Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "Home Soil" (February 22, 1988)
The Enterprise proceeds to Velara III, where a Federation terraforming mission has fallen behind schedule. When contact is established from orbit with Director Mandl (Walter Gotell), Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) determines that he is “hiding something,” a fact which necessitates further investigation.
An away team led by Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) beams down to look more closely at the terraformers and their laboratory. In short order, one of the scientists, Malencon (Mario Roccuzzo) is murdered by a runaway laser drill. After this death, Picard orders the terrraformers to return to the Enterprise. Riker learns more about the group’s interactions from the optimistic but emotional Kim (Elizabeth Lindsay), while Geordi (Levar Burton) and Data (Brent Spiner) find evidence of a unique life-form, composed of crystal, on the planet.
The crystal is beamed up to the Enterprise, and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) works to determine if it is indeed, alive. Further investigation reveals that the crystal exists in the planet’s water table, and uses the saline in the water to conduct its thoughts to other crystals, creating a kind of corporate entity. The terra-forming drilling – and the very terraforming mission -- threaten to destroy this unusual life-form and its habitat.
Soon, the crystal replicates, multiplies in size, and takes over the Enterprise. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) negotiates a peace with the unique life-form, and returns the crystal to Velara III.
“Home Soil” is an underwhelming and highly-derivative episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). The concept of a silicon-based life-form was already explored in a more compelling and action-packed Original Series story, “The Devil in the Dark.” And season one of TNG already explored an encounter with a crystalline life-form in “Datalore.”
But “Home Soil” is also very derivative of an episode from another cult-TV series: Space: 1999 (1975-1977). In the Year Two entry of that series, “All That Glisters,” a team from Moonbase Alpha visits a seemingly barren planet for purposes of mining, and inadvertently harms a rock-life form in the process. That silicon-based life-form can communicate and bond with others of its kind (creating a corporate entity), and at one point the rock entities attempt to take over a spaceship (an Eagle, in this case). In both stories, the lack of water is the thing that threatens the continued existence of the silicon life-form. In both stories, an uneasy peace between carbon-based and silicon-based life is forged.
The common elements are apparent from the synopsis above: a silicon based-life form, an intelligent corporate entity; the hostile take-over of a space-vessel, the importance of water and a peaceful resolution. That’s at least five plot elements that “Home Soil” ports over from “All That Glisters.”
Now, “All That Glisters” is not a widely beloved episode of Space: 1999, but it does have its virtues. Namely, the episode is shot with a surfeit of style, giving it a weird kind of “haunted house” atmosphere in some sequences. Similarly, when the intelligent rocks “zombify” human beings and use them as slaves, the concept conforms to a series precept I have discussed here at length: the horror mythology of Space:1999.
“Home Soil” has no such particular style to mitigate its weaknesses as a narrative. The guest performances in the episode are odd, and stilted. Walter Gotell -- who is wonderful as General Gogol in several James Bond film (The Spy Who Loved Me , Moonraker , For Your Eyes Only , Octopussy , A View to a Kill  and The Living Daylights ) -- is overly-theatrical in his line deliveries here, and comes off as a bizarre personality. Elizabeth Lindsay’s engineer character, similarly suffers from several strange, off-kilter moments and line readings.
Beyond this flaw, the episode doesn’t create much in terms of tension. Here, the crystals take over the Enterprise, but ultimately this is not a matter of life of death. In “All that Glisters” the story generated tension from the countdown factor, if nothing else. If the Alphans couldn’t negotiate their crisis successfully, they would never see home again. That element granted the story an immediacy that this adventure lacks, since the crystal’s threat is short-circuited so quickly.
I have read reviews online that claim this episode is based in “hard science” and that the series did its “research” when creating this story. I agree that some research was done: into Space: 1999 in particular. I’m not certain that the episode deserves any credit for hard science or research, otherwise. In fact, I can’t help but go “there” while on this topic: Star Trek: The Next Generation globally mirrors Space: 1999’s Year Two in another way: character hierarchy. Consider the dynamics: Prickly commanding Officer in love with a Doctor/First Officer in love with an exotic alien. It’s Koenig and Russell/Verdeschi and Maya on Space: 1999. It’s Picard and Crusher/Riker and Troi, here.
But back to “Home Soil,” before I get into trouble with Trekkers. I do find at least one scene in “Home Soil” fascinating, and worthwhile. Gathered together in sickbay, Picard, Data, Geordi, Wesley and Dr. Crusher attempt to determine if the crystal is a life-form, with Crusher in the lead role. She explores the issue brilliantly, asking the ship’s computer a series of questions that lead towards a definitive answer. Crusher is authoritative here, and a leader, with Picard taking a backseat in a realm where he possesses less knowledge. The moment is a great showcase for the good doctor.
Finally, I’ll simply say, Star Trek: The Next Generation remade this story for the premiere of Season Three, with another unusual life-form – Nanites -- taking over the Enterprise in a bid to stay alive. That episode is far superior to “Home Soil.”
Next up: “Coming of Age.”