Star Trek: Enterprise – 1×13 – “Dear Doctor”

Star Trek: Enterprise
“Fight or Flight”
Originally Broadcast October 3rd, 2001
Reviewed by T’Bonz

The Story

The episode opens with “mail call” – a highly anticipated occasion on any space-fairing vessel. We join Dr. Phlox as he listens to a letter from his human-counterpart, Dr. Lucas, who is spending time as a cultural exchange doctor on Dr. Phlox’s homeworld, Denobula. His reply to his human friend begins the narration of this episode, which continues throughout.

Cut to the doctor watching a movie in the Enterprise’s “movie theater”, accompanied by twenty or so crewmates and Crewman Cutler (last seen in “Strange New Worlds”) who appears to be his date for the evening. He expresses his fascination at the human capacity for compassion, even at something as trivial as a fictional movie.

Having walked his companion back to her quarters, Dr Phlox turns to leave, only to be detained several times by Cutler – who eventually gives him a goodnight kiss on the cheek.

Shortly thereafter, the crew of the Enterprise discovers a ship from a pre-warp civilization with two very weak life signs. Having taken the ship and its occupants aboard Enterprise, Dr. Phlox discovers they’re dying from an unknown disease.

Having revived one of the aliens, he tells Archer of their travels and their sickness. More than 12 million people have died on his home planet of Valakis, from this disease for which their doctors have no cure. The visitor tells them they are not the first warp-capable species they have encountered, having already met the Maelins and the Ferengi, but neither race was willing or able to help them. Archer offers the assistance of Dr. Phlox, and sets course for Valakis. There the crew meets Esaak, a researcher dedicated to finding a cure, who assists Dr. Phlox by providing his years of research data. They also learn that there is another species living on the planet – the Menk. The Menk, they explain, are a similar, yet much less evolved species, untouched by the disease. The two humanoid species seem to coexist peacefully, much to the surprise of Dr. Phlox.

Phlox quickly develops a drug to ease the suffering of the patients, but does not feel very optimistic of finding a cure. His studies eventually reveal that the disease is genetic.

While visiting the sick alien whom they had rescued, Archer is given the ultimate request: If they cannot find the cure, then give them warp technology so that they might search for help on their own. Clearly distressed by the implications, Archer discusses the matter with T’Pol. Archer is forced to admit to T’Pol that, for the first time, he realizes how the Vulcans must have felt, fighting off Earth’s century-long desires to race to the stars. Without asking, he knows that he must deny them their request.

Soon after, Phlox finds a cure for the genetic disease and reluctantly admits his findings to Archer. He feels ethically compelled NOT to give them the cure. To do so, he explains to Archer, would be altering the natural genetic evolution of the planet and possibly denying the Menk their own intellectual growth. Archer argues that the people need their help, but Phlox is persistent with his beliefs.

In the end, Archer takes the doctor’s advice and chooses not to tell them of the cure. His reasoning speaks of concepts and ideas that will ultimately be the foundation of the Prime Directive…that they did not venture into space to “play God”. He admits to Phlox and himself, that he cannot guide his actions by compassion alone, and promises to remind himself of that in the future.

They leave Esaak with the formula to create more of Phlox’s pain medicine, but he does not give them the cure, or the warp drive technology. It is regrettable, but he knows he has made the right choice.

We close with Dr. Phlox concluding his letter to his fellow doctor. Having gained new respect for his human Captain, Phlox admits to his friend that he regrets second-guessing Archer’s integrity, and vows not to repeat his mistake in the future. Finally, he calls Cutler and asks her for dinner, stating that he could really use the company of a friend.

Review

This is an episode long overdue, in my opinion. We’ve seen so much of some of the other characters, mainly Archer and Tucker, that this episode heavily featuring Dr. Phlox was refreshing.

The Good

As this episode unfolded, I was reminded of TNG’s “Data’s Day” – a non-human crewmember relating his observations about humanity to a colleague, but it didn’t detract from the show. I was intrigued that the episode was centered on the doctor’s point of view, and was quite pleased with the result. It was great to finally see an episode where the good doctor didn’t laugh after every sentence! His perspectives are unique and intelligent, laughable and thought provoking. The scene in the theater where he chomping away at his popcorn, intently watching Tucker cry at the movie, instead of watching the movie, was hilarious to me. His performance was superb, and his part well written. For example, I felt his tension, when Cutler touched his arm, and I could feel the pain he was going through in having to make a difficult moral decision. Regardless of the overall show rating, you have to admit, John Billingsley gave an A+ performance in this episode.

It’s clear that the writers know how well we can identify with our pets, as Porthos’ appearances have been increasing. All I can say is “Great! More!” Hey, he never screws up his lines, right?

Cutler’s character was also well portrayed – very dynamic acting on her part, and hopefully, she’ll return in future episodes.

T’Pol was neither self-righteous nor condescending, and was in short supply. Just what the doctor ordered, if you ask me. Her character can be too abrasive at times, and even though she seems to be softening up a little, it was good to have a break from her.

The plot reminded me of something they’d do in TOS. Tackle a somewhat sensitive, controversial subject, show more than one point of view, and find a solution. I think Gene would be proud of this show.

I loved the ending! It was not at all what I had expected Archer to do. I was waiting for him to use his “human compassion” to do what he thought was right. He didn’t, and it was a pleasant surprise.

The “Could’ve Been Better..”

I get the feeling that by not giving up the cure or the secrets to warp drive, Archer was playing God, just as he would’ve been had he given them these things. It didn’t quite make sense to me. What’s the difference?

Reed only had one line and we didn’t get to hear from Travis at all. I would’ve liked to have seen Phlox interact with every crew member, but maybe that will come in time.

Overall

The plot itself may not be as unique as I would’ve liked, but it played out in a way that could have only been accomplished in Enterprise, and for that it gets original marks. To me, this is another real winner…the best so far this season.

Grade: 9.5/10

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