Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nothing New Under the Sun

Some reviewers have criticized “Cathexis” (Voyager; season one) as a retread of alien possession clichés. Well, maybe I’m a sucker for alien possession clichés, because I thought it was one of the more interesting episodes of the first season.

For one thing, I liked the sense of paranoia it created, and learning that Chakotay is the consciousness at work on the ship lets you to see the “alien’s” efforts in a new light during a second viewing.

But one of the most memorable details of the episode is Tuvok’s use of the phaser to stun the entire bridge crew at once. Later in the episode, speaking as the alien intruder, he says, “This phaser is set to wide beam dispersal and set to kill.”

“Wide beam dispersal.” I remember thinking (as a fourteen year old kid) how cool that was – a never before seen bit of Star Trek lore. But if the plot of “Cathexis” is a retread of sci-fi story lines, so is this seemingly unique detail.

Of all the Star Trek series, I am least familiar with The Original Series. I remember watching reruns of TOS as a child, but I was too young to absorb plot lines and story details. There are a handful of episodes I saw when I was older, including some of the more notable episodes (“The Trouble with Tribbles”, “The Doomsday Machine”, “The City on the Edge of Forever”). However, for the most part, my knowledge of Kirk and crew comes from the motion pictures.

You can imagine my surprise when I was watching the Classic Trek, first season episode “Return of the Archons” on the Sci-Fi Channel, and saw Kirk use the ‘wide beam dispersal phaser beam’ at a time when, to paraphrase Scotty, ‘Tuvok was still in di-a-pers!”

(Actually, Tuvok was probably a little older than that considering he would serve with Captain Sulu some time after Kirk’s first five year mission.)

So what I thought was a "new" phaser setting had been around almost as long as Star Trek itself. It does make you wonder why it wasn’t used more often. For example, it would have come in very handy during a battle with the Borg. A freshly recalibrated phaser with a wide beam setting could theoretically take out a whole group of drones before the collective could adapt.

Well, we can suppose that there are some unexplained power requirements for this setting that don’t make it feasible in most combat situations.

But in the real world it was probably intentionally ignored for dramatic reasons. You can’t very well eliminate all of your enemies with a single shot every week!

But for a memorable moment, I still think it was a cool idea, even if it wasn’t a new one. Like Kirk's wide-bottomed pants the wide-beam phaser inevitably came back in style.

Well, maybe not in style, but at least it showed up one more time, somewhere, out there, in the Delta Quadrant.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

UPDATE: For a fruther discussion of this topics see the post "Wide Beam Phasers Revisited".