Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Pen Pals"

3 stars

Air date: 5/1/1989
Teleplay by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Story by Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In what's another somewhat low-key but palatable episode, Data makes radio contact with a young alien girl named Sarjenka (Nikki Cox) on a nearby planet, and they become "pen pals" for eight weeks. Data then learns the girl's planet is facing an ecological catastrophe that will destroy their entire civilization, and now the senior staff must decide whether to break (or at least bend) the Prime Directive to save them.

The subplot involves Wesley being put in charge of a mineral survey team. Considering he isn't even commissioned by Starfleet, I can see his trepidation about not being respected by those on his team. For that matter, I wouldn't necessarily blame those skeptical of his abilities since he hasn't had any training. But I suppose part of being brilliant means you don't necessarily need all the certifications. Riker's advice to Wesley about leadership and authority is surprisingly credible — even useful — despite the fact it sounds like the sort of advice dispensed at corporate seminars.

The central point of interest to me is the fact that it's Data — the emotionless android — who makes the initial case for Sarjenka's people's survival, and that he formulates his argument based on logic but also — make no mistake — based on his own personal feelings. The story paints an intriguing paradox: Data might not have any explicit emotions, but he does have a sense of compassion for Sarjenka. Just what does this paradox mean? How much humanity does Data possess? (It would seem a great deal.)

In true TNG fashion, there's a scene where the senior staff debates the Prime Directive, and this scene is played not as drama or high emotion, but as reasoned, intellectual debate based on opinion. Picard ultimately decides to save the society but erase Sarjenka's memories of Data — a solution that poses an interesting question (is it right to deny Sarjenka the knowledge of the truth?), but at the same time feels like too neat (and tech-contrived) a way out of the dilemma.

Previous episode: The Icarus Factor
Next episode: Q Who

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130 comments on this review

Immanuel
Sat, Sep 15, 2007, 4:34pm (UTC -5)
"Pen Pals"

One thing I really like about this episode, is that Sarjenka and her homeworld actually look pretty...alien. I tend to roll my eyes at the blues skies, white clouds and Earth-like plant life found on far too many Trekkian worlds. This is definitely one of the better season two episodes, and I agree with your rating.
David
Thu, Oct 7, 2010, 10:24pm (UTC -5)
One quick thought on "Pen Pals," which is one of my favorite episodes. The scene in which the senior staff debate what to do about Data's friend on the surface, and how to apply the prime directive, is what Star Trek is all about, and it's the kind of debate that Star Trek does better than any other TV series. Those are the moments that make me proud to be a Trek fan.
Brandon
Tue, Jul 10, 2012, 3:25pm (UTC -5)
The senior staff debate is also the sort of thing that has given Trek crew its reputation as a collection of "preachy, pretentious, self-righteous jerks". Nobody with any kind of compassion would even stop to have that debate, especially if memory alteration was at their disposal. There's not even an argument here - how is any properly predictable outcome better than letting the people die? JUST HELP THEM, for crying out loud.

When Picard first mumbled back in 1988, "We cannot turn our backs", millions of TV viewers leap out of their chairs, scream "Wellll, glad you finally found your humanity, you hypocrite - I arrived at that conclusion after the first act" and turned their televisions off.
William
Wed, Aug 29, 2012, 7:18pm (UTC -5)
I liked this episode -- I guess for the reason some people don't. I liked the PD debate, and I found the Sarjenka/Data friendship heartwarming.
Rikko
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 11:16pm (UTC -5)
I was a bit put off by Sarjenka's vivid orange color, but other than that Data-Atomic Tomato Girl's relationship was the crux of Pen Pals.

Wesley was still "S1 Annoying Wesley" at this point, so I didn't particularly like him.

It was fine for me, but nothing special.
Lewis
Wed, May 1, 2013, 4:01pm (UTC -5)
Wasn't Data's original communications with the planet itself a violation of the PD?
Sintek
Tue, May 14, 2013, 5:15am (UTC -5)
Data was wildly out of character the whole episode. I think there's a throwaway line that Data knows what he is doing is wrong, yet still he plows on for no reason other than the plot demands it. Even the setup is lazy: Data is actively looking for RF signals in space, detects an artificial one, and works to clean it up so he can reply.
Peremensoe
Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 10:20pm (UTC -5)
If, as Troi argues, the Enterprise's presence and ability to help is as much a part of the 'cosmic plan' as the planet's crisis... then why can't Sarjenka's first contact be part of it too? That happened because of *who she was*. And then Pulaski lied to her, drugged her, and zapped her brain to steal it from her.
Patrick
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 1:11am (UTC -5)
David's response is a bit adolescent and unenlightened. Picard's monologue was important, and has a lot of resonance especially in the United States, where we have one to many times interfered with other countries and it has turned out HORRIBLY.
M.P.
Wed, Aug 7, 2013, 11:46pm (UTC -5)
This episode in itself does not really earn much respect in my opinion. (When watching I skip over all of Wesley's scenes.) What it represents in the Star Trek universe, however does.

Anyone who understands the expanded Trek universe knows that the Federation has allowed hundreds of species to die. There are great arguments on both sides of this debate, so I will give my personal opinion.

I believe (and this has nothing to do with the current debate on abortion) that any species in this universe deserves the chance to exist. I believe in modern times that an individual who knows of a crime and does nothing to prevent/help solve it is just as guilty as the perpetrator.

What I am saying is that I find it reprehensible that the "morally superior" Federation knowingly allows entire species to become exist when they had the chance to save them in a non-interventionist way. Should they be scorned if a species dies and they could do nothing? No, of course not. But to know that millions if not billions of people are suffering and dying and do nothing is tantamount to destroying them themselves.

The argument that "another Dominion" might be created doesn't hold water; as these cultures will be centuries if not millenia behind the Federation. In all likelyhood they will be saving potential future members.

That's my $0.02.
SkepticalMI
Mon, Sep 23, 2013, 10:59pm (UTC -5)
Kudos to the writers for not making any of the science team Wesley deals with gratuitously antagonistic. I was fully expecting it from the moment this subplot appeared; it's such an obvious cliche yet one that is absolutely omnipresent (it happened in Arsenal of Freedom, for example). I kept waiting and waiting for the cocky blue shirt to get upset and to argue and intimidate Wesley so that he could eventually stand up to him... but it never happened! Instead, he gave his professional opinion calmly and in a friendly matter, and when Wesley eventually overruled him he had no problem with it. Very pleasant surprise there.

Of course, Wesley second guessing himself, getting advice, then changing his mind, and having that decision be the key to the whole problem is a cliche in itself too... But it was a 15 minute B plot which was, on the whole, fairly intelligently written. I'll grant them one plot shortcut.

I was pleasantly surprised by this episode as a whole. It's low key and talky, and Data is wildly out of character, but was a decent observation of the Prime Directive as well as a case of Duty vs Conscience. Good acting all around, particularly Patrick Stewart (I quite enjoyed his scenes with Riker and pointing out how deep they were getting in all of this).

As for the Living Room Debate (great idea to locate it there, by the way), it was reasonably well done, regardless of whether I agree with it or not. Two parts did bug me though:

- Riker's obsession with fate. Huh? That seems out of line with the secularist world of Star Trek. Where did that come from? I suppose they're trying to mirror possible debate topics that would come up in the real world, but it did seem out of place. And, of course, it was shot down easily enough, as well it should be.

- I get the point, but I think it is very wildly out of Picard's character to make a decision and then reverse it after hearing the voice of a scared little girl. If it was an adult male calmly requesting help, would Picard have ignored it? So the Prime Directive is absolute unless a cute voice tugs at your heartstrings? Puhleeze.

In fact, it's a particular pet peeve of mine. And unfortunately it's one that finds its way into way too many of our debates today, which is the appeal to raw emotion. It's cheap, it's unfair (especially if sidelined in public with it), and it should have no place for impersonal decisions like government or business or whatever.

To avoid any contentious examples, I'll head straight to Godwin. The US and her allies were unified politically, socially, economically, and militarily in a goal that had a unavoidable side effect of making cute innocent little 4-year old German and Japanese girls cry because their daddies would never come home. It happened, and it was our fault. But we did it anyway. And that was to prevent little British girls from crying and little French girls from crying and little Chinese girls from crying and little Jewish girls from dying.

If Eisenhower had heard a little German girl over the radio pleading for her daddy's life, would it have tugged on his heartstrings? I hope so, because I would like to believe he was a good man. Would he have cancelled D-Day? Undoubtedly not, because that is the epitomy of intellectual cowardice.

Huge, sweeping political statements like the Prime Directive have bad consequences. But going against the PD has bad consequences as well. And making your choice based on an emotional appeal from one side (when the other side is conveniently not present) is incredibly stupid. And it's incredibly un-Picard like.

(None of that is relevant to whether or not the PD as stated in this episode is a just law or not. Just that it should be honored or not based on its merits, not based on how cute the alien is).
MyComputerMan (John)
Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 11:25am (UTC -5)
I liked this episode very much, and wondered what happend when Sarjenka woke up with the singing stone in her hand. So I wrote a sequel script, got an agent, submitted it to Paramount, and, well they didn't buy it, but it is a pretty good read. I leave it for all the universe to enjoy on this fan site: trekfanfiction.net/the-next-generation/john-comeauxgmail-com/faith-a-television-screenplay-for-sttng/
Tom
Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 2:29am (UTC -5)
Another Prime Directive debate. I find the ethics of the Prime Directive highly debatable, but at the same time they're realistic. The Enterprise can't save everyone in the galaxy. They have, arguably, something better to do, though at times it seems like they're just cruising around the galaxy going from perilous situation to perilous situation. Still, this highlights the privileged situation of the crew of the Enterprise. At the end, Picard hints that he saved the entire planet for the sake of Data's emotional well-being: "One of my officers, one my friends was troubled". I find it a bit troubling that the emotional health of one member of the crew is considered more important than the fate of an entire species.

I think that there's also an ethical debate to be had about wiping people's memories without their consent.

For me, this episode highlights the fact that the crew of the Enterprise are highly privileged citizens of the galaxy and that they don't view themselves as equals to other species.
Jack O
Wed, Aug 6, 2014, 5:34am (UTC -5)
So, 3 Starfleet officers, graduated from Starfleet Academay, accept being bossed by a teen whose mom is a friend of the Captain? Very unlikely.
Brennan
Thu, Sep 4, 2014, 9:06pm (UTC -5)
I understand the grounds of the Prime Directive. If a species, who is completely unaware of life outside their galaxy, suddenly is saved by a different, more advanced species, it could completely throw off the geopolitical structure of a society. I think this is outlined really well in "First Contact" because it shows a society, that is intelligent but believes they are the center of the universe, starts having citizens break down in the most fundamental ways (crisis of faith, anti-progression, etc.) A species might even 'worship' said saviors because of the technology they couldn't understand saving their lives.

I think the Prime Directive is more about that we don't have all the details of a society, and we don't know what will happen if they realize they are just a piece of a vast universe full of aliens more and less advanced than them.

To me that is what this episode represents. The fact that in a time of dire need, when every hour counts, and you don't have all the details, do you risk the chance of completely throwing apart a society or accidentally empowering it to save it? Some would argue yes, but think of it in the most basic sense: Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, would the death a species just be the ultimate form of natural selection? The inability to adapt in a very violent universe wipes a species out before a million other things do? Who knows, because we can't see the future and we have to assume Star Trek doesn't believe it does either. "The Ensigns of Command" is a good episode to display that - the original survivors of the downed ship had to adapt to the radiation, adapt to the environment and get water, supplies, and other necessities, and in the end they had to adapt to leaving all of that in order to survive; Albeit in this situation with the help of the federation, but the existence of the federation was not unknown to the survivors.
Grumpy
Thu, Sep 4, 2014, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
Brennan, you equivocated in a very interesting way. You started talking about cultural contamination but shifted to evolution and extinction. That's okay; the episode mixes them, too. But they are very different considerations, which your comment (and not the years-long "Dear Doctor" debate) revealed to me for the first time.

Last year, Lewis asked, "Wasn't Data's original communications with the planet itself a violation of the PD?" No, not unless he revealed himself as an otherwordly alien. If he responded simply as someone from "far away," that's no different than other undercover contacts we see with pre-warp cultures. The PD doesn't forbid all contact, just disclosing the existence of space travelers (per "Bread and Circuses") or interfering with natural development (as in "Patterns of Force," where the contamination had nothing to do with John Gill exposing himself as an alien).

Ah, but what is natural development? Does it include extinction? Think of saving Bre'el IV in "Deja Q": we didn't hear Riker pontificate about hubris then. Does it matter if those asking for help are warp-capable or UFP allies? Not if "fate" wants them dead. But our heroes defy fate all the time. They saved Bre'el IV like they saved countless others. And in "Pen Pals," they saved Drema II without interfering with the native culture. The PD was appeased.

Suppose an anthropologist studying a remote Amazon tribe saw they were dying of a disease she could cure (say, by treating the water supply) with the tribe none the wiser. Should she? If she let fate take its course, few would applaud her restraint, her ethical commitment to observe but not interfere. Contra Picard, such an ethic is not meant to protect the observer; it is, quite obviously, to protect the observed. If the rule permits their destruction, it protects nothing.

Didn't mean to ramble and sorry if this adds little to well-trod PD ground.
Shannon
Sun, Feb 1, 2015, 1:49pm (UTC -5)
The senior staff debate is what Star Trek is all about, and probably something Roddenberry opposed because he thought "conflict" would be a thing of the past by the 24th century, which is absurd. This debate showed that conflict can still exist, but it can be resolved through reasoned arguments, and that once the captain makes his/her decision, the debate is over... David, your comment is irrational, and demonstrates an ignorant attitude about the Prime Directive. History has proven that despite our best intentions, interfering in another society tends to have disastrous consequences (the old cliche "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"). During the debate I found myself on the fence, not sure which way to go, which shows how brilliant the writing was. It's not our place to interfere with the laws of nature, but then again, could we just sit back and watch an entire species get wiped out if we have the ability to prevent it? Tought one, but ultimately Picard made the right decision in my opinion... Great episode!
Grumpy
Sun, Feb 1, 2015, 5:46pm (UTC -5)
@Shannon
By definition, to say Roddenberry opposed "what Star Trek is all about" is a contradiction. It was his baby, after all. We don't know if he endorsed the debate scene or not, but I suspect it was an allowable conflict.

The dramatic conflict excluded by the "Roddenberry box" would've been the common grist for any other TV show. However, he decreed his 24th century characters to be beyond prejudice, ego, or immaturity (...and grieving or smiling). That doesn't rule out reasoned disagreements. The debate in "Pen Pals" is exemplary because it perfectly fits within Roddenberry's box.

Of course, there's plenty of room in that box for characters to be smug, conceited, and arrogant about how evolved they are, and that's on display in the scene, too.
Nic
Tue, Mar 17, 2015, 8:31pm (UTC -5)
In this episode, Riker says "These planets live fast and die hard." The episode aired less than a year after the movie Die Hard was released. Coincidence? I think not!
Kahryl
Tue, Apr 21, 2015, 10:03pm (UTC -5)
That senior staff debate made them all look like spoony morons swayed by the worst excuses for poetic one-liners. Not a moment of clarity or logical thinking from any of them.

The Wesley subplot on the other hand was very well done and showed a side of the Enterprise we rarely see.
Pam
Tue, May 12, 2015, 7:00am (UTC -5)
Even though it had its moments, I found myself rather unimpressed as a whole with this episode. It didn't start well, with Riker stating that he'd like to give Wesley some command experience (eye roll), then it moved on to Data rather inexplicably pulling a console apart, at his own behest. (And considering that Data happens to be third in command of the ENTIRE SHIP, how is it that Worf is looming over him in a most disapproving manner, even grilling him as to what he is doing? At least in the last episode, he ended his command to "BE GONE!" With a "...sir.")

As others have stated, the hand-wringing over whether or not they should help, since they have the technology to do so AND cover their tracks at the same time ready to hand (or nearly so) just seemed like time-filler to me. And seriously, I'd have thought Troi would be better with kids, being an empath and all.

To be fair, I did enjoy the acting in this episode, especially from Stewart, Spiner, and Frakes. Even though Data was out of character in regards to his new "friend," I felt perhaps it was intended to signify his continued growth beyond being just a machine. I would probably give this 2 1/2 stars, mainly for the little asides between Picard and Riker, and also for watching Data's struggle between helping his friend and following orders, which is very human, indeed.
Diamond Dave
Thu, Aug 27, 2015, 7:12am (UTC -5)
This episode does indeed give an interesting spin on two issues - the philosophical imperative of the Prime Directive, and the nature of command and authority.

I agree with others that Data's behaviour seems odd from the start - if his curiosity is overriding his programming it would suggest he's pretty human already... But this behaviour is required in story terms to effectively present Picard with a fait accompli - everyone recognises it's the wrong choice, if the morally right one. Telling O'Brien that "this never happened" suggests to me that the command staff are indeed up to their necks, and then over their heads.

But the fact there is no consequence to their actions acts to deflate the conclusion - although I can't help feeling that Data, by leaving the stone, pretty much spits in the face of his superiors.

The Wesley B-story is handled well, and by not making his team the usual reject everything protagonists it reaches a much more grounded resolution. 2.5 stars.
Mike
Sun, Sep 20, 2015, 12:14am (UTC -5)
I think, unfortunately, the debate is not very often what Star Trek is about. Normally Star Trek is about one character preaching to another, instead of weighing two strong arguments. All of the greatest episodes (Measure of a Man, Pen Pals, Tin Man, Survivors) have unresolved dilemmas.

Even though this episode has a banal B-plot and naive season 2 dialog, I'd still recommend this just before the likes of Lower Decks, Drumhead or First Duty. You don't need Star Trek to write Lower Decks. To write Pen Pals, you must first invent Star Trek.
Jay
Sat, Sep 26, 2015, 11:34am (UTC -5)
It seemed that there had been no contact whatsoever with this civilization...they seemed pre-warp. So how was it that the universal translator could instantly translate Sarjenka's 4 word "is anybody out there" distress call with absolutely no context? It should have sounded like gibberish.
grumpy_otter
Mon, Oct 19, 2015, 5:30pm (UTC -5)
I hate the prime directive. There is no fate or cosmic plan or anything like that. To suggest that cultures have the right to their own destinies (including destruction) is just ridiculous. People are not little toys to watch as they go about their days or deaths. (I use the word "people" to refer to all sapient beings.) People have the goal of connecting with others; if they don't they can say "go away."

To even suggest for one moment that a species be allowed to become extinct for a reason that could easily be prevented is the worst sort of psychopathic bull -- no matter how much it is dressed up in lofty ideals. Especially when they have been explicitly asked to help, as in this episode.

The best ideals of any people should include the desire to help others. Now, everyone above has made good points about the possible consequences of interference, and certainly the crew shouldn't bounce about the universe willy nilly interfering for the hell of it, but there are some circumstances where there should not even be a discussion, as in the case of Sarjenka's planet.

I just think the whole prime directive idea was arbitrary to create a point for discussion--but it feels so artificial I don't care for it. The PD could just have easily have been "If we have the power to help, we will help." And then subsection A would have covered how to inquire if help was desired.

But it just occurred to me, arbitrary as the PD is, it was designed to create discussion, and looky here. Good one, Gene. :-)
phaedon
Wed, Apr 13, 2016, 5:37pm (UTC -5)
"What I am saying is that I find it reprehensible that the "morally superior" Federation knowingly allows entire species to become exist when they had the chance to save them in a non-interventionist way. Should they be scorned if a species dies and they could do nothing? No, of course not. But to know that millions if not billions of people are suffering and dying and do nothing is tantamount to destroying them themselves."

This is a naive utilitarian argument. Species live in ecosystems, and alongside other species. A decision to "save a species" could have detrimental effects on an ecosystem that is attempting to correct itself; it could preclude the evolution of ten other species of greater value. All of these presumes perfect execution by Starfleet Command, which of course is far from a given. This is a more sophisticated utilitarian argument, showing that is just as easily argued that "you better stay out of it."

Ultimately, to intervene, or choose not to intervene but possess the power to do so, is to play God. What nobody points out here is that Data ultimately makes the most human decision, and everybody else, with the exception of the doctor, uses "reason" to conclude that they should stay out of it.

This is a really important episode both for Data and Wesley. Without any direct conversations, Data is teaching Wesley how to act like an officer. But it's also an important episode for Picard. He steps into his role as a leader in this episode, you can see it in his eyes in his eyes, when Data confronts him and as he sips his tea. It's also conveyed in the following scene.

Commander William T. Riker: One of the reasons you've been given command is so you can make a few right decisions, which will lead to a pattern of success and help build self-confidence. If you don't trust your own judgment, you don't belong in the command chair.
Wesley Crusher: But what if I'm wrong?
Commander: Then you're wrong. It's arrogant to think that you'll never make a mistake.
Wesley: But what if it's something really important, I mean, not just a mineral survey? What if somebody dies because I made a mistake?
Commander: In your position, it's important to ask yourself one question: what would Picard do?
Wesley: He'd listen to everyone's opinion and then make his own decision. But he's Captain Picard.
Riker: Well, it doesn't matter. Once Picard makes his decision, does anyone question it?
Wesley: No way.
Riker: And why not?
Wesley: I'm not sure.
[Riker is ordered to the Captain over comm]
Riker: When you figure it out, you'll understand command.

I really enjoy TNG. It's easy to judge it in hindsight, now that we know it for what it is. Pity we spend time talking about universal translators.
d
Fri, Apr 22, 2016, 5:06pm (UTC -5)
I think....you have all apparently lost sight of the fact that this was a TV show. Written by human beings, whose main objective was to entertain college kids for forty minutes a week, and to make as much money as possible.
nothingoriginal55
Tue, May 3, 2016, 5:13pm (UTC -5)
Anything negative I say about this episode would be nitpicking, it was enjoyable. My gripe is actually with Picard. When did he suddenly go horse crazy? Also I cringe at the blunder blindly forward line.,,but thats all i got...i should hate the Wesley plot, but I don't.
The Man
Sun, Jul 17, 2016, 8:25pm (UTC -5)
I totally disagree @Brandon. It's funny that you refer to the senior staff as "preachy, pretentious, and self-righteous jerks" because in the real world of the United States had done the same thing people such as yourself would have ripped the US for getting involved in something that didn't concern them, needlessly risking American lives, wasting money and time, they're backwards let them help themselves and so forth, especially if it is a country that they decided that they did not like. Arbitrarily saving lives?
The Man
Sun, Jul 17, 2016, 8:30pm (UTC -5)
Actually Patrick your response is childish and selfish and uninformed and actually proves what I said in my previous post about people blaming the US and that being a perfect parallels to the Enterprise
The Man
Sun, Jul 17, 2016, 8:35pm (UTC -5)
Actually @Shannon your comment was irrational and again proves my point. You complain about the United States getting involved in situations and disasterous results what about good results? A somewhat comparable situation would be WWII. People such as yourself would be criticizing the United States for entering into it even through it saved a culture of people from being wiped out brutally as well as saved countries from being conquered and enslaved. That is more comparable to this episode not the usual anti-United States rhetoric.
Trekker
Tue, Sep 6, 2016, 11:56pm (UTC -5)
Tin Man-

I agree that intervention is necessary sometimes, but it is haphazard.

World War II is the best example of US intervention for a positive cause, but recent history has shown that intervention may not always lead to positive outcomes.

I won't even go into the quagmire issues of Iraq, which is well documented by groups of both sides of Liberal and Conservative factions as a mistake (Blame Obama or Bush more, it's still the same war).

I think a perfect counter example to World War II is the Bosnian War of the late 1990's. The US prevented a genocide by Milosevic of ethnic groups, including the eastern European Muslims. We did a good thing and people thought, we just stopped Muslim Holocaust in 1995.

However, what the US and the world had not known at the time was that Pakistan's military and intelligence had been supporting Eastern European Muslims with arms and intelligence assets for geopolitical positioning. At the same time, extremist factions and terrorist groups had gained sympathizers within Pakistani government (let's be honest, Bin Laden couldn't have lived close to a decade in a well armed compound without some support within Pakistan), these terror groups in turned gained supporters and strategic assets from this victory.

IF we knew what we do now 20 years after the Bosnian war, ask yourselves should we have intervened and stopped the genocide there, or allow Milosevic to remain and continue his reign to create a buffer zone between the West and the Middle East.

I am not saying it was wrong to stop mass murder, but we know that inaction could save lives as well down the road, so it's really hard to tell if intervention is right or wrong without the effects being known.
Michael Z Freeman
Sat, Oct 15, 2016, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
Started off hating this episode because of wiping the poor girl's memory, but the comment by phaedon made a good point about the period this episode came out - first broadcast May 1989 according to Memory Alpha. The Berlin Wall had come down and been opened by November 1989 to give some historical context. So along with that and the other comments here I see this episode in quite a different light now.
Tara
Sat, Feb 18, 2017, 4:09pm (UTC -5)
I am shocked.

Shocked by the teaser, in which Deanna Troi was allowed to have a. friendly conversation with a colleague, like a normal person deserving of one minute of character development. The conversation was unique in that it didn't involve the engrossing topic of boyfriends (unlike The Price, the Icurus Factir, the Scottish Ghostie).!!

Okay, we didn't actually learn anything new about her, but it was a refreshing treat. (Except that it made the generally crappy portrayal of the Troi character stand out in sharper relief. )

I do not think Troi got another normal conversation during the entire run of the show.... The possible exceptions being when she was a Romulan or possessed by an alien.
Grumpy
Sun, Feb 19, 2017, 1:12pm (UTC -5)
Tara: "I do not think Troi got another normal conversation during the entire run of the show."

Troi's chocolate sundae bit in "The Game" always seemed a little odd, and now you've explained why.
DragonHead
Thu, Mar 30, 2017, 12:28am (UTC -5)
some incredibly wishy washy historical comments here
borusa
Wed, May 3, 2017, 4:26pm (UTC -5)
I love the comment about Riker's corporate seminar style with Wesley.
Somehow I doubt that the rebellious ensign would just back down when Wes gets all assertive.
I think Data should probably have been put on latrine duty for carrying on an illicit correspondence with some alien kid for eight weeks before finally confessing to the captain.
None of the pompous prime directive drivel made any internally consistent logical sense.
Surely the logic of non interference prevents a less advanced culture from benefiting from assistance from a more advanced culture-what has pre warp got to do with anything at all?
Answer: nothing-it is just non interference-non-assistance-apathy and arrogance which pretty much sums up the Federation of TNG.

I am too primely directed to interfere with the star rating.
TB
Mon, May 8, 2017, 6:20am (UTC -5)
Although a nice episode, it just doesn't make sense for Data's character to not tell the rest of the crew he had made contact with another being.
Sam
Thu, May 11, 2017, 6:25pm (UTC -5)
I liked the PD debate. I think it's interesting that so many people here hate the PD - and I can understand why. And yet it's exactly those opinions which make me think the PD might actually make sense.
The only things I didn't really like about the episode is Data's bizarre behavior (though it makes some narrative sense) and, worse, that he didn't get a good tongue lashing from Picard. I spent the last 10 minutes of the episode hoping it'd have one of those rare, dynamite TNG endings where (usually) Picard tells the person off and they roll credits...
Rahul
Tue, May 16, 2017, 2:46pm (UTC -5)
This episode didn't do it for me. Thought it was very slow, somewhat boring and scattered (especially for the 1st half hour).
Never a fan of a character acting totally out of the norm - especially considering it's an android. What got into Data such that he had to eventually apologize etc.?
The Wesley B-plot was ok - it does seem odd that he'd be put in charge of leading a team at this stage. Thought it was odd that the blue-shirt who initially was doubtful of his decision him just obeyed his command when he gave it. That seems highly unrealistic.
Of course the episode is about the Prime Directive - thought it was well acted with the senior officers but Picard just changing his decision based on hearing a helpless little girl's voice is unprofessional.
If they know up front they can cleanse a memory, why not immediately make a plan for saving whoever and then erasing the memory?
The sappy part about the child and Data would have been a nice touch except that it is Data who is acting out of character as an android.
Overall, really slow-paced initially and one can easily lose interest. Was surprised that all of a sudden it seemed 8 weeks had passed since Data heard the first message.For me, this episode gets 2 stars out of 4. The only really worthy part is the analysis of the PD.
The Dreamer
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
"thought it was well acted with the senior officers but Picard just changing his decision based on hearing a helpless little girl's voice is unprofessional"
@Rahul

It is noteworthy that in this social media age with a plethora of visuals and audios readily accessible, people have a tendency to react more strongly to information. (Fairly or unfairly). So when they heard the plea, they acted emotionally. Thus the story.
Rahul
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 8:58pm (UTC -5)
@The Dreamer

Definitely true these days that people react more strongly to information given how richly it can be disseminated via social media. Of course, back in this episode, the information is rather 1-dimensional.

Nevertheless, it is the PD we're talking about so seeing Picard's do a 180 with his stance seemed to come out of nowhere. I thought if he stuck to his guns, Data might do something further out of character.
Matt
Mon, Nov 20, 2017, 3:34pm (UTC -5)
Not one of my favorites. The Prime Directive debate wasn't much different than previous ones. The alien girl was the only one of her species they encountered, and it was just too cheesy for me. I agree with others that Data just seemed goofy in this one.

I did like the sub plot with Wesley learning how to be in command. It is very relatable to anyone in the corporate world. This part raises the episode to 2 stars from me.

The visuals of the planet look great on Blu-Ray.
Startrekwatcher
Mon, Dec 4, 2017, 9:14pm (UTC -5)
3 stars. I’ve always liked this one

I thought it had some good ideas. One being the Wee-takes-charge plot was quite nice and his team was well cast. I liked the professionalism exhibited

I also enjoyed the Sarjenka story. It was sweet and also had an excellent debate over non-interference. Picard obviouskynultimateky did the right thing and I thought Sarjenka’s house with its funky door and the two visuals of the planet erupting and later the one with the volcanic activity calmed nice
Trent
Mon, Dec 4, 2017, 9:30pm (UTC -5)
Like Dear Doctor, Pen Pals has a certain elegiac quality to it. There is a seriousness and gravity here, a gentleness in the way the story unfolds, a softer musical score, and the sense that very grave things are slowly falling into place. From an aesthetic standpoint, both are very strong and similar episodes.

Yes, there are minor problems in Pen Pals (Picard's rapid change of heart, the "cosmic fate" silliness, and Data's rule-breaking behavior), but they are minor.

Regarding the Prime Directive itself, I think it's a wise law. Life is intimately interconnected, and so saving one species may negatively impact another. And so the Prime Directive protects the Federation from making value judgements and from absolving themselves of the trolley problem. Of course everything we do is a value judgement, and so there will undoubtedly be situations in which the Prime Directive is far too absolute. Star Trek would thus be wise to introduce a kind of Prime Directive committee; a team of scientists, lawyers and philosophers who attempt to identify rare situations in which the law should be violated.

And to those above using WW2 as "proof that Prime Directives are nonsense", surely the historical truth is the opposite. WW2 was not a need for altruistic intervention, rather, it was the product of constant imperialistic interventions (by the UK, US and France across Europe, Africa and South East Asia) and anti classist movements (the western nations favored fascism to worker, labor and communist movements), which instigated Imperialistic blowback, blowback they sanctimoniously tried to fix.

Also, above someone mentions preferring this to Lower Decks. That's a great observation; Pen Pals really does unfold like a precursor to Lower Decks, and it was nice to see Wesley and the command staff interacting in a way that didn't ooze contempt. BTW, this is the first episode in which Picard drinks Earl Grey.
Nick
Wed, Dec 20, 2017, 4:08pm (UTC -5)
This is a nice, touching episode, which also handily shows Prime Directive as the complete nonsense it is. The "playing God" argument is absurd. You would be equally "playing God" if you were passing by a lake and had to rescue a drowning child. But you don't know the consequences! What if the child grown up to become a mass murderer or a genocidal dictator? What if he grows up and takes a place at the university that would otherwise go to the poor talented kid, depriving him of the chance to become the greatest genius in the history of Mankind? Anyone who would seriously consider such arguments before jumping in to save the child is a psychopath, and so is anyone who would hesitate before saving a whole sentient species because of some "Prime Directive".
Chrome
Wed, Dec 20, 2017, 4:26pm (UTC -5)
"You would be equally "playing God" if you were passing by a lake and had to rescue a drowning child. But you don't know the consequences! What if the child grown up to become a mass murderer or a genocidal dictator?"

Actually, there are some legitimate concerns with your hypothetical. What if you attempted to save the child, but the waves took you off guard, pushing you into him and drowning him sooner? What if the child was just playing a game, and you attempted to rescue him and he got scared, swam away from you and hit a rock, getting a concussion? What if you attempted to rescue him and he pulled you down more than you expected and you both died?

Now multiply these scenarios by about a million, considering the different consequences an interaction with a spaceship could have with a planet, and you'll start to understand the reasoning behind the Prime Directive.
Nick
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 8:37am (UTC -5)
You cannot predict the consequences of your actions with absolute certainty in any situation. Equally, you cannot predict the consequences of your inaction. The difference between these two, and your bias towards inaction, is purely psychological, if we are talking about an abstract case without any specifics.

However in these particular examples (both the drowning child one and the dying planet one) we can actually use our intelligence to predict the outcome with some degree of certainty. There is pretty much nothing vague about them. If we refuse to act in such circumstances, then logically we should refuse to act at all, opting for a life of total inaction.

Nobody is disputing the value of having certain protocols for the first contact situations to prevent things like cultural contamination where it can reasonably be avoided. However, the application of Prime Directive as shown in the series makes me actually think that it was Humanity who were the most prominent victims of cultural contamination in Star Trek universe: their culture was contaminated with clearly inhuman (Vulkan) ideas, and now they are struggling to reconcile their natural Human drive to explore and to change the world for the better with alien Vulkan ideals of detachment and inaction/observation.
Chrome
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 9:00am (UTC -5)
I don’t think you’re looking at the big picture, as in what happens down the road if these people start to worship Starfleet like in “Who Watches the Watchers”? Also, if they save this planet, they’re sort of obligated to save *every* planet in peril, aren’t they? Does Starfleet have the resources to do that? If not, should they play favorites? What are the criteria?

The fact of the matter is, we know from the weekly space disaster of the week that the Trek universe is a dangerous one. The PD likely ensures Starfleet has the capacity to maintain itself. That may sound “detached” but Starfleet may not really have a viable choice in the matter.
Nick
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 11:28am (UTC -5)
Even if they form a literal Starfleet-worshipping cult, how does it matter? Saving them from certain death still take precedence by far.

If they save this planet thay are obligated to save every planet in peril. If they don't save this planet if possible, they are still obligated to save every planet in peril if possible, they are simply failing to live up to that obligation to a greater degree than if they saved it.

And yes, everyone understands that they do not have the capability to save them all, just like you or me do not have the capability to save every suffering person on Earth. Being unable to do something is not an ethical failure. However when you or me or Starfleet have an opportunity to save someone at little or no cost to ourselves, it is our obligation to do so. Just like you are not morally required to travel to Africa and work to save Ebola victims (failing to do your best to maximize the total well-being is, strictly speaking, a moral failure, but since it's clearly beyond what most people are capable of, we accept that only exceptional people can fully live up to that standard), but you are morally required to help a person you happen to find having a heart attack on the street.
Chrome
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 1:38pm (UTC -5)
“However when you or me or Starfleet have an opportunity to save someone at little or no cost to ourselves, it is our obligation to do so.”

We’re not in a position to judge whether helping a non-warp species is of little cost to Starfleet. In fact, this episode and other PD episodes show or imply there is a huge cost.

Besides, the Enterprise *does* perform rescue missions; missions involving people they can help without risking damaging their society or entrenching themselves. That is Starfleet’s practical limit.
Nick
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
This is an irrelevant technicality. If they are physically unable to help someone for one reason or another, then it's not a question of ethics at all. We are talking about the situations where they are fully capable of helping, but don't. There are episodes dealing with such a situation. "Dear Doctor (Mengele)" immediately comes to mind, even though it's pre-PD, but the principle is the same.
Chrome
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 3:26pm (UTC -5)
It’s not a technicality, it’s information you’re missing to make a good argument. Again, you don’t know what Starfleet’s resources are and we both agree they need to draw the line somewhere. There’s other civilian groups out there, Starfleet doesn’t need to do everything.
Peter G.
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
While I find the concept of the Federation having to ration out its capabilities an interesting one from a logistics standpoint, I think it skirts the issue of the PD. If it was merely a question of being fair and not giving uneven help then there's no issue at all; that improves with technology. The real core of the PD is that we *must not* interfere with other species. Part of this stems from Cold War rationalization of 'helping' third world countries when in fact the inherent conflict of interest in setting up facilities on various planets is unavoidable. The original analogy was with both the U.S. and the USSR allegedly making moves to protect or help weaker nations when in fact the real result was de facto colonization or invasion. We could argue until the cows come home about 'well that was then, and now we're better' but one of the lessons TOS tried to teach us is that part of improving as a species is to *recognize our weaknesses*, not to pretend that they're going away. Non-interference is likely very important for the protection of new species, but it's equally if not more important for the protection of the Federation itself so that it doesn't degenerate. Preventing oneself from being in the position of having conflicts of interest and abuse of power is the most important part of ethics. When the power is at your fingertips no matter how vigilant you are you'll slit up or be compromised eventually. Don't be in that situation.

Another major factor in the PD that has nothing to do with practicality is that, yes, some primitive species might well become Federation worshippers. But having annoying zealots on backwards planets isn't the worst problem: the problem is that when such a people know that there's that kind of power out there they'll want it for themselves; they might come to worship that power and to want it for its own sake. And by the 24th century humanity had learned that power and technology are dangerous if you're not ready for them. The know-how isn't enough if you're not advanced enough on the moral scale. Meeting an advanced culture prematurely could put a primitive people in the position of going for the power before they're ready for it and destroying themselves.

In terms of helping and saving primitive peoples, it's not good to focus on the rare case where it seems 'obvious' that there's no downside. The whole point is that we shouldn't be in the position to be deciding on a case-by-case basis whether it seems good or not to completely overwhelm the natural evolution of a species. In the odd case where there's a 100% chance they'd all die then it does seem sad to let them die. On the other hand in the vast majority of cases it will be some situation like they have a plague, or there's some natural disaster, or some other normal event and by saving them we deprive them of the chance to save themselves. Maybe some races don't and some do, but if the Federation is going to bail every race out of every problem that *could* destroy them you'll soon find that there are a great many thins that could destroy a race. We've had plenty of chances on Earth so far by 2017, and very nearly did so a few times. Should aliens have swooped down and taken over the joint to prevent us? Cause they'd have to come down and stay here as our rulers to prevent it possibly happening again.

Long story short, it's not just about a one-off "save them" scenario where you go away and ignore them after that. Many things happen to each race that they have to solve themselves or survive without the Federation holding their hand. Otherwise you'd basically have this paternalistic Federation hegemony de facto ruling all planets and not permitting them to make their own mistakes and live their own lives. I continue to believe that the PD is a wise, but difficult, directive. It shouldn't feel easy to maintain it; it should feel bad sometimes. That's sort of the point: discipline to stick by a moral principle won't always feel good but you can't let your comfort level dictate what's right.
Yair
Sun, Dec 24, 2017, 1:48am (UTC -5)
I've always had a somewhat cynical appreciation of PD: despite the rhetoric, the goal is protection of the Federation as much as protecting less advanced species.

First, more than a few very advanced species exist. It's pretty useful when Q comes along to say 'we don't interfere in "lesser" species affairs - don't interfere in ours'. Perhaps it's understood that in extreme cases captains will violate PD - no need to actually employ PD all the time to be able to employ this rhetoric.

Second, Starship captains have amazing power - had Picard or Kirk wanted to destroy a less advanced civilization, essentially nothing could stop them save for a mutiny, and they are clever enough to do it surreptitiously enough to avoid a mutiny. We can actually point out to more than a few actual cases where they both acted dubiously. Furthermore, Starfleet would have very little ability to know what happened; which may be one reason they never get called for their actions.

There are many possible cases of harm to the Federation here: From a bad reputation, to being invested in proxy wars, to causing an actual war, to the occasional revenge episode. And a surprising number of 'primitive' civilizations are actually advanced or have advanced.. things protecting them. Given the enormous potential for harm to all concerned and very limited controls actually existing, an hard and fast rule is practically the only way to have *some* control here.

It's also possible that PD only applies to Starfleet, while other Federation bodies are able to have a more nuanced approach - being able to get more information about a planet than a short visit can provide.
Nick
Sun, Dec 24, 2017, 4:31am (UTC -5)
" Preventing oneself from being in the position of having conflicts of interest and abuse of power is the most important part of ethics. "

Well, no. The most important parts of ethics are 1) axiology - the study of values which ought to be the ultimate reason for all our actions and 2) normative ethics, which develop specific principles according to which we can evaluate our actions, that is, to determine if an action contributes to the maximization of intrinsic value or is detrimental to it. Only from here we can proceed to applied ethics, that is, the application of normative ethics to specific cases like abortion, gun rights, or interference with pre-Warp cultures. The Prime Directive belongs to the realm of applied ethics, but I struggle to see what kind of normative ethical theory is supposed to be behind it, and what value it is supposed to maximize.

In this discussion there does seem to be a weird Kantian implication involved from time to time. Kant's Categorical Imperative is "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Kant then famously proceeded to argue that if an axe-wielding murderer asks you if you have seen his fleeing victim, you are not allowed to lie, because lying as a universal principle would be bad. Seems like the Federation has adopted a similar approach.

I, on the contrary, think that such a situation requires one to use one's intelligence, attempt to predict the possible outcome to the best extent of one's abilities, and then act in one way or another. A general PD-like rule is useful to fall back on in unclear situations, but making exceptions where a situation clearly calls for it is also a moral responsibility.

Also, if Humanity in Star Trek are so afraid of unintended consequences of their actions, of being morally compromised by making a wrong decision, and or taking risks and taking responsibility in general, then maybe instead of interstellar exploration they should take up gardening.
Peter Swinkels
Sun, Mar 18, 2018, 5:05pm (UTC -5)
Okay, I will not get into the debate about whether what Data did was right or wrong or about the Prime Directive. Observation: a relatively intact child’s bedroom standing in the middle of nowhere? No one else or any other building. Yes, we only got a limited view... And the girl travelled through that hellscape outside her home just for her transmitter, alone? Okay...

Decent episode, a few issues could have been handled better.
Peter H
Fri, Apr 20, 2018, 11:56am (UTC -5)
This is the first episode that I can think of in the series run that has invoked the Prime Directive in a way that really engaged me. Since re-watching the show previous uses have left me baffled (most notably in Justice, where good sense was abandoned to satisfy, what at the time, was a rather fuzzy Federation ideal).

Tellingly the emotional argument overcame the intellectual one in this episode; Picard hearing Sarjenka's cries for help is what ultimately sways him. As an audience member I was similarly convinced. I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with this, particularly in a show that so explicitly seeks to examine the human condition.

At this point I'm not wholly convinced about the ethics of the Prime Directive. I understand what it's for and what it seeks to prevent, but I'm still not sure that such rigid adherence to it in the face of great suffering is at all moral. This of course will be debated in further episodes, and I look forward to its examination from other angles, particularly in cases where breaking it have negative consequences.
Prince of Space
Wed, May 16, 2018, 2:23am (UTC -5)
Wow... there are some really long-winded blowhards that like to see themselves type. haha

I ain’t naming any names, but all of you with an iota of observational skills know the culprits. ;-)

Speaking of that... I should end this comment before I become one myself.
mephyve
Fri, May 25, 2018, 1:10am (UTC -5)
A good story that made me sick to my stomach. The android behaved humanely throughout. The humans were, as the captain pointed out, in over their heads.
Surely the prime directive wasn't meant to make men into monsters. Dolphins have been known to rescue people in trouble. People should never have legislation that requires them to turn a blind eye to another living being that is in trouble, when they have the means to save them. When man decided to traverse galaxies, they automatically assumed the responsibility to serve and protect.
I understand not interfering in war. I understand not sharing technological advances. But if you can cure a deadly disease, it's inhumane not to treat it. There's no reason to explain the science behind it.
Chrome
Fri, May 25, 2018, 7:59am (UTC -5)
“When man decided to traverse galaxies, they automatically assumed the responsibility to serve and protect.“

I mean that’s a sweet gesture and all, but it’s kind of like saying when you buy a car you assume the responsibility to feed and clothe all the homeless you see while driving.
JerJer
Tue, May 29, 2018, 9:40am (UTC -5)
With Wesley and the random blue shirt, we know later in the bedroom which one will be wearing the dog collar and which one will be holding the leash. Woof!
mephyve
Sat, Jun 9, 2018, 5:29pm (UTC -5)
@Chrome Even if you don't have a car, if you have the means to help the homeless it would be rather selfish not to. There are infomercials asking us to help homeless dogs. Surely we should at least have the heart to help the underpriviledged.
Besides, isn't poverty wiped out on earth in the Trekverse? Seems like a worthwhile goal.
Chrome
Sat, Jun 9, 2018, 6:53pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

It’s not like Starfleet ignores the pleas of others. Indeed, once Sarjenka started asking for help, they did in fact help her. The problem is Starfleet can’t always help people without unintentionally destroying their culture. The PD is a way of balancing the interests of helping others and letting them learn to help themselves without being impinged on by outsiders.
mephyve
Wed, Jun 13, 2018, 11:40am (UTC -5)
@Chrome The planet was about to go boom. The culture was about to cease to exist. These people had no way of helping themselves. The Enterprise had the ways and the means to save them but the 'humans' were willing to let the PD stand in the way. If not for Data, this planet would have joined Krypton in oblivion.
Chrome
Wed, Jun 13, 2018, 12:13pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

You're speaking to the "playing God" part of the argument now. It's certainly sad that these people would be destroyed by a natural disaster. But surely there are hundreds of civilizations in similar predicaments that the Federation could save and obviously it doesn't have the ability to save all of them. How does it pick and choose which races should be saved? How far does the Federation need to go to make sure that species remains safe in the future? These questions are all addressed fairly well in this episode. I think if you really thought this through, you'd see the benefit of making rules about interfering with the course of nature, especially when dealing with nature that's the scale of the entire universe.
Peter G.
Wed, Jun 13, 2018, 12:33pm (UTC -5)
It's not just a question about being unable to save them all. If that's all the issue was it would be no issue at all: save as many as you can. The lack of being perfect should not require you to do nothing since it would be unfair or something to help who you can.

The real argument is that keeping a primitive people safe means taking over their lives, one way or another. It sounds like a no-brainer when it comes to a planet-crushing catastrophe, since what could they have ever done anyhow to 'develop themselves' in light of being summarily wiped out? But that's only a fringe case in the larger question of what steps the Federation is willing to take to *make* a primitive people stay safe. What about wars that could wipe out the populace? Should the Federation march in, disarm them all, and outlaw war? What about nuclear weapons? Should the Federation ban lesser cultures from developing those altogether? And what about warp drive and the rest of it? That's definitely potentially dangerous tech since an advance like that could give a nation-state and edge over their enemies to destroy them.

So it goes far beyond the question of whether to save helpless primitives from a volcano. If your mandate is to intervene for the sake of keeping everyone safe then you end up running their lives for them, telling them what to do and what not to do, and ensuring through your own might that they don't do anything that could allow them or their environment to wipe them out. It basically amounts to the Federation becoming a benevolent empire that enforces its will on those weaker than it "for their own good". Aside from the moral implications of this approach in and of itself, there is also the matter of the Federation charter and what the founding races agreed to in the first place. I doubt they would have signed on to an alliance with Earth where the ground rules were that the weaker parties were going to be subjugated to the stronger ones. The founding spirit of the Federation has as much to do with it as the abstract moral issue of whether interference is appropriate or not.
mephyve
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 11:44am (UTC -5)
@Chrome In my original post I stated, "Surely the prime directive wasn't meant to make men into monsters.' I don't have a problem with the Prime Directive, I have a problem with people who use the prime directive as a crutch to justify helping someone who is in immediate jeopardy. A scared child is communicating her fears to Data. When Data realizes how serious the situation is, his logic says help her. He goes to Picard who holds a meeting.
Everybody in the room except the doctor and Data are more worried about the prime directive than they are about actually helping the people. Here's the facts, 1. The crew is actively studying the geological problem. (Wasn't the study about seeing if they could interfere with the course of nature in the future? If not, it was pointless.) 2. They know a race is about to be wiped out. 3. (Here's the kicker) They can help the people without the people even knowing they exist. But they would use the prime directive to justify letting the people go boom? That sounds ridiculous to me.
Peter G.
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 11:47am (UTC -5)
@ mephyve,

"Everybody in the room except the doctor and Data are more worried about the prime directive than they are about actually helping the people."

It's called the PRIME directive for a reason. By definition it's meant to take precedence over other considerations.
Chrome
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 12:50pm (UTC -5)
Yes, they call it “General Order 1” in earlier TOS episodes. Non-interference is a Starfleet priority. It’s obviously a very complex order that requires tough decisions sometimes. But as Peter G. described at length above, there’s good reason to it.
mephyve
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 3:02pm (UTC -5)
@PeterG & Chrome
"There are times sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders." Jean Luc Picard
Chrome
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 3:15pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

What are you even on about? Picard made an exception to the PD in this episode. Did you watch the whole thing?
mephyve
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 4:27pm (UTC -5)
Chrome Of course I watched it. Picard made an exception after the little girl gave him an excuse. If Picard did not hear her say, "Data where are you" , the Enterprise would have left them to die.
Chrome
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 5:33pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

Picard didn't even know about Sarjenka's race let alone the danger to her until Data got himself involved. How was he even supposed to help them before he even knew about them?
Peter G.
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 7:30pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

Actually I think mephyve has a point on this. If Picard had known about the people but not heard the actual plea for help it seems to me he would have obeyed the PD. I'm not even 100% sure he disobeyed it or made an exception because Federation law might be a bit more tricky when dealing with a pre-warp civilization that nevertheless knows about the Federation. A formal request for assistance made by a less advanced people that have relations with the Federation isn't the same as swooping in and rescuing unsuspecting peoples.

I think what made Picard fold here is that Data's communications with Sarjenka probably qualified in some sense as formal relations and so her plea for help had to be treated as equivalent to a request by that government for assistance. Data certainly breached the PD by communicating with her, but once that was done I think it opened the door for Picard to interpret the PD as no longer applying. The crucial thing here may be not that Picard agreed to save them, but that he didn't court martial Data. The leniency towards Data would be the operative act of compassion here since he didn't exactly intend to break the PD, it just sort of happened.

@ mephyve,

It's true that rules are not made to be blindly followed, and we all know how many times Kirk ignored the PD when it was clearly disastrous. But I think by Picard's time it had evolved somewhat and a lot more trust was placed in the system that it was for the greater good. So while the maxim is valid not to cease thinking for yourself, at the same time if the PD is agreed upon as being universally important and necessary then a good officer could indeed obey it at all times without fear of becoming a stormtrooper or something. Disobeying orders is when the orders would cause you to do something immoral. In principle I think the idea is that obeying the PD is never immoral, given the giant stakes involved.
Chrome
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 8:51pm (UTC -5)
No, this is one of the instances Picard takes heat for later in “The Drumhead”. You can hate the PD all you want, but you can’t say Picard isn’t willing to bend the rules of the PD when he thinks that’s the right thing to do.
Jeffrey Jakucyk
Wed, Sep 19, 2018, 5:57pm (UTC -5)
I like the quiet and easy pacing of this episode. It takes place over the course of at least two months, if not a bit longer, though that could've been made a bit clearer. Anyway, I think the Prime Directive debate is important from a narrative point of view, but there should already be established precedent and extensive documentation of how to handle such situations. The Prime Directive has existed for roughly 200 years by the time of TNG, but they're debating it as if it was brand new and wasn't the subject of intensive coursework at Starfleet Academy and innumerable debates and incidents throughout Starfleet's history. Again, I realize it wouldn't work as well narratively, but as soon as Data explained what he did, they should have immediately looked up the most similar incidents in The Big Book of Prime Directive Precedents, and/or immediately contacted Starfleet Command for an interpretation on the situation.
10110
Wed, Jan 23, 2019, 4:38pm (UTC -5)
Nice low key episode, I agree palatable, 3 out of 5 stars.

My 2 cents on the prime directive:
It's just not ethically not convincing leaving a whole species to die when you could prevent it, in opposite, I think everyone has generally a ethical duty to preserve life if possible, IF it is guaranteed that no other negative consequences can arise.
This whole idea of not interfering is better is just too simple, and Picards argument what if the reason why people die is a war or an oppressing government is not really convincing either, make simply a differentiation:
natural catastrophe - no harm done violating PD, senseless to let people die
warring factions - don't interfere, possibility to make things worse, let lifeforms interact
When a natural catastrophe strucks, I consider it even not harmful when a species gets knowledge of higher developed cultures, yeah it will change their development perhaps, but they will still be 100% better off, when the alternative is the extinction of the whole planet. There is not even a third party possible that could gain a disadvantage from this action.

I like those intellectual/philosophical discussions in Trek, it's just that i find the PD in their absilute form unconvincing philosophically. There are just scenarios, where interference will always be better than not interference. (I realize it is a device to create philsophical discussion and dramatic tension in the episode, I just wished they would have created a better dilemma)
Bobbington Mc Bob
Mon, Feb 4, 2019, 3:19pm (UTC -5)
Yet another episode where someone seemed to be cutting onions at the end. I wish they would stop that.
Meister
Tue, Mar 12, 2019, 6:46am (UTC -5)
I enjoyed this one.

I liked the discussion on breaking the Prime Directive with the bridge officers. I was a little shocked at Data communicating with the little girl without telling anyone. I guess though he does like to experiment as he told Worf. They showed him as being somewhat sentimental. What are emotions anyways? How advanced is my dog's brain? She shows emotion when we leave her alone for an evening. Data is one of my favourite characters and episodes surrounding him are usually excellent.


The wiping of the little girl's memory is a little problematic. Pulaski theorizes about it as if no one has thought of it before? Shouldn't it have been more of an established albeit experimental process more likely to succeed with children? otherwise it is a loophole for violating the prime directive in many other cases one would think.

8/10
Meister
Tue, Mar 12, 2019, 7:32am (UTC -5)
I forgot to add:

I enjoyed the Wesley story as well. Wesley is a high achieving candidate for the academy and the officers have agreed to help him develop while on the Enterprise. Junior officers (even junior junior junior future officers) are given tasks to develop their leadership and a scientific exercise seems appropriate. I thought the discussions between Wesley and Riker and Troi and the pre decision bridge crew discussions were well done.

And the specialist who originally disagreed with Wesley? Of course he is going to follow orders. He knew why Wesley originally wanted the test and didn't think it was necessary (thought it was overkill right?) but he knew it could still show something albeit surprising. And he is a scientist! Scientists are often surprised by their data, that's why they collect it. He wouldn't have a position on the Enterprise if he didn't know how to follow orders. I find it interesting people think he wouldn't have obeyed orders so readily. Really? He should have shown immaturity?, jealousy?, pettiness? I am sure people at that level understand that future Starfleet officers are given assignments to help them develop leadership skills. You don't make it difficult for them anymore than you behave like an asshole on the roads when you spot a new driver having lessons.
Kyle
Wed, Apr 10, 2019, 8:58pm (UTC -5)
I really liked this episode, it felt a tad non-eventful, but I think both plots were great in terms of character development:

- Wesley felt like a perfectly organic character with issues regarding his newly found position of power among a team of experts, I really liked how Wesley came into his own without any contrivances.

- The Data plot honestly made me tear up by the end, specially knowing how much Data, as someone who often tries hard to be human, displays perfectly fine human behaviors and emotions that come naturally to him without question, and just the fact that you know he will miss Sarjenka, and feels bad over her memory being wiped, but can find solace in the singing stone he lets her have, at least she will get to live on happily with her family. All and all, a solid 3 and half stars for me!
Springy
Sun, Sep 1, 2019, 9:05pm (UTC -5)
Watching and commenting:

--Well, we're starting off slow and dull. Patrick Stewart looks great on a horse, so there's that.

--I am not a Wesley hater, but the whole idea that he'd command such a team seems like a real reach. Seems like too much, too soon. I guess we're back to the growth and identity stuff from The Icarus Factor, only Wesley's wings are ready to fly, I guess.

--Interesting little pow-wow, trying to decide what to do about Data's friend. Picard making some tough choices. Picard indicating he's in over his head, but it's plain he's comfortable with command and with his decisions.

--I think that Sarjenka has really touched something in Data, and I recall our opening, when Picard talks about a horse filling empty places you didn't know you had. I think this is where Data gets a hankering to be a Daddy. Like Wesley, he's trying out some very new responsibilities.

--Pretty funky "reset" on the very convenient memory wipe of Sarjenka, but ok.

Eh. Pretty heavy handed spoon feeding of this week's message in an otherwise weak storyline. Good character development for Data, and we can note major change in Pulaski's attitude toward him. He's won her over and she's not shy about jumping in on his side.
IkesNephew
Sun, Dec 15, 2019, 4:42am (UTC -5)
Given how much discussion over the Prime Directive there's already been, I'll simply make a single observation.

Had a Trek-like civilization decided that it was their ethical responsibility to stop the Chicxulub asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, we wouldn't be here to even have this discussion. Interference, even in the form of preventing global catastrophe and mass extinction, may have profoundly negative effects down the line that cannot be predicted. Which is why non-interference, and the Prime Directive, may actually be the more responsible position to take concerning other worlds.
Booming
Sun, Dec 15, 2019, 5:36am (UTC -5)
The prime directive has two parts. One makes sense, the other does not.
The first part is that giving species technology that is far more developed could be too much to handle for that civilization. That makes sense.
Just think about what would have happened if the Austrian Empire during the siege of Vienna would have been given an atomic bomb. Yeah Istanbul would be a pile of ash. First an foremost societies need to slowly adapt to new tech or there is a good chance of chaos. Furthermore knowing that a species is not alone can also be blowing up the structure of a society.

The second is the: "We won't do anything if a meteor hits a planet part". This is pure nonsense. Sure we don't know if down the line a saved civilization become space Nazis but the Federation doesn't know that about any less developed civilization. It is some odd notion that borders on a believe in fate.

It is in the show to create drama.
Nolan
Sun, Dec 15, 2019, 6:23am (UTC -5)
@Booming

The second part not making sense; yes and no. First because it's really its own two parts of non-interference. The "internal matter" part makes sense. Don't step in to resolve conflicts. Partially ties in with the not giving tech to less developed species part. But also, "don't wade into a situation and impose our ideals as a form of conflict resolution", regardless if the society is less or equally developed. I doubt the Enterprise would intervene if they happened across a world in the midst of nuclear war. That society might die, but if they did that to themselves, why'd we want them in space?

The second part of the "don't help" doctrine is the one that often doesn't make sensr, at least not as presented. It's always couched as "what if we mess up this species' natual development" rather than, "what'll happen to us if we start accruing a reputation of being godlike across the galaxy?" Could humanity withstand that much of an ego boost? Or would they become like Q in dispostion, handing out destiny based on their own alien value judgements? Is that a postion OUR society would want to be in? Could we withstand it?

Of course, the answer is to develop a protocol for this type of interference that would do much to negate that risk, based around the idea best stated by Futurama's "godbeing": "If you do things right, people won't be sure you did anything at all." Interfere, but for goodness sake, don't be blatant or showy about it.
Booming
Sun, Dec 15, 2019, 7:35am (UTC -5)
@Nolan
The whole "not messing in the internal affairs of other states" (policy of non interference)is kind of the odd duck in the prime directive. Almost all countries on earth do follow that policy... in theory. If a country has some form of spy service then they are very likely interfering somewhere as does the Federation and not just section 31. So that policy is in somewhat of a grey area.

"That society might die, but if they did that to themselves, why'd we want them in space?"
If a civilization destroys itself then the Federation shouldn't stop it. That is their decision to make. Have fun. Go nuke yourself out, I say.

"Could humanity withstand that much of an ego boost? " Humanity maybe not, let's hope the Vulcans can. :)
Seriously though, the Federation already has the tech to save certain civilizations. This is no trolley problem. Letting an entire civilization die is also doing something . Just sitting there in orbit watching millions or billions of beings die once or twice a year will probably have a more negative effect on the Federation, than saving them.

"Interfere, but for goodness sake, don't be blatant or showy about it."
That is the form I mean. If the muggles down on the planet don't notice anything then there is really no reason not to save them.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Sun, Dec 15, 2019, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
@IkesNephew
"Had a Trek-like civilization decided that it was their ethical responsibility to stop the Chicxulub asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, we wouldn't be here to even have this discussion."

You are raise an interesting point.

Extinction events are an integral part of the evolutionary process. They aid natural selection. So a Trek-like civilization that deflects asteroids undiscriminately, is definitely hindering the development of life on the planet they are "saving". One does not need to believe in "fate" in order to realize this.

But this still doesn't mean that allowing an entire biosphere to die would makes any kind sense. Nor does it mean that it's okay to stand by and watch a thriving civilization being wiped out by a bad roll of the cosmic dice.

Now, I realize that there are situations where things might get complicated. I can easily dream up scenarios where deciding to let a civilization die could - at least - be a defensible position. But that's exactly my point: These things should be debated on a case by case basis. The problem with TNG's version of the Prime Directive is that it replaces this important decision-making process with an arbitrary absolute.

And there are cases, like in this episode, where following this arbitrary absolute is clearly the wrong choice. There is no real moral dilemma in this episode. Letting the Dremans die simply doesn't make any kind of sense.

That's the problem with the PD in episodes like this one. The Prime Directive is presented here as the worst kind of dogmatic thinking: A dogma that's so strong, that it manages to override Picard's natural tendency for compassion and for doing the right thing.
Jason R.
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 6:57am (UTC -5)
"And there are cases, like in this episode, where following this arbitrary absolute is clearly the wrong choice. There is no real moral dilemma in this episode. Letting the Dremans die simply doesn't make any kind of sense."

I am not persuaded by that. One of the essential truths explored in TOS again and again was the notion that absolute power is corrupting and that any time a massive power imbalance manifests the temptation to corruption becomes difficult to resist.

There is no inherent power imbalance greater than a prewarp civilization interacting with a Federation level one. This theme played out throughout the series in episodes like The Omega Glory, Charlie X, Where No Man Has Gone Before, Space Seed, Patterns of Force etc... This has also been a recurring theme in our own history.

Thus, the PD is as much about protecting the Federation and its citizens as it is about protecting less advanced cultures. The PD is a stopgap, a kind of firewall against the temptation to play God which inevitably results from the interaction with less advanced cultures. Part of the idea of the better human (as opposed to the human with merely bigger and better technology) is a kind of moral principle which includes laws like the PD and also the prohibition against genetic engineering.

This firewall against corruption is a primary function of the PD, one that gets overlooked in debates of this nature. Picard does talk about this in Pen Pals as I recall.

There is also the more big picture view, which is that no action of cosmic scale (and saving a civilization is such an act) is without ramifications, both positive and negative. On a cosmic scale a world may be rendered lifeless in one epoch only to become life bearing many more eons in the future - to intervene is to save life today perhaps at tomorrow's expense, much like if some alien chose to deflect the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs or saved the Neanderthals from extinction.

Unless you are outside of time like the Prophets, how can a mere human take responsibility for the consequences of such an act?

Obviously this is the tough argument to make bit I personally think Picard's defence of the PD is valid and the underlying reasoning absolutely justified.
Booming
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 8:24am (UTC -5)
@Jason R.
"This firewall against corruption is a primary function of the PD, one that gets overlooked in debates of this nature."
Not in this one. Nolan mentioned it. But as I stated doing nothing is also doing something and just saying if you have warp then you live if you don't you die is crazy. The warp barrier is a completely arbitrary line. So what if a civilization doesn't have warp but for some reason contact with other wolds. Would you argue that we just let them die. Listen to their pleas because in 50 million years there could be another species or not.

" to intervene is to save life today perhaps at tomorrow's expense, much like if some alien chose to deflect the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs or saved the Neanderthals from extinction."
In declaring that the possession of the arbitrary warp drive is what makes the Federation help a threatened civilization. That's already "playing god".

Why help anybody? Why not let any meteor hit any planet? warp or no warp? If using your power to save a civilization without that civilization even knowing is already too much then why not live like Amish?

And because I just want to post this clip :) (It is not your position, of course)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiH1Bk6WmvI
Jason R.
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 9:17am (UTC -5)
"The warp barrier is a completely arbitrary line"

I don't agree that it is arbitrary. It is what separates space faring civilizations from non space faring ones. A race that has warp drive is in the galactic community - you cannot avoid interfering with them because their involvement in your affairs is a fait accompli.

Also, in order to use warp drive, it is established that you pretty much have to have certain technologies, most notably antimatter. We know even today that to harness antimatter (assuming you could find or manufacture any significant quantity which for us is impossible) would be a game changing technology, on par with discovering fire. It isn't an arbitrary line - it's the difference between civilizations of a completely different level of development.

Going back to my original point about the danger of a greater civilization interacting with a lesser one - if any civilization possessing antimatter interacted with one without, it would be tantamount to a a group with fire encountering one without - a ridiculous mismatch.
Booming
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 10:10am (UTC -5)
@Jason R.
What does warp drive mean? Flying as fast or faster as lightspeed. Warp 1 is just light speed. It is an arbitrary line. And not all warp drives are based on antimatter. The Bajorans had their space sailing. The Romulans use quantum singularities.

So flying with half of light speed. Federation will not help. Flying with light speed. Federation will help? How is that not arbitrary?

And again this is based on the premise that the saved civilization doesn't know. So no golden statues for the Federation. They never know that they were saved.

Or how about that. The Federation decides to not help a civilization that is 10 years away from the warp drive, gets hit by a meteor, billions die, the civilization recovers against all odds, develops warp drive and then finds out that the Federation just stood by watching them die by the billions. That is going to be an awkward first contact.
Jason R.
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 1:17pm (UTC -5)
"@Jason R.
What does warp drive mean? Flying as fast or faster as lightspeed. Warp 1 is just light speed. It is an arbitrary line."

No it's not arbitrary. Warp drive is a necessary precondition for interstellar travel of any kind because it's impossible to bridge such distances without it. Not difficult - impossible, within any humanoid lifetime.

And I could be wrong but I don't think warp 1 is light speed. But even if it is, that would be a minimum speed for any realistic manned interstellar travel and even at light speed you'd be bordering on impractical / impossible.

"And not all warp drives are based on antimatter. The Bajorans had their space sailing. The Romulans use quantum singularities."

Well keep in mind we are talking about power sources here. So if you have a power source capable if fuelling star travel, whether anti matter or artificial singularity, yes you would have a ridiculous power source that in absolute terms might as well make you a god next to any civilization that doesn't - hence the problem.

The Bajorans feat wasn't due to inventing warp drive - they didn't. It was established that they basically stumbled on some weird local phenomena that led to an accidental acceleration.

"So flying with half of light speed. Federation will not help. Flying with light speed. Federation will help? How is that not arbitrary?"

Because if someone is capable of interstellar travel non interference becomes moot - they are already on your doorstep. Versus showing up on their doorstep with your starship and making contact with someone who isn't ready for it causing likely upheaval in their society.

"Or how about that. The Federation decides to not help a civilization that is 10 years away from the warp drive, gets hit by a meteor, billions die, the civilization recovers against all odds, develops warp drive and then finds out that the Federation just stood by watching them die by the billions. That is going to be an awkward first contact."

If earth was hit by an asteroid I wouldn't, frankly, be shaking my fists at the skies in anger at aliens who failed to save us. The thought would not even have occurred to me. I find it bizarre that you would even think this to be some kind of issue. At what point does this duty to fly around the universe saving aliens from natural disasters end? Is this like in Dear Doctor where all the posters concluded that Archer "murdered" the aliens by not curing their disease?
Booming
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 2:36pm (UTC -5)
@Jason R.
"No it's not arbitrary. Warp drive is a necessary precondition for interstellar travel of any kind because it's impossible to bridge such distances without it. Not difficult - impossible, within any humanoid lifetime."
There are numerous species who don't age the same way as we do. The founders for example. How about a generation ship of humans. With half the speed of light we could reach Proxima Centauri in 8 years.
And yes warp 1 is light speed. Again arbitrary.

"Well keep in mind we are talking about power sources here."
No, the show only talks about "warp capability" and if this were about power sources then it would be even more arbitrary. What if a species has antimatter reaction chambers that could theoretically fuel a warp drive but not the other parts? Maybe they never thought of using the technology for that. Or how about the Malcorians who decided to not use their warp drive for some time. Do we just let them all die?

" Versus showing up on their doorstep with your starship and making contact with someone who isn't ready for it causing likely upheaval in their society."
I never said that the Federation should do that. I'm just saying that it is unethical to not save a civilization if apart from not letting it be annihilated we would not interfere with it. They would never know what not hit them.

"If earth was hit by an asteroid I wouldn't, frankly, be shaking my fists at the skies in anger at aliens who failed to save us"
So if we were in that scenario. Humanity is directly before inventing warp capabilities, a meteor hits, we recover after 100 years or so and build the warp drive and then a group from a galactic state shows up and welcomes us into the galactic family. What would happen if humanity would find out that these people had the power to save billions of humans just three generations ago but didn't bother?! Considering the nature of humanity I think I can make an educated guess how people would react.

"I find it bizarre that you would even think this to be some kind of issue." I find it far more bizarre how casually you agree to a philosophy that states "even if we could we will let entire civilizations die when they haven't reached a certain point defined by us."

" At what point does this duty to fly around the universe saving aliens from natural disasters end?"
Well, if the civilization has warp capabilities then the duty doesn't end for the Federation. Then it is "help as much as possible". Only if they haven't reached that point then it changes to "sorry, prime directive. Have fun dying."
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 2:46pm (UTC -5)
@Jason
"I am not persuaded by that. One of the essential truths explored in TOS again and again was the notion that absolute power is corrupting and that any time a massive power imbalance manifests the temptation to corruption becomes difficult to resist. There is no inherent power imbalance greater than a prewarp civilization interacting with a Federation level one. "

I agree, and this is - indeed - the original reason that the TOS gave us the Prime Directive. But what does this have to do with saving a doomed planet from afar? Where is the temptation here?

Picard, in this very episode, mentions some kind of slippery slope, but that argument never made sense to me. You can use slippery slope "logic" to argue for any absolute. So I'm still not convinced.

"Unless you are outside of time like the Prophets, how can a mere human take responsibility for the consequences of such an act?"

But can humans take responsibility for *not* acting? When you say "I'm not going to help these people in need", you are also making a decision. The moment you are aware of their need, you are already involved. Turning your back is no less an "action" then lending a hand.

Now, I agree that there are many cases in which refraining from help is the proper decision. Generally, people should be allowed to deal with their own problems (both on a personal and on a planetary scale). That's how people and how societies grow. So the Prime Directive is a good *guideline*.

But there is such a thing as taking a good guideline to inappropriate extremes, and this episode here is the most extreme of examples: The Enterprise-D is already in that star system. They are making a geological survey of the actual phenomenon that is about to kill the people there. And they might be able to save those people without those people knowing.

So where, exactly, is the moral dilemma here? What kind of S.O.B. calmly takes scientific notes of the forces that are destroying a civilization, while also refusing to help on grounds that "we can't get involved"?

@Booming
"What does warp drive mean? Flying as fast or faster as lightspeed. Warp 1 is just light speed. It is an arbitrary line."

I'm the last person to defend the "prewarp civilizations must be left to die" interpretation of the PD, but warp drive is a huge quantum leap of development.

The difference between warp and ordinary sublight rockets isn't just the raw speed. It's also a matter of agility and economy and efficiency. Warp ships don't need months to accelerate and decelerate. They don't need huge amount of fuel just to reach their top speed. Compared to a conventional relativistic rocket, even the most primitive warp ship (like Cochrane's Phoenix) would have near-magical abilities.

Warp ships also seem to be far cheaper to produce, once you learn the "secret". Zefram Cochrane managed to build a warp-capable ship in his backyard. And then there's the fact that the secret of warp means access to subspace. Whatever subspace is, that's a quantum leap in a civilization's understanding of the universe. It would be at least as revolutionary as the discovery of radio waves was the real world.

In short, if a pre-warp society of any kind confronts a post-warp society of any kind, the former would be hopelessly outmatched. They will face ships that can be produced en-masse, maneuver in the blink of an eye and whose communications are totally invisible. It makes perfect sense to put precautions in place, to prevent the abuse of this kind of power.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 3:10pm (UTC -5)
@Jason

"At what point does this duty to fly around the universe saving aliens from natural disasters end?"

I don't think there's a duty to fly around the universe full time and save lives.

But if you're already sitting right on top of a planet with a doomed civilization, and you're already having staff meetings that allocate resources for a scientific expedition to their planet, and the dilemma of what to do with these people is already in the front of your mind, then you are already involved.

In such a case, saying "I won't help, on principle" is just being mean.
Booming
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 4:18pm (UTC -5)
@ Omicron
As I said it should only be done if it can be done without actually contacting the saved civilization.

"The difference between warp and ordinary sublight rockets isn't just the raw speed. It's also a matter of agility and economy and efficiency. "
There are probably more concepts then rockets to get up to a very high speed. Isn't it possible that in the millions of stars that there are quite a few civilizations who come up with something effective but slightly slower than light speed. Considering the barrier that light speed is according to Einstein I think that it is far more likely to encounter civilizations that have something very effective when it comes to speeding up that almost reaches light speed than civilizations who actually have higher than light speed. (But I you are mostly agreeing with me so don't see this as a harsh criticism of your point :D )
Nolan
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 5:35pm (UTC -5)
I mean, the development of a society is a process, so I would think a threshold should exist to determine where to step in and extend a friendly hello. If Enterprise was still going, I could see a small arc of episodes where the crew, thinking they're helping, offers to help a society out with some tech, only for it to end up causing armageddon. (Though they did get close a couple times)

But this whole "interfering" thing. Just being in space means you're interfering. You land on a meteor travelling through space and take some readings, collecting some samples. You end up altering it's mass or trajectory, or heck add or kill any microbes to/on it, that meteor is now either not going to hit the planet it eventually was going to, or will hit a planet, but with an entirely different outcome (assuming panspermia) than it would have.

I can also see issues where interfering when things have gotten past a certain point so that the inhabitants of a world could only assume a kind of divine intervention as the interference could go against scientific projections, leading to that resurrgance of dormant religious dogmas - which may lead to new religious wars or something. So great caution is needed.

There are instances where even disceet interference should not be attempted. Anything with a "man-made" origin, for example. For arguement''s sake, let's just all agree for now that climate change is real. Then an alien comes along and adjusts our biosphere to be able to handle it. What then? People lose trust in scientific experts entirely, society grows more superstitious, and we don't learn anything and risk repeating that mistake. And if climate change had lead us to an extreme and we were on the brink of destruction and some alien surruptiously saved us? Same result. (Though an interesting counterpoint is Superman and how HE saves the world all the time - how would he fit in with the PD?)

No, I'd argue that interference itself should be limited to unforseen natual planetary disasters, and made to look like natural unforseen windfalls. And preferrably without putting boots on the ground. Lest we end up with Into Darkness' or Discovery's opening. (Which, hey, something both of those almost got right)

But strict adherence to non-interference is just too cold and aloof. The only difference between us and Q would be that we don't show up to rub noses in the fact we COULD have saved them. The PD is something that absolutely needs to be reassessed and debated by a crew everytime an issue involving its' use arises. Not just as a reason, a scapegoat to not getting involved as often is the case.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 6:10pm (UTC -5)
The line is drawn between civilizations that rely on conventional physics (rockets, solar sails, ramjets, laser sails etc) and ships that rely on the "cheat" of warp physics (warp drives and other subspace-related systems).

Technologies of the second type tend to be vastly superior to those of the first kind, and there isn't much of a middle-ground.

You can find parallels to this in the real world as well. In the 19th century, the top speed of sending signals over the air was a few miles a minute (thanks to visual telegraph systems such as the semaphore). Once the radio was invented, that speed instantly jumped to 186,000 miles PER SECOND (the speed of light).

That's over a million-fold improvement. And you're going to have a hard time finding a signaling system whose performance is in the middle of these two extremes. Such is the nature of quantum leaps of technology.
Jason R.
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 8:13pm (UTC -5)
"With half the speed of light we could reach Proxima Centauri in 8 years."

Not if we wanted to do anything but a flyby. Make that 16 years if you want to account for deceleration.

And if you do manage to deflect particles flying at your ship at suicidal speeds where a speck of dirt hits your ship with the force of a hydrogen bomb, and you dodge the deadly cosmic rays that bombarding you constantly and can wipe out your crew in an instant, you ain't producing the fantastical amount of power to even get up to that speed in the first place - probably not even with nuclear fusion which by the way is still basically scifi, to say nothing of large quantities of antimatter and artificial singularities which is scifi with an extra dollop of *fi*.

Getting up to significant fractions of the speed of light is easy in principle even with current technologies, except for the minor quibble that it requires a power source that might as well be magic.

The obstacles to manned interstellar travel without the magic wand of warp drive make the prospect basically impossible no matter what scifi has led us to believe.

Let me put this in different terms. Let us just imagine the kind of science that would actually produce a technology like warp drive and further, imagine that contrary to Trek this is not just 21st century humans with ridged foreheads. Let us imagine they are as beyond us as, say, humans are chimps.

Chimps go to war. They fall victim to natural disasters all the time. Is it our job to intervene every time some chimps get injured or fall into danger? Would it be in our interest or even theirs frankly, for us to go around being their guardian angels? And frankly, if you look at how humans treat chimps in the real world, would you *want* that kind of intervention if you were one of them?
Scooby Doo
Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 9:43pm (UTC -5)
Ruh roh, Rhaggy
Booming
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 3:10am (UTC -5)
@ Nolan, Jason
As I said if a civilization destroys itself be it nuclear war or be it climate change then that is just the "choice" of that species. We can debate choice of course because even there is a certain small grey area. But in general if the downfall is self inflicted then the Federation shouldn't help them.

"No, I'd argue that interference itself should be limited to unforseen natual planetary disasters, and made to look like natural unforseen windfalls"
That is exactly my view.

@Jason
"And if you do manage to deflect particles flying at your ship at suicidal speeds where a speck of dirt hits your ship with the force of a hydrogen bomb, and you dodge the deadly cosmic rays that bombarding you constantly and can wipe out your crew in an instant."
I'm fairly certain that it would still be a lot saver then a voyage in the 15th century from Europe to America. Magellans circumnavigation started with 270 men. Only 18 came back, Magellan not included. Let me put it like that: We choose to go to Proxima Centauri not because it is easy but because it is hard." :)

"probably not even with nuclear fusion which by the way is still basically scifi"
That's debatable. We have nuclear fusion reactor. They are, at this point, just not effective. I'm confident that most of us will see an effective one.

"Getting up to significant fractions of the speed of light is easy in principle even with current technologies, except for the minor quibble that it requires a power source that might as well be magic."
Yeah well this is a star trek discussion board. ;) So debates often center around things that we can imagine not what we have right now. Just think about how much more effective the power sources we use have become over the last 100 years. We went from from unstable little flying machines to space flight in less than 50 years. We have a remotely controlled thing the size of a bus with incredibly sophisticated instruments driving around on mars. The second human made object has just left the solar system. This is also besides the point because we are not the center of everything. There are probably species out there who have found far more effective ways of acceleration but no warp drive which is my point.

"The obstacles to manned interstellar travel without the magic wand of warp drive make the prospect basically impossible no matter what scifi has led us to believe."
If a species lives 1000 years on average then 40 or even 80 years might seem far less of an obstacle.
Jason R.
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 5:52am (UTC -5)
Booming don't get me wrong I grew up with Star Trek and always kind of believed in the notion that technology would find a way. And I am not saying it won't.

But manned interstellar travel is one of those things that seems kind of simple from a big picture perspective (hey, if we could go from living in caves to rocket ships why not from rocket ships to starships?) but when you actually start asking questions about how it could practically be done, absent magic warp drive, you start to realize that it is not comparable to any task ever undertaken previously.

It's the fallacy my five year old might fall into, imagining that because we can walk a couple hours downtown (which is really really far!) surely it can't be *that much* farther to walk to Grandma and Grandpa's in Montreal, which after all, is a measly 2 hours by car down the highway.

Except talking in terms of interstellar travel we might as well say Montreal is 8,000,000 hours down the road to do the analogy justice:)

Go and read about the energy density needed to actually fuel a ship to little old Proxima Centauri a measly 4 ly away. Even with nuclear fusion I am not sure it is possible in a human lifetime (and to date, it should be noted that no one has even proven that net positive NF is possible with any current technology)

I want to believe it's possible I do. But even setting aside the possibility of our civilization collapsing due to whatever nuclear war or climate change and assuming we March along for the next 1,000 years without a hiccup- this may turn out to be the long 8,000,000 stroll down the highway :)
Top Hat
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 6:37am (UTC -5)
Even if one were to accept that warp technology is the criterion for first contact (and I agree that it would be more realistic for it to be only one of like, five possible developments that the Federation needs to see), is this in an argument against having a criterion at all?
Booming
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 12:56pm (UTC -5)
@ Jason
I'm aware that it will be pretty tough to beat that light speed barrier. I maybe approach this from a different point. There is an endless amount of things that we don't know which in turn means that there is possibly an infinite amount of solutions. Maybe tomorrow, maybe never ;)

@ Top Hat
I think my problem is with a definitive and therefore arbitrary line. Criterion or criterion are fine in general but there is always that one scenario where a criterion doesn't fit. I think every crew should have some wiggle room which seems to be the case considering that Picard broke the Prime Directive at least nine times.
Peter G.
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 2:01pm (UTC -5)
I doubt we will get any kind of consensus about the merits of the PD *as depicted on TNG*, partially because the depiction isn't entirely consistent. For instance take Booming's comment:

"I think every crew should have some wiggle room which seems to be the case considering that Picard broke the Prime Directive at least nine times."

This doesn't sound unreasonable, and based on how the PD is discussed it sometimes does sound as if there's no wiggle room. On the other hand we know that Kirk and Picard have each broken the PD several times (Kirk probably more so) and each time their explanation was accepted by Starfleet. So in fact it does seem to be the case that a potential violation of the PD has room for the Captain to make a case for how necessary it was. It probably also means that the default is to assume that the interference was wrong, but still does allow an argument to be made.

Nolan's comment about Q got me thinking, and it occurs to me that Picard's reaction to Q seems to reflect a decent example of an enlightened Federation person actively disliking a superior life form interfering in their activities. Now to be fair Q isn't exactly there in the friendliest capacity, but on the other hand he does all the things Starfleet is forbidden to do: stopping their natural progress (even if their progress will lead them to danger), offering them free magical stuff (like Q-powers), and giving unsolicited advice. And they pretty much brand him as a villain, primarily because of (a) his snark, but more importantly, (b) his arrogance and lack of them discerning what his agenda might be. In short, they don't like his superior attiude, and probably don't like that he thinks of them as insects. Using Jason R's example above, this is how the Federation risks looking to just about anyone.

One of the arguments being made here is that as long as no one is aware of it them it's ok. But is that a good argument? Does an action you wouldn't condone if conscious of it ok when you're unconscious of it? I know that in certain modern areas this argument would not be accepted, to say the least. But it's a no-brainer, right, we're talking about saving a species about to die, like Sarjenka's race? Surely they would welcome that? And probably they would. But the problem becomes about how sure you are that they would welcome it. Is Data *really sure* he understands what this race wants? Is Sarjenka supposed to represent her entire race? In First Contact we see how much of a mistake this would be. And let's say there's a race whose religion dictates they'd rather die than have anything to do with aliens; do they lose the right to choose? But by doing it behind their backs you do take away their right to choose. Playing god is all too easy when you have all the power; and that's exactly why the more power you have the less you should be gung-ho to use it, even for supposedly good reasons.

I don't know exactly where I sit on the PD, myself, but I do recognize it as a *mature* policy. Right or wrong, it's thoughtful. I think JMS takes a potshot at it in Babylon 5, and his argument is valid, but I also think it's easy to underestimate what the PD is supposed to be. Among other things, it's also supposed to be a guarantee that Federation member *does not* include being a party to deciding the fate of other races. Don't forget, these are not human-only rules, but are imposed on all members.
Top Hat
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 2:55pm (UTC -5)
It's a minor thing, but the Prime Directive appears to be a Starfleet policy, not a Federation one. From "Angel One":

RAMSEY: Mistress Beata be damned! Her wish is not my command, and neither is yours. You can't force us to go.
DATA: Mister Ramsey is correct, Counsellor. The Odin was not a starship, which means her crew is not bound by the Prime Directive. If he and the others wish to stay here, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I don't necessarily take this as meaning that Federation citizens who aren't in Starfleet can go around conquering planets with impunity, but that must be governed by some of other, civil law.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 3:26pm (UTC -5)
Regarding the feasability of relativistic space travel:

History teaches us that people who say "that thing is impossible" tend to look very foolish in the long run. They said airplanes are impossible. They said supersonic travel is impossible. They said man would never walk on the moon.

This is doubly so when the technology in question doesn't violate the known laws of physics. If it isn't theoretically impossible, then it's just an engineering problem. And if it's just an engineering problem, it can be done.

Of-course the challenge of interstellar travel is still very *very* difficult. It is completely beyond our current technical abilities. But we have rough designs on paper, and we know what needs to be done, at least when it comes to a fusion-powered starship. Ever heard of Project Daedalus (and I'm not talking about the Discovery episode)?

Speaking of which:

Fusion can get you to about 15% the speed of light (a total delta-v of 0.3c). That's about 30 years to Alpha Centauri. It might seem like a prohibitedly long time, but is it really? If your starship is as comfy as the Enterprise-D, a 30 year journey doesn't sound so bad. In fact, I'm sure there are plenty of adventure seekers and explorers-in-heart who would jump at the chance of such a great voyage.

Indeed, in a world without warp drive, humanity's first adventures into the final frontier would probably look like that.

At any rate, none of this can really be compared to the magic of warp drive. The difference in performance between the best possible "normal space" ships and the simplest warp ship is so vast, that it isn't even funny. Hence the reason why it *does* make sense to draw the line at that point.

@Booming
"Just think about how much more effective the power sources we use have become over the last 100 years."

True. But the laws of physics tell us that there's a theoretical limit to the efficiency in which we can pack energy. It's in Einstein's equation of E=mc^2.

The laws of physics also pose many other restrictions. For example, you can't accelerate without squashing your passengers into their chairs. Squash them too hard, and they'll die. So if you don't want to turn your fragile humanoids into spaghetti sauce, it will take months to reach a substantial fraction of the speed of light.

Unless, of-course, you find a way to cheat the laws of physics. That's what warp drive is for :-)

"I think my problem is with a definitive and therefore arbitrary line."

If 99.9% of the cases fall firmly on one side of that line, is it really arbitrary?

The point of the "warp capable" dividing line is that the vast majority of non warp-capable planets are also incapable of interstellar travel. This is what we see on screen, and presumably this is also what has driven the Federation to draw that dividing line in the first place.

Now, I agree with the need for some wiggle-room in borderline cases. It's just that such cases would be very rare.


@Peter
"One of the arguments being made here is that as long as no one is aware of it them it's ok. But is that a good argument? Does an action you wouldn't condone if conscious of it ok when you're unconscious of it?"

I don't think that was the argument.

The argument was about the danger of cultural contamination. You don't want to beam down into a neolithic village, because your very presence is going to turn the local's world upside down.

Averting disaster from afar eliminates that risk. Hence the reason why stealth is preferable. The whole thing has absolutely nothing to do with the question of what the locals may "condone".

"And let's say there's a race whose religion dictates they'd rather die than have anything to do with aliens; do they lose the right to choose?"

Interesting scenario.

There are no simple answers to this one. Especially since it would be quite improbable for an entire species to share that belief. What if only 90% prefer death? Should we do nothing and doom the other 10%? Or should we do what we think is best, which is the very definition of playing god?

A very difficult situation. Perhaps in such cases, where there is doubt, we should default to the letter of the PD and let them die. I know it "feels wrong", but once we start following our gut feelings, we are rolling down that slippery slope that Picard warned about in this episode.

But still, I don't see how any of this is relevant to a situation as clear-cut as in this episode. Do we have any reason to assume that the Dremans harbor such beliefs? Should we allow them to die based on a hypothetical scenario we have no evidence for? Once we start thinking in hypotheticals, we could pretty much justify any action we want.

I suppose one could argue that this is precisely the point of the PD. That if we can't be 100% sure (and we can never be 100% sure) then it is better not to act at all. But then, as Booming asked so aptly, why even help others at all? Why even stick our noses outside our front door?
Peter G.
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 3:38pm (UTC -5)
@ Top Hat,

Interesting point. On the one hand I'd have to assume that Starfleet's primary mission guidelines come down from the Federation council, and thus have civilian oversight. On the other hand, their rules may be different in some cases from civilian rules. However in an age where warp-capable vessels are available for regular use by citizens I find it hard to believe that while Picard is hiding under a hill watching the Mintakans with binoculars civilian ships can land freely on the planet and teach them how to make transparent aluminum. So this element of Trek - let's call it the detailed world-building - is really not on the menu in terms of giving us great amounts of detail. The relationship between the Federation at large and Starfleet in particular is hazy at the best of times, and frequently enough it seems to me that Starfleet's policies are treated as basically being the views of Federation citizens.
Booming
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Omicron has given us a nice closing statement.

I still hold the opinion though that warp capability is not a good deciding factor. Others seem more useful like will the civilization notice or is the problem natural or self inflicted and so on.

I love this stuff...! :)
Jason R.
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 4:37am (UTC -5)
"it's just an engineering problem. And if it's just an engineering problem, it can be done."

Well errrr.... I am gonna have to disagree on this premise. I guess a Dyson's sphere is also just an engineering problem too. So don't get me wrong I am not suggesting any of this is capital "I" impossible - just that it's probably kind of almost certainly impossible as one seriously wonders if it could ever realistically happen given the limits of human ingenuity, physical / psychological endurance, resources.

There's this cool comment by the Overlords in Childhood's End about this topic and their conclusion was just no... humans ain't travelling to the stars sorry - not unless we evolve into some kind of semi immortal super octopus people.

Like when Ali G asked Buzz Aldren if man would ever walk on the sun should Buzz have said "sure! It's just an engineering problem!" or be risk being thought a fool by future generations? I guess if the Hirogen and Thor could do it...

I think about nuclear fusion as an interesting example of something that most people think of as "just an engineering problem" and there's just this manifest destiny about it, like of course it will happen. And people forget that our scientific community has been banging its collective head against this particular brick wall for well over 70 years and to date not one example exists - not one - of anyone ever demonstrating that net gain fusion is even possible with any of the designs in existence, whether laser based or magnetic. Because reproducing a process that only exists in the heart of stars is bloody hard even if it doesn't violate the laws of physics. And fusion is as far from interstellar travel as having a sun tan on the beach is from walking on the sun Hirogen style.
Booming
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 6:11am (UTC -5)
As far as I know there is quite a bit of development in the field of nuclear fusion.
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-50267017

I'm fairly confident that some of the described approaches will lead to a usable reactor, a so called Tokomak. (picture in the link)
https://comicvine1.cbsistatic.com/uploads/scale_medium/1/15659/5325753-7425820912-latest
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 6:31am (UTC -5)
@Jason R.

"I guess a Dyson's sphere is also just an engineering problem too."

That's right.

It's just a problem that we can't even begin to tackle at our current technological level. To us, RIGHT NOW, it is in the "impossible" category. But the impossible of today becomes the reality of tomorrow, if we wait long enough.

You say it is difficult. Well... yeah. Did I ever try to imply otherwise? Yes, mastering fusion is hard. Interstellar travel is hard. But we humans didn't get where we are by being afraid of figuring out the hard stuff.

And just think of all the things we take for granted in 2019, which the people of (say) 1800 would deem impossible. Things like the internet, or nuclear submarines, or men walking on the moon. Humans are a resourceful bunch, so why should the future be any different? Do you really think that the people of 2200 will care about our current practical limitations?
Jason R.
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 7:31am (UTC -5)
"As far as I know there is quite a bit of development in the field of nuclear fusion.
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-50267017

I'm fairly confident that some of the described approaches will lead to a usable reactor, a so called Tokomak. (picture in the link)
https://comicvine1.cbsistatic.com/uploads/scale_medium/1/15659/5325753-7425820912-latest"

Oh I am aware of this. There are some good books on the history of fusion research that are worth checking out - A Piece of the Sun, for example.

What is interesting is that back in the 50s it was just assumed by many that fusion would be mastered within the decade. And why not? We went from crude atomic piles to working nuclear fission reactors in a couple decades. The hydrogen bomb itself is based on fusion. So you could forgive researchers their optimism.

But as of 2019, no one has demonstrated even a proof of concept on an experimental level, to say nothing of a working reactor. ITER, the massive Tokamak being built by a consortium in Europe, is a big gamble, essentially something based on a really good guess that size and scale will make the Tokamak design work where it never has in the past with smaller scale experiments.

Essentially, ITER, for all its fanfare and outrageous cost, is still just a glorified science experiment. No one knows if it will even work.

I see this line of thinking as essentially fallacious - well we did X and X is really amazing so ergo anything we set our minds to, anything in our field of vision (even the stars!) has to be possible. Like my 5 year old thinking she can walk to Montreal because she walked downtown.

"It's just a problem that we can't even begin to tackle at our current technological level."

It's a problem that frankly I'd bet money on us never being able to accomplish at any technological level. There's walking on the moon and then there's walking on the sun.

I think the fictional Overlords may have had a point.
Booming
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 9:37am (UTC -5)
I guess in 2025 we will know.

"Like my 5 year old thinking she can walk to Montreal because she walked downtown."
That is a somewhat insulting comparison and not for me or Omicron, ok also for Omicron and me, but mostly for the involved scientists who are probably the best in the world.

A child is incapable of grasping the concept of distance (and speed, too) because of their development and knowledge. These scientists on the other hand know far more about all this than we do. They know if they can get to Montreal. ;)

And every experimental design is a gamble but JET already reached 0.67x output/input ratio and ITER is supposed to produce 10x the input.

But as I said maybe it will work maybe it won't. I think it will, you think it won't. Only time will tell. Thankfully in this case we know when we will probably have an answer.

2025
Jason R.
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 10:00am (UTC -5)
Booming I didn't mean to imply you or anyone else was a child. But on a cosmic scale, our knowledge of how things truly work might as well be on par with a child's - which is another way of saying, to quote Hela: "Dahling, you have no idea what's possible [or impossible]"

And yes it will be very interesting to see what ITER and others are able to accomplish. Although I confess to being disappointed to learn that even if ITER delivers on everything it promises, the most optimistic projections don't promise anything remotely like a commercial reactor until the end of the 21st century.

That's what kind of sucks. In 2019 we are still at the science experiment phase of the process.

One project that I did find interesting though is General Fusion, a company that seeks to initiate fusion using pistons to compress a tiny grain of tritium. What is neat about that one is that it's meant to produce an actual reactor and isn't just a big experiment. If it's successful, we could see economic commercial fusion within a couple decades!
Chrome
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 11:26am (UTC -5)
Honestly, I don't think anything about the PD is meant to be a hard and fast rule. In the PD's TNG debut in "Justice" the episode debating interference ends with Riker saying "Since when has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?". This implies that even Starfleet officers learn to think about exceptions to the PD.
Peter G.
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 12:31pm (UTC -5)
@ Booming,

I think a more reasonable interpretation of Jason R's comment could avoid the insinuation that he's calling leading scientists a bunch of children. There is a much better way to frame the issue, and it involves an analogy just like the 8,000,000 km walk that a little kid thinks they can do since they can walk downtown. The issue is about timeframe. Given infinite time I personally have no doubt that we will be able to juggle galaxies like Q can do. However the fact that matter might be amenable to manipulation using incredibly advanced techniques doesn't give us even remotely a comprehension of just how tough that next quantum leap in technology would be. Will the next thing comparable to the computer age happen in 100 years, or in a million? No way to know.

Sci-fi's usual failing is in woefully mistaking how hard certain things really are to achieve. In TNG for instance, we see PADD's which looked super cool at the time, like, 'futuristic' and all that. Thing is, we already had stuff better than PADDs a mere 20 years later (granted, not run with isolinear chips). But Trek also had warp drive being developed around 2063, which is reminiscent - but far more egregious - of Back to the Future's flying car system by 2019 or whatever. Such infrastructure changes, and the necessary AI accompaniment, are far more costly and difficult than they perhaps thought; but it's a fun movie so whatever. But warp drive? That might take 10,000 years to achieve, if it's even possible. Frank Herbert is one of the few sci-fi authors to have the good sense to set Dune 20,000 years in the future, as he saw it as unrealistic to expect grand advancements too soon. His timeframe is arbitrary, but at least it recognizes that some discoveries may be so far-off that they may as well be impossible from the standpoint of current planning purposes.

So when discussing the PD, having warp drive may or may not be a good indicator of advancement. In Trek they seem to think it is; some here think othewise; but really we don't know. The gist seems to be that if an alien can come to you then there's no point avoiding them. But whether they really means they're 'advanced' would have to do with how hard it is to achieve warp drive, which we can't actually assess. Do we expect transporters would be easier or harder than warp drive? At present it woudl seem to be impossible (Heisenberg compensators) - but is it? Maybe it's waaaay easier than warp drive, and for all we know could come in a fraction of the time. Or maybe in 10x the time; or maybe it's impossible.

But just for comparison's sake, assuming we had a policy in North America of leaving native villages alone if they have no contact with outside civilization, if we saw them flying around in stealth bombers you'd better believe we'd be making contact with them.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 11:15pm (UTC -5)
@Peter
"But Trek also had warp drive being developed around 2063, which is reminiscent - but far more egregious - of Back to the Future's flying car system by 2019 or whatever."

To be fair, warp drive is clearly described (in the Trekverse) as something that came completely out of the blue. It's not a natural development from previous technologies, nor does it require a mammoth effort of engineering.

There's no way to predict such wildcard technologies. Such a breakthrough could happen tomorrow, or it could take a million years. You kinda hinted at this when you discussed the transporter, but the same - really - is true for warp drive as well.
Peter G.
Thu, Dec 19, 2019, 12:13am (UTC -5)
@ Omicron,

Agreed, which is why I think it's a bit funny to disagree with warp drive being a good indicator of 'advancement'. Disagree on what basis? We don't know how tough it would be to invent, which is why I made the scale argument: if it's much harder than Trek would lead us to believe then perhaps it's a good indicator. Maybe it's not 'the line', but at the very least very clearly past the line where you should make contact with them. I don't see it as being an unreasonable standard, personally, although I also agree with the notion put forward that there could be parallel standards that could also permit first contact.
Yanks
Thu, Dec 19, 2019, 6:25am (UTC -5)
@ OmicronThetaDeltaPhi

"To be fair, warp drive is clearly described (in the Trekverse) as something that came completely out of the blue. It's not a natural development from previous technologies, nor does it require a mammoth effort of engineering."

Would you please explain what in the trekverse made you come to that conclusion?

"There's no way to predict such wildcard technologies. Such a breakthrough could happen tomorrow, or it could take a million years. You kinda hinted at this when you discussed the transporter, but the same - really - is true for warp drive as well."

Well, one would think in the trekverse, evaluating the advancement of a race based on what it takes to develop said technology would make perfect sense.

What are they supposed to use? .... have them take a test?

Further, I've always thought that "we" didn't want to expose a race to the interstellar community until they possessed the technology to participate in it. Warp drive in the trekverse is the means to that end. This is why, to me, in The Orville, when they made first contact with that species because they transmitted a signal asking if someone was out there was stupid.
Chrome
Thu, Dec 19, 2019, 10:00am (UTC -5)
Booming’s point that warp drive is arbitrary is still correct. Think about the Iconians who had portals that could take them anywhere without a warp drive. Now in my mind they had warp drive too but the show is silent on the matter and we can imagine if they didn’t Starfleet would still make FC with them.

Out of universe, I just think warp drive is an easy point of advancement for a television audience to understand when almost certainly an actual Prime Directive would be more complex and flexible.
Top Hat
Thu, Dec 19, 2019, 10:24am (UTC -5)
At risk of simply making excuses, is it possible that even in-world "warp drive" is just being used as a shorthand for "the capacity for speedy interstellar travel"?

There's no specific mention of warp drive as a criteria for interference in this episode. Picard does say, "Her society is aware that there is interstellar life?" as if that's the big determiner. I tend to think that the Edo in "Justice" are in that "not warp capable but aware" zone because they hardly behave as if they're learning about aliens for the first time, and there seems to be no intrinsic problem with contacting them.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Thu, Dec 19, 2019, 3:09pm (UTC -5)
@Yanks
"Would you please explain what in the trekverse made you come to that conclusion?"

Well, Zefram Cochrane built a warp capable ship in his backyard, in the midst of a post apocalyptic world.

Not a decade later, while still recovering from WWIII, Earth already had many major warp projects going on: Friendship 1, the Conestoga, the Valiant. So it can't be that difficult, once you get have the theoretical basis in place.

I mean, it's probably not trivially easy. I doubt an average Federation kid could build a warp engine from scratch (unless the parts can be replicated). Cochrane still had an entire team working on the project. He also managed to get the Phoenix into orbit using a regular rocket, whIch is already an impressive engineering feat for a private operation.

But still, it is clear that warp drive isn't as difficult as creating a relativistic spaceship using any of the currently known designs. It isn't as difficult as building a ramjet with a scoop the size of a small world. Or a photon rocket with an engine that can contain double the ship's own weight in antimatter while withstanding
multiple petawatts of heat and radiation for months on end. Or an Alcubierre "warp drive", for that matter.

Another piece of evidence, though less conclusive, is the way the Malcorian warp program was depicted in the episode "First Contact". I know it was government funded, but it still seemed like a relatively small project. Also, the Malcorians are in a stage of technological development similar to 20th century earth. That also limits the maximum possible technical difficulty level of building a warp engine.

"Further, I've always thought that "we" didn't want to expose a race to the interstellar community until they possessed the technology to participate in it. Warp drive in the trekverse is the means to that end. This is why, to me, in The Orville, when they made first contact with that species because they transmitted a signal asking if someone was out there was stupid. "

Why is it stupid?

One could argue that having both the capability and the motivation to send messages to the stars is the best criteria to dropping by and saying "hello".

Isn't that a form of participation? Do you really need to be *physically* out there, in order to participate in a community? And isn't the fact that I'm asking this on an internet forum, wonderfully ironic?

In short, don't think the Orville's way of doing this is any stupider than Star Trek. It's just different (though it was definitely stupid of them to just stroll onto that planet without any kind of research into the local cultural taboos).
Q
Fri, Jan 3, 2020, 10:30pm (UTC -5)
Happy 2020 to all of the Trek and Jammer fans! I love that we are still discussing these stories after 30 years and that they are still relevant!

I also love the leadership example that Picard provides in this episode; it should be held up as an example for corporate managers as to how to interact with staff on a non-emergency basis.

Data, one of his trusted senior officers, comes to him and says " Eight weeks ago I received a transmission, a simple four word message, 'Is anybody out there?' I answered it." Picard could have chastised him or questioned him but instead shows understanding and compassion, "There is a loneliness inherent in that whisper from the darkness."

Data then advises that the species is not aware of interstellar life. Again, Picard does not chastise his officer. All he said was "Oops. Just where does she think you're calling from?" assuming the best about the way his officer handled the situation.

When Data ultimately suggests violating the Prime Directive, Picard does not immediately dismiss the idea but instead convenes a conference (informal hearing) to hear opinions (arguments) prior to rendering a judgment, while concurrently ordering Data to cease the communications (putting a gag order in place). Very judicial and wise. He does not presume to have all the answers and initially wields only a prudent amount of authority.

(Side thought - this episode may have transpired differently if there were a JAG officer on-board. It's probably best they were kept on starbases/planets.)

Discussion points if anyone is interested? Do you agree with my assessment of Picard's leadership style or do you think he should have just summarily made a decision? For those of you who have managers, how do you think they would react in the same situation? (I asked my wife, she said her boss would freak out and scream. Conversely, I am considering leaving private practice and working for someone; I know he would respond very much like PIcard. )
Jason R.
Sat, Jan 4, 2020, 7:42am (UTC -5)
"Discussion points if anyone is interested? Do you agree with my assessment of Picard's leadership style or do you think he should have just summarily made a decision? For those of you who have managers, how do you think they would react in the same situation? (I asked my wife, she said her boss would freak out and scream. Conversely, I am considering leaving private practice and working for someone; I know he would respond very much like PIcard. )"

I remember I once missed a deadline on filing an appeal in court on a very significant file. I completely screwed up - was referring to sub rule X which was a 15 day deadline when Y was applicable with only 7 days. Absolutely my fault, no excuse. I get in at 6 so I ended up just leaving the office at 6:30 and not coming back until 8:00 because I was so upset and needed to take a long walk to nowhere.

Anyway, the guy in charge of the file didn't miss a beat when I communicated the error when he got in at 9:00. Just extremely practical - how do we fix this? Didn't even flinch. And fix it we did, not even as big a deal as I thought. He was always like that. Never one to get angry just extremely practical (what do we do to make the best of this?)

It's really the ideal boss personality type. If someone screws up it's something to deal with in terms of performance review time or heck fire them if need be at some point later, after the crisis is resolved. No sense in freaking out. Picard's management is bang on. It's a model I have tried to follow in my own practice when people under me have screwed up.
Jason R.
Sun, Jan 5, 2020, 7:06pm (UTC -5)
This is another understated gem. I just love the chemistry here between the characters as they play off one another. My favourite moment in this one is when Worf expresses the absolutist rule oriented opinion and Pulaski retorts that his way is "cowardly" (definitely a deliberate choice of words on her part) - and then Picard sensing that Worf is in danger of tearing the good doctor's throat out puts up his arms like everyone take this down a notch! I also love the "how deep are we now?" gag between Picard and Riker.

This episode is pure character with a classic prime directive debate with Picard as the lynchpin. Even Picard's discussion of horseback riding with Troi is splendid character work for him.

The Wesley parts about leadership tie elegantly into the main plot. As much as I want to dislike Wesley here I can't because his story is done splendidly.

I give this 3.5 stars and only withhold a 4 star rating owing to the fact that such great character work was done in the service of a relatively mediocre (but totally passable) plot.

I have to say, this latest watching of Season 2 is giving me new respect for these episodes. It's not as consistent as Season 3 or 4 but I strongly suspect with episodes like this (not to mention bona fide classics like Q Who and Measure of a Man) it might be the third strongest season overall.
Jakob
Mon, Jan 13, 2020, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
The crew were completely wrong to play God like that. If you can’t save every planet it is nothing but sentimental favouritism to expend so much energy saving one. Also, Sarjenka was such an awful, insolent child. When she’s on the bridge of the Enterprise and Troy wants to talk to her, and she screams “just leave me alone” I felt like I would have said, “if you want to be left alone then stay off of their bridge/starship!” She wasn’t in her home or even on her planet, when you’re in someone else’s home you should follow their directions, not make demands and defy what you’re told to do.
Jason R.
Mon, Jan 13, 2020, 1:23pm (UTC -5)
"Also, Sarjenka was such an awful, insolent child. When she’s on the bridge of the Enterprise and Troy wants to talk to her, and she screams “just leave me alone” I felt like I would have said, “if you want to be left alone then stay off of their bridge/starship!”

Little children are such idiots.
Lisa M
Thu, Feb 6, 2020, 8:41pm (UTC -5)
I find Picard's unwavering support of the PD annoying. As in the episode where Worf's brother saves one village of an entire planet, against the PD, of course. Then as the planet dies, the bridge crew stands and watches. Sorry, I could support Nikolai's desire to save his host village, defying all rules.

These episodes are why I don't care for Picard. I would gladly serve under Kirk, who would do anything to save planets or races, against the rules. Picard would rather spout rules and watch a world die.

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