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-200-201: "Redemption"
-202: "Darmok"
-203: "Ensign Ro"
-209: "A Matter of Time"
-213: "The Masterpiece Society"
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-226-227: "Time's Arrow"


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Darmok

(Star Trek - The Next Generation episode production code 202)
  • story by Joe Menosky and Philip Lazebnik
  • teleplay by Joe Menosky
  • directed by Winrich Kolbe
  • music by Jay Chattaway

Darmok

Season Five proper gets underway with this episode, in which a unique and very bizarre linguistic stunt attempts to underpin the drama in a disappointingly formulaic Trek action plot.

As I am a very keen student of the basic grammar of a wide variety of real Earth languages (in other words, Klingon excluded), you might guess that this story would be just my thing. But no. I consider this episode decent, but I don't much care for it half as much as most other fans seem to. The bottom line for me is that I really don't find the premise of it to be very believable.

The race we meet here, known as "The Children of Tama", could never properly function in precisely the way they are presented here. Perhaps to begin to look at them properly, I think we need to look at what does work about them. Buried in the middle of the show is a really good bit of detail that gives us our best handle on something that might work. It is said that their psychological make-up features an underdeveloped ego, and that they thrive on citing example as both a means of not only communicating, but also thinking. That's absolutely fabulous, and I'd go with that concept 100%. Now, where would that lead them? I'd say that's justification enough for them to develop a language where everything is expressed in the third person. In other words, they never say "I" or "me" or "you" or "us" or "our". They can only conjugate verbs for "he, she, it" and "they". I can swallow the premise enough to go that far with it.

But to limit their communication to the point where they can only manage a litany of proper names as they attempt first contact with another culture.... No, I'm sorry, this renders them far too BACKWARDS to be able to build spacecraft and fly around the galaxy. Such a form of communication would indicate a society in great regress, their ideas recycled back upon each other and suffering Beaudrillard's decay of meaning with each iteration. They could not possibly grow within such a strict limitation.

We should also notice here how they don't really stick to that strict limitation throughout the whole episode. Their stories are embellished with a lot of phrases with proper third person grammar. And in fact, how could you ever revel in or express any of these high-level ideas of communication such as mythological tales and examples without first developing the lower level stages of communication like words, verbs, nouns, and the grammar that puts them together?

One of the great missing pieces of the puzzle for this episode's credibility is the concept of education in the society of the "Children of Tama". How do they teach their children all these mythological stories, and pass on the meaning of so many different proper names, to the point where they can enjoy a spacefaring technology? We can, of course, come up with a number of answers to that question, but then logically, those answers also need to show up in the episode, as things that Captain Dathon might attempt with Picard and crew. Would they not show them videos, or put on plays, or at least attempt an exchange of literature or something? A Rosetta stone for their language? Could they not have tried beaming over a copy of Dathon's Captain's log, instead of having Picard steal a glimpse of it by accident on the planet?

Indeed, it is the sequence of methods that the "Children of Tama" use to attempt communication which doesn't quite ring true. Remember, they start off on a brilliant note, sending a signal containing a simple mathematical progression. This demonstrates that, not only do they understand mathematics, but also that they are capable of thinking about what they might have in common with other species, and that they recognize the importance of starting with the simple basics (grammar falls into this category) before building up to the higher levels of advanced communication (mythological metaphor depending on proper names falls into this category).

So now, can we really believe that a society would be space-faring and intelligent, begin contact with mathematics, proceed with a litany of proper names upon meeting face-to-face, and.... here comes the real kicker: ignore all kinds of other sensible approaches, to instead resort to one of the most boring and overused Star Trek action plots instead.?!

Holy cow! This is perhaps my biggest beef with the episode. I really don't like episodes that trap one of the regular characters on a planet against their wishes, predictably for the middle 80% of its screentime. It puts my emotions on automatic disengage, and I want to fast-forward to the end of the show, when you know they'll finally be allowed to come back unscathed. TV Trek has been overusing that formula since it began in the sixties. Today's example of forced bonding through a shared hardship is filled with a lot of other overused dramatic clichés as well, most icky of all being the reverence surrounding the pointless noble sacrifice of Captain Dathon's life by the writers. Not very original, and to my tastes, not satisfying at all.

A friend of mine remarked what a shocking moment it was when Picard was caught in the transporter beam, and frustratingly couldn't help his new found friend and ally. I was a bit less than impressed, having seen another example that engaged my emotions to a far greater degree in Part 8 of "The Trial of a Time Lord" (and really, do watch the earlier 7 parts first or the moment won't have the proper impact).

Also quite prominently making its debut in this story is a new piece of wardrobe for Picard: An outer jacket in his traditional red colour code for command, which hangs loose enough to reveal the very dull bluish-grey basic tunic underneath. Although the jacket idea is okay, I was never too enamoured with the outfit, particularly the dullness of the undergarment, which left Picard sporting the wrong colour in many jacket-less scenes later in the season. It seems a bit bizarre for him to be wearing such an "outdoorsy" outfit at the beginning of this story, as though he knows in advance that he's going to be captured and suddenly end up on the planet. Plus, as with many of the other old Trek clichés getting another tired outing in this episode, he follows one of Kirk's great traditions in getting his new shirt ripped and thoroughly ruined while having his exciting action adventure, and then it is miraculously replaced for the rest of the season. Time to sigh, do a faceplant, and empathize with Kif from "Futurama".


No, this story just didn't do it for me. It's not bad in some ways, gives you something interesting to think about, and has a number of worthy scenes that work. But I think to really explore the central idea properly and do it justice, the society of "The Children of Tama" needs to be fleshed out much better, and the episode needs a completely different plot that believably suits that society. This early season five gimmick didn't produce all that great an episode in the end.



This Next Generation Season Five story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Five (1991-1992):

Features 26 episodes @ 45 minutes each, including both parts of "Unification".
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for more information:
DVD U.S.

DVD Canada

DVD U.K.
(regular)
7-disc DVD set
DVD U.S.

DVD Canada

DVD U.K.
slimline

DVD Extras include:

  • Mission Overview: Year Five
  • Production & Visual Effects
  • Memorable Missions: Year Five
  • A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry
  • "Intergalactic Guest Stars" clip
  • "Alien Speak" alien writings and speech
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
Nov. 19, 2013.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
Nov. 19, 2013.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 18, 2013.

Blu-ray features add:

  • 4 Audio Commentaries:
    • "Cause and Effect" by writer Brannon Braga and moderator Seth MacFarlane.
    • "The First Duty" by writers Ronald D. Moore and
      Naren Shankar.
    • "I, Borg" by writer René Echevarria and scenic/graphic artists Mike and Denise Okuda.
    • "The Inner Light" by co-writer Morgan Gendel and the Okudas.
  • Two-part documentary "Requiem: A Remembrance of ST:TNG" (HD, 59 min. total) with 1981 interview clips of the late Gene Roddenberry, plus Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Michael Dorn (Worf), writers Moore, Braga, and Shankar, and executive producer Rick Berman.
  • In Conversation: The Music of ST:TNG (HD, 65 min.) with composers Ron Jones, Dennis McCarthy, and Jay Chattaway, and host Jeff Bond.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD)
  • Gag Reel (HD)
  • 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: Ensign Ro



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