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.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here