Written by Jaron Summers, Jon Povill, and Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rob Bowman
As the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation begins, we are faced with a sea of changes. The most notable of which is the exile of Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) to Head of Starfleet Medical. Her replacement is Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur). It is said that the producers wanted to go “a different way” with the doctor character. I think what they were shooting for was the curmudgeon-type relationship that DeForrest Kelley had brought to the original series. Here’s a spoiler: they don’t achieve that.
We also see Geordi LaForge now promoted to Chief Engineer, rather than having that part be the “guest engineer of the week.” Wesley Crusher now sits at the helm of the Enterprise more often.
One of the brightest spots to the whole series is the introduction in this episode of the 10-Forward Lounge and the introduction of Whoopi Golberg as Guinan who runs the place. No one knows too much about her except that she is from a species that is extremely long-lived. There are rumors to a long-standing relationship with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), but nothing too much is revealed about her in the beginning.
Most importantly, this episode marks the first time we see Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) with a beard! He will be seen this way for the remainder of the series until the movie Star Trek: Insurrection.
Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi was terribly underwritten in the first season. In this first episode of the second season she gets her chance to shine. Troi discovers she is pregnant after sensing some sort of presence visiting her in the night. Sirtis does a wonderful job looking uncomfortable as the various members of the crew gather with Captain Picard and Dr. Pulaski to debate whether or not her pregnancy should be allowed to continue. With no one asking her how she feel or what she wants to do, concerns and ideas are debated. Finally, she strongly announces that she is having this baby.
The baby grows at an alarming rate and is delivered full-term in just 36 hours. Deanna names the boy Ian after her father. He continues this amazing rate of growth outside the womb as well and in one day he ages approximately 4 years.
Though part alien, his is still constrained by his human capabilities. Even as he ages he does not have the cognitive skill to explain who he is and how and why he came to be there.
The second story going on while all this is happening is that the Enterprise has been selected to transport deadly samples of a plasma plague to a Federation research station where an antidote to the plague ravishing the Rachelis System will be developed. Even the most innocuous of the samples would kill of all life on the ship. The transport of these samples must be done in the most secure of conditions, preventing their growth and consequent contamination of the ship.
Of course, one of the samples begins to grow. Anyone surprised by that? The source of growth seems to be a certain type of radiation, yet no one can figure out what the source of that radiation is. The usual causes of the radiation have not been present aboard the Enterprise.
Ian knows, though, that he is the source of the problem. He valiantly “dies” saving the crew. In his death, however, he transforms back into that pinpoint of light which impregnated Troi and communicates to her that he just happened upon the Enterprise in space and was curious about humans.
Again, in portraying a mother – albeit for only a few days – watching her son die, Sirtis gives a great performance. We feel her anguish and her pain as circumstances around her spin out of control, yet she is so emotionally intertwined with them. It is also nice to see homage paid to Troi’s previous relationship with Riker. At times he comes off the jealous suitor, while at others a deeply devoted friend with a stronger bond between the two characters than any friends could possibly have.
What falls flat about this episode is the side story of Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) wanting to remain aboard the Enterprise. If you haven’t read my reviews, Wesley is one of my major peeves about Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although I really enjoyed his interaction with Guinan as he tries to sort out his life, it all just comes down to trying to find a reason to keep Wesley Crusher on the ship while having written off his mother. Why didn’t they just send him to Starfleet Medical with her???
There is also a bad tone to the way Dr. Pulaski treats Data (Brent Spiner). Because he is an android, she seems to treat him almost with contempt, while he is an accepted member of the crew as far as everyone else is concerned. This carries through into future episodes as well, and it isn’t a nice trait for her or for her the series.
But in the end, this episode is very good. It is surprisingly well-written and well-acted for the most part. The few shortcomings are overpowered by what is done right here.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Neutral Zone
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Where Silence Has Lease
Fun fact: “The Child” was originally written in the 1970s for the proposed revival of “Star Trek”that Paramount hoped to launch in 1977 with most of the original cast. (The only actor who wasn’t onboard at the time was Leonard Nimoy.) Paramount was hoping to create a fourth network to compete with ABC, CBS, and NBC, and “Star Trek: Phase II” was going to be its flagship show. Gene Roddenberry assembled a team of writers and producers; Ralph McQuarrie was hired to do some concept illustrations (his design for a refit Enterprise was later reworked for USS Discovery), and stories were pitched and a few scripts were written.
Well, as you know, the fourth network plan did not work out then, and a lot of the work that went into the prep for “Star Trek: Phase II” was either shelved or channeled into what eventually became “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” But because of the writers’ strike of 1988, ST:TNG had to recycle “The Child,” which was originally a “Will Decker-Ilia” story.