Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Royale

After a short break, James' Star Trek: TNG look-backs return with non-essential, but fun story, The Royale...

This review contains spoilers.

2.12 The Royale

The Enterprise arrives at Theta VIII, a hostile and uninhabitable planet, where they’ve been diverted to look for some unusual debris in orbit. The plan is for a quick, trouble-free stop and speedy return to their original assignment. Because isn’t it always? Of course, when they find the debris – part of an Earth vessel from the 21st Century – things get a little more complicated.

After discovering a structure on the planet – one with breathable atmosphere –Riker, Data and Worf beam down. They are faced, unaccountably, with a revolving door. They enter and find themselves in The Royale, a hotel-casino populated by apparently human entities. They’re cut off from the Enterprise, but Riker doesn’t care because he’s spotted a party happening, and encourages everyone to have a look around.

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While doing so, they observe some odd interactions between the bellboy and assistant manager, but are warmly greeted by the employees who address them as “foreign visitors” and are bemused and irritated by their questions about the hotel and its people. Data realises that the entities are neither alive nor human, prompting Riker to ask the obvious question: What are they?! Will, you wouldn’t believe us if we told you.

Back on the ship, Picard is getting annoyed because Riker’s out past curfew without phoning home. Troi reassures him that Riker is not feeling in any danger, which begs the question of how sensitive her telepathy really is. He’s hundreds of miles away! Not to mention beyond the reach of all conventional science! She’s just making it up, isn’t she?

Data plays cards for a bit before Riker and Worf decide they’ve had enough and try to leave. But using the door brings them back inside the casino. They’re unable to leave! The “people” are oblivious to their requests for information about a way out, and even shooting the walls doesn’t make a dent! Data’s scanner then notices human DNA elsewhere in the building. With nothing better to do, the team follows it and finds the dead deceased corpse of S. Richey, one of the occupants of the NASA vessel, who was stuck in the hotel alone for 38 years.

Richey’s journal reveals that his crew were accidentally killed by aliens, who guiltily placed him – the only survivor – in a replica of what they believed to be Earth society after misinterpreting a poorly-written book on board Richey’s craft. Regaining contact with the Enterprise, Riker and Co read the rest of the novel and eventually find a loophole that should allow them to exit: the book dictates that foreign investors buy the hotel. Riker, Worf and Data will become those investors!

And from that point on the plan goes off without a hitch. They win the money they need, using Data’s android cheating skills, and then leave. Er, someone probably should’ve taken another pass at this screenplay. It’s also a shame Richey didn’t think of this, really. Well, I guess they are Starfleet’s finest!

TNG WTF: Picard tells Riker to take a “minimal away team”. So naturally he takes along Worf (chief of security) and Data (chief of science). Presumably that counts as minimal purely because the Chief Engineer and cabin boy didn’t tag along too.

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TNG LOL: Riker describes the landscape on the planet to Picard, and mentions an “antique revolving door”. Picard’s reply? “Revolving door? Number One, proceed with caution!” Yeah, those revolving doors are pretty dangerous. We can only imagine what his response would’ve been if Riker had seen a paternoster.

Also, you have to laugh at Colonel Richey’s book review: “filled with endless cliché and shallow characters… I shall welcome death, when it comes.” We’ll call that a one star, then?

Mistakes and Minutiae: I may be wrong, but the appearance of the NASA logo is possibly the first example of a familiar, real-world brand turning up in Star Trek: TNG. There’s no room for product placement in the 24th century!

Also, Picard tops and tails this episode with a chat about Fermat’s last theorem puzzling humanity for 800 years. Of course, since this episode was made, a proof has been proposed. Probably not Fermat’s “remarkable” one, since it uses maths unavailable to him at the time, but even so.

Time Until Meeting: 4:49. Pretty early, even by TNG standards. I guess they wanted to get to the planet as quickly as possible.

Captain’s Log: I remembered enjoying this episode, and on a rewatch it didn’t disappoint. It’s good fun, despite being a very thinly-veiled holodeck malfunction story (a period setting, semi-interactive narrative, and a crew cut off from their support mechanisms).

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In fairness, there isn’t much peril to the story – the crew is stuck in the hotel and could end up dying there! You know, at the end of their natural lifespan! It seems like there should’ve been some more immediate threat (perhaps from the “actors” in the hotel?) just to make things a little more tense. Other than that, it’s a nice little mystery with an interesting resolution.

As usual, though, it’s Brent Spiner who steals the episode with Data’s Rat Pack-style flourishes at the gambling table. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense that he’d be capable of them when you think about the trouble he has emulating most human behaviour, but it’s so immediately funny that you can’t help enjoying it.

Watch or Skip? Definitely watch. It’s not an essential story, but it is good fun. 

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

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