To celebrate the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at the classic sci-fi franchise. Next up for Star Trek Month is J-P Wooding looking back at his favourite episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation…
Knowing that they were sitting on a gold mine after the continued success of the Star Trek movies, Paramount decided that there should be another Star Trek series. As a result in 1987 Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) guided the starship Enterprise to new voyages that would “seek out new life-forms and new civilisations, and boldly go where no-ONE has gone before.” First Officer William T. Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes) headed up the supporting crew under Picard’s command and for the majority of the show Data (Brent Spiner), Troi (Marina Sirtis), Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton), Worf (Michael Dorn) and Dr. Beverley Crusher (Gates McFadden) helped get the ships compliment of over 1,000 people from one journey to the next.
The slight change to that classical opening line, which had previously been, “where no man,” indicated that Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy of Star Trek was taking the next step in a unified society. However, despite the fact that the Federation’s old arch enemy the Klingons were now allies and in fact one of them would become an important part of the crew, this vision received a major blow when an early episode effectively exploded the show’s warp-core. The episode was titled Code of Honour and the society depicted in it was portrayed totally by black actors in what was clearly a huge, and some would say racist, faux-pas on the part of the producers. Another first season story, The Naked Now, was a blatant rip-off of an original series episode, The Naked Time, with the crew succumbing to a virus which could apparently even infect androids!
Taking place 78 years after Kirk and Co., the crew of this giant, Galaxy class U.S.S Enterprise, which was registered NCC-1701-D (a clever move by the producers), had learnt some valuable lessons from their predecessors as they clocked up 178 episodes, spanning seven seasons and winning countless awards along the way. By missing out NCC-1701-B and C, they had left scope for future inclusion of the appropriately labelled vessels; one of which was used in one of the best episodes of the show. The first season wasn’t without its better episodes though and may have saved it from cancellation, something that affects many new shows today. Heart of Glory gave an insight to Klingon culture and Datalore expanded on the android Data’s history, also introducing his brother Lore. The Ferengi, a race new to Star Trek, came onto the scene and soon became a favourite, spreading into other Star Trek spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Romulans were now the enemy of the Federation but it was the involvement of a new character who had been introduced in the first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, that would bring the Enterprise and the Federation to the attention of their greatest threat. In the season two episode Q Who, the God-like being “Q” hurls the Enterprise across space where it makes contact with the Borg, probably second only to Khan on the list of “greatest Star Trek villains.” This race of cyborgs tore through space either destroying or assimilating worlds on their journey for perfection, every time adding their victims qualities to their own. Their catchphrase has been used countless times outside of Star Trek and doubtless will continue to do so as many fans know, “Resistance is futile!”
Season two also saw two fantastic stories focused around Data, the android member of the crew. In Measure of a Man a Starfleet cybernetics expert believed that Data was Starfleet property and as such could be disassembled whether Data refused to be or not. Forced into acting for Starfleet, Riker is pitted against Picard in the ensuing legal battle. Patrick Stewart’s mastery of Shakespearean acting is on display here and it provides a good example of science fiction not always being about over-sized space stations blowing up or mystical forces that can levitate rocks or little green creatures! During 1988 there was a writer’s strike which effected the production of the show. Shades of Grey was a horrific collection of clips from previous episodes, in which Riker had become infected by a virus. Apparently the only way for him to survive was for him to relive bad memories he had in an effort to defeat the illness.
The show was building momentum nicely by season three and several episodes personified this. Sins of the Father delved into the history of Worf’s family, with Picard playing a vital role in his support. A guest star that would become a fan’s favourite “came on board” too, Dwight Schultz, who had played Mad Murdoch in the A-Team series played Reginald Broccly, sorry, Barclay appeared in Hollow Pursuits and later in two of my other favourites The Nth Degree and the chilling Genesis. Another starship bearing the name Enterprise, this time the NCC-1701-C, came through a temporal rift in season three’s Yesterday’s Enterprise. In doing so it changed the Federation of Picard’s time to one that was involved in a finely balanced war. Only by sacrificing the heavily-modified but badly damaged Enterprise-D and its crew did Picard ensure the space-time continuum was restored to its original state. As he did so he spoke the befitting line “Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name Enterprise.” More importantly though this season gave us a last episode cliff-hanger, one that would leave fans desperately waiting for the season 4 opener and have repercussions felt in the movie Star Trek: First Contact. The Borg were within range of Federation defences and during an engagement with them the worst case scenario happened: Picard was taken by them and assimilated into the collective. He became “Locutus of Borg” and the two-part episode Best of Both Worlds entered the Star Trek history books as arguably the best ever episode.
Season 4 revealed the fate of Picard/Locutus and the Federation as the seemingly unstoppable race of machines were stopped for a short time, but at great personal cost to the Captain. This cost was explored in the excellent episode Family as he has heated discussions with his brother during a visit. After the success of the two-part, cliff-hanger strategy from the previous season, the same happened again, this time Redemption Part 1 was the final episode. Centering on the story of a huge upheaval in the Klingon High Council and the consequent threat of civil war, this was another good story.
Leonard Nimoy played Spock once again in the season 5 two-parter Unification in which Spock was involved in the attempted unification of the Vulcans and their offshoot ancestors the Romulans. Undoubtedly though, the highlight of this season and one of the best ever was The Inner Light. A probe in space makes a connection with Picard rendering him unconscious, when he awakes however he is a different person and living in a village on a planet. Accepting that his name is Kamen he lives out his natural life, watching his family grow around him and trying unsuccessfully to master the flute. Towards the end he watches a probe launch towards the sky. That probe is carrying a message and it just needs to make contact with someone for the message to be told…..
Despite the thought that perhaps these two-part episodes may be becoming repetitive, Time’s Arrow was an excellent story with one of the best teaser introductions of the whole show and was a great cliff-hanger ending to season 5. A scientific dig on Earth reveals relics from the 19th century, including Data’s head! Another old favourite was brought back in Relics, this time Scotty, once again played by James Doohan, got a taste of his own miracle work by holding himself in stasis in a transporter system only to be discovered by, surprise-surprise, the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise. Tapestry was another gem of season 6, with Q meeting Picard in the apparent afterlife after Picard’s artificial heart was damaged. Giving him the chance to relive the incident that caused the damage to his natural heart, Q reveals that Picard wouldn’t have become the man he was. Picard refuses the offer and lets events play out as they had originally done. Fortunately Dr. Crusher managed to save him and we, and Picard, are left wondering if he had indeed gone to the afterlife.
“THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” These four words are known for their use in Chain of Command another two-part tale in season six. Forced out with his remaining strength, Picard resists the interrogation methods expertly employed by Gul Madred (played by the excellent David Warner). As part of a covert operation Picard is caught and tortured for high-level Federation security information. Whilst Picard is on the mission, the Enterprise is under temporary command by Captain Jellico (Ronny Cox). Jellico has an effective but different style of command from that of Picard and he gains no admirers in the rest of the crew with his different methods.
The seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was not as good as previous seasons. One of the worst episodes of the show’s run, Sub Rosa told the story of a bizarre love-triangle of sorts involving Dr Crusher, the ghost of her Grandmother and an energy being! By now the viewing figures in the U.S had dropped to about 4 million, from a peak of between 10.5 to 11.5 million during the fourth and fifth seasons which were thought by many to be its best. These figures didn’t necessarily indicate a downturn in popularity though. When it was launched it had very little competition and so took the chance to become almost a prime-time show. Perhaps this is the reason that it was more popular than other Star Trek spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager. One of my favourite episodes, Genesis, was in season seven and involved the spreading of a virus on the ship that caused the crew to de-evolve into all manners of creatures-definitely one of the few creepy episodes.
On May 23rd 1994, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. With a fitting title, All Good Things it had a good crack at trying to satisfy both hardcore fans of the show and the general public that enjoyed watching. Captain Picard found himself jumping between three different time-zones as a result of John DeLancie’s “Q”. With a growing space-time anomaly threatening to destroy humanity, he had to solve the problem whilst convincing his shipmates that his actions were not a result of insanity. It’s not the best episode, but it is one of the better ones. There’s romance, old faces and at long last Admiral Riker gets to command the Enterprise. The episode was a nice conclusion to one of the greatest sci-fi series of all times which had a lot to live up to. This was not quite the final voyage of the Enterprise-D though, as future big-screen adventures would show…..