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Season Four:
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-189: "First Contact"
-195: "The Drumhead"
-196: "Half a Life"
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Star Trek Prime Directive
TNG Season 4

"Be the change you want to see in the world."
~ Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century Indian spiritual & political leader


(Star Trek - The Next Generation episode production code 188)
story by Bruce D. Arthurs
teleplay by Bruce D. Arthurs and Joe Menosky

For the first 3/4 of this story, viewers are given a great ride, and a fairly unique one. The last 1/4 of the story also contains many suitably creepy elements which are most welcome. But personally I think the resolution takes too many steps backwards in terms of values, and becomes that abomination often associated with time travel stories: "The Adventure That Never Happened". Strange that this time around, it springs from a tale more readily of the Prime Directive variety.

Though the Prime Directive is never mentioned by name in the episode, and quite possibly because all of the concerns of contact are hurriedly crammed into the ending, it seems that the members of the Enterprise D crew limit the options they are willing to entertain based on the kind of respect for other cultures' wishes that the Prime Directive would like to champion. But while the Paxans are free to live however they want and do whatever they want within their own society, and the Federation would be happy to let them, these Paxans have no claim to insist that other civilizations in the galaxy must be forced into non-awareness of their existence. That desire is beyond their jurisdiction, and neither the Prime Directive nor any other Federation/Starfleet law gives them any entitlement to it. If they want to back a third density concept like secrecy, they do so at the hindrance of their own growth. The bulk of the episode is actually a great example of the fact that secrecy is always destined to lose in the end, and that the truth will always out. The Federation on the other hand, prefers to back honesty, and it is vital that they be allowed to do so. We can see here how Data's integrity is compromised when he attempts to keep the truth secret, and how signs of the truth keep cropping up where the perpetrators and secret-keepers hadn't thought to cover their tracks.

What really makes one want to cry foul is the way Picard and his Federation crewmates so easily agree to side with the Paxans' secrecy. Such scenes seem to be far too abbreviated from what would normally happen on this show, because they're all crammed into a short time near the end. Specifically, options for repelling the Paxans' deadly force are not properly explored - and such avenues represent paths of higher integrity and of standing up for better values. This is what I want to see in the climax of a Star Trek episode.

Perhaps we should loop through the secrecy shtick once to give us the bulk of the episode and allow Data meanwhile to formulate defenses against the Paxans' bag of tricks. But when the confrontation comes around the second time, fire all phasers and let the deflector dish resonate the Paxans' green energy cloud to bits - an acceptable defense of Federation lives, memories, and truth. I find it hard to believe that such silly xenophobes are going to have technology that outclasses the combined technologies of all the races that make up the Federation anyway. Plus a bit of turnabout would be fair play here. A resolution with a tone similar to that of the third season episode "Allegiance", where Picard demands a bit of respect from the aliens he has just met, would be much more ideal.

It is also in fact a third density fantasy to think that secrecy can be "gotten right" - I don't buy it. There is no way in my mind to prevent the whole thing being investigated yet again, triggered by yet another whole series of clues. Better to go for honesty instead, as a matter of principle, and present that unassailable front to the Paxans. They might just have to confront their discomfort and face themselves in the mirror, knowing that Starfleet knows they're there, and they just have to lump it.

First Contact

(Star Trek - TNG episode production code 189) - (4th season episode, not to be confused with the feature film)
story by Marc Scott Zicree
teleplay by Dennis Russell Bailey & David Bischoff and Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller

Star Trek pretty much needed this great idea for an episode to become reality, just to make clear to itself, to its writers and producers, to its fans and followers, exactly what Starfleet's normal procedures are regarding contacting a new race when it's ready and how the Prime Directive applies.

And though it lays out warp drive as the most important criteria to look for in deciding when first contact should take place, the Prime Directive appears to operate on a completely separate plane, dictating "non-interference" both before and after contact. This seems fine and dandy enough.

Of course most of the trouble (and drama) of this episode is stemmed from lack of understanding of yet another principle that should always trump the Prime Directive - that of honesty. Trust is undermined in scene after scene by a character's desire for secrecy. Years of subversive contact are NOT an ideal prelude to open contact.

And never forget your Heisenberg principle, which has been particularly reinforced by the latest findings in Quantum Physics. Even just being there to observe and gather information is enough to change, in other words influence, in other words INTERFERE with what that society might have otherwise been. Non-interference is an elusive dream - better yet would be to merely set criteria for the influence you wish to promote.

And to be fair, Captain Picard doesn't do too badly in this episode. I'd like to think that an alien race contacting us would be led by someone as civil and understanding as he proved to be. And better a Picard than a James T. Kirk! ;-)

And this episode draws eerie parallels all the way through between the Malcorian society and our own, while neatly flipping our perspective to the other side by seeing our familiar human characters as the visitors. Nice. One slippery element that doesn't come across during this enactment with actors in make-up on stages is that of radically different ways of perceiving reality when different intelligent species come face to face. Even when the visitors are as honest as possible, the shock of their existence may cause the contactees to refuse to perceive what is in front of them correctly, if indeed at all. In the words of Wayne Dyer, "You'll see it when you believe it." This does come across somewhat with the character of Krola, but only on a very conscious and intellectual level. Perception of this phenomenon doesn't always rise that far to the surface. For more information of contact phenomenon, check out the work of Lyssa Royal and Royal Priest Research from the links on our Fourth Density page.

Most interesting is the bit of backstory that is laid out regarding the "first contact" that took place between the Federation and the Klingon empire. Especially since things appear to have happened differently in the Scott Bakula spin-off series "Enterprise".

"How will you keep us secret?" Picard asks the planet's Chancellor. D'Uh!! That's the opposite of the whole point. The Chancellor is diverting resources to education and social studies. What are they going to teach? How about preparation to encounter beings from other places and treat them as equals? With that in mind, the more that stories about Federation visitors leak out, the better. Don't invest in secrecy, invest in truth. Only then will you be improving the state of your society. Picard, you really shouldn't taunt these people to go backwards. But then, considering what we got in the last story "Clues", Star Trek's writers probably haven't quite figured out yet which way is forwards and which is backwards yet.

The Drumhead

(Star Trek - The Next Generation episode production code 195)
written by Jeri Taylor
stardate 44769.2

Though there is no specific challenge concerning the Prime Directive coming out of the narrative for this episode itself, we do witness Picard getting accused of violating the Prime Directive nine times since he took command in the pilot episode. I must wonder if that is truly so, or if the interpretations of the Prime Directive need to be wildly different on each of the nine occasions in order for the statement to hold.

I think you can probably count at least nine previous episodes in which the Prime Directive was mentioned or became a source of debate, but I really don't think you'll find nine violations by Picard and crew. Most of the time, for better or worse, they've played things on the safe side of this law.

My count of actual Enterprise D Prime Directive violations (as opposed to debates or policing non-Enterprise violations) includes the episodes:

  • Justice
  • Symbiosis (inadvertently at the beginning, before conforming to the Directive later on)
  • Pen Pals
  • Who Watches the Watchers?
  • The High Ground
...and that's about it. Five violations tops, so far. And I don't think I would disagree with any of them. Granted, in a legal sense, some episodes may have contained multiple violations, but since we often don't get to see exactly what the Prime Directive is, nor are writers always consistent about it, it's a difficult case for the viewer to make.

This certainly would be an interesting topic for fans to debate.

Half a Life

(Star Trek - The Next Generation episode production code 196)
story by Ted Roberts and Peter Allan Fields
teleplay by Peter Allan Fields
stardate 44805.3

This episode gives us some more interesting tidbits on the jurisdiction of the Prime Directive, evidencing that it applies to Starfleet, but not to Federation citizens from the planet Betazed, or indeed Federation ambassadors from the planet Betazed. ...Which is a really weird set-up if you ask me.

Picard: "The Prime Directive forbids us to interfere with the social order of any planet."

Lwaxana Troi: "Well it's your Prime Directive, not mine!"

....At which point she storms out of the ready-room.

This seems to be in agreement with stories like "Angel One" (TNG season 1), and in opposition to stories like "Bread and Circuses" (TOS season 2), and "Homeward" (TNG season 7). Of course, that assumes that Lwaxana Troi actually does have a legal position to act opposite to the Prime Directive's usual approach. Perhaps, as was often the case with Kirk's crew, she is merely in the habit of violating the Prime Directive whenever it suits her. With this being Majel Barrett that utters these lines, it does give a feeling that 1960's Trek is putting up a challenge to 1990's Trek.

There is a sweet bit of resolution here, when she later calms down and does some soul searching.

Lwaxana Troi: "And now I'm asking myself, is it possible I was wrong to encourage Timicin to choose life?"

Deanna Troi: "You were honest with him, mother. You had to be."

This is actually a beautiful "fourth density" template for handling delicate situations far better than the Prime Directive can. Put fear of your own influence behind you, along with all the second-guessing about future impact. Just be honest in the present moment.

And so, with minimal fuss over the Directive, and much more focus on getting at the core of the human issues, we get a much better written story than usual, which most of the actors, including guests Majel Barrett, David Ogden Stiers, and Michelle Forbes, can really sink their teeth into. This is easily the most gripping story to feature Lwaxana Troi so far, and one of Barrett's most rewarding and engaging performances, demonstrating her range. Good stuff.

These Next Generation Season Four prime directive stories are available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Four (1990-1991):

Includes 26 episodes @ 45 minutes each.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for more information:

DVD Canada

7-disc DVD set

DVD Canada


DVD Extras include 5 featurettes:

  • Mission Overview (16 min.)
  • Selected Crew Analysis (17 min.)
  • Departmental Briefing: Production (16 min.)
  • New Life and New Civilizations (13 min.)
  • Chronicles From the Final Frontier (18 min.)
Blu-ray U.S.

NEW for
July 30, 2013.
Blu-ray Canada

NEW for
July 30, 2013.
Blu-ray U.K.

NEW for
July 29, 2013.

Blu-ray features add:

  • 2 Audio Commentaries:
    • "Brothers" by director Rob Bowman and scenic/graphic artists Mike and Denise Okuda.
    • "Reunion" by writers Ronald D. Moore and
      Brannon Braga, and the Okudas.
  • Multi-part documentary "Relativity: The Family Saga of ST:TNG" (HD, 60 min.) with Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Wil Wheaton (Wes), Ron Moore, and make-up artist Michael Westmore.
  • In Conversation: The Art Department (HD, 65 min.) with designer Hermann Zimmerman, the Okudas, make-up artist Doug Drexler, and visual effects supervisor Dan Curry.
  • Gag Reel (HD)
  • Deleted Scenes (HD)
  • Archival Mission Log: Select Historical Data
  • Archival Mission Log: Inside the Star Trek Archives
  • Episodic Promos
  • plus, all featurettes from the DVD version.

Article & reviews written by Martin Izsak. Comments are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review article: "In Theory"

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