Star Trek: Voyager – 1×16 – “Learning Curve”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Learning Curve”
Originally Broadcast May 22nd, 1995
Reviewed by Chakoteya

The Story

Stardate: 48846.5

Kathyrn Janeway is gowned and corseted as Mrs Davenport, the governess in her Holonovel which we first saw in Cathexis. She is flinging open the windows in the Victorian mansion whilst rehearsing her opening lines to her two young charges, Henry Burleigh, Viscount Timmons and his sister, the Lady Beatrice Flora. The two children enter the room, and behave as stereotypical arrogant upperclass British children are assumed to behave. Henry says a Latin sentence which baffles Kathyrn, but she rebuts his assertion that she cannot teach him anything by promising that he will find her mathematics and science lessons challenging. Then she turns to Beatrice, who as a Victorian girl, is not expected to study anything. The child says that she completed a sampler the day before, and gave it to her mother last night. As it is the death of the mother that has brought Mrs Davenport into the household, this is of course impossible. As Kathryn tries to deal with the situation, the holocharacters vanish and the computer reports a distution to energy grid beta four. The Captain contacts the bridge to be told that Tuvok is investigating the problem on deck six.

By an open panel on deck six, which has an engineering case on the ledge outside, Tuvok is learning that Torres has not authorised any equipment repairs in that area. He is about to step through the open space when crewman Dalby, one of Chakotay’s Maquis crew, comes out. Dalby explains to Tuvok that he was passing by when he noticed the gel pack was malfunctioning, so he replaced it and is now going to take it to engineering to be analysed. Tuvok is not impressed by this display of initiative, and reminds Dalby that there are protocols for such matters. The man tells Tuvok that he doesn’t particularly like being on board Voyager, with all its Starfleet rules as opposed to the more relaxed way a Maquis ship is run, and that Tuvok can either put him in the brig or leave him alone. Then he walks off.

‘Captain’s log, Stardate 48846.5. Ordinarily the loss of a gel pack would be a minor inconvenience, but here in the Delta quadrant it’s a reminder of the precarious nature of our journey. ‘

Captain Janeway has called Chakotay and Tuvok to her ready room to discuss the gel pack failure. With only forty seven reserve packs and no way of replicating them, they cannot afford to have problems with them. They control half the ships critical systems. Chakotay recommended limiting their dependance on a non-renewable resource by going over to conventional circuits and Janeway agrees. Then Tuvok raises the issue of Dalby’s insubordination and other incidents involving him, including missing duty shifts and tampering with the replicator ration system to help a friend. Chakotay, as his former commanding officer, puts it down to Dalby’s frustration at having to deal with Starfleet protocols that he is not familiar with. Tuvok is all for disciplining him but Janeway is more moderate. She appreciates that the Maquis crew have never been to the Academy and are not up to speed on Starfleet ways of doing things. As Tuvok was a teacher at the Academy for sixteen years, he gets the job of training a selection of Maquis as if they were new recruits. Tuvok demurs. Surely Chakotay would be better suited for such an assignment? No, replies the Captain, he doesn’t have to earn their respect, but the Starfleet officers do. ‘Don’t worry,’ Chakotay tells Tuvok as he leaves the room, ‘I’ll tell them to take it easy on you.’

There are four Maquis gathered in the cargo bay for Tuvok’s first training session: Mariah Henley, a human female; Chell, a Bolian; Gerron, a Bajoran teenager and of course, Kenneth Dalby, angry human male. From the start it does not go well, with the trainees interupting Tuvok’s opening speech to ask why they in particular have been singled out for this course. Chell will not let the subject go, and is ordered to run around the bay fifty times as a punishment. Shy young Gerron does not look up at Tuvok while he tells the remaining three of what is in store for them – physical training and academic studies as well as tactical situations simulated on the holodeck. The Vulcan orders the boy to look at him when he is talking, and Dalby promptly leaps to Gerron’s defence. He tells Tuvok that Gerron shouldn’t be there, he’s just a boy, in fact none of them want to be there. If their work isn’t good enough then that’s too bad, because that’s as good as they are going to get. Then he leads the group out of the cargo bay, calling Chell to follow, which he does with relief.

In the mess hall the main three are sitting around a table discussing their actions with Chell nearby. Gerron is unsure that they did the right thing in walking out, but Henley is confident. Voyager needs every person on board to keep it running, and there is no way the Captain can afford to put them in the brig for seventy years. Chakotay comes in, picks up a mug from the counter then taps Chell on the shoulder to make him give up his chair. Moving it over to the table where the discussion is going on, he sits down next to Dalby and asks them for their verion of events in the cargo bay. Dalby tells him that he wants to carry on doing things the Maquis way, so Chakotay puts down his mug, then punches Dalby, knocking him off his chair and sending him sprawling across the floor. That’s the Maquis way too, Chakotay points out, and he’ll do that every day until Dalby reports to Tuvok and takes the course. Then he helps him up, sits him back on his chair and turns to the others. Do they have any problems? There is no answer, so he finishes his drink and leaves.

The quartet are lined up in the cargo bay, being handed PADDs with their study assignments before uniform inspection. Henley’s headband, although it matches her uniform, is against regulations. Chell’s badly concealed ornament is also forbidden, and Gerron takes off his Bajoran ear-ring before Tuvok mentions it. Then they are ordered to report to deck eleven at 1900 hours. They will find out what for when they get there.

In engineering, Dalby is complaining about the training to fellow Maquis B’Elanna Torres while they examine a gel pack. She challenges him that maybe he’s afraid of not getting through it which annoys him somewhat. An alarm goes off, and they discover that another gel pack has failed on deck four section 9C. She orders Dalby to go and replace it, and check the surrounding circuits, while she takes the one they have been examining to sickbay.

Kes gazes facinated at the object lying on the biobed. The EMH admits that although he knows gel packs exist, he’s never seen one before. Torres cannot find anything mechanically wrong with it, but as it has a biological component she has come to them for assistance. The EMH pronounces that his patient is sick, but that to discuss the patient’s condition in front of the patient would be a serious breach of professional etiquette. Torres gives him a glare, and he tells her that the gel pack has picked up a highly contagious infection. The affected packs will have to be quarantined whilst they try and discover the source of the infection before they can treat it. Torres thinks aloud that she can reroute the primary systems but that they’ll lose the replicators, then goes to inform the Captain of this new development.

It is 1900 hours on deck eleven and the quartet are gathered by a Jeffries tube with their instructor in the Starfleet equivalent of tracksuits with heavy backpacks and training shoes. Tuvok informs them that they will be taking a ten kilometre run on deck thirteen, which has been cleared of personnel for the evening. Dalby sets off down the ladder, to be informed that they will be getting to deck thirteen via the messhall. Henley’s improved knowledge of the ship’s layout means that she realises that it will involve crawling through more than fifty Jeffries tubes to get there. With Gerron taking the lead, followed by Chell, Henley, Dalby and then Tuvok, the party set off. Eventually they reach the messhall, where Chell takes a crewwoman’s glass of water (with her permission) to refresh himself, only to be deprived of it at the exit by Tuvok. Finally the exhausted group get to finish their ten kilometre run, only to be informed by Tuvok that they may be having difficulties because he increased the gravity on that deck by ten percent. Ordering Gerron and Chell to finish the distance by doing their last three laps, he informs them that they will be doing it all again the next night.

Torres and Kim are checking the transporter logs in the main transporter room for any clues as to the source of the gel pack infection while Chell is on his hands and knees running a small hand held device over the transporter pad. Kim runs down the list of foodstuffs Neelix brought on board at Napinne – Varmeliate fibre, whole green putillos and schplict, which is apparently some kind of milk. Finding nothing obvious in the records, they decide to look for something airborne in the environmental systems, but before leaving they have to ask Chell what he is doing. He is degaussing the entire transporter room with a micro-resonator on the orders of Tuvok. Torres points out that if he’d used a magneton scanner he’d be done in five minutes. Unfortunatly, Tuvok had specified the micro-resonator and estimated that the job would take Chell 26.3 hours. The two officers leave him to it.

‘Security log, supplemental. I have recreated the bridge of Voyager on the holodeck and scheduled a war games simulation. I am hopeful that an exercise in teamwork will help to instil a sense of participation among my trainees.’

On the holo-bridge, the four Maquis are ready to take part in one of Tuvok’s training simulations. With Garron at Ops, Chell at the helm and Henley at tactical, Tuvok assigns Dalby as the ‘captain’ as he apparently has previous command experience. Dalby orders a course of 159.7 at warp six and a readout of the nearest star system. Then the first task arrives – a distress call from a Ferengi vessel. Although Chell points out it could be a trap, they go to offer assistance and get ambushed by two Romulan warbirds. Dalby’s final order is to keep firing and do as much damage as they can. Then Tuvok ends the programme with the comment that they are all dead. The four have no idea what else they could have done in the situation. To Dalby it was a classic no-win and he is startled by Tuvok’s recommendation that they should have retreated. ‘The strongest tactical move is always the one in which you will reap the highest gain at the lowest cost, ‘ the Vulcan Tactical Officer informs them before dismissing them for the day.

Tuvok is sitting in the messhall, gazing out of the window and lost in thought. Neelix spots the signs that the Morale Officer is needed and gets Tuvok to admit that he cannot understand why his time honoured methods of turning Academy cadets into Starfleet officers are not working with this group. Leading him over to three glass vases on the counter, filled with multi-coloured blooms, Neelix demonstrates that normally, this flower has very flexible, strong stems which are impossible to break. Occasionally however, one is less flexible, and snaps under stress. Tuvok takes this homily to apply to the Maquis crew, and Neelix has to point out that it is Tuvok who is being inflexible in this case. He needs to get to know his trainees and find another, better teaching method for them. Then he goes into his kitchen and begins ladling green stuff into a pan simmering over a flame. Tuvok asks him what it is. Cheese, replies Neelix, made from the schplict he got last week, so that Ensign Ashmore can have macaroni and cheese. You need bacteria to turn milk into cheese, Tuvok realises, and the two look upwards at the air vent above the cooking area.

‘Captain’s log, Stardate 48859.3. Lt Tuvok has reported what may be a possible explanation for the infection in the bio-neural gel packs. I have asked Lt Torres and her team to investigate Neelix’ kitchen.’

Torres and a pair of her engineers are examining everything in the kitchen, including a Laurelian pudding that has to simmer for four hours. Neelix is leaning despondantly on the counter, taking the blame for the whole gel pack problem. The lighting flickers again as the cheese is sealed in a containment jar and Torres reassures him that it is not his fault. The main thing is that they have found the source of the infection. ‘Get the cheese to sickbay,’ she orders one of her assistants, who takes the container off for medical examination.

Despite all the system and power supply problems, Tuvok is playing pool with Dalby in Sandrine’s in an attempt to get to know him better. He watches as Kenneth systematically begins to pot all the balls one after the other and tries to engage him in small talk. The angry man sees through the game and gives Tuvok a potted version of his life. ‘We lived on the Bajoran frontier. It was a hard life. I coped by getting into a lot of trouble. I was angry at everybody and everything, till a woman came along and taught me about love. For a while, I wasn’t angry any more. Three Cardassians raped her and smashed her skull. I joined the Maquis and tried to slaughter as many of them as I could find.’ Tuvok has nothing to say to this, and moves the subject on to Gerron, asking if they had become friends. Dalby tells him that Gerron doesn’t let anyone get close. He had hoped to try and prevent Gerron from growing up like he has, but being stranded so far from home has wrecked that. Tuvok tells Dalby that Chakotay had wanted Gerron to do this course to learn new skills and develop some self confidence. Dalby accepts that the course is being run with good motives in mind, but tells the Vulcan that he does not want to get to know him or to be his friend, and leaves the holodeck.

The EMH and Kes are trying to find some way of treating the gel pack’s bacterial infection while systems flicker and fail around them. The Captain is on the bridge, wanting good news, but they do not have any yet. They promise to keep trying. Kes remembers reading about viruses living inside bacteria which would explain why they haven’t detected it yet. So they try anti-virul treatments instead.

Down in the cargo bay, the class and teacher nearly lose their footing when the ship jolts suddenly. The inertial dampeners are failing and Tuvok orders them back to their duty stations. However the doors will not open for them. Tuvok taps at a wildly flashing panel to try and over ride the lock, then Gerron attempts to use the manual lever, but nothing works. They are trapped.

On the bridge, Kim is reporting that systems are failing faster than they can cope with. The isolinear backup isn’t ready yet and couldn’t even maintain life support at this stage. Paris loses propulsion and Kim adds that everything on the main grid has gone – communication, transporters, turbo lifts and life support. Despite this, the Captain contacts Torres and tells her to transfer all power to life support. In the cargo bay, Tuvok is discovering that his comm badge is no longer working and that he cannot advise anyone of their situation. The EMH has discovered that they can cure the gel packs by inducing a high temperature in them, to mimic a fever. He informs the Captain who calls engineering to ask Torres how they could heat up the whole system. The solution is to invert a symmetric warp field towards the ship and release a high energy plasma burst with the engines at 80 percent while they are standing still. It is risky with all the system failures but they have no choice. Paris deactivates the nacelles and Janeway orders all power including life support diverted to the warp engines.

In the cargo bay, things are getting heated, literally. Tuvok assumes it is something to do with trying to sort out the system failures and sends Gerron up the ladder to the control room to see if the console up there is still working. Meanwhile they try to open a hatch to a Jeffries tube through the forward bulkhead.

Things are getting heated everywhere, and on the bridge Captain Janeway is tugging at her collar to try and get a little cooler. The power is building, but not very quickly. Eventually it gets to 79 percent and Chakotay thinks they can risk the burst at that level. Janeway orders Torres to do it, and is warned that some conduits might blow out.

At least one conduit does blow out – in the cargo bay, just as they get the Jeffries tube hatch open. Gerron is trapped on the upper level, slumped over the rail, as the bay fills with toxic gas. Tuvok orders the remaining three into the tube and when Dalby protests that they cannot leave Gerron the Vulcan twists his arm behind his back and forces him in, closing the hatch behind them. Coughing in the fumes, Tuvok climbs the ladder and picks up Gerron from where he is slumped over the rail and carries him back down again with a fireman’s lift. Finally the fumes get the better of him and he collapses on the floor near the main door.

Gasping for breath, Captain Janeway calls for a report from sickbay. A cool and unruffled EMH cheerfully reports that the bacterial levels are dropping, and that they should be able to purge the systems in a few minutes. A sweaty, suffering Kes glares at him from under her matted fringe as he continues to monitor the situation. Shortly he hails the bridge again and tells Chakotay that all of the infectious bacteria have been destroyed and that the danger of further infection has passed. Life support can now be brought back on line.

The Maquis trainees crowbar the cargo bay door open and Chell braces it with a girder while Dalby and Henley drag the stricken Tuvok and Gerron out into the corridor. Then the brace is removed and the door slams shut again, keeping most of the fumes in the cargo bay. Out in the cooler, fresher air, the pair revive and Dalby challenges Tuvok over taking an unacceptable risk. Tuvok admits that his action was against Starfleet rules, but that he has recently realised that there are times when rules should be bent. Hauling him to his feet, Dalby tells Tuvok that if he can learn to bend rules, they can learn to follow them, and the five set off for sickbay.

Analysis

At last the question of ‘whatever happened to the rest of Chakotay’s crew’ begins to be answered. While B’Elanna quickly settled into her role of Starfleet Chief Engineer, her colleagues have had more trouble adjusting to their new life. Tuvok does not come out of this story very well. What sort of teacher cannot adjust their methods to the needs of their students? A Vulcan teacher, apparently. He also does not score very highly on the intellectual stakes either. Why was he failing to turn them into Starfleet officers? Because they weren’t Cadets who wanted to be officers, surely. Perhaps this explains why he is Tactical officer, not a Science Officer on a Galaxy class starship. It would be unfair to compare him to Spock, who after all was only half Vulcan. Tuvok is fully Vulcan and it does not make for a very sympathetic character.

Just a tiny nit-pick – Voyager, it seems has the C24 equivalent of the speaking tube between the bridge, engineering and sickbay so that even after Harry has announced that communications are down, the chief movers of the story can still talk to each other.

The story itself is well presented, with nicely underplayed humour and B’Elanna’s classic line neatly delivered deadpan and entirely in keeping with the whole scene. Despite the fairly obvious ending and the inevitable technobabble solution, this is a quality episode with which to end the broadcasting of season one. With this level of story and character, who could fail to want to come back to see season two.

The official cast lists have a character called Terek, but as no one is ever called that, but there is a character referred to as Gerron, I’m assuming they are one and the same. It’s probably confusion caused by the Bajoran way of putting the surname first and the given name second. Oh, and hello to Trek cult number 47 – the number of gel packs in reserve at the start of the story. It has also turned up in other stories, but in lesser roles, and I forgot to mention it.

Grade: 9/10

One Response to Star Trek: Voyager – 1×16 – “Learning Curve”

  1. Dante Hopkins says:

    I think the episode was a learning experience for Tuvok as well as the lower decks recruits, as he learns finally at the end to adapt his thinking to this particular group, thanks to an unlikely source of advice, Neelix. It has the rigid Vulcan Security Chief grow somewhat. Overall an enjoyable episode, a good view of not all in the 24th century vie to wear the Starfleet uniform

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