Why do so many people rag on "Dear doctor"

Discussion in 'Star Trek: Enterprise' started by WesleysDisciple, Feb 13, 2013.

  1. Kathy Kringle

    Kathy Kringle Commodore Commodore

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    Wait...people hate on this episode? Why??

    I'm new to ENT and just finished Season 1 and I loved that episode. We finally get inside of Phlox's mind a bit. He was a little bit weird and mysterious prior to Dear Doctor.
     
  2. Kathy Kringle

    Kathy Kringle Commodore Commodore

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    Ah, this is why.

    Forget my previous question. :lol:

    When watching, I focused more on Phlox's character and his inner thoughts because prior to that, you don't know much about him at all...
     
  3. R. Star

    R. Star Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Yeah, this episode just ruined Phlox for me as a character. Not only condemning an entire species to death, but calling it the moral and ethical choice?
     
  4. Kathy Kringle

    Kathy Kringle Commodore Commodore

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    To be completely fair to Phlox...it was Archer's decision in the end whether or not to give the people the cure. Phlox did admit to Archer he had a cure and Archer decided to side with Phlox and not give it to them.

    In the end, it was Archer's choice.

    I suppose though, you know the EMH would have denied the captain's orders and given those people the cure even if Janeway said NO NO. Haha. He was really programmed with the "must do no harm" subroutine. :lol: He wouldn't even separate Tuvix!
     
  5. R. Star

    R. Star Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    As I said last page though... Archer had already been established as a bonehead by this point. Yeah Berman... if you want us to sympathize with your heroes... don't have them kill off entire races! :p
     
  6. Kathy Kringle

    Kathy Kringle Commodore Commodore

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    Ah...I was in a rush trying to do something and couldn't read all of the posts. Forum fail on my part haha.
     
  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, that's not a very good analogy, because those were both cases where contact between different populations introduced a disease that one of the populations had little or no immunity to. Also, it was a disease, an external pathogen, not a natural part of the species' life cycle. What Phlox was saying was that the Valakian species itself had an expiration date built into its own genetics -- that they weren't suffering from a disease at all, just from reaching the end of their species' life cycle.

    While that's a fanciful concept in real-world terms, as I've said, if it were the case within this fictional universe, I can see how Denobulan medical ethics could argue that it could be harmful to interfere with that natural life cycle -- just as many real-world doctors believe that easing the end of an individual's natural lifespan is a more desirable goal than trying to extend individual lifespans indefinitely. The same doctor who might go to all possible lengths to save a 30- or 50-year-old from a viral infection or cancer might not endorse similar extreme measures to prolong the life of a 98-year-old who's dying of old age, but instead would encourage the patient to accept the natural end of their life cycle.

    And again, the episode was not saying that Phlox's view was unambiguously the right one. On the contrary, the whole point was to set up a situation that had no clear right answer, because that's far more dramatically interesting. And it was to show that Phlox was an alien, that his definitions of right and wrong wouldn't automatically conform to ours. It's the moral ambiguity in the episode that makes it so intriguing. Its goal wasn't to tell us what to think, but to give us something to think about.

    I'm not saying I agree with Phlox's position either. But most of the critiques I hear are based on misunderstandings of what his position actually was, or what the problem actually was. We need to understand that clearly before we can validly assess the moral questions of the episode.


    Now, that is absolutely false, and just the kind of gross misreading I was talking about above. They never said either race was "superior." They just said the Menk had the potential to evolve more intelligence than they currently had, if they were given the chance. They never chose either side -- just the opposite, they chose not to take a side and leave nature to take its course. You really should study the episode more closely before judging it, because here you're judging it based on a completely wrong and invalid recollection of the facts.


    Once more, a totally, completely incompetent analogy. Nobody is talking about "destroying" anything. Nobody is choosing to take action against the Valakians' survival; they're just remaining neutral. One could argue that in the Marvel Universe, it's likely that mutants will win out over normal humans just in the normal course of events -- after all, they're proliferating very quickly and have obvious survival advantages. Even without open conflict between the species, even with peaceful coexistence, just statistics alone would lead mutants to become the majority after enough generations, and eventually the specieswide norm. That's basically the situation here: one species naturally outcompeting the other because it has an advantage of fitness. It's not about one species actively trying to wipe out the other. There is no Magneto here. If anything, Phlox's position was more about refusing to become Bolivar Trask.


    As long as you're going to use these outrageous misrepresentations of the actual arguments in the episode, I refuse to discuss it with you any further. Your biases make it impossible to discuss the facts of the matter reasonably.
     
  8. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Captain Captain

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    This was written before I consulted the script and am retracting my earlier statements.

    Which you provided in another thread. Thank you, Christopher.

    This is a much more ambiguous point and basically implies some sort of guiding impulse behind biology. Which is not that fanciful, actually, since we know the Preservers (or a race similar to them) has genetic "guiding principles" built into the DNA of the Alpha Quadrant's various races. That everything was designed to come up humanoid bumpy-forehead races.

    The Preservers, or Intelligent Design as a concept, basically has decreed that this race isn't going to survive and that the next race is going to take up the mantle instead.

    It's not that Phlox and Archer are making the choice, it's the choice have been made for them many millions of years in the past. Their choice is whether or not to interfere with Intelligent Design as a conceptTM and attempt to impose their own transformative concepts on them. The consequences, thereof, being unknown like massive die-off or mutation. It's an interesting case of biological Prime Directive--which makes sense given the kind of amazingly advanced DNA control you'd need to "guide" evolution.

    In this respect, my argument is quite different. Specifically, I think that Phlox and Archer's decision to "stand by" and simply provide drugs to provide the people involved a cure for the pain and horror of their condition is more defensible. At the very least, they're not practicing eugenics. It seems, instead, the Preservers/Intelligent Design Force were on a fairly grand scale.

    However, on a moral level, I believe the action was still wrong. That resisting Godlike intelligences is as often what Star Trek is about and so-is a Pro-Technology plan. It's a dying species that has no real hope for survival on its own but I think our heroes would be more "heroic" (if that makes sense) if they chose to try and help the Valakian overcome their condition to try and continue their survival into the future.

    Had the show ended with a "Up the Long Ladder" solution of the Valakians and Menks interbreeding, I'd have far less problems with it (and would find it cute, actually).

    There's actually an X-men plot related to this that the Celestials implanted humans with an expiration gene to occur that would result in them being replaced by mutants (and had resulted in neanderthals being destroyed for humans). That this was the motivation for a character named Cassandra Nova to order the destruction of mutants because she believed herself to be the next stage after mutants and wanted to hustle it along. No such activity is being brought here.

    In any case, you've changed my perspective of the work even if I think the fact that they choose to let "nature take its course" with the ticking time bomb is the wrong moral choice and not very Star Trekky (even if the PD is a precedent). It's less offensive to me, now. Thank you.
     
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I really appreciate your willingness to check your beliefs against the evidence and re-evaluate them accordingly. It's a vanishingly rare thing to find on the Internet. I'm glad I could help clarify the ideas of "Dear Doctor."

    A few things, though:

    Definitely not the Preservers. The one verified instance we have of Preserver activity, the transplanting of Miramanee's people, happened less than 500 years ago: sometime after the Navajo emerged as a distinct culture (since Spock said those were one of the cultures represented) and after European diseases and colonization began threatening Native American populations (since there would've been no need to "preserve" them before they were in jeopardy). So the Preservers are a part of modern history, not ancient history, and certainly not billions-of-years-ago pre-pre-pre-prehistory.

    Not to mention that what the First Humanoids did was to seed the primordial soup of uninhabited worlds with programmed DNA. They weren't preserving something, they were creating something new. So it makes no sense to call them Preservers simply from a vocabulary standpoint.


    First off, I think that "Intelligent Design" is a misleading and very loaded term to use here. It's basically just a new label for creationism, the argument that evolution doesn't occur at all and every life form was designed in its present form by God. The First Humanoids certainly allowed evolution to occur; they simply encouraged it to develop in a certain direction. Beyond that, they had no granular-level master design in mind, didn't program the exact specifics of every species' evolution, just established some recurring patterns and trends that turned out differently on different worlds.

    Certainly evolution works differently in Trek (certainly Braga-scripted Trek) than it does in real life, with a greater degree of predetermination, but I don't think that necessarily represents the First Humanoids' "design."


    Maybe not millions of years in the past, but as a consequence of their natural evolutionary process. Otherwise, you've got it -- Phlox isn't taking a side, he's just saying he doesn't feel qualified to tamper with the choice nature has already made, not given the enormous ramifications to two species. He's refusing to play God.

    You can see a similar attitude in Phlox's views toward genetic engineering in the Augment-related episodes in season 4. While Denobulans do employ genetic engineering as a useful medical tool, Phlox is disdainful of Soong's and the Klingons' reckless tampering with genetics, of the way they're overreaching themselves and trying to make radical changes without sufficient knowledge to assess the consequences. He believes that's irresponsible, and that's much the same ethical principle that guides him in DD.


    Granted, there could be a middle path: transplant the Valakians to another world, cure them, and let the Menk develop on their own. But that too could have unpredictable consequences. Who knows whether the Valakians could thrive in that other world's environment? Again, it's not a choice to be made in haste. And it could work out that way in the long run without Starfleet intervention, since the Valakians do have some interstellar capability and have a couple of centuries in which they might find a cure and settle other worlds themselves, or with help from another race.


    Who knows? That's another path that they could take in the next couple of centuries. The key is that curing the Valakians in the here and now would've closed off a paty for the Menk, but leaving things as they are keeps options open for both species. There are no guarantees for either, but there are options.


    It's certainly a problematical episode in the way the dilemma is defined, but there's not supposed to be a clear answer and it's supposed to be ambiguous whether Archer and Phlox's decision was right or not. That's what I like about the episode -- it makes you think and ask questions. I just regret that the situation it poses is confusing enough that many people misunderstand the facts of the story and thus aren't able to evaluate it fairly. Again, I'm glad you made the effort.
     
  10. GalaxyX

    GalaxyX Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Dear God, I hate! hate hate hate the Prime Directive!!!

    Within the Trek Universe, it was an excuse to not get involved with any races if it meant you had to deploy resources to provide something for that race. Even in cases where they were involved by accident, they still call upon the mighty Prime Directive, even when it doesn't matter anymore.

    For example, the TNG episode "Who watches the watchers" They reveal themselves to a primitive race by accident. They have no choice to explain to the indigenous people there who and what they actually are, otherwise they would have fucked things up pretty badly for them. Yet at the end of the episode it was basically "ok, you know what we are and where we're from, but we still won't get involved with you, you are on your own to reach our level"

    The right thing to do was say "Ok, you know who and what we are, so now we have a moral obligation to at least send some Starfleet personnel to guide you on all the modern science we have, and to help you develop the technologies on your planet". This way, they would have probably been ready to join the Federation in a few decades.

    But nope they don't do that. On Enterprise, they did even worse. in "The Communicator" they left an alien faction scared shitless that the other alien faction whom they are at war with has: Cloaking technology. Directed energy guns. Genetic engineering. Antigravity flying vehicles. Imagine the kind of repercussions that will have. It was easier to just tell them the truth. They already believed in it before they were misled.

    Yet in TOS' "A piece of the action" they had no qualms about leaving the communicator on the planet, and it was left as a little "joke" to end the episode on a lighthearted tone.

    And in Dear Doctor, they had no problem providing a workaround (already interfering with "natural evolution") but refuse to provide the cure due to fear of "interfering" with natural evolution.

    Argghhhhh!!

    Outside of the Trek universe, it was clear the "Prime Directive" was simply there to save money, since the Federation never had to get involved in anything, the shows never had to spend the money to show something that onscreen they could avoid doing. All basically a copout to be fucking cheap fuckers.
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Holy crap, that's very, very far from the right thing to do! The whole reason there needs to be a Prime Directive is that forcing that kind of rapid change on a culture is bound to be destructive. That kind of "We have a moral obligation to raise them to our level" mentality is what led the British Empire to inflict profound cultural subjugation and abuse on India, Africa, and other parts of the world, causing traumas that have resulted in ongoing turmoil and strife to this day.

    The fundamental mistake is assuming that it's your decision. It's not. It's their life, their society. The PD is about having the sense and humility to recognize that it's their choice what to do about it, that they're more qualified to make that choice than you are. If they want more contact, if they're given the freedom to govern how the contact happens and how much they adopt from other cultures, then they can advance successfully and in a healthy way, as long as it's at the pace they choose. But deciding that just because you're more technically advanced, that entitles you to force other cultures to become what you think they should be? History shows that that mentality is a great evil and brings nothing but harm.


    No, the PD was there because the show was made in the 1960s, when the harmful consequences of Western colonialism and imperialism were rearing their heads in many parts of the world, particularly Southeast Asia; and the makers of the show were intelligent and aware enough to recognize how destructive well-intentioned cultural imperialism could be and how a responsible society needed a check against it.
     
  12. Hober Mallow

    Hober Mallow Commodore Commodore

    "Dear Doctor" is one of the only five or six episodes of ENT I've ever actually watched from beginning to end. Out of that handful of episodes, this, I guess you could say, was my favorite... but I couldn't help think by the end of the episode how much better it could have been had a real SF author tackled it.

    I think that's pushing it.
     
  13. publiusr

    publiusr Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I might have relocated the Valakians at the very least and cured them. Evolution goes on and no one gets hurt.
     
  14. BillJ

    BillJ Fleet Admiral Admiral

    There were a couple billion of them, I don't think that would be practical.

    I think Dear Doctor is one of the most embarrassing episodes the franchise ever produced. And that really says something when the franchise has produced the likes of Spock's Brain, Code of Honor, Babel and Threshold.
     
  15. Mach5

    Mach5 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Congratulations, you have a real career shot at State Department. :lol:
     
  16. R. Star

    R. Star Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Could be he hates the fact that the policy of the Prime Directive is to send a note saying "you're screwed" in the case of a natural disaster or disease.

    Even our State Department doesn't usually let people die like that... unless they're the ones doing it.
     
  17. Mach5

    Mach5 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Sure it could. I despise the PD for that same reason.

    But the PD is a good idea in general... Just not very well thought through.
     
  18. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    The problem is that there are two totally different visions of the Prime Directive representing opposing philosophies. The original PD as seen in TOS was a rejection of colonialism, a recognition of the idea that just having superior technology does not make the Federation more qualified to understand another culture's needs than the culture itself, and that if you attempt to impose solutions on a culture from without, you'll inevitably do more harm than good. It's about humility, recognizing the danger of good intentions and the right of other cultures to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes, rather than fall victim to yours.

    But the 24th-century PD seen in "Pen Pals" and "Homeward" is just the opposite. It's lost sight of that humility and turned into "Those primitive cultures are too fragile to understand our knowledge, so we smarter beings are entitled to decide their fate for them even if it destroys them." It's fallen right back into the arrogance of assuming that less advanced societies have no agency, that we have the right to make their choices for them without giving them a say. The only difference is that we're deciding not to intervene under any circumstances rather than deciding to force our ways upon them. But in both cases, it's motivated by the same arrogance, the same belief in our superior right to decide on their behalf.
     
  19. GalaxyX

    GalaxyX Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Well I go under the assumption that the Federation is an organization that is moral and just, and not greedy and corrupt like real life empires like the British Empire. In the case of the British Empire subjugating India, it was done to steal resources under the premise that they were "enlightening" the local population. The same thing that the USA is doing in places like Iraq.
    I make the assumption that the Federation is not such an organization, and that Federation assistance of a primitive race might genuinely be helpful to them.
    In the case of Who Watches the Watchers, the Mintakans were already at a pretty socially advanced level. Their technology might only have been at the level of prehistoric tribes, but their social way of life was actually more like the renaissance period of Earth. They themselves requested assistance (they said "but there's so much you could teach us!") but Picard shot them down saying that this too, would be interference. Sure it would be, but would it have been wrong? Those people were clearly ready to handle the knowledge. I could see them in a few decades starting to slowly integrate into the Federation.
    Then they misunderstood the reasons governments do this. Usually it's simply because they want resources from a 3rd world regime, and come to plunder the land under the guise that they want to help.
    As for the show's budget, with my comment, I refer to 24th century Trek specifically. TOS never had qualms about breaking the PD when Kirk felt it was appropriate (because common sense dictated it was the correct action, which is why we cheered him on). Picard on the other hand simply uses it to never get his hands dirty (and therefore saving production costs since there is nothing to do). How convenient.
    Yes, this is exactly it!!!! if the Federation has the means to save a primitive culture who is dying out or somewhat in danger of something, isn't it the right thing to help them survive?
    Reminds me of the movie "When the Earth Stood Still" where a sort of "Federation" sends a representative giving humanity an ultimatum regarding its nuclear technology. That is considered a classic masterpiece pretty much unanimously. If it had been Star Trek's Federation, no one would have ever been sent at all.
    I think the PD needs to have more leeway in letting Star Fleet captains make decisions based on common sense. I think it's implied that usually when a captain breaks the PD, if he can make a good case as to why, most of the time the Federation forgives the act.
    Picard in particular is extremely rigid on it though. Everytime he's broken it is because he's basically had his arm twisted to do so.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    No. Maybe to some extent, that was a factor, but to a large extent, a lot of British subjects sincerely believed that they were there to improve the way of life of the people they colonized. They assumed their cultural values were more "advanced" and more "correct," and that the natives would inevitably be happier once they assimilated.

    The only reason Gandhi's campaign of passive resistance worked was because the rank and file of British subjects believed they were doing the right thing, that they were the good guys. By resisting without violence, by employing civil disobedience and accepting the consequences when they broke the law in protest, Gandhi and his followers proved that they were not unruly savages needing to be civilized, but that they were already reasonable, moral beings. And thus, when they were oppressed by the British Raj -- or subjected to brutality like the massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh -- the British people were forced to recognize that they had become the bad guys, that their good intentions had gone horribly astray, and that it had to stop.

    See, this is the danger of assuming that you are just and moral and wise. As long as you accept that without question, you can rationalize anything you do, and dismiss any opposition as misguided. The Prime Directive isn't really about the other culture -- it's about your own culture. It's about having the humility and self-awareness to recognize that you don't have all the answers, and that even a well-intentioned effort to make another civilization's lives better according to your definitions of "better" can go horribly wrong.


    But considering them "primitive" at all is itself judgmental, condescending, and dangerous. It carries the built-in assumption that you're better and smarter than they are and thus more qualified to make decisions.


    But we can't assume that's the right or the only path for them. Just because something is your way, that doesn't make it the best way.

    And no, they didn't "request assistance." That's more of that condescending, White Man's Burden thinking, the reflexive interpretation of other cultures as needy and dependent on your superior benevolence. What they did was to seek knowledge. They wanted to learn more about the universe. But sometimes the worst thing you can do for someone seeking to learn is to just hand them the answers. Then they won't develop, or retain, the skills to learn those answers for themselves. And who's to say they won't find new answers that never occurred to us? Again, just because something is our way doesn't make it the only possible right way.


    Nor should they have been. The society Klaatu belonged to was horribly dystopian if you think about it. Everyone lives in mortal terror of the robot masters who will annihilate them if they lift a finger in violence? That's not a peaceful, enlightened society, that's galactic slavery.

    And really, Klaatu is very much an embodiment of colonial-era assumptions and attitudes, the wise, stern, paternalistic figure who comes into a more backward society and gives them the soft-sell for converting to his ways while letting them know that they'll be forced to conform if they don't voluntarily embrace the "right" way of doing things. In light of modern, post-colonial thinking, it's a rather problematical film conceptually, though it's still one of the greats.


    Now, that I'll agree with. An absolute "never interfere" rule isn't wisdom, it's just using rigid legalism as a substitute for judgment. The point of the PD is to teach us humility, to help us recognize our own limitations and fallibility so that we don't blindly impose on another society in the name of what we assume is right. But as long as we have that self-awareness, we can nonetheless recognize circumstances where it can be valuable to offer our help, within limits.