Relics (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 6, Episode 4) When a huge hollow sphere traps a Scots engineer, that’s a-survey

Rewatching ST:TNG

The Enterprise-D traces a distress call to a huge star-enclosing Dyson sphere. On a crashed ship, they find a jerry-rigged transporter that has suspended someone in its buffer for 75 years.

That someone is the legendary engineer Montgomery Scott, who is surprised to see a Klingon among the rescue party. LaForge promises to “take care of him,” and the two engineers cheerfully nerd about the Dyson sphere and Scott’s creative use of the transporter.

In sickbay, Scott says Crusher is “a fair sight prettier” than the doctors on his own Enterprise. I gather that in 1992 when this scene was filmed, it was meant to establish Scotty as avuncular and friendly, so that we would feel bad for him when Picard, Crusher and LaForge all get back to work, and the random ensign who deposits him in his quarters is too busy to listen to his stories.

In Engineering, LaForge can only put up with so much chatty Scottsplaining: “I’ve got a job to do here, and quite frankly, you’re in the way.”

In Ten Forward when Scotty rejects his “synthehol” drink, it’s fortunate for the plot that, even though everyone on the ship is supposed to be super-busy surveying the Dyson sphere, Data just happens to be chilling at the bar. He offers Scotty a bottle of real alcohol, identifying it only by saying “It is green.” 

Scotty was my favorite TOS character when I was a kid, so I immediately recognized the reference to the classic Trek episode “By Any Other Name.” (Scotty distracts an alien by drinking him under the table. Some of the alcohol they consume Scotty identifies only by saying, “It’s green.”)

When I first saw the sad-drunk Scotty step onto a holodeck recreation of the original Enterprise bridge, I remember being very moved. Obviously a sentimental chief engineer would have asked for a recreation of the engine room, not the bridge; still, it was great to hear the familiar 1960s control panel bleeps and bloops. Picard’s chat with Scott is just what we, the fans, had hoped to see.

Inspired by Picard to give Scott another chance, LaForge brings him along to recover the wrecked ship’s sensor logs.

Because the plot needed time for Scotty to come aboard, get lonely, get in the way, get drunk on real alcohol, and then sober up enough to be fit for duty the next day, the Enterprise-D has waited until Scotty and LaForge are back on board the transport ship to do what Scott and LaForge say is standard procedure in both their eras — sending a hailing signal.

Doing so triggers an automated system that pulls the Enterprise through an airlock and into the interior of the sphere. Data reports that the surface of the star is 90 million kilometers away, and the navigator reports that the Enterprise is moving on “inertial motion from the tractor beams,” and will crash into the star in three minutes. So that means the automated tractor beam systems is rigged to yank cargo through the airlock at roughly three times the speed of light, and hurl it directly at the sun. (Wouldn’t it make more sense to pull cargo in at an angle, and put it in a safe parking orbit?)

At one moment the Enterprise is falling out of control into the star, which supplies the required dramatic tension; however, because Scotty and LaForge aren’t on the Enterprise-D, the engines quickly fix themselves so that when the engineers (who are now working together perfectly) use the Jenolan to prop the big doors open, the formerly drifting Enterprise can race to the doorway before the Jenolan’s shields collapse. I’m sure it was a cigar-chomping producer who decided the Enterprise should also have to fire on the Jenolan to blow it up on on its way through the hatch, and even though Trek technology has long established that a starship’s shields block transporter beams, I’m sure that the producer doesn’t care that Picard gave the order to beam Scott and LaForge off the ship while the shields were still up — because continuity is for nerds.

For an episode that’s designed to celebrate Starfleet engineers, the effects shots were appropriately impressive, but the technology in this story is a mess. We learn nothing about whoever built the sphere, and we have to swallow a number of coincidences and design failures that construct exactly the kind of TV-friendly crisis (with a timer counting down to certain destruction) that can only be solved by a combination of Scotty’s creativity and gumption, and LaForge’s up-to-date skills and resources.