Written by Hannah Louise Shearer and Tracy Torme
Directed by Kim Manners
The Enterprise follows a trail to a legendary planet that no one has yet been able to prove exists. When the planet Aldea is actually found by them, initially no one seems to question why, after all these years when no one else could find it, the Enterprise and its crew manage to. Eventually, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), the ship’s First Officer, does comment that it did seem like they were being led right to the planet.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to deter Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) in the least as he immediately seeks to establish relations with the Aldeans. Their technology seems to be much more advanced than that which the Federation currently possesses. The half-Betazed ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), also cautions that all is not what it seems after her empathic abilities kick in during a conversation with the Aldean leaders.
For a very long time the Aldeans managed to conceal their planet using a shield similar to a cloaking device. Why have they suddenly allowed themselves to be seen?
The answer comes when all of the children mysteriously disappear from the Enterprise. It seems that the Aldean race is dying off and they wish to take the children to replenish it. They offer technological and logistical information in return for these children. Captain Picard must now find a way to get the children back through the powerful Aldean planetary shield before they decide to enact the cloaking device and disappear.
This part of the plot is very well done. Watching Captain Picard deal with the Aldeans on one hand and the irate parents on the other was very interesting. Patrick Stewart has done a wonderful job, especially conveying the fact that Picard does not like children and feels quite uncomfortable around them. This does not prevent him from having empathy for the parents who do not know what has happened to their children.
The biggest part that doesn’t work, however, is the Aldean culture itself. This is a supposed advanced race with technology the likes of which the Federation can only dream. However, not one of the surviving Aldeans seems to have any clue as to how it operates. Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) eventually figures out that the power source for the great shield is depleting the ozone and allowing dangerous radiation to the planet which has caused the sterility. If this is so easy for her to discover, why weren’t one of the early scientists aware of this?
Here on Earth, we have noticed ozone problems with technology that is far behind that of the Aldeans, so it does not make sense that the people who created all of this technology would have no idea of the damage it could be doing. Even if it were believable that the remainder of the Aldean population has no mathematical or scientific education, the people who originally conceived of this technology should have been more adept. The Aldeans we see now seem to be totally clueless as parents as well when they have to deal with mild rebelliousness on the part of the children when they stage a “sit-in” demanding to be returned to the Enterprise.
If I had to guess, I would say that this episode was written by someone who hasn’t had children. They are entirely too well-behaved and seem to feel at home on Aldea entirely too fast. There are no signs that they miss their parents or act out until Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) organizes the “sit-in”. The one boy, who we are shown being scolded by his father for not wanting to learn calculus in the beginning of the episode, seems to prefer being on Aldea. When they are eventually reunited with the parents, it seems as if the parents are being played as the “bad guys” for telling the boy he has to go to school, rather than letting him do whatever he wants.
This is not bad for one of the episodes for the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, if a more plausible scenario was found for the source of the sterility of the Aldeans rather than the ozone depletion, it would have been much better.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation: Home Soil
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Coming of Age
While I watched EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first season at least twice (I bought the series on Blu-ray season by season, so I know I watched Season One in sequence at least two times…once in 1987-1988, then again in 2012), it’s my least favorite. Even taking into consideration the fact that many series we love have rocky first seasons and then get better over time, Gene Roddenberry (and his lawyer) exerted way too much control over the writing. I’ve watched the officially-sanctioned behind the scenes stuff in my Blu-ray set, and the bottom line is that Roddenberry apparently was so dogmatic about Star Trek as a gateway to dispensing his philosophy that he violated many story-telling rules.
Season One episodes’ A stories usually boil down to two basic ideas:
1. The Enterprise encounters a new culture, and as a result, our crew learns something new from the new civilization
2. The Enterprise encounters a new culture, and as a result, our crew teaches the alien culture something new
That’s it. The rest was just embroidery. As long as Roddenberry had control of the show (which he gradually lost until Paramount hired Michael Piller to act as head of the writers’ room), that was the basic pattern. There were outstanding exceptions (the episode with the Bynars, episodes with Q), but Season One was nowhere as good as Star Trek: The Original Series’ first year.
I’ve said before that I quit watching it part of the way through during its initial run. I didn’t start watching again until the 3rd season, when one of my friends told me it had gotten much better. I think the best writing Star Trek had, though was in Deep Space Nine where there were more conflicts and there wasn’t the need for humanity to be “perfect”.
I liked Deep Space Nine! I remember some of my friends wringing their hands about “Oh noes, it’s going to be on a space station! Star Trek is about starships exploring…” My reaction was, “I’ll give it a shot. If I don’t like it, I simply won’t watch it.”
I can’t say I watched DS9 religiously, but I liked it far more than I did Seasons One and Two of ST-TNG. The only reason I stuck with TNG all the way through was that I liked the cast and hoped it would get better.
And honestly, as much as I’m grateful that Gene created The Original Series and gave us Kirk, Spock, McCoy as well as the TNG Seven, I think all the adulation from fans in the early days of Trek and during the “Dry Years” went to his head. I had the Columbia Records “Inside Star Trek” record and I was captivated by his public persona (Gene was great at self-promotion) when I listened to his stories about Star Trek and its brief run on NBC. And he was smart, no doubt about that. But I think the whole “Great Bird of the Galaxy” thing just went to his head and, rightly or wrongly, he thought that Star Trek, being HIS show, should be a philosophy lesson in sci-fi drag rather than a smarter than average action-adventure in a sci-fi setting. I was sad when he passed (at the time, I had no idea why TNG was so iffy the first two years, and I still respect him for creating Trek. But he really wasn’t as great as he – or his devotees – thought. His post-TOS career is littered with failed pilots, one awful theatrical movie (not Star Trek-related) and the so-so Star Trek: The Motion Picture. After that..his only success while he still lived was TNG, and even then he had to be politely pushed to one side till his passing.
DS9 was very much like TOS, only grittier and more serialized. That’s why it worked so well, don’t you think?