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Learning episode 5:


Purpose and use of this learning episode: Cautionary tales - Star Trek TNG’s ‘Masterpiece Society’ and Enterprise's 'Similitude'

On the myclasses portal where this learning episode was found a discussion of two, simple views of genetic engineering, through the filter of the Star Trek franchise. The page used images from the two episodes from Star Trek:TNG and Star Trek:Enterprise.


Students attending a face-to-face class for this study watched the DVD versions of the episodes in class with computer and overhead projector, while students studying as flexible learning were offered a copy of the film on CD-ROM, copied under the special provisions of local Copyright laws.


Image for learning episode five of the brave new world theme area of the mySF ProjectIndex:

Forum topics for discussion
They're really dull, but do they deserve to die? - 'Masterpiece Society'
The ethical dilemmas of cloning, in an Enterprise context
Genetic engineering creation task
Resource list
Readings and links
Further reading and links




The points at the start of these notes are to be discussed in the Forum area. You are asked to jump to the Forum area, using the link here and making a comment in the appropriate Forum thread. Please remember, your participation in discussions is expected in this study, as part of your overall participation.


Forum topics for discussion:



What are the advantages and disadvantages of genetic engineering of humans into social roles as seen in 'The Masterpiece Society'


Did Captain Archer make the right decision in allowing the cloning of Trip?
  In your opinion, is there any situation where human cloning would be moral and ethical?



They're really dull, but do they deserve to die? Star Trek TNG's 'The Masterpiece Society'


The episode called 'The Masterpiece Society' from Star Trek: the Next Generation is not a very popular or well-known episode from the Star Trek franchise. The Captain on this Enterprise is Picard, the bald English one, and he has the regular component of crew on this spaceship including Commander Troi, who has some telepathic and empathetic abilities, Geordi, who is a blind engineer who keeps the warp core running and several others. The main characters from the Enterprise for this episode are Troi and Geordi and the other main characters are from the threatened planet. Captain Picard also plays some major parts in the episode, mostly to comment on the themes that we are interested in for our study with the brave new world theme area.


This episode 'The Masterpiece Society' (Kolbe, 1992) has a central theme of genetic engineering, so it is very interesting to our studies. After the first, three major texts, this episode from Star Trek:The Next Generation (ST:TNG) shows us a contemporary view of genetic engineering and its widespread use as a societal stabilising force. In this future world of ST:TNG the Enterprise crew is doing a bit of scientific work looking at a 'stellar core fragment' as it zooms through space. They notice that the core fragment will run very close to some planets and they are surprised to find that there is an inhabited planet right out here in the middle of nothing and it has humans on it.


The humans live in a large dome and they call the place Moab Four. This is the genetically engineered society that lives in a huge dome on Moab Four. They have isolated themselves from other humans and aliens because they have created a perfect society on this little, isolated planet. This is where we derive the title of the episode, the Masterpiece Society.


Initially there is a great deal of reluctance from the engineered colonists on Moab Four to even speak with the Enterprise crew, but Picard makes it plain that all of them will die if the planet is not evacuated as the solar core fragment approaches.


The Moab humans do not want any interference because they live very happily and their colony fled the strife of other human places to start a new settlement. Their solution was to design a society that was in complete harmony with its environment, where all citizens worked happily together. They achieved this through genetically engineering everyone according to their function. So, when the Enterprise crew beam down to Moab Four, they are met by a male who has been genetically engineered to be a spokesman. Their scientists are engineered to be excellent scientists, and so on. On Moab Four everyone is engineered and happy with their lives and work.

The STG:TNG episode 'Masterpiece Society' does very little except look at the debate about an engineered society and argue against it. The story of the stellar core that is about to fry the planet of the genetically engineered is a side issue. There seems to be no way that the planet can be saved until Geordi thinks of a good way, and it works! This is significant because Geordi has a disability that makes him blind. He functions on the space ship by using a special visor that lets him see things in various spectra. His point about this is obvious but he says it to the audience anyway and that is - he is genetically inferior but he finds the solution. Geordi is a living example of what happens in a genetically diverse society, even those with problems can contribute. He is making a well known argument that if we were to genetically engineer out all disabilities, then what about all the wonderful things those with disabilities have given society, from van Gough to Leonardo, and so on, all of whom had some disabilities.


At the end of the episode, when the Enterprise leaves for new adventures, Captain Picard laments what has been done by their arrival at the Masterpiece Society. Their untouched, isolated and perfectly balanced society has been destroyed because a large number of the society have decided to give away their genetic experiment and join with the rest of the Galactic Federation in their genetic diversity. The prime directive of the Enterprise was to leave societies untouched but in the case of the culture of Moab Four the arrival of the Enterprise has seen the destruction of the Masterpiece Society.


And how was the Masterpiece Society depicted? For a start it was not a racist state, the society of Moab Four were black and white and all shadeds in between. They were balanced and lived peacefully in harmony with their environment in their special domes. They had plenty to eat, they all worked and played and loved. Each and every individual was genetically determined into a position in society and they fulfilled this position in security, as an artist, as a scientist, and so on. This was a valid social model, but it required isolation to function. In fact the society of Moab Four feared contact with others as it might pollute their balance, their peace and their contentment with their lot, and as Captain Picard said, when they were contacted, they crumbled.


This episode of ST:TNG was written by Kahn and Belanoff and they were revisiting the themes examined by Aldous Huxley in his famous novel Brave New World, that is discussed in learning episode two and in Podcast Ia. In Huxley's novels people are classified into different classes or castes so that Epsilon Minus people were small, short-lived, very dumb and very strong. They were taught and trained to love being an Epsilon Minus. The same was true of the Alpha Plus people who were the genetically engineered rulers of the land: very clever, capable and flexible in thought and behaviour.


The differences between Huxley's Brave New World and Moab Four are significant but there are definite similarities. Both societies function well, within their own terms. In Huxley's society people are kept happy with the drug soma and no families are allowed, instead free sex is encouraged from childhood onwards. In the Masterpiece Society there is no expectation that the people will be happy and there is no reference to drug use, sexuality or any other questionable practise. Instead, they are all well-dressed, clean, content and very dull on Moab Four. This seems to be the final judgment on a genetically engineered society (a possible future for Earth as seen in the next learning episode), that individual and unique abilities are missed, society is flatter and less varied, and the contentment seen amongst the people of Moab Four makes them all static and very dull.


The audience is left to decide for itself if the Enterprise did the right thing in trying to help those on Moab Four. Picard has qualms about upsetting the balanced and harmonious state, but this writer suspects that ST:TNG argues against genetic engineering by promoting the variety of the individual, disabled or otherwise, over the good of a content and peaceful society.



The ethical dilemmas of cloning, in an Enterprise context


As you might know, there are dedicated fans for Star Trek and the series in one of its manifestations is usually on television late at night in any given month, in any year. Its abiding success is seen in a new Star Trek movie underway in 2007. The episode we are looking at here is 'Similitude', from the least successful franchise from Star Trek, Star Trek: Enterprise.  While many people know the other Star Trek series, few know Enterprise and only a very few would know of this episode 'Similitude'. However, like a few other episodes here and there, 'Similitude' is wonderful for a study of Science Fiction as the writer, Manny Coto, presents thoughtful and challenging points about the main issue of genetic engineering seen here, in this involving the cloning of an person, in this case an important member of the Enterprise crew, Trip.


For this story it is important to set the scene. The Enterprise is racing to save Earth from destruction (yes, it's true) and there is not a moment to lose. There was an experiment run by Trip, the main engineer, to make the spaceship faster but they hit a cloud of nucleonic particles and the engine explodes in a minor way and Trip is left seriously ill, about to die. Without Trip, the urgent mission is in danger of failing and that could mean the wiping out of Earth by the Xindi.


There is a way out of this problem because the Enterprise doctor, an alien called Phlox has a Lyssassian Desert Larvae. This larvae secretes viral suppressants that can be used for cuts and bruises. More importantly, when the whole larvae is implanted with DNA from another creature it creates an exact clone of that implanted species. However, the life cycle of the clone is very rapid and the clone can only live for two weeks, by which time it has become a full adult and dies of old age.


As can be seen from this suggestion, the theme of this story is not about the Earth danger, or the danger to the Enterprise from the nucleonic field but instead it is all about the argument about cloning in our current society and whether it would ever be ethical to clone a human, for any reason. This Star Trek Enterprise episode presents a complicated but very thoughtful and important argument about cloning and its worth. What's more, it does not really tell the audience what they should think but does warn about the consequences of taking the rights of the clone for granted. In fact, it seems to argue that genetic engineering should be taken seriously and that it is a complicated matter. It is very hard to find this point of view in many other SF texts, even in this whole theme area of the brave new world.


The doctor Phlox asks for permission to use the larvae to clone a piece of brain tissue for Trip and the captain agrees. He knows the use of the larvae is forbidden by inter-galactic law but this is not binding on Earth people. The Vulcan on this Enterprise has misgivings about the cloning and the story is complicated by the fact that the Vulcan T'Pol has an almost romantic relationship with Trip.


The clone is called Sim and there is a very stupid but essential plot device added to make the episode work. The cloned Sim has all of Trips memories. He arrives as a human baby and the baby picks up language incredibly quickly. It grows into a child that can walk and talk within two days and it remembers being Trip and has most of Trip's memories up to the accident. This is clearly very silly and is covered by Phlox saying that he has just discovered that human DNA holds memories, which is absurd in this instance. Nevertheless, it is vital for this episode that Sim be able to talk and interact with T'Pol and the others, rather than just drool and excrete.

The crew find that they like Sim and he remembers being an engineer and actually solves the problem of taking the Enterprise out of the nucleonic field. He remembers strong feelings for T'Pol and when he becomes a younger Trip and then the full, mature Trip in just three days, the couple are presented with a problem. The dying, real Trip is in the sick bay and this Sim is the same person (just cloned) and he has all the same memories. He is more affectionate and devoted to T'Pol and she seems to respond to some degree.


Sim wants to live. To allow Trip to recover he must give part of his brain and this will kill him. As a clone, he only has a few more days to live, anyway, although a further complication is introduced when he hears there is an experimental procedure that could extend his life.


The whole story of 'Similitude' is about moral challenges and it asks the audience if there could ever be any situation where human cloning could be moral and ethical. The story starts easily and clearly with the real danger to the Enterprise, the Earth and Trip after the accident, but then layer after layer of complications are delivered after the only solution is chosen by a desperate Captain who is acting to save others.


'Similitude' is a complex and interesting story. In the end there is a tendency to make Sim a sort of hero and this is surprising as he should really have been just a piece of useful meat. Instead, he makes a sacrifice to save Trip and the Enterprise and he chooses his own death as a martyr, not a victim.


The moral ambiguity seen in 'Similitude' is not present in many other Star Trek episodes but is very useful for our studies in the brave new world theme area to see the changes from the early texts like Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde before viewing Gattaca in learning episode six, coming up next.




Genetic engineering creation task


mySF Project


GE Creation Task, Due ... worth 20%


The Alien Creation task requires students to create a genetically engineered creature as appropriate to our study of Science Fiction in the mySF Project, the brave new world theme area.


Students can work in groups of up to four or on their own, in consultation and with approval from their teacher.

The genetic creation is an actual artefact. It cannot be invisible, or microscopic, or have just slipped into another body form for a moment. The genetic creation must be displayed and discussed so it must be seen and perhaps even able to move or be touched, or even consumed!


Genetic creations can be mechanical, papier mache, models or any other device that is not dangerous to other students, the school buildings or classroom furniture. Examples might be motorised cars with special features, plasticine models, edible genetic creations (as in the Stabelford story) made from cake, or any other highly imaginative combination. Mentor examples on video are available on request from the teacher.


The genetic creation must be unique. It must not resemble an genetic creation from our studies or from other sources. It must spring fully formed from the fertile minds of the collective or the individual genius.


The genetic creation will be displayed and discussed and it is the discussion and defence of the genetic creation that is assessed for the mySF unit. Full details on the marking rubric and definite guidelines for the presentation are attached in a Word document.


For students studying in this theme area online, they can create the model or artefact and then photograph or film it for submission. One good method might be to film it in construction and at the end and put the images into PowerPoint with a narrative voice over explaining the artefact, how it was made, and what made it as it is, over 200,000 years in the future!



The presentation of the genetic creation will take about ten minutes per group or less for an individual. All group members must speak and present with their oral and written presentations marked according to the attached document. All presentations will be followed by difficult questions from peers and perhaps the teacher. Some presentations may be video taped and digitised with the permission of students, for internal moderation use only.


The genetic creation is due at the end of learning episode eight, as was notified from learning episode one of the mySF Project.


If there are any problems or clarifications needed please approach your teacher by email through the myclasses mymail system, or in person.





Resource list:


Burton, L. (Director). (2003). 'Similitude'. Star Trek Enterprise. Season 3, Episode 10. Written by Manny Coto. Paramount Productions


Kolbe, W. (Director). (1992). 'The Masterpiece Society'. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Teleplay by Adam Belanoff and Michael Piller. Story by James Kahn and Adam Belanoff. Season 5, Episode 113. Paramount Pictures.



Readings and links:


Notes on 'The Masterpiece Society; from a Star Trek Fansite


Notes on 'Similitude' from another Star Trek site




Further reading and links



Short story 'It' by Theodore Sturgeon


Short story 'The Dead Man' by Fritz Leiber


Short story 'The Furniture of Life's Ambitions' by Brian Stableford


Short story 'Blood Music' by Greg Bear


Brave new world theme area podcast 1a - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF


Brave new world theme area podcast 1b - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF



Michael Sisley



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