Star Trek: Enterprise

“Terra Nova”

2 stars.

Air date: 10/24/2001
Teleplay by Antoinette Stella
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by LeVar Burton

"Shale! It's all shale!" — Jaymin

Review Text

In brief: Surprisingly uninvolving and with a timid imagination.

"Terra Nova" is a bit more thoughtful than "Unexpected," but that's not saying much. Its messages have been well worn in the Trek universe, and as an hour of television it has a tendency to drag. Slow plots are one thing. Obvious, uninspired, uninformative plots are another.

Terra Nova was called "the great experiment." It was an early human colonization mission, which set its sights on the closest uninhabited but habitable planet. Their vessel, at such low-warp speeds, took nine years to reach this world, almost 20 light-years away. About five years after establishing the colony, Something Happened. There were arguments with those back on Earth about a second landing mission — a second mission that the first mission's colonists didn't want to happen. In the midst of having these arguments, Earth mysteriously lost contact with Terra Nova. No one has heard anything since.

It's in a story like this that I'm beginning to wonder about humans in space prior to the Enterprise launch (but after the Terra Nova mission). How many humans are out here? How densely or sparsely scattered through space are we? How far have we already reached? We have Travis Mayweather on board the Enterprise, our series' resident "boomer" who was born in space, but beyond the vaguest of dialog we still don't know the answer to many questions. Just what did these early space travelers do? Where did they go? How long have they been out here? How long did it take them to get from world to world? They weren't going warp 5, so how fast were they traveling? And what about the topic of ship-to-Earth communication? "Terra Nova" seems to suggest that there was near-instantaneous faster-than-light interstellar communication even 70 years ago. I'm not so sure that's a great idea for a "prequel" Trek series.

I'm also not so sure the writers even know the answers to many of these other questions. If they do, they certainly haven't asked or answered them on the screen. It's moments like "Terra Nova" that I begin to worry about the execution of this series' premise. It leaves out massive chunks of history in between Cochrane's first warp flight and the present storyline, and I'm not sure we'll ever find out what happened during those missing 90 years — like how Starfleet came to be, for example. There are big holes, and the series seems more interested in pressing forward than in looking back and filling in those important gaps.

With "Terra Nova," the series does indeed take a look backward. But I can't say I'm at all impressed by the view. It's tunnel vision, at best.

Archer & Co. beam down to Terra Nova and find the colony deserted. The colony's vessel, once landed, was dismantled to set up the outpost. It's still here, but where are the people? Suddenly the landing party is attacked by aliens. But wait — these aren't aliens. They're the descendants of the Novan colonists, humans who have been somehow changed and don't trust outsiders. Lt. Reed is kidnapped by them, recycling the most reliable of plots: When in doubt, have the script grab itself a hostage as an excuse to give our characters additional motivation.

It's subsequently discovered by the Enterprise crew that an asteroid hit the planet not long after the Terra Novans colonized the planet. This impact poisoned the rain that led to human mutations (so that's why they look kinda alien!) and forced the colonists underground into the caves. The coinciding disagreements about a second Terra Nova mission led the original colonists to believe they were attacked by a subsequent human-led mission. I find this to be hopelessly contrived. For one, why would the colonists even object to a second mission when they literally had a whole damn planet at their disposal for just a few hundred people? That's colossally absurd. For two, why would the colonists assume this disagreement would lead to an attack from their own people? This isn't logic; it's scripted paranoia.

All of that was nearly 70 years ago. So now, two generations later, the descendants of the mutated survivors are primitive cave-dwellers who don't trust humans because they've been brought up to believe that humans attacked them and are responsible for their predicament.

How tragic for the entire Terra Nova mission: These brave humans spent nine years getting here, only to be devastated by a natural disaster. Tucker notes the unfortunate nature of the situation, but I personally chalk it up to cynical scriptwriting.

And not just cynical, but uninspired and familiar. Let's talk about the issue of primitive cave-dwellers: Could anything be more derivative? We have our valiant Enterprise crew trying to reason with a primitive culture operating on incomplete information. This leads to the usual barriers with language, confused glances, and interminable distrust. I do find it somewhat intriguing to see how a catastrophe can instantly set back an advanced human culture to the stone age, but "Terra Nova's" take on the matter doesn't tackle the issue with any real depth. And it moves at a relentlessly slow pace.

These primitives still have some supplies passed down from the original colonists, specifically machine guns that they use to initially repel the Enterprise landing party. Fortunately for the Novans — or at the very least for our viewers who must have their RDA for "action" satiated — after 70 years these cave people still happen to have plenty of bullets for their guns, and the guns are still in perfect working condition.

Archer tries to prove his Good Intentions to two of the Novans, Jaymin (Erick Avari) and Nadet (Mary Carver). Nadet is 75 years old and is in fact one of the original colony survivors. She was 5 years old when the asteroid hit, and might be Archer's best hope for reasoning with the Novans to get them to leave their caves. You see, Archer has a ticking clock here because the radiation has contaminated the Novans' underground water supply. He has to find a way to move them or they'll all get sick and die within a matter of months.

So. The story's major crisis comes down to a painfully familiar You Have to Trust Me plot. Archer must convince Jaymin, who doubts him at every turn, that he has the Novans' best interests at heart. The turning point for trust is ostensibly demonstrated (but actually not) by a sequence in which Archer's shuttle sinks into a cave when the ground collapses beneath it, and then Archer and Jaymin help rescue a Novan who has become pinned underwater by a big piece of a tree. (I think it's a tree, though I'm not sure how it got so far underground.)

This sequence is obviously manufactured (it feels like filler in order to make the hour seem more "eventful"), but what's worse is that even this proof of good faith doesn't win Jaymin over — he's still bent on ignoring Archer's advice about the poisoned water supply! It's only through Nadet and her memory of events from before the asteroid impact that the story is finally able to budge Jaymin from his stubborn distrust. It takes too long, and it grows too tedious.

The one scene that reveals a modicum of debate and insight is the one where Archer and T'Pol argue about the fate of the Novans now that they've lost all touch with who they once were and have become their own essentially alien culture. How can and should they be moved? Should they be taken by the Enterprise and absorbed back into humanity? Should they be left to their own devices and allowed to die? Is it Archer's place to save them? Reasonable questions, though Archer comes across as a bit needlessly hotheaded (Bakula seems to raise his voice through half the episode) and I'm still uneasy about the woodenness of T'Pol as performed by Blalock.

On the whole, "Terra Nova" is content to coast on the fumes of creative fuels that were barely supplied from the outset. Star Trek is supposed to be about dialog and ideas. The problem with "Terra Nova" is that none of the people descended from the Terra Nova colony is permitted any worthwhile dialog. By making the Novans a group of primitives with incorrect information, the story has basically dropped its anchor before leaving the dock.

I envision an infinitely more interesting and hopeful vision for Terra Nova. It has a thriving human society that for one reason or another has been out of contact with Earth for 70 years. It has become its own human subculture, with ideas and opinions and technology — and an accurate historical record. It fills in story gaps for the audience with dialog about human history in the immediate aftermath of First Contact with the Vulcans. And to the people of this colony we now reveal the presence of a groundbreaking new starship, the Enterprise, which can go from star to star in the process of hours, days, or weeks rather than years. What do these colonists think about this achievement? Are they awed? Intrigued? Perhaps frightened by the possibilities?

Instead we get cavemen with machine guns who are unwilling to believe Archer when he has the evidence sitting right in front of them. We move 'em elsewhere on the planet to save their lives. The Enterprise proceeds to its next adventure.


Next week: Andorians!

Previous episode: Unexpected
Next episode: The Andorian Incident

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Comment Section

39 comments on this post

    Just too much about this doesn't make sense...why do the cave dwellers sometimes speak normally, then at other times for no apparent reason phase things strangley or use odd words like shale? How did a huge tree get in the middle of a cave, and more annoying happen to fall on cave kid who was at the bottom of a deep hole. Besides the absurdity of give me the phaser and let me trust, you and now give it back to me, Archer and his cave freind have no problem carring a kid with a broken leg back up the trecherous ledge all the way back up (80m) to the top...
    Convient that the old cave woman was the cave member who need treatmean so she could see her self in photo.
    Never understood why they thought an asteroid would make them think that humans attacked them.
    This episode just does not work for me on so many levels.

    Like the episodes that came before it, interesting enough for an hour, but I'm seeing how it could've been so much more. Not much to really say about it, 2 stars seems about right.

    Oh and ENT's first Shuttle Crash (TM). It's not as lame without Harry Kim failing to get a transporter lock on the survivors at least :)

    Ugh. What a supremely wasted opportunity. I wholeheartedly subscribe to Jammer's penultimate paragraph: Now THAT's a story I'd have liked to see.

    This stubborn savages routine reminds me of that T.O.S. show when Humping Kirk got cornered by those nutty kids; one of T.O.S's most pathetic episodes. Voyager had a savage encounter or two as well.

    As Jammer say: YAWN.

    Hehehehe good old Harry "Can't-Get-A-Lock" Kim :-)))))))))))) Yep, things are just not the same without him...

    So how exactly did they get that kid back up from that hole?

    And I was also hoping the colony was intact and had simply chosen independence. THAT would have been very interesting. Instead we get savages living with fungus on their face.

    And I don't quite understand how only the children survived the radiation? Perhaps it was radiation with a maternal instinct.

    I'm bit surprised at the intensity of people's dislike of this episode. I thought it was the best thing we'd seen since the pilot. I can't believe Jammer thinks the story where the landing party is hiding in a cave, afraid of the bogeyman is a full star better than this. Seriously?

    Like Travis, I think the idea of a lost colony is fascinating. And I really didn't think this scenario was all that unrealistic. How did the survivors manage to so devolve and misconstrue their history? Did everybody seriously not get that they were all young children at the time? Under the circumstances, I don't see this as unrealistic at all. And as far as mutations is concerned, really? I just assumed they were all wearing some kind of face-paint.

    Personally, I'd give this three stars.

    No one else found the strange "skull-pipes" song to be a hauntingly beautiful pearl inside of a dirty, grubby oyster shell of an episode? Really random though.

    Watch it again on Hulu; it's not as bad as all this. Remember, the Colony was left to young children to survive; it would explain their primitiveness, not to mention necessity of moving and living underground.

    There's an image, Rach! Instead of "It's all shale!" we could've had "Bonk bonk on the head!"

    I think it was reasonable... not too awful... at least they showed a new culture and language, although I would have thought that Hoshi the linguist would have been a little more interested.

    It's typical of Trek not to explain the basics: how many human worlds are there, how big is Starfleet, where is the rest of Starfleet and why do we only ever seem to see the titular starship, etc. Everything is left so vague that it becomes meaningless.

    It is still pretty shocking that we don't see another ENT-era Starfleet ship until the end of season 2 though. Where the hell have Starfleet been and what are they doing? We don't even get the names of the ship classes, or any ideas about their capability, other than it taking three ships to chase one Klingon Bird of Prey away after it had already been in combat with the NX-01.

    Why are Starfleet so tardy about building the NX class? Why does it take another three years to launch the Columbia? Do they feel that taking their time is a good idea when surrounded by Klingons, Romulans, Xindi and Suliban? Etc, etc, etc.

    With regard to this episode I found it boring, slow and utterly predictable. I was reminded of the Voyager ep where Chakotay and Seven crash near a primitive jungle tribe. There are so many faults with the plot (eg why did nobody from Starfleet even look the colony up?) that I wonder what happened during the planning meetings. Then again it's a Bermaga brainchild so they probably overrode every other suggestion.


    One of the more memorable, otherworldly scenes from

    A bit too much of a retread of Friendship One, a pretty mediocre Voyager episode that would at the time have been pretty recent. I'm currently watching Enterprise for the first time and not sure it's orth perservering

    About as derivative as you can get right down to the "underside, overside" garbage. Reminds me of a South Park episode with the "before Time", which was much better.

    I don't even remember much of this episode save them having some weird language. I just keep coming back to this page to read the last paragraph about Jammer's ideal plot for this episode.

    Banal, recycled, ponderous, shopworn, derivative, uninspired, humdrum, tedious, monotonous, routine... etc etc

    The first expedition of 200 vehemently not wanting any further settlers is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

    Another clunker - almost Enterprise does Mad Max III. The paucity on offer is demonstrated by the contrivance of the shuttle precipitating a tunnel collapse that leads the sides to discover trust and eventually compromise in true Sesame St style. Do we really need to play out these tired old themes again? I also continue to find Archer's characterisation problematic. But primarily it's just dull. 2 stars.

    A skipper for me on rewatches.

    I completely side with Jammer's fine review here. This story could have been a very memorable one and his suggestions are fantastic.

    2 stars from me.

    Awful episode in all respects.
    What was that animal burrowing in the cave? We only caught the tail end of it but it looked turtle-like with its outer shell. It reminded me of a miniaturized Horta that dugged tunnels and laid eggs in TOS.

    Doesn't anyone else find the line from the kid pinned under the log absurdly written and delivered? "I'm legbroke! The wood has me sealed down!"

    (My first review or comment here. Not certain why I picked this episode to de-cloak).

    I'm currently rewatching Enterprise, and found myself forgiving some of what irritated me originally, but the early action scenes on the planet showed such shockingly clueless and impulsive behaviour from just about everyone concerned, that I could only watch in a sort of stupefied fascination.

    First Reed notices someone in the bush and immediately goes charging off after them with about as much premeditation as a dog chasing a rabbit. When his quarry disappears into a cave (and his crewmates arrive) they decide to stand right in front of the narrow entrance to an ideally defensible position, virtually begging to be shot, speared or at least have rocks thrown at them while they actually take a breath to think. Then both Reed and Archer squeeze through a tiny gap into a cavern, at which point a minor cave-in (a ST staple) would have trapped them. Then, after a firefight which leaves Reed inside the caves with a group of hostiles who have shot him, Archer, T'Pol and Mayweather find themselves outside the cave entrance again. However this time the tactical advantage is reversed. They could easily have stood to one side of the narrow entrance and picked off anyone trying to emerge in single file. Instead Archer decides to leave Reed and gives the order to run away. Later he makes the questionable decision to leave an injured Reed as a hostage.

    This entire excursion could have been better executed by a troop of Boy Scouts.

    Things improve for a while in the scenes back on the ship (though I was almost ready for Jarmin to start citing Bajoran prophecies), but got pretty silly and cliched again almost as soon as they got back in the tunnels (perhaps the radiation there was affecting the scriptwriters, too).

    So far on my re-watch I've found the episodes unremarkable, but not remarkably poor either. This one just seemed silly when it wasn't also being convenient and contrived. BTW the mash-up of often needlessly long winded phrases which the tunnel dwellers sounded like it had been borrowed from the Vori in the Voyager Ep. 'Nemesis'.

    Not awful, but like Reed, lame most of the time.

    I just finished watching this, and I don't think this episode is being given enough credit. Yes, it's really quite similar to many, many episodes that came before it. And yes, it does drag a bit towards the end. But unlike most of its Voyager predecessors, the 'primitive' people behave in a rational, if suspicious, manner. They aren't hostile for no reason, they aren't intractable in the face of reason, and they don't go crazy and attack our heroes at the end for the sake of an action scene.

    And there's other good stuff. The dialect spoken by the Novans was distinct enough from normal English to set them apart, but also close enough to be easily understood at all times. That's a lot harder than it sounds, and it makes sense if the oldest survivors of the Novan colony were five years old. And the debate between Archer and T'Pol about what to do about the Novans if they wouldn't move willingly is metatextually interesting. In other Star Trek series, the principle of non-interference makes the 'right' thing to do clear to the characters, even if they disagree with it, but in Enterprise, as this episode makes clear, that has yet to be codified. The as-yet-unborn Federation is still feeling out the edges of its principles, defining itself, and that conversation reflects that.

    There's interesting stuff happening here, even if it's wrapped up in a fairly stock plot.

    Oh Archer, you chump. Even playing wargames as a 9 year old lad, I knew to cover my crewmate while he escaped.
    Lamest episode so far.

    With "Terra Nova" there is a great deal of potential for filling in some of the gap between Cochrane's first warp flight and the Enterprise series, but unfortunately it doesn't make much progress there. This episode really feels like a ball was dropped. I like the premise of this Earth colony being set up, and I think Jammer's review summarizes the issue well with it being highly contrived that the suspicion of other humans develops because they think other humans caused poison rain etc. The idea to relocate the descendants to another continent is obvious even though I still think there should be some effects from the radiation, but whatever.

    The original colonists weren't cavemen -- they were presumably some of the best scientists, most capable people from other professions. With the gradual dying of some of the older ones, why did the ones who were left behind devolve so drastically? Perhaps due to the radiation? I don't think that was made clear. Shouldn't they realize they have a miserable existence so why not take some help?

    I think there are lot of plot holes and weaknesses with this episode. It seemed to be more focused on crawling around in the dark firing phasers and rescues to build trust in a rather cheesy way. The one good part was the discussion about relocation between T'Pol and Archer, which sort of builds toward some broader Prime Directive formulation I should think.

    2 stars for "Terra Nova" -- disappointed with how this episode developed. It became some cheap rehash of familiar plot lines. Pretty standard stuff in the end. Unfortunately, S1 or ENT is not off to a promising start with a number of mediocre to poor episodes to start.

    A lot of mistakes and the plot is lacking, for example I liked the idea of ​​the episode but they could tell an amazing story, more interesting scenarios, why they did not send a delegation to find out why the communication broke down , why did not ask for help to get there quickly, how they simply gave up on these settlers. But still like the series, the idea of ​​a disintegrating colonel spaceship from which to make up the settlement was nice, the look at the enterprise from below looks cool. But the total is apretty weak episode but can't give it less than 2.5 stars

    I'm not sure where the idea came from that they were mutated or alien looking. They weren't mutated at all, they just had their faces painted sort of aboriginal style using mud and pigments. I just find it difficult to believe they would have regressed so far in only 70 years. Even if their parents had died the children would have passed down their knowledge to their own children. It seems silly to think they would have completely forgotten being human of all things.

    Really it felt very much like the writers were fans of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and based these survivors on the surviving children of that plane crash in the movie, with their primitive way of life, speech, talking about "tracking", etc. and the old woman remembering where they came from. "I'm lookin' behind us now, into history back..."

    I may have missed something, but surely there was a massive clue staring the Novans in their stupid crusty faces that they were in fact human; namely that they speak the same language as the humans - albeit speaking a dialect you’d associate with people who’ve suffered brain injuries.

    "With the gradual dying of some of the older ones, why did the ones who were left behind devolve so drastically? Perhaps due to the radiation? I don't think that was made clear. "

    This flawed understanding seems to be the basis of so much of the criticism. The episode makes it very clear that nobody over ~5 years old survived the poisoning, so the dropping of tech, the English with a lot of odd modifiers, etc. all make sense.

    It is a little repetitive and slow; it's probably tough to move it along faster and not get criticised from a "You arrive at a planet full of people who think you tried to genocide them, they instantly trust you" angle. Maybe more Novans could've slowly won over one by one to make it slightly less repetitive? More Novan-Novan interactions figuring themselves out? I do like the space travel is new and difficult and we don't know what we're doing mood it's setting for early Enterprise. But ... a bit on the slower and thus boring side.

    Disagree, I thought this was a good episode. Your vision for what "could have been" on Terra Nova, is definitely the more predictable scenario. I like how they didn't go that direction. They did something different, and, while it didn't succeed wildly, at least it made me sit up and think. The idea of an isolated colony of humans converted to subterranean life after a natural disaster is a good one. I would have liked to see a thriving and complex society down there too, it would be fun. But I think the more realistic scenario is the one we got. Humans completely isolated on a planet with few supplies and forced underground. Do you really think they would have come up with the type of underground society we saw in the caretaker, in just a couple generations? Those types of societies take thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years to evolve.

    I do agree that the novans should have gotten better dialogue.

    This episode is average. It makes me think of future human colonies and how they will evolve separately in isolation. Think how differently they could become in a 1000 years or even longer. Think how different countries are on present day earth even without isolation. Who knows, may be they (or what ever they evolve in to) will wage war on us.

    Star Trek and sci-fi in general is about making you think of possibilities, and this episode does just that. 6/10.

    I really liked this episode, actually, including the goofy dialect. It made me think about what language would look like for people who got it all from traumatized small children who didn't learn perfect English or develop extensive vocabularies from native speakers. Weird grammar + most of the vocabulary and metaphor adopted over generations involved stuff from their daily life. I'm not a linguist so I don't know if there were problems in execution or anything, but the basic concept makes sense.

    I came here because the dialect "digger" "shale" "tracks" etc. reminded me of the Garbage People's language in walking dead (and of course Voyager's Nemesis episode with the Vori's silly language "glimpse", "way-after", "fast-walk", etc.)

    It's cool to see the comments split. I agree with PB, Peter, Brian Lear, etc. that the *concept* of a dialect developed by isolated 5 year olds, is interesting and realistic. BUT it could've been done way less cheesy. "Shale" for "BS" is quite clever really (shale is brittle and treacherous; + sounds like sh*t). But growing up parentless is no excuse to suddenly go primitive: "Before families" ? Even 3 and 4 year olds hear the word "parents".

    Jamahl's right that the plot twists are a little too contrived, and that the concept had the potential to be a lot more compelling. For anyone watching both, I *LOVED* the human element they added to Picard this year, and you can tell that that's what Braga was going for in Enterprise 20 years ago (damn...)

    I seriously don't understand the dislike for this episode.

    I can TOTALLY see the Novas thinking humans (or Earth) is responsible for their misfortune. They just had arguments back and forth about accepting colonists and then a "bomb" (they might not have been able to tell an asteroid from a bomb) hits!

    As far as changing language, look at real life-we (Jehovah's Witnesses) within the last decade put out a new edition of the bible since the edition from the early 1960s. Why? Because the language HAS changed!

    An example of this is to read a novel from 60 years ago. A small example-if a novel from that era said that at the party, Ed and Robert had a gay time, it would mean a happy occasion, as opposed to the meaning it would construe now! That is just one example. Another, which is even more recent is saying that something is "sick". I would think of that as twisted and replusive, but apparently youngsters today use that as "cool" or "neat". And this is NOT from an isolated group of people. Imagine a couple hundred or so colonists by themselves for 7 decades-they would still speak our language, but have unfamiliar terms. It is especially believable to me as the terms are about underground or rocks ("That's shale!" for a lie would make sense as shale falling would be a worry in a tunnel)

    I can even seeing not knowing they are from Earth as firstly, anyone still alive before the asteroid fall (like the old woman) was a young child at the time, and wouldn't understand much. And also, since there already were bad feelings about new colonists from Earth, the adults probably all adamantly stated that they were Novans now.

    Someone else mentioned about how dumb it is not wanting more colonists. Well, again, look at real life. It was what? The 17th century when the white man really began colonizing North America? Yet, the feeling of "we don't want foreigners" started VERY soon after that!

    All of the things mentioned in this episode don't seem so farfetched to me.

    But that's just my take on it-we all like what we like.

    SHould I continue... So first I don't like or can identify with any of the characters. T'Pol is worse than 7 of 9 and I did not like Jery Ryan one bit. All these plastic surgery women really bug me. Hoshi is young and insecure. Wow, Inspiring. Apart from TOS, Enterprise is the worst gender wise. Kira remains my favorite character on Trek.

    Many of the best male actors in the world look really bad but they have that certain something, let's hope Boobywood will finally hire more women who are good at acting, not at erecting. Anyways... there is the stupid temporal war and Archer and all those other men I can barely tell apart. There is the weird doctor, the hunky blond guy (Trip?) and the less hunky british guy. Not to forget the Mayflower. When they cast this guy they must have thought "give us the opposite of Samuel L Jackson"

    On the other hand, here is a Trek show I have never watched so... maybe I should after the NuTrek nightmare...

    Is the Enterprise female team better or worse than any of the NuTrek shows... hmmm.... Martin Green had the cool hair... the character was terrible though. When sexism meets girl power meets jesus. Tilly was somewhat cool but ruined more and more. Owosekun and Detmer... were people on the bridge. hmmm. I guess that means jeppers.

    If this rambling doesn't make sense... well newsflash there is a good chance that nothing makes sense.

    >Martin Green had the cool hair

    Not really, is she supposed to be transgender? Also what did they do to Uhura's hair in SNW? She doesn't look like Nichelle Nichols in TOS at all.

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