Final Frontier Friday: 'Shuttlepod One'

Welcome back to ‘Final Frontier Friday’! This week we’re extending our stay in the twenty-second century and looking at another episode of ‘Enterprise’. This time around, it’s the first season’s ‘Shuttlepod One’.

Falling smack in the middle of the show’s first season, ‘Shuttlepod One’ is a bottle show – that is, one that takes place entirely on standing sets, usually as a cost-saving measure. In fact, it may just be the ultimate bottle show. In addition to restricting itself to a handful of established sets (the bridge, sickbay, the shuttlepod interior), the episode is unique among ‘Star Trek’ productions in that it features no background cast at all. That’s right, the only actors appearing in this episode are the seven series regulars, of whom only six appear on screen (the seventh, Anthony Montgomery, appears only as a voice on an intercom). But don’t assume that just because the episode was cheap it contributed nothing of value. It was if anything, a character-focused episode, something ‘Enterprise’ very much benefitted from at the time.

As someone who followed the pre-release hype for ‘Enterprise’, one of the things that sticks out in my head even after all these years is just how under-developed (particularly in the descriptions offered publicly) some of the characters were at the start. The most extreme example of this is probably Phlox, whose entry in the series bible bears little resemblance to the character we know and whose species had not even been named by the writers at the outset (in an August 2001 TV Guide feature, Billingsley remarked that he felt he had a handle on his character despite this before quipping that “For all I know I’m going to get a script one day that says Phlox is a wife beater with sixteen children.”). Similarly, Reed was often described only in the vaguest of terms prior to the show’s debut. That same TV Guide piece, for example, had little to say of the character other than that he was British and liked to blow things up. By the middle of the first season, though, the writers had started working to fill in some of those blanks. In the case of ‘Shuttlepod One’, we’re looking at one of the first real efforts the show made to develop Reed’s character, following ‘Silent Enemy’, which aired a month earlier. This time, it does so through the lens of Reed’s relationship with Trip Tucker, who was far more fleshed out by this time.

On to the recap…

Reed and Tucker are in a shuttlepod, navigating an asteroid field where they expect to rendezvous with the Enterprise. There’s no sign of the ship, though Tucker reminds Reed that they’re back a few days early, so the Enterprise may be otherwise occupied. With nothing else to do until their colleagues return, Tucker busies himself with repairs to the sensors and communication systems. The two banter, but Reed’s mood chills as he spots debris on the surface of a rather large asteroid. With sensors down, they fly in for a closer look and find that it’s from the Enterprise.

Of course, the Enterprise is somewhat more intact than our erstwhile heroes have come to believe. On board the ship, Archer gets an update from Sato regarding a group of Tesnians they’ve brought aboard. Turns out Enterprise was docking with the Tesnian ship when a mysterious malfunction caused the latter vessel to lose control, destroying itself and damaging Enterprise in the process. The Starfleet crew is now escorting the survivors home and expects to be back at the asteroid field by the time Reed and Tucker are due to return. While surveying the damage, T’Pol suggests that the Tesnian’s malfunction was caused by a microsingularity impact.

Back on the shuttlepod, Reed and Tucker assume the worst. So what next? Tucker suggests they head for Echo 3, a subspace amplifier that they can use to send a distress call and let Starfleet know what happened. Of course, the journey to Echo 3 will take longer than the shuttle’s air supply will last, to say nothing of how long it would take Starfleet to respond. Reed insists that it’s pointless, the math just doesn’t add up. But Tucker outranks him and so they bid farewell to their comrades and set a course for the amplifier.

Reed records a maudlin log entry detailing how they ended up in this mess, While Tucker continues work on the repairs and occasionally interjects snarkily. Reed abandons his log and the two bicker over his pessimism before deciding to heat up some rations. Among the ration packs they also find a bottle of bourbon that Archer has been planning to give to… someone, Tucker can’t remember who. Reasoning that it’s theirs now, so they set it aside for the moment. Later, Tucker is trying to get some sleep. Reed isn’t making it easy though, having spent the last several hours recording letters for friends and family. More bickering ensues until Tucker deactivates the recorder and tells Reed to go to sleep. We next see Reed awaken in sickbay, with Archer, Phlox, and T’Pol at his bedside. When the captain and doctor leave, she praises his bravery in dialog that takes on an ever more “trashy romance novel” flavor as the scene progresses. Just as the two are about to kiss, they’re interrupted by a mechanical chirp and Tucker’s voice.  Reed, of course, had been dreaming, but while he’s been doing so, Tucker has managed to partially repair the communication array – they can receive messages, but not send them. Suddenly the shuttle is rocked by an impact. Whatever hit them punched a hole clean through the ship. The two officers manage to plug the holes with their fingers before using the leftover mashed potatoes from Tucker’s rations to apply a makeshift seal until Tucker can get to the pressure sealant. That’s the good news. The bad news is that whatever hit them punctured an oxygen tank, leaving them with barely two days of air.