The year is 2364. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is in command of the new starship, the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D, the fifth Federation ship to bear the name Enterprise. The vessel is about to embark on its first mission to Deneb IV, beyond which lies the great unexplored mass of the galaxy. Picard, in his log, notes that he is impressed with the size and complexity of the ship as he walks through the Enterprise, surveying engineering, and finally enters the bridge, manned by tactical officer Lieutenant Natasha Yar, Lieutenant Worf, Counselor Deanna Troi and Lieutenant Commander Data. Picard continues with his log, in which he reports that the ship is en route to Farpoint Station and that the ship is short in several key positions, most notably a first officer, but Picard is informed that a very experienced officer, William T. Riker, will fill the position.
Picard sits at his command chair and makes an off-hand comment on how Starfleet wants the crew of the Enterprise to “snoop” around Farpoint station, to which Data makes an inquiry into the definition of the word snoop. Picard wonders how Data, a complex android with encyclopedic knowledge does not know the meaning of a basic word like “snoop”. Data responds that he possibly was not designed to emulate this type of Human behavior. Picard says that it means “to spy, to sneak.” Data responds with a long list of other synonyms, but Picard stops him abruptly. Suddenly, Counselor Troi senses a powerful mind. The ship then goes to red alert, with the familiar alert sound blaring through the bridge.
Then, conn officer Lieutenant Torres reports that there is something strange on his detector circuit. A large field begins to appear in front of the Enterprise, which reads as solid. Picard calls for Yar to turn off “that damned noise!” and go to yellow alert. Picard orders helm to make the ship come to a full stop. Soon after controls read full stop, a white light shines on the bridge and a humanoid emerges, dressed from 16th century Europe. Picard asks the being to identify itself. The being notes that he is called “Q” and walks around the bridge, while Torres discreetly takes a small phaser out from the bottom of his console. Q, however senses this and freezes Torres before he can fire. Q, after showing his ability, warns the crew of the Enterprise to go back to Earth or they shall most certainly die.
Later, Q changes into many costumes of Earth’s eras, including the late 20th century in the guise of a United States Marine Corps captain. Picard tells Q that that kind of nonsense is centuries behind them. Q brings up that Picard cannot deny that Humans are a dangerous, savage child race, which Picard denies, saying that Humans have made rapid progress in only a few centuries.
Q then changes again, thinking Picard and his crew will be able to identify with the period that he next embodies, that of a soldier in the late 21st century, where Q notes that Humans learned to control their militaries through drugs. The other officers, not amused with Q’s behavior, attempt to make him leave, but Q keeps on heaping disapproval on Humans, noting that when they finally reached deep space, they found enemies to fight out there as well, which Q says is “the same old story all over again.” Picard says that Q is the same old story they have been seeing, self-righteous beings who prosecute and judge for things they can’t understand nor tolerate. Q notes that “prosecute and judge” is an interesting concept, and asks, “Suppose it turns out we understand you humans all too well?” Picard says he does not fear the facts, and Q seems to take this as a suggestion. He then says that there are preparations to make, but notes that he will be back and will proceed the way Picard suggests.
Picard, who gets many suggestions from his senior staff, orders that no stations on the ship will make audio transmissions, only print-out, in an attempt to catch Q off guard, with Picard noting, “Let’s see what this Galaxy*-class starship can do.*” Picard orders Worf to head down to engineering and have them prepare for maximum acceleration. Picard also asks Data if it is possible to perform a saucer separation at a high warp velocity. Data notes that the separation is inadvisable at any warp speed; it is theoretically possible, but there can be no margin for error. Worf returns from engineering, with the report that the engine room is ready, and takes his position at the helm. Picard orders “Engage“, and the ship turns away from Q’s force field and warps away.
The entire force field collapses into a ball and heads towards the Enterprise. The object is at high warp speed, at warp 9.6, and the Enterprise increases speed accordingly. However, the object is also increasing speed. Data notes that the Enterprise may be able to match the object’s 9.8 warp, but at extreme risk. However, the object reaches warp 9.9 while the Enterprise is only at warp 9.5. Picard, seeing no other alternative, calls out to the entire ship, “Now hear this, printout message, urgent, all stations, all decks, prepare for emergency saucer sep.” The bridge officers are shocked at this new order. Picard orders Worf to command the saucer section, while Picard commands the battle section. Worf stands up from his conn station arguing that he is a Klingon, and that he would rather fight with his captain. but Picard bluntly overrules him and reminds him that he is a Starfleet officer. Worf grudgingly agrees. Picard, Yar, Troi, and Data take the bridge’s emergency turbolift to the battle bridge.
The Enterprise‘s corridors are filled with crewmembers and families leaving the stardrive section to the saucer section. Picard, Data, Yar and Troi enter the battle bridge, with Chief Miles O’Brien manning the conn. First, Picard orders that Yar fire photon torpedoes towards the object. Yar complies and the torpedoes are away. Shortly after, Picard orders that the countdown to saucer separation begin. Data counts down, and the ship separates while at warp. The stardrive section turns around and heads towards a confrontation with Q. They arrive to see the torpedoes hit the object, however, it has no effect, the point being that the detonation of the torpedoes masked the getaway of the saucer section. Picard asks Troi to send out a message in all languages that they surrender.
Soon, the stardrive section is encompassed by a sphere-shaped force field and bright white light surrounds the battle bridge. Picard, Troi, Data and Yar are taken to a World War III-style courtroom. Troi warns that everything that is happening is real, even the soldiers with lethal weapons. The magistrate orders everyone in the courtroom to stand as the judge enters. The judge is revealed to be Q, who charges Humanity of being a grievously savage race, to which Yar is unable to control her anger and starts to berate Q, saying that she comes from a world where a similar “court” was commonplace, and that it took people like her Starfleet comrades to save her from such atrocities. Q then freezes Yar, the same way he did to Torres. Outraged, Picard demands that Q uphold his promise that “the prisoners would not be harmed” and thaw out Yar, which he does, much to the crowd’s displeasure. Picard pleads not guilty to Q’s charges. Q does not take kindly to this and has two soldiers aim their weapons at Data and Troi, ordering them to pull the triggers if Picard says anything other than guilty.
Picard, forced into a tight spot, admits that there is indeed evidence to support the court’s contention that Humans have been savage. Therefore, he asks Q to test the crew of the Enterprise to see if this is presently true of Humans. Q is fascinated by this idea and tells Picard that the Farpoint station will be an excellent site for this test. Picard and his crew are transported back to the battle bridge, where O’Brien has been the entire time. O’Brien claims that he has heard that Farpoint is a rather dull place but Picard hears that it might be rather interesting.
On Deneb IV, Commander William T. Riker walks to Groppler Zorn‘s office. Riker has just been dropped off by the USS Hood for his new assignment. He talks with Zorn for a while, and Zorn asks him if he would like a piece of fruit off of his desk. Riker looks for an apple, but cannot find one. Then, a bowl of apples suddenly shows up on Zorn’s desk, which Riker swears could not have been there two seconds ago. Zorn assures him that it has been there the whole time. Riker then leaves eating the apple, while Zorn, alone in his office, says “You have been told not to do that. It will arouse their suspicion, and if that happens, we will have to punish you. We will! I promise you!“
Meanwhile, at Farpoint Station, Riker meets up at Farpoint’s mall with Dr. Beverly Crusher and her son, Wesley, who is eagerly anticipating joining the Enterprise. Riker asks Dr. Crusher if there is something useful they can do while they wait for the ship to arrive. Riker tells Crusher about the apple incident at Zorn’s office, which Dr. Crusher dismisses as Riker attempting to pull favor with the captain. She sees a purple bolt and says that gold would look great on it. Then, five seconds later, a gold pattern appears on the fabric.
Dr. Crusher later apologizes to Riker and says she’s looking forward to meeting Picard. Riker wonders if she knows the captain. Wesley solemnly tells Riker that when he was a child, Picard brought his father‘s body back to them. Dr. Crusher notes that it was a long time ago and ends the conversation. Riker tells Wesley that he’ll see him on board.
Riker then meets up with blind Starfleet officer Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, who makes an official report that the Enterprise has arrived, but with the stardrive section only, and that Captain Picard has requested his presence. Riker taps his combadge and is beamed up to the Enterprise.
Once aboard, the commander is greeted by Lieutenant Yar, who escorts him to the battle bridge. Riker arrives and is not greeted warmly by Picard, who tells him to watch the video recording of Q, so he’ll know what the ship is facing. Picard leaves the bridge for the ready room and asks Riker to enter once he is done watching the recording. Riker enters and Picard asks him to perform a manual docking of the stardrive section and the saucer section, a difficult task. The saucer section enters orbit of Deneb IV, ready for reconnection. Riker asks O’Brien to adjust the pitch angle, then assures, with the stardrive’s velocity being zero, that its inertia should finish the job. Riker orders the lock up of the stardrive and saucer, and thus the Enterprise is successfully reconnected.
In the ship’s conference lounge, Picard discusses with Riker about an incident on the planet Altair III, when Ricker refused to let Captain Robert DeSoto of the USS Hood beam down to the planet, seeing that the captain’s life could be in danger. Picard tests Riker by suggesting that he doesn’t respect the captain’s authority, which Riker denies, only to state that preserving a captain’s life takes priority over obeying his orders. Picard asks him if he intends to back down from that policy. Riker confidently says “No, sir.” Confident in Riker’s loyalty, Picard proceeds to express his discomfort with the substantial number of families and particularly children aboard the Enterprise and orders Riker’s assistance in ensuring Picard project the image of geniality expected of a starship Captain, to which Riker agrees. Then, Captain Picard formally welcomes Riker on board the Enterprise and shakes his hand.
Riker enters the bridge of the Enterprise for the first time, and inquires to Lt. Worf as to the location of Lieutenant Commander Data. Worf reports that Data is on special assignment, having escorted an admiral around the ship for the whole day, who arrived on the Enterprise to inspect the new vessel’s medical layout. Data is now in the process of transferring the admiral to the Hood, via shuttlecraft. When asked why the admiral couldn’t have just beamed over instead, Worf responds, “Well, I suppose he could*, sir, but the admiral is a rather… remarkable man.*”
In a corridor, Admiral Leonard McCoy claims that Data wanted his atoms scattered all over space. However, Data claims that with his age, he should not have to bother with the time and trouble of a shuttlecraft. McCoy stops walking and asks Data “What about my age?” Data apologizes, if the subject of his age bothers McCoy. “Troubles me? What’s so damn troublesome about not having died?!“, McCoy exclaims. The admiral then asks Data just how old he thinks he is. Data reports quickly that he is 137 years old, according to Starfleet records. McCoy wonders how he can remember that so exactly. Data replies that he remembers everything he is exposed to. McCoy sarcastically says that Data may not have pointed ears, but that he sounds like a Vulcan, only to claim that the fact that he is an android is “almost as bad,” much to Data’s puzzlement over his own perception of Vulcans as an advanced and respected race. McCoy replies, “They are, they are – and damn annoying at times.” While continuing to walk down the corridor, McCoy tells Data to treat the Enterprise like a lady and that she will respond by always bringing him and the crew home.