Written by Richard Manning and Hans Beimler
Directed by Robert Wiemer
One item often mentioned in the Star Trek universe is the Prime Directive. This is a statement that superior cultures should not interfere with the development of inferior cultures. It seems to stem from the Vulcan race who first travel to Earth in the movie Star Trek: First Contact after humans first achieve warp capability. That capability seems to be the pivotal point of defining an inferior versus a superior culture.
In Who Watches the Watchers we see how the Federation studies these so-called inferior cultures. On the planet Mintaka III there is a Vulcan-like race early in development – about Earth’s Bronze Age. On the planet is a Federation post manned by three anthropologists. The post is hidden from the natives by a complex use of a holographic generator to make it seem part of the mountain. The Enterprise in communication with the post when a malfunction occurs and leaves observatory visible to planet’s inhabitants. The Enterprise races to the planet to help the anthropological team.
Geordi, Data & Riker (LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner & Jonathan Frakes) manage to get the holographic generator working again, but the power supply was damaged. In between that time the observatory is spotted by a local man, Liko, who becomes injured. His son, Oji, watches as Liko and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) beam up to the Enterprise. Power is then restored to the damaged observatory and it disappears.
Dr. Crusher heals the man, then attempts to erase his short-term memory as Dr. Pulaski did with the character of Sajenka in Pen Pals. However, because of certain physical differences, the memory erase does not work. Liko remembers waking up aboard the Enterprise and being healed. The retelling of the tale gives rise to a new set of religious beliefs with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) as their new God.
There is still a third member of anthropological team missing. It is believed that he entered a cave and is shielded from sensors. Riker and Troi (Marina Sirtis) alter their appearances to blend in with Mintakans. They have to see what cultural contamination has occurred as well as locate the missing member of the team.
All in all, this is a pretty good episode. It can cause a great debate as it shows how a superior being arriving in a primitive society can cause a new religious-like belief to evolve. It can make you question our own religious beliefs as it shows just how “rising from the dead” can seem to have occurred. Anything that makes me think and makes me wonder is good, to me. I don’t want to have blind faith in anything and although I am deeply spiritual, I like having that tested from time to time. A story like this is a good test of that faith.
It also demonstrates how wanting to please our “God” can have disastrous results. None of the Mintakans is sure exactly what to do when an out-of-season lightning storm occurs and they believe it is because they are in disfavor with “The Picard”. This misinterpretation and the inability of Loki to reconcile himself with his wife’s death in a flood a year earlier almost lead him to murder Troi in sacrifice.
The writers wrote a good story that is thought-provoking and very consistent with what has been shown in the Star Trek universe. Kudos go to them for consistency in mentioning Dr. Pulaski and her technique used here – it fit in perfectly. The idea of a camouflaged observation post is used again in the film Star Trek: Insurrection.
The performances are all very good, especially by Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes when they disguise themselves as travelers on the Mintakan world. The reactions on their faces is priceless as they listed to their Captain referred to as a God. Likewise, Patrick Stewart’s reaction to all of this is very in-character for Picard, and played perfectly by Stewart. Not only does he not like the idea, but he seems to be physically uncomfortable with it.
Of course the episode wraps up very neatly, and the Mintakans are left on their own to progress as they should. However, I would have found it interesting to return for some reason later on in the series (or further in the future) to find out just what effect the interaction with the Federation visitors has on the culture.
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Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Bonding