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 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 are not convinced. They decide 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 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.
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 begins to reminisce about her times in the planetarium when she was a nine-year-old. She 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. 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 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, 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 are sent to the bridge. Chancellor Durken and Yale both meet Commander Data as well, in awe of the android, a "constructed being" as Yale puts it.
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 nearly 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 (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.
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 he will call her when he's back on her planet. 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 stating 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 revive him.
Chancellor Durken confronts Captain Picard with Commander Riker's discovery on the planet when Picard arrives in Durken's office. Picard says that the surveillance was necessary to help prevent a violent confrontation with the Malcorians during first contact. He says that when Starfleet met with the Klingons, a violent encounter ensued. 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 the response because it showed that Picard 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 a doctor that 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 would like Riker to be questioned, but Yale states that Riker's situation is extremely grave.
Krola is interrogating Riker and asks why a race of peace would have such lethal weapons, while holding Riker's phaser. Riker explains that the phaser Krola holds is only for defense, but Krola does not agree. 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 a doctor and aide enter the room; they believe that Riker has shot Krola and that the security minister is going to die.
Doctor Crusher and Worf appear at this moment, beaming into the hospital room to rescue Riker. 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. He weakly begs Durken once more not to trust the aliens.
In Captain Picard's ready room, Chancellor Durken declines Picard's offer for first contact in order to allow the Malcorians more time to prepare themselves. Picard agrees, though he regrets that he will not be able to learn more about the Malcorian society. Picard asks Durken how they will keep the alien contact a secret. Durken says that even though stories of a government conspiracy will spread like wildfire, 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 fond farewell, hoping that they will meet again to continue their friendship.
"I can't find his heart pulse. (searching in new area) Hold on, found it."
"In his digestive tract?"
- - The Malcorian doctors, looking for Riker's vital signs when he was injured
"... will you help me get out of here?"
"If you make love to me."
"I've always wanted to make love to 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
"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
Story and production
- "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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- Picard makes a statement that suggests the Federation initiated first contact with the Klingon Empire. However, the events of Star Trek: Enterprise show that Klingons had achieved status in the galactic community before humans.
- Marc Scott Zicree later wrote the story for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars".
- "First Contact" would be later used for the title of the second Next Generation film, and the eighth film overall.
- This episode marks the first-ever instance of an actor (Bebe Neuwirth) from the acclaimed sitcom 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) 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 principle cast of Frasier, except for Kelsey Grammer, would later do a skit with Kate Mulgrew spoofing Star Trek: Voyager for the Star Trek 30th anniversary special.
- When offering a glass of wine to Chancellor Durken, Picard says that it was given to him by his brother Robert. He is referring to the events of TNG: "Family". In that episode, Robert asks him not to drink it alone, and Picard grants his brother's wish here.
- This is one of only five TNG episodes that doesn't have a stardate. The others are TNG: "Symbiosis", "Tapestry", "Liaisons", "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)
- 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)
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
- LeVar Burton as Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lieutenant 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
- Bebe Neuwirth as Lanel
- Michael Braveheart as Martinez
- Christopher Doyle as a Malcorian guard
- Unknown actor as a Bolian ensign
- Unknown actress as a Malcorian staff member
- Dan Koko as stunt double for Jonathan Frakes
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Steven Anderson
adrulmine; artificial lifeform; aspiration drill; Betazed; Bolian; cardial organ; Central Province; Central Security; chancellor; Chateau Picard; cosmetic surgery; costal strut; del-scan series; digestive tract; digit; Earth; economics; First Contact; Garth system; grapes; ichor; Jakara, Rivas; journalism; Klingon Empire; light barrier; Lupo; Malcorian warp ship; Malcorians; Malcor III; Marta community; Minister of Security; Nessor; octare; planetarium; Prime Directive; quadroline; renal organ; Sikla Medical Facility; Southern continent of Malcor III; Malcorian Space Bureau; telencephalon; terminus; toast; warp field generator; UFO; vice chancellor; weather balloon; wine
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