In the early days of Star Trek TNG things were pretty rocky. Even Patrick Stewart thought the show would be canceled, believing that it was impossible to make a sequel to the original series.
Some of Star Trek TNG’s teething issues were down to a habit of replicating stories from the preceding Star Trek series, and it was only from the third season onwards that the Star Trek characters really found their own unique groove. One episode that exemplifies those early bumps more than nearly any other is ‘Home Soil’, which effectively serves as a direct remake of TOS’s classic adventure ‘The Devil in the Dark’… except it isn’t anywhere near as good.
Both focus on their respective Star Trek captains being confronted with the implications of unexpectedly discovering new life and having to overcome humanity’s worst instincts, but TNG manages to make the concept, somehow, boring.
In ‘The Devil in the Dark’ the USS Enterprise is called to Janus VI to help defend a mining colony, which is seemingly under attack by an unseen creature. That creature turns out to be Horta, which is protecting its thousands of rock-like eggs from destruction by the miners. Once Spock mind melds with the creature, he and Kirk realize that it is acting only out of self-defense, saving its species from extinction against the unwitting miners.
About 100 years later in the Star Trek timeline, the Enterprise-D and its crew encounter a similar scenario. A terraforming colony on Velara III is being attacked by an unseen antagonist, who Picard and co. discover is actually an intelligent, microscopic lifeform that simply wants to live in peace without its planet being reformed by ambitious scientists.
The stories are almost identical, and ‘Home Soil’ is one of several early instances where the Star Trek The Next Generation cast was tasked with doing a very similar spin on an older classic (‘The Naked Now’ being another obvious example). However, while ‘Home Soil’ is actually one of the better episodes of season 1, alongside the likes of ‘Coming of Age’ and ‘Conspiracy’, all it proves is that TNG had to find its own identity in order to succeed.
The episode wasn’t able to replicate any of ‘The Devil in the Dark’s thoughtfulness, and the microscopic lifeforms (bizarrely dubbed the ‘micro brain’ by Data and Doctor Crusher) don’t elicit the same level of heartwrenching sympathy that you feel for the Horta.
It’s dry and forgettable, barring some nice jolts of humor (“Ugly bags of mostly water”) and a gorgeous matte painting or two. ‘The Devil in the Dark’, on the other hand, is close to a perfect episode and could have formed the basis for a brilliant Star Trek movie.
The final twist in the story is that (clearly not ready to give up the plot) Star Trek tried to replicate ‘The Devil in the Dark’ again recently with an episode from Strange New Worlds. Season 2’s ‘Lost in Translation’ does it yet again, with the Enterprise discovering that a deuterium harvesting refinery is unintentionally harming unseen extra-dimensional aliens, who defend themselves with violence.
It’s better than ‘Home Soil’, yes, but at this point, we’d be happy to see this Star Trek story shelved, as it should have been after ‘The Devil in the Dark’.
For more Star Trek fun, check out our guide on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, and see what we know about the upcoming Strange New Worlds season 3 or Star Trek Legacy. Or, learn about the wise motto that Leonard Nimoy taught Jonathan Frakes.