(written from a Production point of view)
Data makes contact with a young girl from a pre-warp civilization on a planet facing imminent annihilation. The Enterprise must wrestle with the moral dilemma of violating the Prime Directive or standing by while Data's friend dies.
Captain Picard prepares to ride an Arabian horse on the holodeck, with Troi watching. Just as he is about to climb onto the horse, Riker calls him to the bridge to view geological calamities on a once thriving planet in the first system they entered. Now, there is nothing.
Riker calls a meeting of the senior staff in the observation lounge to discuss leadership of the team that will investigate the planet, suggesting that Wesley Crusher lead the team. After some debate about whether or not he is up to the task, Picard consents and allows Wesley the command.
Crusher chooses members of his science team, including Prixus for mineralogy and metallurgy, Alans for volcanology, Hildebrant for geomechanics, and Davies for geochemistry. He is initially apprehensive about commanding officers older than he is, but a meeting with Riker and Counselor Troi in a corridor reassures him of his ability to lead the team.
Meanwhile, on the bridge, Data is undergoing a personal project to increase the frequency range of the sensors. It should identify natural and artificial signals. Continuing his analysis in his quarters, low level RF signals were detected — artificial signals. A girl's voice asks "is anybody out there?". Data responds, "yes."
Wesley meets the team as a whole for the first time. He reviews results from two team members, and asks for another test. Davies questions Crusher's decision to run a further but time-intensive ico-spectrogram because he has more experience in the matter, and Crusher relents.
Meanwhile, Data has been speaking with Sarjenka, a member of a pre-warp species inhabiting Drema IV via a radio transmission. After eight weeks of communication, Data has understood that her planet is suffering the same symptoms as the other destroyed planets, and asks Picard's advice for other options. He orders Data to terminate contact because it is in violation of the Prime Directive and to call a staff meeting.
Crusher asks Riker for advice in Ten Forward on the situation. He points out that no one questions Capt. Picard when he makes a decision and thus Wes should think similarly, so Crusher tells Davies to run the ico-scans, to which Davies affably complies. After sensor scans, Crusher and his team discover that the planet has become unstable because unusually high levels of dilithium in the crust have formed a matrix, which creates a piezoelectric effect that is tearing the planet apart. The team credit Crusher's thoroughness to the discovery, as the problem wouldn't have been found otherwise.
A meeting of the senior staff is held in Picard's quarters, and the members lay out their positions on Data's friend. Picard and Worf's argument is straightforward; helping the Dremans would violate the Prime Directive, and therefore they should be left to their fate. La Forge and Pulaski on the other hand are aghast at the prospect of sitting by and allowing an entire sentient race to die out. Riker and Troi offer yet another argument; that the destruction of Drema IV and the other planets could be part of a larger "cosmic plan," which the crew of the Enterprise have no right to interfere with. Picard announces that they will obey the Prime Directive and leave the system. Picard orders Data to cut the transmission with Sarjenka, but Data plays a transmission from her, where she voices her fear and pleads for him to help her planet. Upon hearing this, Picard decides that since it is a direct plea for help, the Prime Directive no longer applies. The crew cannot simply turn their backs on the inhabitants now.
The Enterprise arrives at Drema IV to analyze the planet's activity. In a briefing with Crusher's team, Picard learns what they know, but the team needs more time to determine if the activity can be reversed. The team leaves and comes back with a plan: use modified class-1 probes with torpedo casings as resonators to destroy the dilithium matrix lattice and restore geological stability to the planet. Riker and Worf supervise the effort.
Data is allowed to contact Sajenka again. However, communications are now impossible. He beams down to Sarjenka's house on Drema IV to meet her and warn her family to travel to a safe region on her planet, but finds that they've already left. Sarjenka then returns home to retrieve the transmitter she had been using. Data, not able to leave her on the planet because of what is happening to it, has her beamed back to the Enterprise by Chief O'Brien.
Data goes to find Riker on the bridge, and takes the frightened Sarjenka. Picard is obviously not pleased to find this out, and has Troi attempt to bring her to sickbay. The child insists on staying with Data, however, and Picard relents. Data goes to his station to join in with the procedure to tame the planet, and they are successful.
Picard orders Dr. Pulaski to erase Sarjenka's memory of her Enterprise experiences in order to limit violations of the Prime Directive. While in sickbay, she picks up a stone on Dr. Pulaski's desk – an Elanin singer stone – which sings a different song for anyone who touches it (except Data, for whom it does not sing at all). After Sarjenka's memory is modified, Data returns her to her home planet, safe and sound, but leaves with her the Elanin singer stone as a token of her experience on the Enterprise while she sleeps in her bed.
Later Data apologizes to Picard in his ready room for putting him in a difficult position, but the captain is grateful to his officer for the reminder that some obligations transcend duty. Although Sarjenka won't recall him, Data is content that he'll remember her, and Picard comments that learning about friendship and remembrance has brought Data another step closer to understanding Humanity.
"The game isn't big enough unless it scares you a little."
- - Riker
"Is anybody out there?"
- - Sarjenka and Data
"An excellent steed, sir."
- - Data, about Picard's horse
"What a perfectly vicious little circle."
- - Riker, on the senior staff of the Enterprise's arguments on whether or not to save Drema IV
"In your position it's important to ask yourself one question: 'What would Picard do?'"
- - Riker, giving Wesley Crusher advice on taking command
"There are no options. The Prime Directive is not a matter of... degrees, it is an absolute."
"I have a problem with that kind of rigidity. It seems callous, and even a little cowardly."
"Doctor, I'm sure that is not what the lieutenant meant but in a situation like this, we have to be cautious. What we do today, may profoundly affect the future. If we could see every possible outcome..."
"... we'd be gods, which we are not. If there is a cosmic plan, is it not the height of hubris to think we can or should interfere?"
"So what are you saying? That the Dremans are fated to die?"
"I think that's an option that we should be considering."
"Consider it considered and rejected!"
"If there is a cosmic plan, are we not part of it? Our presence at this place at this moment in time could be part of that fate."
- - Worf, Pulaski, Picard, Riker, La Forge, and Troi discussing how to proceed after Data's revelation
"Your whisper from the dark has now become a plea, we cannot turn our backs."
- - Picard
"O'Brien, take a nap. You didn't see any of this. You're not involved."
"Right, sir. I'll just be standing over here dozing off."
- - Riker and O'Brien, as Riker enters to take the transporter controls
"There's going to be hell to pay."
- - O'Brien, seeing Sarjenka being beamed up to the Enterprise with Data
"I just woke up, sir."
- - O'Brien after his "nap."
"Where are we going?"
(Data slowly points his finger up.)
- - Sarjenka and Data
"I will require my hands. Thank you."
- - Data to Sarjenka
- Revised final draft script: 10 February 1989 
- Premiere airdate: 1 May 1989
- First UK airdate: 24 July 1991
Story and script
- The story for this episode was pitched by Hannah Louise Shearer. Maurice Hurley was instantly fond of the premise, calling it his second favorite premise of the series, after "The Last Outpost". He remarked, "Somebody's out there, some little kid on some little planet sending out a CQ. Just like I did in my bedroom when I was ten years old with my little crystal sets, sending out CQs and never getting it back. But here somebody says, 'Anybody out there?' and a voice replies, 'Yes.' Wait a minute!" (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 179)
- The teleplay was then assigned to Melinda Snodgrass. During story meetings, the writers considered various characters who could interact with the child. Snodgrass was successful in convincing the other staffers that Data was the best fit for the tale. She later explained, "[Y]ou can picture Data becoming entranced in answering [the] question, 'Is there anyone out there?' First, he's an android and if you ask him a question, you're going to get an answer. Secondly, the whole thing would be so charmingly intriguing to him, that he would do it [...] You never could picture any of the other characters doing that, but Data can make the mistake, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, and step out of his careful Starfleet training because he's really just growing up. He's more of a child than Wesley." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 179)
- The writers had to limit the closeness of Data and Sarjenka, because Nikki Cox's orange make-up became smudged so easily on contact. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 84)
- This episode featured the only location shoot of Season 2, Picard's equestrian holodeck sequence, which was filmed at a ranch near the LA suburb of Thousand Oaks. The impetus for this scene arose from Snodgrass's love of horses. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 84)
- Producer David Livingston noted that this episode was one of the first times that the series used a second unit to shoot supplementary footage. He recalled, "We got to the point where we were going to do the walls disappearing. The midnight hour was rapidly approaching and I went up to Rob Legato and said, 'This is crazy, we can't do this.' He said, 'Right, let's do second unit,' and I went up to [director Winrich] Kolbe and said, 'We're going to do this second unit,' and he said, 'Great.' That all became second unit, otherwise we'd still be shooting that episode." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 179)
- This is the first episode where we see Picard drinking his signature drink, Earl Grey tea. He had previously ordered a cup of Earl Grey from the replicator in TNG: "Contagion", but owing to a computer malfunction he instead received a small potted plant.
- Despite his love of the premise, Hurley was only lukewarm to the final result. "[T]he rest of it kind of got muddled around, mucked up and lost its purity, although it worked okay." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 179)
- Consequently, Snodgrass referred to this episode as Data's "age of innocence" story. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 84)
- Director Winrich Kolbe remarked, "An intriguing episode, though I'm not quite sure I did it justice". Kolbe felt that the premise didn't go far enough. "It was one of those situations where I said, 'Come on, guys, let's push the damn thing. The relationship between this little girl and Data is something you want to explore. Data is a machine, how far can he go before he becomes a threat either to himself or the little girl or somebody else?'" He concluded, "I don't think it ever came through and I don't consider it one of my better shows. I think we all did a damn good job, but it could have been better." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 179)
- A mission report by Patrick Daniel O'Neill was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 9, pp. 11-13.
- Winrich Kolbe also remarks, "If I remember correctly, that was the one of those cases where I felt the original script I got, the white pages, the first draft, was very, very nice. It was a very personal story. Rick [Berman] or somebody else, maybe it was Gene [Roddenberry], I don't know, felt we needed more of a technical surrounding story in that one. Suddenly, out went more and more of the character issue, and in came more and more tech talk. That, to me, is a problem. I don't necessarily agree with the assessment that more technical jargon enhances the stories. These stories should be left alone. I think 'Pen Pals' could have been a better show than it was." (The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 21, p. 30)
Video and DVD releases
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 21, catalog number VHR 2504, 2 September 1991
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, Paramount Home Entertainment): Volume 2.5, catalog number VHR 4741, 7 June 1999
- As part of the TNG Season 2 DVD collection
- As part of the TNG Season 2 Blu-ray collection
Links and references
- LeVar Burton as Lt. Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher
Special appearance by
- Nicholas Cascone as Davies
- Nikki Cox as Sarjenka
- Ann H. Gillespie as Hildebrant
- Colm Meaney as Miles O'Brien
- Whitney Rydbeck as Alans
- Majel Barrett as USS Enterprise-D computer voice
- James G. Becker as Youngblood
- Jeffrey Deacon as command division officer
- Tim McCormack as Bennett
- Randy Pflug as Ten Forward waiter
- Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
- Unknown performers as
- James G. Becker – stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Darrell Burris – stand-in for LeVar Burton
- Dexter Clay – stand-in for Michael Dorn
- Jeffrey Deacon – stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- June Jordan – stand-in for Nikki Cox
- Nora Leonhardt – stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Tim McCormack – stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Guy Vardaman – stand-in for Wil Wheaton
2215; adage; adolescence; adulthood; advice; age; alien; "a little bit"; Allah; "all right"; "a lot of": Andorian; animal; animal trainer; answer; anthropomorphism; apology; aquarium; Arab; Arabian horse; arrogance; "as you know"; As You Like It; asteroid belt; "at this moment in time": authority; back; background noise; battle; beast; Bedouin; Benev Selec; Betazoid; Betazoid cat; brain structure; breed; bridle; bridle path; British pound; calamity; callous; captain's quarters; catastrophe; cerebral cortex; children; circle; class-1 probe; "come on"; command chair; communications link; companion; computer; conference; confidence; conflict; contact; cosmic plan; cosmic ray; creature; crust; darkness; death; debate; deposit; dilemma; dilithium; dilithium crystal; discipline; distress signal; doll; door; Drema V; Dreman; Earl Grey tea; Earth; ecosystem; education; ego; Elanin singer stone; emotion; English; engram; epidemic; experience; explanation; face; failure; family emergency; "fast track"; frequency; friend; friendship; generation; generator strata; geochemistry; geological survey; geology; geomechanics; goal; God; "go hand in hand"; "go on"; government; hand; "hello"; "hell to pay"; holo-programs; holodeck 3; home; horse; horse trainer; hour; hubris; humanity; humanoid; ico-spectrogram; ignorance; "in for a penny, in for a pound"; "in plain English"; "in the way"; illium-629; jig; job; judgment; Klingon; lattice; leadership; legend; lifeform; location; loneliness; machine; magnification; magnetic field; malevolence; mechanical energy; medical ethics; meeting; memory; memory wipe; message; metallurgy; metaphor; milk; Milky Way Galaxy; million; mineralogy; minute; mistake; mount; mystery; name; nap; nebular cloud; neuron; "no problem"; "no way"; number one; obligation; "of course"; officer; "on my way"; opinion; orbit; order; ore; organic molecule; passion; pattern; penny; permission; person; pet; picking nits; piezoelectric effect; place; plan; planet; Planetary Geosciences Division; planetary geological survey; planetary mineral survey; power; pride; Prime Directive; professional; puzzle; quake; quarters; question; radiant heat; radio frequency; reason; regret; resonator; resonator field; resource: result; romance; Sarjenka's family (Sarjenka's father); Sark; scanner; schedule; science laboratory; second; Selcundi Drema planets; Selcundi Drema sector; Selcundi Drema system; self-confidence; senior staff; sensor; sensor range; signal; silence; society; song; "sooner or later"; sophistry; star; Starfleet Academy; star system; station; subject; subspace communications; success; surface; sword; tack; target; team; tectonic plate; tectonic stress; tempering; tent; "thank you"; theory; thought; three-dimensional chess; time; torpedo; torpedo casing; toy; trace; traker; transmission; transmitter; transportation; transporter; tremor; Troi, Lwaxana; ultraviolet radiation; UV absorption; "under control"; universal translator; visit; volcanic activity; volcano; volcanology; war; week; weight; whisper; woodland; word; Zabathu
- Signal Analysis Enhancement: CR-Conf Noise Reduction; online; Legato Spectral Alfin Analysis; Tertiary Noise Isolation Gating
- Other: Comet sample; Resonator Frequency Dispersion; Tectonic Stress Analysis
Unused production references
- "Pen Pals" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Pen Pals" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Pen Pals" at Wikipedia
- "Pen Pals" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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