When writing this answer, I was reminded of something in a scene of Time's Arrow Part 2 that I find to be odd.

Picard encodes a binary message for the Enterprise crew inside of Data's head, which was, err, "forcibly detached" sometime in the past in San Francisco. He then also places the iron filing inside of Data's head. This results in LaForge encountering issues when trying to reboot Data after he takes Data's recovered head and reattaches it to Data's body after his head is "forcibly detached" when most of the away team returns to their normal time. (for those confused, please watch the episode - time travel is complicated)

Why did Picard include the iron filing inside of Data's head after he finished encoding his message?

  • My reading was that it was supposed to prevent Geordi from immediately rebooting Data (which would have been the wrong time), thus forcing him to take the head up to the ship for a diagnostic and thus giving Picard time to travel back through the rift.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 1:01
  • 2
    "For those confused" you can read the series of events at How did Picard send a binary message to Data in the future?
    – jscs
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 1:11
  • My comment seems apt
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 1:16
  • @Richard: Did they ever try to activate Data's head after they found it? I don't recall them attempting it when watching the episode and I can't find any mention of it in the script. If not, doesn't adding the filing there to prevent preemptive activation seem moot when Picard probably should have known they did not attempt to activate it before the entire senior staff was in the past with him?
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 1:20
  • @Ellesedil - No, but we know his head can function independently. I find it unlikely that Geordi didn't at least try flicking the on-button to see what would happen.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


For starters we should point out that (Past)Picard didn't use the iron filing to create the message, he used a small nail that he found on the floor of the cavern. That means that his intention in leaving the iron filing inside Data's head, in a place that prevented him from being booted up must have been to prevent Data from being activated until the appropriate time.

So what would have happened if the iron filing wasn't there?

We know from an earlier episode in the season (TNG: Disaster) that Data's head can function perfectly well without his body. Had (Past)Picard not blocked Data's bootup sequence, La Forge could have brought him back to consciousness shortly before the ship arrived at Devidia 2 and before Picard and crew had beamed down to the surface.

Faced with the knowledge of how to destroy the alien's portal and the inherent risk of trying to fight against an opponent who can time-travel, (Future)Picard would have ordered the immediate destruction of the portal, regardless of the damage it would have done to the timeline. (Past)Picard would have been aware of that and is trying to preserve the timeline as best as he can by not giving (Future)Picard that knowledge until the time is right..

Knowing that La Forge hadn't conducted a diagnostic of Data's head before he left, (Past)Picard is gambling that his message to the future won't be heard until after his future self has gone through the portal but before Riker accidentally blows up the Earth.

  • youtube.com/watch?v=chkzV_CVFW8
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 21:15
  • I can't find a clip of Picard programming the message, but I seem to remember Picard simply places whatever he's programming the message with inside of Data's head, rather than a separate piece of metal. It appears to be a nail of some sort on screen (which makes sense if you wish to poke around in there), but LaForge comments that it's an iron filing.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 21:18
  • But one thing is very clear to me: I hate time travel plots.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 21:19
  • @Ellesedil - at 00:36:35 you can see La Forge remove the filing. It's clearly very much smaller than the nail Picard was using.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 21:21
  • @Ellesedil - 36 mins into Time's Arrow, Part 2
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 21:30

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