Enterprise‘s “Terra Nova” in Review
The title of this episode refers to the name of the first Earth colony outside the solar system. The mission to learn the colony’s fate provides a glimpse into early space missions. Do rules concerning first contacts apply to contacting descendants from Earth? Do we have the right to teach them of their ancestry, or does this threaten the culture they’ve developed? Is their culture any less legitimate than those developed on planets without any connections with our own? These questions are explored in this thought-provoking episode, as the crew engage in a very different sort of first contact.
Ensign Mayweather, an aficionado of the history of lost colony “Terra Nova”, gives us details of their voyage. This allows us to learn more about Travis’ past and provides a relatable character trait for the audience.
We learn that, over seventy years prior, the SS Conestoga left Earth in a “Great Experiment” to colonize outside of the solar system. It took the nearly two hundred colonists nine years to make the voyage. Earth soon lost contact with the colony and abandoned any plans to send another ship. The colony’s fate remains a mystery that Enterprise is tasked with solving, now that traveling the relatively short twenty-light-year distance is much easier and quicker.
It seems odd that Earth would wait as long as seventy-plus years to investigate and that the planet’s officials would be too stubborn to ask the Vulcans for assistance. It was deemed that requesting such help would carry “too high a price.” Is this prejudice, or was Earth’s relationship with the Vulcans transactional in this way? It doesn’t seem consistent with the moral ethics we know of Vulcans, but it does align with this show portraying an early uneasy relationship with them.
Orbiting Terra Nova, the crew discover a landing site with the disassembled remains of the Conestoga. An away team including Archer, T’Pol, Mayweather, and Reed heads down in a shuttlepod. The CGI does seem to have improved a bit as the pod is blurred against the planetscape, helping it blend in better. In a scene that may be a callback to the TOS episode “Miri”, a damaged bicycle is found amidst the abandoned colony.
The crewmen investigate a cave found in the outskirts and, inside, come across a group of humanoid inhabitants. The Novan cave dwellers are armed with projectile weapons and react with hostility. In the resultant confusion, Reed is shot and captured, with the rest of the team retreating to Enterprise.
Predictably, we soon learn the inhabitants are human and are undoubtedly the descendants of the original colonists. Archer returns with Doctor Phlox to negotiate Reed’s return and to find ways to assist the Novans. Reed has a leg injury, due to being shot, and we soon find that the Novan language is significantly different from English. We also learn the people were driven underground by “poison rain” they attributed to invading humans. One of the elders we encounter, Nadet, is obviously unwell. Phlox scans her and discovers she’s suffering from lung cancer, which can be treated back on the ship. Archer convinces their leader, Jamin, to accompany Nadet and them back to Enterprise, but Jamin insists that Reed stay behind, as a guarantee for their safety.
It turns out the “poison rain” was actually from a large asteroid which collided near the colony shortly after it was established. Reed succeeds in building trust amongst some of the younger locals in the cave and is offered some of their, somewhat undercooked, “digger meat.” While Phlox is successful in eliminating Nadet’s cancer, we learn that radiation from the asteroid has contaminated the Novans’ water supply in the caves.
Archer shows Nadet a picture of herself as a young girl in the colony, which surprises her. Jamin is proving a tougher nut to crack, however, as he is suspicious of the true motives of our crew.
The underground contamination brings about a fascinating quandary, effectively debated between T’Pol and Archer. Do we have the right to upend the Novans from the only life they’ve know and introduce them to their “birthright” of a life on Earth? Or do we let them live as they are, even if that will bring them certain death?
A potential solution presents itself when it’s discovered that the southern hemisphere is free from the deadly radiation and that the locals can be transferred to safer caves there. Clearly, they won’t leave their homes willingly.
Archer returns to the planet with Jamin and Nadet, intending to retrieve his security officer and convince the Novans to agree to the relocation plan. Upon landing, however, the shuttlepod collapses into the underground.
A bond is ultimately formed between Jamin and Archer. Jamin asks for Archer’s phase pistol to open a passageway into the cave system. From here, they find a young Novan, Akary, pinned under a downed tree. Jamin reciprocates the trust shown in him, pulling Archer to safety when he slips and allowing him to use the phase pistol in order to rescue the injured youth. They cooperate in carrying Akary to the central chamber. There, Nadet – having recognized the girl in the picture as herself – convinces the stubborn Jamin to acquiesce to Archer’s plan of relocating the colonist’s descendants.
Safely back aboard Enterprise, Archer enjoys a meal with Mayweather, T’Pol, and Trip. Mayweather tells T’Pol about a few other historical people who mysteriously disappeared, unknowingly referencing the Voyager episode “The 37’s” by mentioning Amelia Earhart. Archer permits Mayweather to create the report for Starfleet about how Enterprise found and saved the Novans.
Full of the ethical questions that are the heart and soul of Roddenberry’s legacy, this episode succeeds in providing suspenseful moments that pressure Archer and Enterprise’s crew to decide how to respect the Novans’ way of life and right of self-determination. We can nitpick the questions of how it took this long to investigate the lost colony, but ultimately this doesn’t interfere with our enjoyment of a true Star Trek story.