - 4:12pm (USA Central)
The argument that historypeats uses to defend this episode is that one man's perspective overrules the perspectives of millions of dying men, women, and children, and we should applaud the courage of the writers for this. Diversity!

The opinions of the few winning out over millions, extinguishing their voices, their unique worldview, is a triumph of a writer's understanding of diversity?

That's so completely broken at a basic level, that I can't debate it. If you can't see the problem with it, please ask the person reading this post to you to strangle you with the nearest power cable.

You'll be doing evolution a favor.
Beta - Sat, Apr 7, 2012 - 6:32pm (USA Central)
The discussion going on here contains lots of interesting facets. Please excuse me if the following one has already been mentioned before.

Regarding the cure Phlox has found here, something sounds peculiar. He stated clearly that the disease is genetic and will ultimately lead to the extinction of all Valakians, which means that every Valakian is or will be affected. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in my understanding (being a scientist, but not in biology or medicine) there are only two ways to treat such a disease.

1. One could manipulate the Valakians' DNA (or whatever substance their genome is coded with). Each individual, or at least their reproductive cells, would have to be treated this way in order not to let the disease resurface again one generation later. This would leave to a completely and irreversibly new lifeform, at which point I fully understand and subscribe Archer's point of view.

2. If Phlox does not heal the source of the disease (i. e. the genetic anomalies), he must have found a substance which removes the symptoms of the sickness, or at least diminish them well enough to make a reasonable life possible. Obviously, creating such a medicine is beyond the Valakians' possibilities, because they lack either resources or technology. (I mean, they must have at least thousands of medics who have worked on this matter for many years, and there comes our doctor finding the cure in, what, two or three months at most?)

Keep in mind: One day, each Valakian individual will have to be treated this way, making them dependent on alien technology or meds they cannot produce themselves. The episode shows how much the ship's resources were strained just to help these people momentarily. Who could provide enough resources to guarantee permanent help? (Even with the Federation in place, this would be a huge challenge.)

Still not regarding the possibility that an error occurs in the whole calculation. Come on, all who question Phlox's morality: why do you think his science must be impeccable while his opinion is not? Any good scientist should be humble enough not to consider him-/herself this superior to the rest of the universe. (Granted, this necessary himility was not really stressed in the episode.)

I do understand why many of you don't like the implications of Phlox's decision. My point is that all other decisions lead to comparably difficult consequences, since this is not a one-time matter. We are talking about responsibilities far beyond anything Archer or Phlox could be prepared for.
Nathaniel - Tue, Apr 10, 2012 - 8:07am (USA Central)

Your comments might have applicability if Star Trek ever let science get in the way of story, or if Doctor Phlox brought up your concerns in story. Given that he didn't, I am forced to assume that his cure would have no such complications.
Cassander - Wed, Apr 11, 2012 - 8:27pm (USA Central)
Like most of the above poster i generally disagree with the point that the episode seemed geared towards. That being said whilst I disagree with the strange understanding that led to Phlox conclusion (which was a belief not a scientific argument)I still like this episode. historypeats mentioned it earlier, it was slightly refreshing to see an episode that in which the humans view was follow so predictably (like most of the first season) I agree with the humans view in this case but i like that the show disagreed with my view. it made me articulate why this view was wrong.

The question of genocide is an interesting one, particular whether the failure to act (when one can reasonably act) can be substituted for a 'diliberate' intention to destroy in whole or part a particular culture. Honestly I'm not sure, but i want to see an argument for why it is or ist, not a statement that it is or isn't.
Bryce - Sat, Apr 21, 2012 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
Disregarding for a moment the show's conclusion, I would say that this episode was about a 5 out of 10. Average. Not good, but not awful.

However, realizing what the purpose of this episode was; specifically to show the viewers that the Prime Directive might be a good idea, and that Archer & Co might be thinking along the lines of creating such a directive, I have to say this episode was an utter failure.

I've heard that the script originally had a completely different ending, but the Powers That Be Suits over at Paramount made the writers change the script to show total unity amongst Archer, Phlox and crew, and to tone down any "inter-crew" drama.

We can only speculate about what the original ending was, but all it would have taken to make the story MUCH more compelling, is that Archer & Phlox provided the antidote, and then have the antidote turn out to be lethal to the Menk. Or to have the antidote be so production-intesive that it requires all then land and resources of the Menk, and thus they are utterly wiped out.

This would have left us with a much more believable and compelling argument for why the Prime Directive is something that Starfleet needs to think about. It would've also provided us with a much more interesting drama, if let's say, Archer ordered Phlox to provide the antidote against Phlox's wishes. Then later when it turns out that giving the antidote leads to the destruction of the Menk, Archer would have to live with those consequences, which would add some character to his rather bland characterization, and it would also provide a great motivator for going ahead with the Prime Directive. But I guess that would go against Star Trek's almighty Reset Button.

Instead we are treated to a bit of Nazi propaganda which basically boils down to; if you're not genetically pure enough to survive without the benefit of medicine, you are genetically inferior and deserve to die!

What a waste.
Keiren - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 8:03am (USA Central)
Does everyone realise how crazy they are? Lots of people are pro-evolution....then comes an episode promoting the idea of "survival of the fittest" and everyone screams and shouts...??? Is that hypocritical?
Michael - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 2:06pm (USA Central)
@Keiren: Your statement is a total non-sequitur, and a straw man to boot. Firstly, there's no more such a thing as being "pro-evolution" than there is being "pro-gravity." Evolution is an observable fact: Species evolve and adapt, or they stagnate and become extinct.

Secondly, although evolution means that the "fittest" (read: Fastest, smartest, etc.) tend to outlive and outbreed those less so, it has nothing to do with human health care. When sick or injured, we help ourselves, each other, and even animals. That does not contradict the empirical fact of evolution in any way. If anything, it is usually the religious ("anti-evolution" types) who have the attitude of "we will comply with whatever 'god' decrees."

* * * * *

@Cassander: If this matter came before a court, a judgment going on for tens if not hundreds of pages would be issue justifying the outcome one way or the other. You can't expect a comprehensive answer to your query, but I'll try.

There are basically two views: Either the stricken society is an insular system, with which humans must not interfere in any way or it is not. This issue is not so much about the right or wrong of helping those in need as it is about mere interference, of ANY kind.

If it was a relatively simple question of providing a cure, then the dilemma is: (1) We avert a lethal pandemic, which may subsequently enable the cured species to exterminate another, or (2) we do nothing, allow a genocide by non-interference to proceed, probably leading to the extinction of a species. To my mind, the answer here is rather easy: When a person is sick, we use our medical savvy to cure them, without having any guarantee that they will not one day turn into a serial killer. Even people who are incarcerated or disabled, or who are ex-convicts, are not denied medical care. Why, then, should a society, even if ALL of it (doubtful!) is depraved?

Now, do we INTERFERE or not? One could argue that the mere act of contacting even a single person of a society or even just visiting the societal environment constituted interference. After all, contact affects both/all the individuals concerned, mentally and physically. Who knows how the day of a person would have progressed if they had not stopped to say hello to us...

Let me throw a hypothetic scenario A your way: John Doe of Species X is walking along in a wood. He steps on a twig. The twig scares off a lethal predator. Mr. Doe becomes a successful scientist who develops warp drive five years down the line.

Now here's a scenario B: Say you beam down on John Doe's planet, poke around a bit and in the process step on that twig. You beam back up, having come in contact with nobody. Mr. Doe comes walking along but because the twig is gone, the predator mauls him to death. The society doesn't discover warp drive for another fifty years, if EVER.

See my point?

If we give or show an object, provide food, share ideas, etc. to/with a society, we affect it. It is, in a way, interference. Of course, describing the notion of, say, democracy is different from teaching how to build a fire. But who draws a line? Protesting "honor" killings: Is that interference or exchange?

What if the males of a species were engaged in systematic marital rape of the females, and they (the males only) were facing extinction? Would providing the cure constitute unacceptable interference, because we'd be assisting the perpetuation of a disagreeable practice? Would facilitating parthenogenesis (enabling the females to procreate WITHOUT the errant males) and letting the males die off without a cure be acceptable interference?

I don't think there's a fully right or wrong answer here. If we affect a society or a societal environment in ANY way -- even just by visiting it -- I would say we are interfering. Past that, the degree to which we allow ourselves to continue interfering is decided on a case-by-case basis. Do we say nothing about ourselves, do we only share our philosophies with them, do we give them food, do we arm them, do we give them advanced technology...? It's a slippery slope, and there is NO way of knowing how ANY of those actions (or inaction) might affect the spacetime of that society and wider.
Keiren - Wed, Apr 25, 2012 - 3:29am (USA Central)
@Michael... so you observe evolution, but when you dont like the fact that it will kill people, it becomes unacceptable?

Second,there are numerous studies where scientists have deformed certain animals Physically to try and observe them evolve to cope with their circumstances (fruit flies haveing their wings cut off comes to mind) and promote change. Here you are saying evolution is not about physical traits but *fastest* *smartest*

Sooo.....am not saying your wrong here, but this whole moral issue, evolution, and the ethics regarding evolution seems unclear and complicated to me.

Last point, religious types do as you say sometimes and sometimes not,some say "Gods will" others say many hospitals had a lot of religious people working in them etc etc....

Hmm.... agree with a point made by someone above tho thatthis episode works in that it provokes a reaction, and gets people thinking, i think we can all agree on that at least... :)
Nathaniel - Sat, Apr 28, 2012 - 6:27am (USA Central)
@Keiren- If you wish to continue to make comments in this vein, please read first some articles on evolution and how it works. Or at least crack open a biology textbook. You're embarrassing yourself.
Michael - Sat, Apr 28, 2012 - 7:02am (USA Central)
@Keiren: "so you observe evolution [...]"

What does that even MEAN?? "Observe" as in "accept"? Or "observe" as in "see"? I accept evolution as fact for the simple reason that there is a preponderance of evidence in its support. To claim that evolution is a falsehood is tantamount to claiming that each and every species extant today is IDENTICAL to what that species was like 6000, 60000 or 600000 years ago, which is arrant nonsense. Evolution is not observable in real-time; a species doesn't evolve over the course of a few minutes, days or months? What was that fruitfly "experiment" you alluded to supposed to prove: That species find new ways of accomplishing something when old ways are cut off? They might, in the same way an Iraqi war vet who had his legs blown off learns to use prosthetic limbs. But that's not evolution!

Evolution is NOT just about physical traits, no. Who ever said it was? "Survival of the fittest" doesn't mean only literally "fittest." There's the smarts, the speed, the agility, as well as a whole lot of luck.

As Nathaniel suggested, you may want to read up on evolution before launching into a discussion on it.

I also never even implied that evolution was acceptable or unacceptable. In fact, I specifically said that there was no fully right or wrong answer to the quandary presented in this show.

However, I do maintain that if medical treatment is denied in the name of "letting nature take its course," then it's diabolical and supremely hypocritical to EVER provide ANY kind of help to ANYone. For a physician, of all people (or whatever), to hold such a view is outrageous.

I'll agree with you about the show's accomplishment in getting people worked up about it: One of the very, VERY few Star Trek episodes that managed this in either the Voyager or this series.

@Everyone else: Sorry about the grammatical mistakes littered throughout my previous message. I hadn't had time to proofread before hitting the Send button. This one's probably the same! :D
Paul York - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
Doctor Flox refers to "lower animals" and "anthropomorphizing" of a beagle, but this is a result of a common misunderstanding of evolution. There are no "higher or lower" animals, according to Darwin. There are no inferior or superior species. If there were, "superior" or "higher" aliens would be entitled to hold humans in cages, as the doctor holds non-humanoid animal species in cages. He is wrong to do that, just as the various aliens are wrong to hold Kirk, Picard and Janeway captive in holding cells for analysis and experimentation. In fact the very first Star Trek episode, with Captain Pike, illustrated that theme perfectly. As for "anthropomorphizing" the beagle in fact is intelligent enough to understand his human's voice -- not what he is saying exactly, but the emotional content of his voice, and basic messages. Sentient, intelligent, emotional creatures, whether beagle or human or Vulcan or cow, all deserve basic moral consideration. That's why it is a contradiction for Archer to eat one and love the other, especially since eating the cow is not necessary for his health. Plants can provide all the protein, iron, B12, and other nutrients the human body needs. It is also wrong for the doctor to hold the animals in his lab like that. I am surprised that as a "higher" species he does not know that. I am disappointed at this portrayal of the Federation and Star Fleet, but encouraged to know that a century later they have evolved morally enough to grasp all of this. Apparently the use of replicators helped them make the adjustment. Of course we don't need replicators. Anyway, interesting episode, especially Flox' remarks regarding the curiosity of human emotions and reproduction. Seeing ourselves through alien eyes helps to see that our behaviours could be regarded as strange. I also wonder how the beagle or the osmotic eel sees us.
Paul York - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 4:11pm (USA Central)
The assumption that technology confers "superiority" and the confusion surrounding the notion of evolution, wrongly believing that it is hierarchical - seems to be common in the Star Trek world (and in our own). But the doctor's exposure to the Mink and Seven of Nine's exposure to the Vindu both have common themes: so-called "primitive" people are not necessarily "inferior" just because they do not have space-age or industrial technology. That same lesson should apply to all species, not just humans or humanoids. Hierarchical notions of "superiority" should be eschewed as wrong, especially since, from a scientific point of view, they are based on a profound misunderstanding of evolution -- one that Darwin himself rejected (see the works of Stephen Jay Gould on this subject, and James Rachel's interpretation of the moral implications of Darwinism in his book Created From Animals). Star Trek frequently comments on racism among other species and the potential of fraternity among sentient species -- I just wish the writers would take this more to heart and show 22nd to 24th century humans as more enlightened with regard to non-humans. Archer exercises compassion towards humanoids, but that sentiment should be extended to all non-humanoid sentient life forms as well. Eventually this does become Starfleet policy, fortunately.
Paul York - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 4:35pm (USA Central)
The ethicist Tom Regan came up with a theory called "environmental fascism" that describes Archer's reasoning quite well. He said that the idea that we ought to ignore individual rights in order to safeguard some conception of nature is fascist. The precursor of the Prime Directive, in this case, is flawed, because it is based on a conception of what is "natural." This conception is entirely constructed by human judgement. Basic human (humanoid) rights and compassion are being ignored by Archer. If aliens visited Earth and had the cure for cancer you would think they'd share it. If they did not, because by not doing so it caused humans to die for the sake of the "natural evolution" of a planet that would be wrong. At the very least the decision should have been referred back to Earth and Vulcan for consideration. For Archer and the doctor to arbitrarily decide seems impetuous at best, and criminal at worst. The decision might help the Mink and it might not. What if the Mink die as well? What if aliens invade the de-populated planet. The chance for a humanitarian act was missed. Citing "evolution" as the reason is poor reasoning.
Jack - Fri, May 25, 2012 - 12:00pm (USA Central)

"Except "Nature" isn't an intelligent planning entity with a grand scheme. Hell, that kind of reasoning is what lead people to believe the AIDs was God's judgement and doom on gay people."

No, but it is a moving vector. Nature finds a way.

And inaction is not genocide. Failure to prevent something, even intentionally, doesn't move the blame. Logic like that is the basis of neoconservative interventions like Iraq.
Michael - Sat, May 26, 2012 - 5:47am (USA Central)
@Jack: Well, if we completely abdicate any and all responsibility for each other, then every man truly is a proverbial island. If you don't intervene to prevent a genocide, then why would you intervene to help somebody in distress by the side of the road? Why would you help an old lady across the street? Doesn't that run contrary to the human nature and collective human experience? Is that even desirable?!
Elliott - Sat, May 26, 2012 - 9:35pm (USA Central)
I'm glad this topic is given such a rich and passionate argument by so many; I think this episode was exceptional.

Here's what I'll say on the subject: This is not a question of simply providing aid or curing a disease...as has been rightly pointed out, to cite "evolution" as an excuse for inaction is equally ridiculous. Presumably, a relatively evolved species like humans are able to "cure" such diseases because they have evolved into scientists.

The question of the hour is about stakes--on the one hand, many seem to agree that when the extinction of a species is the inevitable outcome of inaction, any moral nuances are rightly cast out in favour of simple human compassion. It sounds alright in those terms, but only because the stakes are so high...the problem is our compassion sometimes blinds us to the larger picture. We see existing as an end unto itself, because, evolutionarily speaking, we want to exist for as long as possible. This isn't a question of correcting the injustice of an agressive alien culture against another or aiding the victims of some isolated natural disaster, we're talking about one crew, one man taking responsibility for the ultimate fate of an entire species, and by proxy an entire civilisation. Becoming extinct by way of your own genes is not "genocide."

What Archer realises, finally, in this episode is that holding up human values an example is one thing, but inflicting them, even upon request, on a scale beyond the comprehension or purview of what any individual can possibly apprehend is hubristic in the extreme.

To quote the ever-wise Picard, "[t]he Prime Directive has many different functions, not the least of which is to protect us. It keeps us from allowing our emotions to overrule our judgment."
Nathaniel - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 10:39am (USA Central)
@Eliiott: I'm sure that Picard quote would provide great comfort to the millions or billions of people dying painfully and with a cure just out of their reach.
Elliott - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 11:44am (USA Central)
@Nathaniel :

Of course it wouldn't. That's the whole point--responding with compassion is something a person can do to another person, but when it gets to this scale, responding emotionally to the plight or fate of an entire civilisation, the nature of the situation has changed. Society's don't feel pain or comfort, people do. Archer demonstrates larger thinking here in not indulging his smaller, humanitarian impulses. It is a decision which requires emotional detachment. And that's why the arguments against his choice stem from emotional reactions like empathy with the doomed Valakians.

On the human level, it would have been better if the Valakians had not known about the cure; that would have been an act of human compassion to the isolated and small group of individuals whom Archer told about the cure.
Nathaniel - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 12:46am (USA Central)
Except you have yet to answer the real question: WHY THE HELL IS SAVING LIVES SUDDENLY BAD?

How many lives can a medicine save before it becomes inadmissible?

A hundred?

A thousand?

A million?

How many lives does it take before intentionally killing an entire species of sapient life becomes the right thing to do?
Elliott - Tue, May 29, 2012 - 5:39pm (USA Central)
Your question is rife with exactly the kind of emotionalism I'm criticising :

1) You've reduced the whole situation to "saving lives" or its inverse "Intentionally killing an entire species." The situation is a lot more complicated than that; a nuanced problem requires nuanced reasoning, not reactionism.

2) You've boiled it down to "bad" or (implicitly) "good." This is a useless simplification. "Good" and "bad" are blunt guide-posts used for children to keep them from harming themselves or others before they've learnt enough to make mature decisions.

Anyone in Archer's position would (and should) feel awful about having to make his decision (if there's a flaw in the episode, it's perhaps that this point isn't carried through enough), but it is the only sane answer--the consequences of his taking action are too huge to contend with; if he never existed or never made contact, their fate would be the same. It is, as I said, a profound and dangerous hubris to step in and decide, for whatever reasons, that one's own compassion is the great arbiter of right and wrong.
Nathaniel - Wed, May 30, 2012 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
I see a injured person by the side of the road. They are hurt, badly. They beg for my help. I ponder it for a bit, then leave them without a backwards glance. While helping them might be the right thing to do, it might not be. They could be a ordinary person who needs help, but they could also be a psycho who ends up murdering someone. Less melodramatically, the injured could be a mean, nasty person who beats their spouse and spits on children.

I have no way of knowing. The decision is just too big for me. I don't feel too bad. After all, if I never existed or made contact, that person's fate would be the same.

P.S: In response to your first point, I have yet to see a justification of the supposed "complication" of the situation that doesn't involve an abhorrent misunderstanding of evolution and biology.
Demosthenes - Tue, Jun 5, 2012 - 7:40pm (USA Central)

"Just the fact that so many people have commented on the episode gives it its 4-star rating in my opinion."

In which case Plan 9 from Outer Space must be one of the greatest movies ever made. So many people have written reviews of it, after all.



"I'm curious...all the people calling Phlox's act evil - would he still be evil if he had been unable to create a 'cure'?"

What a ridiculous question. If I saw you lying unconscious on a railroad track with a train barrelling down, would I be considered evil if I couldn't save you because I couldn't reach you in time? Of course not. But what if I could save you, and chose not to? Don't you think that would make me liable for moral judgment?



"The people who seem to be arguing for the technological fix over the natural flow here (presumably they are the same people that would argue for Tuvix's continued artificial existence over the natural lives of Tuvok and Neelix..."

No, we wouldn't, and for precisely the same reasons we're arguing against you here. What happened to Tuvok and Neelix was reversible. What is happening to the Valakians is reversible.

"...if an alien race were at Earth approximately 65 million years ago, either as a race indigenous to that era, or having time travelled there deliberately, and prevented the impact, would that have also been moral?"

Well, that sort of depends, doesn't it? If they saved the dinosaurs hoping to extinguish humanity, then I'd say that's very definitely an immoral interference in the natural order. If they saved the dinosaurs not knowing what that would mean for the future of the planet, then I'd say it's an amoral action. Questions of right and wrong wouldn't enter into it.

"I suspect I'll hear the "dinosaurs weren't saentient" argument, but even if we knew that for certain (we don't), is that relevent?"

Umm...yes, we can figure out whether dinosaurs were sentient. Sentience is the ability to feel and perceive. Dinosaurs could obviously do both. They were sentient beings, as is (say) Porthos. They were not, however, intellectually advanced in any way, which is what I take you to mean by the term.

"They would have eventually become so..."

Umm, what? You say we can't know whether dinousaurs were "sentient" in your usage of the term, but you can claim with absolute certainty that they would have become so? Prove it.



Your defense of the episode is thoughtful and eloquent, but thoughtfulness in the defense of vice is still not virtue. I want to consider one remark you made in particular, which I consider to be the crux of where you've gone wrong:

"Phlox’s argument is that nature has been writing and composing the Valakians’ extinction for thousands of years, repeating the same pattern that’s taken hold on thousands of other worlds that weren’t subjected to outside interference..."

First, the Prime Directive, as origially envisioned, was clearly a call to avoid interfering in the CULTURAL development of another society. It was not a license to stand by while an avoidable natural calamity completely unrelated to the society's development wiped under hundreds of millions of innocent lives.

Second, if you truly believe that what nature "writes and composes" should not be manipulated, how do you justify any medicine you take, any inoculations you receive? You are arguing that the massive strides forward taken by our society in the areas of health and medicine (and in a hundred other areas where we have interfered with "natural" processes) are wrong. Yet I bet you take advantage of each and every one of them...eyeglasses, perhaps, to correct a natural vision process, or perhaps an inhaler to cope with a natural condition of asthma. What makes these interferences with nature right, and the ones proposed in Dear Doctor wrong? I don't think you can come up with a principled answer.


Paul York:

"If there were, 'superior' or 'higher' aliens would be entitled to hold humans in cages, as the doctor holds non-humanoid animal species in cages. He is wrong to do that..."

I do hope you don't own a pet bird. Or hamster. Or iguana. Or for that matter, a cat or a dog. On your own terms, it would be wrong of you to keep them cooped up in your place.

"Sentient, intelligent, emotional creatures, whether beagle or human or Vulcan or cow, all deserve basic moral consideration. That's why it is a contradiction for Archer to eat one and love the other, especially since eating the cow is not necessary for his health."

So it's wrong for us to eat animals. BS. I have two steaks tonight, just for you.



"2) You've boiled it down to 'bad' or (implicitly) 'good.' This is a useless simplification. 'Good' and 'bad' are blunt guide-posts used for children to keep them from harming themselves or others before they've learnt enough to make mature decisions."

Our greatest ethical philosophers -- among them Aristotle, Epicurus, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill -- have all had very different ideas of what "good" was. The vast majority of them would agree on at least one thing, though: your idea of "good" is atrocious.

If I came upon you dying in an alleyway, to note what your fate would have been had I not seen you is pointless, isn't it? Nathaniel absolutely hit the nail on the head in his response to you.

I dare you to tell me that if you had a severe, life-threatening illness, and you made an appeal to someone who had the means to help, and they said "Sorry, can't upset the natural order of things"...that you would look upon that person's reaction as "sane." I dare you.
Demosthenes - Tue, Jun 5, 2012 - 7:42pm (USA Central)
Sorry, that should have been "I *will* have two steaks tonight..."
Matrix - Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - 11:12pm (USA Central)
so i kinda like this one and it doesn't bother me too much, I know what they were getting at even if the episode completely balls it up at the end there. I really would like to have seen that alternate ending of the script though, it sounds a lot better than what we got. And with the ending just have a good ol' fanwank "and eventually they were rescued by, oh, let's say... the Vulcans." Now if I could just get the Enterprise novels to say that.

Jack - Sun, Jul 1, 2012 - 8:25pm (USA Central)

"Well, if we completely abdicate any and all responsibility for each other, then every man truly is a proverbial island. If you don't intervene to prevent a genocide, then why would you intervene to help somebody in distress by the side of the road? Why would you help an old lady across the street? Doesn't that run contrary to the human nature and collective human experience? Is that even desirable?!"

Well that's fine, but doesn't really address what I'd said that you were replying to. Not stopping to help someone in distress on the roadside doesn't suddenly make you responsible for putting them in distress in the first place.
Brandon - Fri, Jul 6, 2012 - 9:14pm (USA Central)
Archer "played God" by having the audacity to predict complex outcomes, not by his actions.

I'm stunned by how determined some people are to cling to their moral relativism. 95% of the people in this discussion have experienced a moral instinct, and all of a sudden it's primitive "emotionalism"? We could sit the 5% down in front of footage of Somalian war gangs, and they'd still sip tea and murmur "Hmmm, how enlightening, let's all sit down and have a discussion on whether this is good or not. After all, it's the discussion that matters."

I don't buy it. Modern ethics have rarely made a distinction between active intervention and inaction when they both lead to poor results. You see it in most major ethicist's works, you see it in Asimov's Three Laws, it's everywhere. The argument of "we can't possibly be responsible for deciding the fate of billions" works both ways, and both ways lead to a dead end because we can't possibly predict the outcome.

THAT'S where the hubris in this situation lies - in thinking we could predict what happens precisely enough to decide wisdom in the present. Starfleet made what amounts to a snap decision in terms of scientific observation. They should have spent decades studying this planet before coming to this call. They never even bothered to consider that the two species might have a symbiotic relationship and that destroying either one might destroy the other. (I just described Earth's biosphere, by the way. Interconnected and interdependent, all of it.) Nor have they considered galactic consequences. What if the Valakians' DNA one day provided the cure to the Tellurian plague? All kinds of scientific angst has been expended on the extinction of minor animal species here on Earth - why doesn't THAT apply in outer space, especially if there's some so-called "plan"? By Trek's own rules, it was an extinct species that held the key to Earth's survival in Star Trek IV.

To decide that a species' fate is determined and has no value to the rest of galactic society - THAT is where the playing God happened in this episode. Got a problem with the power to decide the fate of billions? Well, if technology has given us the right to save entire species, and if the definition of divinity includes the ability to save entire species, then I SUBMIT THAT WE ARE GODS. And does it not behoove God to be benevolent? The real arrogance in "playing God" lies in predicting outcomes, not taking action - Riker's argument in "Pen Pals". If we're not prepared to take tremendous risks for the sake of using our technology for benevolence, then we don't deserve to have it. With great power comes great responsibility.

I find it interesting that our heroic Starfleet captains have violated the Prime Directive repeatedly over the years without being keel-hauled. What was it, nine times by Picard by TNG's fourth season alone? That's either bad writing or a veiled admission by the Federation (and by proxy the writers) that the Prime Directive in its pure form is an incoherent and untenable document, with unacceptable implications, and that they don't really buy it at all. It works much better as a guideline than as General Order One.

The script for "Dear Doctor", for its part, was not born from the same root that most of Trek was. It's merely thinly-disguised white liberal guilt and a brutish overreaction to American colonialism. I get what the writers were trying to say, but it didn't work. I fail to see how we keep our humanity by abandoning our compassion.
Surak - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 1:10am (USA Central)
I loved that scene with archer, rising up above conventional morality, And taking a grander perspective.

The menk, it should be noted, were NOT comparable to parrots, or bacteria, they were allready, just barely sentient.

it would be more comparable to say "If japan has a plague outbreak, do we refuse to help them because if we dont, the Ainu will be able to inherit japan again"
Yanks - Fri, Jul 13, 2012 - 1:48pm (USA Central)
Jammer, yours is the first review of this episode I’ve seen that doesn’t condemn Archer and Phlox to the death penalty. I’ve formed an opinion of this episode over the years from watching the episode quite a few times and chatting Star Trek on the various message boards. The whole premise the episode boasts as a “prime directive” episode is just crap I think. Why does Archer have to commit to a decision right now? Why not take Phlox's findings back to the Inter-Species Medical Exchange and allow them to deliberate/validate? Come back later? Archer did give the Valikisians medicine that would give them an additional 10 years to find a cure, so the out of control rage in most of these comments are uncalled for I believe. No genocide was committed or allowed here. Loved Crewman Cutler and was looking forward to seeing more of her as the series progressed. So sad that was not allowed to happen. I also loved Phlox’s conversation/narration throughout this episode.

Archer agreed with Phlox for all the wrong reasons. Whether it was genetic or not is really irrelevant. I'm not a doctor or anything like that, but what difference does it make? Archer should have not made a planetary decision like this on one doctor’s findings. He should have withheld an untested and invalidated cure because of the catastrophic damage an error could cause. Not because "it's genetic".

If you really wanted a "Prime Directive episode" that lays the grounds for the necessity of guidance for a non-interference policy, Archer should have made the mistake and the results should have been catastrophic and devastating. His human compassion should have won the day! He should have disregarded Phlox’s recommendation and ordered him to administer the "cure". What does Archer’s decision teach us with regard to the need for "some directive"? Nothing.
Locke - Wed, Jul 18, 2012 - 3:08pm (USA Central)
I'd be interested to see Jammer's opinion of this epic long debate, simply because it is one of the most hotly debated episodes ever made.
Hawk - Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - 1:08pm (USA Central)
Archer withholds the cure from the Valakians possibly resulting in the extinction of the Valakians.

Archer gives the cure to the Valakians possibly resulting in the suppression of Menk development and their continued enslavement, if not their extinction.

It seems to me that Archer was caught between a rock and a hard spot.
Hawk - Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
From a morality play persepctive, the main problem with this episode is that it is a TV episode, in other words, all of the possible issues, potential solutions and consequences cannot possibly be explored in the 45 minute script. It would be difficult enough to do this in real life.
robert - Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 5:47am (USA Central)
I disagree with most the commentators here. This episode isn't about destiny or wrong understanding of science.
But, Trek in itself is immoral.
It is in fact the epitome of the Prime Directive dilemma. Starfleet/ Federation is not supposed to interfere with the development of species that aren't warp-capable. The Menk and Phlox's talk about evolution is just to point out that giving the Valakians a cure for their disease will have repercussions.

In fact, from a strictly Trek perspective, even if the Menk didn't exist, the Valakians still should not have been given the cure.
Dwarf - Thu, Sep 6, 2012 - 11:39pm (USA Central)
Wasn't sure whether to enter in this discussion since all the arguments have already been raised. However, I simply couldn't leave it at "the episode is proof that Trek itself is immoral".

I'm sorry, however did you reach that conclusion? Or perhaps I misunderstood? The fact that so many Trek fans take offense at this episode proofs to me that really this (and possibly the entire Enterprise show) doesn't deserve the Trek label.

I personally gave up watching Enterprise after the first season and this was one of the episodes that convinced me that this wasn't the Trek I grew up with and loved. Yes, Voyager was flawed but it was still Trek. This simply isn't, at least to me.

First of all, as far as I remember the Prime Directive stated that the Federation should not interfere in the cultural development of (pre-Warp) civilizations or share technology that was beyond that species' capabilities. It certainly didn't prevent giving humanitarian help, if help was requested. They actually made a point of that numerous times on Voyager and I believe in TNG as well.

I will concede that the principle behind the Prime Directive may be inherently flawed, but Trek, as I understand it, was always about striving for the best in humanity, i.e. compassion, peaceful interaction etc. So I 'm sorry to say that I have a huge problem with an argument that wants to take this episode as proof that "from a Trek perspective" Phlox and Archer's actions were justified.

Nope, they weren't. Btw. in our society denial of assistance is still a criminal offense which is precisely what Archer and the Dear Doctor were doing when they denied the Valakians access to a cure that was already available.

At its best Star Trek can be taken allegorical, as political or social commentary presented in a Sci-Fi setting. But the "message" here seems to be that one should stand idly by while other people suffer because, hey, maybe they're meant to and as long as we aren't affected we shouldn't interfere.

So this episode does need to be judged for what it tries to say about society. The message it gives seems to be: "The weak will (and should) perish". Sound familiar?

Sorry for the rant and the numerous grammatical errors (I'm not a native speaker). Of course, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but I did feel the need to express just why I dislike this episode so much. I'm sure some people will disagree with what I perceive as the philosophy behind Star Trek (at its best) and that's fine as well.
Elphaba - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 1:59am (USA Central)
It is important to note that the two writers who wrote this script also wrote a fairly mediocre episode: Breaking the Ice, and an annoyingly bad continuity violating episode: Acquisition. And they wrote... this. It seems to me that they have very little understanding of Star Trek at all if they think this is the way the Prime Directive works.

This is not Trek. It's utterly immoral as most everyone has already pointed out. It has no understanding of evolution. It's almost like I'm listening to a creationist rehash their beliefs in an almighty force guiding the universe. Evolution is equated to God.

Archer makes the decision he makes only because the script says so. Even first season Archer would never make this decision. He breaks a bunch of Sulliban out of an internment camp in Detained. He didn't stop and not do it just because he would be "interfering with their natural evolution" or some idiocy. Phlox should know better. He's a respected physician. I can never look at him the same way again. To me he will always be a budding sociopath just waiting to spring out.

And even with this utterly immoral issue going on, the writers of this episode still have to be distracted by some idiocy about Phlox going out on a date and going to a movie and not understanding why humans would be crying at a movie. And framing it with a letter. Data's Day this is not. It's annoying that that subplot is there during this big philosophical issue. In GOOD Trek episodes of the past, there wasn't an annoying B-plot that served no purpose whatsoever.

Ultimately this isn't Trek. At least this episode isn't anyway. This episode is not in my canon. Not in no Star Trek world because it flies in the face of everything that Star Trek stands for.

And not in a good DS9 kind of way. Sure Sisko does similar things but he would never have done something like this. He's torn apart by sacrificing six lives in In the Pale Moonlight to save the Alpha Quandrant in a war with the Dominion. Do you even think he would begin to allow massive genocide like this for no good reason?

Most of Enterprise is dull and boring and pointless. It's rehashed action scene after action scene that prove that B & B clearly have no idea how to write a Trek episode. Looking forward to the third and fourth seasons when they barely write anything. But this is the one episode that made me angry that these writers were ever associated with Trek. They wrote a pointless episode, a dumb episode, and this highly immoral episode. They should never have gotten involved with Trek. They are no Michael Pillar, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald Moore, Hans Beimler, or Michael Taylor. There have been so many legendary writers on Star Trek, but we have to get this idiot team who's probably never seen a Star Trek episode and were probably coached by B & B on how to write. No amount of hand washing will rid the Trek fandom of this horrible blemish of a spot.
Elphaba - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 1:16am (USA Central)
Addendum to the above:

Just because a disease is genetic doesn't mean that we just decide not to treat it and let it go about because we think that's the way it's supposed to go that's it's natural evolution. Archer makes a very good point that's never really addressed throughout the rest of the episode: As a doctor, you interfere with the natural evolution all the time. You're morally obligated to help. This is a very good point. Indeed, we work to end things like Autism and Anemia even though they are genetic. We don't just say "Nope, can't help you. The almighty process of evolution says this is the way it has to be." And it is especially pertinent to help these people because they are dying by the millions every day because of this genetic disorder. You can't treat evolution as this religious icon. They do. It reminds me of certain religious beliefs: You can't interfere with God's plan because God is perfect. They say the same here: You can't interfere with the natural evolution because that is the way nature intended it to be.
Michael - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 10:33am (USA Central)
Robert raises an interesting point here: What if the Menk didn't exist. Would the gruesome Archer/Phlox duo still have withheld the cure from the Valakians? And would they have been justified in doing whichever they chose?
Brian - Sat, Sep 29, 2012 - 8:57pm (USA Central)
As much as I love Trek, I have long known that it actively proselytizes the irreligious ideology of Secular Humanism. Usually the writers just water down differing cultures, religions, and beliefs into a murky melting pot of multiculturalism, and everyone holds hands and smiles with their cultural relativism.

Except that's not how the game ends with an atheism that holds evolution as a moral imperative. This episode exemplifies Secular Humanism carried to its fullest extent - survival of the fittest with the fittest ensuring that the weak play their part by dying off.

All of you who are defending the ethics of this episode should be ashamed of yourselves. I pray that none of you will have any authority over any other human being ever, because your worldview is disgustingly ruthless and cruel.
Michael - Sat, Sep 29, 2012 - 11:45pm (USA Central)
@Brian: Don't be absurd. Sorry to burst your bubbly straw man, but I'm an atheist (indeed, an anti-theist) and I think the "doctor" was 100% wrong. Hospitals were not a religionists' invention. I would have given the Valakians the cure. From your comments it is quite evident that you understand neither atheism nor evolution... - or morality, for that matter. Don't you at least see that "humanism" and "survival of the fittest" are by definition mutually exclusive?

This has nothing to do with anybody's religion or Weltanschauung. It could be sloppy writing or a stroke of genius on the authors' part: Not a single other episode of Enterprise generated such a heated discussion.

You are right though about the fuzzy kumbaya multiculturalism that pervades the (latter-day) Trek universe. It's as if every other episode ends or should end with a group hug. Barf.
Nathaniel - Tue, Oct 2, 2012 - 11:12pm (USA Central)

You should well heed these words: Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and confirm it.
Brian - Wed, Oct 3, 2012 - 10:57pm (USA Central)

There is no contradiction. Secular Humanism posits that humanity is responsible for engineering its own purpose, ethics, and meaning. But which man, or group of people, is responsible for defining those things? Is it a free-for-all - everyone for themselves? No society can function where everyone defines right and wrong and meaning individually. So how can order be brought to the chaos?

Enter the experts. The intellectuals. The Ph.D's and scientists. Or perhaps a doctor and a starship captain. They'll define it all for the rest of us. They'll tell me what's right and wrong. I can sit back and just trust the meaning of my life to their capable hands.

But what if I disagree? What if my experts are orbiting my planet in some spaceship and deciding my death without my input? What if they decide that it's better, according to their enlightened ideology, if I just die off? Now my trusted experts have become my enemy.

Those experts, the anointed ones who know what's best, who have progressed and modernized and redefined all that came before, have defined themselves as the fittest, and they are ensuring that I die off in order to serve their irrefutable grand plan for humanity.

There is no contradiction between Secular Humanism and Social Darwinism. In fact, they play together quite nicely. This episode shows the result.
Michael - Fri, Oct 5, 2012 - 4:26pm (USA Central)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but behind that lengthy disquisition of yours is a basic premise that humans are incapable of establishing absolute moral/ethical values without supernatural interference/guidance.

That is empirically false.

Humans established and refined legal codes far earlier than the advent of organized religion. Indeed, our ability to do so is what made it possible for societies to evolve.

In real life, Archer and Phlox would never have been able to do what they did: They would have had to refer the matter to Star Fleet, which would then have undertaken what I'd envision to be a protracted judicial process to arrive at a decision.

Secular Humanism in no way implies or presupposes what you call social Darwinism. Please, I beg of you, save yourself further embarrassment and read up on both. Bottom line: The proposition that a person needs "god" in order to be moral is total nonsense, as can be seen on millions of people all around the world every single day. Period.

And by the way, belief in "god" rarely stopped anyone doing something stupid such as committing murder or genocide. Yea, in many instances such a belief actually precipitated abominable acts of unfathomable cruelty. Referring to your example of "experts" orbiting your planet, I'd say you'd stand a helluva lot better chances of not being vaporized if those "experts" were atheists than if they were god-botherers.
Nathaniel - Sat, Oct 6, 2012 - 11:42am (USA Central)

Here's another one: If you're in a hole, its really stupid to keep digging.
Cail Corishev - Wed, Oct 10, 2012 - 11:50am (USA Central)
"Archer "played God" by having the audacity to predict complex outcomes, not by his actions."

Agreed. The first DS9 episode about the genetically enhanced wackos made the same mistake, at least at first. You can't predict the future of entire peoples that way, no matter how much DNA Magic you can command. I'm a fan of Asimov's Foundation series, and psychohistory makes sense up to a point -- masses of people do tend to have a kind of inertia that keeps them moving along somewhat predictable paths in ways that the individuals making up the groups do not. But Asimov's Seldon made it clear that he was talking probabilities, not certainties. The uncertainties increased as time passed (which is why there was a Second Foundation of psychohistorians to keep tweaking the equations) and there was always the chance that some unexpected variable -- even an individual like the Mule -- could throw the whole thing off.

There's simply no way they could predict the future of this society accurately enough to base this kind of a decision on it. To the objections others have made, here are more off the top of my head: what if the dying race got a bit peeved about the whole thing and decided to take the other race out with them? What if the genetic whatsit transfers to the primitive race 150 years from now, and both races end up extinct? There are just too many possibilities.

These writers, like many people today, have clearly adopted Darwinism as a religion that goes beyond the science of natural selection. As others have said more extensively, there's no "destiny" in evolution. There's certainly no predicting it. Mutations happen, and if they happen to be beneficial in their particular time and place, they may be passed on, and thus species tend to adapt to their environments over time. But most mutations are harmful or useless, and there have been plenty of evolutionary dead-ends in Earth's history, even before human interference. There's no way to know what sort of positive mutation may happen next, or whether it'll happen to be passed on.

The other mistake they make is in talking about Nature as if humans are outside it. Humans (and sentient aliens) are part of nature, even in starships. And considering the writers see evolution as a positive force for good, why not assume humanity evolved to this point for this reason: to bring cures to dying species?

Lastly, sins of omission aren't any less egregious than sins of commission. If you have the ability to cure someone and you don't, that's no better than if you give him the disease. At that point there's no choice between interfering or not; you're interfering either way, by giving it or withholding it. So they could give the cure and both species would live (with one perhaps subordinate to the other); or withhold the cure and let one species die (with the other perhaps taking its place). "Do nothing" was off the table. As such, the choice seems pretty obvious.

One last angle: turn the tables, so the primitive-with-potential culture is the one that's dying out, while the civilized-but-stagnant snobs are fine and don't particularly care. Now would our heroes be so willing to leave things be?
happydude86 - Thu, Oct 25, 2012 - 12:25am (USA Central)
I hate to break this to you, but I personally would consider you to be immoral bordering on evil if you left somebody to die when you had the means to save them and you didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt in knowing that you just allowed another human being to die through your inaction. Look at it this way:
-If you help that person, you have just saved someone's life. You have prevented almost certain death. Of course, as you said, this person may, (and I want to stress the fact that I am using the word MAY and not IS) be a murderer or spouse beater or whatever. So it is POSSIBLE that someone else will suffer. But on the other hand...
-If you do nothing, that person will almost certainly die. I repeat, not a person MAY suffer or a person MAY die, but a person WILL die with a high degree of certainty.
In other words, when given the options of POSSIBLY UNINTENTIONALLY and INDIRECTLY allowing someone else come to harm by saving this person, and the other option of ALMOST CERTAINLY having someone die, you choose the option where it is MORE LIKELY that pain, suffering and death will occur, and you call that a 'moral' decision.
What. The. Fuck.
Nathaniel - Fri, Oct 26, 2012 - 10:13am (USA Central)
Sorry, guess it wasn't clear. I was satirizing the viewpoints of another poster, one whose views I find as repugnant as you found my post. It wasn't a statement of my position, but my method of expressing disgust of another posters view.
Rosario - Mon, Nov 5, 2012 - 9:51pm (USA Central)
Thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It's nice to see blind compassion taking a backseat to an actual mature decision. Good stuff!
Rosario - Mon, Nov 5, 2012 - 11:21pm (USA Central)
Also, as someone who looks at time travel stuff a lot, if i did have the technology, I would NOT go back in time and kill Hitler, thus (maybe!) saving 40 million or so lives. I would NOT go back in time and provide a vaccine for bubonic plague and thus sparing another 10 million or so folks. I would NOT go back in time to the Challenger launch and advise a postponement. I would NOT calmly explain to the designer of the Titanic that his ship design had a critical flaw. I would NOT go back in time... well I could go on forever really.

When humanity can travel through time - which according to Trek is a certainty - will all of humanity be by definition, monsters? I mean we're not going back in time to spare our ancestors all this misery and death! Or can we instead respect that the Mature decision is not to interfere with where the cards will fall? All that do-gooder emotion pouring through you and the switch for a time machine in your hands. The unbelieveable damage you could do with your irrationality.

Ignore the science on the show. It's merely a vehicle to get us from point A to B. Yes, yes, I know the writers and producers want us to be proud of all the science homework they've done. Oliver Stone wants us to think he did research too. Nonsense, all smoke and mirrors. True astonishment should be reserved for the real science that actually does seep through. Trying to make the science real is the only flaw in the episode since it opens a crack for criticism to sneak in.

Also, not once did I get a Valakians vs. Menks vibe that a lot of the commenters seem to have picked up. It never seemed to me that Phlox was affected by them beyond being just another fact on his chart.
Demosthenes - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 3:55pm (USA Central)
What mature decision? The decision to withhold a cure from a dying people? That's not mature, that's monstrous.

Your time travel analogy doesn't work, by the way. A great argument can be made for not changing the past -- even if it weren't logically impossible, as I assume it would be. Indeed, you already made it.

The situation Archer and Phlox faced was one in the present, not the past. And it is not acceptable reasoning to refuse to act -- to let things take their course -- because you don't know if the outcome would be better or worse. Would you really refuse to help a dying man (or a dying race...just an extension of the same idea) in the present because you don't know what impact that might have on the future? If so, then your moral instincts are appalling.
Rosario - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 9:35pm (USA Central)
Perhaps my moral instincts are appalling - I can be quite unmoved. Clinical detachment is the bottom line for me. I prefer to observe and then act.

The arguement for withholding the cure is not invalid just because you disagree with it. If anything, I suppose it being such a hard decision to make is why I refer to it as a "mature" decision. You see, I'm jaded from all these folks around me today that seem incapable of sitting down and thinking things through from every perspective, even absolutely vile ones and instead just act impetuously from an emotional based spark. I can't really articulate a justification of the decision in the episode but it feels like the right decision to me. Maybe it's my "gut" that's appalling or perhaps just a bit of half-digested cheese. I'll concede that Phlox's science is a bit shaky and perhaps there was some favortism for the Menk but I'll still stick by the core decision even if I can't really explain why.

Can we agree that they should have not gotten involved in the first place? If we can't, then perhaps that's the root since I'm judging from the viewpoint of non-involvement in the first place.

Or did you just want to call my moral instincts appalling? :)

Oh I agree with you by the way in an earlier post above, you did mention that the PD was not about letting a race be destroyed. I think on TOS there was even an episode where Kirk had to stop an asteroid from hitting a native type culture. Very pre-warp. Just sparing lives. My moral instincts have no qualms about redirecting asteroids away from pastoral worlds I am happy to report!
John (the younger) - Wed, Nov 21, 2012 - 1:16am (USA Central)
So you're "jaded from all these folks around me today that seem incapable of sitting down and thinking things through from every perspective" and yet are ok with making a moral decision based on your "gut" instincts..
Demosthenes - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
Well, you're right about one thing, at least -- the argument for withholding the cure must stand or fall on its own merits. My feelings have no bearing on its worth. But it does not stand based on your feelings, either. And John was quite right to point out both your hypocrisy and your poor reasoning.

"Can we agree that they should have not gotten involved in the first place?"

If you'll recall the episode, the Valakians made contact with the Enterprise. Archer didn't go looking to interfere in anything. Again, I question your instincts. If someone places a call to your house asking for help, and you know it's a potentially serious situation, do you just refuse to answer?

And you never did answer my question. If someone was dying and they asked for your help, would you refuse to aid them -- because you hadn't observed enough yet before you acted?
Chris - Mon, Dec 3, 2012 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
The issue here isn't so much that they allowed them to die, but that they had the means to prevent it.

If Phlox had been unable to determine a way to fix the problem, the Valakians would still be facing extinction, but (hopefully) people wouldn't be calling them monsters for allowing it. So the issue becomes whether or not Phlox should have been tasked with the attempt in the first place.

This dilemma is somewhat similar to that in the DS9 episode "The Quickening". The main difference is that in that episode the disease was introduced by the Dominion, while here the affliction is apparently a natural evolution. I had no issue with Bashir curing a disease, particularly an artifically introduced one, but "curing" evolution is a much more nebulous endeavor.
Elphaba - Mon, Dec 3, 2012 - 5:14pm (USA Central)

That's ridiculous. Just because AIDs is a natural disease, does that mean we don't try to cure it? Just because autism is genetic does that mean that we don't try to cure it? If something is killing people, we try to stop it, it doesn't matter what it is.
Mad - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 8:09am (USA Central)

"while here the affliction is apparently a natural evolution. I had no issue with Bashir curing a disease, particularly an artifically introduced one, but "curing" evolution is a much more nebulous endeavor."

Oh my god, just... Read a book. Seriously.
Nick P. - Thu, Dec 13, 2012 - 1:29pm (USA Central)
You can count me as one of the haters. Althoughy offensive on almost every level, and in no way scientifically justifiable, it was one of the few "easy to watch" episodes. Gotta give it that. Of course, you must ignore the absolute disgusting level Archers morals went here and that he did just defend the Nazi Holocaust, and all other attrocities and the history of humanity.

I put this in the same camp as "Insurrection", easy on the eyes, but morally disgusting. The difference with this one, is that it is not even justified by the future prime directive, the species IS space-flight capable. That is my BIGGEST problem with anyone (JAMMER) that defends this episode. It doesn't even follow STAR TREK morals and rules. Archer had every right to help these people.

Let me put this another way, if we assume the evolution is directed (which it is not) than how do we know that evolution didn't direct this species to have enough intellegence to have spaceflight and meet another species that could cure this genetic disorder?
CeeBee - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 8:40pm (USA Central)
How about being understaffed if with 80 people aboard you have to settle for an entomologist as your medical sidekick.
mark - Sat, Feb 9, 2013 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
A few quick points:

Whenever Nazis or the Holocaust are mentioned, a discussion has degenerated into hyperbole.

The Prime Directive doesn't allow for Starfleet to aid (or interfere with as the case may be) any culture that is capable of spaceflight--just the ones that are capable of warp spaceflight.

If Archer gave the Valakians the cure the Menk would have remained in serfdom. Archer's refusal to hand over the cure doesn't necessarily doom the Valakians; they could after all find their own cure. They still have a couple of centuries according to Phlox.

By not giving them the cure Archer left it up to nature, and the Valakians, to decide the fate of their own world. By giving them the cure, Archer would have been deciding the fate of their world for them. Phlox's comaparison to Earth's past when Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted sums up the situation nicely. If an alien culture had given the neanderthals a leg up, what then?

I found this episode to be nicely meaty in terms of examining the kind of issues a Trek prequel should, though I wouldn't rate it 4 stars, simply because whenever I see yet another Trek Forehead Alien part of me just mentally checks out.
Benjamin - Sun, Apr 7, 2013 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
Dear Mark,

A debate indeed is beyond hope when people start to call each other Nazis. But this is not the case here. Nazis are mentioned because of the alarmingly similar philosophy endorsed by this heinous abomination of an episode.

Letting a race die because another race is destined to be superior to it matches Nazi doctrine perfectly whether you like it or not. The fact that it's done passively is of small importance. There is no country in which standing by and letting someone die is not considered a crime. Let alone letting millions die.
Do you really believe that pressing a button that will start WW3 is much worse than knowingly not depressing it before it took effect?

The fact that Nazis are mentioned in this debate is not a testament to a degenerative debate but instead to a degenerative episode.

All the episodes lacked is for Flox to start doing diabolical experiments on the Valakians because they are destined to die anyway.
That, and for Archer to grow a small mustache.
Cass - Sat, Apr 13, 2013 - 2:27pm (USA Central)
@Benjamin, I am appaled at your assertion that it would be correct for archer to grow a mustache, as a fan of trek it think it would be far more appropriate that he grew a goatee.

oh yes as for the moral quandary, I find it difficult to overlook the shoddy science, as it forms the basis of the argument for witholding the cure. (incorrect science in sci-fi.... have never seen this before).
Strangly I wish i could agree with our disturbed captain and doctor, if for no other reason than i'd enjoy to be put ill at ease with their conclusion, however I cannot accapt their argument on either emotive grounds (obviously, nor can I accept that their position is internally consistant.

A few other point that were raised in earlier posts:
TNG Ep Symbiosis, Picard justified withholding help on basis on prime directive, even though the species was capable of space flight (just not warp space flight), why this particular invention marks such an absolute threshold I think needs further elaboration.

Ultimately i find that i can only accept The prime directive in any form as a misnomer, its best (?) use i would see as one particular set of guidelines of which action can be judgeded against (not the only guidelines, i want to make that point clear, even if you find an ethical theory appaling it can still be useful to see action through the lens of that principle, if only to gain another perspective)

Mad - Wed, May 8, 2013 - 4:56pm (USA Central)
"The Prime Directive doesn't allow for Starfleet to aid (or interfere with as the case may be) any culture that is capable of spaceflight--just the ones that are capable of warp spaceflight."

Prime directive did not exist at this time.

"If Archer gave the Valakians the cure the Menk would have remained in serfdom."

How in the hell do you know that? Episode gives us no reason to believe that all, or even most of Valakians think the way Menk are treated is okay and that they will trat them like this forever. Hell, the treated way better than white people treated black people a hundred years ago. doe

"Archer's refusal to hand over the cure doesn't necessarily doom the Valakians; they could after all find their own cure. They still have a couple of centuries according to Phlox. "

Oh yeah, if I see a guy dying and he askes me for help, or get someone who can help and I tell him to fuck off, I am totaly not partly reponsbile for death. After all, someone else might come and help him.

"By not giving them the cure Archer left it up to nature, and the Valakians, to decide the fate of their own world. By giving them the cure, Archer would have been deciding the fate of their world for them."

BULLSHIT! The nature isn't a concious being, it didn't select Valakians to die. By your logic, doctors shouldn't cure anyone ever, because the nature will decide whether he lives or dies.

Decide? So what, you think they are not sure, whether they wannt to die or not? You are saying this, like if they have any power over the situation. They decided, they don't want to die, but they ar unable to help themselves. Deciding their fate for them is EXACTLY what Phlox and Archer did. Only way your insane logic of "deciding fate of their world" could work, is they gave them the cure and Valakians were left to choose whether to use it or not.

Phlox's comaparison to Earth's past when Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted sums up the situation nicely. If an alien culture had given the neanderthals a leg up, what then?

Nothing. It already happened in Star Trek and it did jackshit.

I'm sorry, but you are an idiot. This isn't a matter of opinion. this is justifing letting thousands of people die for no reason.
Elliott - Wed, May 8, 2013 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
Sigh...it is unwise and ultimately pointless to try and deride or condone Phlox', Archer's or the writers' decisions by way of analogy. This "would you help someone by the side of the road?" nonsense is sophomoric dribble. The whole point of the Prime Directive (and its prequel ruminations here) is that it is a policy which is meant to handle a moral situation which is larger than what a human being can cope with. In our own world and time, the implications of helping, curing or arming a foreign country is fuzzy territory and it should be. By the time we're dealing with entire planets and cultures on those planets, ordinary human compassion and empathy (and morality) are insufficient. Analogy is the smallest form of human reasoning. If the beings the Enterprise encountered weren't sentient, but some sort of higher primate below that level of evolution, I don't think there would be a moral outrage about allowing nature to take its course. The point of moral debate comes in when it becomes decided that a certain level of human progress must be achieved (Warp drive in the PD;s case) to consider a species evolved enough to qualify for human-like sentience. Now, that may be a bigoted position, and that may be an arbitrary line to draw, and those very problems were wrestled with in the other series, but to dismiss anyone's choice to let "thousands of people die for no reason" as plainly immoral is small thinking. The fact that this episode demonstrates large thinking in the spirit of Star Trek is exactly why this episode is so far above most of the others in Enterprise as a series.
CeeBee - Thu, May 9, 2013 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
Ethics discussion aside: Enterprise is a "prequel series". The developers have told us the series would enlighten us how it all came to be. That's no truth from the Star Trek universe but from our own. It didn't develop stand-alone, it was the basis of the series.

From this "how come" point of view it would have been far more interesting if the writers decided to show us how that Prime Directive came to be. (It might also have prevented this whole discussion...)

Let's say Archer acts as a human being and tries to help them, with terrible results, thus making the space faring Earthlings rethink and re-evaluate their evident and ethical imperative, leading to the restriction called the "Prime Directive".

This weird episode is about the foreshadow of the prime directive (Archer almost mentions the name literally) yet does not tell us why the Prime Directive came into being.

It basically tells us: Archer sits on his hands "because", and millions die. That's the Prime Directive. It could have been: Archer _does_ act and as a result millions die. The prime directive comes into being.
CeeBee - Thu, May 9, 2013 - 8:40pm (USA Central)

You basically claim that scale is an excuse to abandon principles and that analogies are unwise to use here. Yet you use an analogy yourself when you say "if the beings the Enterprise encountered weren't sentient, but some sort of higher primate below that level of evolution, I don't think there would be a moral outrage about allowing nature to take its course" to explain your own point of view.

Crucial in this story is that it's not humans interfering with others, but others interfering with humans. The aliens came to the rest of the universe in a bid for help, not the other way around.

It _has_ ethical implications for humans - on any scale, and certainly in the Star Trek future - to turn down a plea for help. That is the reason why some of the analogies here are perfectly valid. They're not about interference, but about responding to a plea for help.

If you want to explain why such a directive came into being, it's only logical to assume that an inexperienced captain of the human race makes an understandable decision that turns out awfully wrong.

The series developers came up with the idea of the prime directive to remind the viewers of what had happened in history shouldn't happen again. South-American native people encountering Europeans, Native Americans meeting the newcomers. And so on. Never again, so they taught the viewers

The devastating results of introducing _technology_ (and not medical assistance) to people who would be endangered in their existence because they wouldn't know how to handle it. It never applied to people who didn't ask for help.

That's the weak point of this story. Coming back to your analogy: animals don't ask for help. People who don't know that there are ready made solutions out there don't ask for it either.

From the human's point of view it's not about pull, it's about push.
This is a pull situation: the aliens actively ask for help, and help was refused based on "maybe, someday, and maybe this or that, and could well be that one time in the future...."

The prime directive is not about scale and speculation, it's about caution and learning from earlier mistakes. If someone defends the prime directive with the words that it might be bigoted and arbitrary - then there sure is something wrong with it. Bigotry certainly doesn't indicate "large thinking". On the contrary.
Sintek - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 9:18am (USA Central)
A cop-out ending. Cure them or let nature take its course? Hurp derrr how bout we give dem maguc serim dat let dem live 10 mor yeers insted so we not uffend no one, derrp.
Rosario - Mon, Jun 17, 2013 - 1:29am (USA Central)
Setting aside my already stated preference for abject non-interference from the start that I've already stated (indefensible as it may be), looking at this from the "Cry for Help" perspective as CeeBee very eloquently stated, yes I would help. I hustle along and don't make eye contact with the homeless people passively sitting in Jersey City but if one approaches I always give them something even if it's just a smoke and a light.

Hell once I even helped an arthritic old man who could hardly move his fingers, all disheveled with mickey mouse t-shirt and dirty stains all over him with wild hair and a crazier food dusted beard, shouting, "Help, Help me please!" while nicely dressed men and woman, looked down and scuttled past or told him to, "Get the fuck away from me!" Poor guy couldn't pull papers out of his front pocket that he needed for an appointment at a nearby store. No one would even ask WHAT'S THE PROBLEM! "Whoa now, what's the problem?" I said.

I get sad and a little angry at my fellow man remembering that poor old dude. He'd been through enough, help that guy out. I guess I'm an old softie at heart. So yeah, looking at it as a Cry for Help rather than a Non-Interference issue... yeah I'd help. Well said CeeBee. Got me thinking.


I DO disagree though with your comment on Elliot's analogy. The only thing wrong with Elliot's analogy is that he made it. I can only conclude he wasn't thinking since he had just taken a swipe at analogies. Cut out some of the snark around the edges a minor instance of personal bias and a few crudities that have no place in a debate and you get...

(para-phrasing) Elliot - "The point of the Prime Directive (and its prequel ruminations here) is that it is a policy which is meant to handle a moral situation which is larger than what a human being can cope with. In our own world and time, the implications of helping, curing or arming a foreign country is fuzzy territory and it should be. By the time we're dealing with entire planets and cultures on those planets, ordinary human compassion and empathy (and morality) are insufficient. The point of moral debate comes in when it becomes decided that a certain level of human progress must be achieved (Warp drive in the PD's case) to consider a species evolved enough to qualify for human-like sentience."

Presto, now it can be examined from an interference/non-interference standpoint - instead of the emotionalism of the "Cry for Help" scenario. (ie, "Who CAN we interfere with/help?" Now examine the arbitrary line drawn for helping (interfering) only with warp capable species. That's the crux, that arbitrary line.

I have always had a problem with rules and I don't mean that in the rebellious sort of way. I mean sorts of things like "Rules of Conduct for Captains." Why is Starfleet promoting people to Captain that do not conduct themselves properly? Starbuck from BSG is a perfect example of this. Great pilot great tactical instincts but she does not conduct herself as befitting an officer. She should never have been promoted to her positions. She is a great pilot, let her fly. She has great tactical instincts, ask her advice and listen when she offers it.

Why should a Starfleet Captain need a rule to tell him not to get involved in things when instead Starfleet should be training Captains who can decide for themselves if something is too big to get involved in or not and whose decisions (whatever they may be) can be trusted to reflect only the best ideals and principles of Starfleet?

Guess I'm saying they need to chuck the prime directive and instead re-examine their officer candidacy processes.
Elliott - Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - 3:27pm (USA Central)
First of all, I did not use an analogy. The analogous situations proposed likening both parties to more familiar players: The Enrerprise crew (by proxy the writers and PD ethos) to a single human being and the aliens to a suffering stranger, for example. My point was not to reduce either party to an analogous (in the arguer's eyes if course) player, but to point out the arbitrary level of sentience placed upon the aliens because of their anthropomorphised appearance and intelligence (for the record, I would consider both species sentient).

Larger Thinking, as I define it here indicates the understanding that morality is not absolute, that *reacting* is insufficient.

Yes, the aliens (forgive me, I'm on a phone and don't want to keep scrolling for the spelling) asked for help; but what does that help imply? If Archer gave them the cure, that would implicate Earth and this planet in a vital relationship. That relationship would inevitably force humans to interfere in all the ways we otherwise prohibit with the aliens' culture. The technology gap would mean that either A) the humans would have to being the alien culture up to its level [something the PD would eventually condone with warp-capable species] or B) humans would remain the superior partner in an unequal partnership, engendering its own problems.

Yes, it feels right to save lives and it's easy to claim that this imperative supersedes all other considerations, but it is ultimately irresponsible. Cultures must find their own way until they are capable of entering a larger community of cultures--of course then the process must start over. Ego evolves to family to tribe to nation to state to planet to (federation) to...who knows?
Rosario - Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - 6:47pm (USA Central)
@Elliott: "Analogy is the smallest form of human reasoning. If the beings the Enterprise encountered weren't sentient, but some sort of higher primate below that level of evolution, I don't think there would be a moral outrage about allowing nature to take its course."

I read that as an analogy, ironically placed after a slap at analogies. If I'm incorrect perhaps you need to educate me on how that's not an analogy.

Besides that minor quibble - and the other minor quibble that ego can be maintained within the collective family/tribe/nation/state/planet etc - I DO agree with you from an interference/non-interference stance. On detecting a pre-warp space vessel with life-signs, I would have never stopped to begin with. Here's a sentient species beginning their own voyage into the unknown - who am I to interfere and rob them of the joys of discovery and the tragedy of failure that my own species had to endure?

I believe my morals were referred to as "abhorrent" when making a similar argument to yours :)

I might have to watch the first 10 minutes of this episode again to see if they ever even approached the Enterprise or if it was Archer that assisted them just thinking they looked like they needed help.
Nathaniel - Tue, Jun 25, 2013 - 11:29am (USA Central)

Pardon me, but how and why would saving a species force Starfleet into a continuing relationship? If the species wanted more help, help that Starfleet felt was inappropriate, they could always just say no.

Furthermore, what's so magical about the dividing line between warp and pre warp? Why is it okay to help the Klingons after their mooon blew up but not okay to prevent an entire species from wiping out?

And how about Bajor? While it technically had warp capability, it also was a society that had been ravaged, and was only one planet, compared to an entire Federation of over 100 planets. By your standards, it was wrong for the Federation to engage in a rebuilding project. And it would be wrong to help the Cardassians after being decimated by the Dominion war. Seems to me in your world the only people its permissible to help are those who are powerful enough they don't need it.
Elliott - Tue, Jun 25, 2013 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
@Nathaniel: If the very existence of a species is predicated on the assistance of another, I would call that a fundamental relationship. How can Starfleet resurrect a species and then simply leave it be, as though it had never interfered?

"If the species wanted more help, help that Starfleet felt was inappropriate, they could always just say no."

So, if, for example, Phlox' cure caused a serious genetic defect in, say, one third of the population--not enough to wipe out the species, but enough to be a hardship--should Starfleet seek to correct the problem? Or should they simply care for the ailing population, set up hospitals and embassies? The idea that Starfleet can step in, no matter how well-intentioned, fix a single problem and then walk away is a silly fantasy. Actions have consequences, most of which cannot be easily predicted.

Warp drive is (currently) a fictional technology. It is arbitrary but it represents, in the context of this fiction, a leap forward in our evolution. It marks a fundamental shift in our ability to interact with the larger universe. What that marker will actually be (if we make it that far) in the future no one can say, but in this hypothetical future it's a sensible option. If a species is ready to enter the larger cosmological community (warp-capable), then the scenarios above (continued interference, embassies, etc) is a natural next step even if there weren't an epidemic to cure. The same goes for Bajor; one of the running plots of DS9 was about Bajor's admittance into the Federation, and helping the Bajorans recover from the Occupation wasn't a quick-fix.

I applaud helping others, but not blindly and not without being willing and able to take full responsibility for the relationship one engenders by doing so.

@Rosario : An analogy is like algebra combined with a simile :

A is a letter in the word Athena.

1 is a digit in the numeral 31.

A is like 1 in that it is a unit in a larger linguistic construction.

Thus an analogy is born. Now, one can make comparisons:

If without '1', '31' could not exist, then without 'A', 'Athena' could not exist.

The problem is, you lose something fundamental in making the analogy: 'Athena' is a word, yes, but in our lexicon automatically has a huge number of associations and deeper meanings. The same can be true of '31'--though the associations are bound to be more abstract (for example on this site "Section 31"). The point is, the analogy between the two constructs tells you nothing about those deeper meanings, and the meanings themselves cannot survive the comparison. How can I fit Athena being born of Zeus' head and the jealousy of Hera and the prayers of ancient Greek soldiers into an analogy with '31'?

The same thing occurs when you expand one human to an entire race--the analogy fails.

My comment which you quoted is not reducing or expanding anything--I was simply stating that the crux of the moral outrage had nothing to do with compassion or evolution but with egocentricity to the human condition (homo sapiens sapiens-centricity, I suppose). I could have said, plainly, "I believe the moral outrage about nature taking its course stems from a human-centric perspective, one that would never extend to lower animals, despite evolution affecting them every bit as much as us." Thus, my argument requires no analogy. It was simply wryer (or "snarkier" to borrow from you) to phrase it the way I did, using a construction that resembles an analogy.
Nathaniel - Thu, Jun 27, 2013 - 12:19pm (USA Central)

So because of potential future complications, its better to let an entire race die? I will admit, dead people tend be less complicated and make less demands.
Demosthenes - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
"If Archer gave them the cure, that would implicate Earth and this planet in a vital relationship. That relationship would inevitably force humans to interfere in all the ways we otherwise prohibit with the aliens' culture."

If I cure a sick man of a disease, I am not obligated to interfere with anything else in his life. If my cure causes problems, then yes -- I am obligated to help fix the problem...but you can't necessarily make the leap to total interference.

"So, if, for example, Phlox' cure caused a serious genetic defect in, say, one third of the population--not enough to wipe out the species, but enough to be a hardship--should Starfleet seek to correct the problem?...Actions have consequences, most of which cannot be easily predicted."

Even granting your example, what you're saying here is that only being able to cure a condition in two out of every three people in a society, and thus continue the existence of both those people and the society, should give Phlox serious pause about curing the disease at all. At its best, that would only be an excuse to refuse to administer the cure for a set period of time to see if a better option might be discovered.

"Cultures must find their own way until they are capable of entering a larger community of cultures..."

The Valakians had previous contact with warp-faring cultures, and were able to call for help. They're clearly already a part (albeit a fringe part) of a larger community of worlds, which -- on your own assumptions -- moots any argument against helping them just because they can't travel faster than light.

Also, I think your analogy about analogies is the analogy that failed...
Demosthenes - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 10:04pm (USA Central)
Sorry, left out two paragraphs as I was assembling a final draft. They are below:

Yes, I know that your point is -- what if Phlox administers the cure, and then tragedy strikes? It's a fair question. Here's another one: if you don't have a thorough medical workup on a dying man, why give him a medicine to which he might potentially be allergic? You have no way of knowing what the consequences would be if you administer the dose. The obvious answer, of course, and the one that scuttles your argument, is that you know perfectly well what will happen if you don't.

I am not saying that always and everywhere, one should disregard potential harms if there is an obvious harm to be avoided. In fact, as a general rule, it's better to avoid interfering without sufficient knowledge. But at a certain point, when the obvious harm is serious enough, risking the potential harm is clearly a better course of action. Where that line should be drawn is a subject for debate, but in this case, I'm fairly certain you're on the wrong side of it.
Lar - Tue, Sep 3, 2013 - 11:40am (USA Central)
Why is it acceptable for Phlox to let a peaceful, prosperous, albeit less advanced race suffer a slow, lingering extinction because of a genetic defect and the vague promise of another race evolving to fill the vacuum but perfectly fine to cure the belligerent and hostile Klingons of a foolish attempt to weaponize their race?

Otherwise, it's a fine episode.
Nancy - Sun, Sep 8, 2013 - 10:53am (USA Central)
I side with those who think the medicine should have been distributed.

As others have pointed out, it's not just a question of whether or not to interfere at all. Phlox was perfectly willing to help find a cure until he discovers it is genetic. Then, all of the sudden, it becomes off-limits because "Evolution" - which gets deified and basically presented as a being who has orchestrated a Divine Plan - must not be "interfered with" and the fact that the problem is genetic shows that Evolution, in His Infintite Wisdom, has decided they must die for reasons far beyond the understanding of mere mortals. We must obey the will of Evolution!

Ironically, many of those here arguing this viewpoint are completely oblivious to its religious nature and believe they are being scientific.

Others have already pointed out how ludicrous and destructive such a mentality would be if taken to its logical conclusion, but on a personal level, I know someone with Down Syndrome. I for one am glad that doctors on Earth don't stop trying to find cures for people like her because it would be "unethical" to interfere with Evolution's will.
EageryounspaceCadet - Sat, Sep 21, 2013 - 5:27pm (USA Central)
I really love archers speach.

I think they could have reached some accomadation, or negotiated a deal with the valakians to give the Menk more autotonamy.

Maybe The evolutionary leap Phlox predicts NEEDS The winnowing out of people who are likely to die after the valakinas are gone, in order to happen.

Having a Cure, DEFINITELY gives you a sizable bargaining chip.

Should be able to negotiate for anything up to a continent.
Moonie - Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - 3:25pm (USA Central)
Overall I liked this episode, even though I am not sure how I feel about the end. I tend to think that the cure should have been distributed. We don't see giving medicine to less developed people as "interference", we see it as our moral obligation. But I guess I can accept that both sides have a point and that in those early stages of space exploration, humans are not always sure what is right and what isn't.

Regardless of the philosophical and moral implications, a good episode.
K'Elvis - Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
No species evolves its way to extinction. If traits appear which prevent the individual from living long enough to reproduce, they will not be passed on.

All disease is natural, a doctor is fighting nature every time they cure someone. It is absurd to say "This disease is natural, therefore I will not cure it." The cure was not withheld due to the Prime Directive. It was withheld because the Doctor decided to play God, decided that the Valakians ought to die so that the Merk can thrive. We'd be offended by a "WHITES ONLY" sign on a hospital, this is no different. If a doctor decided that only white people deserved to be treated, and that he was going to let those he deemed to be inferior die, he'd be condemned. This is no different. Just because the doctor thought that the Merk could only thrive if the Valakians died out doesn't make it true. Yes, this is an analogy, but it is an apt one. The only reason there is complaint against analogies is that it is inconvenient to have to go against such potent evidence.

It was only MUCH later that the Federation adopted a policy of no first contact unless a society had warp drive, and even then, it's more of a guideline - the Valakians contacted the Enterprise that's more than sufficient to merit first contact, even under the more stringent standards found by the TNG. The Federation doesn't involve itself with precontact civilizations, but one contact is made, they aren't precontact civilizations. Providing medical aid to a species that you have made contact with when they request it isn't a violation of the Prime Directive.
Andy's Friend - Sat, Nov 9, 2013 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
Easily a 4-star episode.

However, I am puzzled as to how many have commented on the Menk. The Menk have nothing to do with the fundamental question in this episode.

Let me give you an analogy of my own:

1. Mankind, as we speak, is dying. Regardless of what the future of the universe may be, in a few billion years, according to our present knowledge, as our sun expands into a red giant, life on Earth will die.

2. Imagine that one of these days mankind meets Q - good, old, quasi-omnipotent Q. And that we ask him to deliver us from that terrible, distant fate: "Please, Q, transport the Earth to a nice place where mankind can live happily - if not ever after, then at least for a few hundred billion years more!..."

3. Imagine that Q then answers: "I'm sorry, you sordid, puny civilization, but this is one trouble you'll have to sort out for yourselves".

Would anyone accuse Q of committing "genocide"? Of course not.

Perhaps mankind will have escaped our solar system long before the Sun expands to a red giant. Perhaps we will have become extinct long before that. Q's decision not to interfere merely places responsability where it should be: in our own hands.

This is fundamentally what we see in this episode - a civilization threatened by future extinction, with still some time left to try and find a solution to the problems it faces. As I said, the Menk have nothing to do with the real issue: Phlox & Archer don't choose the Menk over the Valakians. And how anyone can accuse Archer & Co. of "genocide" is beyond me - if the Valakians do eventually die out, it will be due to their inability to find a solution to their problems, not due to foreign intervention.

Think of the technological advances of the past decades on Earth. Several of these, some decades ago, allowed us for example to help people with difficulty in conceiving to have babies of their own. And now, several decades later, research suggests that on average, those who were conceived thanks to such technologies have somewhat greater difficulty themselves in conceiving than the average population. What will happen if/when those people also receive technological help to conceive? How many generations will it take before we have succeeding in "breeding" an otherwise barren "sub-species" that can only conceive by technological means?

This interesting example illustrates the questions that Phlox and Archer realize they're dealing with in this episode: altering the future of an entire species on an unknown but potentially massive scale. Actions do have consequences: this is not merely a question of being a Good Samaritan, even if many here seem to think so. And naturally Archer declines to take that responsability: it's not his - or indeed, Earth's - to take.

A great episode.

Peremensoe - Sun, Nov 10, 2013 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
So then, Andy's Friend, should anyone ever help anyone? Should responsibility for every person's and population's fate always be only in their own hands?
Elliott - Sun, Nov 10, 2013 - 8:44pm (USA Central)
Hyperbole much?

A civilisation is not a person, a species is not an individual, any more than a corporation is a voter (no matter what current convoluted Supreme Court decisions may declare). Agreeing with Archer @ Co. here in no way suggests that "no one should ever help anyone". How ridiculous.
Strejda - Tue, Nov 12, 2013 - 10:55am (USA Central)
@Andy's Friend

"Would anyone accuse Q of committing "genocide"? Of course not."

1. Valakians weren't asking Archer to resolve all their problems, just to help them from dying out or give them technology to ge someone who could help them.

2. I didn't know happenning to have better technology and be more advanced in the field of science is like being all powerful omnipotent being.

3. If we would ask Q for help and he would say he'll give it a try and then change his mind at the last minute because he has some insane pseudoscientific theory, then yes, of course atleast some people would accuse him of it.

4. Sun will explode one day, Valakians are dying right now.

"As I said, the Menk have nothing to do with the real issue: Phlox & Archer don't choose the Menk over the Valakians."

Yes they do. That's Phlox's argument, his theory (and yes, it is just a theory) is the whole reason he did it. He thinks that Menk might evolve into something different but it won't happen because of Valakians so he thinks evolution maybe somehow choosed them to die.

"And how anyone can accuse Archer & Co. of "genocide" is beyond me - if the Valakians do eventually die out, it will be due to their inability to find a solution to their problems, not due to foreign intervention."

When a doctor is perfectly capable of curing his patient but refuses it's considered murder.

This interesting example illustrates the questions that Phlox and Archer realize they're dealing with in this episode: altering the future of an entire species on an unknown but potentially massive scale. Actions do have consequences: this is not merely a question of being a Good Samaritan, even if many here seem to think so. And naturally Archer declines to take that responsability: it's not his - or indeed, Earth's - to take."

Yes we don't know what is going to happen if they give them the cure. But there is no indication anything bad would happen. And we know a lot of bad will happen if they don't.
Rosario - Tue, Dec 10, 2013 - 8:43pm (USA Central)
@Andy's Friend:

"Think of the technological advances of the past decades on Earth. Several of these, some decades ago, allowed us for example to help people with difficulty in conceiving to have babies of their own. And now, several decades later, research suggests that on average, those who were conceived thanks to such technologies have somewhat greater difficulty themselves in conceiving than the average population. What will happen if/when those people also receive technological help to conceive? How many generations will it take before we have succeeding in "breeding" an otherwise barren "sub-species" that can only conceive by technological means?"

What an interesting question. Not sure that it fits in this topic so I won't take it up but very interesting indeed.
Cloudane - Tue, Jan 21, 2014 - 5:55am (USA Central)
Well, definitely a 4-star simply from how much discussion it's provoked!

Looking back though, I can only reiterate my complaint that the show never properly demonstrated and explained **WHY** non-interference in the development of pre-warp civilisations is so important. It was drummed into us from the beginning of Trek as the Prime Directive and we were always just kind of expected to accept this rule of wisdom. I always expected Enterprise to explain it.

The nearest thing we got was this episode, which doesn't explain it at all, and instead just adds fuel to the "why the FISH do we have this silly non-interference rule?" fire.

Great episode, terrible series.
SvenTviking - Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - 3:54pm (USA Central)
Ok, here's my two pennyworth.

Firstly, Star Trek is entertaining TV fantasy drama. But it's lousey Science fiction. Apart from warp drive (which may actually,maybe,just possibly work) the things ST does to true science is what normally happens in an extreme porn film. This is because ST is mostly written by normal TV scriptwriters with a bit of help from the odd real sci fi writer or real scientist, who they mostly ignore for the sake of a good story. Now the problem with Hollywood scriptwriters is they do like to act the great philosopher and sci fi gives them lots of opportunity to do so. So, these half wits get involved with huge moral questions like the ones in "Dear Doctor" and then display their ignorance.

Now the great thing about TOS was the concept of the Prine directive and Kirk's attitude towards it. For Kirk, the Prime Directive was basic guidence, BUT reality, pragmatism and compassion ment that very often, he rightly ignored it.
When TNG came along, the prime directive was absolutely binding and going around it was almost a capital offence, federation PC. Reality, pragmatism and compassion went out the window.
Mix this worship of the prime directive with some Eugenics and bad evolutionary theory and you get the utter moral mess that is "Dear Doctor".

Consider this. We are trying to save and conserve the Giant Panda, even though it is an evolutionary dead end. Why? Compassion. We try to save primative tribes in the Amazon basin. They are threatened by being in the way of loggers and cattle farmers, as well as genetic susceptabilities to the deseases of modern man. Why? Compassion.
The morals of Dear Doctor say all these things should be allowed to die, that compassion should never count and should be ignored. People with no compassion have scientific names. Sociopaths and Psychopaths.

Now as old Flox uses very bad concepts of evolution (there is no genetic "judge" making judgements on who should live or die, there is certainly no genetic imperative for one race to get out of the way of another.) and a complete lack of compassion, what is he? Psychopath quoting bad science? Joseph Goebbels?

I've been checking out the forums and youtube comments pages to see peoples views on "Dear Doctor". It's about 20/1 negative with most saying the considered this episode "offensive" and "fascist". I agree totally and I think those who comment that Flox & Archer make the right decision really need to look at their own moral compass. Or see a analyst to see if they are psychopaths as apparantly there are quite a lot of them about.

If you want some good sci fi that deals with a "post scarcity society" like the Federation, may I recommend the "Culture" novels by Iain M Banks. The Culture is a vastly powerful advanced (Federation plus several thousand years) utopia with citizens living idyllic lives due to the brilliance of the technology. But it certainly has no prime directive. The prime directive would make a Culture citizen puke. There is only right & wrong, good or evil and the Culture WILL get involved, you just might not notice as they are very subtle. And frankly, The Culture is a lot more believable than the Federation.
Moonie - Thu, Jan 23, 2014 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
@SvenTviking, very well stated. I am probably committing Star Trek heresy, but I'm realizing that I think the prime directive is wrong. One of the first times it *really* pissed me off was while watching the TNG episode involving an alien culture who killed their people on their 60th birthday. Or instances of women being sold into what basically amounts to slavery.

The prime directive is morally wrong.
Moonie - Thu, Jan 23, 2014 - 5:34pm (USA Central)
PS, my examples don't really apply to the prime directive since those were "advanced" societies, my bad. Apologies.

I still think it's morally wrong.
lizzzi - Sat, Apr 26, 2014 - 10:59am (USA Central)
I watched this episode for the first time recently, and was angry and disgusted that Archer and Phlox refused to save the population. I thought I should cool off and think about it before I posted anything. I've read all the comments, re-read the review, and thought about it some more. Yeah, my first thoughts still hold: Archer and Phlox are hugely, unbelievably, genocidally wrong. The word evil is not too strong. I hated the ending to this episode, and will mentally block it out of my mind and pretend it didn't happen. I can't believe this is Trek.
happydude - Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - 2:45pm (USA Central)
"Well, definitely a 4-star simply from how much discussion it's provoked!"
Well, it would be if the discussion weren't incredibly one-sided. I have not yet seen an argument from the side in favour of genoci- err, "non-interference" that wasn't poorly thought out and/or easily taken apart and shown to be ridiculous. Not to mention the science behind the dilemma is fundamentally flawed and the rest of the episode is rather plodding and boring as well.
Elliott - Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - 5:32pm (USA Central)
@happydude :

I suppose you don't count Jammer's own review as a "thought out"/non-ridiculous argument in favour of this episode. While I don't agree that much discussion and/or controversy = quality episode, I don't think the fact that so many on this or other boards wag their morally superior fingers at the episode indicates a particular flaw in the episode either.

For what it's worth, on this board, most of the anti-Archer/Phlox posts are repetitions of the same argument; letting people die for "no reason" is wrong, and it is *wronger* when multiplied to the level of an entire species. There have been fewer but more diverse opinions which support this episode's position including my own that is : however emotionally repugnant the actions of non-interference may feel, the ability to reason at a level above emotionalism is a necessary part of venturing out into space filled with alien cultures.
Kahryl - Wed, May 14, 2014 - 7:52pm (USA Central)
Decades late but I just saw this episode for the first time.

I feel physically sick.

Phlox: "We didn't come out here to play God", what a ridiculous thing to say. One society helping another in a matter of compassion and suffering is not playing God. WITHHOLDING help because of your ultimate high-minded designs for the millennial descendants of the ant-like creatures on the surface below IS PLAYING GOD.

Phlox: "I'm saying we let nature decide." this from a Denobulan? The same Denobulans who gleefully indulge in all kinds of genetic engineering and who have prospered as a result? The same Denobulans who found the wisdom to say "to hell with nature" because they realized that nature doesn't give a damn about your welfare so long as you manage to have kids? What a complete subversion of Phlox's character. As well as a totally regressive attitude in general.

One race needs to die, to get out of the way of the stronger, smarter, more worthy race. Where have I heard that before?
lizzzi - Sat, May 31, 2014 - 9:22am (USA Central)
Elliott, I have to respectfully disagree. Phlox had a professional, ethical obligation to share the cure. As Kahryl points out, he's Playing God by not assisting the people. I think that McCoy or Bashir would have helped--Prime Directive or not. (I've just started watching Voyager--have not seen enough of the hologram doctor yet to know how he might have handled this kind of situation.) As a health care provider myself, I know that our duty to our patients, frankly, holds us to a higher standard than state laws may dictate. Regarding Archer, I think his noninvolvement was a fluke of B&B's bad writing. His character is difficult to assess throughout the series, as the writers changed him around--I guess just trying anything to make the series more successful.
Elliott - Sat, May 31, 2014 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
@lizzzi : I have no doubt that Bashir, McCoy, Crusher, Pulaski and Doc would instinctually wish to offer the "cure," but that's also why they are doctors and not captains. Captains have ethical responsibilities which aren't as absolute as "do no harm." In this case, being a prequel series, Starfleet via Archer proxy hasn't figured this out yet. Humanity is still in a relatively contemporary (to us) stage of moral development, but is on the verge of evolving to the Kirk-era. I thought it was a beautiful choice to have Phlox, the alien who has been seasoned in interstellar affairs, be the conduit through which this new perspective is planted. In this case, the doctor/captain dynamic needed to be reversed.
Petrus - Wed, Jun 18, 2014 - 11:55am (USA Central)
Although it's true that I haven't seen this episode yet, I will say that I am a very firm believer in the idea of the Prime Directive, because I like to think that I know what it is for.

The Prime Directive exists as a means of preventing the Butterfly Effect from coming back and biting you in the ass later on. You don't do things which could potentially have massive consequences, when you have no way of reliably predicting what those consequences are.

That means, that yes, you let Nature take its' course. If Phlox is taking that stance here, it's not a case of him being a hypocrite as a Denobulan. It's a case of him actually making the *correct* decision for once, with the Denobulans having a history off usually making the wrong ones. Remember the Eugenics Wars?

That is exactly the kind of mess, as well as things like the slaughter of the Native Americans etc, that the Prime Directive is intended to prevent. That also means, however, that lack of involvement is occasionally going to *appear* to cause some attrocities of its' own, such as in the case here. It is worth remembering, however, that non-interference is *not* the same thing as active complicity.

Phlox and Archer refusing to get involved, simply resulted in the events which would have happened if the Enterprise had never showed up at all. Despite that resulting in the death of a race, it is still the best decision; and the reason why, is because it is the *only* decision which they can make, which has an entirely predictable outcome. The only way that you can take complete responsibility for both your actions and their consequences, is if you know precisely what said consequences are.
Kahryl - Tue, Jul 22, 2014 - 1:00pm (USA Central)
No, Petrus, you DON'T know exactly what will happen if you don't do anything. In fact that result is just as unpredictable as one in which you interfere. Deciding not to act, is in itself a decision and an action with distinct results.

Also, the idea that the best decision is the one with the most "predictable outcome" is ridiculous. How about destroying the aliena' atmosphere and killing them all - you know EXACTLY what the result of that will be!
Yanks - Wed, Jul 23, 2014 - 6:54am (USA Central)
I don't know that the "prime directive" later in trek EVER prohibited the issuance of medical aid.

I seem to remember Beverly getting in Picard's face and winning the argument on a couple of occasions.

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