I recently finished watching Star Trek: Enterprise for the first time, and I was intrigued by a conversation in the episode “Horizon” between Trip and T’Pol. T’Pol is invited to go to movie night to see Frankenstein, but T’Pol does not want to go, so she suggests that there be a dramatic reading of the novel Frankenstein instead. Trip dismisses her idea and scoffs “You want to start a book club, go right ahead.”
As an avid reader, I loved this idea and thought Trip was being ridiculous, particularly when he referred to Mary Shelley, a pioneer in science fiction, as a famous poet’s wife, ugh! There are so many wonderful literary references and parallels in Star Trek, why not explore them in a book club? Frankenstein would be a great first book for T’Pol’s book group, because there are so many parallels to it in Star Trek episodes.
For those not familiar with Frankenstein, the basic premise is that a scientist creates a creature, carelessly abandons it, leading the creature to seek revenge and start murdering people. The plot is more complex than that, of course, so for those wanting to know more I highly recommend a video summary by SparkNotes. Caution, it does contain spoilers!
Frankenstein touches on themes of creation, loneliness, abandonment, ambition, revenge, family, and science, all of which are explored in several Star Trek episodes. Below are a few examples:
“It’s just a science project!” – Wesley Crusher
“You know, a doctor friend once said the same thing to me. Frankenstein was his name.” – Guinan
In TNG’s “Evolution,” Wesley Crusher’s nanite experiment goes terribly wrong when two nanites escape and start wreaking havoc on the Enterprise computer. When Wesley confesses to Guinan what happened she compares him to Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the main character of Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein was a brilliant scientist who became obsessed with the idea of creating life through artificial means. He creates a monster with pieces of human corpses and dead animals, a decision he later comes to regret when the monster begins attacking and murdering his family. His experiment, which seemed harmless, put his family and all of humanity in danger. Wesley Crusher’s experience is very similar. He takes nanites, tiny robots, from the sickbay genetics supplies and does an experiment to see if they can work in tandem. He believed his experiment was harmless, like Dr. Frankenstein believed of his experiment, but later regrets it when it puts people in danger. The nanites take over the computer and even attack Dr. Paul Stubbs when he fires on them in the computer core. “Evolution” has a happy ending, unlike Frankenstein, but they are both important lessons on scientific ethics and the dangers when scientists are careless (like Wesley falling asleep and letting nanites escape) or ignore their scientific responsibilities.
TNG “Thine Own Self”
He’s not a person, he’s some kind of creature! – Skoran
Data’s memory is damaged when he has an accident on an away mission, and he wanders into a Barkonian village. The Barkonians, a primitive race, cautiously welcome him. Data had been carrying radioactive metal with him, and when he sells it to a blacksmith, not realizing the danger, the townspeople develop fevers and third degree burns on their bodies due to jewelry made from the metal. The townspeople began to fear Data, just as Frankenstein’s monster was feared, believing that Data was making then sick. The townspeople fear Data even more after he is attacked and skin on his face is ripped off and circuits are exposed. Data finds a cure for their sickness and wants to help heal them, but he is so hated that the townspeople try to kill him. Frankenstein’s monster has a very similar story. The monster desperately wants to be part of humanity, but people fear and hate him for being different, and in the end, he is rejected and driven away. This episode and Frankenstein both touch on themes of abandonment and loneliness, and both have tragic consequences.
TNG “Skin of Evil”
“They perfected a means of bringing to the surface all that was evil and negative within, erupting spreading, connecting. In time, it formed a second skin, dank and vile.” -Armus
In TNG’s “Skin of Evil” The Enterprise crew meets Armus, an evil being who is very similar to Frankenstein’s monster. A beautiful race of Titans created Armus when they shed their evil and negativity. The evil they shed became Armus, and once they shed him, he was abandoned on Vagra II. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Armus was abandoned for being too ugly and too repulsive, and like Frankenstein’s monster he becomes filled with murderous rage. Deanna Troi’s shuttle crashes on his planet and an away team beams down to rescue her and the pilot. Armus appears, refuses to let the away team go to the shuttle, and murders Tasha Yar. He wanted Tasha to suffer, just as Frankenstein’s monster wanted humanity to suffer, and when that does not satisfy him, he begins tormenting the rest of the away team, hoping to break their spirits. Both Armus and the monster were filled with hurt and loneliness, which drove them to seek revenge and suffering of the people who hurt them. Armus and the monster are both examples of the pain that can be caused when a creator or a community rejects on of their own.
DS9 “Life Support”
“If I remove the rest of his brain…That ‘spark of life’ will be gone. He’ll be dead, and I’ll be the one who killed him.” – Dr. Bashir
In DS9’s “Life Support” Vedek Bareil is injured in a shuttle accident. He later dies in sickbay, but Dr. Bashir revives him when he realizes neurons are still firing in his cerebral cortex. Bareil is still critically injured, and in order to keep him alive Dr. Bashir gives him experimental drugs to increase the blood flow to his organs. His internal organs are damaged by the experimental drug, and Bashir replaces them with artificial implants. Dr. Bashir replacing Bareil’s organs with non-human parts is very similar to Dr. Frankenstein using pieces of human corpses and dead animals to create his monster. Bashir replaces damaged parts of Bareil’s brain with positronic implants, but he refuses to replace the other parts of the brain when they fail too, because he knows Bareil’s spark of life will be gone. It is interesting to compare this episode to Frankenstein. Both touch on the theme of creation, but they take different turns. Bashir refuses to turn Bareil into a machine, while Dr. Frankenstein chooses to complete his monster. Neither story ends with a happy ending, showing the pain that can come with creating or destroying new life.
If T’Pol had a book club, I have no doubt she would have excellent discussion questions, so here are few for everyone to ponder:
1) Which of these episodes reminds you the most of Frankenstein?
2) Are there other episodes that have similar themes to Frankenstein?
3) Was it fair for Guinan to compare Wesley Crusher to Dr. Frankenstein?
4) What would have happened if Armus or the monster hadn’t been rejected?
5) Why did some of the townspeople in “Thine Own Self” accept Data while others did not?
6) Do you agree with Dr. Bashir’s decision at the end of “Life Support”? Should he have replaced the rest of Bareil’s brain, or allowed him to die?
7) What are some of your favorite literacy references in Star Trek?
8) What books would you pick for T’Pol’s book club?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or on social media using the hashtag #TPolsBookClub.
Read long and prosper, all!
A few additional episodes with similar themes to Frankenstein are Voyager’s “Prototype”; the Enterprise trilogy of “Borderlands”, “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments”; and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.