Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Encounter At Farpoint

In a new weekly series, James revisits the first ever episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, now remastered and released on Blu-Ray...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 & 1.2 Encounter At Farpoint

The release of Star Trek: The Next Generation as a remastered Blu-Ray set, with a high-definition transfer and fully reconstructed effects (!) has finally given us a good reason to revisit the series. In many ways, it’s a daunting prospect – after all, Star Trek: The Next Generation was arguably the show that first brought out my inner geek. If it turns out to be disappointing, I may have to re-evaluate not just my love of Star Trek, but EVERYTHING ABOUT MYSELF.

Still, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. We start, not surprisingly, with the very first episode of season one, and will hopefully do one or two a week from this point on.

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Encounter at Farpoint

It’s hard to objectively consider the opening, double-length episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when you’ve become so familiar with the characters over the years, but it’s fair to say that Encounter at Farpoint is good at its job. Over the course of 90 minutes, we learn who the cast is, we see what the Enterprise can do, and we learn what sort of threats they’ll be facing. No problem there.

What intrigues most on a repeat viewing is the nascent depiction of the cast members we’ll come to know and love. A Captain Picard who is distant, brusque, even unlikeable – and about as far from Kirk as you could have wanted. Indeed, the Kirk role is clearly given to Riker, who’s a fresh-faced man of action with one strange characteristic: he’s desperate to please his captain (something that never really becomes a part of who he is).

Data, unsurprisingly, gets a lot of time in the spotlight as the “Spock” figure of the show, although with an added dose of whimsy. TNG never quite developed a triptych to rival Kirk-Spock-McCoy, but where other cast members grow into their roles, Data is immediately a stand-out character.

We also get to see Wesley Crusher, the face that launched a thousand nerd rants. Although to be honest, as someone who was a kid when he first watched TNG, I never felt the rage when watching the series that some fans did.

There’s a nice smattering of things that emphasise how the TNG universe has moved on from the earlier Trek continuity as well. Klingons in Starfleet (or one, at least). Androids in Starfleet (or one, at least). And the ubiquitous Holodeck, which gets described in such restrictive detail that this one episode can provides years of material for nitpickers everywhere (why don’t people ever walk into a holodeck wall, given that data can just chuck a rock at it in this episode? We will never know.)

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It’s impossible not to be charmed by the cameo appearance of Bones, now in his 130s, who passes the baton to the new crew in a scene clearly designed to cap off the show’s first “hour”. The appearance of perpetual antagonist Q is also fun, even if he’s far more vindictive and less mischievous than he’ll become. This episode’s main villain, as it turns out, is actually the hilariously-named Groppler Zorn, who has enslaved a space-jellyfish and forced it to pretend to be Farpoint space station (although, why Zorn has named it Farpoint is less clear. He lives right next door! It should be called “Next Door Station”.)

Still, the episode ends with a pair of space jellyfish linking tentacles and flying off into the sunset, so at least we know there’s no danger of this Star Trek series being any less insane than the original one. They don’t make sci-fi like this anymore.

TNG WTF: This episode marks the first time the Enterprise separates the saucer section, which was pretty much the 1980s version of finding out who was inside the hatch in Lost or that time Kendra turned up in Buffy. Apparently it was supposed to happen every time there was a dangerous situation, but they realised it slowed things down way too much. Which is good, because it means that any time it happens in the future, you know something really cool is going on.

One other WTF moment in this episode is how they try to justify the women wearing uniformed minidresses by showing some male crew members also wearing them in the background. A nice nod to gender equality, but future episodes see them take the more sensible route of just giving everyone trousers.

TNG LOL: The funniest moment of unintentional hilarity comes when Troi telepathically asks Riker “Do you remember what I taught you, Imzadi?” and he completely fails to respond. Presumably the answer is “no”.

Mistakes: They left in the moment where the computer tells Riker to turn right and he turns left. They could have overdubbed it, but they didn’t. Presumably he intentionally ignores computer instructions to show how much of a maverick he is.

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Captain’s Log: This episode begins a grand tradition of the crew of the Enterprise dismantling someone’s society (however justly) and then leaving forever. Groppler Zorn never appeared again, presumably because the space-jellyfish bombed his colony back to the stone-age. Still, all things considered, it’s actually a pretty good episode. And this from what could arguably be called the worst season of Star Trek. Not a bad beginning at all.

Watch or Skip? Even if it wasn’t the first episode, it’d be worth watching.

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