They say the world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Star Wars and those who prefer Star Trek. Of course, they also say the same thing regarding Elvis Presley/The Beatles, chocolate/vanilla, and Charlie Sheen/Emilio Estevez.
I’ve always leaned towards the Star Wars side of things (along with The Beatles, chocolate and Estevez), and to that end I’ve never before watched an entire episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series I’ve seen from beginning to end over the years, but The Next Generation? Never gave it the time. Which reminds me… the world is also divided into people who prefer Captain James Kirk and those who prefer Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
The show ended its seven-season run in 1994, but the series has never received the high definition treatment that fans have been clamoring for. That HD drought ends this week as CBS-HD and Paramount bring all 25 episodes of the show’s first season to Blu-ray along with a strong complement of special features.
And now I’m no longer an NCC-1701-D virgin.
The First Season:
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG going forward) was the first hour-long drama made exclusively for syndication, and it was an immense gamble. While most shows had homes on the networks this one was a risk that had to pick up affiliates one at a time. Its eventual success helped pave the way for our current television model where many of the best hour-long dramas are off network shows and found in places like FX, AMC and HBO.
That success lasted seven seasons, but it all started twenty five years ago in 1987. The show was ahead of the technological curve then, but watching now makes it difficult to appreciate what must have been cutting-edge effects. Still, old shows (like all media) have value beyond their contemporary presentation. The Twilight Zone, The Greatest American Hero and even the original Star Trek are incredibly dated, but they’re still wonderfully entertaining and thought provoking series. (Well, Hero is obviously more of the former.)
Watching TNG for the first time it’s easy to forgive the high tech world of the 80s, and instead it’s in the scripts and ideas where the show feels the most dated. We get it. Humanity in the future is pretty much perfect. They’ve eliminated racism, sexism, hunger, herpes and the lack of carte blanche options from cable providers, and while they’re constantly called to task for the crimes of mankind’s past the men and women of the USS Enterprise consistently show themselves to be humanity at its finest.
It’s a recurring theme throughout season one, and it works as often as it doesn’t. I watched all twenty five episodes in order, and while some of the episodes stood out for their writing or events (“Conspiracy”) just as many stood apart for less positive reasons (“Code of Honor”). Here are my quick thoughts on each along with a rating on a one to ten scale.
- 1: Encounter at Farpoint – The Enterprise’s maiden voyage finds them sent to investigate a space station in this two-parter, but their mission is interrupted by a seemingly godlike being named Q intent on judging humanity for its crimes. Q is an interesting character, but the defense of mankind is bit oversold. The original series’ McCoy makes a brief appearance in this two-parter as an old man from Texas walking down a hallway. (6/10)
- 2: The Naked Now – An untraceable contaminant infects the crew with symptoms resembling someone pretending to be drunk. The most memorable element here is knowing that Data gets to bone the hot head of security, Lt. Yar. They promise to never speak of it again, but it’s something I’ll never forget. A second callback to the original series is found here as the infection is traced back to an appearance on the first USS Enterprise. (5/10)
- 3: Code of Honor – A race of black humanoids who carry spears and wear loud tribal outfits easily kidnap Lt. Yar as an act of honorable heroism. It’s difficult to take this episode seriously watching the all-Black species talk and act like an African tribal community. Because, really? At least the stunt doubles entertain with their utter lack of similarity to the actors they’re doubling for. (3/10)
- 4: The Last Outpost – The Ferengi are introduced as both their ship and the Enterprise are held captive by an unknown source on a nearby planet. Mankind’s questionable behavior is once again brought under scrutiny, but the rat-like Ferengi with the permanently furrowed brows are the real animals here. (4/10)
- 5: Where No One Has Gone Before – A technique meant to boost the ship’s engines instead sends the Enterprise millions of miles outside the known universe. This is a somewhat aimless ep, and the random characters affected by their imaginations calls to mind the random characters affected by space alcohol from a few eps prior. Two highlights of note include the ship’s engineer being hilariously named Argyle and the introduction of a character known as The Traveler (aka the Travelling Pedo) who takes a creepy interest in Wesley. (5/10)
- 6: Lonely Among Us – An unknown alien being resembling a blue light special possesses members of the crew and the ship’s computer while the Enterprise is playing host to two feuding alien species. The ep plays fast and loose with real science, most notably when Picard is transmitted as pure energy into a space cloud… only to return into the ship’s electrical system where he communicates by forming a ‘P’ out of LED lights… then beams back to human form complete with his uniform intact. (4/10)
- 7: Justice – The discovery of a planet populated by half-naked, blonde nymphos brings trouble when Wesley is accused of trampling a flower and subsequently sentenced to death. This is the first truly great ep of the series, and it marks the first time the show’s sense of humor really clicks across the board as the crew comes face to face with some very friendly people. Riker shows off his Captain Kirk-like interests with a mischievous grin, Wesley gets some awkwardly hilarious dialogue and not even the propensity of obvious wigs can’t lessen the entertainment value here. Beyond the laughs though this is the first time the show confronts a truly moral question with real smarts and strong writing. (7/10)
- 8: The Battle – The Ferengi return and bring an abandoned Starfleet ship with them. Picard once captained the ship where he was involved in a mysterious conflict with a Ferengi vessel, and it seems revenge may be the theme of the day. This is a pretty boring ep aside from Wesley’s unspoken observation that adults are ungrateful bastards. (4/10)
- 9: Hide and Q – While en route to assist survivors of a mining disaster the ship is stalled by the reappearance of Q who this time is interested in playing games and tempting Riker with untold power. Q’s petulance comes even clearer as he grows frustrated with Riker’s refusal to join the Q club, and while the action here is limited the script offers up some interesting exchanges especially as the crew is offered incredible gifts. The ep does give Riker multiple opportunities to embrace his favored expression… smugness. (7/10)
- 10: Haven – Counselor Troi’s mother arrives to celebrate her daughter’s impending marriage… an arranged union that the empath had not seen coming. Riker is not pleased by this news. The ep is a bit annoying at times as the visiting mother-in-laws seem more at home in a Meet the Fockers movie than a science fiction series. (3/10)
- 11: The Big Goodbye – Picard uses the Holodeck to take advantage of some down time, but when he sets the world to recreate the 1940s NYC of his favorite fictional detective problems arise. Death in the artificial world becomes a real threat, and those trapped in the computer generated world risk never returning to the present. Picard and Data have real fun with the locale and dialogue, and it makes me wish for more Holodeck-set episodes. (7/10)
- 12: Datalore – The crew visits the planet where Data was first discovered and find an abandoned and desolate landscape. They also find Data’s douchey twin, Lore, whose intentions prove dangerous for all involved. And exactly how many times can Wesley be right about something but have no one listen because he’s only a kid? Fans of the show might notice changes in the look of the Crystaline Entity floating in space, and that’s because the effect had to be created from scratch for this new HD endeavor. (6/10)
- 13: Angel One – A missing freighter brings the Enterprise to a planet where the women are the dominant sex, and the men are small and evocatively dressed. Crazy! The story elevates the discussion when the female leader sets out to execute those interested in upsetting the norm. And for those of you who care for such things, Riker wears a frilly, chest hair-revealing tunic below his smarmy smile. (6/10)
- 14: 11001001 – The Enterprise returns to spacedock for maintenance and repairs to their recently malfunctioning holodeck, but an engineering room disaster leads to the evacuation of the entire ship. Could the short, asexual baldies known as the Bynars be to blame? This ep features some some good character moments as well as an interesting story. The resolution feels a bit too simplistic though. (6/10)
- 15: Too Short a Season – A hostage situation on a distant planet sees the terrorists requesting an ancient admiral to mediate and negotiate the situation. Shortly after the 85 year old, wheelchair-bound man arrives though he begins to show signs of reversing age and growing intensity. The aging makeup is pretty terrible, but the ep does well with the developing story. (6/10)
- 16: When the Bough Breaks – A legendary planet uncloaks itself to ask a favor of the Enterprise, but Riker and crew refuse them wholesale. Why? Because the bastards want Wesley and a handful of other children to help repopulate their dying planet. The situation worsens when the children are kidnapped, and the result is a solid ep as the crew struggles to rescue the kids and discover the planet’s secrets. It’s another example of a species capable of disabling the Enterprise on a whim, which is growing pretty boring, but the ep survives thanks to the questions and emotions it raises. (7/10)
- 17: Home Soil – An away team beams down to a planet undergoing terraforming because Riker is giddy at the thought of seeing it in action. Their visit is interrupted when a laser drill starts targeting people for death, and the culprit is found to be the pissed off tiny citizens of Whoville. Instead of a speck of dust though the tiny race lives on a small illuminated crystal, and instead of singing songs they’re striking out against the human oppressors. The moral here about encroaching on other civilizations and species is fine but tepid. (5/10)
- 18: Coming of Age – Wesley heads off to take the Starfleet entrance exam, and while the Enterprise waits in orbit they get a visit from an Admiral investigating an unspecified misbehavior. “There is a problem with this ship. It’s in the records… somewhere.” How Remick, the investigator, convinced Starfleet to let him onboard with this as his claim is pretty ludicrous, but it sets up an interesting little witch hunt of sorts alongside the mystery as to the investigator’s motives. It also introduces an overarching storyline that I assume will return for a payoff down the road. (7/10)
- 19: Heart of Glory – A derelict freighter is found floating in space, and when the away team investigate they find a trio of deceitful Klingons. Their arrival tests Worf’s loyalty while also offering up an explanation for his presence in Starfleet. The events here are not a good showcase for the Enterprise’s security team. And a big deal is made of Geordi’s ability to transmit (visually poor) images from his visor back to the ship so the bridge can see what the away team does, but between our modern-day Skype and Facetime abilities this seems stupidly quaint. They had webcams in the 90’s right? (6/10)
- 20: The Arsenal of Freedom – The Enterprise goes looking for a missing ship and finds a planet that appears to have lost the ultimate arms race. An away team investigates, and the crew faces assault both on the surface and in orbit. Riker is encased in some kind of shimmering cocoon, the others face off against deadly flying robots and Geordi is forced to make a difficult call at the helm. Despite all of this excitement, the ep’s highlight is without a doubt the introduction of Ensign Lian T’Su (Julia Nickson). Interestingly, Nickson was up for the role of Tasha Yar but lost out to Denise Crosby. (6/10)
- 21: Symbiosis – The Enterprise attempts to rescue a ship falling into a sun, but they’re only able to save four passengers and a mysterious cargo. Two of the survivors appear to be suffering from some kind of plague, but further investigation reveals their illness is actually withdrawal. The other two are drug dealers! Dr. Crusher yearns to tell them all to “Just say no,” but Picard just says no. The anti-drug message is driven home when Wesley gets an Afterschool Special-worthy lecture from Yar on the dangers of drug use. (5/10)
- 22: Skin of Evil – Well isn’t this some shit. Counselor Troi’s shuttlecraft crashes on an uninhabited planet, and when a team goes down to rescue her they face off against a tar-like creature that kills Yar. It kills her quickly in a way that’s unceremonious, anti-climactic and not worthy of a main character. This does not please me. The creature’s oil effects offer up some great visuals, and it’s nice to finally see events of real severity, but I still say it was handled poorly. Nice call out to atheism in her goofy hologram memorial speech though. (7/10)
- 23: We’ll Always Have Paris – It’s deja vu all over again when a brief time loop catches the attention of the crew. Their proximity to a nearby experiment seems related, and their investigation brings Picard in contact with an old flame. The conflict here is fairly trite and seems more a vehicle to feature the relationship angle of Picard and Crusher. Also, the girl Picard chats with in the holodeck-created Paris cafe is wearing an outfit that almost made me forget all about Yar’s death in the last ep. Good lord. (6/10)
- 24: Conspiracy – Picard gets a late night wake up call (a code 47!) from Captain Walker back at Starfleet who requests his immediate presence on a distant planet. Three distinguished captains meet him and share concerns that a conspiracy is afoot in Starfleet’s upper echelons. What follows is familiar to anyone who’s seen The Wrath of Khan or The Faculty. It all wraps up too quickly, but it remains a solid ep bolstered by an ominous conclusion. (7/10)
- 25: The Neutral Zone – The destruction of Federation outposts on the edge of the star system trigger suspicions of Romulan activity, but complications arise when three cryogenically frozen people from the 21st century are rescued and woken up on-board the Enterprise. The thawed-out Americans offer the meat of the entertainment here, and the ep ends with less of a cliffhanger than a setup for specific questions in season two.
Having never watched the show before I had no reference point for the quality of the Blu-ray’s high definition upgrade, but even without that foreknowledge it’s easy to see that these episodes look stunning. The new featurette on disc one covers the upgrade in detail, and it shows an incredible difference between the previous DVD standard and this new Blu.
In addition to every frame of filmed footage being digitally remastered they’ve also re-composited all of the show’s practical effects. Remember practical effects? The ships here are physical models, not CGI, and this new Blu allowed the opportunity to bring out details fans never knew existed. My favorite, discussed in detail in the featurettes, is the appearance of people moving inside the ship’s top windows during the opening-credits fly though. The fact that they’re hand drawn animation just makes it that much cooler. The digital effects get a makeover too most notably in the various planets the ship is shown flying above.
The set includes a handful of extras that previously premiered on the DVD releases, but it’s also home to some solid new features including:
- Energized: Taking the Next Generation to the Next Level [23:45] – The show’s trip into high definition is discussed by executives and technicians including Gene Roddenberry’s son, producer Rick Berman and Michael and Denise Okuda. They cover the process in enlightening detail and offer side by side comparisons to highlight just how good this Blu looks.
- Stardate Revisited – The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation [93:04] – Three part making-of feature including Inception, Launch and Continuing Mission. There are new interviews with all of the principals here, and they cover lots of interesting anecdotes including the wig they wanted Patrick Stewart to wear, the actor who came within inches of playing Picard, Troi’s fat pockets and near-triple breasts and how pretty much no one thought the show would work.
- Gag Reel [8:10] – Lots of line flubs, but there’s also an odd selection of cherry picked lines of dialogue that sound sexual out of context. It’s pretty creepy, especially when it involves Wesley. And Riker. (This may actually be from the original DVD release, but it still deserves mentioning because it’s funny.)
This purchase should be a no-brainer for Star Trek fans whether or not they already have the season on DVD. Every episode looks like it could have been shot just last year. Sure it would have been nice if the tech wizards over at CBS-HD could have also fixed the lack of stunt doubles’ resemblance to the actors they’re doubling. Or how the fleshtone on Data’s neck is clearly visible when the face paint wears off. Or how smarmy Riker looks when he smiles. Or how more patients die on Dr. Crusher’s operating table than survive…
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One is now available on Blu-ray from Amazon.