The Enterprise must undo the damage when a primitive civilization discovers a Federation observation team and concludes that the Starfleet personnel are gods.
- "Captain's log, Stardate 43173.5. We are en route to Mintaka III where a three-man Federation anthropological field team has been studying the inhabitants. Our mission is to resupply the outpost and repair their malfunctioning reactor."
The observation post is studying Mintakans, proto-Vulcan humanoids at the Bronze Age level, from behind a holographic wall on the surface of the planet. When contacted en route, Dr. Barron informs the USS Enterprise-D they only have 3 hours of battery backup remaining. Data reports that if the Enterprise increases speed to warp seven, they will reach the planet in twenty-three minutes. However, during the status report, there is a large explosion, resulting in power failure, injuries, and the transmission failing. Captain Picard orders that the Enterprise increase speed to warp nine.
When the Enterprise arrives, and the away team begins repairs, flashing lights from behind the failed holographic wall draw the attention of two Mintakans, Liko and Oji. They noticed the flash as Oji was examining the sundial, as she is the appointed record keeper. Before the holographic generator can be repaired, Liko manages to get a glimpse of the inside. When noticed by Data, he accidentally touches one of the electrically charged walls, and falls off the rock face, plunging down hard to the ground. Dr. Crusher, acting upon instinct, goes down, scans him with her tricorder and gets him beamed to sickbay. Oji is amazed when she sees both of them disappear into thin air. Only now is the holographic generator repaired successfully.
Dr. Crusher, after defending her decision to violate the Prime Directive in this manner (Liko had already seen inside), performs a short-term memory wipe, a technique of Dr. Pulaski. When Dr. Barron awakens in the next bed, he is informed of the situation: one of the scientists, Dr. Palmer, is still down there. Liko sees Picard explaining this, and giving several orders before Dr. Crusher re-sedates him. After Liko is sedated, Picard tells Crusher that her next task is clear before leaving.
When Liko is beamed down to the planet, he does in fact remember everything. After reuniting with his daughter, Liko explains to Oji about his experience, convinced that the beings of old legends had saved him, and knew the name of one: the Picard. He and his daughter head back to their people, with Liko telling Oji that the must inform the others of his experience.
In a meeting in the Enterprise's observation lounge, Data explains that Mintaka III exhibits karst topography, notably sinkholes, underground rivers, and caverns. He explains that the rock strata also contains a high concentration of thallium compound which is interfering with ship's sensors, making it difficult to locate Palmer's life signs. Crusher underlies the importance of finding Palmer, as he is badly injured and suggests sending an away team down to locate him. Troi notes that their presence must not interfere with the natural development of the Mintakans and Picard agrees, noting that cultural contamination must be prevented. Commander Riker tells the captain he has a suggestion.
- "First officer's log, stardate 43174.2. Counselor Troi and I are beaming down to Mintaka III to locate Dr. Palmer and to determine the extent of the cultural contamination. Dr. Crusher has temporarily altered our features and skin color. She's also implanted subcutaneous communicators so that any transmissions we receive will be inaudible to the Mintakans."
Riker and Troi beam down to Mintaka III, and once they arrive in the town, they hear that Liko's story is continuing around. Nuria is one of the major skeptics. Riker and Troi attempt to convince them it was a dream, but to no avail. Then Dr. Palmer is brought in, and Liko is convinced it will please the Picard.
Riker contacts the Enterprise and reports that "we have a problem." He tells Picard that the Mintakans are beginning to believe in a god and the one they have chosen… is Picard.
When Riker reports this, Dr. Barron is adamant that Palmer should be beamed aboard, since the cultural damage has been done. Picard will look for an opportunity, but refuses to do it immediately or drastically. Barron reminds Picard that Palmer's life is being endangered by not acting to rescue him now. Picard tells Dr. Barron that he is aware of that but also says that the doctor, as well as each of them, swore an oath to uphold the Prime Directive – if necessary, at the cost of their lives.
The town concludes that Palmer should be kept safe to please the Picard, and he will be bound in case he was hiding from the Picard. Troi attempts to distract many members by claiming that "another servant of the Picard" is headed for the caves, while Riker binds the lone, elderly guard Fento and escapes with Palmer. He manages to beam back to the ship before he can be caught by Hali.
Troi, however, is captured. Liko suggests they harm Troi to hold off the Picard's anger. Nuria refuses to until they have have at least tried to find Riker and Palmer, noting that with Riker carrying Palmer, they couldn't have gotten far.
Meanwhile, on the ship, Dr. Barron suggests that Picard "show them a sign". He refuses, citing again the Prime Directive, and all of the damage he would do, over Barron's objections that the Prime Directive has already been violated and the damage has already been done. Picard states that he cannot "impose a set of commandments on these people." Instead, he believes that he can convince Nuria that "the Picard" is not magical, simply very advanced. He announces that he will show Nuria how the "magic" works by beaming her aboard.
When Nuria is alone, Picard alone transports her aboard. Upon hearing Picard state his name to her, she cries out and bows in reverence.
Picard tells Nuria to get up, and tries to talk her out of her superstitions. When it does not work, he shows her the ship, the view of her world from the observation lounge's viewports, and continues to explain to her the fact he is only a flesh and blood being, using technology which has simply evolved over many centuries, comparing it to some of the technological advances of her era, such as building huts, weaving cloth, or shooting a bow and arrow. She appears to understand, but then asks Picard to return her people to life who are long dead.
Since there seems to be nothing else he can do to convince her, Picard brings her into sickbay when Dr. Mary Warren is dying. Nuria watches her die, and then finally understands: she couldn't be saved; his power does have limits. Picard's people are remarkable, but they are not supreme beings.
Meanwhile, on the planet, a storm frightens Liko, one out of season and quite intense. Believing the Picard has sent it, and without Nuria to question his actions, he prepares to sacrifice Troi, feeling he has no choice.
Troi attempts to dissuade him by casting doubt as to whether the Picard actually wants him to sacrifice her, and Liko prays to the Picard for guidance. Just in time, Picard returns with Nuria, who attempts to persuade Liko that Picard is mortal, and not "The Overseer", or God. Liko, however, will not believe it. He begs for Picard to restore his dead wife, but Picard again tries to explain this is impossible.
In a desperate attempt to demonstrate Picard's supreme nature Liko aims his bow and threatens to shoot him. Nuria attempts to stand in between Liko and Picard, but Picard gently moves her out of the way, encouraging him to indeed shoot if that is the only way he will be convinced that he is truly mortal. Liko shoots, just as Oji pushes him, and the arrow injures Picard seriously in the shoulder, for all to witness. Only now, as Nuria shows him Picard's red blood, does Liko believe in Picard's mortality.
- "Captain's log, supplemental. Dr. Crusher has repaired my injury with her usual skill. Mr. La Forge will supervise the dismantling of the observation post after I make one last visit to Mintaka III."
With his arm in a sling, Picard shows them the observation post, and explains their presence, their desire for research, and the Prime Directive. Liko now shows a firm understanding, ruefully acknowledging that his own reaction to the Federation's presence illustrates the wisdom of keeping that presence concealed. Nuria thanks Picard for showing her the grand scale of what her people can accomplish, even if it takes several lifetimes to do so. After accepting a tapestry from a Mintakan boy, exchanging good will, he departs the planet.
"Mintakan emotions are quite interesting. Like the Vulcans, they have highly ordered minds. A very sensible people. For example, Mintakan women precede their mates. It's a signal to other women."
"'This man's taken, get your own'?"
"Not precisely. More like 'if you want his services, I'm the one you have to negotiate with.'"
"What kind of services?"
"They are a sensible race."
- - Troi and Riker, discussing Mintakan society
"I believe I have seen the Overseer. He is called 'The Picard.'"
- - Liko
"Well doctor, your next task is clear."
- - Liko awakens on the Enterprise and is sedated by Crusher after which Picard orders her to remove his memories
"The Mintakans are beginning to believe in a God and the one they've chosen… is you."
- - Riker, to Picard
"Dr. Barron, I cannot, I will not impose a set of commandments on these people!"
- - Picard, at Barron's suggestion that he pose as God to the Mintakans
"Do not kneel before me."
"You do not wish it?"
"I do not deserve it."
- - Picard and Nuria
"Look at me… feel the warmth of my hand, the rhythm of my pulse. I'm not a supreme being. I'm flesh and blood, like you."
"Not like me."
"Like you. Different in appearance, yes, but we are both living beings. We are born, we grow, we live… and we die. In all the ways that matter, we are alike."
- - Picard and Nuria, just after Nuria is beamed aboard the Enterprise
"Perhaps one day, my people will travel above the skies…"
"Of that, I have absolutely no doubt."
- - Nuria and Picard, in the Enterprise observation lounge
"Horrifying… Dr. Barron, your report describes how rational these people are. Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No!"
- - Picard
"Are you sure this is what he wants? That's the problem with believing in a supreme being: trying to determine what he wants."
- - Troi
"If you believe that I am a supreme being, then you cannot hurt me. If, however, I am telling the truth, that I am mortal, you will kill me. If, however, my death is the only evidence you will believe, then shoot!"
- - Picard
"I wish you good journeys, Picard. Remember my people."
- - Nuria and Picard
- Second revised final draft script: 7 August 1989 
- Premiere airdate: 16 October 1989
- First UK airdate: 30 October 1991
Story and production
- The title of this episode is taken directly from the Latin phrase, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", first used by the poet Juvenal, a 1st/2nd century Roman satirist. Juvenal also provided the title of "Bread and Circuses".
- Rick Sternbach based the design of the duck blind on the video cameras used by the TMA-1 team in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 104))
- Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, a familiar filming location from Star Trek: The Original Series, was used again for this episode. The cast and crew spent two days shooting in 100°F (38°C) heat. Due to the presence of local snakes, scorpions and bees, no attractants such as deodorant or perfume could be used. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 104))
- The unusual-looking bow used by Liko is a Martin Dyna-Bo.
- This was the last episode produced during Michael Wagner's brief tenure as showrunner. Michael Piller took over the role starting with "The Bonding".
Cast and characters
- Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) does not appear in this episode.
- James Greene later appears in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Reckoning" as Ranjen Koral.
- Ray Wise later appears in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Hope and Fear" as Arturis.
- Appearing as a Mintakan, Jonathan Frakes admitted "My experience with being a Mintakan gave me great appreciation for what Dorn goes through every morning. I think the makeup took something like two-and-a-half hours, but I don't sit very well; I get very fidgety. The look was astounding. You're amazed at how people react when you have it on. I'll do the occasional Mintakan, but I'm very thankful I have my own face." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Makeup FX Journal, p. 80)
- The episode refers to events that happened in "Pen Pals", specifically Dr. Pulaski's memory wipe on Sarjenka.
- This episode also marks the final direct reference to Dr. Pulaski on the show. She is henceforth never mentioned (by name) on the series again, although she is alluded to by Professor Moriarty in "Ship in a Bottle". Moreover, she does get a brief mention in the closing episode of Star Trek: Voyager, "Endgame", where she receives a page from Starfleet Medical.
- Beverly Crusher debuts her longer lab coat which she continued to use for the remainder of the series and Star Trek Generations.
- The Mintakan tapestry that is given to Picard by Nuria and the villagers is seen on Picard's chair in his quarters in many subsequent episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and in all of the "Next Generation" films except Star Trek Nemesis.
- The planet shown in the episode is the same optical as was later used for the planet of Betazed.
- This is the first episode of the series to feature Riker participating in an undercover mission on an alien world. Riker's later covert missions in episodes such as "First Contact", "Frame of Mind", and "Preemptive Strike" would have mostly disastrous results.
- This marks the second of four times Picard shows a native female her home planet from orbit. This happened previously with Rivan in "Justice" and later Mirasta Yale in "First Contact" then Lily in Star Trek: First Contact. This approach clearly has meaning to Picard as he tells Anij in Star Trek: Insurrection, seeing his home planet from space for the first time was a moment when time stood still.
- The events of this episode are later referenced by Mitena Haro in TNG: "Allegiance".
- The concept of observing another civilization from a holographic duck blind is revisited, with equally unsatisfactory results, in Star Trek: Insurrection.
- Ira Steven Behr commented that he thought "Who Watches The Watchers" was "a good hour of television. I thought it was a pretty good show, but it was in and out, as ST:TNG was prone to do, because it was about boldly going forth. If the writers had had five seasons to work with that thread, who knows how many twists and turns Jean-Luc could have gone through. That opportunity just wasn't there". ("Faith in the 24th Century", Star Trek Monthly, issue 39)
- A mission report for this episode by John Sayers was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 10, pp. 49-53.
Video and DVD releases
- LeVar Burton as Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- Kathryn Leigh Scott as Nuria
- Ray Wise as Liko
- James Greene as Barron
- Pamela Segall as Oji
- John McLiam as Fento
- Michael Braveheart as Martinez
- Michele Gerren as science division officer
- Lorine Mendell as Diana Giddings
- John Rice as science division officer
- Tim Trella as Palmer
- Natalie Wood as Bailey
- Unknown performers as
- Dan Koko as stunt double for Jonathan Frakes
- John Nowak as stunt double for Patrick Stewart
- Unknown stunt performer as stunt double for Ray Wise
- James G. Becker – stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Dexter Clay – stand-in for Michael Dorn
- Jeffrey Deacon – stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- Nora Leonhardt – stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Tim McCormack – stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Lorine Mendell – stand-in for Gates McFadden
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- "Who Watches the Watchers" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Who Watches the Watchers" at Wikipedia
- "Who Watches the Watchers" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Who Watches The Watchers" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
|Star Trek: The Next Generation