(written from a Production point of view)
An injury to Commander Riker during a reconnaissance mission threatens the prospects for first contact with a culture on the verge of warp travel.
Riker is injured, and being treated at a hospital on an alien planet. The doctors, while trying to assess Riker's injuries, notice various peculiarities in his physiology – the cardial organ in the wrong place, missing costal struts, and digits on his terminus. His face had been surgically altered to help him blend in, but not his entire body.
Riker is posing as Rivas Jakara, from the Marta community on the southern continent. When he awakens, he explains to Dr. Berel that his abnormalities are genetic, and that his own physician, Dr. Crusher is familiar with them – but she's on sabbatical. The doctors and hospital officials of the Sikla Medical Facility are not convinced. Dr. Berel decides to keep it quiet until they thoroughly check out his claims, but with a guard posted at his door "29 hours a day".
The Malcorians are on the verge of possessing warp capabilities. Mirasta Yale, a scientist, presents her plans for a warp drive to Chancellor Avel Durken to get approval for funding, amid objections from the minister of security, Krola, who states that the people are frightened and confused by new technology. Ultimately, the chancellor agrees to fund the warp drive program.
Later, Picard and Troi beam into Mirasta's lab as she is working, startling her. After introducing themselves, they inform her that they have been monitoring her progress with warp drive and now feel it is appropriate to make first contact with the Malcorians. In response to her natural skepticism, Picard offers her proof. Mirasta accepts, and they beam her back to the USS Enterprise-D with them.
Mirasta Yale walks into Ten Forward and after seeing her homeworld from space begins to reminisce about her times in the planetarium when she was a nine-year-old. She had always wanted to know about other worlds and cultures. Captain Picard and Deanna Troi explain to Yale that they had been monitoring her planet for years, analyzing their popular culture, broadcast signals, and entertainment. Picard explains how the Federation also sends down observation teams to blend in with the culture. He reveals to Yale that the undercover observation teams have been gathering information on her species for years. Picard then tells Yale that Riker is missing on the planet somewhere near the capital city. Yale agrees to do whatever she can to find him.
Yale states that the Malcorians' culture holds the belief of being superior in the galaxy and that it may be difficult to change that belief. Yale asks Picard not to discuss the missing Riker in front of Chancellor Durken and Krola, for fear that Krola will use him as a scapegoat in calling the warp project as a great threat to their culture and race.
Back in the hospital, there is quite a stir. Doctor Berel is annoyed over the attention, but the nurse Tava says that it will be difficult to hold back the interest. Riker (Jakara) is being questioned in his room. Doctor Berel tells him that there is no Doctor Crusher on the planet. He accuses Riker of being a member of an alien species. Riker continues to deny the accusations; however, the doctor advises that he believes Riker is hiding something and that he cannot stay in hiding forever.
Meanwhile, a busy Chancellor Durken reluctantly receives Yale to his office with Picard following behind. Durken is shocked over what he sees, and Yale suggests that Durken clear his afternoon schedule.
Chancellor Durken is given a tour of the Enterprise and is brought to the bridge by Picard with Yale. Chancellor Durken and Yale both meet Commander Data as well, in awe of the android, a "constructed being" as Yale puts it. After the captain and the chancellor leave them to speak privately to one another, Data informs Yale that there is still no word from Commander Riker.
In Captain Picard's ready room, Picard offers Durken wine from his brother's vineyard. Picard proposes a toast to the new friendship between the Federation and the Malcorians. Durken does not completely trust Picard's overtures of friendship, and he perceives it as a prelude to attack from an interstellar conqueror. Durken asks what Picard will do if the chancellor asks them never to return to his planet. Picard says that they will respect his wishes and stay away.
Picard explains the Prime Directive after Durken asks why the Federation would not offer their superior technology to his people. Picard says that it would be irresponsible and destructive. Durken agrees and goes back to his family on the planet, deciding to tell his children that he had a good day.
Back in the hospital, Riker is attempting to escape where he encounters a nurse named Lanel, who tells him he cannot escape due to the guards outside. Lanel asks if Riker is an alien. When he says no, she does not believe him. Lanel offers to let Riker escape to his spaceship in space, but only if he would make love to her. Riker says no, but Lanel insists, eager to learn how Humans make love. "I can't wait to learn", she eagerly says.
Lanel fulfills her part of the bargain, distracting a guard by saying she thinks Riker is dead. Lanel asks if she will ever see Riker again. Riker says "I'll call you the next time I pass through your star system." He runs into several people who stop his escape and begin to beat him. The beating exacerbates the injury to his kidney and he begins bleeding internally. Doctor Berel, growing tired of the escalation in violence, instructs his staff to contact central security and to escort Riker back to his room for surgery.
Krola, Yale, Chancellor Durken, and a member of their staff are having a meeting regarding what to do in regard to first contact with the Federation. Krola believes that Yale and Chancellor Durken are being naive and that the reforms Yale and Durken are making are destroying the Malcorian culture. After they state that Krola is overreacting and that Captain Picard has no intention of conquering the planet, Krola says that they do not have to since Durken and Yale are willing to give over their planet with open arms. In order to further drive home his point, Krola says that he has captured a spy – Commander Riker. Yale then explains how the captured man is Captain Picard's first officer, and that she instructed Picard not to discuss Riker with Durken. Durken then angrily demands all the information that Yale was keeping from him.
Krola arrives at the Sikla Medical Facility to interrogate Commander Riker. Yale pleads to contact the Enterprise to help Riker. Krola asks Doctor Berel to revive Commander Riker using drugs that would increase his heart rate and vascular pressure, but Berel refuses, citing an analog to the Hippocratic Oath that he will "do no harm". Krola then says that he will find someone else to replace Berel.
At their next meeting, a deeply concerned Chancellor Durken confronts Captain Picard with Commander Riker's discovery on the planet when Picard arrives in Durken's office. Picard explains that when Starfleet met with the Klingons, contact was "disastrous" and decades of war resulted. After that, the Federation decided that surveillance of this nature was necessary. He assures Durken that in time, full disclosure of the surveillance would have been made. Picard had hoped that his crew would have found Commander Riker before the Malcorians did, because the Malcorians most likely would have reacted negatively to the Federation's arrival. Durken is pleased with Picard's forthrightness, and comforted by the fact that he makes mistakes. Durken informs Picard that he will make a decision later regarding Riker.
Back in the medical facility, Krola relieves Berel as medical director and locates Dr. Nilrem, who agrees to revive Riker.
Once Riker is revived, Krola asks to be left alone with him. Krola agrees to bring Riker's people to the hospital, but only after he answers his questions.
Chancellor Durken is furious with Yale, stating that he would have asked for her resignation if it weren't for her vast expertise in space travel. Durken says that he is prepared to release Riker to Picard once he has been questioned, but Yale states that Riker condition is extremely grave, and he might not survive interrogation.
Krola demands to know why a race of peaceful people would have such lethal weapons, while holding Riker's phaser. Riker explains that the weapon is only used for defense, but Krola does not believe him. Krola says that he must force Durken to keep him from forging an accord with the Federation. Krola then places the phaser in Riker's hands and fires it into his own chest, hoping to die as a martyr. Riker passes out again as Nilrem and Tava enter the room; they believe that Riker has shot Krola and that the security minister is going to die.
Doctor Crusher, Worf, and Martinez materialize in the hospital room at this point to rescue Riker. She reports Krola's condition and that she will need to beam him up as well. Picard, who is in Durken's office, receives word of this and says that he will meet them on the Enterprise. Durken accompanies him. Crusher reports that Riker was stabilized and that they saved him just in time. Krola is fine as well, because the phaser was only set on stun, but Beverly is able to ascertain that his injury was self-inflicted. Upon regaining consciousness, he weakly begs Durken once more not to trust the aliens.
In Captain Picard's ready room, Chancellor Durken regretfully declines Picard's offer for first contact, and agrees to delay the development of warp technology in order to allow the Malcorians more time to prepare themselves. Picard agrees, though he expresses sorrow that he will not be able to learn more about the Malcorian society. He asks Durken how they will keep the alien contact a secret. Durken says that even though stories of a government conspiracy will circulate for many years, they will pass in time.
As a final request, Yale requests that Picard take her with him. Picard agrees, and summons Worf to escort Chancellor Durken to the transporter room and to assign quarters to Administrator Yale. Picard bids Durken a friendly farewell, hoping that they will meet again someday to continue their friendship.
"I can't find his cardial organ. (searching in new area) There it is. Up here."
"In his digestive tract?"
- - The Malcorian doctors, looking for Riker's vital signs when he was injured
"What are you?"
- - Tava, after discovering Riker has digits on his hands and feet
"Please, don't be alarmed at our appearance."
"My name is Jean-Luc Picard. This is my associate, Deanna Troi."
- - Picard, initiating first contact with Mirasta Yale along with Troi
"It's everything I ever dreamed of."
- - Mirasta Yale, upon seeing her homeworld Malcor III from space on the Enterprise
"... will you help me [get out of here]?"
"If you make love to me."
"I've always wanted to make love with an alien."
"... It's not that easy, there are differences in the way that my people make love."
"I can't wait to learn."
- - Riker (posing as Jakara) and Lanel, whom Riker is asking to help him escape from the hospital
"Chancellor, I think... you might want to clear your afternoon schedule for this."
- - Mirasta Yale, as she walks into Durken's office with Picard
"Will I ever see you again?"
"I'll call you the next time I pass through your star system."
- - Lanel and Riker (posing as Jakara)
"It's far more likely that I'm a weather balloon than an alien."
- - Riker (posing as Jakara), to the doctor
"... he is a living, intelligent being. I don't care if the chancellor himself calls down here. I have sworn an oath to do no harm, and I will not!"
- - Berel, to Krola, who ordered the doctor to revive Riker for questioning, using drugs which might be fatal to Riker
- Final draft script: 28 November 1990 
- Filmed: 30 November 1990 – 11 December 1990
- Insert shot filmed: 30 January 1991
- Premiere airdate: 18 February 1991
- First UK airdate: 28 September 1994
Story and script
- "First Contact" derived from a story that Marc Scott Zicree had pitched in the third season. Zicree recalled, "It's very hard to sell to Star Trek. They've gone months without buying any stories. I had done up something like 50 or 60 stories in pitching to the show. Usually I sell on the first or second story. I must have run fifteen stories by them before we hit 'First Contact.' Piller liked the stuff so he kept saying keep going. At one point Ira Behr was joking and said this guy is an idea machine, we should just lock him in a room and have him slip paper out from under the door. It was the day before Thanksgiving in 1989, and the meeting was at 5:00 in the morning. Everyone was sick of being there and wanted to go home, and it was a hard pitch for a while." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 216)
- Piller found the concept irresistible - to show for the first time how first contacts are dealt with in the Federation. The idea went through various permutations, including versions by "Tin Man" writers Dennis Russell Bailey and David Bischoff, as well as one by Ronald D. Moore and Joe Menosky which took the point of view of the Enterprise crew. At one point the story was considered for the season cliffhanger, and in another called "Graduation" it was to have been Wesley's final episode, in which he was to remain on the planet following the cultural contact mission. According to Zicree, one version had the planet discovering the Federation by taking in a crippled Enterprise shuttlecraft, while in another the members of the away team became celebrities. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 156)
- For Piller, what held the episode back was not the idea itself. He recalled, "Our rules told us we never have open shows, and we wrote the first two drafts from our point of view and I realized it wasn't working. The thing that was holding us back was a rule, and I'm very much a supporter of the rules of Gene's universe, but I also love to break them if they're in the interest of the show. I went to Rick and said that even though I know he doesn't like to break format, this could be a special show if he would let me write it from the alien point of view. He did, as long as I let everyone know that we weren't going to ever break this rule again. No other show in the history of Star Trek has taken the alien perspective of our characters, and I think that makes it very special and very unique." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 216) This format ended up being revisited for Star Trek: Voyager's "Distant Origin".
- The basic plot was seen as a homage to the classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (directed by Robert Wise). Piller remarked, "I said it was a '50s space movie except we're the aliens and that's really the way I tried to write it." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 216)
- David Livingston noted, "It's the first episode where we really broke the mold. From a visual standpoint, we tried to create sets, wardrobe and medical instruments that looked evocative of our culture today, but were different, and add enough that they didn't say we just rented a gurney from Central Props. We took a lot of pains in terms of talking about the props and the set dressing, so that it looked a little bit odd. I think this we were pretty successful. It was very hard, but I think the audience identified with these people. It was how I would feel at first contact." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 216)
- "First Contact" was filmed between Friday 30 November 1990 and Tuesday 11 December 1990 on Paramount Stage 8, 9, and 16. On the first day, 30 November, the previous episode "Clues" was completed and only a short scene between Patrick Stewart and George Coe in the ready room was filmed. An additional scene in Riker's hospital room was filmed as an insert shot on Wednesday 30 January 1991 on Paramount Stage 8 during the production of the episode "The Nth Degree".
- Several scenes which were planned were either dropped or cut from the episode. These are scene 17 and 18 in an extended version including several background actors like Joyce Robinson and Gerard David and scenes 8, 15, and 16 set in the transporter room when Mirasta Yale and Chancellor Durkin were beamed aboard, went through a corridor and visited engineering. According to the call sheet of Tuesday 4 December 1990 there were also many more background performers scheduled to appear in Ten Forward.
Cast and characters
- This episode marks the first instance of an actor (Bebe Neuwirth) from the acclaimed sitcoms Cheers and Frasier, also distributed by Paramount, guest-starring on TNG. Neuwirth's scene was written in late with her in mind for the role. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 156) The next was in the fifth season episode "Cause and Effect", with Kelsey Grammer appearing as the captain of the time-trapped USS Bozeman. The two had starred together on both Frasier and Cheers as husband and wife, and later ex-husband and wife. The entire principal cast of Frasier, except for Kelsey Grammer, later did a skit with Kate Mulgrew spoofing Star Trek: Voyager for the Star Trek 30th anniversary special.
- Carolyn Seymour previously appeared as a Romulan in the second season episode "Contagion" and later played a different Romulan in the sixth season episode "Face of the Enemy". She went on to play Mrs. Templeton in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.
- LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge) does not appear in this episode.
- Marc Scott Zicree later wrote the story for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars".
- "First Contact" was later used for the title of the second Next Generation film, and the eighth film overall.
- When offering a glass of wine to Chancellor Durken, Picard says that the wine was given to him by his brother Robert. He is referring to the events of the episode "Family". In that episode, Robert asks him not to drink it alone, and Picard grants his brother's wish here.
- This marks the third of four times the Captain shows a native female her home planet from orbit. This also happens with Rivan in "Justice", Nuria in "Who Watches The Watchers" and Lily in Star Trek: First Contact. This approach clearly has meaning to the Captain as he tells Anij in Star Trek: Insurrection, seeing his home planet from space for the first time was a moment where time stood still.
- This is one of only five TNG episodes that don't have a stardate. The others are "Symbiosis", "Tapestry", "Liaisons", and "Sub Rosa".
- Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode number eight on their list of "The Top Ten Episodes" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. 
- Jonathan Frakes remarked, "I'm not sure that the writing in that episode was as good as it could have been. I really liked the story idea, [but] it had loopholes. It was loaded with great actors; George Coe and George Hearn and Bebe, who was a delight. What a funny woman. I loved that scene." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 216)
- Marina Sirtis commented, "I thought it was one of the most interesting episodes of the season. It was something so obvious that we hadn't addressed and an issue that hadn't been brought up in 150 episodes of Star Trek. Of course there are going to be people who are going to get warp power and are going out into space. How do we deal with this? I thought it was a really good episode and Patrick agreed that we were exactly the right two people to go down to the planet and say hi." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 216)
- Director Cliff Bole comments, "Originally, when I read it, my challenge was how to handle all the talking, because it was a very talky show. Real talky, and sometimes between just two people. I think we came out all right with it. I don't know how it stands in the [fan] rating. I would like to do a first contact story that results in a nice big conflict. I think that can be an issue show. Look at what's happening in Europe. I think they should make contact and really step into it. Picard actually made references to that in dialogue. He said something about that happening with the Klingons, that the first contact with them became a 100-year war." ("Cliff Bole - Of Redemption & Unification", The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 17, p. 34)
- A mission report for this episode, by John Sayers, was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 16, pp. 26-29.
Video and DVD releases
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 45, 6 April 1992
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, Paramount Home Entertainment): Volume 4.5, 16 July 2001
- As part of the TNG Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- George Coe as Avel Durken
- Carolyn Seymour as Mirasta Yale
- George Hearn as Berel
- Michael Ensign as Krola
- Steven Anderson as Nilrem
- Sachi Parker as Tava
- Thomas J. Booth as operations division officer
- Michael Braveheart as Martinez
- Carter as Malcorian nurse
- Gil Combs as Malcorian med tech
- Davis as Malcorian doctor
- Christopher Doyle as Malcorian guard
- Elliot Durant III as operations division ensign
- Keppler as Malcorian nurse
- Bruce Koski as Malcorian med tech
- Manicone as Malcorian med tech
- McConnell as Malcorian minister
- Tim McCormack as Bennett
- Michael Moorehead as civilian
- Pastor as Malcorian doctor
- Perez as Malcorian minister
- Randy Pflug as Jones
- James Washington as Malcorian doctor
- Unknown performers as
- Michael Braveheart – utility stand-in
- Bill Craig – stand-in for George Hearn
- Margaret Flores – stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Nora Leonhardt – stand-in for Marina Sirtis, Sachi Parker, Bebe Neuwirth, and Carolyn Seymour
- Tim McCormack – stand-in for Brent Spiner, Steven Anderson, George Coe, and Michael Ensign
- Lorine Mendell – stand-in for Gates McFadden and Carolyn Seymour
- Randy Pflug – stand-in for George Hearn
- Keith Rayve – utility stand-in
- John Rice – utility stand-in
- Richard Sarstedt – stand-in for Jonathan Frakes, Michael Ensign, and George Coe
- Dennis Tracy – stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- James Washington – stand-in for Michael Dorn
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armament; aspiration drill; calmative; Central Province; children; conference; cranial bone; delegate; demonstration; diagnostic center; disguise; dreamer; Federation; first contact transport; four planets; ichor; invasion; journalist; judgment; knee; medical officer; realist; resource allocation; room; security chief; speed of light; theory; thousand; training; violence; wall; warp drive; warship
- "First Contact" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "First Contact" at Wikipedia
- "First Contact" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "First Contact" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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