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Series : The Next Generation Rating : 2
Disc No : 1.4 Episode : 17
First Aired : 22 Feb 1988 Stardate : 41463.9
Director : Corey Allen Year : 2364
Writers : Carl Guers, Ralph Sanchez, Robert Sabaroff Season : 1
Guest Cast :
Carolyne Barry as Female engineer
Elizabeth Lindsey as Luisa Kim
Gerard Prendergast as Bjorn Benson
Mario Roccuzzo as Arthur Malencon
Walter Gotell as Kurt Mandl
Moral :
Aliens : No matter how alien they are they deserve respect
Terraforming : The ultimate in ecological destruction
YATI : The law of the conservation of energy is one of the most basic principles of physics. This principle would indicate that the amount of energy the microbrain has available cannot be more than it can draw from the lights in sickbay. Yet the thing is breaking through forcefields and threatening the entire ship! Can it really do this on the power it is drawing from a few lightbulbs? Or has the conservation of energy been overcome in the 24th century? (Actually this would explain more than a few things about Trek, but it's hard to believe.)
Great Moment : The description of the microbrain's component parts is actually technically correct, so kudos for that.
Body Count : One of the terraformers is killed.
Factoid : Director Corey Allen also directed four DS9 episodes.


The Enterprise is visiting Velara III, a planet which the Federation is terraforming to turn it into a colony. The crew sense that something is wrong at the station - the scienctists are acting suspiciously, and soon an accident involving a laser kills one of them. Under questioning the scientists reveal that patterns had begun to appear on the surface on the planet - random at first, but gradually assuming geometric shapes. The scientists had dismissed this as a natural phenomenon, though they suspected that there was an intelligence at work.

Further investigation reveals that a microscopic crystalline life form lives in a water layer just beneath the sands on the planet and had been trying to communicate to the scientists, whose terraforming project was gradually destroying its habitat.

When a sample of the crystal is beamed aboard, it begins to display rapidly increasing growth and energy levels. It quickly overpowers the containment field holding it, and is threatening to break out of sickbay. Analysis indicates that the crystal is photoelectric in nature, and is drawing its power from the sickbay lighting systems. When the lights are dimmed the creature loses power, allowing it to be safely contained.

Data manages to establish communication with the crystal life form, which is understandably angry at the "ugly bags of mostly water", it's name for Humanoid life forms. Picard is able to convince it that the harm done was unintentional, and that all terraforming efforts will now be halted. The creature agrees to a cessation of hostilities, and is beamed back down to the surface. The Enterprise departs the planet, having been informed by the aliens that full contact between the two races will be established in three hundred years, when it feels that Humans will be ready.


There are some nice ideas here; showing us a terraforming job at work is interesting, the only time we have seen this in Trek. It confirms that the Genesis effect never did work fully, which is interesting - though given that there seems to be only one small station on the whole planet, perhaps some aspects of the "push a button and redecorate a planet" technology did survive in useable form. Having a mysterious enemy attack through apparently random accidents is also interesting, though they didn't make an awful lot of the mystery aspect of things. The microbrain is also an interesting alien. I always like it when Trek does an enemy that isn't stereotypically evil, so it's nice that this one turns out to just be defending itself. And in terms of structure, it's good to see another completely non-Humanoid species. Hell, some of the science they use talking about it even makes sense!

Where it all falls apart is in the last ten or fifteen minutes. The writers have decided that for dramatic purposes, the Microbrain is going to threaten the Enterprise. Having it grow bigger and more powerful is a reasonable way to accomplish this, but you have to wonder why the microbrains on the surface don't do the same thing to give us a planet littered with big fist sized crystals.

And then we get the explanation of how the brain is growing... it's drawing energy from the lighting systems in sickbay. As noted in the YATI, this just isn't possible. The amount of energy the brain puts out can't be any greater than the amount that goes in, and the average lightbulb doesn't put enough power out to heat a kettle in a reasonable time, let alone overcoming forcefields and such. The only way to get around this is to assume that the brain uses the tiny amount of energy it absorbs to do something technobabbly... create an energy field that draws power out of subspace or something. That wouldn't be a very satisfactory answer either, but at least it would be something! In a way I feel bad for complaining about this, because what I'm basically saying is that we needed more technobabble in this episode, and as a general rule technobabble isn't a good idea. But in this case, I think something was required.

Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 7,452 Last updated : 12 Mar 2013