Since when Strange new worlds season two was announced, the big draw has been the animated sitcom crossover episode The lower deck. It would see Tawny Newsome (Mariner) and Jack Quaid (Boimler) take their hitherto animated characters into live action. After an early screening at Comic-Con, the episode is now available to watch on Paramount Plus.
The following article contains spoilers for Those Old Scientists.
Has a SNL the sketch where William Shatner, as himself, incites a room full of Star Trek fans to “” It’s clearly meant as a joke, given Shatner’s barely-suppressed smile and a twist where Phil Hartman’s manager forces him to immediately drop his scorn. Depending on who you ask, the sketch was taken either as intended, or with fans feeling mischaracterized and misunderstood. But it is this dichotomy, between legend and truth, that is found to be laughable in “Those Old Scientists,” the crossover episode between Strange new worlds AND The lower deck. Well, that and a loving elbow in the ribs suggesting we could all do with being a little less obsessive.
The beta shifter (animated) is doing a routine survey of a dormant time travel portal while Boimler and Tendi argue over who discovered it. Boimler boasts that he was found by Starfleet, but Tendi says it was Orion scientists, once again trying to dispel the myths that all Orions are pirates. While messing around Boimler is standing in the portal when Rutherford accidentally activates it, sending him back in time. When he reaches the other side, he is now in the world of live action Strange new worlds, and is greeted by Spock, Una, and La’an. And with that, we’re into an animated version of the title sequence, complete with a nacelle-sucking alien.
In Enterprise, Boimler can’t help but express his shock, surprise, and general fanboyism in front of his heroes. He gets lectured by La’an about not messing up the timeline and, thanks to her adventure in “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” didn’t bond. But since this is the Boimler we know and love, he can’t help but drop spoilers left, right and center. Not to mention his insistence on pointing out the difference between history as he knows it, and the storylines as they are currently unfolding. Strange new worlds. For example, he is very disturbed by the fact that Spock – happily in a relationship with Chapel – is laughing, smiling and generally acting like he’s in love. After all, the Spock he knows— his Spock – isn’t that outwardly emotional, because legend tells us so. It’s almost as if he’s a supporter of the kind of obsessive fan who tries to control the boundaries of what Star Trek is, instead of enjoying the ride.
At the same time, the Enterprise must deal with an Orion ship of unspecified purpose, which then steals the time portal. Boimler asks Pike to be diplomatic, but ends up forcing him to trade a much-needed supply of triticale to get him. Pike sees this – and the forced relocation of a planet full of starving colonists – as preferable to having this guy on his ship anymore. When the portal is activated and returned to position, the crew of the Enterprise ready to dispose of this purple-haired annoyance, the Mariner jumps in, boldly declaring that she is coming to the rescue. Besides, the device only had enough power for one trip and there is no fuel source available anywhere else on the quad. Leaving Pike reeling with the unwelcome possibility that they’re stuck with the Cerritos couple forever.
Boimler and Mariner end up spending some time with their heroes, until they eventually realize that the Enterprise itself has a fuel supply. Thanks to the naval tradition of using a component from the previous ship in the construction of the next ship, they can refine part of the NX-01 into fuel that can be used to send the pair home. (But not forward Strange new worlds The crew may discover that they, too, are secretly just as nervous as a group of fans of their predecessors from Enterprise as Boimler is for this era.) They meet up with the Orions again, and Pike vows to claim that the Orions discovered the portal, giving their burgeoning science ship a small share of the credit. And when Boimler and the Mariner return to the future, the crew of the Enterprise drink an Orion cocktail that, in close proximity, turns them all into animated characters.
Those Old Scientists is as pure a dose of fan service as Star Trek has ever produced, and I mean that as both a compliment and a criticism. Many elements, including the animated title sequence, went straight to the lizard part of my brain and left me grinning like a loon. The script, credit to him The lower deckExecutive story editor Kathryn Lyn and Bill Wolkloff, it’s packed with big gags. This helps, too Strange new worlds has enough comic talent in its ranks to carry an episode like this, and Carol Kane steals the show with the best gag in the episode.
But, and there’s a but, the episode is a bit like cotton candy in that once the initial hit of sugar rolls off the tongue, there’s nothing else here. We get many scenes of Boimler and then the Mariner telling the crew of the Enterprise how great they are, or are seen as such by their descendants. Most of these scenes take place sitting around tables, bars or lounges – telling and not telling. I know it is Strange new worlds, and so the narrative will always belong to this crew and not its guest stars. But the lower classes have become passive observers in a narrative that could, or should, have really enabled them to demonstrate the dynamism they have in their performance. Just as Boimler and Mariner try to sort things out on their own, they are promptly shut down by La’an and Uhura and told to sit on the bench. Worst served by this is Tawny Newsome, who is absent for much of the episode and has little to do when the Mariner finally arrives in the past.
This cotton candy metaphor is probably the best way to sum up Those Old Scientists, a goofy snack, or episodes, both ways. The fact that it exists at all is a joy, even if it’s not as awesome as it could be, and I’d love nothing more than to see more real-world attacks from The lower deck the crew. At least, with Strange new worlds AND in production at the same time, it’s a great time to be a Star Trek fan.