Nerd School: What Will Terra Nova Steal Next?

by Joe on October 18, 2011

I love science fiction television, and I have watched far more than I probably should. But one thing I’ve noticed is how often plots tend to get recycled over and over again. This is especially true of the show Terra Nova, which in only 4 episodes has stolen numerous  ideas, plot devices, and visuals from dozens of sources.  So lets look into what else the writers may steal before the show gets canceled.

It’s all in your head….

I guess Mulder finally got to bone Scully! AMIRITE?!!! This guy gets it....

Science Fiction is littered with examples of the protagonist being trapped in a dream world. Usually this will be do to some outside force trapping them in the dream world. Terra Nova will more than likely borrow the plot line from the X-Files episode “Field Trip” where a giant fungus traps unwary hikers in a dream state while it slowly devours you. This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t steal the plot from Star Trek: TNG’“The Inner Light” discussed at length here. This could be a plot designed by the Sixers to get information from a one of the main characters by lulling them into a sense of false security. This is similar to the Star Trek: DS9 episodes “Hard Time” or “Inquisition”, where the dreams are designed to punish individuals. Finally it could be like the Stargate: SG1 episode “Gamekeeper” which shows the heroes being trapped in a virtual reality for the enjoyment of others.

AI gone wild…

I need your boots, clothes, and dinosaurs....

We know Terra Nova is a show about an advanced society getting back to nature, but we’ve seen all the fancy gadgets they bring back with them. It’s not uncommon in  science fiction for these shiny gadgets to go crazy and start killing people. Once again The X-Files episode “Kill Switch” provides the best example of something Terra Nova can rip off. In the episode, The AI of an advanced building starts killing off it’s creators competitors.  There is also a similar plot in last season’s Warehouse 13 episode “13.1” where an upgrade to the warehouses computer system causes it to go rouge.  This also seems like it could be a likely plot device used in the colony.

The alien buddy…

Maybe not original, but probably the best...

Something unusual for a show like Terra Nova is that there is no “buddy” for the main character. Just about every sci-fi show tends to have this. The “buddy” is usually an alien or an outsider to the society, and therefore can make comments regarding how strange everything the hero does is. Stargate: SG1 mastered this character with Teal’c and copied it in Stargate: Atlantis with Ronan Dax. Not to say Stargate didn’t copy this from Star Trek who originated the character with Spock  then copied it themselves for Data, Odo, and the Doctor. Terra Nova is strangely missing this character, but it wouldn’t be odd if in the next few episodes Jim gets an ex-Sixer partner, whose hard lifestyle has led him to be a silent killer with a heart of gold.

Drugs are Bad Mmmmkay…

Though not necessarily a sci-fi trope. this common television trope has been passed around the sci-fi community for just as long as any other trope. Terra Nova will probably steal from the Babylon 5 episode “A Day in the Strife” which showed Doctor Franklin  getting addicted to “Stims”. However that doesn’t mean it won’t steal something like Stargate: SG1‘s episode “Need” where Daniel Jackson gets addicted to the healing powers of the Goa’uld sarcophagus. However, the best example of addiction  shown in television comes from the Star Trek: TNG episode “The Game” where the crew becomes addicted to “Suck-Disk”. I hope they can bring this to Terra Nova somehow.

The Enemy Within…

Terra Nova has been filled with plots involving a conspiracy from within, but this deals more specifically with mind control. There are two types of mind control in sci-fi television. The first is “The Manchurian Candidate” style of Brainwashing. This was used to great effect in Stargate: SG1 with the Za’tarc characters. Brainwashing was also successfully used on Teal’c in the episode “Threshold” and his son in “Family”.  Not to mention Talia Winters and Garibaldi in Babylon 5. Star Trek: TNG used this device in “The Mind’s Eye” turning LaForge into a Romulan spy. Battlestar Galactca made the entire show about Cylon sleep agents.  More than likely we will see Jim, Josh, or one of the other protagonists on Terra Nova become a sleeper agent.

The second type of mind control is usually a parasite that causes the hero to infect others leading to a conspiracy to take over the base. This was done as an overall story arc in the first season of Star Trek: TNG. (Although it was promptly forgotten in later seasons.) Stargate: SG1 did this throughout it’s whole run with the Goa’uld. Doctor Who had a number of episodes that follow this device including  in “Planet of the Spiders“, “The Invisible Enemy“, “The Unquiet Dead“, the two-parter “Human Nature“/”The Family of Blood“. The X-Files also had a similar plot device with the “Black Oil”.

Regime Change

it's called pulling a Jellico...

Probably my least favorite trope is when the leader of our heroes is unceremoniously removed from command to be replaced by someone with more political connections. Usually he/she is unpopular and likes to clean house. He also doesn’t show the favoritism our heroes require to do their jobs. This one is very likely for Terra Nova as it seems this is going to be a running subplot/motivation for the Sixers. However, the writers can take a cue from any number of sci-fi episodes. The Captain of the Enterprise-D was replaced in “Chain of Command”. Stargate: SG1 had numerous occasions when General Hammond was replaced, such as “Chain Reaction”. One of the great sci-fi episodes to to this was in Battlestar Galactica’s second season when Admiral Cain wrested command from Adama. Primeval had Christine Johnson take control of the ARC and force the team into hiding.

Is that it? certainly not, with over 70 years of sci-fi television to steal from the well is pretty deep. As anyone who has watched sci-fi knows that even the worst shows come up with some original plots. Last Night’s episode is a great example of how a Newt style character (Aliens) can lead to a formulaic yet entertaining plot. Face it the whole axis of the plot revolves around a concept that Michael Crichton wrote about in Timeline and Jurassic Park.

Terra Nova needs to grow and develop on it’s own, but the constant comparisons to other sci-fi shows (not to mention Jurassic Park) are hampering it’s development. Is it the viewers fault, partially since we are the ones finding the connections. However I think a good majority of the problems are coming from the producers who are probably toning down good story ideas to become more mainstream and predictable.

Follow Joe on Twitter when he Live tweets Terra Nova every Monday @planetarbitrary

Read Joe’s other articles: The Walking Dead Primer, The Genre Problem, Star Trek Blu-rays 1 and 2 Doctor Who Season 6 Round Up, ConanPrimer, GOT COK: Casting Roundup 1 + 2, Trek in your Queue 1 and 2, Game of Thrones Primer II, Obama Trek Mutant Fatigue Sci-Fi A-Team Star Trek: A Different Generation, An Alternate History of the Doctor, Inn at the Crossroads interview, A Love Letter to Natalie Portman, Failed Star Trek Spinoffs, Thor Primer, Doctor Who Season 6 primer, A Game of Thrones Primer, More

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