No ideas but in Swamp Thing

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Froborr
    November 6, 2015 @ 10:16 am

    Now, can this finally be the last of these kinds of episodes I have to do?
    I'm guessing no.

    And it could be worse, they could have taken a really cool concept for a series that had all kinds of potential for interesting stories and utterly ruined it by taking the same kind of fetishistic approach to TNG as these episodes keep doing to TOS.

    But I'm not bitter over Voyager or anything.

    I continue to maintain that, without changing a single thing about "Who Watches the Watchers," it could have been a very good Prime Directive story if the next episode to mention the Prime Directive had been about how the spectacular success of the more honest approach on Mintaka led Starfleet to finally abandon the Prime Directive in favor of something that isn't, you know, evil.


  2. Ross
    November 6, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

    This plot doesn't belong to either show because it's an Original Series story, and a very poor one at that.

    In fact, it's kinda shockingly close to the second episode of Star Trek Continues. I mean, aside from the fact that stuff actually happens in the middle rather than 30 minutes of Kirk and Spock debating Mary Sue about why it's unfortunate but absolutely imperative for the Enterprise crew to make themselves accessories to trafficking.


  3. K. Jones
    November 6, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

    I have a redemptive reading here, but nothing to criticize about any of the criticisms here, so it'll be redeemingly short.

    The reading is thus; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is still very new. The first episode established everything. The second and third episodes very much cast a glance at the local characters native to the new environment and show what that environment is like and how it is different from TNG-era Starfleet, and the fourth gave a pretty rote epidemic to show these disparate organizations getting good at working together to solve a problem.

    I'll get pretty tired of defending episodes by calling them "inevitable", but this episode was inevitable. Because this early in the show, there had to be the "we've shown what the Bajorans and locals are like here … now let's show you what the Starfleeters are like when a typical Starfleet scenario happens."

    And since Chief O'Brien is the resident Enterpriser, he is elected to be representative of TNG as a whole. And through the Chief finally getting his chance to have the big stock tropish prime directive story, we get to also see just how much he's learned from being an Enterprise guy, and that flows into how Sisko handles it as well. Dax and Bashir will assuredly get their turns at these sorts of scenarios as well – but they're not right off the Enterprise, right off the other show and stand to differ a lot more because of their awfully unique pros, cons, vast experiences, lacks of experience, and what-not.

    So now it's out of the way, it didn't hurt too much, and somebody decided to never name the Drai the Drai nor to ever mention them again even though sometime later it was posited that whoever engineered the Tosk for the Drai was also the cloner responsible for engineering the Jem'Hadar. But that's okay. It's not entirely necessary for "this" episode to be notable for being first contact with the Dominion. (The same way we never hear Odo referred to as "first contact with the Gamma Quadrant").

    Anyway, redemptive bits over. Meaney is reliably good as O'Brien and surprisingly good at feeling like he's still an "Enterprise guy", that line about glass jaws and helmets was comedy gold, and the Drai hunters uniforms were just plain fucking silly to look at. Like, something we'd have seen on "Ferengi-level threats" in season 1 of TNG. Oh, and Tosk's face make-up is really some of the best we've seen in the 24th century.


  4. elvwood
    November 7, 2015 @ 3:32 am

    The sad thing about this is that, just by changing a few lines, it needn't be about the Prime Directive at all, just the trickiness of first contact. (And how is the PD even relevant when the other civilisation is the one doing the contacting, and it has the superior technology? Do the Federation worry about interfering in Borg culture, or giving the Q Continuum an inferiority complex?) In any case, O'Brien was just putting right the interference in the hunt that had happened because Tosk had been arrested, so if anyone's actively supporting the PD it's him!

    Putting that particular shibboleth to one side, and ignoring a bit of eyerolling when it came up in dialogue, I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. Colm Meaney and whoever played Tosk were great, and the latter's makeup was noticeably effective. It went downhill a bit once it became obvious that O'Brien was going to have to break rank to support his friend, but that wasn't enough to ruin the whole for me.


  5. Ross
    November 7, 2015 @ 7:17 am

    Yeah, I thought the prime directive was specifically for pre-warp cultures (Even that Star Trek Continues episode didn't claim it was about the Prime Directive but about interstellar commerce treaties or something equally contrived), but it seems like they just force-evolve it to be "Arbitrary contrivance to force the heroes to let atrocities happen".

    Maybe it's because they're pre-first-contact? (I think they make an explicit point in the episode that they've foregone formal first contact protocol for some reason)


  6. Froborr
    November 7, 2015 @ 12:42 pm

    No, the Prime Directive does apply to cultures that have warp drive, at least by the TNG era. Among other places, it comes up in "Redemption." IIRC, the Prime Directive is mentioned as a reason the Federation cannot involve itself in the Klingon Civil War.

    The way I've always understood it is that the Prime Directive forbids getting involved in the internal affairs of another culture. For a pre-warp civilization, everything is regarded as inherently internal because they have no contact with anyone else, so any involvement at all is forbidden. For someone that has warp, the Prime Directive forbids getting involved in matters that only concern members of that civilization, like the Tosk hunt, but the Federation is allowed to get involved in matters between civilizations (like brokering a peace treaty).

    That's why, in "Redemption," they couldn't provide military support to either side in the civil war (an internal Klingon matter), but they could set up a blockade to prevent the Romulans from providing support to the Duras (since that involves both Klingons and Romulans).

    It's still a terrible fucking idea, but it's not being depicted inconsistently. (At least, no more than the usual amount of inconsistency inevitable in a series written by dozens of people over decades.)


  7. John Biles
    November 7, 2015 @ 6:37 pm

    Full TOS fetishism would have required the complete destruction of the culture in question by the end of the episode. That's how Kirk rolled; if the prime directive should stop him affecting a culture, he'd trash it by the end.


  8. Ross
    November 7, 2015 @ 7:20 pm

    That's especially weird because I'm pretty sure that the canonical TOS example has them actually quote the directive, and it's all stuff like "Don't mention 'space' or suggest the possibility of there being people on other planets"


  9. Daru
    December 20, 2015 @ 10:05 pm

    "“Captive Pursuit” is the kind of high-handed military maverick fantasy that characterizes every Original Series fan's memory of that that show was like"

    Aye. that's my least favourite and least interesting kind of Trek – the military maverick fantasy. They were only ever fun for a short while when I was kid. Dull now.


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