Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Unnatural Selection"


Air date: 1/30/1989
Written by John Mason & Mike Gray
Directed by Paul Lynch

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In another episode of TNG to feature a deadly disease and the Enterprise warping in to the rescue (a reliable Trek cliche not avoided in the first two seasons of TNG, to be sure), Dr. Pulaski attempts to find a cure to a disease that is causing rapid aging on a Federation space station that's perhaps too ironically named Darwin Station. (The disease has already killed the crew of an entire starship.)

In terms of character, I did appreciate the way the story establishes Pulaski as a strong-willed personality willing to go to the mat for her point of view and for her patients, even if she must risk herself. She stands up to Picard and argues the merits, even if it means Picard doesn't get to finish a sentence. Picard, always the final authority, but ever the diplomat and patient listener, calls her on her penchant for interrupting without making a big deal about it.

Pulaski's medical safeguards fail, and in attempting to find the cure in the station's genetically engineered children, she ends up infected herself. (The children are actually the cause of the disease because of their genetically manipulated immune systems, which create the disease without being susceptible to it.)

I find it very hard to be moved by an episode like "Unnatural Selection," mainly because the episode is too mired in procedure and arbitrary pseudoscientific details rather than characters or plot. Also, diseases that make people prematurely old are not very interesting. In terms of its sci-fi procedural approach, I suppose it's worth noting that the episode makes sense for most of the way and the pieces fit together to make a workable puzzle — that is, until the end, where the transporter is used to magically restore Pulaski's DNA (and cure the rest of the station's residents). This is a perfect example of the tech solving the plot arbitrarily rather than any sort of legitimate dramatic payoff. But then that's often the problem with tech medical shows like these.

Previous episode: The Schizoid Man
Next episode: A Matter of Honor

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12 comments on this review

Jay - Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - 4:40pm (USA Central)
This episode really stands out like a sore thumb when you consider what we learn in "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?"
Chris - Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - 2:46pm (USA Central)
Just about every other episode we've seen, an away team would have beamed aboard in this kind of situation. It's a little too convenient that the one time they instead decide to take over control of the other ship's viewscreen is the one time that sending an away team would have been disastrous.
Rikko - Tue, Jan 22, 2013 - 7:14pm (USA Central)
While I'd say the episode is not that good, at least it was important for the sole reason that Pulaski was the star. This was her first time as the main character (sort of), and she's proving to be a much more interesting and strong-willed character than Dr Crusher.

From what you are saying, Jammer, it seems Pulaski is like a bad copy of TOS's doctor, but since I haven't seen it yet, she's original enough for me :P

mike - Sun, Mar 3, 2013 - 9:49pm (USA Central)
The first two seasons of TNG were plagued with clumsy dialog and derivative stories, this episode being a prime example of both. This story was a rip off of The Deadly Years from TOS. Diana Muldaur being a veteran of the TOS years played her role as Dr. Pulaski with more ease and naturalness than the others she couldn't carry it off NY herself. This is an episode I never watch.
William B - Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - 10:34pm (USA Central)
I think this episode works if we view it as the "Muldaur, Stewart, Spiner & Meany" hour. Diana Muldaur is consistently great (and underrated) as Pulaski and this is the one episode which gives her a starring turn. The episode takes seriously her relationship with Picard, furthers her relationship with Data (which is the one area in which she has been developed earlier in the season), reveals her as a woman of courage and compassion with some elements of foolishness -- a full person. This is also the episode where O'Brien steps up from the background to become a character with a significant presence -- being at the staff meeting and helping to save the day and everything.

This all is very much of the good. Additionally, the plot mechanics have some merit, and I like that the children themselves are shown to be innocent (i.e. not malicious) despite the fact that they are the accidental cause of the disease. While the episode does give an impression of being a "There Are Things We Are Not Meant To Know" story, there is some nuance in Pulaski suggesting that scientific breakthroughs *are* thought to be worthwhile, and that it may well be that history will look upon this breakthrough as a positive thing; it's *her* responsibility to look back and log the victims in the wake. That helps a bit, though it's ultimately a very familiar story and not a particularly interesting iteration of it.

Too much of this episode is techy in a way that saps the life out of the story. The ending in particular is so far abstracted from "the human element" (which Pulaski had said Picard lacked) that it's hard to care. I love how Picard says "we've lost her" or something and then O'Brien says "No, wait!" and then with no explanation she (eventually) comes back. Even within the episode's tenuous reality there is no reason she should go back to her normal age, as well.

I do appreciate the Pulaski material though. Even the ending has some resonance for her character (of having to face her fear by being transported). I think maybe on the low end of 2.5 stars for me.
William B - Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - 10:37pm (USA Central)
Re: "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?", I suppose a fanwank one could give is that these are, as the woman says, not actually genetically engineered humans but genetically *created*. That sounds like it'd be way worse in general, but it might be that genetic engineering was banned in general because of issues about modifying existing humans or developing humans rather than creating them out of new cloth. I don't know if I find that convincing, but ultimately some continuity problems are inevitable and it's hard for me to get too hung up on it. And to the extent that I should, it'd be "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?" and not this episode that'd be at fault.
Jay - Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - 1:45pm (USA Central)
Well the main argument the admiral made in "...Presume?" was the risk of another Khan. Surely these humans, whether altered or conjured, would fit that fear.
SkepticalMI - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 9:32am (USA Central)
Very weak episode. There was way too much telling and not enough showing when it came to Pulaski's character. Was there ever any indication that Pulaski had such a huge respect for Picard? That Picard did not trust her completely when it comes to medical decisions? None. In fact, the conflict with Picard seemed forced for some strange reason. I'm really not sure what the point of it was.

The final solution ended up being way too techy as well. Not to mention guaranteeing the use of transporters for immortality. Somehow I doubt the writers considered that. Or any other ethical issues involved with the genetic engineering.

And a boring episode in general.
xaaos - Mon, Oct 6, 2014 - 8:47am (USA Central)
A rather boring episode. But still, imagine Dr Crusher playing in it, what a disaster would it be.

Pulaski > Crusher! It's a shame the producers brought back Dr. Crusher.
Robert - Mon, Oct 6, 2014 - 8:58am (USA Central)
"But still, imagine Dr Crusher playing in it, what a disaster would it be."

I can't imagine that, there would be no episode. She'd have followed procedure and not gotten infected :P

My point is that Pulaski is different than Crusher. I can't imagine Pulaski in "Attached", "Ethics" or "The High Ground" either, but I think they were all excellent episodes.

I guess I'm in the minority that liked both of them. I would have liked a S6 or S7 Pulaski guest appearance.
Domi - Sun, Oct 12, 2014 - 10:39pm (USA Central)
Call me crazy but I actually like this one, although my opinion might be different if I had watched TOS first.

I would like to address some alleged plot holes and allege my own as well. First, someone noted that it was a little too convenient that no one boarded the Lantree as would normally be expected--they exercised an abundance of caution before there was a reason to believe such was necessary. But is it really true that the Lantree crew could pass the disease to other people? The way the disease is explained, it would see that one would have to come into contact with the genetically engineered children in order to contract disease, as the children's immune systems emit antibodies that change human DNA. I don't see anything in that explanation that a victim could then pass on the same disease to another.

Also why did Data beam up, thus abandoning the shuttlecraft at Darwin Station? Furthermore, why did they beam the child off the shuttle and back to the station, only to take the shuttle there anyway? Pulaski was already exposed, although I suppose that one could make the argument that the longer one is contact with the children, the quicker the illness progresses, thus they wanted to get rid of him ASAP.

Finally, it always irritates me a little when Star Trek invents was of avoiding having characters speak (because he's telephatic, of course) so that they don't have to pay for an "actor".
$G - Fri, Dec 12, 2014 - 3:56pm (USA Central)
I'm not going to write what I think of this one because William B pretty much said it for me a year and a half ago.

Though there is one thing I want to point out: I really like the last scene of this episode when the Enterprise destroys the Lantree. It treats the deaths of these non-characters with respect. Instead of just kicking off the story and never being brought up again ("The Arsenal of Freedom" I'm looking at you) the mystery of the dead Lantree crew comes full circle and our characters get a moment to honour their unfortunate colleagues. It's a notable and welcome detail in an episode that otherwise appears to have just solved its own central mystery because there were only 5 minutes left in the hour.

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