101/102: Encounter at Farpoint
The newly-commissioned Galaxy-class USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) is proceeding to Farpoint Station to rendezvous with the rest of its crew when it is confronted by a powerful alien entity known as Q. Q believes that humanity is a dangerous, savage child-race but is willing to give it a chance to prove itself worthy of survival by solving the mystery waiting for the crew at Farpoint Station.
Back in September 1987, 25 million people tuned in to watch this pilot episode. I suspect that they were not expecting Gene Roddenberry's attempt to rewrite Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The use of the same music, the same musings on the technological capabilities of a new Enterprise and even the same relationship between the up-and-coming first officer and an exotic, alien female crew member are all rather familiar.
Of course, for all its faults Farpoint is a lot more fun than that movie. Some of the cast immediately impress, especially Patrick 'gravitas is my middle name' Stewart, whose ability to keep his dignity and keep monologuing brilliantly even in the most dire of episodes with the ropiest of scripts is extraordinary (and probably single-handedly saves almost half of the the first season from being too dire to watch). Brent Spiner is also great from the off. It's fair to say that Frakes and Dorn are starting out a little broad here but get a lot better as the series proceeds. LeVar Burton is lost a little bit in this first episode and indeed in the first season, as it takes a while for him to be given an easily-definable role in the series (his promotion to Chief Engineer in S2 solves this problem). Everyone else is okay, though Denise Crosby has a tendency to flip between being too passive and over-acting badly.
The stand-out from this pilot episode is John de Lancie. Like Stewart he treats everything he's given with seriousness, no matter how ludicrous, and this keeps the episode moving whenever the script - a hodgepodge of ideas from DC Fontana and Roddenberry, with numerous rewrites from other writers - flags. The merging to two separate ideas into one story actually works in keeping the episode's momentum going for two whole hours, with the first hour's focus on Q and the second on the mystery at Farpoint ensuring there's a fair bit going on. However, it's rather odd that Q is wailing on humanity specifically and puts them on trial when, of the five people present at the trial, only two are human (the others being Klingon, Betazoid and android).
The special effects are impressive, with the modern HD re-editing of the series losing the cheesy matte-lines and dodgy bluescreen issues of the original master tape. The Enterprise's confrontation with the second alien entity is particularly impressive, courtesy of the guys at ILM (who did the model work for the first episode, as the show's own internal model team was not ready yet). The sequence where the Enterprise is chased by the Q forcefield and separates the saucer remains fairly tense, if completely nonsensical: Q can teleport on board at will and the saucer is not capable of warp travel, meaning that when the stardrive turns around to confront Q the saucer is limping off at about 1 billionth of the speed it was going five minutes earlier.
Visuals aside, the pilot episode is well-paced but a bit stilted. The actors haven't found their feet yet, and act inconsistently with how they would later in the series. Some of the dialogue is ripe and there's way too many oddball 'character' scenes which are inserted into the episode with no regard for tension. And of course the episode suffers from too much time spent on Wesley 'creator substitute stand-in' Crusher and his tedious antics.
Conclusion: moderately interesting for historical reasons. The effects look spectacular in HD and Stewart, Spiner and de Lancie lift the quality of the episode a bit, but overall it's stodgy and odd compared to later episodes. Nice cameo from DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy though.
103: The Naked Now
The Enterprise rendezvouses with a Starfleet vessel monitoring the collapse of a red giant star, only to find the crew dead and a strange infection present which makes people behave as if they are drink, with all inhibitions removed and sense of self-preservation lost. Plus, Data bones Tasha Yar.
It's a bit odd for a show to, in just its second episode, turn the entire cast into a bunch of drunks and reuse a storyline from a show made twenty years earlier (The Naked Time, in the first season of the original series). Oddly enough, it almost works. Patrick Stewart heroically gives it his all when asked to 'goofy drunk acting' and somehow doesn't manage to completely destroy the character, with Brent Spiner managing to do follow in his footsteps. Others don't come off as well. There's some nice character interplay (notably Worf and Data's shared bafflement over a filthy limerick) and particularly successful is the depiction of the Enterprise as a functioning environment of more than a thousand people outside of the regular cast. The chief engineer and her assistant's interactions with Riker and Wesley suggest these are people who have been around all along, which gives more of a sense of community to the ship. There's also some continuation of some (briefly) amusing running gags, such as the crew trying to indulge Data's curiosity but then getting bored of it after ten seconds, and everyone for some reason being extremely pedantic (Picard correcting Troi calling the phenomenon an 'infection' and then calling it an infection himself ten minutes later).
Otherwise the episode falls into the 'so bad it's actually good' category. Again, the special effects have been hugely improved by the HD upgrade. The stellar fragment hurtling towards the Enterprise and the science vessel and the latter blowing up simply look light-years beyond the original effects, which is stunning considering no new CGI or effects have been added, merely the original elements being re-combined with modern editing equipment and some of the colours changed to something more realistic. This episode also amusingly fails the, "Is the premise too goofy to work as an episode of Red Dwarf?" test (and not for the last time).
Overall, surprisingly fun, if not in the way the writers intended.
104: Code of Honour
The Enterprise arrives at a planet populated by African stereotypes, who kidnap Tasha Yar for the sheer hell of it and threaten to withold a vital vaccine if the Enterprise crew try to rescue her. Picard, somewhat bizarrely, initially demonstrates his displeasure by blowing the living shit out of the atmosphere with photon torpedoes (note that in the Star Trek universe, photon torpedoes detonate in the megaton range, creating explosions comparable to nukes) and then spends the rest of the episode wangsting over the Prime Directive. The situation is resolved by Yar and another female alien fighting in an arena and the alien 'dying' but then being saved by Dr. Crusher, which briefly threatens to extend the episode when this is called 'witchcraft', but then the writers give up and mercifully resolve things.
The first cheerfully shit episode of ST:TNG, which really doesn't make sense and is rather racist into the bargain. It's also self-contradictary: women are described as being inferior in society throughout, but then it turns out the leader is only leader because of his wife's vast properties, which she flounces off with at the end of the episode, leaving him without a job. Huh?
Overall, a spectacularly awful episode. The best things about it are the matte/model shots of the alien city, which are genuinely impressive, and the hugely impressive 3D model of the planet as the Enterprise orbits it (this may be a new definition of damning with faint praise).
105: The Last Outpost
The Enterprise pursues a Ferengi ship to a remote system, trying to recover a stolen energy converter. When both ships are caught in an energy field from the planet and shut down, the two crews have to work together to survive.
Originally Roddenberry didn't want to reuse too many of the original series aliens and created the Ferengi as a new foe (and also his satirical take on the more ultra-capitalist aspects of American society). This doesn't really work, as the small, monkey-like Ferengi are too comical to be a serious threat (despite some good prosthetics work). Some aspects of the episode are effective, but there's a lot of weirdness. Bridge crew chatter to one another whilst Picard is engaged in tense negotiations, and Data starts a craze for Chinese finger puzzles which the crew follows even mid-crisis. Totally inexplicably, at one point Data uses a badass 3D holographic projector to carry out a briefing on an ancient alien race. The projector never appears again. Even more randomly, the episode is a very close reworking of the Blake's 7 episode Duel (and both are heavily inspired by the original series episode Arena).
Overall, a very random episode. Worth watching just for its strangeness and the character of Portal who appears near the end, whose WTFness factor is extremely high.
Edited by Werthead, 30 July 2012 - 05:30 AM.