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Future Imperfect (episode)

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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)
"Future Imperfect"
TNG, Episode 4x08
Production number: 40274-182
First aired: 12 November 1990
81st of 176 produced in TNG
81st of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
188th of 728 released in all
William Riker, 2383
Written By
J. Larry Carroll & David Bennett Carren

Directed By
Les Landau
44286.5 (2367)
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For the unrelated TOS novel, please see Future Imperfect.

After an away mission to Alpha Onias III interrupts Commander Riker's birthday party, the first officer suddenly awakens in sick-bay sixteen years in the future where he is the captain of the Enterprise and about to negotiate a peace treaty with the Romulan Star Empire.


"Captain's log, stardate 44286.5. The Enterprise is conducting a security survey of the Onias sector near the Neutral Zone. Despite our proximity to the Romulan territory, the mission has been quiet and uneventful.

The USS Enterprise-D detects unusual readings from an M-Class planet near the Neutral Zone. Captain Picard sends Commander Riker to lead an away team to investigate whether the Romulans are involved. The mission is aborted after the surface unexpectedly fills with methane gas. The away team falls unconscious and is beamed up.

Riker awakens in sickbay. He learns that he is now sixteen years into the future when Dr. Crusher explains to him that he is recovering from a virus he picked up on an away mission sixteen years ago. This virus has caused a form of amnesia, destroying all his memories from the moment he became infected to the present.

Riker tries to piece together what has happened in the sixteen years since that away mission. He is now captain of the Enterprise, a position he has held for the past nine years. As he enters the bridge, he is pleased to see that Data is now his first officer. He is also surprised to see that his helm officer is a Ferengi ensign.

Captain Riker temporarily places the Enterprise on red alert when a Romulan warbird decloaks. He is then informed that the warbird was expected. The Enterprise opens communications, and Admiral Picard appears on screen. Admiral Picard and Ambassador Tomalak have arrived to sign a peace treaty between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. Captain Riker has been a key figure in these negotiations.

Riker also learns that he has a son named Jean-Luc, after the admiral. While Riker talks with his son, the young boy mentions his mother. Later, Riker tries to access images of his late wife. The computer shows him an image of Minuet, a woman who never really existed. She was merely a holodeck character who appeared in the episode (TNG: "11001001"). Thus, he immediately realizes that he is not in the future.

Riker goes to the bridge and interrogates Geordi La Forge on why he shut down the warp engines. La Forge responds he has discovered that the antimatter containment fields are fluctuating and he will have the warp core back online. Riker tells him "For 30 hours? It would have never taken you four (hours)". Next, he demands Worf to remember the time he received one of his battle scars in which Worf is unable to answer. Finally, he confronts his first officer, who cannot complete computations as fast as the real Data would. In fact, Riker catches Data saying "can't" instead of "cannot," immediately calling him out for using a contraction when the real Data would not. When Picard arrives on the bridge and interrupts the Captain's tirade, Riker tells the Admiral to "shut up". He then informs everyone that he has discovered the lie and demands to know the truth.

It seems that this has all been a holodeck fantasy put on by the Romulans for their own purposes. The holo-images vanish, and Riker finds himself with "Jean-Luc", who identifies himself as Ethan, apparently the only real character whose likeness was used for the holo-character of Jean-Luc, who helps him escape from his would-be Romulan captors. Eventually, Ethan slips up by referring to "Ambassador Tomalak" when Tomalak in reality was only a Romulan captain. Riker realizes that he's still in a fantasy and orders the boy to end it. The Romulan base disappears, leaving Riker with Ethan in a large cave-like structure. The boy reveals that he was stranded here by his parents intentionally to save his life, and given technology up to the level of a sophisticated holodeck. He has lured Riker into this because of his desperate lonliness. Riker offers to take him back to the Enterprise. The boy then shows his true identity as an insectoid child named "Barash". Just before the two transport up to the ship, Riker says, "To me you will always be Jean-Luc."

Memorable Quotes

"So, what did you wish for, Will?"
"Music lessons."

- Troi and Riker after he did not hit the right note on his trombone earlier

"Number One? Happy birthday."

- Picard

"Dr. Crusher? He's awake."
"Will, you remember me. That's good. What else do you remember, captain?"

- Ogawa, Crusher and Riker when he awakens after "losing" sixteen years of memories

"We're on the edge of the neutral zone, at impulse power and you're not concerned?!"
"I'll have the engines back online in no time."
"Like you tracked down that faulty processing accelerator..."
"I'm running a level 1 diagnostic!"
"For thirty hours? That would never take you more than four. You're incapable of that level of incompetence, Mr. La Forge!"

- Captain Riker to La Forge when he discovers the future is false

"What's the matter Data? What happened to those millions of calculations per second?"
"Pardon sir, I am experiencing sub-space interference which limits my abilities, I can't operate as quickly as I..."
(interrupting) "what did you say?"
"I said I cannot operate as..."
(interrupting) "NO, That's not what you said. You said I CAN'T. You used a contraction didn't you?"
"Sir, I can explain if you would just give me a moment"
"No, you can't, don't even try!"

- Captain Riker and Data about Data's ability of speech

"Captain, I think it would be best if we discussed this..."
"Shut up!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said shut up! As in close your mouth and stop talking."
"Will, I sense how upset you are. You're angry and impatient."
"Deanna back off. *pause* Well, would anyone else like to speak up? Or shall we end this charade?"

- Captain Riker, Admiral Picard and Deanna Troi after Riker discovers the future is false

"My name is Barash."
"To me, you'll always be Jean-Luc."

- Barash reveals his true appearance to Riker

Background Information

Story and production

Roddenberry during Future Imperfect

Gene Roddenberry visits the set during production

  • Brannon Braga recalled, "We've had some amazing pitches, but the most notable we ever heard was in 'Future Imperfect,' where the team came in and said we have a story where Riker wakes up from an accident fifteen years in the future... Riker has a son, is the captain of the Enterprise and has no idea what happened. Mike Piller said, 'Stop, we'll buy it.'" (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • The only major change to J. Larry Carroll and David Bennett Carren's pitch was the addition of the Romulan fantasy within a fantasy. Michael Piller commented, "The first draft was a little flat after we got into the story, just like "Remember Me". You had a situation where you are into it and something strange is happening and yet it can't just turn out to be a dream at the end of the show because it's not satisfying. What you do is you get to the third act and you need to do something that moves the action forward. This is one of the best examples of the notion that you shouldn't censor yourself. I just talked and David Carren said, 'You mean that he thinks it's a real Romulan plot for an act?' and I said, 'That's not what I mean at all' – then I said, 'Stop, wait a minute, what if that's exactly what we do and play it out as a Romulan gag for an act.' That's what I think made that show work." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • This episode's title is a play on words. "Future tense" and "imperfect aspect" are concepts in classical grammar. The false reality (set in the "future") created by the alien for Riker was inaccurate (or "imperfect") in ways that allowed him to find out what was going on.
  • The turbolift scene with Riker and Barash was added because the episode was running short. Carroll and Carren met with Rick Berman and Michael Piller to create a new scene the night before it was filmed. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
  • Guest star Andreas Katsulas was not comfortable with his recurring role as Tomalak in this episode. "I felt much more comfortable when he was an incredible giant on the screen, just a face. Suddenly when I had to account for everything else, I didn't feel support and nothing was supporting what I was doing. I was happy not to recur unless it would have gone back to a screen character." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages) Katsulas would subsequently appear as Tomalak one final time in "All Good Things...", once again seen only on a viewscreen.
  • The song Riker plays on his trombone is called Misty by Errol Garner.
  • The sets for the Romulan base in Barash's illusion were redresses of the Borg interiors from "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
  • Several items from this episode were sold off on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction on eBay, including a component from the Romulan holodeck. [1]
  • First UK airdate: 25 May 1994


  • This episode is uncannily prescient:
    • Riker comments on the unlikelihood of a Ferengi ensign, though Nog became an ensign just seven years later in DS9: "Favor the Bold".
    • A female Klingon appears as a Starfleet officer on board this version of the Enterprise. About four years after this episode airs, a female half-Klingon by the name of B'Elanna Torres works as a chief engineer of USS Voyager, a Starfleet vessel.
    • Geordi La Forge's eyes have been replaced with cloned organs, so he doesn't need his VISOR anymore. In Star Trek: First Contact, his visor is replaced with technological implants and in Star Trek: Insurrection, the regenerative effects of the planet Ba'ku's rings temporarily regenerated his retinas.
    • The events of this episode state that Riker becomes a Captain 7 years after the away mission on Alpha Onias Three. However, Riker takes command of his own ship, USS Titan, 11 years after the events of this episode.
    • This episode takes place sixteen years into Riker's future. This would be 2383, four years after the events seen in Star Trek Nemesis. Admiral Picard states that the peace talks with the Romulans originated in an event four years prior, the same time period as Nemesis. And Riker's ship was in charge of the task force handling discussions with the Romulans.
    • Troi appears in a standard uniform in this episode. She begins wearing a standard uniform with TNG: "Chain of Command, Part I".
    • The Starfleet communicator features horizontal bars, rather than an oval, around the Starfleet Insignia, in a design similar to the design seen in Star Trek Generations. Riker and Picard's communicators feature four bars, while lower-ranked officers feature three, possibly suggesting the design is influenced by rank.
  • This episode marks the first appearance of Alyssa Ogawa as a nurse in sickbay when Riker first wakes up in his fictional future.
  • Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) does not appear in this episode.


  • Director Les Landau observed, "It was an opportunity for Jonathan to take charge of an episode and it just shows the dynamic quality of Riker to have to deal with not only having aged fifteen years, but to discover that you have a son and have been married and [are] captain of the Enterprise. Can you imagine waking up one day and finding out that you've skipped fifteen years on your CD? There were lots of tricks and false leads, and yet there was something universal about the theme of this alien at the end which was the embodiment of this little boy. The final moment where Riker sees this alien being in the caverns of this other world and says I will take you with me and you will always be a part of me, goes back to the basics of what Star Trek is all about. It's that caring for the human condition, love for the universal being. It sounds very esoteric and snobbish to talk this way, but that's when Star Trek is at its best." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • A mission report for this episode by John Sayers was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine Vol. 15, pp. 50-53.

Video and DVD releases

Links and references


Also starring

Guest stars


Uncredited co-stars

Stunt double



Alpha Onias expedition; Alpha Onias system; Alpha Onias III; Altarian encephalitis; Axanar; Barash; Beta Quadrant; birthday party; Brettner; Citation for Conspicuous Gallandry; class M; coma; compression attenuator; Curtis Creek; Curtis Creek program; D'deridex-class; Decius, IRW; Deneva; Deneva Special Congress on Interstellar Affairs; Earth Outpost Station; Excalbian Campaign; Federation; Ferengi; fictional Starfleet uniform; Fornax Disaster; Gamma Hydra sector; Grankite Order of Tactics; Greenburg, Mister; holodeck; home video; hydrogen sulfide; Karagite Order of Heroism; Melbourne, USS; methane; Miridian VI; Nelvana III; Onias sector; Outpost 23; Parrises squares; red alert; retrovirus; Riker, Kyle; Prentares Ribbon of Commendation; Praetor Campaign; Romulan cruiser; Romulan Neutral Zone; Sargon Region; Starbase 384; Starfleet Academy; Starfleet Command; Starfleet Medal of Honor; sulfur dioxide; Titan, USS; tricorder; trombone; turbolift; VISOR; Zavolta Planetary Geosciences Survey Expedition

External link

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Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4
Next episode:
"Final Mission"

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