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Season Two:
-127: "The Child"
-135: "The Measure of a Man"
-136: "The Dauphin"
-139: "Time Squared"
-141: "Pen Pals"
-142: "Q Who"
-Season Two's Best Gems

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Pen Pals

(Star Trek - The Next Generation episode production code 141)
  • story by Hannah Louise Shearer
  • teleplay by Melinda M. Snodgrass
  • directed by Winrich Kolbe
  • music by Dennis McCarthy

(The episodes "The Measure of a Man" and "The Dauphin" can now be found on their own pages.)

Pen Pals

Unusually, this Star Trek story takes place over a span of about eight weeks, or more, and takes an appropriate range of season two's stardates to match. Funky. But that perhaps gives us scope for greater scrutiny. With all that extra time to think things through, we won't be able to excuse blunders as easily in the name of the heat of the moment.

Nicely, the ship seems to behave a bit more like a real spaceship would in this tale, exploring a sector in more detail than normal, and putting science first.

Leisurely senior conferences seem to be the order of the day this time around, with one big one for each of the two main plots of the story. Each features excessive amounts of dialogue, as any viewpoint that seems possible with each subject finds voice amongst one crewmember or another, whether or not it is relevant or interesting to the audience.

Wesley's leadership plot is up first. Perhaps foreknowledge of Wes's arc for the rest of the series really makes one wonder why Riker pushes to have Wes take charge in the first place. Wes has yet to actually join Starfleet Academy, much less Starfleet itself. Isn't it a bit premature to be grooming him for a top spot in the organization? All the talk of why it's good for a person in general or a proper Starfleet member specifically doesn't explain why more qualified and specialized personnel (who you would expect to be on the Enterprise) aren't being equally considered. Mind you, the leadership issues here are a very worthy part of the human condition to explore in this episode. It just feels like too much of a forced fit with Wes at this time, and it doesn't yield many great scenes anyway.

The second plot has Data secretly communicating with a young girl of an alien species, which triggers Prime Directive issues once more. Yet again, we get a full cast conference discussing the issue, which somehow escalates into a full scale trial of the Prime Directive itself. That in itself might not be a bad idea, but this is far from a great discussion of the subject, with most of the crew simply rambling through different opinions, and the conference itself losing direction.

Deanna Troi has a good line at one point, basically echoing a retort that had formed in my mind about two beats earlier. No discussion about how things are naturally *supposed* to work out should ignore the fact that the characters observing this pattern are naturally a part of it. This is the integrated "Fourth Density" side of looking at things that mankind is evolving towards. Trying to remain separate is the old way that we're about done with.

Doctor Pulaski, a typically underrated character, stands alongside most Starfleet Doctors in ranking aid first and Prime Directive issues second. Nice. But predictable. It's the "what if" questions that are used to punch holes in Pulaski's view that defocus the quality of the discussion for me. What if the suffering were caused by a virus? What if it was a war? Those questions are only useful if you are considering chucking the Directive for good, and this isn't the venue for that. It IS a geological threat, and we CAN stick with that to figure out what we're going to do today (especially if we've already chucked our most convenient label for ethics and started thinking on our feet again).

And that makes you wonder why they do as much as they do, basically a bit of terraforming, on a POPULATED planet, with their only contact being a small child. Me, I'd investigate the possibility of contact with the society's leaders first, and negotiate with them whether or not they want terraforming help, and hear their input on the matter. It boggles the mind that this step was so overlooked.

We also have the cowardly cop-out of erasing the memory of Data's friend. A huge rubbish.

"Pen Pals" definitely showcases one of the weirdest Prime Directive sidesteps we've ever seen on the series. Although the eventual actions by the crew aren't too far from what we might want if there was no Prime Directive on the show, the episode doesn't begin to do an adequate job of dealing with the Prime Directive before it takes its action, and sets a bizarre precedent in the Star Trek canon.

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

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two (1988-1989):

Includes 22 episodes @ 45 minutes each.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for more information:

DVD Canada

6-disc DVD set

DVD Canada


DVD Extras include:

  • Mission Overview (14 min.)
  • Selected Crew Analysis
  • Starfleet Archives
  • Departmental Briefing: Production (17 min.)
  • Departmental Briefing: Memorable Missions (16 min.)
Blu-ray U.S.

NEW for
Dec. 4, 2012.
Blu-ray Canada

NEW for
Dec. 4, 2012.
Blu-ray U.K.

NEW for
Dec. 10, 2012.
5-disc Blu-ray box set

Blu-ray features add:

  • 2 Audio Commentaries:
    • "The Measure of a Man" by writer Melinda Snodgrass and scenic/graphic artists Mike and Denise Okuda.
    • "Q Who" by director Rob Bowman, visual effects supervisor Dan Curry, and the Okudas.
  • TNG 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion (HD, 62 min.) with
    Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker),
    LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf),
    Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Marina Sirtis (Troi),
    Brent Spiner (Data), and Wil Wheaton (Wesley).
  • "Making It So: Continuing The Next Generation" (HD 2-part documentary, 81 min.)
  • Energized! Season Two Tech Update (HD, 8 min.)
  • Gag Reel (HD, 10 min.)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • "The Measure of a Man" HD extended version (57 min.) and hybrid version (56 min.)
  • Promos for each individual episode
  • 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: "Q Who"

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