41 – Pen Pals

Grade: C-

Pen Pals (1989) on IMDb


Unmanned probes have recorded an unusual amount of geological energy on some previously-unknown planets. The Enterprise is there to investigate. Wesley gets put in charge of the planetary mineral survey team, and he’ll need to direct the project. Meanwhile, Data detects a message from someone on one of the planets.


I have never really liked this episode. It’s OK, I suppose, but overall, it’s pretty mediocre. As usual, Star Trek doesn’t do very well when the storylines are centered around children. This has been true for as long as there have been Star Trek episodes on TV. In this particular episode, they combined the story with a debate on the Prime Directive, and with an additional storyline of Wesley Crusher’s first experience in command. All three storylines intersect near the end of the episode, but it is also pretty flat.

They spend so much time in this episode arguing about the Prime Directive and why they should or shouldn’t answer the call for help from Data’s Pen Pal. And it’s all very serious, of course, and everyone makes such a huge deal out of it. But it seems really shallow because we’ve already seen plenty of violations of the Prime Directive without any real consequences.

Only Picard would even entertain this debate. Kirk and Sisko would have saved the girl without any argument. Archer would have checked in with the Vulcans and then just done whatever Tucker said to do. Janeway would have beamed the girl on board, given her a tour of the ship, told her they were from 70,000 light years away, and then had Seven work with Tuvok to create some kind of torpedo using Borg nanprobes (or whatever) that would completely reverse the ecological disaster.

But I digress.

Here’s my problem with this episode. At the end, they remove all memory of the girl’s communication and experiences on the Enterprise, as if nothing happened. Since this could be done, what’s the issue with the Prime Directive? Also, since the danger of the planet was avoided so quickly, there doesn’t seem to have been any reason for taking her from the planet in the first place. Couldn’t they have tried to save the planet first, and leave the abduction as a last resort, just in case their plan didn’t work? So the drama and the tension was all artificial and manufactured. That makes the episode seem contrived.

Aside from all that, the script is really bad. At one point, Troi talks about the “shifting passions of the beast” when explaining that Betazeds can’t read the emotions of animals. Maybe it’s true, but it just sounds really awkward. In one other scene, Dr. Pulaski says it’s not possible to guide a young man into adulthood. She tries to explain her point, but I was lost pretty much right after this. I definitely think this is completely wrong. Of course you can guide a young man into adulthood.

In one scene in Picard’s quarters (no reason is given why they have to have this discussion there instead of in a conference room), several officers mention something about a “Cosmic Plan”. I have no idea what they could be talking about here, but it just sounds silly.

Finally, the episode introduces some interesting topics, but treats them all only superficially. It would have been nice if it could have been deeper, and if the problem wasn’t resolved in just 3 seconds. In total, this feels a lot like a Voyager episode.

Of Note

Nikki Cox plays the young alien girl. In this episode, I noticed again that Riker likes to go over chairs instead of around them. Seems really weird to me.

At one point in the episode, Worf fires 4 photon torpedoes out of the same launcher, all at the exact same time. That was strange. I’m sure that it would have come in handy in other episodes. Wonder why they never do this again in any other episode or film.