Written by Ward Botsford & Diana Dru Botsford and Michael Piller and Allison Hock
Directed by Adam Nimoy
Season 6, Episode 7
Production episode 40276-233
Original air date: October 26, 1992
Captain’s Log: Picard, Ro, Keiko, and Guinan are on a shuttlecraft, returning from Marlonia. Picard is geeking out over some archeological thing or other, while Ro recognizes the plants Keiko is bringing back (to everyone’s surprise). The shuttle then hits an energy field that’s about to destroy it. O’Brien barely manages to get a pattern lock, and he beams them over – concerned that there’s a 40% drop in mass, so he may have lost one of them.
Then it turns out that nobody was lost – but all four occupants of the shuttle are now twelve-year-old kids. (Also, their clothes shrunk with them for reasons never adequately explained by the script. Then again, neither does it explain much of anything else, as we’ll see.) Crusher and Troi both examine the four of them, and their minds are the same as ever, but their bodies have been changed to pre-adolescence.
Picard naturally keeps acting as if he’s the captain—and why shouldn’t he?—and Riker and Crusher both respond as if he’s an annoying kid interrupting them. Picard then orders Riker to accompany him to the bridge, where everyone has a hard time taking orders from a twelve-year-old kid. Crusher comes to the bridge and speaks to him in private. She’s concerned that this is the first stage in a process that may affect his mind – there’s no evidence of that, Picard counters, but eventually he realizes that he can’t continue to act as captain until they know more about what happened to him. Reluctantly, he leaves the ship in Riker’s hands (and boy, will he be sorry he did that...).
Guinan tweaks Ro, who has no interest in re-living her childhood, which was spent in a refugee camp, and she just wants to go back to work. But they’ve all been relieved of duty, which just pisses Ro off—she wants to do something—whereas Guinan is thrilled, since it’s been centuries since she was a little kid and she intends to enjoy it.
Cut to the O’Brien quarters, where the awkwardness is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Keiko tries to act as if nothing’s changed, while O’Brien is uncomfortable, and acting as if Keiko is some strange kid in his cabin. They have a tense conversation about what this will all mean for their marriage, which is interrupted by Molly, demanding a story from Mommy. When Keiko offers to read to her, Molly cries, “No! I want Mommy!”
Keiko is devastated that her own daughter doesn’t even know her now, and runs from the room. All of O’Brien’s awkwardness immediately falls away and he goes after Keiko and hugs her, promising his wife that they’ll find a way to get through this.
The Enterprise arrives in the Ligos system, answering a distress call from a Federation science outpost. Meanwhile, Picard is in his quarters, enjoying the hair that has returned to his head, but not all that happy with how big his uniform jacket fits. Looking at himself in the mirror, he finds it impossible to take himself seriously (a problem with which the viewing audience can identify).
Troi checks up on him. They discuss options for what he could do if the condition remains permanent and he has to grow up all over again: going back to the Academy, take a leave of absence to pursue archaeology.
Crusher has figured out what happened to the foursome: the part of their genetic code that determines what people will change into at adolescence—Crusher calls it “rybo-viroxic nucleic” or RVN—was wiped out during transport. Keiko’s plants were similarly affected—they all became seedlings—and by accelerating one plant’s growth, Crusher learned that they will all likely grow up normally in the course of time. They might be able to use the transporter to put back the RVN, based on the patterns from previous genetic scans.
Guinan continues to tweak Ro, who finds the whole idea of reliving childhood repugnant, but whom Guinan eventually convinces to start jumping on the bed.
La Forge and O’Brien have determined that the shuttle was hit with a reversion field that turned the shuttle hull alloys into their component metals, and which also probably affected the people on board. Crusher is more optimistic now about being able to get them back to adulthood via the transporter.
However, first things first: they’ve arrived at Ligos VII, the source of the distress call. Two surplus Klingon Birds of Prey decloak and attack the Enterprise. Somehow, the ships manage to do critical damage to the Enterprise – it helps that the Enterprise only fires one shot, which inexplicably does no appreciable damage to the Klingon ship on which it fires. Ferengi start beaming on board and rounding people up. Two transport onto the bridge. Worf—who has much more time to set up his completely clear shot – somehow misses the Ferengi, while the Ferengi gets a clean hit on Worf, even though half his body is protected by the tactical console. Within minutes, the Ferengi have taken over the entire ship, but the one competent thing Riker has done is lock out command functions, so while the Ferengi have the ship, they can’t actually do anything with it.
The Ferengi beam most of the crew down to the surface, and toss the children into a single room – but that number includes Picard, Ro, Guinan, Keiko, and Alexander. Picard starts discussing options for how to take the ship back – Ro has some mediocre suggestions (and Picard goes along with them – the element of surprise? really?), but it’s Guinan who points out that, since they look like children, their best bet is to act like children.
Riker meets with the Ferengi DaiMon, who has already taken Ligos VII, and put both the scientists on that outpost and now the Enterprise crew to work mining it.
Picard—after having trouble navigating the kids’ computer—sends Ro and Guinan to crawl through the Jefferies Tubes to get to engineering. Then he and Keiko go on a mission of their own to the transporter room, accompanied by a remote-controlled robot belonging to Alexander. They use the robot to lure the Ferengi out of the transporter room – which has phasers and combadges stored in it. Now they’re armed. Alexander gets in on the act, distracting the Ferengi in sickbay long enough to steal two hyposprays.
Ro and Guinan are in position outside engineering, they have their weapons and hypos, now Picard just has to get onto the bridge. And the only way he can think of to accomplish that is to throw a temper tantrum saying he wants to see his father – Commander Riker. While Riker is flabbergasted, he plays along in short order. Picard tells him that he and the other kids want to play games in the schoolroom, and can they please turn on that computer at least?
The DaiMon then threatens to kill the children if Riker won’t release the computer, which he agrees to. While he blinds the Ferengi with technobabble as to how the computer works, he activates the computer, giving Picard access.
Ro, Guinan, and Alexander are able to put combadges on the boarding party, enabling Picard to transport them to a secure location. He takes care of the two on the bridge himself, with Riker’s help.
Then they try to reverse the de-aging. Picard goes first, and is restored. The first thing he does is check his head for hair.
The only one not in the transporter room is Ro. After being restored to adulthood, Guinan goes to Ro’s quarters, where young Ro is drawing pictures, including one of her mother. She decides that childhood isn’t as bad as she thought, and rather than go immediately to the transporter, she and Guinan draw together for a while.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: RVN is bogus. There is no such thing in genetics, and the writers pulled it directly out of their posteriors in order to make the plot, for lack of a better word, work.
Speaking of bogus technobabble being pulled out of posteriors, Riker lets loose with a heroic stream of nonsense when he “explains” the computer to the Ferengi, going on about melacortz-ramistats, bilateral kelilactarals, isopalavial interfaces, Heisenfram terminals, and the firomantal drive unit (which should, under no circumstances, be touched).
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi reminds Picard that he has the chance to do something people never get to do – have a second childhood, without the pain of growing up again.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: The episode raises really awkward questions for the O’Briens, since O’Brien doesn’t really feel comfortable sharing his marital bed with a twelve-year-old.
The Boy!?: When Troi is talking seriously about Picard going back to the Academy, Picard takes the piss out of her by adding, “And be Wesley Crusher’s roommate?”
Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan comments that the archaeological ruins that Picard found on Marlonia are the same age as her father. She also jumps into being a kid with both feet (literally, at one point, on Ro’s bed), probably because she has the most perspective on it, not having been a child for centuries.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf has apparently lost his ability to fire a phaser accurately – or maybe the Ferengi just provide too small a target.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ro pilots the shuttle right into the technobabble energy field that starts the whole mishegoss, while the Enterprise conn is staffed by one of the unnamed female extras.
I Believe I Said That: “How much farther do we have to go?”
“About fifty meters. Don’t tell me you’re tired.”
“I’m not as young as I used to be.”
Guinan and Ro crawling through the Jefferies Tubes, with Guinan making a funny.
Welcome Aboard: Two of the guest children had existing connections to the actors/characters they played the youthful versions of. David Tristan Birkin (young Picard) played Picard’s nephew René in “Family,” and Isis J. Jones (young Guinan) also played the younger version of Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Sister Act (also released in 1992). Megan Parlen and Caroline Junko King round out the kid cast as young Ro and young Keiko, respectively.
Plus we’ve got recurring players Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao, making their final TNG appearances before moving over to Deep Space Nine, as well as the only TNG appearance of Hana Hatae as Molly, a role she’ll continue on DS9 as well.
Trivial Matters: This is Ro’s only sixth-season appearance, and she won’t appear again until the series’ penultimate episode, “Preemptive Strike.” Until that seventh season appearance, there were rumors that Ro never went through the transporter and remained a child, which is why we hadn’t seen her since.
This episode was the directorial debut of Adam Nimoy, whose father is someone you may have heard of. He’ll be back to direct “Timescape” later in the season, and continue a TV directing career that would include episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Sliders, and two episodes of Babylon 5. (He also directed his father in the “I, Robot” episode of The Outer Limits in 1995.)
Diana Dru Botsford, the co-writer of the episode’s story (and who is, in the interests of full disclosure, a good friend of your humble rewatcher), has worked on several shows and films as a producer (including Terminator 2: Judgment Day, From Dusk Till Dawn, Inspector Gadget, and the 1989 remakes of both Dragnet and Adam-12), and is currently the producer of the science fiction web series Epilogue, which she produced with her screenwriting students at Missouri State University. She also wrote an excellent Stargate SG1 novel Four Dragons.
Birkin appears to be the only one of the four child actors still working as an actor. Parlen is now a documentary filmmaker, King is an animator and anime director in Japan, and the only credits listed online for Jones are her two roles as a younger Whoopi here and in Sister Act.
In the “Bar Association” episode of DS9, Odo will throw the events of this episode in Worf’s face when listing security breaches on the Enterprise during the Klingon’s term as security chief.
This episode bears some similarities to the animated episode “The Counter-Clock Incident,” in which Kirk and his crew were also changed into kids.
O’Brien’s love of black coffee, double sweet, is established in this episode. That will become a plot point (sort of) in the DS9 episode “Whispers.”
Make it So: “He’s my Number One Dad!” When the sixth season first aired in 1992, this episode cemented my fear that TNG had outstayed its welcome. They were now reduced to doing the crew-gets-turned-into-little-kids plot. My fears turned out to be unjustified—after the “Chain of Command” two-parter, things got a lot better, and some of TNG’s finest hours are in its sixth season—but at this point we’ve had a dreadful cliffhanger resolution, Barclay, and Q episodes that don’t rate among those characters’ best guest shots, two weak-tea horror stories, and “Relics.” And then this. One watchable episode out of seven isn’t exactly encouraging (and the next two episodes didn’t help matters, but we’ll get to that next week).
Having said that, this episode does have its positive aspects, however meager. For starters, all four child actors are to be commended for magnificently channeling their adult counterparts. Isis Jones in particular does a wonderful job with a Guinan who still is trying to help her friend Ro Laren like she did in “Ensign Ro” (and I love the way she embraces being a kid far more than the others).
Indeed, all of Act 1 is rather compelling. The crew’s difficulty taking orders from a little kid, Ro’s cantankerousness, and Guinan’s philosophical joy are all well played. But the high point of the episode—the thing that almost comes close to the possibility of maybe redeeming this nonsense—is the scene in the O’Briens’ quarters. O’Brien trying desperately not to feel like a pedophile, Keiko trying desperately to act like nothing’s changed (I love how matter-of-factly she grabs a stool when she realizes that something’s on a shelf that’s now too high for her). And then that awful, heartbreaking moment when Keiko realizes that her daughter doesn’t think she’s Mommy.
If the episode had just stuck with that—with how the O’Brien family dynamic is altered, with how Picard has lost the authority he’s more than earned solely due to his physical appearance and voice, with how Guinan totally embraces this and Ro totally doesn’t—then it might have been at least a fun, diverting, if ridiculous, episode. Yes, the science is total horse manure (again, no such thing as RVN), but, as the O’Briens’ scene indicates, you can make a pretty flower from that fertilizer if you work at it.
But no, we had to add the Ferengi taking over the ship.
It’s difficult to put into words how appallingly stupid the entire episode becomes from the moment the Birds of Prey decloak to the end. First off, the Ferengi are in what is described by the DaiMon as “surplus” Klingon ships, so they’re probably the same crummy BOPs that we saw in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and commandeered by Kirk and the gang for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – y’know, the ship that was outgunned “ten to one” by Kirk’s Enterprise, and has a crew of twelve? Yet somehow, two of these ships can take out most of the Enterprise-D’s systems.
Of course, it helps immensely that the Enterprise only fires back once, and that shot does negligible damage. Apparently, that’s all the flagship can manage against the spacefaring equivalent of two VW microbuses. Then the Ferengi board and are met with absolutely no resistance from the crew of a thousand, except one Klingon firing his phaser badly. This is the second time Riker’s been left in charge of the ships and screwed the pooch; last time it was getting his chief engineer kidnapped by doofuses, this time it’s getting his ship captured and most of his crew made into slave labor by doofuses.
And doofuses they are, as the Ferengi in this episode are so spectacularly idiotic, it’s a wonder they were able to operate the Birds of Prey, much less use them to take over the Enterprise. Not only that, but Picard’s entire plan depends on the Ferengi being dumber than a box of hammers. What if the guy in the transporter room didn’t follow the robot into the hallway? What if the guy on the bridge saw through Riker’s technobabble? What if the guard on the schoolroom ignored the tantrum and sent Picard back inside without seeing Riker? All of these were distinct possibilities, and if any of them had happened, Picard’s entire plan would’ve fallen apart.
Bluntly, the entire crew should’ve been forced to retire after this, as they prove themselves to be spectacularly incompetent at the fundamentals of their job. It certainly explains why it took another ten years for Riker to be offered another command, and they were probably regretting offering him the first three....
Having four of the cast turned into kids would’ve been bad enough, but they managed to make it so much worse. Just awful. It only gets as high as a 2 due to the O’Brien family scene.
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido is still a child at heart. Or has a child’s heart. He always gets those two confused.