Towards the end of ST:TNG's Time's Arrow, Pt. 2, Captain Picard is stuck in 19th-century San Francisco, and the rest of the crew is on the Enterprise. Riker wants to go back in time with an away team to get Picard. The security-minded Worf proposes that they instead must destroy the alien habitat that houses the time gateway. Riker is convinced when Troi agrees with Worf, and he says

Power up the photons, Mr. Worf. Alert me when they're ready.

One commercial breakAn unknown amount of time later, Worf is at the tactical station and tells Riker that he's "set the photons...". Riker gives the order to fire, and Worf says it will take another minute (!) until the sequence is ready to initiate.

Meanwhile, Geordi's down in the lab with the unconscious Data who, script-wise, has to wake up and stop the bombardment because it'll backfire. Obviously that's the out-of-universe explanation for this delay: the dramatic tension of the audience knowing that firing the torpedoes will be disastrous.

Is there an in-universe explanation?

Waiting a couple of minutes to "power up", program, and then "initiate" the photon torpedoes in a battle would be deadly. What's taking Worf so long with this task?

  • Also, when did they start calling them "photons"?
    – jscs
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:32
  • They weren't at battlestations?
    – Politank-Z
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:33
  • Neither yellow nor red alert appears to be active when we see Riker and Worf on the bridge, @Politank-Z.
    – jscs
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:34
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    So, rationalizing, the torpedoes were secured and not battle-ready. The loading and firing crews were at their normal work stations and had to get themselves to their battlestations, unsecure, prime, and load the torpedoes.
    – Politank-Z
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:37
  • 1
    @Horus: The quotations I've made are correct according to both the script and the actual spoken dialogue from the episode.
    – jscs
    Dec 10, 2015 at 1:49

1 Answer 1


There's a few things happening here.

According to the script, we first have the scene you refer to between Worf, Troi, and Riker occurring on the bridge:

WORF: Sir. Permission to speak frankly.

RIKER: Go ahead.

WORF: Our priority is to stop the aliens from any more incursions to Earth. Any delay is unacceptable.

RIKER: If I can save Captain Picard, I consider that very acceptable.

WORF: The Captain would not. I recommend we target photon torpedoes on the alien habitat and destroy it. Immediately.

TROI: He's right, Will.

RIKER: Power up the photons, Mister Worf. Alert me when they're ready.

Presumably at the same time, you have this scene, which you also vaguely refer to, happening in engineering:

LAFORGE: Computer, initialise the reload circuits.

COMPUTER: Reload circuits are initialising.

LAFORGE: Okay. Data? This ought to do it. (does something to his positronic net)

LAFORGE: I don't get it. I don't understand why isn't this working. Computer, run me a diagnostic on the input polarisers.

COMPUTER: There is intermittent contact in the input polarisers.

LAFORGE: Intermittent? (Geordi opens the back of Data's head)

LAFORGE: What? An iron filing. How'd that get in there?

And then you have this exchange immediately afterwards back on the bridge:

WORF: Commander, I have set the photons to fire in staggered rounds, detonating in ten second intervals.

RIKER: Very well. Fire when ready.

WORF: The sequence will be ready to initiate in one minute.

This seems to show that Worf spent a small amount of time instructing the computer to use a particular firing solution while LaForge was troubleshooting some issues with restarting Data. As a result, the computer will need about a minute in order to calculate the firing solution and prepare the required number of photon torpedoes to execute the solution. This one minute of calculation then allows the next scene to occur:

LAFORGE: Computer, run another diagnostic on the input polarisers.

COMPUTER: Polariser circuits are functioning.

LAFORGE: Well, then, that ought to do it. Okay, Data. Come on, now.

DATA: Torpedoes. Phasing. Alien. I am processing a binary message entered into my static memory by Captain Picard. Geordi, are we planning to fire on the alien habitat?

LAFORGE: Yeah, but

DATA: It is imperative that we do not. I will explain later.

LAFORGE: La Forge to Riker. Hold your fire!

  • 1
    I understand the sequence of events; I'm not sure that this explains the time it takes. We never see the torpedoes taking an entire minute to fire in a battle. What's the difficulty here?
    – jscs
    Dec 10, 2015 at 0:54
  • 2
    The difficulty here is that Worf needs a unique firing solution. In battle, it's "fire torpedoes" because the only objective is to destroy the other ship. But here, it's "destroy the cavern in a particular way", so Worf (and thus, the computer) needs to calculate the appropriate firing solution. I guess they could just lob a bunch of torpedoes at it, but then there would be a ton of collateral damage, wasted resources, and the potential for unpredictable results.
    – Ellesedil
    Dec 10, 2015 at 1:00
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    Or Worf suddenly saw his unit tests failing, figured he must have made a typo somewhere, felt embarrassed, and claimed a minute’s delay to give him time to fix it. Dec 10, 2015 at 9:21
  • It's been a while, but I thought that they had to do some technobabble to the torpedoes because of the technobabble the aliens were using for their time travel. The technobabble modifications to the torpedoes was the cause of the delay. Jun 7, 2016 at 22:57
  • 2
    Another thing to consider, though one they don't mention, is orbital position. Considering it's probably a precision strike, the Enterprise may need to be at a particular distance and angle to the target site. Worf would build that into his firing program. "The sequence will be ready to initiate in one minute" could mean his program is already running, but the torpedoes won't start rolling out of the tubes for another minute.
    – T.J.L.
    May 18, 2020 at 14:00

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