Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Transfigurations”

Written by René Echevarria
Directed by Tom Benko

Season 3, Episode 25
Original air date: June 4, 1990
Star date: 43957.2

Mission summary

Worf encourages La Forge to hit on a woman in Ten Forward, in the only way a Klingon can, but the awkward engineer crashes and burns. And he’s not the only one: In the course of a routine charting assignment, Enterprise has detected a crashed vessel on a planet. They investigate and discover a lone survivor in the wreckage of an escape pod. He’s in pretty bad shape, too unstable to transport, so Dr. Crusher whips out a thingey that links La Forge’s nervous system to help regulate the patient’s heart. The interface delivers a weird little shock to La Forge, but he seems fine, and it works. They bring the injured man aboard.

Dr. Crusher hooks up the patient, who she names John Doe, to every bizarre machine at her disposal. With generous application of cutting-edge technobabble, the man recovers. Or it may have nothing to do with her ministrations, because apparently his cells are mutating and rapidly healing his body all on its own.

La Forge is also feeling pretty good, which is fortunate because he and Data have a puzzle to work on: a capsule from Doe’s ship that is incompatible with their technology. They know his pod escaped from a larger vessel, which was destroyed, but they need to decode the data in the component in order to figure out where he came from. But all that can wait, because La Forge is suddenly feeling confident enough to ask out Christy Henshaw.

After a month, John Doe is practically able to walk again, thanks to his merrily mutating cells, which have a couple of odd side effects. 1) He suffers occasional bursts of pain. No big. 2) He can heal people, which he demonstrates when he fixes O’Brien’s dislocated shoulder, a kayaking injury. That’s handy.

Doe is also winning friends and influencing people, including his good doctor. Even Wesley notices his mom’s unprofessional infatuation with her patient. While she ponders the biochemistry of her feelings for their guest, La Forge has a breakthrough idea with Doe’s capsule. Realizing it may be biochemical in nature, storing data as patterns of nucleic acids, he and Data are finally able to decode it and trace Doe’s path back to his originating planet. Only he’s less than enthusiastic about returning there, since he’s beginning to remember that he and a few others were trying to escape. The energy pulses in his body are also getting bigger.

DOE: Yesterday, for one terrifying moment, there was clarity.
CRUSHER: You mean the energy pulse?
DOE: Yes. For that moment my purpose seemed clear, and then it was gone.
CRUSHER: The pain, the energy pulse, must be linked to the cell mutation in the body. I wish I could help you find the truth.
DOE: Beverly, you’ve done so much for me. I only wish there was some way I could repay you.
CRUSHER: But you have. The friendship we’ve developed has made me very happy.
DOE: The rapport that exists between us also means a great deal to me. But I am on some kind of journey. Whatever brought me here, whatever is happening to my body, is all part of that journey. And I must complete it before any other consideration.

He’s so focused on that journey, that when he experiences his next surge of power, he attempts to steal a shuttle and leave the ship. Worf tries to intervene and accidentally falls and breaks his neck, but then Doe heals him, so that’s all right. Picard’s graciousness is starting to wear thin, but his problem may soon be taken off his hands when a new ship arrives. Its commander, Sunad, claims their guest as a dangerous escaped criminal.

Picard hedges on Doe’s behalf though, but Sunad attacks everyone on Enterprise with Vader’s Force Choke, except for Doe and Data. Doe heals Beverly and a random crewman in the halls, then spreads the love by touching the ship and making it glow until everyone can breathe again. He arrives on the Bridge to deliver some exposition he has just remembered. As an added bonus, he teleports Sunad aboard with an idle gesture to hear it all firsthand.

DOE: Captain, my species is on the verge of a wondrous evolutionary change. A transmutation beyond our physical being. I am the first of my kind to approach this metamorphosis. They tried to convince us it was a sickness we would never survive, that the pain and energy pulses would kill us. They claimed we were dangerous so they destroyed anyone who exhibited the signs of the transfiguration.
SUNAD: We were protecting our society.
DOE: By murdering us? You saw the mutations as a threat to your authority. You were terrified of something you couldn’t understand. Some suspected that what was happening to them was not evil. Four of us decided to flee Zalkon and let the metamorphosis take its course. You hunted us down, killed the others, but I survived with the help of a kind and generous people.

Doe completes his transformation into an energy being, sends Sunad back to his ship, and bids a tender farewell to Dr. Crusher.

JOHN: Beverly, you gave me life and more. I do not have the words for my gratitude nor my sorrow at leaving you.



Appropriately enough, I didn’t remember much about this episode going back into it. That isn’t too surprising, because on the whole, it’s rather bland. There are a lot of story elements at play that never quite gel together: Dr. Crusher’s relationship with John Doe, the mystery of his identity, his manifesting powers, even Geordi’s newfound confidence with women. Having a lot of things happen is no substitute for a compelling plot, and for the most part, the crew is sidelined by John Doe and relegated to mere observers in the drama surrounding him. Even their efforts to save his life are marginalized by his own burgeoning regenerative abilities.

The conflict over the Prime Directive is a token one at best, and once again their lofty principles are brushed under the rug when their feelings make it inconvenient. In a rare moment of relevance, Troi says, “The Zalkonians truly don’t understand our indecision about returning John. In their eyes, we shouldn’t even be involved.” Well, yeah. But not only does the episode fail to engage with this conflict in any meaningful way, their decision is rendered moot when Sunad strikes and Doe saves the day.

There are three big things crippling this episode:

1) Wince-inducing dialogue, particularly whenever Dr. Crusher and John Doe have to discuss their feelings.

2) A heavy dependence on technobabble and futuristic gadgets that don’t make much sense. Let’s hook up two people’s nervous systems because… what?

3) The convenience of super powerful beings who can Force Choke and heal broken necks, coupled with amnesia that conveniently maintains suspense then just as conveniently disappears without explanation.

Finally, I’m slightly troubled by Geordi in this episode. If John Doe’s power affected his brain and gave him the confidence to approach Christy, does that imply that his shyness was a mental “problem” that Doe managed to heal? Moreover, if this is a lasting change, this should have profoundly altered Geordi’s character from here on — it’s more than just about him getting some action in one episode. Also, Christy seems to have had a big change of heart since “Booby Trap.”

Look, this is just a weird episode, from the month-plus long duration to John Doe being treated like a regular character that everyone likes to its overall lack of focus. At the very least, it commits the sin of being rather boring.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

ThreadAlert_TransfigurationsThread Alert: Unitards!!! Why?! I suppose Dr. Crusher picked this revealing outfit for John Doe, abusing her privilege as his doctor, but it still isn’t very flattering. It looks vaguely Starfleet, maybe especially with the turtleneck, but it also reminds me of Quantum Leap.

Best Line: PICARD: It is our mission to seek out life in all forms. We are privileged to have been present at the emergence of a new species.

Trivia/Other Notes: This is the first episode in which O’Brien dislocates his shoulder while kayaking, which becomes a running gag on DS9.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 24 – “Ménage à Troi.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 26 – “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.