Pros: Marina Sirtis gets a meaty role based on premise for an unaired Star Trek series.
Cons: Dr. Pulaski is essentially a less-likeable McCoy; Wesley Crusher's presence is illogical
Genesis: In the mid- to late 1970s, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry attempted to find a viable way to revive the voyages of the Starship Enterprise and her crew after its 1969 cancellation by NBC and its surprising rebirth in syndication.
Roddenberry had at first resisted going back to work on Star Trek; his struggles with network executives about time slot placement and other issues had been acrimonious, and for some years “the Great Bird of the Galaxy” tried to develop other TV properties (The Questor Tapes, Genesis II) and even produced a “sexploitation” film (1971’s Pretty Maids All in a Row).
None of these projects panned out, however, and from 1975 on Roddenberry – who was worried that he wouldn’t be able to support his family without a job in the movie and TV industry – devoted much of his creative endeavors on resurrecting Star Trek.
Although Roddenberry and his creative partners – including D.C. Fontana, Bob Justman and Jon Povill – considered several possibilities to re-launch the USS Enterprise (low budget theatrical release, a made-for-TV movie, a big-budget movie a la 2001: A Space Odyssey), Paramount Pictures (which owned the rights to Star Trek) eventually green-lit a new TV series which would air on a projected fourth network, the Paramount Television Service. (If this sounds oddly familiar, it is because this is what happened when the studio launched the United Paramount Network in 1995 with Star Trek: Voyager as its flagship series.)
In June of 1977, it was announced that Star Trek II (or Star Trek: Phase II) would reunite the majority of The Original Series’ cast; William Shatner and DeForest Kelley would reprise their roles of James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy; James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney also signed on to play Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, now-Doctor Chapel and newly-reassigned Transporter Chief Janice Rand. Leonard Nimoy, however, declined to come back as Spock, so actor David Galtreaux was brought in to play science officer Lt. Xon, a full-blooded Vulcan who had just graduated from Starfleet Academy.
The series – which never aired because the Paramount Television Service was aborted - not only introduced several new characters which later appeared in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture – got as far as the preproduction stage, with a redesigned Enterprise, modified versions of the traditional Starfleet uniforms from the 1960s show, and 13 finished or nearly finished teleplays.
Though Star Trek: Phase II became a footnote in Star Trek history, some elements of it survived in one form or another. The series’ two-hour pilot (In Thy Image) became the basis for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and two episodes (The Child and Devil’s Due) were later rewritten for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Stardate 42073.1 (Earth Calendar Year 2365)
Original Air Date: November 21, 1988
Written by Jason Summers, Jon Povill and Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rob Bowman
As the second year of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) “continuing mission” of deep space exploration, diplomacy. Science research and defense of the Federation begins, many changes have taken place aboard the Galaxy-class Starship Enterprise since we last saw Picard and his crew in the first season finale, The Neutral Zone.
For instance, Lt. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) has been reassigned from bridge duty as ship’s navigator to Chief Engineer, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) is now the permanent head of Security In the wake of Tasha Yar’s death and Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) has left the ship, having accepted a transfer as head of Starfleet Medical back on Earth. Her teenaged son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) is still aboard Enterprise, but he, too, is scheduled to depart and join his mother.
Taking Dr. Crusher’s position as Chief Medical Officer is Katherine Pulaski, MD (Diana Muldaur), a somewhat acerbic individual who is curmudgeonly, distrustful of technology and fascinated with some aspects of Klingon culture.
Additionally, the ship’s Ten Forward lounge is now run by an old friend of Capt. Picard, a mysterious woman named Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).
As The Child begins, the USS Enterprise has rendezvoused with the Excelsior-class USS Repulse, from which Dr. Pulaski is transferring. Geordi is busy building a containment module which will be needed to hold potentially hazardous specimens of plasma plague which the Enterprise will haul from ‘auxdet IX to Science Station Tango Sierra – in the Rachelis system – to develop a vaccine for that killer virus.
Later, as the Enterprise is cruising to Science Station Tango Sierra, a small ball of energy passes through the ship’s hull and “wanders” around until it reaches the quarters of Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). As Troi sleeps, the energy ball – which is apparently sentient – enters her body and wakes the empathic half-Betazoid, half-human from her slumber.
The Child follows three plot strands which are tightly interwoven. The “A” story focuses on the titular child which results from the energy lifeform’s visitation of Counselor Troi, a baby boy which Deanna names Ian Andrew Troi, II. after her late father. At first, everyone (including Troi herself) is stunned by her pregnancy (which lasts only 36 hours versus the usual nine-month gestation period of humans), only to become more amazed when Ian Andrew grows at an accelerated rate.
The “B” storyline centers on Dr. Pulaski and her interactions with the crew of her new posting. As previously mentioned, Pulaski is strong-willed and not afraid to butt heads with the ship’s captain, and she’s not too fond of 24thCentury tech. Like her 23rdCentury counterpart Dr. Leonard McCoy, Pulaski dislikes the transporter intensely. She also seems to not like Lt. Commander Data much; she mispronounces his name (Dah-ta instead of Day-ta) and, in an apparently deliberate echo of McCoy’s digs at Spock’s Vulcan reserve and devotion to logic, is prone to asking insensitive questions:
"With all your neural nets, algorithms and heuristics, is there some combination that makes up a circuit for bruised feelings?" – Pulaski, when Data corrects her after she mispronounces his name
The third subplot involves Wesley Crusher, who is supposedly going to rejoin his mother at Starfleet Medical but was inexplicably left aboard the Enterprise. Wesley is torn between missing his mom and the possibility that he will leave the ship. (A look at the title credits would reveal that this plot point is a red herring; since actor Wil Wheaton has not been demoted to Guest Star status but is listed as a permanent cast member, the viewer is made aware that young Wesley will remain aboard as an acting ensign.)
My Take: The second season opener, The Child is a good example of how a show’s producers have to use every available resource to overcome unexpected difficulties in order to carry on in times of turmoil.
Not only did Maurice Hurley (one of the series’ executive producers) have to contend with the departure of actress Gates McFadden at the end of the first season by introducing the character of Dr. Pulaski, but he also had to deal with the production delays caused by the 1988 Writer’s Guild strike. The strike, which was long and contentious, forced The Next Generation’s creative staff to produce four episodes less than a typical season’s worth of 26 episodes. The Child was a recycled teleplay from the aborted Star Trek: Phase II series, with its Ilia-centric “A” story extensively rewritten for Marina Sirtis’ character.
Even though Hurley had to make changes to the Povill-Summers script, (in which Ilia gives birth to a girl), the fact that the concept of the energy being’s “immaculate conception” already existed makes the “A” story is the strongest element of this episode. Sirtis, who had been woefully underwritten during Season One, is simply wonderful as Deanna now that she has a substantial story which centers on the joys and sorrows of her all-too-brief experiences as a mother.
That having been said, The Child is burdened by the script’s other dramatic needs, namely the introduction of “Special Guest Star” Diana Muldaur’s character and the continuation of the existence of Wesley Crusher as a regular character on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
While it is interesting to note that Muldaur is the only actor who appeared as a guest star on Star Trek: The Original Series and became a regular cast member of Star Trek: The Next Generation (albeit for only one season), it’s painfully obvious that what series creator Gene Roddenberry (who was more or less relegated to a consulting role by this time) wanted to do was to recreate the dynamic s of Dr. McCoy without Pulaski becoming a total carbon copy of The Original Series’ “Bones.”
Though Muldaur is an excellent performer and has had a successful career in television and several feature films, she apparently never felt at home on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She asked to be billed as a “Special Guest Star” instead of being listed in the main title credits roll, even though at the time (1988) it was not known whether Gates McFadden was gone permanently or if she would resolve her differences with the show’s producers.
Like any artists, actors can be as talented as all get-out, but if they have poor material to work with, they can only do so much for a movie or TV show which has substandard writing. In trying to make Pulaski into a female version of Dr. McCoy, the Next Generation writers consistently gave Muldaur material that made her hard to like by the average Star Trek fan.
Her constant needling of actor Brent Spiner’s Lt. Commander Data (one of the series’ most popular characters) was supposed to remind viewers of the old McCoy-and-Spock verbal sparring matches from the original Star Trek and its movie spinoffs. But where DeForest Kelley’s character was a softy at heart and actually liked Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (although he would not admit it to his “pointy-eared” friend), Pulaski treats Data pretty shabbily for at least the first half of Season Two, dismissing the android as being merely a machine. She would, of course, mellow a bit over time, but I never really got any sense that Pulaski would ever think of Data as a shipmate.
Wesley Crusher’s continuing presence on the show didn’t bother me too much at the time Star Trek: The Next Generation was originally broadcast, but now that I’m older I feel a certain sense that his character was never really necessary for the series to succeed.
I know that Gene Roddenberry (whose given name was Eugene Wesley Roddenberry) had created Mr. Crusher as an idealized avatar of himself as a young teen, but even though Wil Wheaton was an outstanding young actor in Stand By Me, Wesley was too idealized and too perfect to be believable.
Though Wesley is not annoying in The Child, the rationale for his character staying aboard the ship is flimsy and makes no sense whatsoever. His mom goes off to be the head of Starfleet Medical, but he stays aboard to finish some projects he was working on?
Also hard to swallow is Wesley’s entire pre-Season Seven story arc; in Where No One Has Gone Before the Traveler tells Picard that the boy is special and meant for a great destiny, like Mozart or even Einstein. All well and good, and if the writers, producers and directors handled Wheaton and his character better, Wesley would not have been the focus of fans’ intense dislike.
However, not only was Wesley saddled with bad costumes, an unbelievable knack for solving problems that could (and should) have been fixed by experienced crew members and really bad dialogue, but he also locked into a “follow my dad and Capt. Picard into Starfleet” destiny that may sound like ideal for fans but not exactly a path that a super-gifted young person would necessarily have to follow In order to achieve greatness.