Friday, September 18, 2020

Star Trek: Who Watches the Watchers

Title: "Who Watches the Watchers"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 16, 1989
Who Watches The Watchers (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
As our story begins, the Enterprise is headed to Mintaka III to resupply an anthropological outpost.  Before our friends arrive, an accident causes the outpost's camouflage to fail.  Unfortunately, two of the pre-Warp Mintakans see the outpost and complications snowball quickly.

"Who Watches the Watchers" is TNG's first great Prime Directive story.   For casual viewers, the Federation's Prime Directive (PD) forbids interference with other cultures and it is particularly strict regarding cultures who do not yet have contact with interstellar life.  Up to this point in the franchise, the PD is generally no sooner mentioned than broken, leaving one to wonder if anyone really takes it that seriously.  The approach here is different.  The PD is violated early - albeit by accident - and the rest of the story is devoted to damage control.

When one of the Mintakans witnesses "miracles" in sickbay and observes the reverence others show the captain, he concludes that Picard must be a god.  As a result of the misunderstanding, the primitive, though logical and scientific, society slips into superstition.  Picard's challenge is convincing them of the limits of his superior technology.  He succeeds, though it's easy enough to imagine the setbacks for the Mintakans if he hadn't.

Acting Notes
Kathryn Leigh Scott (Nuria, a leader of the Mintakan community) was born Marlene Kringstad, January 26, 1943 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.  At age 19, she moved to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  She also found work as a Playboy Bunny.

After graduating, she landed a job with the soap opera Dark Shadows, the series with which she is most closely identified.  Over the four year run of the show, she played four different roles.  She has lived an interesting and varied life since.  Apart from acting, she launched a publishing company in 1985: Pomegranate Press, Ltd.  She has also written several books, some non-fiction - mostly about her career, including a history of the Playboy Bunnies - but also three novels, including a horror and two mysteries.


  1. I actually remember watching this one, though I don't really remember enough about the story for it to really count.

  2. I think the primitive society was a little too primitive, too simplistic in interpretation. But it leads to a dramatic ending! And a fine drape for Picard’s ready room ever after. Livingston (the unofficial name of the fish) no doubt derived many hours of pleasure from it.

    1. That's a reasonable criticism. The acting is on the wooden side, too, though I like Nuria.

      At least it's not Ewoks.


  3. It was a great episode. The acting is a little wooden, but they all really tried to knock this one out of the park.

    I'd call it an easy triple.

    You know I'm actually surprised how much philosophical backlash the Prime Directive is getting in philosophy debating circles.

    I listen to a number of philosophy and science podcasts and it's not hard to find one devoted to the Prime Directive.

    Some argue that there would nothing wrong with an alien race swooping in and saving humanity from its worse aspects. It's an argument I don't understand given how primitive human cultures all through history were destroyed when the conquistadors and priests showed up.

    In fact I read once Robert Beltran, the actor from ST:VOYAGER supposedly argued at a convention that the PD was either imperialistic or fascist. Don't know whether its true or not but I thought Roddenberry's inspiration for the PD was from reading about Western imperialism in Africa and Asia.

    1. I think the context of the late '60s is important to consider, too. When the Prime Directive was first introduced, the US was deep in the Vietnam War and Africa was emerging from colonialism, too. So, the question of Western involvement in other countries was topical. Roddenberry certainly wasn't the only one protesting.

  4. I remember my sister watching Dark Shadows, it must have been already reruns, but this would have been in the late 60s.