The 13 Commandments from the TNG Bible.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had a Writer/Director’s guide, commonly referred to as the bible. Within this guide was a list of 13 things that were not to ever happen on TNG (i.e. commandments).

Here we will look at each commandment, and show when TNG maybe didn’t follow their own rules.

All blockquotes and episode details are from Memory-Alpha.

Rule #1. Stories which do not materially involve our own crew. Yes, we do like to see interesting new characters — but only when used in addition to an interesting story line involving our continuing characters.

TNG Episode 7×15 “Lower Decks”

Junior officers speculate on the reasons for recent unusual actions taken by the command crew near the Cardassian border.

This episode only has the main cast in the periphery, and focuses on four junior officers and their attempt to receive a promotion.


Rule #2. We do not do stories about psi-forces or mysterious psychic powers. No matter how fantastic the events in a story, the explanation must be extrapolated from a generally accepted science theory. (We have accepted telepath of Lt. Commander Deanna Troi because many reputable scientists acknowledge the possibility of such abilities, but you will not that we have limited Troi to “reading” only emotions.)

TNG Episode 1×11 “Haven”

Tensions mount as Counselor Troi’s arranged marriage nears, and her mother takes a liking for Captain Picard. Meanwhile, a plague ship threatens the planet where they are meeting.

While Deana is limited to just “emotional reading,” her mother, Lwaxana Troi, is a full on telepath.

It could also be argued that Q has psi-force powers, as he is able to create anything he thinks or wills.


Rule #3. We are not buying stories which cast our people and our vessel in the role of “galaxy policemen.’ (See Prime Directive) Nor is our mission that of spreading 20th century Euro/American cultural values throughout the galaxy.

TNG Episode 3×11 “The Hunted”

While the Enterprise-D is reviewing a seemingly idyllic planet’s application for Federation membership, an escaped prisoner leads its crew to discover an ugly secret: the government’s shameful treatment of its war veterans.

Enterprise is made to hunt down the fugitives and reach a peaceful solution. Sounds like a police action to me.


Rule #4. We are not buying stories about the original STAR TREK characters. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Chekov, Scotty and Sulu. Or their descendents. As much as we love our original cast (they are out children, after all), we need our audiences’s attention centered on our new characters.

TNG Episode 6×04 “Relics”

The Enterprise discovers a ship that crashed on a Dyson sphere more than seventy-five years prior with a single survivor suspended in the transporter buffer: Captain Montgomery Scott.

TNG Episode 5×07 & 5×08 “Unification”

To the Federation’s surprise, Ambassador Spock has traveled to Romulus. Fearing he has defected, they send Captain Picard and some of his officers on a covert mission to determine why.

Here we see two classic characters appearing in The Next Generation. Scotty and Spock. I could be wrong, but I think they were both specifically mentioned.


Rule #5. Writing FANTASY instead of SCIENCE FICTION. The difference between the two is profound. Despite the fact that both science fiction and fantasy can deal with unusual events, a science fiction story is based on an extrapolation of a generally accepted scientific fact or theory. Fantasy, which our format does not permit, need have no basis in reality.

Rule #6. Writing “SWORDS AND SORCERY”. Knights and princesses, stalwart yeomen and dragons are not science fiction for our purposes.

TNG Episode 4×20 “Qpid”

Q picks up on romantic tensions between Captain Picard and an old flame, transporting them and the senior officers into a representation of Robin Hood.

This episode breaks rules 5 and 6, in that is a knights and princess story which also has the fantasy that Q can go back in time and replace all the main characters of this legend with the command crew.


Rule #7. Treating deep space as a local neighborhood. Too often, script ideas show characters bouncing from solar system to solar system, planet to planet, without the slightest comprehension of the distances involved or the technologies require to support such travel. Fine (and even fun) on SPACE RANGERS but not on STAR TREK.

TNG Episode 1×06 “Where No One Has Gone Before”

When an experimental engine modification throws the Enterprise to the edge of the known universe, the crew must rely on a mysterious alien to guide the ship home.

TNG Episode 2×16 “Q Who”

Q throws the Enterprise into uncharted space where it encounters and is engaged by a vessel of a previously unknown species: the Borg. When the vessel instantly and effortlessly overwhelms the Enterprise, Picard realizes that the Federation may not be as ready for the future as he thought.

Both times the Enterprise travels incredible distances in a matter of moments, and requires a supernatural being to help them return to “normal” space. I’m starting to detect a theme here though. Q is awful.


Rule #8. STAR TREK is not a melodrama. Melodrama is a writing style which does not require believable people. Believable people are at the heart of good STAR TREK scripts.

TNG Episode 1×12 “The Big Goodbye”

Captain Picard and some of the Enterprise crew get stuck on the holodeck on their way to an important diplomatic mission.

TNG Episode 3×21 “Hollow Pursuits”

Lieutenant Barclay, an introverted diagnostic engineer, is having difficulties dealing with his fantasies.

TNG Episode 4×19 “The Nth Degree”

After an encounter with a mysterious alien probe, Lieutenant Barclay begins to exhibit signs of profound intelligence, ultimately hooking himself into the ship’s computer and hurling the Enterprise into apparent danger.

Hey guess what? Every time you use that Holodeck, you create hokey melodrama.


Rule #9. No stories about warfare with Klingons or Romulans and no stories with Vulcans. We are determined not to copy ourselves and believe there must be other interesting aliens in a galaxy filled with billions of stars and planets.

TNG Episode 5×07 & 5×08 “Unification”

To the Federation’s surprise, Ambassador Spock has traveled to Romulus. Fearing he has defected, they send Captain Picard and some of his officers on a covert mission to determine why.

Obviously Romulans are out, and Vulcans are out. But not if you put them together.


Rule #10. Stay true to the Prime Directive. We are not in the business of toppling cultures that we do not approve of. We will protect ourselves and our mission whenever necessary, but we are not “space meddlers.”

TNG Episode 1×08 “Justice”

When Wesley Crusher is condemned to die on an idyllic, primitive planet, Captain Picard must face breaking the Prime Directive to save the boy’s life.

I’m pretty sure it is more of a guideline.


Rule #11. Plots involving a whole civilization rarely work. What does work is to deal with specific characters from another culture and their interactions with our own continuing characters.

TNG Episode 5×25 “The Inner Light”

An alien probe controls and disables Captain Picard, who wakes up as “Kamin,” a resident of the planet Kataan. While the crew of the Enterprise tries to jar the probe’s influence, “Kamin” lives through the final, dying decades of his homeworld in the span of approximately twenty minutes in the form of an interactive “ancestor simulation”.

Picard gets a front row seat to the destruction of an entire civilization.


Rule #12. Mad scientists, or stories in which technology is considered the villain. It doesn’t make sense for a group of 24th century interstellar travelers (whose lives depend on the successful workings of their technology) to be Luddites.

TNG Episode 1×13 “Datalore”

The Enterprise explores Data’s home planet, Omicron Theta. They find his brother, and the dark secret he carries.

Noonien Soong is definitely not a mad scientist, and Lore is definitely not a robot villain…


Rule #13. Stories in which our characters must do something stupid or dangerous, or in which our technology breaks down in order to create a jeopardy. Our people are the best and the brightest, and our technology is tried and proven. Likewise, our characters are very committed to their ship, their crewmates, and their mission. Please do not have them abandoning or betraying same because they have fallen in love with a beautiful pirate princess.

TNG Episode 3×01 “Evolution”

An obsessed scientist arrives on the Enterprise-D to perform a once-in-a-lifetime experiment. Accidentally released nanites, however, threaten both it and the ship.

Wesley Crusher, your stupidity caused technology to get out of hand and for things to break down creating jeopardy. To his credit, Crusher is the best and the brightest, at being a failure.


There we have it. Rules were made to be broken, sometimes within 8 episodes of the series starting. Lucky for them they didn’t have a rule against super all-powerful omnipotent alien beings.. like Q, or the Douwd.

Most of this list was compiled thanks to assistance of regulars in the Mos Eisley chatroom.

Review

18 thoughts on “The 13 Commandments from the TNG Bible.

  1. I always felt that it was quite notable that they waited until Roddenberry was firmly in the ground before they started breaking these “commandments” on a pretty regular basis.

    • I don’t know about that. Reunion and Redemption (pt 1 & 2) were written and aired before Gene’s death. Unless of course we don’t count warfare between Klingons that involved Romulans as violating #9.

    • Also, as pointed out by Jack, Rule #2 about no telepathy beyond emotion-reading was tossed aside in season 1! Of course it seems sort of silly to have such a rule when the Vulcan mind-meld was such a major part of the canon, unless Roddenberry was going for something more like a “soft reboot”. Later in TNG the pseudoscience was made stronger in the second part of the two-parter “Gambit” from season 7, which presented an ancient Vulcan “psionic resonator” that “focuses and amplifies telepathic energy”, turning it into a physical force that could knock objects around.

  2. I would disagree that Qpid really violates Rule #6. I didn’t interpret it as any sort of time travel, just Q creating an artificial reality based on Robin Hood stories, much like a holodeck program, or like the recreation of a 21st century court in Encounter at Farpoint (which Roddenberry presumably didn’t see as violating rule #6). And this pseudo-medieval reality didn’t actually contain any fantasy elements like sorcery or dragons.

    • Oh, I missed that Qpid was listed as a violation of both Rule #5 and #6–my comment above was disagreeing with your description of it, including the idea that it involved “fantasy” (at least no more than any other Q episode like Encounter at Farpoint), so I don’t think it violates #5 either.

    • Rule 6 specifically mentions knights and princesses, which it could be argued that Maid Marian is a princess and Robin Hood is like a knight. Between that and the medieval setting, I felt it was close enough to make the list.

    • True, but I took “Swords and Sorcery” to mean stories that include both pseudo-medieval things like “knights and princesses” and fantasy elements like “dragons” or sorcery, so that for example time travel to a realistic medieval setting wouldn’t count. There is some ambiguity there, though.

  3. Also, I’d disagree about Datalore violating Rule #12, since Noonien Soong is not really a “mad scientist”, he’s never presented as insane or clearly immoral. And his android technology itself is not presented as something he should never have created, since Data is clearly valuable; it’s just that the alpha version of the software turned out to have some serious bugs. A better candidate might be Ira Graves in “The Schizoid Man” (even though it was made when Roddenberry was still alive)–he behaves immorally in his desire to save himself from death by taking over Data’s body, and his mind becomes increasingly unhinged, with Graves physically attacking anyone who gets in his way, and in the original script (though not the finished episode) he plans to build a fortress/laboratory and makes the mad-scientist-like comment that “those of your crew that I do not exterminate shall live there as our slaves”. I’d say there’s also some sense that the whole idea of avoiding death by uploading one’s mind into a computer is treated as inherently bad or “unnatural”, not just that the implementation was flawed. No one ever tries it again, despite the obvious benefits, and Graves’ desire for immortality seems to be rooted in his egotism. The script also describes Graves’ assistant as “horrified” when he talks of all he’ll be able to accomplish with his unending android life, and later in that script she says “You’re not a man anymore! You’re a pathetic little pile of machinery!” In the aired episode she doesn’t say that, but she does say “I won’t let you put me in a machine. I want to live my life. I won’t let you take it away from me”, and although you could take that as just one character’s personal preference, I suspect the writers meant the audience to have a similar reaction to Graves’ plan as fundamentally “unnatural”.

  4. I think rule #5 has been broken since the pilot of TOS. “Science fiction”, as a genre, has referred to fantasy stories set in futuristic environments since before Star Trek existed. Vampires and witchcraft are no more fantastic than aliens who can somehow interbreed with humans (TOS) (no, the retcon didn’t really help) or Vulcans who can read the emotions of completely alien entities (TOS) or a magical barrier around the galaxy (TOS) or “antimatter” that destroys the entire universe (TOS) or … a bunch more. And I’m still in TOS. TNG looks shinier and the props are a little more believable, but under the “modern” SFX it’s the same pure hand-wavium and magic-powered everything. Voyager and DS9 aren’t any better. Enterprise has an episode where they forgot the most ridiculous basics of gravity — a spaceship is on a comet like a mile wide, and yet the spaceship falls into the center of the comet. In reality, the pilot could have literally gotten out and pushed the ship to escape velocity. This Wired article calculates escape velocity of a similar, real, comet as 0.5 m/s.

  5. Since nobody else has said it in these comments…

    Nice job, Jack.

    Nitpicking, pedantic or otherwise, is certainly possible on various points, but kudos to you for taking the time to put this together! It’s a nice summary, and interesting to read even for those who don’t know all that much about Star Trek.

    • Yes, nitpicking is a fun sport I’m sure many here enjoy, but I agree it’s a great post overall (not to mention a fun idea for a topic to inspire much Trek nerdery).

  6. I’ve been watching Voyager recently and am already losing interest. Virtually every episode is ” we invented [technology] for this episode [and it] goes wrong” and the solution is ” invert the [technology]”.

    Incredibly sloppy writing.

  7. And just to jump on the pedantry bandwagon, I don’t think rule #7 was really broken in the examples listed. The point of those two episodes is than near-omnipotent beings fling the Enterprise much further than it could ever normally travel. That’s not treating deep space as a local neighbourhood.

  8. Is this even real? It’s passed around as real and authentic and no one’s questioning it, except that it was supposedly written in 1987 but it mentions “Space Rangers” which didn’t air until 1993. There was a comic “Star Rangers” earlier than that, but this document clearly says “Space”.

    So um…

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