Five great Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes

Feature Juliette Harrisson 7 Nov 2012 - 07:45

Juliette talks us through five great Star Trek: TNG episodes, with a little help from Q, alternate timelines and of course, the Borg...

We've counted down ten groundbreaking Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, now let's salute five simply great instalments from Picard and co.

5. Q Who 

Captain’s Log: Q introduces Picard and the crew of the Enterprise to a new enemy… the Borg.

What’s so special about it? The Borg are simply terrifying. Conceptually similar to Doctor Who’s Cybermen but much scarier, they are the perfect bad guys. For the most part, The Next Generation showed an admirable dedication to diplomacy and to attempts to negotiate with Federation enemies and work for peace rather than fight. In real life, this is thoroughly laudable. Unfortunately, on television, it can get a bit dull. But there is no negotiating with the Borg; a race who will simply ignore you until you attack them, at which point they kill you, cannot respond to diplomacy. They must be fought – and, since they adapt quickly to weapons fire and care nothing for the sacrifice of a few pawns, that’s easier said than done. Their twiddling, beep-y cybernetic parts are weird, their hive mind is threatening in a way no individual group of bad guys can be, and there’s something very scary about a race who care so little for aesthetics that they fly around space in ships that look like especially boring constructions made of paper clips. Elsewhere in the episode, Picard is forced to admit that he needs Q, which is quite amusing.

Defining moment: "You wanted to frighten us. We're frightened. You wanted to show us that we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say, 'I need you'? I need you!" (Picard to Q)

Quotable: "You judge yourselves against the pitiful adversaries you've encountered so far - the Romulans, the Klingons. They're nothing compared to what's waiting. Picard, you are about to move into areas of the galaxy containing wonders more incredible than you can possibly imagine – and terrors to freeze your soul" (Q)

4. The Inner Light 

Captain’s Log: Picard lives an entire lifetime on a long-dead planet while spending twenty minutes unconscious on the bridge.

What’s so special about it? This is a simple story, beautifully told. The audience know from fairly early on that none of what Picard is experiencing is ‘real’ – they can see him in REM state on the bridge – but at the same time, it is made clear that on some level it is painfully real when the purpose of the probe and the dream it sends is revealed. The alien characters are sympathetic and interesting enough to carry the episode, and although technically nothing actually happens, it changes Picard forever.

Defining moment: Only a single flute remains of the civilization that died a thousand years ago on Kataan. Picard plays it, showing that Kamin is now part of him.

Quotable: "If you remember what we were, and how we lived, then we'll have found life again" (Eline to Picard)


3. Chain of Command 

Captain’s Log: Picard is captured and tortured following a top secret mission against the Cardassians, while Riker struggles to work under his replacement Captain.

What’s so special about it? Patrick Stewart and David Warner, in a room, trying to defeat each other using sheer force of will. Picard is spectacularly vulnerable here, first completely naked, then stripped of dignity and personhood. Stewart’s performance is heart-wrenching, and then there’s the double whammy of that ending – Picard’s triumphant, oh-so-satisfying insistence that there are four lights when he finds out he’s being returned to the Enterprise, and his later confession to Troi that in fact, not only was he about to give Gul Madred everything, he had actually started to see five lights.

Defining moment: There! Are! FOUR! LIGHTS!

Quotable: "...and get that fish out of the ready room" (Jellico – you know things are about to go downhill from here).


2. Yesterday’s Enterprise 

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise-D encounters the Enterprise-C and history changes, with only Guinan aware of the difference.

What’s so special about it? In Skin of Evil, Tasha Yar was killed off abruptly in a deliberately meaningless death. That reflected a desire to acknowledge the reality of life in the armed forces, where death may come at any moment and will not necessarily serve a greater purpose. But it isn’t very dramatically satisfying. When we engage with fictional characters, we want the deaths of characters we love to mean something, to be a noble and tragic and offer a sense of catharsis and meaningful emotion. Yesterday’s Enterprise takes the opportunity to re-write Tasha’s death, giving her a deliberately self-sacrificing, noble exit (complete with a bit of romance). We also get to see the old-fashioned Starfleet uniforms again, we get a female captain of the Enterprise (C) and Guinan features heavily, all very good things.

Defining moment: "Guinan says I died a senseless death in the other timeline. I didn't like the sound of that, Captain. I've always known the risks that come with a Starfleet uniform. If I'm to die in one, I'd like my death to count for something" (Tasha Yar)

Quotable: "It's an Earth drink. Prune juice" (Guinan to Worf)

"A warrior's drink!" (Worf to Guinan)

"Let's make sure history never forgets the name, Enterprise!" (Picard)


1. The Best of Both Worlds 

Captain’s Log: The Borg attack the Federation, and Picard is captured and assimilated into the Collective.

What’s so great about it? Where to start?! That cliff-hanger, the Captain revealed to have literally become the enemy as season three comes to an end. Riker firing on Picard and the Borg cube. Wolf 359. Locutus allowing us to understand the Borg a bit better than before (particularly their conviction that they make people’s lives better when they assimilate them). Locutus and Data arm-wrestling. Picard fighting back (and Troi being mildly useful). And without The Best of Both Worlds,’ we wouldn’t have the second best Star Trek film, First Contact, either.

Defining moment: "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will service us" (Locutus of Borg)

The moment where Picard reasserts his individuality and tells Data to send the Borg to ‘sleep’ is also pretty awesome.

Quotable: "In two or three weeks, nanites may be all that's left of the Federation" (Troi)

Star Trek: The Next Generation is showing in HD on SyFy in the UK, every weeknight at 7pm.

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Very good list, though the series finale was also good.

My problem with "Chain of Command" was that it was just a variation of the torture scene in Orwell's "1984".

Yesterdays Enterprise remains to this day my all time favourite episode of anything :) But there are so many from TNG i lose count.

My face is still "The Defector". Best twist of any TNG episode, and an awesome face off between Picard and Tomolok

face?? That should have said favourite

Thanks Juliette, Yesterdays Enterprise getting a mention. Obviously wasn't ground breaking, so great to see it get a mention on here. Surely 'Brothers' was close to getting in?

Good choices, all... but First Contact is far from the second-best ST movie - 5th, 6th maybe?

I would be willing to move it to 3rd (being II and VI). 4th at a push, depending how strongly you feel about comedy whales. But definitely not 6th!

Ironically, my brother suggested that one! Maybe if it was a Top 10 rather than 5...

I like the series finale as well, glad I'm not the only one!

Nice to see "Yesterday's Enterprise" on here! But I don't think Guinan was fully aware of the difference, she just knew it was all wrong. More like she had these gut feelings about the situation.
And I seem to remember Tasha Yar was killed off (originally) because Denise Crosby asked to leave, request she later regretted and helped come up with this storyline (and that of her half-Romulan daughter!) so she could come back! :p

Watching Chain of Command again is a real sign of how far we've regressed as a society in some ways. Torture was abhorrent, and totally unacceptable back then. Now it's becoming a norm, in govt and in the public mind. A sad reminder of how remote the Star Trek dream is.

II is obviously way out in front but its then pretty close between VI and First Contact. Personally I love it, the last hurrah of the proper scary Borg before they were ruined by Voyager

Best for me.

For me, Best of Both Worlds is the perfect piece of sci-fi TV (beating even Genesis of the Daleks). Script, acting, effects and crucially the enemy all spot on. Gutted we never saw Lieutenant Commander Shelby again.

I would have it second or third behind II (and XI), personally.

Good list, but surely it's a bit too recent considering you only just did your other TNG list, no?

First Contact is the best TNG film. Wrath of Khan is the best TOS film. I separate the films by era. With no separation, II and FC are 1 and 1a, and either could be #1

The one thing that detracts from "Inner Light" is that the events sealed within Picard's mind are never (or nearly never) referred to again in the rest of the series or the films. As far as Picard is concerned, he lived that life. All those events were 100% real to him. Therefore, the loss of his loved ones from that life-time experience should have had major affect on him. For instance, in the film "Generations", when Picard slips into his "Christmas Fantasy Existence", it would have made perfect (and wonderful) sense for Picard to once again be with his loved ones from "Inner Light". The wife in that Christmas scenario should have been his wife from "Inner Light" (if not Beverly Crusher!) I think it could have been done without worrying about newcomers to Trek not knowing that the wife was the same wife from Inner Light. After all, the wife that was seen in the Christmas fantasy of "Generations" was an unknown to all viewers of the film.

If I remember correctly, Picard did play the flute again in another episode or two. I believe it would have given "Inner Light" even more continuing impact, had the episode's affects on Picard been given further reference.

It depends what you mean by 'torture', ohms, enhanced interrogation techniques are a far cry from pulling fingernails out with pliers or something as equally horrendous... there are countless thousands alive today because of enhanced interrogation, they broke up the airplane plot back in 2006 because of such techniques, and 9/11 conspirators Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Ramzi bin al-Shieb gave up every thing they knew because of waterboarding, so you may not like it, but the fact is that it works, and saves lives, period.

Agreed, 'Best of Both Worlds' was the 'Trek at it's zenith, and it would never again reach those heights, on television at least, although the superb sixth film '...The Undiscovered Country' would be released eighteen months later!

When you see just how GOOD '... The Next Generation' was at it's peak, it really makes you wonder why the films were so bland, and whilst '...First Contact' was easily the best TNG film, had it been directed by someone like Rob Bowman or David Carson, it would have been sensational, Jonathan Frakes is an excellent television director, but a very mediocre film director...

And I too am surprised in hindsight that Shelby never made a return appearance on TNG - or any series, for that matter - maybe they should have had HER as captain of Voyager...

I've always had a soft spot for Generations, that saucer section crash blew my mind. But also I was watching it at Empire Leicester Square, with my best buddy, tripping like a loon, so I would probably have enjoyed anything at that point.

Well, with that logic torture should be legal in military areas as well.
Afterall, soldiers and armies cause far more deaths and destructions
than terrorism.

I forgot to count XI! I'd agree that VI and First Contact are pretty even, and I'm very fond of IV. I actually like III and Generations as well, but wouldn't put either above First Contact. XI is... separate. Even with II and First Contact perhaps.

To me Star Trek the next generation was not only the best Trek series and one the best sci-fi series. Its probably one of the best TV show of all time.
All good things, Redemption, Unification, Relics, Starship Mine are just a tip of episodes I enjoyed.

There's a good idea for your next Trek list: top 5 Star Trek films ever. Best get your burn suit ready in advance, though. ;)

Blimey, you're comparing legitimate armed forces to terrorist groups, that alternate dimension you live in must be lovely in it's moral simplicity and relativism, unfortunately, we live in a very different world here where legitimate military actions and acts of terrorism are clearly differentiated between...

That's not what he said, and actually his logic follows your logic.

Plus, that clear differentiation oftentimes isn't that clear, at all.

Besides the brilliant performances of Stewart and Warner, let's not forget the great job done by Ronnie Cox as Captain Jellico. To be sure, Jellico was an incredible jerk. In the hands of a lesser actor, Jellico could have been a cartoon, but Cox gave Jellico a depth that made him complex and not totally unlikable.

Wasn't there a Picard romance episode where he confides in his experiences to this week's guest star? As for ST: Generations, it would have distracted from the movie if they had to explain his experiences (it's not like ST: First Contact, where his experiences with the Borg was part of the movie's plot).

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