The Prime Directive. A key component to the Federation and Starfleet Command. We have discussed it before and it has significant implications in many of the Star Trek Episodes. However, what if the damage done is already too much, what do you do if your presence is exposed to an entire civilization and there is no turning back? Originally airing on October 16,1989, we find out in Who Watches The Watchers.
Responding to a maintenance call from a Federation observation team who are studying a pre-warp civilization called the Mintakans, the Enterprise must undo the damage when the observation is discovered by accident and the indigenous people see the Starfleet personnel as gods.
Riker and his away team beam down to the planet to help the Anthropologists fix their failing duck blind. While there, two of the indigenous people witness the team as they attempt repairs and Doctor Crusher must save one of the Mintakans. While saving the man, his daughter witnesses Crusher beam them off the planet.
The Mintakan man, Liko, sees Picard on the ship and is shocked by his surroundings. Picard orders Crusher to delete their short term memory as Pulaski had last season but Crusher is concerned it wont work. Liko is returned and remembers everything. Telling his daughter Oji and thinking the crew of the Enterprise are Gods, they return to the village with news of what they have found.
Meanwhile, one of the Anthropologists is missing from the explosion that caused the duck blind to fail. In order to rescue him, Riker and Troi have themselves physically altered to appear as Mintankans themselves. Under this disguise, the go into the village to try to discover any news. While there, they discover that Liko remembers everything and calls tells everyone that The Picard is their God. The Mintakans soon find Palmer, the missing Anthropologist, and this confirms their beliefs.
Trying to find someway to get Palmer away from the Mintakans, Troi distracts them while Riker makes off with his body. He manages to get away and beam back without being seen leaving Troi on her own on the planet. Troi is now in danger as they begin to consider using Troi as a sacrifice in order to please The Picard.
On the ship, Doctor Barron (the head Anthropologist) suggests that Picard go down and give them instructions basically like Moses and the Ten Commandments. Picard refuses and says that he will find a way to fix this without further contaminating the Minatkans. He decides to beam their leader, Nuria, aboard the ship to show her that they are both living beings and that he is not their God. He takes her to the observation deck and shows her her planet from space. He discusses with her about their technology and compares it to how her technology works. After talking, she realizes that he is not to be feared but, when she asks him to bring back the dead, he realizes that she still believes him to be God Like. One of the Anthropologists dies in sick bay and he shows her that bring back the dead is not in his power. She must go back and tell her people that they are not gods.
Back on the planet a storm arrives and Liko decide to sacrifice Troi to appease The Picard. He prepares a bow and just as he is about to kill her, Picard arrives with Nuria. Picard and Nuria explains to them that they are but travellers and are not Gods. Liko does not believe him and shoots Picard with an arrow. Seeing his blood Liko realizes his mistake.
Picard returns to Mintaka 3 and shows the people the duck blind. He explains to them about the Prime Directive and how they can not interfere any more. Nuria presents Picard with a Tapestry as remembrance of them.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
This is one that is now considered a classic. Who Watches the Watchers is one that not only takes the Prime Directive trope in a different direction but is also one that has been duplicated in other shows, even recently on The Orville in the episode Mad Idolatry.
This is very much a Picard story as it give him a chance to show, while very strict with the rules, he can be flexible as well. When faced with the possibility of being a God, a lesser man would have let it happen and not be concerned about the consequences, Picard is determined to make sure this transgression is taken care of with minimal corruption to the Mintakan people. When he realizes that the damage is done, he takes it upon himself to fix it personally, showing Picard to be a true leader.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
The Mintakans are a proto-vulcan race that are only in the Bronze Age. It is interesting however that there are no Vulcans present in the anthropological group.
We see a similar ‘duck blind’ in one of the later Movies Star Trek Insurrection. That one isn’t very successful either.
This is the first time Riker and the crew go incognito as a different race in order to blend in.
For you eagle eyed viewers you will recognize Liko as actor Ray Wise under some heavy Vulcan makeup. Ray Wise would later appear on Star Trek Voyager as a different character.
Sadly we never revisit the Mintakans and never find out just what kind of impact Picard and crew had on them. Let’s just hope no one left behind a book…
The tapestry given to Picard at the end of the episode would become part of his office set dressing and will be seen on his chair nearly every time we visit his office. This event apparently had a profound effect on the Captain.
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Late To The Game 8/17/2019 (originally published 4/27/2018)
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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