Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Night Terrors

James' weekly Star Trek: TNG look-backs reach Night Terrors, feat. Deanna Troi in a series of unconvincing dream sequences...

This review contains spoilers.

4.17 Night Terrors

The Enterprise encounters the Brattain, a small Starfleet science vessel which went missing a few weeks ago adrift in orbit around a binary star. Upon entering the ship, they find that everyone on board is dead, many of them having managed to die right at their stations. Although they’re clearly freaked out by this grim parody of their day-to-day lives, the Enterprise’s crew manages to find one crew member alive: a catatonic Betazoid named Hagan.

Back on the Enterprise, things start to get a bit twitchy. Troi spends a lot of time trying to speak to Hagan telepathically, but he’s just repeating nonsense words. The Enterprise’s top nerds try to figure out why the Brattain’s engines don’t work, but can’t. Crusher explains to Picard that the Brattain’s logs show a crew succumbing to some kind of Space Madness, and it’s not long before everyone on the Enterprise is hearing stuff that isn’t there, becoming overly paranoid and getting as irritated with their crewmates as we get every week.

Ad – content continues below

Meanwhile, Troi is having a dream-slash-nightmare in which she floats unconvincingly in front of some green mist, while a distant voice chants bad dialogue at her. Hey, it’s a dream, it doesn’t need production values.

After a few days, the Enterprise decides to pack up and tow the Brattain back to a starbase, and only then do they discover that their engines mysteriously don’t work as well. Probably should’ve checked that earlier, guys. It’s not long until they explain that they’re trapped in a Tyken’s Rift, which is a space-hole that sucks in energy. Aren’t they all?

Unfortunately, everyone’s going mad because – as Crusher discovers – they can’t sleep properly. Troi is the only one actually having dreams, and even they’re not very well-realised. If they don’t get proper sleep, they will all go space-mad, like the crew of the Brattain. Things have become so depressing that Worf tried to commit suicide, but Troi manages to stop him. Luckily Data doesn’t need to sleep, so he and Troi analyse her dreams and decide that the crew’s insomnia – and her dreams – might be coming from someone else trapped in the rift.

Implausible though this is, they stick to it as a working theory and decide that the aliens are using Troi’s dreams as a weird abstract messaging system and want the Enterprise to vent hydrogen so that they can cause an explosion which will overload the rift long enough for both ships to escape. Or something. I mean as plans go it isn’t the most sophisticated or well thought-out, but time’s a-wastin’ and no-one wants to do another rewrite, apparently.

Down in ten-forward the crew is threatening mutiny and gets into a fist-fight. Data takes command of the ship and vents the necessary hydrogen while a sleeping Troi tries to tell the aliens in her dream that they’re doing as asked. This is an actual story that happened.

Luckily it works! The hydrogen explodes and both the Enterprise and some weird alien ship escape. Everyone has apparently forgotten about the Brattain as Data returns command to Picard, but not after ordering everyone in the crew to bed. This ship practically flies itself, right?

Ad – content continues below

TNG WTF: What about this episode WASN’T ridiculous? Right from the word go it’s weird, but if you had to pick out the one thing that doesn’t succeed at all it has to be Troi’s dream sequences. The visuals, the dialogue, the very concept – did anyone REALLY think this worked, even on the page?

Oh, and while we’re thinking about Troi: what the hell is she wearing to bed? A sleeveless halter neck with a choker-style collar? Did she just get back from clubbing and dive straight under the covers or something? Doesn’t look safe to me.

TNG LOL: Action Guinan is about the only part of the episode that can raise a smile. And let’s face it, this episode could do with a few more of those. Though I did quite like Riker’s obvious annoyance at being sent to bed early.

To Boldly Go: This week, the Enterprise is responding to a distress call from a ship last heard from a few weeks ago. Well, that’s a fairly reasonable use of a starship, I guess. Sure beats doin’ stuff.

Mistakes and Minutia: New Phaser Setting! We don’t actually see it fired, but the guy on the Brattain has been killed by a phaser blast that, judging from his appearance, must have been set to Char Broil. Because he hasn’t been disintegrated or set on fire, just cooked completely black. And that was only setting 6 or 7, apparently. Presumably the people who rank phaser settings also rank toaster settings. The full list is now Stun, Maximum Stun, Kill, Overkill, Cut Through Door, Char Broil, Heat Up Rocks, Smelt Ore, Head Explodey, and Aqueduct Demolition.

Time Until Meeting: 16:32. The Enterprise has been adrift for 10 days. Time for a meeting to update the senior staff of this fact.

Ad – content continues below

Captain’s Log: The thing about Star Trek, dearly though I love it, is that you can’t really describe it as action-packed television. So when they do an episode about people getting sluggish and weary from sleep deprivation, it reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally drags. Like a lot. It seems deeply ironic that an episode about people who can’t sleep properly is so likely to send its audience to sleep.

And then there’s the “dream” sequences. Just wow. It’s fair to say that Troi flying through the air under a green filter with the wires practically visible does not make for gripping television, and aside from the single sequence with Crusher being freaked out by the cadavers, the hallucinations the crew experiences are mundane to the point of being laughable.

The problem with this episode is that there’s not a lot of tension. There’s some, yes, mostly achieved by odd glances and a deliberately sparse musical score, but at the same time it never really builds. There’s a half-hearted attempt to make it seem like the crew’s about to mutiny in a severe way, but it barely gets going before Guinan’s whipped out her barkeep shotgun.

And then the explanation itself is complete nonsense. You know, if those weird aliens had the ability to deliver the message “one moon circles”, do you know what would’ve been a better one to send? “please vent hydrogen”.

So yeah. It’s not completely incompetent, but it’s hard to imagine anyone loving this episode (then again, there’s always one…)

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Galaxy’s Child, here.

Ad – content continues below