Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Best Of Both Worlds

James' Star Trek TNG season 3 look-backs conclude with a justifiable classic: Best Of Both Worlds...

This review contains spoilers.

3.26 Best Of Both Worlds

The Enterprise arrives at Jouret IV to respond to a distress call. Unfortunately, once they arrive, they find that there’s a smouldering crater where the colony used to be. Has O’Brien made another mistake with the co-ordinates, they wonder? But no, to their astonishment, he was correct. The colony IS gone. And Starfleet thinks the Borg is responsible.

With this in mind, Starfleet dispatches chief desk-jockey Admiral Hanson and Borg tactical specialist Lieutenant Commander Shelby to the Enterprise. Apparently it’s been her job to figure out ways to defeat the inevitable Borg attack (she’s presumably well-positioned to do so having never seen a Borg, much less fought one. This might explain why they later admit all their Borg super-weapons are 18 months from being finished.)

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Shelby and Riker are dismissed, and Hanson volunteers Shelby as Riker’s replacement. Picard seems puzzled – she doesn’t even have a beard – until Hanson explains that Riker has been offered command of the USS Melbourne and strongly suggests to Picard that Riker give him a push into finally accepting his own command. Meanwhile, Riker and Shelby get hostile as she informs him she’s after his job, and he realises he’s facing a problem he can’t solve by having sex with it.

With an away mission planned for the following morning, Riker, Data, La Forge, Troi, Worf, Wesley and Shelby all play a game of Poker. Shelby wins the game after confronting Riker on his bluff. IT’S A METAPHOR. The following morning he arrives at the scheduled hour to find that Shelby left without him, and they continue to argue. But they also get the information they need: this was definitely the Borg.

When Riker reports the findings to Picard, the Captain asks why he’s still on the Enterprise, then orders him to reconsider his command. This rattles Riker a little, and he drags Troi to Ten Forward to whine about his career while she looks massively disinterested. She eventually asks him what he actually wants, but he doesn’t have an answer. She then charges him for the out-of-hours counselling (presumably).

In Engineering, Shelby, Data, La Forge and Crusher are trying to figure out how to shut down a Borg cube. They’re close to a solution, but Riker insists they all need sleep despite Shelby’s protestations. When reports come in that another ship has encountered a probable Borg cube (it was reportedly cube-shaped and full of Borg) the Enterprise speeds off to meet it, employing the tactical move known as “light brigading”.

When they encounter the Borg, they fire all of the Enterprise’s weapons but it doesn’t make a dent. The Borg demand Picard’s surrender, but he refuses and the Borg attack. When the Enterprise is caught in a Borg tractor beam, Shelby puts theory into practise and helps them escape. They then go and hide in a nebula while the Borg cube waits outside for them to emerge. “Good. At least they’re not hurting anyone else.” Says Picard, like this was his plan all along.

Using the data from the fight, the crew manages to come up with an anti-Borg weapon that should blow a cube sky-high the moment it’s fired, using the strange power of the deflector dish. Shelby suggests that the Enterprise separate into its saucer section to give the Borg two targets. It’s not like the saucer section is full of families and doesn’t have its own warp drive, right?

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While they’re in hiding, Picard tours the Enterprise and starts banging on about Trafalgar with Guinan (with remarkable grace, considering PICARD IS FRENCH, NOT ENGLISH LIKE PATRICK STEWART). Eventually the Borg get bored of waiting for the history lesson to be over and start taking pot-shots at the nebula, forcing the Enterprise to flee. The Borg quickly catches up with the Enterprise and Picard is abducted, leaving Riker in charge to pursue the cube as it heads for Sector 001: Earth!

On the cube, Picard has a chat with the Borg who inform him they’re going to make him into a meat-puppet to help them communicate their desire to assimilate all humanity. Picard refuses to comply, but it turns out he doesn’t really have a choice. When an away team led by Shelby (containing only the barest essential crew members: the chief of ops, the chief of security and the chief of medicine) arrives to rescue him, they’re too late. He’s already been turned into a Borg! The away team returns to the Enterprise to report this terrible development, just as La Forge informs Riker that the super-weapon they devised is ready. It’s all about timing.

The Borg then hails the Enterprise and Picard – now calling himself Locutus and speaking for the Borg (apparently they assimilated some knowledge of Latin at some point in the past) he announces the collective’s intention to destroy the Enterprise. With the fate of humanity and Picard in the balance, Riker instructs Worf to fire the super-weapon. AND THAT’S THE END OF THE EPISODE.

If this was 1990 you’d now have to wait about 5 months for any kind of resolution, but I’ll be back in a few weeks to start the reviews of Season 4. Will Picard survive? Will Riker get transferred to a new ship? Will Shelby join the crew? Come back soon to find out! (Yes, No and No respectively.)

TNG WTF: Data still doesn’t understand the concept of metaphors. Even ones he’s heard before. Most advanced android in the Federation and he can’t even recognise a metaphor when he hears one? Hardly making a case for technological life, is he? In front of the Borg, too. Embarrassing.

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TNG LOL: Not a lot of laughs in this episode. Although Data over-explaining the Poker to Wesley is funny (as intended).

Who’s That Face?: George Murdock who plays Admiral Hanson was previously God in Star Trek V. (Quite a demotion.) Shelby is Elizabeth Dennehy and has been in basically everything but DoG readers are most likely to care about her 8-episode stint as an Elder in Charmed (and, trivia fans, she’s also notably the daughter of Brian Dennehy).

Time Until Meeting: There are TWO meetings in the first 15 minutes of this episode. That’s how dire things have become. The first is very early on at 03:23, when Picard, Shelby, Admiral Hanson and Riker discuss the Borg threat.

Captain’s Log: Wow. You remember it’s good, but until you actually watch it, you forget just how good. It’s been years since I actually sat down and watched Best Of Both Worlds, and I was not disappointed in any way.

What I realised, for the first time, is how much this episode isn’t just about the crew fighting the Borg. It’s about Picard and Riker. It’s jarring enough to see Riker having a crisis of confidence, but to have both Shelby and Picard telling him it might be time to move on adds such a degree of plausibility to the idea that he’ll leave.

And best of all, everything Riker goes through in this episode feeds into the cliffhanger. When he tells Worf to fire, we’re wondering so much. Is he doing it because he wants to prove to himself that he can be the old, impulsive Riker that he remembers? Is he doing it so he can prove to Shelby that he’s still willing to take the hard decisions? Is he doing it because – on some level – he thinks he might end up as Captain of the Enterprise if Picard’s gone? No wonder this cliffhanger had people on tenterhooks for an entire summer.

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That’s not to diminish any other aspect of the episode, though. Picard’s tour of the ship, his entrance as Locutus, Troi sternly reminding Riker of his place. There are so many things in this episode that, as a viewer, absolutely reward you for investing in these characters. It’s also massively helped along by the score, which is different to any other the series has displayed. It really ramps up the tension.

The only bad thing about the episode? The HD remastering makes the Borg outfits look unforgivably crap. It’s not as bad as their first appearance, but wow. Don’t look too closely.

Watch or Skip? Watch. A justifiable classic.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Transfigurations, here.