Star Trek Enterprise: Terra Nova

Archer: "You're human. So am I. Humans help each other."

By nature I love brevity: A really great idea and an effective setup. It's a story that only Enterprise could do. It checks all of my boxes. But the episode spent far too much time on the setup and not at all enough on its resolution. The result was another pretty underwhelming installment.

'Terra Nova,' as I've said, starts out with a wealth of promise. The premise of the episode concerns a lost Earth colony from many years ago. The colony, Terra Nova, set out to a habitable planet. But after a while of living there, Earth decided to send another ship. The colonists weren't happy with that, and soon after all communication ended with Terra Nova. It's a very interesting mystery, rather similar to the disappearance of Roanoke in our own history books.

The other thing is that Travis is really interested in the mystery, and he's thought a lot about it. This promises to give Travis a lot more to do than he's had. But, unfortunately, after having him tell the audience and the crew all about the lost colony of Terra Nova, the episode instantly sidelines him until the final scene. It almost makes me wonder if the writers are intentionally refusing to give Travis anything important to do.

Ignoring one of the show's lead characters aside, the premise and setup is mostly strong. The crew heads down to the planet, eager to figure out what happened. It doesn't take a whole lot of time for them to find the natives of the planet. They capture Malcolm, and insist that Enterprise take off and leave immediately. They call themselves Novans, and they believe that the humans poisoned their planet many years ago.

But Enterprise can't leave until they have Malcolm is aboard, and he's in no condition to leave. Dr. Phlox is called down, and when he comes down, he determines that the Novans are not, in fact, natives of the planet. They're humans, descendants of the original colonists. Of course, the Novans don't believe a word of it.

According to the Novans, the 'poison rain' – the radiation that fell on the surface of the planet – was sent by humanity. The crew of Enterprise can't figure out where that belief could have come from, until they uncover the last transmission from Terra Nova colony. It was never received due to the radiation. From the transmission the crew figures out that the colonists believed this had been done to them by the humans who were angry with them. This belief was passed on to the children, who only ever heard about humans as the people who poisoned their planet.

The children, evidently, had an immunity to the poison that lasted for a very long time. But that immunity is wearing off, and the radiation isn't dissipating. The caves the Novans live in will be uninhabitable within a few years. Archer and Phlox bring aboard Nadet (Mary Carver) and her son Jamin (Trek veteran Erick Avari) in order to cure Nadet's cancer. While they have the Novans aboard, Archer continues to use all the time he has to try and convince them that they are human. He finds an old photo of Nadet and her mother, from back when she was called Bernadette. This development I had a hard time swallowing. I get how over 70+ years these people's language could evolve. I can even see how they might not know they were human if the children were the only ones that survived the radiation. But it's kind of ridiculous to expect that Nadet would just forget what her name used to be, even after 70 years.

Anyways, this has a profound effect on Nadet, but virtually none on Jamin. He still insists that these words are 'shale', as the Novans call lies. Meanwhile, the crew has discovered another continent on the planet with similar cave structures. This continent escaped the radiation poisoning, and the Novans could live there rather than coming with Enterprise. But even this Jamin is unwilling to accept. I should mention that this is completely natural.

But then the episode returns them to the planet with only eight minutes left. They've built Jamin's resistance up for half an hour, and now he needs to change his mind before the episode's close. In an incredibly contrived sequence, Archer and Trip help Jamin to save a young Novan who's been trapped under a tree root with the water rising. Archer wants to use his phaser to cut Akary (Greville Henwood) out, and finally Jamin is forced to 'trust' him to do this. And that's it. That's all it takes to dismantle everything this man has believed for his entire life.

That's the big problem with 'Terra Nova'. It just doesn't have the time it needs to resolve Jamin's unbelief, and so it uses a contrived and convenient plot device that doesn't entirely work. It's poorly balanced between setup and payoff, and it's a darn shame because the setup is so engaging. 'Terra Nova' winds up being a terrible episode that should have been a two-parter. It's so terrible because it doesn't have the runtime required to tell the story it has to tell.

I want to touch briefly on the Novan's adjusted language and names. I suppose they make sense in a way, and I like that the effort was made to show a culture that has developed for a brief time apart from humanity. But every single time they talked about humans wanting to 'gut' them, or told Archer to 'track away', I wanted to throw something. Maybe if they'd made better choices of words to replace, it might have helped. Additionally, I don't think the names really worked. It's necessary to preserve the illusion at the beginning that these people aren't human, but I don't really buy Nadet naming her son 'Jamin' if she knew the name from an adult human. Just like I don't buy her forgetting her real name. It might have worked better, actually, if the time period had been longer and Nadet had been the generation after the original colonist children.

Strange New Worlds:

We visited Terra Nova, site of the first extra-solar Earth colony.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The Novans were certainly a new civilization, even if they were still human. I think the 'diggers' they ate were a new species, too.

1.5 out of 6 diggers.

Quotes:

T'Pol: "I'm not familiar with the early years of human space exploration."
Trip: "Really? Every school kid on Earth had to learn about the famous Vulcan expeditions."
T'Pol: "Name one."
Trip: "History was never my best subject."

Reed: "It looks a little undercooked."
Akary: "Humans are like damp moss. They rot on the underside."
Reed: *looks straight at him, then eats it*
That's just so very Reed that I had to put it here.

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OramDeo is definitely not human. You can tell by the fact that he has a human name with the first letter chopped off.

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