Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Child"


Air date: 11/21/1988
Written by Jaron Summers & Jon Povill and Maurice Hurley
Directed by Robert Bowman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

As the Enterprise embarks on yet another humanitarian mission to stop yet another deadly plague, a strange and unexpected thing happens in mid-journey: Counselor Troi announces she's pregnant. "Who's the father?" Riker asks accusingly. "There is none," Troi responds.

The height of this episode's wit comes with a funny-in-its-savageness remark by Worf, whose utterly pragmatic Klingon-security-officer response to this mysterious, alien-influenced immaculate conception is simply that it must be terminated at once in order to wall off all possible risk. (Just think of how this could've been the ultimate launching-off point for an abortion-debate episode. Never mind.) The story's sci-fi gimmick is that the pregnancy proceeds at a vastly accelerated rate, such that Troi is giving birth to a son named Ian by the second act. The baby's accelerated growth proceeds from there, and Ian is an eight-year-old boy within 24 hours.

The problem with this story is that it has far too little curiosity in Ian or Troi (for most of the episode, their mother/son scenes meander with precious little original insight or interest), and far too much curiosity in the technobabble subplot, involving a deadly substance sealed in a container for transport to another facility. Some mysterious radiation is causing the seal to crack; if the substance gets out, everyone on the ship will die. The tedious tech details of the radiation, the leak, and the resulting threat drag on needlessly long, causing all interest to drain from the story.

And what about Ian? The story doesn't deal with him nearly enough, until the closing scenes where we learn he's the source of the mysterious radiation, and that he was born to Troi to learn about the human life cycle. Ian's self-sacrifice (or a reversion to his true energy state, if that's the same thing) makes for a good emotional scene that Marina Sirtis delivers on, but the sci-fi themes are familiar.

The episode's serviceable supporting material surrounds Wesley's question of whether to join his recently reassigned mother at Starfleet Medical, the introduction of the abrasive new McCoy-wannabe Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur), and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) as the bartender of Ten-Forward, the Enterprise's new (or at least previously unseen) refreshment lounge.

Previous episode: The Neutral Zone
Next episode: Where Silence Has Lease

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42 comments on this review

Mon, Oct 15, 2007, 11:11pm (UTC -5)
I wish I could make a comment on Dr. Pulaski, but I can't remember even the slightest detail about her.
Grumpy Otter
Tue, Oct 23, 2007, 2:29pm (UTC -5)
I must make one very positive comment about Season Two, and that is that we were free of Dr. Crusher. Pulaski was so much more of a tough, actual real-seeming doctor than Crusher's simpering "sweetness." The pseudo sexual tension between Crusher and Picard was enough to make me ill.

From the moment Pulaski walked on the scene and took charge in "The Child," I was rooting for her to be a permanent replacement. But alas.

How I long for the days when the doctor was offspring-free!

Fri, Apr 22, 2011, 9:03am (UTC -5)
Hello from Italy.
This is the first time I comment on this great site and I'd like to begin with a particular aspect of TNG season 2 on which I ask for your opinions.

The topic is DR. PULASKI, magnificently played by Diana Muldaur.

I just finished to watch again TNG season 2 and I think that Pulaski has been a fresh breeze in the slow beginning of TNG (first and second seasons).
I have read so many bad reviews about her but why?

If you compared her character with another strong character like Data, for ex., I could even understand. But if we compare her with Dr. Crusher, there is no match.
Dr. Crusher is one of the most boring and absolutely not pushed characters of all Star Trek season; you see or you don't see her, is not important.
Dr. Pulaski instead has a strong personality; someone compared her to Dr. McCoy but I'd rather say that she is just strong, determined, very human, even nice in some comic moments with Data and Picard (not speaking about the klingon ceremony that she shares with Worf).
Many fans think that she is unpolite just because, at the beginning, she innocently underestimate the real complexity of Data (but later in the season, she seems to appreciate him very much).
Basically, in just 1 season, Dr. Pulaski has a greater evolution than Dr. Crusher in 6 seasons!

So, at last, I'd like to know what you have against this poor and underestimated character.
It could have been great to have her for the whole series.
Fri, Apr 22, 2011, 10:44pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Franco's assessment of Dr. Pulaski.

Having been raised on classic Star Trek (we don't need no steenkin' "OS"!), I was often annoyed by the character of Dr. Crusher. Dr. Pulaski was a refreshing change, in spite of some rough scripts in early season 2, and in spite of (or maybe because of) the obvious homage to Dr. McCoy.

I think Dr. Pulaski got off on the wrong foot with a lot of TNG fans because of her initial antagonism with the much-beloved Mr. Data. Personally, I think they lost a chance to tell some very interesting stories concerning the natures of artificial and human intelligence by dropping that antagonism, or skepticism, so soon.

The character of Dr. Pulaski was developed nicely over the course of season 2. I would have liked the character to been kept and further developed in later seasons. In view of the relationship that was developing between her and Worf the character would have been an asset in the Klingon Cycle stories that developed through the series. I could also see the character fitting in the DS9 milieu.
Sat, Apr 23, 2011, 1:51am (UTC -5)

I agree perfectly with what you write.

I add something more. It's right when you say that most of TNG fans hated her because of her skepticism for Data, at the beginning of the season.
But, come on, this is humanity; she does not underestimate him or humiliate him, she just has some doubts about the real complexity of Data. Later in the season, she seems to like him, even to understand him better than others.

Not speaking about the moment she shares with Worf which witnesses a development of the character.

Then I personally like that human and witty behaviour of her, above all with Picard; they have some communication problems at the beginning but you can feel that there is a lot of respect between Picard and Pulaski.

She is nice, sharp, brave and with strong personality; as Papa wrote, if she were in DS9 maybe fans would have loved her very much. Because DS9 focuses on characters.

I just say, let's not forget Pulaski from the universe of Star Trek characters.
Sun, Apr 24, 2011, 1:40am (UTC -5)
Just to add one more note of Pulaski appreciation, it was nice to see Diana Muldaur again after she guest starred in two TOS episodes. She was hot in the red mini-uniform in "Return to Tomorrow".
Sun, Apr 24, 2011, 2:43am (UTC -5)
Diana Muldaur is a good actress. Yep, she was twice in TOS (one is the episode you were referring to, "Return to tomorrow", and the other one is "Is there in truth no beauty?").

Tue, May 10, 2011, 1:56pm (UTC -5)
In watching season two for the first time in decades, I was struck once again by the contradictions inherent in the PC future of the Trek universe: In season one everyone falls all over themselves to declare the viability of a point of light found in "Home Soil" but in "The Child" abortion of Troi's child is discussed with nary a sign of concern. So all sentient life no matter what form it may take or how insignificant it is is worth moving heaven and earth to protect but an unborn human child isn't?
Sun, Jun 5, 2011, 11:32am (UTC -5)
So nice to see some love for Pulaski, Franco and papa--I sometimes thought I was the only one.

I commented on this (way above) a few years ago--Pulaski would wipe the floor with Crusher! She was so much more complex and not nearly so weak and whiny.
Sun, Jun 12, 2011, 10:26am (UTC -5)
Yes, Pulaski love at last!

I never really understood all that hate towards her. I guess it's because of the way she treated Data at the start of the season. But come on, she was a rare gem in TNG as a character who was actually fully human. She had prejudices, quirks, was pretty impatient and in your face -- a hugely differnt character when compared to all the others who were oh just so 24th century perfect.

And the tea ceremony with Worf was just fantastic. It shows her deep appreciation of other cultures on a fundamental level, not only as some politically correct mantra with no real substance.

Me likes Pulaski very much :)
Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 9:34am (UTC -5)
Continuing a tangent from "Schisms" (of all places)... another point in Pulaski's favor, often unremarked, is her uniform. Her sensible smock was the most dignified costume in all of Season 2. Imagine how different the series would've felt if the crew had all worn jackets like hers. Heck, the high collars were largely responsible for the turnaround in Season 3!
Wed, Aug 29, 2012, 6:40pm (UTC -5)
I was a fan of Dr. Crusher and Dr. Pulaski, but I was sorry to see Pulaski last just one season.

As for "The Child," it was bad. I was really fearing for this show at this time, but great episodes weren't far away!
Tue, Sep 18, 2012, 6:45am (UTC -5)
Personally, I always thought the dislike for Polaski wasn't so much her character as the fact that season 2 was horrible episode after horrible episode after horrible episode. That and she seemed somewhat like a gorgon.

Oddly enough she was in the TOS episode "Return to Tomorrow" and was quite attractive in that. Of course that was the 60s. And attractiveness isn't a prerequisite for a good character.
Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 9:02pm (UTC -5)
First episode of the season and it was just there. It didn't scare me as much as William, but it didn't excite me either. I'd say I thought S2 would play out just like the first (fortunately, I was wrong). At least, we got Marina Sirtis doing what she knows best: To Cry.

There were also a couple of changes, all for the better: Riker's beard (just the way I remembered him to be), the character of Guinan and Ten-Forward (that place gave TNG a much needed feeling of a lively place) and, of course, Dr. Pulaski.

I must admit my first impression of her was negative: In "The Child" she struck me as a character that knows too much, exactly what was needed for the plot to move forward. And that gave me Wesley Crusher's vibes all over again.

But as the episodes go on, I learned to like her. Franco, Papa, Grumpy and Paul: I totally agree with you guys, high five!

One thing about her that would have never gone anywhere is the forced Picard-Dr love interest. I can buy Beverly Crusher as a potential lover, but Pulaski?? Both Picard and her are too strong-willed to be attracted to each other.

I didn't notice how much I've become used to her until S3 and her magic departure. Crusher is a weaker character and a weaker actress. With all due respect to Gates McFadden, sometimes she says "Captain" like she was acting in a porno movie.
Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 12:13pm (UTC -5)
Pulaski sez...

"if I were to examine her now, I wouldn't be able to tell that she had a baby or had ever had a baby" did she make that determination except by examining her...what was with the "if"?
William B
Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 7:59am (UTC -5)
My big problem with this episode was that I couldn't understand why Troi was so blase about having the kid and about his rapid growth; we don't really get any scenes from Troi's POV about how she *feels* about him. I talked about it with my girlfriend (who is watching the show for the first time) and it took a long time to figure out why we reacted to the episode differently; she mostly liked it (or, rather, didn't understand why I was so critical of it, given that it's not exactly below the standard of quality set by season one, which is fair). Mostly though she felt that it was possible that the child would stop growing at a certain point and then stay a pre-teen and stay on the ship; I thought it was most likely that even if the kid hadn't disappeared into light at the episode's end, he would just keep aging at an accelerated rate and die within a week or two. I suppose there isn't actually enough information either way. Troi's relative lack of reaction to the ordeal she's put through while it's happening still doesn't work for me, but it makes more sense if on some level she thought that there would be time to sort her feelings out.

The other big problem is that I was not sure what the point of all of this is -- what aspect of the human condition is being illuminated here? Eventually I hit on the idea that maybe this is about the sorrows of parenting as a whole -- it is the experience of all parents, I guess, that they have children, raise them, and "before you know it" (ha) they grow up and leave and find their own way in the universe. It just happens with Troi and her "son" at a really accelerated rate. This thematic point is strengthened by having Wesley decide to leave the nest in this episode, too, staying on the Enterprise rather than joining his mother; so we effectively get the same story (son "grows up" and leaves mother behind) from the perspective of both a mother (Troi, through metaphor/SF) and the son (Wesley, more literally). That made me feel more charitable toward the episode, but it still doesn't emotionally land for me because I can never really get into Troi's headspace.

I read that the inspiration for the "carrying the plague" material was the French film The Wages of Fear, in which there is a truck carrying dynamite which is (of course) highly explosive. That movie is thrilling, suspenseful, and highly recommended; this episode's adaptation is, er, not. Part of it is that it's much easier to get a sense of danger within a film in which it is highly possible the trucks will actually blow up, and in which we have a really good understanding of how difficult it is to navigate difficult terrain and that type of thing.

Anyway, yeah, 2 stars.
William B
Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 8:03am (UTC -5)
Incidentally, I agree about earlier comments Pulaski -- I think she's a good character, very well acted, and highly underrated by the fandom. There is a clearer arc for her over the course of the season (her thawing out with respect to Data) than many characters get over the series as a whole. This episode isn't actually a great vehicle for her, though, because she exhibits as little curiosity about Ian as the episode as a whole does.
Thu, May 23, 2013, 4:04pm (UTC -5)
Ditto Pulanski, I think TNG needed a McCoy... As to the weaknesses of the child, well, I think it was tough to be too interested in him when he only lasted a few days and in the midst of a potentially life-threatening medical transfer!
Wed, Jul 10, 2013, 12:28pm (UTC -5)
TNG on BluRay FTW! TNG on DVD FTL!
Reverend Spork
Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 12:06am (UTC -5)
Another incredibly annoying Troi episode. Sirtis had a distressing tendency to overact in the first two seasons, and this episode was but one example. As for Pulaski, Muldaur is certainly a better actress than McFadden, but Dr. Crusher was a more interesting character. I think Pulaski suffered from the writers' lack of ability to give her a deeper character other than the Grouchy Skeptic and her one-dimensional arguments with Data.
Tue, Dec 24, 2013, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
I'm trying very, very hard to like TNG as much as ENT and VOY... But I couldn't stand the first episodes of the first season and I'm trying this one because I've been told the second season is much better.

Well not going by this episode, which was one of (if not THE) lamest episodes of Star Trek I've seen. Slow, boring, completely pointless.
Doug B
Sun, Dec 29, 2013, 12:30pm (UTC -5)
This is also a writer's strike casualty -- just as Shades of Grey was in a different way at the end of the season. The strike was in the summer of 1988. This was originally a script intended for the aborted series Star Trek: Phase II, which sorta morphed into the first Trek film. They did a quick rewrite on the script so they could get started right after the strike ended. Troi's part was originally Ilia's.
Sun, Apr 13, 2014, 6:33am (UTC -5)
Although the ratings are low for a reason I do think this was a great episode, great because of its campiness. How did they make up this stupid story? Anyway it was really amusing to see. I had the idea that the second general secretly was jealous that someone else gotten Crusher pregnant. It is good that if they cannot make a good espide at least make it campy and worth to laugh about.
Sun, Jun 8, 2014, 11:41am (UTC -5)
The developments of the Ian and container plotlines, including their connection, felt too predictable and thus the episode slow. Dr. Pulaski had a few moments in the season but in the early episodes she felt way too much like a McCoy knockoff.
Sat, Sep 13, 2014, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
I agree with the 2 star rating, an ok episode but very little of interest going on. I didn't like how the senior staff dealt with Troi in the briefing. They all coldly discuss her pregnancy like she's not even there, while Riker just acts like some jealous prick. "I don't mean to be indelicate, but who is the father?!" Finally she has to remind them all that she's still a person.
Thu, Nov 20, 2014, 9:37am (UTC -5)
Pulaski has all the arrogance and bombast of McCoy with none of the charm. Throughout the season, she persists in condescending, not only to Data, but to everyone around her. She's just an annoying character, and not at all compelling.

The problem is not Diana Muldaur -- she's an excellent actor. It's just this character -- she's never given any depth or humanity. It's like she's only there to lecture and pontificate.
Tue, Jan 13, 2015, 3:05pm (UTC -5)
Reading all this discussion about Pulaski, I suppose this is as good a place as any to talk about the Cast Reunion feature that was included on the TNG Season 2 Blu-Ray set. Not only was Diana Muldaur absent but Denise Crosby as well, which in both cases I thought was a shame. It seems they only invited those who were regulars for more than one season (Wil Wheaton WAS there even though he left early season 4).
Tue, Apr 21, 2015, 6:09am (UTC -5)
Just watched this creeptastic episode (yay, Netflix!), and I agree with a lot of the comments. The two main story lines are disjointed and without much tension. I spent most of the first half cringing whenever Troi was on screen, but I did feel a bit of vindication on her part in regards to Riker. His charming outburst questioning the identity of the "child's" father had me triumphantly (mentally) crowing, "In your face, Will Riker!" His wishy-washiness when it came to Troi always irritated me.

As for the virus plot... Zzzz. Dr. Porn-Stache's majestic facial hair was more riveting.

The one saving grace of the episode, I felt, came from an unlikely source: Wesley Crusher. He was helped along by Golberg's Guinan, of course. The conversation after she joined him at the viewport was one of the most genuinely human moments Wes ever had. The Ten Forward set provided an overall depth to the atmosphere of the Enterprise that we didn't realize we were missing until it appeared. It was a nascent glimpse of the Enterprise as being more than just a tin can full of random people. It was also a community.

Then Wes had to ruin the whole moment by, well, becoming Wes again.

Overall, this creepy/boring episode get's about a star from me, and that only because of Whoopie Golberg's injection of some much-needed class into it.
Sat, Jul 25, 2015, 5:45pm (UTC -5)
On its own, this episode is mediocre at best, but I actually like it as as the Season 2 starter for several reasons. First off, Season 1 for the most part was terrible. Dull storylines, bad writing, bad directing, and... well, it was just bad! I like that this story focuses on Riker and Troi, as those two bothered me more in Season 1 than any of the other characters. Riker was too militaristic and stiff, while Troi was just plain annoying. Both are shown in a much different light to start Season 2, softer in their approach and much more relatable... and the beard was a nice touch! Worf isn't so wide-eyed and naive anymore, and Geordi is now the Chief Engineer, again, another nice touch... On its own, not so good, but as the kickoff to the season by focusing on character development, not too shabby!
Mon, Aug 10, 2015, 8:22pm (UTC -5)
I loved Pulaski and it seems she's a character you either love or hate, it's such a shame that she just disappeared at the end of season 2, she really deserved better than that.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Aug 22, 2015, 11:29am (UTC -5)
I suppose this episode has a lot to introduce - notably Pulaski and Guinan and Ten-Forward, but also good to see Chief O'Brien and Riker's beard! - at the start of season 2.

It's then no real surprise that the story is a lightweight one that perhaps could have been developed further - although I thought that the implication that Ian would grow old and die was clearly present and it was nice that it was underplayed and not rammed in our face. I suppose the plot mechanism required a swift death, but having a kid (albeit an alien energy being) die first up in a series is a ballsy move. 2.5 stars.
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 1:45pm (UTC -5)
I remember mishearing when Pulaski was introduced. I thought she was introduced as 'Captain Doctor Pulaski' and I thought: oh excellent- they've introduced a very senior medic as chief medical officer on the flagship and, although she won't be able to interfere with the command structure, she will have the opportunity to influence things significantly because they will be obliged to respect her opinion on all matters. Then I realised I'd misheard and she wasn't a captain at all and then she turned out to be a one-dimensional character who never got enough development. I'm not surprised she polarises opinion. It's a shame the actress never got the opportunity to cut loose with the character.
Mon, Apr 18, 2016, 11:32am (UTC -5)
The tension in season two seemed forced and unnatural. However, i liked Pulaski, Guinan, and the introduction of ten forward. I also the officer shuffling with Worf as security officer,and Geordi as chief engineer. We also get to see the borg in season two which was cool.
I do believe this season also suffered from a writers strike, i dont really know the details about this tho.
Sat, Aug 13, 2016, 6:52am (UTC -5)
Wow, finally you can write openly and admit that Pulaski was a very good character :-) It's so nice to see that after all these years there are many fans of her!
And to whom says that Pulaski's character development was not so good in this season, I invite you to watch it again: Pulaski is much more "evident" in one season than Crusher in 6 seasons!
Concerning a possible Pulaski-Picard affair, who did ask for that? If Pulaski stayed in TNG, we would have laughed a lot for this combination Picard-Pulaski-Data and her curiosity to learn about new cultures (see the episode with Worf).
Wed, Sep 28, 2016, 5:42am (UTC -5)
Couldn't stand Pulaski. Glad to see her go.
Thu, Nov 10, 2016, 12:34am (UTC -5)
I mostly dislike Pulaski for the very mundane reason that back during its original airing I didn't become a regular viewer of the show until season three, and so it's hard to accept anyone else other than Beverly Crusher as ship's doctor.

But that said, rewatching season 2, I'm starting to learn to hate Pulaski all over again for her treatment of Data and for just generally being a little too abrasive.
Mon, Jan 23, 2017, 2:27am (UTC -5)
I'm rewatching the second season now and am loving Pulaski. I never used to have an opinion about her one way or the other. I think what's happened is that I got used to being bored to death by Dr Beverley Blamd, and the spicier Pulaski now stands out on welcome relief.

Does B Crusher have any personality at all? Besides "dedicated doctor" and "worried mother"... What words would describe her?
Mon, Jan 23, 2017, 9:20am (UTC -5)

"Does B Crusher have any personality at all? Besides "dedicated doctor" and "worried mother"... What words would describe her?"

She outwitted the Borg when in command of the Enterprise, so "Skilled Leader" comes to mind. Also, of course "The Dancing Doctor" from "Data's Day" :)
Wed, Jan 25, 2017, 1:21pm (UTC -5)
I was a teen when I saw TNG the first time. And I remember having a crush on Wesley - and with the beginning of season 2 I can remember why. He was really cute then .
And to all the guys who found him annoying: not much more so than Deanna, whom you all liked just for her looks.
Fri, Jan 27, 2017, 4:57pm (UTC -5)
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
This episode borrows a Space 1999 story.
Not an auspicious start but the abrasive Pulaski is an improvement on her predecessor albeit too much like McCoy.Geordi and Worf of course work better in their new roles.
Sun, Mar 26, 2017, 9:51am (UTC -5)
At the senior staff meeting, Troi seems to anticipate the reaction of the others: she purposefully chooses a seat away from everyone else. Picard announces that Troi is pregnant, but it’s not until he adds that Troi’s going to have a baby that the others whip their heads around to stare at her. I know guys need stuff spelled out, but geez! Riker, Troi’s former Imazdi and the guy who beds whoever at the drop of a hat accusingly asks who the father is. The men go on to discuss the situation as though Troi is not even in the room. When Troi announces no matter what, she’s going to have the baby, Picard declares the meeting over. It seems to me that they would still need to discuss logistics. Though later Picard arranges for the presence of security forces at the birth of the child.

I understand some of Jammer’s criticism, but though we’re given a minimal of scenes, it is clear that Troi has some sort of bond or understanding or sense or communication with the life growing, quickly, within her. And her explanation to Picard that Ian will explain himself when he is cognitively able seems possibly valid. That ultimately that entity intruded on the Enterprise out of innocent curiosity is believable, since it exits as soon as it realizes it poses a threat.

Having Data at Troi’s side during the child’s delivery was effective. Having Riker soften when he actually sees the child’s delivery was also effective. But later, after the child’s death, no one gives a comfortingly comment or gesture to a distraught Troi. Guess she was inconsolable.

I agree that the script set up a premise that seemed to fall a bit flat. But something during the final scene, where the men each take a share in the responsibility of looking after Wesley since his mother will not be present, made me wonder if the male staff members had perhaps been touched by the way events unfolded.

As the opening episode of season two, changes have been made: Worf had already been made security head, now Georgi is head of Engineering and there’s a new doctor. The kind of changes one would expect on a ship. Spoiler alert: In the opening credits of the second season, the actress for the doctor is always listed as special guest star, leading one to wonder if Pulaski was always intended to be temporary. After Crusher returns, the crew remains intact (except for Wesley’s exit) and in the same positions for the duration of the series. Those actors would work well together, but Riker seemed to hang around longer than was fitting for his character.
Tue, Apr 18, 2017, 4:28pm (UTC -5)
Thought this was a clumsy episode - plenty of questions raised about the nature of the child and ultimately the answers are still bizarre.
I never minded Crusher as a character but Pulaski is quite different as others have noted. As a big fan of TOS, it's good to see her - as I liked her roles in the 2 TOS episodes. She does seem to take a greater authority about her tasks and is more direct.
Wesley's story about staying with the Enterprise and interaction with Guinan probably makes the most sense about this episode. I do like Guinan's psychiatrist roles.
I also thought Troi's role as mother giving birth was done well and her raising of the child was well-acted but it only becomes sort of clear at the end what was going on -- which is a bizarre tale tied to the hazardous cargo the ship was transporting. Anyhow, not a memorable episode for me. 1.5/4 stars.

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