How to tackle a retrospective of a highly-regarded science-fiction series that followed in the footsteps of an equally well-respected parent show, and which itself spawned a host of spin-offs?
Easy. Forget if you can that Deep Space Nine, Voyager or (cough) Enterprise followed it and watch TNG again in the context of when it was made. In a nutshell, do a Doctor Who Magazine Time Team on it. In order. From the start. With no preconceptions.
So sit back and pretend like it’s 1987. Ready? Let’s see what’s out there…
Episodes 1 & 2: Encounter At FarpointStardate 41153.7Written by D C Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
“Space, the final frontier.” Oh, that’s weird. There’s an English guy doing the Captain Kirk speech, and look at that. I’m assuming that is the new USS Enterprise. It’s sort of squashed a bit and not sure it works well zipping back and forth across the screen like the original series. And what have they done to Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastically rousing theme from Star Trek The Motion Picture? Sounds tinny and the tempo’s all wrong. Deep breath, Elliot. This new series is only a minute old. Give it some growing space…
“Captain, I’m sensing a powerful mind.” That woman with the odd accent looks like she’s got trapped wind. Everybody’s being remarkably earnest, apart from the pale-skinned alien chap called Data. And hang on – that’s a Klingon! In Starfleet uniform! Suddenly, a chain-mail barrier confronts the Enterprise and a stranger appears on the bridge. He introduces himself as being from something called the Q, shows some handy omnipotent powers and accuses the human race of being child-like. This Q chap does, however, bring some entertainment from the wooden responses from the Starfleet crew.
Next there’s a chase. Through space. The Enterprise tries to out-run the chain-mail (now a ball) and the effects are pretty good, too, compared to the original series. Still not sure about the Enterprise, though. I think it’s the way the model is lit. But 15 minutes in and we’ve already been told that its saucer section can split off from the rest of the vessel and that the ‘battle bridge’ appears to sit somewhere atop the neck pylon.
Worf, the Klingon, stays on the saucer section’s bridge while follically-challenged Captain Jean-Luc Picard commands the aforementioned battle bridge, with a hot-headed female security officer who needs calming down. But then, all of a sudden, Picard surrenders! Boo! Jim Kirk would have never given up this easily!
Now the action shifts to a depiction of a courtroom somewhere, circa 2079 AD, and Picard, Data, the security officer and the woman with wind are all treated as prisoners. And here comes da judge! It’s Q. Accompanied by some truly appalling music. Written by Dennis McCarthy, it’s trying so hard to be dramatic that it’s actually letting the episode down. I’m guessing he rearranged Goldsmith’s theme, too. Grrrr.
Now we’ve got an outburst from the security officer (Tasha, I think Picard called her) so it appears that she has a background, and not a nice one, that Starfleet saved her from. It will be interesting to see if they continue this character thread. The actress playing her, Denise Crosby, is Bing’s grand-daughter, by the way.
Q has put the Starfleet team on trial for humanity being a grievously savage race. Picard refutes the accusation but is forced to plead guilty (provisionally). He petitions the court to prove that humanity has grown, so Q uses the Enterprise’s current mission to Farpoint Station as the testing ground.
Commander William Riker, the Enterprise’s new first officer, is already at Farpoint. He’s young, strapping and likely good-looking. Clearly, he’s the Kirk replacement. He meets Groppler Zorn who seems to talk to himself when Riker leaves. We meet Dr Crusher and her son Wesley (I wonder if the fact that Gene Roddenberry’s middle name is also Wesley is a coincidence?), and Crusher implies that she, her son and Jean-Luc have some history. Ironic when Picard announces that he doesn’t like children. Again, the writers are laying the foundations for some character development, it seems.
It seems, too, that Picard’s crew aren’t quite sure about their new captain. He’s clinical and officious and if he continues like this, he won’t be a fan favourite. And he’s already pushing and testing Riker as soon as they meet.
Wow! Dr McCoy! Bones! Old, wrinkly and utterly fantastic! He’s 137, an admiral, and doing a tour of the Enterprise with Data (who reveals he’s an android). Wasn’t expecting that cameo at all and his appearance now cements the fact that this series is a continuation of the original. But it does make me ponder…are Kirk and Spock still alive, too? And will we ever find out?
There’s a mystery with Farpoint Station. Riker can feel it and – oh, it’s a ‘Decker and Ilia’ moment all of a sudden! Riker meets the woman with wind on the bridge – and those two definitely have history! Troi, for that is her name, is half-human half-Betazoid and is telepathic to the point of feeing emotions in others. When in conference with Farpoint’s Groppler Zorn, Troi picks up on something expressing loneliness and despair. Zorn cannot account for these feelings.
The Holodeck on the Enterprise is a fantastic idea and will, no doubt, feature heavily as the series progresses. I’m guessing, being a holographic projection, the environment can be fashioned to whatever the user wants. We see it as woodland when Riker goes looking for Data. Oddly, the two talk about Riker’s prejudice of Data being a machine, which seems to jar against Roddenberry’s vision of a generally tolerant future and the (fictional) Vulcan ideal of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination) that Starfleet embraces.
Back on Farpoint, Troi is still picking up these negative vibes (and still looking like she needs to pass wind, and urgently too) and Riker is baffled. Is it me or does he tilt when he walks?
A lovely little scene has just unfolded where Picard meets Wesley. Admittedly, Wesley is Star Trek‘s version of Adric, but it’s still a nice play on the boy’s awkwardness amidst trained Starfleet officers. Then he pisses Picard off! But good old mum sticks up for her son.
Now a UFO has just appeared on the view screen. The new Enterprise gives the impression of being big, but that’s just peanuts to this UFO, which easily dwarfs the Starfleet vessel. Starfleet records don’t recognise the designation and there’s little Picard can do when the UFO starts firing at Farpoint. Riker, Troi, Data, Tasha and a black guy wearing a headband that has slipped down over his eyes (didn’t catch his name) are on the surface and feel the effects of the attack.
But Q pops up again. He’s becoming a welcome addition to the episode. Initially brash and over-the-top, I’m beginning to enjoy his little interruptions. I’m also quite taken with the idea that Starfleet communicators are now in the arrow-head badges, but still not a patch on the ol’ hand-held flip-open ones from Kirk’s era.
Groppler Zorn gets beamed up from Farpoint, but not by the Enterprise and neither is it anything to do with Q. Where he’s gone is pretty obvious and the crew go looking for him on the UFO. And the interior of the UFO looks exactly like the subterranean corridors of Farpoint. What can be the connection? Troi’s picking up angry emotions, too. (I’m really enjoying this now! Even the music score has realised its place in the scheme of things. Sometimes.) Oh, and there’s Zorn trapped in an energy bubble on the UFO.
Suddenly, Troi realises the angry feelings she’s picking up are from one life-form… The UFO isn’t a vessel, as such. It’s alive! But why is it punishing Zorn and firing on Farpoint?
The UFO beams the Away Team (what Kirk used to call the landing party) back to the Enterprise and the crew realise that Zorn had trapped another of the creatures some time ago, the first one (now actually resembling a big space jellyfish) having come to see why the missus never came home for tea. Farpoint isn’t a building, y’see. It’s a captured jellyfish and the mate of the one in orbit. Two jellyfish, deeply in love. Missing each other.
The Enterprise zaps a quick burst of energy to the surface and the trapped jellyfish is renewed and released and the two aliens float away together, all touchy-feely with their tendrils. They’re happy and grateful, according to Troi.
And Picard and his crew have proved humanity is not so bad after all. Q, defeated, threatens to visit them again one day.
All a bit sudden but a fair resolution to the (feature length) pilot episode. But I’m not sure I would have chosen this particular plot to launch a series with, especially one that has a huge reputation to live up to.
Picard isn’t Kirk. He’s not meant to be, which is a good thing because TNG isn’t intended to be a clone of the original. But nevertheless, Shatner’s. Charm. Is missing from. The show.
I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the season. It’s promising. And, hopefully, it won’t be held back by exposition and the understandable need to drip-feed us character history.
Next time: The Naked Now.