Non-adventures in dog-sitting, part 3

July 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 5, 2017

Author’s note: The following post contains spoilers for the fifth-season Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Dr. Bashir, I Presume,” which originally aired in February 1997. MEM

I mentioned in my previous post that, quite by chance, I picked up my viewing of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Masterpiece Society” right around the point where this YouTube clip that I’d happened to watch recently came to an end. That wasn’t the only coincidence in play, however. As it happens, this episode had some commonalities with the ST:DS9 episode that I’d seen the evening before.

As I mentioned, in Star Trek, genetic engineering has “been banned by most members of polite galactic society for centuries.” The reasons for this were established in “Space Seed,” the 1967 original series episode that introduced the villainous Khan.

In that show, Kirk and company run across a centuries-old sleeper ship containing Khan and his fellow genetically engineered Earthlings; this group of power-hungry “supermen” were exiled to deep space after winding up on the losing end of the Eugenics Wars. Khan and his associates are revived and brought on board the Enterprise, but as so often happens in these types of stories, their craving for power reasserts itself.

In Deep Space Nine’s “Dr. Bashir, I Presume,” it’s revealed that the chief medical officer of the series’ far-flung Federation outpost was subjected to secret and illegal genetic modification by his parents. The matter is referred to a Starfleet admiral, who tells the Bashirs:

Two hundred* years ago, we tried to improve the species through DNA resequencing. And what did we get for our troubles? The Eugenics Wars. For every Julian Bashir that can be created, there’s a Khan Singh waiting in the wings — a superhuman whose ambition and thirst for power have been enhanced along with his intellect. The law against genetic engineering provided a firewall against such men. And it’s my job to keep that firewall intact.

The so-called “Masterpiece Society” of the 1992 Next Generation episode concerns a different group of human exiles. Like the sleeper ship in “Space Seed,” these people have been genetically engineered; also like them, the whereabouts of these Earthlings has been lost to history. Unlike Khan and company, however, the group is peaceful; they’ve established a successful and thriving colony on a remote planet, and they only desire a harmonious, hermetic existence. The settlement’s founders barred all contact with outsiders, a stricture that is bent by their descendants only because their planet is threatened by a passing spatial phenomenon.

Captain Picard disdains genetic engineering, especially in the context of the Moab IV colony, seeing the technique as an unfair way to restrict the freedom of its subjects. With the “masterpiece society” serving as a metaphor for religion or culture — or, possibly, a cult — the episode raises interesting questions about self-determination: Under what circumstances should adults have the opportunity to break away and start over?

I mention this, of course, because I’m delighted by coincidences, even such a minor one as having genetic engineering be the subject of episodes that I happened to watch on successive nights. In fact, a further fluke of Star Trek rerun fortune will be the subject of my next post.

To be continued


* Nerd alert (just so you don’t get things twisted)! The invaluable Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha notes on its page for this episode that the Eugenics Wars actually occurred nearly four centuries before “Dr. Bashir, I Presume” takes place in the Trek timeline.

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