Strange New Worlds‘ “Ghosts of Illyria” in Review
The Enterprise is investigating an abandoned Illyrian colony threatened by frequent ion storms, a stunning eruption of fire and smoke billowing up from the planet. As Una explains in her First Officer’s log, Illyrians are a humanoid species that genetically modified themselves, a process which the Federation have banned (this ban was originally introduced to viewers in DS9, when Doctor Bashir was outed as being genetically tweaked). As usual, ion storms and transporters don’t mix well, which briefly impedes most of a landing party (no away teams here, but a welcome return to the old TOS term) from returning to the ship. Shortly after Spock finds cylindrical data “journals” in the city, he and Pike become stranded there, as the storm engulfs the area.
Almost immediately upon the partial landing party’s return to the Enterprise, there’s a spate of people hurting themselves on light sources, as they try – at all costs – to get closer to any illumination. Una is almost hypnotised by a table lamp, and her hands and face start glowing like a Doctor Who regeneration effect beginning.
La’an understands why the Federation is so against genetic modifications. She admits to being a descendant of Khan – which is a surprisingly throwaway line. During a conversation with Una about making snap judgements based on surnames, La’an is affected by the contagion, even though she had not been on the landing party. At M’Benga’s recommendation, Number One calls a ship-wide lockdown.
In the city, glowing forms swoop out, screaming and trilling. Spock is puzzled by their ghostly appearance as they ominously head towards his and Pike’s building.
Aboard the Enterprise, Uhura is woken by her roommates staring into a holographic sun, but she isn’t affected. Over fifty people are now infected, some who’ve had no contact with others, and M’Benga has opened the auxiliary sickbay. Here we get a magnificent view of the full sickbay section, and it’s on two floors, with a mezzanine!
Hemmer comes to check out the medical transporter, reminiscent of Voyager’s. However, M’Benga is reluctant and pulls an amusing trick to get rid of him.
Pike and Spock manage to stop the entities from breaking into their building. Spock states that the journals contained tales of creatures living in the storms, rumors that are apparently confirmed by the existence of the glowing forms.
Uhura was in the dark in her cabin’s sleeping compartment when her roommates began acting erratically. This is how she avoided falling victim to the contagion, which travels via light waves. To cure the infected and prevent the sickness going further, all the ship’s light sources must be deactivated, but only after the light-addicted crewmembers have been sedated. This act leads to a nice shot of the Enterprise going dark.
Una searches the Starfleet database for Illyrian research on disease control and discovers a picture of herself. She’s then interrupted by an emergency in the transporter room. Hemmer is trying to materialise a blazing piece of the planet’s core. A quick stun and she can easily carry him, like a teddy bear, to safety.
Spock finds that the Illyrians fell victim to a disease. There’s no record of the storm creatures harming them. As the storm’s ionisation reaches lethal levels, the energy forms burst in, covering Pike and Spock – protecting them from the storm. Once the danger has passed, the creatures leave.
Nurse Chapel is surprised to see Una carry Hemmer into the Enterprise‘s sickbay. Una tells the nurse and M’Benga that her immune system had burned off the infection, and confesses that she’s Illyrian (from a different colony). M’Benga says the antibodies in her blood burn themselves out too, so the medical staff can’t develop a vaccine from them. He gets a very nice speech – which Roddenberry purists might find irritating, although he’s right – about how humans found new bigotries among the stars.
There’s a bigger problem. La’an has thrown off the sedation and gone to engineering to start a warp core breach – the most light anyone can get! In engineering, La’an and Una fight and, since this isn’t the final episode, it’s obvious that Una wins.
Spock theorises that the energy beings are some of the Illyrian colonists – infected ones who ran into the lightning and bonded with its particles. He discovers a journal explaining that this was their attempt to de-engineer themselves so they could join the Federation.
La’an was somehow cured by “chimaeric” reaction due to proximity to Una. Chapel has synthesised a vaccine from La’an’s blood, saving the heretofore infected crewmembers. Despite La’an and Una having taken a knock to their mutual trust, they remain friends. Una explains that Illyrians want to blend with nature by changing themselves. This is a nice old sci-fi concept called “pantropy”. It’s nice to see it used so well here.
With the crisis averted and the storm dissipated, Spock and Pike return to the ship. In the captain’s quarters, Una meets with Pike and confesses her true nature. She tries to resign and turns herself in for breaking Federation laws by hiding her nature, but Pike refuses. He’s learned more about the Illyrians, and Una is an ideal officer. They’ll argue it out with Starfleet if anyone comes looking.
M’Benga also has a secret. He has been keeping his terminally ill daughter in the medical transporter’s pattern buffer. He hopes to find a cure one day. The episode concludes with him rematerialising her so he can read her a bedtime story.
Though ostensibly an Una background showcase, this is very much a stop-hiding-and-come-out-of-the-closet analogy that TOS would be proud of. Una’s and M’Benga’s secrets are revealed, sparking trust between several characters – Una and Pike, Una and La’an, M’Benga and Hemmer and Chapel…
The visuals are great: the storm-lashed Illyrian colony; the planet burning with a storm that looks like pyroclastic flow; and the cavernous sickbay and engineering areas. The warp core in the awesome interior of Engineering really looks like the centre of a huge, real-life reactor. The landing party’s leather jackets are a great update of the blue landing party jackets from “The Cage”, and the Pah-wraith-like creatures play nicely on our expectations. All the regulars are nailing it, with Babs Olukasanmosun’s M’Benga really coming to the fore this week.
At forty-five-and-a-half minutes in duration, this is the first Strange New Worlds episode to run under fifty minutes. An extra five minutes could perhaps have been used to introduce the “stories of creatures in the storm” better. But ultimately, this installment is another winner.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.