Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Last Post written by James Goss and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: People are dying. Just a few, over a few months…but the strange thing is that each person received a letter predicting the time and date of their death. Throughout her time as the Doctor’s assistant, Liz Shaw’s been documenting these passings. Her investigation ultimately uncovers a threat that could lead to the end of the world, but this time Liz has someone to help her. Her mother. 

Intelligent Academic: I came to this story with feelings of regret. It was the last time I would ever hear anything new read by Caroline John. A consummate actress and a superb narrator, she brought her stories to life with incredible skill. Technically Liz Shaw should be one of the forgotten companions because she only appeared in four stories (less than Dodo for goodness sakes!) but thanks John’s charismatic performance, a character that was created as an equal for the Doctor and the fact that she appeared in one of the shows most popular seasons it is easy to see why she is lauded as much as she is. If people fancy exploring some more of Caroline John’s work then I suggest you get hold of the PROBE series made by BBV. The production values are a bit ropey (its shot like a holiday video) but for a chance to see how John would have fronted a TV series of her own (I still wish we could have had a big budget PROBE series rather than Torchwood) it is invaluable (plus there is a wealth of other Who talent knocking about in them too). Also check out her reading of Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography, now a doubly sad audio to listen but worth it for John’s impassioned reading of Sladen’s memoirs. Terrance Dicks once said that John was too good for Doctor Who and whilst I don’t subscribe to that notion, I do agree that she had the acting chops to be given the central role and it’s a relief that Big Finish gave her that opportunity in her five companion chronicles (The Blue Tooth, Shadow of the Past, The Sentinels of the New Dawn, Binary and The Last Post). Whilst I don’t always think she was best served script wise, John’s performances were never less than magnificent (mind you I plan to re-listen to Binary knowing the twist because I have a feeling I will enjoy a lot more a second time round watching how the plot comes together).

Showing off her credentials as a confident, capable woman its interesting to note that in practically all of her companion chronicles Liz takes on the investigation on her own and the Doctor only plays a very peripheral role. There was definitely a place for a Liz Shaw influenced UNIT series in the 70s, a gritty and grainy Torchwood ala The Sweeney. When the Doctor left Earth with Sarah Jane and cut his ties with UNIT, I could see this as a far more adult show with a central role for Liz. I always find it fascinating to meet the relations of companions because it is a good chance to get to see who influenced them. Her mother Emily has signed the Official Secrets Act more times than Elisabeth has and has been wondering what tempted Liz away from her test tubes. She knows all about UNIT. Emily considers artistic endeavours far more worthwhile than scientific ones but still accepts that her daughter is brilliant in her field. Liz tells her mother the truth about what happens behind the scenes in UNIT investigations, destroying all the myths and nonsense speculated by the newspapers. You would think that having two scientific advisors would mean the Doctor and Liz get through the work in half the time but the truth is there is so much paperwork. I don’t think I would have been happy if Emily hadn’t commented on Liz’s hair at some point…I think it is an inbuilt flaw in all mothers that they have to disapprove of your appearance at least once during every exchange. Liz is made of sterner stuff than her sister. I loved hearing Liz talking very dubiously about the cheap lash up console that the Doctor has tried to convince her is part of an alien time machine – its easy to forget that Liz is the only companion to have never stepped through the TARDIS doors. Liz always said Emily’s mothering had a cruel streak to it. The Doctor would have defeated the Apocalypse Clock with clever words and the Brigadier would have blown it up but Liz’s approach is far more cunning, tying up the machine in a web of logic. Liz tells her mother she plans to stay with the Doctor as long as she can stand him.

Good Grief: Liz finds the Doctor wonderful and annoying and oddly he looks just like her Uncle Bernard. He likes being childish and assumes that if he doesn’t want to be found, he wont be. Just because you can’t alter fate that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! The Doctor finds Emily charming…perhaps he would have been better off carting her around the universe? Its odd being hugged by the Doctor, he doesn’t smell of anything almost as if he wasn’t there. The Last Post mirrors one of my favourite endings of any Doctor Who story – the Doctor and Donna at the climax of Forest of the Dead having to choose whether to look inside River Song’s diary. Here the Apocalypse Clock spits out a letter for him, informing him of the date of his final demise. He doesn’t want to spoil the surprise so he doesn’t open it. Without his knowledge Liz has a peek and it lists all of his future regenerations (‘I’ve always hated spiders too…’). Oh to have a look at that letter…

Standout Performance: In her twilight days this is a great chance to see a new side of Liz Shaw courtesy of a gentle performance by Caroline John. By indulging in exchanges between her and her mother what we experience isn’t the cold, logical scientist but a family woman who is rebuilding a relationship with her. John could make a shopping list sound like art but when handed a script with as much imagination and emotion as this she performs wonders. Rowena Cooper deserves much kudos too, sharing effortless chemistry with John. A shame we couldn’t see more of her but I am thankful for her inclusion here. Loved the Irish accents on display, very nicely done.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So you’re fighting aliens’ ‘Not exactly, we’re trying to understand them.’
‘We’re being bumped of by plague, shop dummies, luggage and space men!’
‘He didn’t say wotsits I’m afraid I stopped listening.’
‘The Brigadier even reads neatly…’
‘Doctor Who. He is required. Bring him to me.’
‘But there are so many loose ends!’

Great Ideas: Since joining UNIT and tackling the Nestene Consciousness, Liz is seeing menace in every shadow and connects a group of murders in government. They have each died of what they were most likely to and they all received a letter telling them precisely when they are going to die. Hailing from precisely the right period, if that isn’t a really great Avengers episode in the making I don’t know what is! Goss brilliantly has this story weave through the entirety of season seven, Liz writing to her mother during each adventure to keep her apprised of her activities and seeing if she has found out anything else about the central mystery of this story. I remember Who Killed Kennedy managing its own narrative throughout the Pertwee era, using moments in stories that looked harmless and giving them greater significance. The Last Post pulls off a similar coup – explaining away Dr Lawrence’s paranoid behaviour in Dr Who and the Silurians because he received one of the death date letters a few days in advance of succumbing to the plague. Very clever stuff. I will never look at the story in the same light again. Apparently Bruno Teltallian (‘not one of natures charmers…’) received a letter too. Liz soon realises (and so will the audience if they are sharp) that it all comes back to the fact that all these important men are on Emily Shaw’s committee. Suddenly every death in season seven takes a much more sinister, premeditated feeling. It only had to be a matter of time before Liz’s mother had to receive a letter for her own. The government has become adept at gathering data on the population and patterns had begun to emerge. When a government becomes interested in something it refuses to give it up and acquiring that information became a habit. What to do with it all? Emily’s committee was instructed with the task of harnessing that data to new technology – calculating machines. They tackled life expectancy first because it was the easiest. Professor Prestain’s machines were brilliant at forecasting and so they gave him a mass of information on the population. He built a clock, an extraordinary device that could predict precisely when an individual would die. The machine told him that the world was going to end. So they went about to predict how that would happen (Sir Keith is convinced that the Stahlman project has thrown safety out of the window to cure the energy crisis!). If the Apocalypse Clock said your time was up perhaps you were better off out of the way because perhaps you had something to do with the end of the world. It was the people in the Professor’s path who had been picked off…always the trouble makers. The assassins turn out to aliens with the body of a metal scorpion and the shape and style of a digital watch, counting down to its victims deaths. That’s the scuttling noise that Emily kept hearing, the creature hunting her down. It can reach into other dimensions, find one where the victim has died and changed circumstances in this one to match – what a brilliant concept. If you had a chance to look at a digital clock that would tell you the date of the end of the world…would you look? As people are killed the date of the apocalypse changes, rushing forwards with increasing urgency. There is a very potent image of the committee members that are left frozen around a conference table in a room dominated by a giant digital clock, like flies trapped in amber. When we discover that the processing banks of the Apocalypse Clock were salvaged from the remains of the Post Office Tower I was literally bouncing on my chair with glee! Like The Time Travellers before it, it seems that the remains of WOTAN are causing all manner of difficulties regardless of the dimension. The Clock is link to many other computers, all of them articulating the risks of various projects and it can see into other possibilities and shape events in our dimension. Changing the future to a limited degree all in the aim of averting the Earth’s destruction. Once a threat has been identified, the Clock arranges for their removal and since its mainframe is still connected to the Post Office it fires off a letter to inform them. To all them to put their affairs in order. If no-one can create the end of the world then the world cannot end – the Apocalypse Clock plans to put the entire world in stasis to prevent its destruction. Once again I am baffled by just how many glorious ways there are to put this planet of ours in jeopardy and how writers such as Goss continues to find a fresh approach. Its logical to a fault, and monstrous. Liz has to make the machine realise that the machine that is trying to prevent the destruction of the Earth is going to cause it. It turns out the Doctor is ultimately responsible for predictive abilities of the Apocalypse Clock because he has removed the console from the TARDIS.

Audio Landscape: Café atmosphere, ticking clock, church bells, bubbling test tubes in a laboratory, dialling a phone, scribbling, the sonic screwdriver, the ticking countdown clock.

Musical Cues: I would recognise the melancholic chords of Fox and Yason a mile off now. Two of Big Finish’s most accomplished musicians and a great choice for Liz Shaw’s final story. Their subtle use of the piano as an emotive backdrop never fails to generate an atmosphere of disquiet. Their work on episode two is amazing, accentuating the momentum of the ticking clock and its countdown to destruction.

Standout Scene: So many Doctor Who cliffhangers are moments of false jeopardy shoved in to provide a week long pause between one part of the story and the next. This is one of the few times I can think of where the entire first episode is geared to set up the cliffhanger, the central mystery providing real momentum and leading to an unforgettable build up of suspense. The final scream is absolutely chilling. The pay off manages to be a complete cheat and yet satisfying because of its sheer cheek!

Notes: The continuity isn’t limited to season seven – Stangmoor prison and Sir Charles Grover are name checked also. The Pertwee era feels very contained and fleshed out, its very own bubble of continuity.

Result: ‘My name is Liz Shaw and I’d like to stop the end of the world…’ How would you react if you received a letter telling you when you are going to die? Witty, creative and nostalgic, The Last Post is a superb final story for Caroline John. Weaving a narrative through the classic adventures of season seven is a terrific idea (so good David Bishop had a similarly memorable shot at it in the novel Who Killed Kennedy) and the whole idea of portentous letters making targets of the scientists that featured in those stories is inspired. The events of the first episode leading up to the prediction of the apocalypse are beautifully handled and the ideas feel fresh and involving. I’ve listened to an awful lot of Big Finish adventures now and have always been impressed by their increasingly stylish production values and thought I was pretty much taking for granted how these adventures sounded now. However the immersive sound effects and stirring music in The Last Post really impressed me and captured my attention completely. It’s a fitting final hurrah for Caroline John who was able to reveal brand new facets to the character of Liz Shaw but even more importantly had the opportunity to thrill us one last time with such a memorable reading of such a inventive story. I will miss her companion chronicles very much; Big Finish has lost a fantastic actress, Doctor Who has lost one of its greatest companions and John’s family and friends have lost a magnificent woman. It seems fitting that the final Liz Shaw story to be released celebrates so much about what made her era great – wonderful storytelling, smart ideas and complex characterisation. A big hurrah to all involved. I’d like to blow one final kiss to Caroline John: 10/10

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Acheron Pulse written by Rick Briggs and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The planet Cawdor. Deep in the heart of the Drashani Empire. The Doctor lands thirty years after the Succession of Blood brought Empress Cheni to the throne. For most of her reign there has been peace and prosperity. The Empire flourished. But five years ago, the War came. And nothing was ever the same again. Now the Drashani are at war with the mysterious alien race known as the Wrath, led by the Warlord Tenebris.  As more and more planets fall to their advance events are rushing to a head. What exactly does Tenebris want? What is the secret of the Wrath's weapon, the terrifying Acheron Pulse? As the Doctor races to save an Empire, he may not like the answers he finds.

Softer Six: In the light of no companion the Doctor winds up talking to the TARDIS and is attacked and knocked out in record time. Sometimes he has to wonder why he ever steps out the door when an agreeable fellow such as he can be mistreated so grievously! The Doctor has often travelled with young slips of things and older women, with warrior maidens and intergalactic smart asses…but never has been shackled with somebody quite as bawdy, as outrageous and as downright filthy as Athrid! He realises that the promise that he made to Torvald to look after his daughter was one that he never actually got around to keeping. And its certainly one that he doesn’t fulfil here. As soon as he makes another promise to bring Athrid home safe and sound, you have to wonder if he’s thought that one through as well. Careless talk costs lives and the Doctor wilfully shatters the illusions that have been built up around the myth of Kylo and Aliona. Rather wonderfully, he punches Boritz to stop him from detonating the explosives and apologetically tells him he just has one of those faces that people want to hit! Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the exploring the Doctor’s guilt in the new series but it was rarely touched upon in the classic series and to be able to see mistakes from one regeneration coming back to haunt a later one is a pleasing way of making the character face his responsibilities. You have to wonder if he has learnt anything at all, making the choice to influence the Wrath and set them on a new path in life. I have a feeling this is going to come back to bite the seventh Doctor in the butt. He sees himself as someone who doesn’t judge, quietly observes, never interferes and seeks well thought through compromise whenever conflict arises – that is bloody funny! ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ There is a longer coda than usual as the Doctor tries to tie up every loose end but given how his actions have been scrutinised so microscopically here you can see how each one of these endings could lead to more trouble. I guess that’s the risk he takes every time he leaves at the end of an adventure. That’s the price for getting involved. Just this once he thinks he deserves a party.

Standout performance: Chook Sibtain always gives 110% and he sets out to prove that and then some in this story. He made a wonderful villain in the Sarah Jane Adventures (the slimy Grantham in Warriors of Kudlak) and was unforgettably gruesome in The Waters of Mars. Now he sets out to out-Colin Baker Colin Baker here (the only person who has come close before is the unbeatably fabulous Brian Blessed), playing the theatrical and warlike Athrid, a man of such vicious and indulgent appetites a lurid exclamation is never far from his lips. A shame he departs so early in the tale. The other peasant characters (sorry that’s indelicate but I can’t think of a better description for them) failed to impress, the actors struggling with their dialogue.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Or I can leave you here to face the wrath of the…umm…Wrath!’
‘There are times when suffering makes its victim a monster.’
‘Here I am about to die trapped in an alternate universe and I’m hearing voices! If this my reward for six lifetimes of rigorous rationalism I wish I hadn’t bothered!’

Great Ideas: Few Doctor Who stories set out to be epic. Most just want to be good stories and sometimes as a result wind up sprawling out of control and overly ambitious. On television I can only think of a handful of times when the show set out to tell an epic saga – The Daleks’ Masterplan, Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks, The Key to Time and The Trial of a Time Lord with possibly Utopia/The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords thrown in for good measure – and on audio with the trilogy format that links three stories together with momentum, more often than not climaxing on a blockbuster that ties all the threads together, it has become rather more commonplace. But this is the first time since the Excelis trilogy that something this deliberately grandiose has been attempted, a narrative that steps not just from one story to another but from one incarnation of the Doctor to another (although it is worth noting that this is not without precedent – the TV series did the same thing with Ressurection, Revelation and Remembrance telling an ongoing narrative across exactly the same Doctors). Immediately this story kicks off holding its hand with The Burning Prince with a youngster being told the mythical tale of Prince Kylo and Princess Aliona who turns out to be the childs cousin. I rather enjoyed the melding of medieval and futuristic, touching on the same anachronistic atmosphere as State of Decay and many a Stargate SG-1 episode. The Doctor frowns upon the idea of an advanced society developing a less sophisticated one (Codor has progressed centuries in as many months) for the exclusive mining rights of a particular mineral. Its nice to know that Tuvold’s legacy has endured, given he was one of the few characters in The Burning Prince who deserved to walk free of the slaughter. His daughter is now the ruler of the Empire, the Empress Cheni. With no black box recording of the events that took place in the first chapter of this saga and the Doctor the only survivor, he is the only person who can contradict the myths and legends that have built up around those events and endanger the society that has been built on the foundations of those beliefs. Suddenly killing everybody in John Dorney’s slaughterhouse story looks very deliberate. I love the way this story explores how events can be entirely mis-interpreted (Aliona is still spoken of as a gentle Princess rather than the vengeful psychotic she really was). The Wrath are the perfect Doctor Who monster, tearing through the Empire and claiming worlds in the name of their warlord with Codor in their sights. When their Empire expanded, the Drashani took prisoners on every new world and their scientists experimented on them. The scientists learnt how to regress their captives to a primordial state fit for mindless labour and created the Igriss. Kylo’s ‘death’ allowed Tenebris to be born, a more ruthless man born out of the deaths of so many. After what the Empire had done to the Igriss they needed very little persuasion to be fashioned into an army – the Wrath. It took Tenebris 25 years to construct his fleet out of the derelict ships on Sharnax. The Acheron pulse was a gift from the Wrath, fashioned from a wasteland of the mind where the Igriss’ souls ended up. In the same way that I feel many lauded historical figures would disappoint if they were seen in the cold light of reality rather than through history’s rosy lens, Kylo returns and gleefully tears down the myths that have been built up around him and his bride, shattering the faith of all the lives built on it. The Caliostro Prismosphere is a marvellous creation, a little corner of reality where thousands of worlds have become squashed together in the same space time.

Audio Landscape: A baby crying, the sucking, screeching Dremereels, crackling fire, honking animals, ducks quacking, street bustle, radiation tearing through the astronauts, boarding pods, Wrath blaster fire, horses galloping, crickets and insects purring, the screaming Igriss souls. The Caliostro Prismosphere has to be heard to be believed, a sequence of awesome atmospherics.

Isn’t it Odd: After the casual murder of the cast of The Burning Prince, killing Athrid so early felt like trying to repeat its success. For once it might have been better to have cut the teaser to the next story – by showing Kylo was alive at the end of the last adventure I was waiting for him to show up here. There was only one role he could really take in proceedings so his reveal at the end of part two didn’t come as a great surprise. Fortunately the twist is given some pleasing retroactive explanation, skipping to the end of The Burning Prince and explaining what happened to Kylo in the interim, his fury unleashed and a warmonger being born. Episode one promised a space opera the likes of which we had never seen before on Who. I thought we were going to see the events of The Burning Prince take place writ large. Instead the last two episodes favour introspection. That’s not a problem, its just not what I was expecting and ultimately the most exciting moments were in the first episode. I’m not sure if the Doctor should be rewarding a man who has subsumed entire worlds and transformed their population into mindless animals…even if he did repent in the end. The idea of redeeming a man that the Doctor has wronged does have a nice ring to it, though.

Standout Scene: I loved Cheni’s ridiculously romantic solution to Kylo’s murderous rampage – that they should marry and unite the Empire! In true melodramatic form she rips away his mask to see the beautiful Prince beneath only to be greet by a disfigured face melted down by the acid storms of Sharnax. Such naiveté deserves a reward and we get to experience in agonising detail as she is reshaped into an Igriss. Aint love grand.

Result: Exploiting its position as the nucleus of a saga to explore the impact of the events of The Burning Prince, The Acheron Pulse isn’t the bastard middle child you might suspect it to be. What initially seems like an overloaded first episode soon sharpens once the situation is made clear and before the first cliffhanger we have experienced a mass slaughter (or rather re-shapement) and are dealing with an intergalactic army of storm troopers threatening the safety of an entire Empire. Episode two meanders a little (spending too much time amongst the peasants on Codor) but episode three is where the story really shapes up, revealing how every consequence of this story is directly influenced by the first instalment in the trilogy. Doctor Who always walks a dangerous tightrope across melodrama and with a love story that ends in mass slaughter across generations I suppose The Acheron Pulse couldn’t help but wobble and plunge headfirst into its theatrical depths. Such an approach does allow for some dramatic (and gruesome) moments and with the Doctor’s involvement in this whole affair under such scrutiny there is plenty to think about too. If the story is a little too sprawling and unfocused (like this review!), it manages to entertain for its entire length and in its exploration of the power of myth it has something quite profound to say: 7/10


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Voyage to Venus written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago are accustomed to the murky fog of Victorian London and the palatable pints of half and half at the Red Tavern. They are not used to travelling through time and space with their old friend the Doctor. And now they fined themselves whisked off to the planet Venus in the distant future, at a time when warrior women rule from a floating city in the clouds. There’s a mystery here, one that the Grand Empress Vulpina intends to keep secret. Even if it means destroying these visitors from the long-dead planet Earth...

Softer Six: There is such a sense of joi de vivre about the sixth Doctor these days, a man free from the shackles of his television adventures and riding high on a giddy number of superlative adventures on audio. Teaming up this refurbished incarnation with the charming combination of Jago & Litefoot is magical, further adding to his repertoire of charming audio companions. Whilst visiting Venus is a marvellous opportunity to show off  the delights of time travel to his friends it is also a appreciative glimpse into one of the most enjoyable aspects of Doctor Who that rarely gets explored these days thanks to the advent of arcs and contemplative character drama – the simple thrill of exploring the extraordinary. Its an oft overlooked treat. He tries to act the moralistic adventurer by condemning a poacher but is soon put in his place and mentions visiting Venus before with Jamie and Victoria and studying their martial arts (all I could hear ringing in my ears was Pertwee going ‘Haaaaiiiii!’ at this point!). Telling the Doctor about a location known as ‘the forbidden caves’ is asking for trouble, you can practically hear him salivating at the chance to go pottering. Ultimately the Doctor gives two races a chance to work together, averts a slaughter, prevents a generation of children from being exploited and gives a world a second chance. Boy has the sixth Doctor come along way. He should have used this as his evidence during Trial of a Time Lord!

Theatrical Fellow: Every now and again we fans have a fun game of ‘who do you wish had hopped into the TARDIS for adventures with the Doctor?’ and somewhere at the top of my list (along with the 4th Doctor and Amelia Rumpford and/or Amelia Ducat) is the 6th Doctor and Henry Gordon Jago. I’m not certain if the time continuum can handle such an accentuated attack of  tongue-twisting terminology or a clash of such a colourful calibre of characters. If Big Finish can be exploited to make fan wish fulfilment come true I have to say I was delighted to see this most unlikely of combinations being brought to life. Henry thinks that the TARDIS is a trick done with mirrors and fears that the journey might be a little choppy. More than alien worlds and heterochthonous creatures, Jago is agog at the sight of intelligent women in the future! After exhibiting the most artistic entertainment that Victorian England has to offer, Henry Jago finds it a complete indignity to be put on display for the great unwashed! Even if he says so himself he is one of the finer specimens of manhood!

Posh Professor: As my long suffering husband always reminds me, behind every outwardly confident and successful man there is a partner crossing the is and dotting the ts and making sure their ego doesn’t fall out of orbit. Litefoot might seem to get the worse deal of the two characters because he is outwardly less colourful than Jago but their partnership wouldn’t be a success without him quietly admiring and chaperoning his more rambunctious friend. For a scientist like Litefoot, exploring another world is a dream he would never have thought possible which makes his reaction even more infectious than Jago’s. Because they are now in the distant future, Litefoot gets an uncomfortable portent of the Earth’s future and its not quite the teeming technological metropolis he imagined it to be. He’s still a gentleman through and through and decides to put himself in danger before the fairer sex…although on this planet they consider that the norm regardless because men are more disposable! Jago tries to apologise for dragging his dear friend the Professor on this little jaunt but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Considering the runaway success of their own series, they more than deserve the moment of congratulatory back patting at the heart of this story. From any other characters it might feel remarkably self indulgent but we’ve been on some amazing adventures with this pair and with far more to come standing on an alien world surrounded by wonders feels like the perfect time to marvel at their success.

Standout Performance: Oh come on, this is an audio spearheaded by Colin Baker, Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin. If that isn’t reason enough to pick it up then the fact that it only costs twenty shillings makes it compulsory. Where else can you be exposed to such acting talent for a pound?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That infernal device! You’d have a more dignified restful excursion plunging over the Niagara Falls in a barrel!’ – Jago on the TARDIS!
‘A floating city in space! A mighty metropolis suspended in space by hot air balloons!’
‘Go out on a song? I say that’s in rather poor taste!’
‘How many songs do you know that are appropriate to soothe a rampaging horde of Shanghorn?’
‘Everyone’s a critic!’
‘You’re using God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as the basis of a Venusian lullaby?’ – sometimes its glorious being a Doctor Who fan boy.
‘I can take you anywhere in time and space…and you want me to take you to a pub?

Great Ideas: Just look at that evocative cover…Jonathan Morris takes Jago & Litefoot to a world steeped in Victorian atmosphere, steampunk technology filling the sky and exotic creatures dogging their footsteps. It’s a vision o the future that feels perfectly suited to their characters, giving them the feeling of pioneers exploring an exotic plain for the benefit of humanity. Jago even mentions laying a claim to the land on behalf of Her Majesty and fancies mounting the head of the glamorous wildlife on the club wall!  Six years ago plant and animal life starting appearing across the surface of Venus, turning up as if from nowhere. After they had exhausted the Earth the human race had no choice but to find a new home and they settled on Venus but because the atmosphere was unsuitable they modified their bodies so they could survive on its surface. Deep down they were still human beings. The ancestors created the oxygen factories to try and make the atmosphere of the planet breathable. I might have objected to the momentary glance at a ‘Planet of the Women’ scenario if it wasn’t for Jago’s humble and seasoned reaction (‘when in Rome, etc, etc…’). Caves with specimens trapped in ice like flies caught in amber, how evocative.  The Sytherians were the original inhabitants of Venus who exhausted their fossil fuels and rendered the planet uninhabitable (where have I heard that before?). Greed turned Sytheria into a desert world ravaged by storms and acid rain. Much like the Silurians they put themselves into suspended animation until their world became habitable again, preserving specimens so one day a new world could be created from the seeds of the old. The creatures humanity have been using as slaves are Sytherian children. When it came time for them to abandon their world, the greatest minds of their society pulled their consciousnesses into a single being - the memorial o the Sytherians – acting as teacher and ambassador. This is the Doctor Who story where they manage to stop and alien invasion by soothing the monsters to sleep with music. Jago and Litefoot save the day by singing a Christmas carol! That alone is such a delightful concept, it would have sold me on that alone. Finally we get to make sense of the third Doctor’s immortal line ‘never trust a Venusian Shanghorn with a perigosto stick!’ and his mention of the Thraskins in The Time Monster. 

Audio Landscape: Henry and George’s first turbulent journey in the TARDIS, travelling through a time storm, the gorgeous soundscape of their first alien world, screaming indigenous lifeforms, the echoing caves, dripping, explosion, the cave roof collapsing, the raging Shanghorn.

Standout Scene: Because this TARDIS team is such a short term arrangement I rather love the fact that Jonny Morris crams in as many elements that we would recognise as a traditional Doctor adventure as possible. A dictator to be crushed, an exotic alien world, creatures in hibernation, a potential disaster story, glimpses into Earth’s future, a revenge story, monsters emerging from mythology…the fact that it doesn’t feel rushed is a testament to Morris’ skill as a writer. The cliffhanger into the next adventure promises great things.

Result: To stretch an analogy to its most vacuous and populist form, there is something of The X-Factor’s One Direction about Voyage to Venus. Take lots of fashionable elements (probably the most popular audio Doctor, probably the most popular Doctor Who spin off series and probably the most popular audio writer – certainly a strong contender in each of their categories) and shove them together and hope that it is a success story in the making. Fortunately Voyage to Venus turns out to be as much of a triumph as the pretty-boy teen band and then some. To say that this exceeded expectations is an understatement and to say that I wish this was the beginning of a longer run for this alluring ensemble echoes the success of the story. A Victorian vision of the future, an enticing mystery to solve, witty colourful characters, dialogue that embraces you like a lover on a winters evening and an immersive soundscape to get lost in…Voyage to Venus feels like Christmas come early. In the wake of the torturously complicated Hex arc, the epic generation-spanning Drashani trilogy and the drama of UNIT: Dominion, this is perhaps the ultimate refreshment; something that reminds us of the wonders of the universe and why the Doctor enjoys exploring. Its uncomplicated but intelligent and provides a intoxicating dose of adventure in a time when introspection and persecution seem to be the order of the day. A story with no baggage…just a thrilling exploit in time and space with Sixie and his friends Jago & Litefoot. Its just lovely: 8/10

Sunday, 21 October 2012

TNG Season One

Encounter at Farpoint written by Gene Roddenberry & D.C, Fontana and directed by Corey Allen

What’s it about: The crew of the Enterprise assembles as they face their first encounter with the Q and solve the mystery of Farpoint station.

To Baldly Go: How on Earth did they manage to encourage Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart to take part in this project? He has said in recent interviews that he was apprehensive about the whole thing I think it comes across in his performance in these early episodes. I don’t like his tightly fitted uniform much; he looked far more comfortable come season three (but we’ve still got a long way to go before we get there…). He clearly wants to make his mark as a man of action because in the first fifteen minutes he has pushed the warp engines to maximum and separated the ship! To prove he is a more thoughtful man than Kirk he surrenders to the Q whereas Jimmy T would have blasted them to hell and darn the consequences! He exhibits some pretty unusual behaviour – he doesn’t even look at Riker when he comes on board or welcome him. In later seasons when he has softened he would never behave this rudely. Picard is just a big softie really letting that horrid swot Wesley Crusher explore the bridge. Q calls Picard a dullard and you can’t help but agree with him at this point.

Number One: A beardless Riker looks so young but much better looking. You feel really sorry for the guy as he is trying to impress his new Captain but gets a right dressing down. The ensign who gives Riker directions checks out his ass! Q tells Riker that he shows promise which will be followed up in the dismal episode Hide & Q.

Fully Functional: His pedantry and lack of understanding of human nature pegs him as TNG’s Spock and almost to drive the point home McCoy tells him he sounds like a Vulcan! His character is really well pitched and cast and would go on to be one of the most popular of the main cast.

Alien Empath: What the hell does Troi look like with her massive frizzy hair and miniskirt? Why does she start crying when Picard orders them to surrender? Oo-er there seems to be some history between Riker and Troi and by the looks on their faces they used to know each other very well. We get our very first example of what would soon become a hideous Troi cliché where she looks like she’s straining to do a really big fart whilst feeling terrible pain or anger from a creature nearby. Her feelings for Riker maker her behave in a very unprofessional fashion! Troi loves nothing more than to state the obvious but pretend it is an example of her empathic powers (she realises that the entities are feeling ‘great joy’ to be reunited at the climax – no shit Sherlock!).

Boy Genius: What an irritating little suck up! Trailing around after his ‘mother’, wearing that hideous woolly pullover and sucking up to Commander Riker…he almost makes Adric seem palatable. Why does Data have to ruin everything and rescue Wesley when he falls in the water? I was just starting to enjoy myself! When the turbo lift opens and Wesley is standing in the doorway wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Dr Crusher had shoved him out and shot off in the lift?

Blind Engineer: Geordi’s visor is a lovely visual touch that I’m pleased to say made it through the entire series.

Mr Wolf: He’s such a stupid grunt he almost blows a hole in the viewer! Worf’s around to add a little alien colour in the pilot but doesn’t really contribute a great deal.

Dancing Doctor: Deep breath…I know it sounds as though I am ripping this show to pieces but I promise you praise will come! Personally I think Gates McFadden is one of the weakest links the cast. It’s nice that there is some history between Picard and Crusher which adds a little depth to both characters but it’s a shame that the series never had the guts to explore the relationship in any great depth. You’ve got to love Picard’s tact; he heads off to sickbay to welcome her on board and then follows that up with ‘ill request a transfer for you!’

Security Chief: So ridiculously melodramatic that she is hard to take seriously. ‘I spoke before I thought sir’ she says holding back tears as Picard admonishes her. Kira Neyrs would give her a slap around the chops. Thank Christ Q turns the woman into an ice lolly after she starts ranting on about how fabulous Starfleet is because she seriously needed someone to cool her down. Bizarrely after wearing a trouser suit throughout the story in the last scene Yar is suddenly wearing a Troi mini skirt and kinky boots!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You treat her like a lady and she’ll always bring you home.’
‘Prejudice is very human.’
‘Let’s see what’s out there…’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘He’s frozen!’ – nice one Troi, we couldn’t have figure that out for ourselves!

The Good: The opening shot of the Enterprise travelling through space sees some serious money being spent on the model work. John De Lancie is wonderful fun in his role as Q and you can understand why he was pencilled in quickly for a return visit. I cried with delight when I saw Colm Meaney! The Data/McCoy scene is beautiful. Lets forget the plethora of episodes that would follow in various Trek incarnations and remember how wonderful the holodeck felt at the time – it is a clever idea and a great way to add some visual splendour to the series. Whilst it might be a sugar sweet way to end the first episode, the floating jellyfish creatures are well realised.

The Bad: There are some serious problems with the first two years of TNG (and the seventh season too but we’re a long way from that at the moment) and I would suggest that you skipped forward to season three if you want to read praise lavished on the show. But what I should say was that when I was ten and this show first aired on the BBC you couldn’t tear me away from it. Whilst at heart Doctor Who would always come first I was blown away by the incredible special effects and phaser fights and it is only through older, more jaded eyes that I have come to see how dated some of these episodes are especially when compared with the later TNG series and the majority of DS9. The theme tune is…loud but I’m not sure on a musical level its any good at all. The bridge set feels like the epitome of eighties luxury, all beige leather seats and wood panelling. Its quite revolting. Fancy having seats that lounge back in such away…given that all they are doing is pushing the odd button is surprising half the crew isn’t asleep. At this stage of the game Gene Roddenberry is playing it safe and introducing a great deal of Original Series elements to the show – sexism is rife, God-like beings are judging humanity and the music punctuates events with dramatic urgency. I don’t know what to make the court scenes since they seem to be full of psychotic midgets in fancy dress having a fun day out and they go on way too long (although Q’s method of extracting an admission of guilt by having a gun pressed to their heads is novel). Farpoint Station is one of those studio planets that Star Trek likes to build and nine times out of ten it fails to convince as location work would. How exactly does solving the childishly simple puzzle of Farpoint station prove that human beings evolved beyond their previous barbarity?

Myth Building: What’s up with those teeny weeny phasers? By the end of the season they are much chunkier buggers! You would have thought there would be an explanation for the chocolate bars that have suddenly appeared on the heads of the Klingons. Jean Luc calls the mid 21st Century the post atomic horror. Picard says that he hopes the Ferengi find Zorn as ‘tasty’ as they did their past associates. Were they being touted as cannibals at this point?

Orchestra: It feels like the conductor might have been suffering from epilepsy during the sequences where Q pursues the Enterprise because the band goes nuts! The piano score when Data walks with McCoy conjures up so many memories of original Star Trek in a wonderfully nostalgic way. As if the image of the two jellyfish joining tentacles wasn’t twee enough you’ve got an entire string quartet pouring on the syrup.

Result: In retrospect the Next Generation pilot story feels remarkably naïve and childish but at the time it was one of the most exciting things to hit our screens. With its thrilling sets, fantastic model work and state of the art special effects this was a glossy science fiction serial that was bound to keep the kids happy at dinnertime. Unfortunately there are a manifest of problems that held back the first two series of the show; the main cast are completely out of their depth and trying to convince in some sloppily written roles, the plotting is childishly uncomplicated and treats the audience like idiots, the tone of the piece is all over the place and the dialogue is largely banal. With characters as unconvincing as Deanna Troi, Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher the series clearly had a long way to go before it would prove its worth. Compared to the third or fourth series of TNG, Encounter at Farpoint is woefully embarrassing to watch. It might scrape a pass if you are ten or under but any older and you might feel more than a little patronised. Ultimately though this is the start of a legend and so deserves our indulgence (if perhaps not our respect): 3/10

The Naked Now written by Michael Bingham and directed by Paul Lynch

What’s it about: A virus that makes everybody pissed hits the Enterprise with catastrophic results…

To Baldly Go: Proof that even the most accomplished of actors have trouble trying to pretend that they are drunk. Did I say in the Encounter of Farpoint review that Picard and Dr Bev’s feelings for each other weren’t explored? I should have added a caveat that noted except when they were under the influence of a sex bug.

Number One: While everybody else is flirting, shagging and generally having a good time poor Riker is having to control his urges and save the ship.

Fully Functional: Unemotional Data displays a large number of emotions in this story from a look of shock at the demise of the Tsiokovksy’s crew, worry that he may have sounded like he was bragging, smirking at the Captain when he discovers the answers to the origins of the virus and a sexual urges with Tasha Yar. Hang on…Dr Soong programmed Data with a broad range of pleasuring techniques? Really? When did he think that would ever come in useful? Whilst the scene itself is eye opening, Data’s sexual encounter with Tasha does set up some touching development for the character when she dies later in the season. His pratfall on the Bridge made me laugh. Data gets the best scene in the episode with his isolinear chip magic trick.

Blind Engineer: Geordi longing to be able to see in human ways is quite a telling statement and I wonder how much of that was his real yearning and how much was the disease.

Alien Empath: Needless to say the improvements to Troi’s look are all positive from the more severe hair in a bun to her dark all in one uniform. Thank goodness because I don’t think I could have taken her seriously in that miniskirt and those leather boots. Rather than simply walking her to sickbay Riker picks her up and carries her there. I would have thought their romantic feelings would have been explored more in this sort of episode but there are far more important things going on like Wesley Crusher saving the day.

Security Chief: Just what Tasha needed to force her to unwind for a bit, a virus that makes you permanently intoxicated! It’s odd that the first place she heads is Troi’s quarters, holding hands with the counsellor and trying on her clothes. Hopefully this will be the only instance Tasha’s sexual exploits are blasted across the Bridge intercom. We learn that when she was five when she was abandoned but she learned how to avoid the rape gangs – wow where did that come from?

Boy Genius: Just as I was thinking making a mini tractor beam is a pretty nifty idea Wesley goes and ruins it by proving what a total swot he really is by piecing together various Picard intercom messages to make it sound like he is giving Wesley orders! Wesley suggests his mother is stunting his emotional growth that kind of suggests he has experienced some already which I doubt very much. Acting Captain Wesley Crusher? Are you kidding me? If this was DS9 he would have been chucked out of the nearest airlock when this was over.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Well hello Enterprise, I hope you have a lot of pretty boys on board because I’m willing and able!’ – once this show sorted itself out you just didn’t get dialogue like this anymore so we should enjoy it while we can.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Help me to not give in to the wild things in my mind!’ ‘Geordi my job is security!’ – I still don’t entirely understand this bizarre exchange.
‘Effective immediately I have handed control of this vessel to Acting Captain Wesley Crusher!’
‘Because you have lost the capacity for self-judgement. Now alcohol does this Wesley.’
‘I’m a woman, I haven’t had the comfort of a husband, a man!’ ‘Not now Doctor…please!’
‘It was an adult who did it!’
‘Did he say Wesley? The boy?’

The Good: The early scenes of the away team exploring the eerily quiet SS Tsiokovksy are rather atmospheric with some blood red lighting and a shocking shot of the bridge with the emergency hatch blown.

The Bad: ‘What we just heard is impossible’ says Data of an emergency hatch being blown. Unlikely maybe, but impossible? More frozen people – did they have a special offer on the snow effects machine? Surely the oddest request anyone has ever given Data is to look through all known records for an instance of somebody showering in their clothing! Its never actually specifically suggested that the virus promotes a sexual need, only intoxication so does that mean this is a sign that the repressive Starfleet chain of command actually disguises a crew of intergalactic horny devils? The scene of Picard explaining the dangers of alcoholism to Wesley on the Bridge is the last thing that this series needs – the tone is condescending and childish. Poor Worf is the only person that nobody seems to want to jump on – he must have a terrible complex! Imagine if that giant rock had smashed the Enterprise to smithereens, what an embarrassing way to go! The ending once again is patronisingly simple with everybody getting a quick jab and then off to our next destination with no consequences beyond ‘lets pretend it never happened…’

Result: Odd to have an episode where all the main cast act out of character before we have even had the chance to get to know them. This script would have been chucked in the bin a few years later and it’s a staggering knock to the shows reputation that they resort to an episode with a sex virus and Wesley Crusher taking control of the ship so early in the shows run – surely two of the most desperate plot devices imaginable. There are a few scant laughs along the way but The Naked Now is mostly made up of one cringe-inducing scene after another. We really aren’t seeing these characters at their best which is a shame because they have much to offer. As much as people want to praise Gene Roddenberry for his vision of TNG if the last two scripts are an example of how he saw the show I’m amazed it made it off the drawing board. Failing to be funny or sexy, The Naked Now is a dismal failiure and irritatingly DS9 also had a stab at this sort of episode and it was even worse: 3/10

Code of Honour written by Katharyn Powers & Michael Baron and directed by Russ Mayberry

What’s it about: Tasha Yar and that’s all you need to know to want to turn off.

To Baldly Go: Everything about Picard at this stage is so stiff (get a room guys, that was the last episode) and Patrick Stewart sounds oddly robotic in his voiceovers and displays none of his natural British charm. He barks at Wesley on the Bridge like Hitler and thinks that Tasha is a rather lovely woman. Proving he gets right as much as he gets it wrong.

Security Chief: Tasha seriously needs to calm down a bit - one of Lutan’s guards tries to give the vaccine to Picard and she beats the crap out of him! Imagine kidnapping somebody as melodramatic as Tasha Yar? I’d return her and ask for a refund. Her characterisation is truly horrendous; especially when Troi probes her mind to explore the sense of thrill she felt when Lutan claimed her as his own. This is how an enlightened emancipated 24th Century girl thinks when a man treats her as property? And when Yar has a hissy fit I just wanted to tape her mouth shut: ‘Troi you tricked me!’ Was Yar conceived as a deliberately flawed character? She wants to embarrass Lutan’s wife for having the audacity to challenge her! She suggests there is no physical training anywhere that matches Starfleet training which is clearly a crock of shit, I can think of a dozen races that would gobble Yar up, chew her up and spit her out. Data looks forlorn at the thought that Tasha might love Lutan which leads to another cringeworthy admission that she is attracted to him. No wonder Denise Crosby wanted out, this is painful material. What complications is Tasha talking about when rejecting Lutan at the climax?

Boy Genius: Wesley is in the turbolift again just to get a little glimpse of the Bridge – that kid needs to discover pornography. An hour with Quark would sort him out. When Crusher asks to talk to Picard about Wesley it is all he can do to stop himself spitting on the floor. Nog has to work his butt off to earn the right to step into Ops and take a station and Wesley, just like everybody on this damn show, gets it handed on a plate.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You can create people without a soul?’ is pretty much the punchline for every holodeck episode to come.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘This is my first woman!’
Apparently women are ‘highly pleasant things but unimportant.’
The weapons are ‘razor sharp and split second lethal!’

The Good: The staging for the fight is impressive, especially the long shot of the arena with the planetary background.

The Bad: Since I am not a fan of TOS I will place this observation in this category but everything about the arrival of Lutan screams of the Original Series. Tonally, visually and musically it is a tad over the top and camp. I don’t understand why the Federation has to kiss the butt of Lutan and his people when they have just handed over a sample. Would they really be held to a razors edge like this? Battle of the sexes so early in the series run? I seem to recall that Stargate had an episode not long after its pilot that handled similar, quietly insulting, themes. There is a completely random scene thrown in between Geordi and Data about jokes that is pointlessly out of place.

Orchestra: Every twist is punctuated by a ridiculously loud and dramatic sting that has the reverse effect of what it is trying to achieve - blunting the moments.

Result: The most Original Series episode TNG ever produced with its emphasis on a camp and faintly unbelievable alien culture and a dismal handling of sexism and race. There’s even a fake looking sky backdrop. In three episodes alone Tasha Yar takes her place as the least convincing regular character Star Trek has seen (yes that includes Neelix) and her dialogue in this episode is obscenely bad, so much so I was praying for her to trip and impale herself on her glove of poisoned spikes. With its cod Shakespearean dramatics, overacted guest stars (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson doesn’t so much as chew the scenery but devour it whole) and overdone musical stings this is another embarrassment to sit through. My standards must have been very low as a child because I cannot imagine any age group sitting through this entire episode today unless they were a Trek completist. Painful and dull and it’s not even the worst episode of the season. ‘Why aren’t we warping out of here?’ says Picard at the conclusion but I was thinking that for 45 long minutes: 1/10

The Last Outpost written by Herbert Wright and directed by Richard Colla

What’s it about: Chasing a Ferengi cruiser with stolen property, the Enterprise gets caught in a planetary atmosphere with its power draining…

Mr Wolf: ‘For battle come to me!’ cries Worf who in four stories hasn’t had one ounce of development or exploration. Its not until Tasha gets the boot that we really get a chance to get under his skin.

Blind Engineer: For some reason and for one episode only Geordi is behaving like a jiving MC Hammer engineer, jigging with his hands and spouting funky dialogue and exclaiming ‘oo-wee!’ when a plan comes together!

Security Chief: The sooner this psychotic woman is replaced the better. She suggests the (impractical and provocative) plan of blasting their way free. Having such a violent Security Officer is a liability.

Dancing Doctor: Any chance she gets she will try and murder her annoying pipsqueak of a son and when the Enterprise is drained of power she plans on sedating him. At least that’s how any sane person would interpret it. Its not the last time this season that somebody would want to give Wesley a little prick to send him to sleep. Everyone is quite loose with their feelings in the first season and Crusher strokes Picard’s face in the Bridge once power is restored (does anybody ever call him Jean without the Luc again?).

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Dammit critters!’ cries Worf when he is nibbled at by a Ferengi!
‘These crystalline tree shapes are actually energy collectors!’ – what is up with people on this show stating the bleeding obvious?

The Good: The holographic table in the conference room is pretty nifty but I can understand why they stuck to a screen in future seasons.

The Bad: ‘Immobilised by the damn Ferengi’ spits Worf vocalising my thoughts exactly. When you compare it to TNG’s next attempt to create a big bad in season two with the Borg, forcing the Enterprise to turn round and face the Ferengi is actually little more than a minor inconvenience. On the Enterprise scanner large enough for even the bloke standing at the back of the Bridge to see is a huge planet and a much smaller spaceship. Picard and his lackeys spend ten minutes trying to outthink the ship and it takes Troi (of all people) to suggest that perhaps the planet is responsible. It’s amazing that this ship made it out of Space dock. Picard surrenders to a Ferengi vessel which must be an embarrassing thing for him to think back upon. Why do the Ferengi sit so close to their cameras? The Damon’s face fills the entire screen in a jarring, visually unspectacular exchange. Its interesting to note that at the same sort of time Doctor Who was creating planets as visually arresting as Segonax, Lakertya and the Cheetah Planet and yet Star Trek with its larger budget instead opts for a hideously unconvincing studio backdrop. The precipice that Riker shouts out across isn’t even as realistic looking as a similar scene in The Daleks when the travellers discover the Dalek City and that was filmed in 1963. These Ferengi manage to overpower Worf! If only Quark knew about this he could have enjoyed winding him up for evermore. I remember an interview with Armin Shimerman when he apologised for his horrid performance in this episode and was determined to get it right when he was cast in Deep Space Nine and yet he gives the strongest performance of the three on the planet. It’s not great but its better than the squeaky voiced pair he’s lumbered with. A ghostly Godlike being again? There are plenty of those buggers about aren’t there? Riker tells the representative of the Tkon Empire that their time has gone and when he begs to differ he gets Data to read out the historical records – I would just say ‘Hello! I’m right here!’ Mordock does the oddest camp dance movements with his hands that reminded me of an extremely camp version of the Child Catcher. Riker quotes a little Sun Tzu and the episode is over? Did I miss something?

Moment To Watch Out For: Jonathan Frakes who demonstrates how a true action hero should fall when he is struck down by a Ferengi whip. Theatrical doesn’t cover it.

Myth Building: The Ferengi display the worst characteristics of human capitalists – let the buyer beware. Their portrayal in the episode leaves a lot to be desired and they don’t seem to work as either comedy stooges or villainous nasties. The sequence that sees them madly jumping on the backs of our heroes and trying to eat them is one of the most surreal moments in Star Trek. At least they get one thing right – these Ferengi find the idea of a clothed female going to work sickening. Whilst Riker tries to bang home the moral in the last scene the Ferengi are literally running around them doing the strangest of dance movements!

Result: Ladies and Gentleman may I introduce you to your new terrifying villains…the Ferengi! In another universe where the design and performances were different it might have worked but the truth is the scariest thing this bunch of pantomime trolls do is an odd disco dancing routine with their hands. If I was watching this series new I would have given up by now; this is another tragic failiure of an episode and there simply is no sign that the quality is ever going to improve. The whole episode works on the idea that the Enterprise is in desperate danger from this Godlike entity of the week and yet Riker manages to woo him with little more than a single line of Chinese philosophy! Add to that one of the least convincing planetary backdrops and a general lack of atmosphere and intelligent dialogue, TNG’s first season continues to lack any conviction. The episode even ends on an inevitable and unfunny gag: 2/10

Where No One has Gone Before written by Diane Duane & Michael Reaves and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Breaking through the warp barrier the Enterprise winds up a billion light years from their galaxy…

To Baldy Go: Picard stepping out from the turbolift into space is a great shock moment. If everybody is seeing what they most desire it is telling that Picard gets to sit and have tea with his mother. It takes the Traveller to convince Picard that Wesley might amount to something worthwhile which I guess means we will be seeing more of this parental relationship in the future.

Boy Genius: Astonishing that when he is underwritten how tolerable Wesley can be and how subtle a performer Wil Wheaton proves. This episode goes some way to rectifying the mistakes of the opening handful of episodes but it is all for nought – he’s back acting like an irritating swot again in just a few episodes time. When Riker refuses to listen him I would have slapped the Commander around the face for being so rude. Thank goodness Wesley finally corrects Picard and Riker for constantly calling him ‘the boy’, it is unbelievably demeaning. The Traveller suggests that Wesley will be a genius similar to Mozart but in the fields of time, energy and propulsion. Amazing to think that this plot thread would be followed up in seven years time.

Security Chief: Everything about Tasha’s past should work and when we catch a glimpse of her scarred and filthy and hiding from the rape gangs it is a potent image. But then Denise Crosby opens her mouth and lets out some rubbish dialogue and the illusion is shattered.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Thought is the basis of all reality.’
‘What wonderful arrogance. There is no record because we have not visited you before’ – the Traveller manages to puncture humanity’s overconfidence in the 24th Century better than Q did throughout Encounter at Farpoint with just one gentle line of dialogue.
‘Captains Log: any time entry is meaningless!’ – great line.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘You’re telling me it’s a kitty cat?’ – are we nearly at the Armus slaughters Tasha episode yet?
‘I feel an abundance of well-being on the ship’ – oh shut up Troi.

The Good: Lovely to have somebody as arrogant, overbearing and sure of himself as Kosinski to rock the boat a bit on the lets-hug-and-make-up Enterprise. He might not be remotely likable but it’s nice to see somebody displaying a bit of assholeness. The set piece of the Enterprise smashing through warp ten with the warp core having a heart attack and the ship punching into another region of space encapsulates this shows mission to explore strange new places better than anything else we have seen so far. I laughed out loud at Data’s information that any message they send back to Starfleet would take 51 years to reach them! The idea that space and time and thought aren’t as separate as we perceive them to be is an extraordinary concept, one that would be touched on again in DS9 with the Founders. For once an episode is entirely unpredictable, we have no idea what is going on or where we are heading and that is a lovely feeling. A billion light years from their usual galaxy! You can’t fault the ambition of the writers! It’s nice to see some of the fantasies of the other crewmembers rather than just the main cast – the two who are being chased by nothing, the man who joins in a Mozart concerto and the ensign ballet dancing in the cargo bay are great little insights into characters we have never met before.

The Bad: Actually on reflection it doesn’t take long before I wanted to toss Kosinski out of a cargo bay door such is his unbelievable hubris. What the hell - a male officer walks into shot wearing a dress! Is cross-dressing a staple of the 24th Century? Mind you there is a general sense of fashion victimism on the Enterprise. Basically they get home by arranging a huge love in for the Traveller. It’s a shame to get back to the schmaltz after an episode of such dazzling creation.

Moment To Watch Out For: A genuinely fun moment when Picard has some pleasure in wangling a rank for Wesley so he can come on the Bridge and sit at a command post.

Myth Building: Only 11% of our galaxy has been charted. Often mentioned but never seen accept in this episode, a Klingon Targ makes its debut! Only now does humanity merit some attention by the Traveller’s people, before they have always been too uninteresting.

Result: I am thrilled to be able to say something nice about a TNG episode and Where No One Has Gone Before is so vastly superior to the last four episodes it doesn’t even warrant comparison. It has just the right mixture of imagination (with the Traveller offering us a unique glimpse into our future) and character building (especially for Picard and Wesley) and Rob Bowman’s stylish direction holds the whole piece together with some beautiful imagery. It’s a shame that the final act devolves into some overdone syrup but at least it does end on some development for a character (even if it is ‘the boy’). This episode really reinforces the sense of wonder exploring the galaxy can afford and with the invention of the Traveller and his people there is some hope that not every alien will be a racial stereotype or capitalist troll. I really enjoyed this on the whole and it just goes to show how well TNG can play out when the writers reign in the melodrama and offer flourishes of imagination: 8/10

Lonely Among Us written by D.C Fontana and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: A lost entity takes possession of Picard's mind…

To Baldly Go: Clearly Picard didn’t think too much of Mr Singh because 30 seconds after his death he is delighted to hear that the Enterprise can warp off again. I’m glad he isn’t my boss! Love Picard putting his feet up on his desk when he is taken over, he could do with letting go a bit more often when he regains control. Patrick Stewart is awesome as he walks around the Bridge explaining away the plot of the story, his background in theatre has ensured that he is at his best when able to play a scene to a crowd.

Alien Empath: Not content with probing people’s minds without their say so now Deanna is performing hypnosis on the crew. Nosy mare. 

Fully Functional: Whilst it is quite fun to see Data puffing on a pipe, it really isn’t appropriate to be arsing around during a murder investigation. Once again Data is showing more emotion than some the crew – especially his cute ‘my dear Riker, sir…’ Riker lets him get away with his Sherlock Holmes pastiche but at least Picard slaps his wrist.

Boy Genius: Its great to be able to see Beverley and Wesley in their quarters together behaving like a vaguely normal family. Why hasn’t Wesley been given a uniform to perform his duties on the Bridge? To see him lounging on that leather chair in a jumper makes this ship look as if its some kind of holiday cruise for kids.

Dancing Doctor: It’s the strangest of phenomena. Once Dr Bev is taken over by the entity she behaves in a vacant, zombie like fashion that is exactly how Gates McFadden usually plays the character. I can’t wait until Pulaski comes along to shake this crew up a bit.

The Good: The snakelike Selay are beautifully made creatures and by far the best we have seen yet in the series and it is a shame that they never returned. As these things go that’s not a bad teaser with Worf attacked by a sudden shock of blue lightning. I’ve certainly seen far worse. I love the idea of these two political factions having their own little hunt on the Enterprise. It’s a shame that the episode wasn’t giving over to that far more entertaining subplot. Poor O’Brien is stuck between the two bitter enemies when they come face to face in a corridor! I was cheering with joy when the Picard controlled creature shot electricity and incapacitated the whole crew! It’s a striking visual and its nice to see characters as useless as Troi, Tasha and Beverley (oh gosh that sounds so sexist but they really are the worst characters on this show!) being tortured!

The Bad: What is wrong with these Starfleet Captains? If you encounter a mysterious cloud or anomaly…go around it! How many engineers are there on the Enterprise? In the last episode it was a bearded Scot called Argyle and now it’s an Indian called Singh! In comparison to the Selay the Antikan’s look vaguely ridiculous with giant furry gloves and puppet like mouths. It all gets a bit ridiculous when Picard decides to beam out into space and become one with the energy cloud and then roams around in the Enterprise circuitry but compared to some of the things we have already seen this year it is practically mundane. Obviously the Selay/Antikan conflict is just supposed to be background colour because we don’t find out why they are fighting or how the peace negations work out. Riker demands that Tasha stops reporting of a missing delegate and a puddle of blood found to say hello to Captain Picard? How relaxed are they on this ship?

Moment To Watch Out For: Mr Singh’s incredible death scene where he is struck by the lightning entity, judders about and throws himself about half a mile across Engineering before hanging over the edge of the warp core. You don’t get death stunts like that any more.

Orchestra: For the most part the music in this episode is subtle and spooky which is something of a minor miracle in the loud and proud first season.

Result: Considering it has two underdeveloped and largely unintelligible plotlines, Lonely Among Us isn’t that bad. We have already had a story where a virus passing from one character to another and ultimately we learn nothing about this entity and so there seems little point in this exercise aside from giving the regulars the chance to act out of character (again). On the plus side the majority of the crew are a knats whisker away from looking comfortable in their parts now and Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner in particular have settled down considerably since the pilot. What really helps is Cliff Bole’s strong direction and a halfway creepy musical score both of which create more atmosphere than the story deserves. It’s not going to win any awards for innovation but this is an undemanding, fairly entertaining bit of nonsense: 6/10

Justice written by Wesley Thorne and directed by James L. Conway

What’s it about: A planet of sex and how they execute you for falling in flowers. No seriously.

To Baldly Go: Does Picard really care for Wesley as if he was his own son?

Number One: Of course Riker wants to spend more time on the Edo World. It’s the only place where the populace are as sex obsessed as he is! It’s interesting to note that Riker is the least explored regular character at this point (aside from Worf) with very little revealed about his background or his character.

Boy Genius: Picard suggests he is sending Wesley down to the planet to evaluate whether it is suitable for young people but I think he’s using him in the same way they used to send canaries down mine shafts to see if they were safe. Surely if there is anybody who needs to ‘play at love’ its Wesley. He should have taken this opportunity to become a man but chickens out and decides to play throw and catch instead. How square. Jake Sisko would have been in there like a shot and it certainly wouldn’t be to play ball.

Dancing Doctor: Gates McFadden gets to show off her acting ability when the Edo sentence Wesley to death and proves that she really doesn’t have any. Has a mother ever looked so robotically concerned over their child? I thought she had been hypnotised by that plasma cloud again when she was stressing her worries to Picard. ‘The Edo want to execute my son…I will not allow that to happen Jean-Luc!’ and ‘Shut up!’ must go  down happily in my list of most cringeworthy Star Trek acting moments.

Security Chief: The woman is a liability! She mentions that she has listed all their laws and customs and yet she fails to mention that if you fall into some plants you will be executed. ‘It’s a kind of syringe’ Tasha informs Riker. No shit Sherlock, I can see why they made you the security chief. I know I’m being especially churlish here but they make too easy for me.
Mr Wolf: Earth females are too fragile for Worf and he has to restrain himself. Grrr…

Alien Empath: Troi’s strongest ability seems to be to state the bleeding obvious. ‘I sense healthy sensuality, sir’ she says after she has been groped by one of the Edo. Nice going, Deanna. Picard decides to beam the Edo woman back down to the planet once God approaches to attack and Troi offers ‘yes do that but hurry!’ Why do all these characters say such stupid things?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nice planet.’ Worf is as succinct as ever.
‘Sharing an orbit with God is no small experience.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘And I welcome this huge one!’ – one of the most eye watering double entendres in the Trek canon!
‘I’m with Starfleet, we don’t lie!’ – don’t you just want to punch him?
‘What of justice to Wesley? Does he deserve to die?’ – there’s an open ended question if ever there was one.

The Good: Is this the planet that would become Risa? They say hello by grabbing your chest and nibbling on your necks! At least its novel. Some part of me finds the Edo planet of erotic mime, oiled up men and women and prancing about with all their bits on display painfully embarrassing and another part of me wants you to drop me off there for a day or two. Actual location work! I am genuinely impressed that TNG has made it outside at last and these are some of the most beautiful gardens you will see on television (much like DS9’s Meridian it would seem that some of the daftest Star Trek episodes are treated to the most pleasant location work).

The Bad: Another Godlike entity? Really? How many of these babies are there out in the universe? The Edo chick doesn’t know how to play ball? Like throw and catch? How daft are they on this world? Riker asks Troi to help him locate Wesley because he has wandered off…erm nope you sent him on his way. How can any planet function like the Edo world with a different section of the planet secretly declared as the punishment zone and if you happen to accidentally infringe any law you are executed. Once the tone of the episode goes from one of frivolity to that of a courtroom drama to suddenly have half naked people hanging around just looks stupid. Everybody calls Wesley ‘the boy’, ‘the Crusher boy’ or even ‘the Wesley boy’ – poor Wil Wheaton is constantly demeaned in a way that Cirroc Lofton never was. I have heard praise for the Edo God effect in the past but I feel that it looks too insubstantial and mundane to be anything worth flattering. Any episode that ends with a dreadful Picard speech about the Prime Directive is open for mockery and the ‘I was hoping we could learn something more about it but since we can’t lets skip off to our next destination’ exposes one of the majors problems with this series. There simply isn’t any time to explore anything sufficiently or in any great depth before we have to rush off to the next adventure.

Moment To Watch Out For: Scenes of people literally romping on top of each other in their underwear. Eye opening stuff.

Myth Building: Is the Edo Planet filmed in the same place they use for Starfleet HQ?

Orchestra: I cannot believe they got the violins out when Picard tells Beverley that he will not allow them to kill her son – this episode is going for every cliché in the book!

Result: On the one hand Justice presents one of the horniest planets of all time but on the other it has been so badly thought through I’m surprised everybody takes it as seriously as they do. The will Wesley die dilemma is squandered by the fact that the audience really doesn’t give a damn and his crime is so dippy it worries me that an episode could be structured around it. Lets be honest if it wasn’t for the Edo God laying down some serious threats Picard would beam Wesley off the planet and send  a ‘ner ner ne ner ner’ Federation message to the Edo as they are warping their asses out of there. Some of the all-time most idiotic dialogue takes place in this episode and as a result we are subjected to some pretty dodgy performances too (stand up Gates McFadden). They would have another stab at this exact story in series three’s Who Watches the Watchers and that episode is as successful as this episode is a failiure: 4/10

The Battle written by Herbert Wright and the directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Face to face with his old ship, Picard starts to question his involvement in a past battle…

To Baldly Go: Having Bok use Picard’s old ship against him and for it to haunt him so much adds a lot of depth to his character. He describes visiting the Stargazer as returning to an family home but there is nobody there except phantoms of the past. Riker refuses to believe that the holier than thou Picard would deliberately fire and frankly so do I which means the tension surrounding his potentially criminal act is dissipated as soon as suggested.  Picard should answer his door chimes with ‘yes who the hell is it?’ all the time since its usually somebody fairly annoying like Troi. Its nice to see the usually solid Picard so shaken up by his painful recollections on the Stargazer, it makes him a far more likable character than usual. So far this season we have had Picard surrender the ship twice, turn drunk and horny over Beverley, resign his commission and try and beam into an energy cloud and now influence himself with thoughts from the past. Would the real Jean-Luc Picard please stand up?

Dancing Doctor: Crusher is the one person on the ship who can give Picard an order and she loves it. Even Picard notes that Crusher likes getting her own way. He’s got a shock coming when Pulaski takes up residence in sickbay.

Boy Genius: Wesley has finally been given a uniform to wear on the Bridge and it’s a horrid grey tunic with rainbow colours! I take it all back…get him back in the jumpers! Wesley almost gets a good scene where he trumps both his mother and Troi (admittedly not a hard task) but the scene ends with him looking smug and saying ‘adults!’ which makes you want to punch him again.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘As you humans say “I’m all ears”.’

The Good: Whilst the Ferengi still act a little like children with learning difficulties it is great fun to see them salivating over Data as an exploitable product. The Stargazer is cramped and dark, just how I like my Starships to be and it’s a shame that it wasn’t this ship that helmed the series. Its far more atmospheric than the floating fun palace we got. The editing when Picard has a nightmare about the battle of Maxia in his quarters is superb. Sequences of the Stargazer’s Bridge overlaid onto Picard’s quarters makes for a tense and ghostly nightmare with phantom flames and personnel screaming at him. Its nice to see that Bok has an understandable reason for wanting to exact revenge on Picard - the death of his son. The Ferengi transporter beams are wonderful spirals that surround the person beaming away – far more fun than the sparkly magical Starfleet version.

The Bad: Crusher saying that she doesn’t often encounter headaches is another of those irritating little moments of ‘this is the future and we’re better than that’ moments that crop in season one. Characters on DS9 and VOY get headaches all the time so I’m guessing this is where the epidemic began. Crusher talks of ‘medical fakery’ when actually all she has given him is the equivalent of Paracetamol. Apparently Deanna can sense considerable deception on Bok’s part despite the fact that a Betazoid cannot read a Ferengi mind. You need to keep an eye on your own continuity people because Trek aficionados are the most relentlessly anal examples of fans in the universe! I do worry about a crew that cannot put two and two together and figure that Picard’s headaches might have something to do with his old ship returning to haunt him. It seems to me that the Federation’s idea of peace in the galaxy does not stretch to the Ferengi who they happily insult at every chance they get (Riker is especially racist in this episode). The Ferengi pointing the finger at Picard with an audio recording doesn’t wash because we saw in the Naked Now how easy it is to fake a pieced together recording of the Captain’s voice. Beverley walks into the Ready Room and calls Riker ‘Number One’ and I can’t tell you how many shades of wrong that is.

Moment To Watch Out For: The episode gears up to an exciting conclusion where Picard has to re-enact the events aboard the Stargazer but this time against the Enterprise and it is an unusually intelligent climax for this season.

Myth Building: The Picard Manoeuvre is drop out of high warp, stop right on the enemies bow and fire with everything you have! Shame we never see or hear of this again since it sounds like a great move.

Orchestra: The musician has a major heart attack as Picard destroys the sphere at the climax.

Result: Rob Bowman’s direction of this episode is striking with some dramatic close ups, tilted angles, slow motion stunts and a number of atmospheric long shots as we delve into Picard’s tortured mind. In the first two years of TNG he was without a doubt the strongest director the show had, reining in its camp excesses and providing some memorable set pieces. When The Battle is focussing on Picard it is excellent offering a rare glimpse into his past and it is only when we return to any scene featuring his trained monkeys of a crew that things disappoint. There is a strong dramatic backbone to this episode that has been lacking in the series thus far with an excellent reason for the revenge plot and for Picard to doubt his version of events. Even the usual ‘lets skip out of here now we’ve driven the moral home’ ending is a little more subtle then usual with Picard turning his back on his past because he might not like what he sees. The Battle is flawed but its far more worthy than many other episodes this season: 7/10

Hide & Q written by C.J Holland and Gene Roddenberry and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Q’s back and he has a special gift for Commander Riker…

To Baldly Go: In a great scene with John de Lancie Patrick Stewart gets to show off his Shakespearean roots to drive home Picard’s strength of conviction about humanity.

Number One: Could Riker possibly puff his chest out any further in the early scenes? He considers being compared to Picard a compliment, the poor deluded fool. Riker is such an unbelievable twat after he returns everybody to the ship – look at him standing there all proud and arrogant and holier than thou! Suddenly he starts behaving like a conceited, egotistical buffoon calling Picard by his first name, demanding a meeting of the Bridge crew and walking away from the Captain whilst he is talking to him. I don’t think I have ever seen anybody corrupted by power this quickly. Even the wishes Riker grants are ridiculous – he steals ten years of Wesley’s life and turns him into a beefcake, has a sexually rampant Klingon woman ravaging Worf, in the workplace, fixes Geordi’s eyesight and threatens to turn Data into a human.

Security Chief: Tasha is on the verge of death and I’ve never felt so happy! This episode features my all time number one favourite moment of naffness in all of Star Trek – the hideously scripted and performed ‘penalty box’ sequence on the Bridge. Tasha starts blubbing and flirting outrageously with Picard as he tells her there is a new directive… it is okay to cry in the penalty box’ Its laugh out loud dreadful and merely strengthens my opinion that Tasha was woefully misconceived from the start.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your species is always suffering and dying…’ – can’t Q join the crew for a season please? His is a welcome touch of realism.
‘Macro head with a micro brain!’ – yeah that sums up Worf all right!

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Oh if you weren’t a Captain…’
‘Incredible Worf! You came out of nowhere!’ – not really, he just ran out from behind a rock.
‘Worf is this your idea of sex?’ ‘This is sex but I have no place for it in my life now!’
‘How did you know sir? I feel like such an idiot.’

The Good: Any episode that begins with the line ‘having dropped off counsellor Troi…’ and then doesn’t feature her at all is kicking things off on a very positive note! Q suggests that in the future there might come a time when humanity progresses beyond even them which gives him a solid reason for wanting to study Riker.

The Bad: Tasha and Worf both leap over the back station in a melodramatic flair to pull out their weapons. I’d keep my eye on this one Tasha, chances are he’s after your job! Once again I am forced to stop and consider the atmospheric planets that Doctor Who was offering at this time on a fraction of the budget and the best this show can conjure up is a few polystyrene rocks and a false green lit backdrop. It’s cheap and nasty…I don’t recall even the Original Series looking this fake. Q declares that the human race has neither strength nor intelligence so I fail to see what drew them to humanity and what maintains their interest. How dare they have an episode centred around a game of ‘whoever survives, wins’ and not include Beverley or Troi? At least then I would have had some reason to watch! Oh wait…there’s Wesley! Suddenly the purpose behind the Enterprise travelling to on a rescue mission becomes painfully obvious as the writers shamelessly exploit the death of a cute little girl to tug at our sympathies.

Moment to Watch Out For: I did have to pause the DVD for a second to bask in the glory of Wesley with the bloody spike poking through his chest. Life is worth living for moments like that.

Teaser-tastic: The return of Q brings back uncomfortable memories of Encounter at Farpoint but the return of John de Lancie tickles my fancies.

Orchestra: A jolly marching band plays over the scenes of the pig soldiers advancing in French Napoleonic uniforms.

Myth Building: ‘Explains something of why you defeated them’ says Q of the Federation’s apparent domination over the Klingons.

Result: Rarely have I encountered an episode that is as inconsistent as this one. Q takes the piss out of humanity – yay! Fake studio planet – feck! Wesley is skewered – hurrah! Tasha starts blubbing – boo hiss! This is no kind of exploration of the human factor because it centres on a character as ridiculous as Commander Riker who is corrupted with little more than a wave of the hand. The second half the episode dive bombs and never recovers with the Commander so outrageously out of character and indulging in an appalling ‘grant your wishes’ scene that defies description. The ending is even more pathetic with the usual pithy one liner from Picard wrapping up everything in an unsatisfactory way and no mention of any punishment for Riker’s behaviour in the slightest. This series is a joke and as somebody mentioned recently if this is the best Gene Roddenberry could come up with its no wonder he become a mere figurehead in the next season: 2/10

Haven written by Tracey Torme & Lan O’Kun and directed by Richard Compton

What’s it about: Deanna is being wedded off by her mother…

To Baldly Go: Bless him, Picard is completely dominated by Mrs Troi’s personality and her amorous affections towards him have him cowering away from her like a frightened puppy! It’s a bold new take on his character and very welcome. Trust Picard to declare all disagreements dissolved just when we were starting to have some sitcom style fun on the Enterprise.

Number One: Riker is barely holding himself together at the thought of Deanna marrying somebody else – it’s all a bit Mills & Boon but at least it shows there is more to his character than just an upstanding Starfleet officer. No wonder it took him seven seasons and a handful of films to bed Deanna – what he wants most is to Captain a Starship!

Alien Empath: Troi thought she would never be bonded by forced marriage because she ran away on the Enterprise as far away from Betazoid as possible. Its almost insanely pleasurable to watch Troi’s mother embarrass her senseless during her visit – some part of me longs for her to be a regular but then I’m sure she would be humanised within a week.

Mrs Troi: Hurrah for Lwaxana for turning up and showing these Federation dullards how to have a good time. She emasculates Picard immediately by getting him to carry her luggage. Her previous valet was far too attracted to her (his thoughts were practically pornographic!) and so now she travels only with (the fabulously silent and lurking) Mr Holm! Her honesty is persistent and unrelenting and very refreshing. Mrs Troi kicks ass in the reception scenes by being both loud, racist and thoroughly insulting to everybody. Everything she does is designed to make her presence known and upset everybody else – her creeping foliage is a delight! She thinks the whole world and her dog finds her desirable and even suggests that the grooms father is looking forward to seeing her naked at the Betazoid wedding. Majel Barrett is perfect for this part and she shows a degree of charisma that the rest of this cast can only dream of. Mrs Troi just could not resist one more parting shot at Picard before she departs (‘Even Zeeno never had such thoughts about me!’). Mrs Troi is the sort of character you will either love or hate and I definitely fall into the former camp.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your Captain is highly attracted to me but he’s too old!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘It’s the woman in Wyatt’s drawings!’ – stating the bleeding obvious has become Troi’s role on the show.
‘How could you allow this to happen! My son surrounded by those horrible lepers!’

The Good: Wyatt is gorgeous in a way that only eighties heroes with swept back romantic hair can be, far better looking than the granite rugged Riker! Beverley Crusher puts her hair up for the reception and she looks so much prettier. Thank goodness we were denied the sight of Picard naked at the wedding.

The Bad: Haven is a world renowned for its mystical healing powers…come on Picard you just know its going to be trouble. The tacky romance angle this episode takes is typical TNG syrup with a dash of predictability – Wyatt having visions of a beautiful blonde all his life tells you everything you need to know about the conclusion. Just when you thought she couldn’t get any worse Tasha Yar looks like a poster child for eighties lesbianism with her hair gelled up at the reception. Not only another horrid studio bound planet set…it’s the same one from Hide & Q with a different coloured sky!

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard struggling with the luggage to the amusement of the crew…nice to see Patrick Stewart allowing Jean Luc to look like a fool. He seems (almost) human in this scene.

Teaser-tastic: I don’t know what I was expected from the silver box they beamed aboard the ship but a face that comes to life and starts laughing and declaring marriages was not even on the list! Its great fun and just about everything you need to know about Lwaxana Troi; loud, attention grabbing and unsubtle.

Orchestra: It’s a romance episode so of course the dreary violins get another airing during the sloppier moments.

Result: A romance between Rick Astley and Bonnie Tyler with Deanna Troi as piggy in the middle. The Next Generation would have much better stabs at sitcom in the future but this is a reasonable first attempt and in introducing Lwaxana we finally get the outrageous comedy this show desperately needs to let its hair down. Whenever Haven concentrates on Troi and Wyatt and their doomed romance it is like wading through sickly treacle but all of Lwaxana’s moments are hysterically funny and make the episode worth a look. I would rather watch something as daft as this than insulting episodes like Code of Honour and Hide & Q. At least Troi can claim the consolation prize – Commander Riker: 5/10

The Big Goodbye written by Tracey Torme and directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

What’s it about: A computer malfunction traps Picard, Data, and Beverly in a 1940s gangster holodeck program

To Baldly Go: Oddly Picard spells knife with an ‘n’ which I don’t buy because I refuse to believe that someone as stuffy as Jean Luc didn’t ace his grammar classes! Also to hear Patrick Stewart using an Americanised ‘zee’ is obscene! His secretary asks him if he lost a bet and its only when placed in a regular setting such as this one that you realise all Starfleet officers go around looking like they are in their pyjamas. Picard has needed to let his hair down for a long time and whilst it takes some time for him to settle down inside the programme (all this ‘very good, I’ve read about all this before!’) he really gets into the swing of things. His parting ‘Mr LaForge…step on it’ was a lovely finishing touch.

Dancing Doctor: There’s no two ways about it but when Beverley walks into the programme and nearly trips down some stairs in her high heels she has never looked more gorgeous and felt more appealing as a character. Amazing how likable she can be when they stop focusing on her idiot son or her desperate need to cure the universe. Her ‘why should he have all the fun?’ is delightfully funny.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When I looked down at the street I actually saw…automobiles!’
‘Good manners ma’am are never a waste of time.’
‘But I so much want to kill her…’ – Leech on Beverley!

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Its no use! Its just not fair!’ – get used to it Bev, those holodecks are going to be causing you troubles for seven long years!

The Good: To see the characters suited up for the period is marvellous and there is an astonishing sequence that sees Picard, Data and Whalen walk from the ship onto a 1950’s street that captures the magic of the holodeck better than any other example I can remember. Of all the episodes to be allotted actual location work this is the one that could probably have gotten away with being filmed in a studio but it does give the episode an authentic period feel. When Redblock suggests killing one of them I was screaming ‘Beverley! Beverley!’ at the TV! Whalen’s wound is genuinely very bloody and nasty. The cut from Dixon’s office to a snowy landscape is effortlessly achieved (although you can just about see from the direction of the snow where the snow machine is working overtime just off camera!). Data getting permission for a parting punch is very cute. They should have ended the story on the sequence where the holodeck doors close and we are left to ponder on whether that world still exists.

The Bad: Its very TNG to take something that the Original Series did so naturally (place the weirdest things like Nazis and hippies in the future) and give it a technological reason for happening like the holodeck or because of the power of the Q. This show is far too stuffy to just let these insane things take place simply because. Internal continuity is shot to hell this season as when you leave the holodeck you can bring things like water and lipstick with you…these things are not confined to the hologrid, which surely suggests that anything can walk off the holodeck onto the ship? I understand that the show is trying out new things but they make the holodeck sound like it is a brand new device which we learn in future episodes is far from the case and Picard enthuses to his entire senior staff (it just goes to show that not a lot goes on aboard the Enterprise that he would call a meeting just to enthuse about how great his leisure time is). Beverley says ‘it almost sounds like its real!’ as if she has never been on the holodeck either! Geordi uses the phrase ‘indubitably’ and Data looks confused when he studied the works of Sherlock Holmes a few episodes earlier – the internal continuity on this series really is appalling. The subplot about the squeaky voiced aliens who demand that you speak to them in their own tongue or consider it a great insult would be irritating even if it weren’t distracting from the far more fun Dixon Hill sequences. It’s another oddly childish bit of storytelling that wouldn’t have had a hope in later seasons. Why does nobody say no to Wesley? Everybody bends over backwards for this kid and he has done nothing to deserve the opportunities he has been given. I feel as if I have pulled apart what was supposed to be a bit of fun to the nth degree…but surely Data could outmanoeuvre and disarm all of the goons and take the bullet for the rest of them. In future episodes nothing can leave the holodeck, least of all people even for a second (the episode Ship in a Bottle is built around the premise).

Moment to Watch Out For: Beverley Crusher’s best scene of the entire season when she hops up on Hill’s desk and shows off a bit of leg whilst clapping enthusiastically as Whalen gets shot!

Orchestra: Unlike other period pieces the music is pretty unmemorable. Compare to DS9’s Far Beyond the Stars where the music is instinctively part of the production and atmosphere. 

Result: With a subplot that belongs on a kids TV show and lacking an engaging narrative within the Dixon Hill programme, The Big Goodbye is not one of the stronger holodeck episodes. However at this stage in TNG’s development I will happily take the show letting its hair down and providing some fun period atmosphere over the wealth of terrible morality episodes I’ve had to endure. Whilst not especially intelligent the Dixon Hill sequences are full of cute touches and it is wonderful to see characters like Picard and Beverley Crusher having some fun for a change rather than walking around as though they have a stick up their asses. Its the second time this year that Wesley Crusher has saved the day! With Lawrence Tierney and Harvey Jason you have some wonderful actors bringing the guest parts to life and the end result is enjoyable to watch especially the last scene with Patrick Stewart looking extremely dapper in a suit on the Bridge and making a completely arse out of himself: 7/10

Datalore written by Robert Lewin and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Data visit the planet in which he was constructed and discovers he is not alone…

To Baldly Go: Picard telling his senior officers to stop sounding apologetic asking questions about Lore being a machine (and thus uncomfortably reminding the crew that Data is too) and suggesting that human beings are merely electro chemical machines is probably my favourite scene of his so far. He’s authoritative without being theatrical and moralistic without lecturing. If only the balance was this right all the time. Even Picard seems uncomfortable being reminded that Data is superior in many ways. A round of applause as Picard throws Beverley and her irritating son off the Bridge!

Fully Functional: Brent Spiner’s performance as Data is something that is pretty easy to take for granted because he is the most consistent actor on the show. He takes a character that could so easily be a cut price Spock and makes it gives a unique childlike edge of its own. Once Spiner is left off the leash as Lore it is astonishing to realise just how restrained his performance as Data is. The twitch is an unnerving touch that just feels wrong coming from a machine. Data’s attempts to sneeze are really lovable and drives home the point of him reaching for human imperfection. He is quite deficient in basic human information because whilst his brain contains the knowledge of 411 people it lacks their experiences. The colonist’s fear of being discovered led to their knowledge being stored in Data. Datalore shows that it might not be such a good idea for Data to want to become more human; Lore has all of Data’s strength and computing ability but coupled with a schizophrenic human mind it makes for a terrifying combination. Where Lore is imbued with human flaws he thinks himself superior, Data lacks those emotions but thinks in human terms. Highlighting these two characters is an absorbing experience.

Security Chief: Something is going very wrong indeed when even Tasha Yar seems to be making sense and her question about whether they can trust Data is very legitimate. The shocked reactions of the crew show just how naïve this bunch are.

Boy Genius: A shame that Wesley should be so prevalent in this episode because it is his scenes that drag it down from near perfection. Contrasting Wil Wheaton’s wooden performance with Brent Spiner’s dark and schizoid one shows two actors that are worlds apart in sophistication. I was really hoping Lore would do something dreadful to him when Wesley almost blows his cover but alas the punishment was saved for his mother (almost as good). Obviously Wesley is the only one who can see through Lore’s deception but cannot convince these silly adults to listen to him!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘And may we also toast Dr Noonian Soong who gave me the full richness of human needs and ambitions. A perfect much for my mind and my body.’
‘And you want to be as stupid as them, dear brother?’
Picard: ‘Shut up Wesley!’ Beverley: ‘Shut up Wesley?’ Picard: ‘Doctor…’ Wesley: ‘And since I am finished here may I point out…’ Beverley: ‘Shut up Wesley!’
‘You make me wish I were an only child.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘You will find that there are many rules on Starships that must be learnt’ – how stiff does Wil Wheaton sound saying that line. To be fair it would be a challenge to the most experienced actor.

The Good: You’ve got to love a cave wall that swings back to reveal an underground base. It’s fascinating to see the place where Data was constructed and the sets are spacious and eerily lit with some unsettling direction from Rob Bowman that stresses a sense of wrongness. By showing us Lore being assembled the episode drives home that Data is an automaton (something I often forget when wrapped up in stories). The revelation that Lore drew the Crystalline Entity to the colonists is predictable but as a last minute gesture of desperation when he thought he would die it shows what this psychopathic android is capable of.

The Bad: It’s the same studio planet from Hide & Q and Haven with a different colour sky again. Go and read the review of this episode on the Wil Wheaton website where he calls this one of the worst episodes of the first season – I’m always of the ‘to each his own’ opinion when it comes to reviewing but in this case…seriously? After all the build up the conclusion is a typically brisk TNG wrap up – Lore is beamed into space (actually that’s rather a good moment) and the Crystalline Entity just buggers off and we close with a throwaway line from Riker. Groan.

Moment to Watch Out For: Lore kicking his brothers head in and then attacking Worf in the turbolift. He is positively terrifying. Then he shoots Beverley Crusher! Why is it the villains on these ship bound Trek shows are more likable than the heroes?

Myth Building: Dr Soong promised to make Asimov’s dream of a positronic brain to come true and when he failed he disappeared. Data was designed to be a more comfortable, less perfect version of Lore who made them feel uneasy with his human characteristics. Dr Crusher is shown how to switch Data on and off in this story and it would be used in quite a few episodes to come. The Crystalline Entity, a creature capable of stripping the life from a planet, makes its first appearance.

Orchestra: While for the most part the music in the first couple of series of TNG is far too loud and melodramatic for its own good it is at least always distinctive. As the series progressed the music seemed to get more timid until it is utterly forgettable in the last few years. So while I am complaining about drippy violins being played over scenes of romance it is worth reminding myself that I am at least making a note of the music. Datalore features (along with Conspiracy) the best score of the season, its wonderfully creepy for the most and absolutely terrifying when it counts.

Result: Without a doubt the best episode of TNG to date, Datalore is the first episode that feels like it could only have come purely from the revival and not involved Kirk, Bones and Spock. Rob Bowman’s direction is once again superb and he ensures that every scene is imbued with a tense atmosphere and coupled with Brent Spiner’s astonishing dual performance you have an episode that continually impresses and frightens. It’s a shame to be subjected to more Wesley Crusher shenanigans but at least we can cheer as he is told to shut up and then gets kicked off the Bridge! Datalore is still a little rough around the edges like all of the first season episodes but for trying something darker and succeeding and for further exploration and development of the shows most interesting character it deserves a massive round of applause: 9/10

Angel One written by Patrick Barry and directed by Michael Rhodes

What’s it about: It’s that hoary old cliché, Planet of the Women…

To Baldly Go: Wesley throws a snowball off of the holodeck which smacks into and soaks Picard’s uniform and he still doesn’t punish him. Wil Wheaton rather brilliantly suggests on his review site that this is a believable exchange between Wesley and the Captain whilst the rest of the episode is an embarrassing farce. Bless him.

Number One: Riker is such a chest puffing egotist I find it really hard to take him seriously for the most part. Once he lets his beard grow and they start to delve into his character he becomes a far more likable, approachable sort of bloke. It’s clear he doesn’t like being emasculated by women and yet is perfectly happy to be one of their sex slaves if it means getting his end away. His conceited arrogance is so out of control he attributes Troi and Yar’s objections to him wearing the Angel One sex slave costume to the fact that they are jealous that Beata might have a thing for him. For the first time ever Tasha and myself are in agreement – I burst out laughing when Riker walked out of the changing room wearing his silky robes with his huge hairy manly chest exposed (and puffed out, naturally).

Alien Empath: If I was the leader of a planet and had a communication from the flagship of the Federation and their counsellor made the introductions I would probably shoot them from the sky for their impertinence. Mind you it is nice to be able to get Troi away from the Enterprise and engaged in a story where the focus isn’t on her empathic abilities. Its on her gender which is almost as bad – one of these days we will discover that she has a personality beyond her simple character traits (female and Betazoid and a bit wet). I thought that Troi and Riker had history together? Why isn’t that explored as Riker bonks the brains out of this planets leader?

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘How does stimulation of the olfactory nerves effect the enjoyment of sex?’ not only sounds odd coming from Data but caps off an appalling scene that educates the audience about aphrodisiacs.
‘Our library is far too sophisticated for a man to comprehend.’
‘Its not my function to seduce or be seduced by a leader from another world…’
‘How refreshing to have a man who knows what he wants!’ ‘And doesn’t have to be told be a women?’ – this dialogue is beyond offensive.
‘Haven’t you been paying attention Ramsey? You’re scheduled to be executed tomorrow!’

The Good: How nice to have a planet whose initial reaction to the nosy Federation turning up on their doorsteps is to tell them to bugger off! Imagine being in the way of one Worf’s tsunami brewing sneezes?

The Bad: There is the most random sequence of Wesley in the campest ski outfit you have ever seen heading off to a clearly studio bound snowscape on the holodeck. Whilst it is nice to be reminded that women have a better deal in the future than they used to is having such an unsubtle message as ‘planet of the dominant women’ really the best way to go about it? On DS9 and Voyager the message is put across perfectly through some wonderfully strong willed, three dimensional regular characters. By having such a matriarchal society that patronises men so shoddily it merely shows that nothing was learnt from the past mistreatment of women and that they are just as stupid and prejudiced as men can be. Beata is such a pantomime character, strutting about with her hands on her hips in a way that is hard to take seriously. As soon as the Away Team refuses to take the crashed survivors away Beata suddenly (and inexplicably) sentences them all to death. Somebody help me…I’m dying here with yet another appalling revelation that was signposted with a HUGE NEON SIGN twenty minutes earlier in the episode. It really makes the characters look stupid to have them realise so late something that the audience figured out last week and there seems to be an abundance of shocked, slack jawed reactions to these revelations as though they are real Eureka moments. Cathexis was full of such moments and Angel One joins in on the daftness with Beverley Crusher’s agonising ‘it must be the scent that is causing the infection to travel!’ The episode ends with a tedious lecture in sexual politics from Riker (of all people) replacing the usual Prime Directive sermon (which now seems reasonable in comparison) which of course manages to penetrate this society. For a second you think they might go through with the execution and offer some hope of a downbeat ending but the men folk are banished rather than killed. And then there is another hideous comedy final scene. I’m actually getting bored of criticising this show…when does it get good?

Moment to Watch Out For: The only thing more disturbing than seeing Riker’s naked hairy chest all over my 52 inch television…is Picard’s weedy hairy chest! Ugh!

Foreboding: Picard tells Worf to prepare for a trip into the Neutral Zone and mentions the Romulans for the first time in the series. Nice to see them setting up the finale so far in advance.

Result: Looks like Datalore was a flukey touch of genius in this dreary first season. Angel One is basically a planet of militant feminists and if that sounds like it might be leading to an unsubtle morality episode then you wouldn’t be far wrong. I’m sure there is a section of fandom who enjoy watching Riker getting his jollies off with all manner of horny women but unfortunately I find him such a ridiculous masculine stereotype (see I’m at it now) that I just can’t muster up enthusiasm for his sordid sex life. Its two equally dreary subplots fighting for attention with plenty of hideous dialogue and characters who stand around telling the audience what we have figured out an age back. Angel One is probably a little too naïve to be called offensive but this is another Original Series episode that is dressed up as something new where only Worf’s comedy sneezes and a decent planetary matte painting (so good it was used over and over) make any kind of positive impression: 2/10

11001001 written by Maurice Hurley & Robert Lewin and directed by Paul Lynch

What’s it about: The Enterprise is stolen!

To Baldly Go: Picard relaxes by reading a good book in his quarters. For a ship a crew to function it requires the Captain to set the tone. It’s very nice to be able to see Picard and Riker and enjoying time chilling out together. That’s two surrenders and one auto destruct chalked up in the first season, Picard does seem to be quite an impulsive fella doesn’t he?

Number One: When Riker walked into the holodeck and said ‘now I need someone to play with me’ I feared the worst but he was talking about music but of course its not long before he’s getting his jollies. Riker tells Minuet that his work is him which does turn out to be his character spec over the years. His trouble is separating his work and his personal life and being able to move on. He admits that working on this ship and with these people is a dream come true for him.

Mr Wolf: The indications here is that Worf considers each recreational sport to be a death match (see also DS9’s Take Me Out To The Holosuite). Tasha seems to suggest that Worf is developing a sense of humour but it really isn’t in evidence (later this would be commented on by Jadzia Dax - ‘On the Enterprise I was considered quite amusing!’ ‘Well that must have been one dull ship!’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A blind man teaching an android how to paint. That’s got to be worth a few pages in somebody’s book’ – why isn’t the dialogue always this sharp?

The Good: The opening effects shot of the Enterprise docking at Starbase 74 is gorgeously executed and the design of the Starbase deserves a big round of applause with its mushroom levels, hundreds of glowing windows and towers and minarets on the top. With the ship gliding past an observation hatch this is a sequence worthy of a movie and shows how spectacular the show can look. I’ve since been told this effect was snatched from one of the movies…egg on my face. To their credit the Binars are another charmingly conceived alien race (TNG went all out to produce some memorable aliens in its debut season). I really like the way that they finish each other’s sentences and their high-pitched binary language and almost comical glances combines to make something uniquely alien. Even though Dr Crusher is as blindingly dull as ever it is wonderful to see what the crew gets up to when they have some downtime. It’s nice to see that that wonderful b-movie staple of naming a planet and their people one and the same is still in effect. This week it is the Binars of Binus!

The Bad: Given this seasons ability to save money in the most apparent of ways (in this episode they reuse footage from Where No One Has Gone Before during the evacuation…including the Chinese fellow in the red dress who made me laugh so much in that episode), Commander Quinteros is the spitting image of Picard – it literally looks as though somebody has stuck a beard on Patrick Stewart! I know they are docked at a Starbase and all but is giving Wesley the Bridge really such a smart idea? If he is such an important member of the crew why isn’t Wesley beamed off first with the rest of the kids? I love the hilarious scene in the transporter room that sees one guy trying unconvincingly to control the people pushing their way in! Isn’t it a pain in the ass to evacuate all the families every time there is a crisis on the ship? They are in danger so often it must seem fairly redundant having them on board. Picard decides to blow up the ship before finding out what the situation is and tells Riker he hopes they can find out what is going on before the ship is destroyed.

Fashion Statement: Seeing Tasha and Worf dressed up in full Lycra body suits has to be seen to be believed! Minuet is the sultriest 80’s babe on the planet with a huge Joan Collins style hairdo that were so popular during the decade that style forgot.

Moral of the Week: A new section for the TNG reviews which has been included to discuss, examine and occasionally laugh at the morals of the preachiest Star Trek show. So far we have had lectures on the advancement of humanity (basically every episode but especially Encounter at Farpoint), how alcohol corrupts (Picard to Wesley in The Naked Now), African American women are psychopathic (the forever racist Code of Honour), greed corrupts (the Ferengi in The Last Outpost), there is hope for humanity yet (finally a worthy moral in Where No One Has Gone Before), hunting is wrong (the Selay and the Antikans in Lonely Among Us), justice will prevail (in the appropriately titled Justice), the past will always come back to haunt you and revenge is never enough (The Battle), power corrupts (which Hide & Q insultingly explores), arranged marriages aren’t fun (Haven), the holodecks are a bad idea (that point isn’t made in The Big Goodbye but it should have been), identical twins are always evil in fiction (Datalore) and when given power women are every bit as stupid and as prejudiced as men (the astonishingly chauvinistic Angel One). We have two morals this week – the first being not to overreact when the chips are down otherwise you might wind up destroying your ship for no good reason like Picard nearly does here. Lesson two so eloquently put by Jean Luc is ‘some relationships simply don’t work.’ I’m surprised Riker didn’t punch him.

Myth Building: The Binars are genderless and come as a pair. A star in their system went supernova and was going to knock out their main computer and so they stole the Enterprise for its memory to transfer the data.

Orchestra: In watching these episodes back to back I tend to skip through the title music but I let it play this time…its really dramatic isn’t it? By the end there are so many dramatic beats you could find yourself quite exhausted from such a theatrical statement…or is that just me? This is one time that I am more than happy to hear Riker blowing his own trumpet – he’s very good. I love the dramatic, foot pounding music as the Enterprise is evacuated and heads off into the great unknown without its crew.

Result: TNG lets its imagination run riot and 11001001 proves to be an engaging mixture of high concepts and frivolity. It’s the most cinematic episode of the series by some way and everything from the astounding model effects to the musical score feels as though this is far too contained by the small screen. The Binars are such clever little sods you have to admire their audacity, distracting both the Captain and the First Officer with a pretty lady whilst they bugger off with the ship! Ultimately the journey is far more interesting than the destination and neither the Binar situation nor the Minuet subplot is successfully wrapped up but there is so much intelligent and stylistic detail in both of these narratives it almost doesn’t matter. This episode deserves merit for nothing more than focusing so effectively on Riker and not making him a pompous masculine ass: 8/10

Too Short a Season written by Michael Michaelian (is that really his name?) & D.C. Fontana and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: An aged Admiral beams aboard to take command of a mission and starts to age…backwards!

To Baldly Go: Picard has started to soften considerably by this stage and in a sweet scene with Beverley he puts a lot of faith in her intuition.

The Good: As the episode progresses Rohner’s performance as Jameson improves to the point where (rather wonderfully) he is putting the wind up Picard by strolling around the Bridge and barking out orders. There is one sequence that sees Jameson alone in a darkened room talking on the communicator where the lighting is so dramatic his face is almost completely obscured. The twist that Jameson interpreted the Prime Directive in his own way by arming both sides of the conflict with weapons and let them sort it out amongst themselves is an unexpectedly good twist. There is a pretty tasty phaser fight at the end of the episode, easily the best action sequence we have seen in the series so far (although the jaunty dance music that plays over is pretty distracting). Jameson’s sweaty and painful death is a far cry from the usual softly softly approach this show takes.

The Bad: It seems to be luck of the draw when it comes to old age makeup – I’ve seen it done really well (Doctor Who’s The Leisure Hive) but this is a particularly unconvincing example. Clayton Rohner is clearly playing at being elderly and accentuates every line of dialogue with a throaty drawl and a quiver of the lips. Skip forward seven seasons to the aged Picard in All Good Things to see how this sort of thing should be done. The last thing I would choose to watch is two old dears sucking each others faces off. In a season packed with loose sexuality, this is probably the most disturbing example. The two planets that we visit in this episode look identical except for the fact that they are a different colour! I could be mistaken but when the away team beams down the set looks like it has been cobbled together from the ones used in Encounter at Farpoint and Datalore. Michael Pataki chews the scenery in a way that makes him William Shatner’s natural successor.. The title of this episode fills me with dread.

Fashion Statement: It’s a facile statement to make (when has that ever stopped me?) but the younger Jameson is a real hottie. Shame about the Rick Astley swept back hairstyle.

Moral of the Week: Don’t drink from the fountain of youth because immortality always comes with a price. ‘The quest for youth, Number One. So futile. Age and wisdom has their graces too.’ ‘I wonder if one doesn’t have to have age and wisdom to appreciate that.’  Oh dear. It seems to be a stable of this series that they have to have a couple of godawful lines at the end of the episode to drive home its meaning before they shoot off to their next destination.

Orchestra: Such an odd musical score for Star Trek this week. I am so used to vague classical music (usually fairly bland but sometimes standout) in these shows that when you have a melodramatic gothic spoof score like this one it’s hard to know what to make of it. It matches the goofy tone of the episode perfectly but perhaps highlights the naffness of the concept of the Admiral ageing backwards a little too well. Bizarrely for an episode that ends on a tragic death, the music the closes the piece is jauntier than ever. 

Result: TNG’s take on the fountain of youth is the most bizarre episode I have ever seen and I simply don’t know how to judge it. Rob Bowman is in the director’s chair so the scenes are nicely filmed and evocatively lit but there is simply no substance to this episode and it doesn’t give any of the regulars a chance to take centre stage. And yet as the episode progresses there are a few nice (and rarely for the show at this point, unexpected) twists and Jameson proved to be such an entertaining ass that I found myself enjoying the madness of it all the same. A lot of people will say that this is the worst episode of the first season but it isn’t even close and whilst there probably isn’t a lot of point to it, it is at least imbued with a camp menace and the odd action sequence to keep you entertained: 5/10

When the Bough Breaks written by Hannah Louise Shearer and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: The Enterprise discovers the lost planet of Aldea…

To Baldly Go: Picard must realise that when people welcome them with open arms that it is going to mean trouble. Did he learn nothing from Justice? Once the children have been stolen he has a real rant over the view screen and rather wonderfully Radue tells him that they will continue their discussion once he has calmed down and cuts the link. If only it was that easy for the viewer to silence Picard during his morality speeches. When Radue tosses the Enterprise across space as an example of their power I was laughing my head off…for Picard and his heavily gunned ship this must be like having your nuts grabbed and squeezed. 

Number One: Riker has sure been keeping this obsession with Aldea a secret. Perhaps if they had thought the season through a bit better we could have had a couple of quiet mentions of the planet to build up to its reveal here.

Dancing Doctor: ‘The Aldeans are suffering from a form of radiation poisoning!’ – once again Doctor Bev is left to state the obvious.

Boy Genius: To give him some credit Wesley is okay in this episode. When they stop focussing on his amazing technical ability and obsession with Starfleet and put him in a more protective role it is amazing how reasonable he can seem. The scene where Wesley cleverly compliments Duana whilst scanning her is blunted by the moment when his mother gives him the scanner and he holds it up and goes ‘oh!’ Rousing the kids into resisting their captors and a hunger fast is probably the best thing he has done yet in the series.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How could they your scientists have forgotten how everything works!’
‘The legend will die but the people will live.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Don’t give in to fear!’ – what an odd line.
‘You are trifling with the primal instincts of our species!’ – Picard you sound like such a twat! Just say ‘give us the kids back!’

The Good: Aldea is a mythical planet of art and culture, like ancient Atlantis. That’s actually a pretty neat premise to kick start an episode. I love that beam invading the Bridge and striking Wesley Crusher, what a shame it wasn’t more destructive than a simple scanner. Jerry Hardin is the sort of actor that always turns up in these shows and he’s as impeccable as ever (although I prefer his mad performance as Mark Twain in Time’s Arrow – ‘A werewolf!’). I must be getting old…first of all Molly made me squeal at how cute as a button she was and now Alexandra does the same thing! I especially love how she extends her hand when she is told she can have whatever she wants! I love the scene where the old guy tells Katie ‘I am honoured’ – its such a sweet moment. How cool is that instrument that carves the wood for you? I want one! Picard picking up Alexandra is another very cute scene. This is one happy ending that is worthwhile because the people of Aldea are only misguided, not evil. They seem like they will be good parents and it finally feels as though the Enterprise has achieved something on their aimless wandering. The effects shot of the Custodian’s power source is really impressive. There is another daft comedy ending but this one gets away with it because it actually made me laugh (anything that pokes fun at Picard makes me laugh). Tasha gets about two lines and that is a reason to celebrate.

The Bad: Looks like even Wil Wheaton was beaten into submission – his review blog doesn’t continue further than Angel One which goes to show that even the actors involved cannot bring themselves to make it through season one. I was wondering why Dr Crusher was hanging out on the Bridge for no real reason but we she gets zapped to the planet it all makes sense. The plotting is once again very childish with all the children being scanned across the ship…so I wonder what it is the people of Aldea are after? It seems a perfectly equitable situation to me, after all they are having to evacuate the ship every other episode and keep using the same footage…let the children stay on Aldea and it will save a whole lot of bother. Why do all the alien races we meet on TNG have better transporter effects than the Enterprise?

Moment to Watch Out For: When Dr Crusher cries ‘Wesley! They’ve taken my son!’ and I was dying for somebody to use the Cat line from Red Dwarf: ‘Quick let’s get out of here before they bring him back!’

Moral of the Week: Don’t play about with radiation kids, no matter what the benefits! Also you can be anything you want…but you still have to take Calculus.

Orchestra: Oh dear the violins are back out this week when Harry’s dad makes a heartfelt confession that the last he saw his son he yelled at him. Actually I’m being as little unfair, the music in this episode is pretty good…go and listen to the music as Wesley wakes up Katie.

Notes: Kim Manners would go on to direct an awesome number of X-File episodes.

Result: A small admission – when I was younger I only had three videotapes of the first season bought for me (actually four but my brother accidentally bought me a TOS video which made me cry on my birthday! Teehee!); Encounter at Farpoint, Lonely Among Us/Justice and When the Bough Breaks/Home Soil and as such I can pretty much quote these episodes in their entirety (‘He’s frozen!’ …see?) and have a grudging affection for them even when looking at them through adult eyes they have aged terribly. It’s a stupid threat for an episode to be centred around (although I am glad somebody has finally acknowledged the danger of having all this kids on board!) and the resolution is insultingly undemanding…and yet for some reason I like this one! The thought of having your children stolen must terrify any parent and there are a number of touching scenes between the kids and their new ‘parents’. It’s twee and silly but relatively inoffensive and for once they shoehorn Wesley Crusher into a role that actually suits him. It was whilst I was watching this episode that I realised that I always seem to be on the side of the bad guys! Watchable: 6/10

Home Soil written by Robert Sabaroff and directed by Corey Allen

What’s it about: The Enterprise takes on some fairy lights…

Fully Functional: It’s nice to see somebody excited to see an android – everybody is so blasé about him wherever they visit.

Alien Empath: ‘We alarm him for some reason’ says Troi of Director Mandel, ‘his fear is escalating!’ Why doesn’t Picard find this woman stating the obvious all the time anything less than an irritation?

Dancing Doctor: This is probably the first time Crusher comes across as a competent scientist rather than a plot function that reveals the predictable twists.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Ugly bags of mostly water!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I create life! I don’t take it!’ – Mandel strains out that line as though he is desperate for the toilet.
‘Agreed! We will send you home to your wet sand!’ – that’s the level of sophistication on display here.

The Good: Terraforming a planet does sound like a pretty exciting job although as usual Doctor Who makes a far more fun and brisk deal of the idea (in The Doctor’s Daughter its simply a case of smashing a globe and the planet starts transforming magically whereas in Star Trek it’s the work of painstaking hours of technobabble). Talking of Doctor Who the base on the nameless planet is exactly the sort of location that would rock on in that show. The shot of Mallinson’s smoking and bloody corpse is really nasty and I love the idea of the probes being a threat. Walter Gotell is another performer who consumes the scenery whole but at least he shows a bit of British stiff upper-lipped character!

The Bad: Every single planet this season looks identical but in a different shade of colour. This is just a random observation but I remember it bothering me when I was younger too…not only do the away team members seem to know who the guest characters are without being asked but there also seems to be some random person hanging around waiting for them to leave to take over their posts! After suggesting a dangerous foe we actually discover it is a tiny flashing light – terrifying. Another random speaking part person working in engineering, the sooner they get Geordi down there, the better. I’m grasping at straws for things to say about this episode so I’ll point out that the actors have now got the camera shake Bridge wobble acting down pat.

Moment to Watch Out For: I remember being terrified and as a child of the scene when the probe swung around and attacked Data and impressed that he completely mangled the thing!

Moral of the Week: Don’t play God with inhabited planets.

Result: The first half of this episode is trying hard to be a scary whodunit adventure but none of the terraforming crew are interesting enough to make this a worthwhile exercise. There is a beat or two of tension but then the episode switches to the Enterprise where we focus on the dullest lifeform in this sector of the galaxy. The trouble with these early TNG episodes is that they rarely utilise the regular characters so if the plot of the week is as bland as this there is little for the show to fall back on. Pretty much the most exciting thing to happen in Home Soil is that one little light becomes two and you can throw as much tension-inducing music at the episode as you like but without the material to back it up its just empty sound and fury: 3/10

Coming of Age written by Sandy Fries and Hannah Louise Shearer and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: Conspiracies and Academy entrance exams…

To Baldly Go: How pleasing to see somebody point out the amount of times Picard has behaved erratically this season! Mentally unstable, yes. Not in control of his faculties, yes. Shying away from action, yes! Hahaha!

Number One: Riker is happy to be laying down the law and puffing his chest out in everybody’s faces but when he is told what to do by somebody in higher authority he takes it all very personally. There’s a word for that: insecure. Whereas Picard is happy to sit it out in his Ready Room and contemplate what is going on Riker stomps about like an errant child whose been told they aren’t going for ice cream after all. When he goes off to be interviewed he stands there with his hands on his hips like some ridiculous Adonis in marble. How can we take this man seriously? Riker is a terrible old suck up as well since when Remick starts asking questions about Picard (who genuinely might have been comprised…remember Lonely Among Us and The Battle?) he insists that the Captain knows everything. I’m surprised they ever offered this man his own ship! He tells Picard: ‘You’ll be able to shape the future leaders of Starfleet!’ at being appointed Commandant (Seig Heil!) of the Academy – ugh I have never seen such a today on the telly (well except maybe O’Brien). What he should have said was ‘Oh my God, sir, you’re going to humanise every race in the Federation!’

Boy Genius: Wesley is off to the Academy to actually earn the right to sit on the Bridge. About damn time. ‘It’s a good thing you’re cute Wesley or you could be incredibly obnoxious’ – no somehow he manages both with equal aplomb! To prepare himself for the psyche test Wesley wants to scare himself with holodeck images of rats and lightning storms. Even his fears are a bit pathetic. All he should do is conjure up an image of Picard saying ‘Wesley I am disappointed in you’ and he will cry his eyes out. Surely Wesley can’t be so stupid to not realise that as soon as his psyche test starts suddenly the base is in danger? I would have failed Wesley’s test because I would have left them both to die, sealed off the area and scarpered! At least the test is rooted in his character history (losing his dad) but the fact that he needs it to be spelt out that it is a test means he should fail anyway. Impossibly twee as ever, Wesley shows no disappointment whatsoever at not being chosen for the Academy and is really happy for Mordock (the sad thing is this isn’t even said with a hint of irony, he really means it). Wesley needs to take a page out of Nog’s book…he tries to bribe Sisko! Why the feck does Wesley want to go to the Academy anyway? He’s helming the flagship of Starfleet?

Security Chief: Tasha is the worst security chief there ever was. What exactly does this woman do? People have been beamed off the ship and turn up unexpectedly and now somebody has stolen a shuttlecraft from right under their noses…and it’s a kid! Aside from standing about posturing and getting her mouth around the most ridiculous dialogue in the universe Tasha is a mitigated failiure as a security chief. When is she going to die?

The Good: Great to see TNG thinking outside the box for a change and the Benzites are a interesting looking species who breath in a gaseous vapour. Its delightful having Remick on the ship observing everybody’s movements and making them all feel paranoid and suspicious! This crew is usually so laid back they are asleep at their posts or so rigid that they might as well be statues so its nice to see somebody put the wind up them. I really like the holodeck grid sets, very simple and it creates a nice visual. I thoroughly enjoyed Remick grilling Data, Worf and Beverley and calling to account Picard’s ridiculous actions throughout the season.

The Bad: ‘This might be the most difficult and exciting time of your life…and the most challenging!’ says the Starfleet tutor of their exams. From what you see in this episode the man has a gift for exaggeration. There’s a dreadful planetary backdrop again and an even worse flat that is supposed to be suggesting the depth of a long corridor ahead. Wesley’s test of alien knowledge is so staged and badly acted by both parties I was sinking into my chair with embarrassment. Boo hiss – Remick can find no evidence that Picard has acted in error and finds the over familiarity of the crew simply a sense of family. Commandant of Starfleet Academy? I told you they were trying to breed a new race of science fiction Hitler youth! Four people competing for one position in the Academy…at this rate it will take them 400 years to crew one Starship.

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard’s dress uniform which is literally…a dress! Thank Christ they redesigned these or they would never have convinced Avery Brooks to put one on in Move Along Home!

Moral of the Week: If you don’t succeed at first, try, try, try again!

Fashion Statement: New embarrassing confession – doing these reviews is like therapy. When I was growing up I coming to terms with my burgeoning sexuality I used to fancy the ass off of Wil Wheaton as Wesley and whilst his characterisation, acting, blah blah blah fills me with horror as an adult I still get those pangs of a childhood crush when I watch…especially as he starts to look less like a teenager (ahem!) and more like young man in this episode. Of all the boy geniuses I am glad that it was Wesley and not Adric that I fell for! If you are growing up now you get boy geniuses like Tommy Knight in the Sarah Jane Adventures! My secret is out…I await execution.

Foreboding: Nice to see the show building up to its finest episode of the first season, Conspiracy. Both Remick and Quinn would return in that episode and follow up these hints of disquiet in the Federation.

Result: Nice to see a dual plotline since the ‘Wesley takes his exams’ main story fails to muster up much enthusiasm and lacks the excitement that is suggested in an early scene. Every twist is signposted and the performances (especially Wil Wheaton) are stiff as cardboard. Much more interesting are the rumours of a conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet and the examination of Picard’s actions over the last two thirds of a season. It’s always nice when someone turns up to shake up this ridiculously jolly crew a bit and it looks like there will be follow up to this subplot - the first time TNG has offered hope for an exciting future. Michael Vejar would wind up being the standout director on DS9 but you wouldn’t be able to tell with his handling of this material. Coming of Age is trying to be something a little different but lacks conviction: 5/10

Heart of Glory written by Maurice Hurley and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Worf is brought face to face with his people…

To Baldly Go: When Picard witnesses the Klingon death ritual he says it was like seeing a Worf that he didn’t recognise and you can hear the cogs whirring in his head to humanise his only Klingon Officer.

Blind Engineer: It’s extraordinary to be able to see the world through Geordi’s eyes. It is a jumble of colours and effects with some ill-defined images but he tells Picard that he can filter what he doesn’t need and concentrate on what he does. It would have been very right to have had this scene in Encounter at Farpoint to introduce the character.

Mr Wolf: Finally we get to delve a little deeper into Worf’s character. Michael Dorn must have been starting to wonder if he would only contribute the odd line and chest beating action scenes. He is asked if he has been tamed by the Federation or if he has always been docile (well the actor pronounces it ‘dosill’ but I think that is what meant). The Romulans attacked the Khitomer outpost and everybody was killed and Worf was buried under the rubble and left for dead. A human found him and raised him as his own. He has been raised with human values (perfect for Picard’s ship) and doesn’t understand the Klingon blood that courses through him. This is the first time that he is berated by his own people and it would certainly not be the last. His confliction of duty to his Captain and to his people is intriguingly explored (literally so when he is in the corridor and has to decide whether to step closer to the Klingons or Tasha and her armed heavies) and would be a character thread that will continue right up until the later seasons of DS9. This dilemma makes Worf one of the most interesting characters on TNG. Has living amongst humans sucked the fire from his belly?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have tasted your heart! You are still with them but you belong with us!’

The Good: I didn’t even need to look to know that this was a Rob Bowman helmed show. The lighting is moody, the camerawork stylish and the sets dressed up to inject the maximum amount of atmosphere – it screams of his dramatic style. The silhouette shot of Riker, Geordi and Data against the bright light is extremely atmospheric. Can’t Bowman direct every episode? The reveal of the Klingons is great too, with the group shrouded in shadow and one of them stepping out of the darkness right up to the camera. The Klingon death growl made me shit my pants! I really wasn’t expecting that! I find the idea of sending the spirit of a warrior off to battle and warning the dead and then considering the corpse just an empty shell extremely appealing. Some real thought has gone into returning this species to Star Trek. Between them these are two of the craftiest Klingons we are ever likely to meet concealing amongst the pair of them all the components to make a disrupter, which they assemble when imprisoned. Klingons wouldn’t bother kidnapping people to get their own way – Korris aims his disrupter straight at the warp core! Another breath-taking camera angle is the one from above looking down at the top level of the warp core.

The Bad: How amusing that the Klingons were attacked by a Ferengi vessel and left damaged! Surely Picard had to know that that was a lie? As usual Tasha is in full drama queen mode – a Klingon picks up a child and she declares a hostage situation. I thought Gene Roddenberry was against racism creeping into the show? Three Starfleet security officers to one Klingon? What wimps!

Moment to Watch Out For: I cannot believe they managed to pull off the sequence with the Away Team attempting to beam away from the freighter before it blows up and the transporter failing this well. In the hands of any other director this would have been ridiculously cheesy but it’s a brilliantly climactic moment. Also the excellent conclusion where Korris crashes through the top level of engineering and almost splinters the second. Why can’t every episode be this good?

Moral of the Week: The true test of the warrior is not without but within.

Orchestra: The deeper horns that play the Klingon theme is a great example of getting it right first time and this style of score would return for each subsequent Klingon episode.

Foreboding: Another mention of the Romulans, a ‘name we haven’t heard for a while.’

Result: Pace, excitement, atmosphere and the return of the Klingons…the first fifteen minutes of Heart of Glory are like a slap in the face after the rest of this redundant season. That is followed up by freighters exploding, phaser fights on the Enterprise, fascinating exploration into Klingon culture and some healthy development of Worf all wrapped up in a visually arresting style and punctuated by some awesome music. Its such a strong episode that for one week only you can see real potential for this series and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on the strength of episodes such as this that the show was renewed for a second season. So confident and stylish it could slip into later seasons with the absolute minimum of tweaking: 9/10

The Arsenal of Freedom written by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Planet of weapons of mass destruction…

To Baldly Go: Picard beaming down to the planet is a double edged sword because while it is great to see Jean Luc get in on the action for a change it does seem like a fundamentally stupid decision when there are weapon systems roaming about. In a purely practical situation Picard begins ripping off Dr Bev’s clothes but by the look her face she is finding the whole situation quite enjoyable. Its quite a charged scene between them and shows some promise for future exploration of their feelings. 

Number One: Riker described Hall Rice as confidence to the point of arrogance – naturally he admires these qualities because he is basically describing himself. Sometimes this show is not good for my stomach acid…Riker gave up his own command for a tour on the Enterprise and looks obscenely smug about it when he lets the whole Bridge crew know. Take a look at how Riker greets Rice with his leg cocked up on a tree stump – he’s the most theatrically masculine man in all of Starfleet! He’s even frozen in a super butch pose.

Blind Engineer: Geordi being left in command screams of enforcing some plot development on him but he still hasn’t found his place on the show yet and this feels like an awkward blind alley for the character. Typical, as soon as Geordi takes command Troi cannot wait to butt in and give her unique perspective on his emotional fitness to lead. I would have respected Geordi way more if he’d have just told her to shut up and get out of his office but no she has to explain that the people under his command need to know he has confidence in them (agonisingly Geordi actually says ‘just like Captain Picard had confidence in me!’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The early bird that hesitates…gets the worm!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘To make matters worse Chief Engineer is on his way to the Bridge and he’s not making a courtesy call!’ – I cannot believe Geordi included that embarrassing detail in a log entry!

The Good: Dr Bev fell down a ruddy great hole! Well, I laughed… Gates McFadden does a fine job of acting as though she is in a great deal of pain; she plays this with far more conviction than usual.

The Bad: I fricking do not believe it! It’s that bloody studio rock backdrop again with another different sky! Did they have a budget in the first year? At least someone could have said ‘don’t all these planets look identical?’ as a knowing wink to the audience. The set designer has made the foliage a little too sparse for the scene where Jonathan Frakes is trying desperately to shove some in his face and say ‘the underbrush is too thick!’ I appreciate the idea behind the weapons systems flying through the air firing weapons willy nilly – it is a pretty nifty concept but the realisation leaves a lot to be desired. Much like Doctor Who it looks like it has been made out of sticky back plastic and washing up bottles and it wobbles precariously on its string. Dark Angel did exactly the same sort of idea a million times better – their weapons systems were sleek, fast and scary (that’s with the hindsight of 10 years for you). Another random engineering person that we have never heard about before and this one is the most obnoxious of the lot, the mouthy Lt Logan! For heading to the Bridge and throwing his weight around Geordi should have beamed him onto the planet into the path of one of the weapons systems. Everybody is on melodrama overdrive on the Enterprise with Geordi screaming ‘FIRE!’ as though he has been longing for the day and Worf smacks his console crying ‘WE MISSED!’ Its wonderfully entertaining if you are in the right mood. Logan is literally a walking plot device, first criticising Geordi for staying and then having a go at him for leaving! Make up your mind fella! Appropriately enough for an episode that sees Geordi in charge the only officers available are terrified youngsters with no battle experience. If all you have to do is say turn off the weapons to deactivate them how did they manage to wipe out this entire planet? Surely they knew that…they created the damn things!

Moment to Watch Out For: In what has to be the most unintentionally hilarious scene of the first season a weapons system blasts the crap out of a nearby tree and a stunt man who clearly isn’t Data literally picks up Tasha and throws her across the set. So good I rewound it four times.

Moral of the Week: Arms dealing is a bad business.

Orchestra: A bolshie, macho score for when Geordi separates the ship.

Result: I appreciate what they were trying to do with this episode but they simply do not have the budget or the resources to do it justice. Being trapped on a planet of automated weapons systems is a great idea but both the forest setting and the actual devices look dreadfully cheap and as a result it is hard to buy into the danger. It doesn’t help that Riker and Tasha are outrageously stereotyped action heroes whose fate I didn’t give a damn about and Picard beams down to the planet for the very obvious reason that Geordi hasn’t had any development for ages. The best scenes are between Picard and Beverley that hint at a relationship that goes beyond the call of duty (that should have been explored in far more depth throughout this series) but they even fudge that by cutting away to a threat just as the Doctor is about to reveal her feelings. Both plots feel manipulative in that they force the characters into roles that they aren’t suited for. The Arsenal of Freedom is another poorly written episode (the conclusion is beyond illogical) that weighs down this cumbersome opening season: 3/10

Symbiosis written by Robert Lewin, Richard Manning & Hans Beimler and directed by Win Phelps

What’s it about: A feud between two races over medical supplies turns out to be not as a simple as it appears…

To Baldly Go: The episode that more than any other exposes Picard’s inexplicably foul moralistic superiority and adherence to the bureaucratic red tape known as the Prime Directive. Bashir happily tried to cure the Jem Hadar of their addiction in Hippocratic Oath and there was no talk of the Prime Directive getting in the way that is because he is a decent human being. At the end of this episode Picard wants to get as far away from this system as possible, practically condemning their appallingly savage behaviour and praising the Prime Directive for allowing him to make the morally superior decision of letting the whole population suffer. What a fucking chump. If this is what the evolved human race considers acceptable count me out.

Dancing Doctor: What’s this? Another episode where Beverley Crusher is the best thing about it? Standing up to Picard for not allowing her to synthesise a non-addictive substitute is just about the best thing she has ever done. For once it’s to hell with the Prime Directive and lets actually help these people to no longer be tortured and exploited. Dr Bev’s moral outrage at this sick situation is slightly overplayed by Gates McFadden (‘This is exploitation plain and simple!’) but it’s nice to see someone on this ship showing a little personality and autonomy.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘These two societies are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship.’

The Good: Credit where it is due, this episode doesn’t begin with the Enterprise approaching another hazily coloured planet but the gorgeous shot of a sun rippling with eruptions! Tasha is right (enjoy that moment because it wont happen again) - a natural electrical charge in your hands is a difficult weapon to confiscate but what an awesome advantage.

The Bad: Is it me or does Picard wind up with all the duff assignments? Firstly he discovers the ship of intoxicated sex addicts (The Naked Now), then he visits planet of the sex hungry homicidal maniacs (Justice) and now he comes across a bunch of stoners who are as high as a kite! The 24th Century is turning out to be a cosmos of inequity and Picard is the head of CLEAN UP STARFLEET. Surely Wesley cannot be so naïve (hoho) as to need the use of drugs explained to him on the level of a four year old…and how awful that Tasha of all people should be the one to lecture him: ‘I guess I just don’t understand’ ‘I hope you never do Wesley.’ Beverley says she hopes they have made the right decision at the end of the episode and Picard comments ‘we may never know’ warping off in their jolly Starship whilst a planet of drug addicts suffers.

Moment to Watch Out For: Riker is tortured horribly with an electric shock. Lovely.

Teaser-tastic: With blue electric flickers dancing over the consoles I thought this was a return of the gaseous cloud entity that tried to beam Picard into space in Lonely Among Us but it was not to be. Nice teaser though.

Moral of the Week: Drugs don’t work, kids!

Fashion Statement: We’re still seeing those Starfleet dresses that seemed to vanish completely after a few seasons. At least it is only the girls that are wearing them these days. Nice to see that dungarees are still around in the future.

Result: It is laudable that TNG is taking on subjects as drug abuse but it doesn’t have the sophistication or the subtlety to handle it with any great sensitivity. You have one race of affluent, arrogant drug dealers and one race of desperate addicts and Picard in the middle reminding them all that both sides are behaving unsuitably. Its quite pleasantly acted but this is an Original Series script that has once again been shoehorned into the world of the TNG with all the (lack of) elegance that goes with it. The scene on the Bridge that sees Tasha explaining to Wesley that ‘drugs feel good’ is so hideously patronising you will want to rip out your eyeballs and cut of your ears so you never have to experience such television ever again. I think the ending is supposed to be hard hitting because Picard left the planet to their fate but its another example of the idiocy and hypocrisy of the Prime Directive. I wonder if Picard would so happily spout his philosophy if he were suffering from agonising withdrawal – it makes me think once again that Gene Roddenberry’s vision (in this case the lesser species suffer so the enlightened ones can feel morally superior) was fundamentally flawed. Unsatisfying: 4/10

Skin of Evil written by Joseph Stefano & Hannah Louise Shearer and directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

What’s it about: Tasha dies. Other stuff happens but who cares about that? Tasha dies! 

To Baldly Go: Picard is astonished that Dr Crusher did not manage to save Tasha and in his best scene of the entire season he tells his crew that they will have to deal with their loss later and there are still people in danger. Its one of the few times in the first year where he is felt like a real leader.

Security Chief: Tasha and Worf are gossiping on the Bridge…maybe they always do this and we just never see it but it is a sure sign that one of them is going to buy the farm. Given Tasha is the one beaming instead of overreacting that should give you the clue to who it is. I’m not being facetious but the best thing Tasha ever did as a character (aside from earn a point or two in Yesterday’s Enterprise) is to be killed off in such a brutally casual manner. Anybody watching this for the first time would expect some Star Trek miracle cure for such an unmemorable death scene and the real shock comes when she isn’t alive at the end of the episode (Riker even says ‘there you did it’ in the most blasé of fashion as Beverley tries to revive her as if he was expecting her to suddenly come back to life). It is a bit ironic that I only felt something for the character after she had died but at least she got to go out on such a memorably bizarre episode. I wont pretend that I will mourn her loss, she was a character of  dreadful extremes and the Bridge will be a far less melodramatic place without her (and ships Security might just improve with her passing).

Alien Empath: Its another episode that opens with an announcement that Troi is off the ship but this time its not because she wont appear and thank goodness for that otherwise we might have missed the chance to see her suffer so horrendously here. I promise you I am not a sadist but torturing these people is the only to make them behave in a way that is even remotely plausible. I love the fact that Troi doesn’t descend into a dribbling wreck when Tasha dies, she remains composed and emotionless and concentrates on getting herself out of this impossible situation. Troi starts offering her bleeding heart to Armus and as a result he tortures Riker – could this episode get any better?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That thing just sucked the life right out of her.’
‘A moral judgement from a machine.’

The Good: Any story that opens with Counsellor Troi crash landing off screen gets my vote! Just before the titles there is a superb high shot of the entire Bridge. Armus the evil oil slick is quite simply the best villain in the entire first year; he’s memorably grotesque and has a complete antipathy for human life. From the first scene he appears melting his way across the set to block the Away Team’s path I was rooting for him! The way his horrid body rises out of the thick tar like a monstrous parody of the human form sickens the gut and his strained electronically screaming voice is ghoulish. The sequences of Troi being menaced in the shuttlecraft are lit to perfection with the pulsing blood red light giving it the feel of being inside something living (and isn’t great how Armus wraps himself around the ship?). Armus plays with the crew, he tortures (stealing Geordi’s visor, taking away Beverley’s instruments and genuinely hurting Riker) and kills one of them…he makes the Away Team genuinely frightened and that is the first time they have been effectively scared in the series. He is an empty, tortured creature, the discarded remains of a civilised society – a dank and vile skin of evil left behind to rot. It’s amazing how the writers make you sympathise with Armus regardless of how cruel he is. Riker being dragged into the tar pit made me wet my pants when I was a little boy – I had never seen anything so chilling and even today as his face emerges full of the black slime it sends a shiver down the spine. Armus forces Data to hold a phaser to Beverley’s head…I was willing him to fire! Even Picard gets a moment to lecture Armus that is really rather good!

The Bad: Another random engineering person (Lynch is clearly going to vanish because he snaps at Picard and oddly gives his full name when addressing him on the comms)…Scotty would be appalled to see there is nobody important down there running things these days. C’mon Geordi, it’s your time to shine! Oh no it’s that bloody studio alien planet backdrop again but this time with the lights down. Surely they had the budget to jiggle about the rocks or create something fresh looking but it looks exactly the same as the one in Hide & Q, Haven and a dozen other episodes! A shame that we leave Armus on the campest of notes…screaming ‘ARRRRGGGHHHHH!’ as he waves his arms about impotently! He deserved a much better ending than that. I hate to sound like a broken record but couldn’t they go out on location for something as important as a regular characters funeral?

Moment to Watch Out For: Everything about the sequence in Sickbay where Tasha slips away is exceptionally well done from the dramatic handheld camera work, the performances, the rising music…but what the hell is that great red splodge on her cheek? Tasha is killed with all the grace of swotting a fly and I love the stark simplicity of that. It drives home the danger of working in Starfleet far more than Dax’s protracted death in DS9.

Moral of the Week: Starfleet is a dangerous place to work. Don’t deny your unpleasant instincts because they have a way of coming to life regardless.

Orchestra: A fantastic music score in this episode. Its intrusive and brash like most of the season but it piles on the atmosphere and creates a fantastic feeling of horror and claustrophobia. Its one of the few isolated Trek musical scores I would love to own. There is a truly wonderful camp horror piece of music when Riker is dragged across the sand that’s frighteningly memorable.

Myth Building: Worf has been promoted to Security Chief.

Result: Tasha dead! Riker slimed! Troi emotionally tortured! What is this? Wish fulfilment? Looking at this story objectively for a moment and it is still a great show with a deliciously venomous villain for the crew to face and buckets of atmosphere and scary moments. Troi gets her best episode of the season where she manages to indulge in her usual empathic trash but this time against a truly worthy opponent. I love it when Star Trek takes risks like this and having a creature that is the embodiment of evil could have so easily have been dreadful but with the emphasis on Tasha’s death and Troi in danger we are never allowed to forget how dangerous this being is. Even the syrupy funeral sequence hits some pleasant character notes when it could have descended into maudlin introspection. Tasha Yar dies and suddenly the writers are taking risks and inexplicably the show starts to improve. All they need is for Dr Crusher to leave too and things will be right on track. She is leaving? Woop ass! This episode is so geared towards my tastes I am only going to knock off half a point for reusing that bloody alien planet soundstage again. The fact that those involved in making this episode thought of it as a disaster makes me love it even more: 9.5/10

We’ll Always Have Paris written by and directed by Robert Becker

What’s it about: Picard has a love affair on the holodeck…

To Baldly Go: Picard enjoys a spot of fencing in his spare time which is exactly the sort of honour bound, perfectly mannered sport I would expect the good Captain to enjoy. It is nice to see him relaxing for a change so it must come as a particular annoyance that as soon as he does a time loop comes along to spoil everything. We learn about a younger, naïve Picard who could attract the most beautiful of women and yet was unsure what direction to take in life. He finds a nostalgic peek back at his old life self indulgent, naturally. Its interesting that Picard feels the need to explain who Jenice is as if he owes her something if another woman catches his eye. It’s such a shame that this tension between the two of them was ignored in later years. Ouch, it turns out that Jenice did wait for Picard the day they were supposed to meet in Paris and now she wants some answers to why she was stood up. It was fear that kept him back and each time that he returned to Earth his thoughts were filled with her. Life with Jenice would have made him ordinary.

Alien Empath: If Troi starts one more sentence with ‘as ships counsellor…’ I might not be responsible for my actions. She goes around waving her title in everybody’s faces as though she is though it gives her the right to nose into everyone’s business. Thankfully Picard utters one of the finest lines of season when he tells her to ‘get to the point.’ Finally! As soon as she realises Dr Bev is having difficulties trying to cope with her feelings for the Captain naturally Troi is straight to sickbay to butt her nose in but rather wonderfully Dr Bev has the chutzpah to tell her to go away.

Mr Wolf: Isn’t it amazing how easily Worf has slipped into Tasha Yar’s role as Security Chief, the wealth material he gets these days and how much more bearable he is in the role. Her passing was definitely a change for the best in this show.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘There seems to be some kind of strange bouncing effect!’ – get O’Brien into the transporter room immediately…what kind of a report is that?

The Good: The sets of the Café des Artistes is the ultimate change of tone from the beige, blandly lit Enterprise sets – its bright, stylishly designed with a great social atmosphere and a very nice (if clearly fake) backdrop of Paris with shuttles gliding past. It seems very right on to have a place like this to relax on the Enterprise and whilst it is a much darker, under lit sort of place Ten Forward cannot come quickly enough. There are so many fun things that can be done with time distortion effects – it’s the sort plot device that would allow shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf to go nuts and whilst Star Trek is too serious to provoke humour with the idea (seeing yourself in a Turbolift is hardly the most exciting demonstration of the phenomena) I appreciate the efforts made to visualise the idea.

The Bad: Picard starts whipping himself with a sweaty towel on the Bridge. I’m not sure what that man in the café who is polishing his tubes is doing to produce that music but it looks downright filthy! Isn’t it the most remarkable co-incidence that Jean Luc bumps into his old flame at the point where he is looking back at his past and thinking about her? Oh dear the universal budget saver is in operation again and the sets of Manheim’s lab are clearly the same sets as Starfleet Command in Conspiracy redressed slightly.

Moment to Watch Out For: Mister Data leaps about with all the grace of a ballet dancer as the security system tries to blow the crap out of him and the set piece that sees three of him walking into the curtain of time and plugging it with anti matter is visually arresting.

Moral of the Week: Don’t keep a lady waiting.

Orchestra: Romance is in the air so expect the usual Star Trek slush! Actually to my surprise the music in this episode (whilst airing on the side of syrupy violins) was actually rather beautiful.

Result: Considering it is one of the least important episodes of the season plot wise this was one of the most pleasantly acted, stylishly shot and amiable outings in the shows first year. It’s a Star Trek romance and as such it should be dragging you down into a well of treacle but it manages to dance above it thanks to Patrick Stewart’s thoughtful performance. The time travel elements would be better handled in later episodes but there is nothing offensively bad about it and the final set with the three Data’s is a lot of fun. There are more undercurrents of feelings between Dr Bev and Jean Luc that should have developed into a full-blown relationship but we would have to wait until season seven to see any kind of reasonable development of their relationship. It would have been great had they kept the Parisian location as a private getaway for the Captain since it makes for a wonderful change of locale: 8/10

Conspiracy written by Tracey Torme and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: There is something nasty in the heart of Starfleet…

To Baldly Go: I really like this hard and secretive Jean Luc Picard – he should try it out more often since it seems to keep the crew on their toes more than ever. By making Picard and Keel old friends the destruction of the Horatio has far more impact than just a sea of debris; it is the loss of a friend who meant a great deal to Picard.

Number One: Riker pretends to be a bossy, overbearing, super butch man to convince the aliens he has been subsumed to their cause. Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of difference from his usual bossy, overbearing, super butch persona.

Fully Functional: As usual Data’s reaction to a joke is far funnier than the actual joke itself and his forced laughter did make me smirk.

Mr Wolf: Swimming is a bit too much like bathing for Worf so naturally he doesn’t enjoy it.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘To use an aphorism, Starfleet’s left hand did not know what its right hand was doing’ – nothing unusual there, Mr Data!
‘Vitamins! They do wonders for the body!’
‘Oh do eat up Picard. Raise your hand if you want seconds!’
‘We seek peaceful coexistence!’

The Good: I was hoping that the cancerous menace at the heart of the Federation would be the Prime Directive itself but it was not to be. Never mind, the thought of something insidiously evil worming its way into Starfleet and spicing things up a bit is a very welcome change of tone for the series. A new planetary backdrop! Aside from the dodgy looking clouds blowing through the red sky this is by far the most atmospheric indoors exterior yet. Secret meetings, scary music, phasers being pointed…this is a new paranoid Star Trek and I like it. Whilst it would become the norm in the later seasons of DS9 for Federation ships to take a pounding and be destroyed it is worth remembering just how important the destruction of the Horatio is to TNG. The almighty Federation takes a shocking blow as one of its incredible Starships is blown to pieces. Personnel are being shuffled in a clandestine attempt to control sectors of Federation territory – it’s a shame this could have been built up even more than just the subplot in Coming of Age but its still pretty exciting payoff. I really like that there is a real threat involved in the return to Earth and not just a social call (and the shot of the Enterprise approaching the planet is gorgeous). Even something as simple as Admiral Quinn beaming to the Enterprise is deliciously freaky and his creepy conversation with Riker is enough to give you nightmares! I love the hilariously misleading sequence that sees Riker come up behind Dr Bev menacingly for no reason but to scare the hell out of her. Watching Starfleet Admirals chow down on disgusting wiggly grubs is quite surreal and their impeccable table manners make this scene even more memorable. Despite the lack of control, it looks like this would have been a very well mannered take over. The episode needed a revelation like the one about Captain Scott at the exact point that it comes. Oooh, I love the ickiness of the creatures crawling out of people’s mouths. For once the ending isn’t a happy one and we are left with a sense of foreboding that these creatures have been offered a trail of breadcrumbs to Earth…

The Bad: Symptomatic of this shows creed to ‘seek out new and new civilisations’ means that stories like Conspiracy which really should be told over a season are impossible. There is so much potential in the idea of an alien takeover of Starfleet I can think of hundred different ways to play about with the idea. Fortunately DS9 threw the rulebook out the window when they introduced the Dominion and took their time over 6 seasons to establish, build and defeat their threat. I was all ready to praise the show on its impressive visual for the exterior of Starfleet Headquarters when I remembered the last time I did so it was snagged from one of the movies and so I did some digging…and blow me this was taken from The Voyage Home! Plus points for the ingenuity of stealing the visual and minus more for being such cheap skates! ‘Assimilating’ races into the Federation – Quinn seems to suggest that they are proud of their Borg like status! Quinn’s stunt double is clearly seen during the fight scene. It is such a shame that this episode wraps up this plot so easily – basically Picard beams down, the aliens reveal themselves and he shoots them dead. The end. It’s brilliantly done all the same but it skips over a wealth of possibilities. There was easily the potential to make this story a two parter. Geordi being thrown through the doors looks so cheap – I thought they were made of stronger stuff than that! Imagine how easy it is to get into someone’s quarters? When Dr Bev (the other walking robot on this show) stands there with one hand in her pocket shooting Quinn she actually looks slightly bored. Listen to Gates McFadden’s delivery as she tells the Captain to set his phaser to kill – you would actually think that she has been taken over herself she sounds like such a zombie. The fact that this episode wasn’t followed up is incredibly frustrating – when you think of the appalling episodes of TNG that were allocated sequels (Leah Brahms, Vash, Damon Bok) it feels like a waste of a good idea and some very decent set up.

Moment to Watch Out For: The final scene with Remmick is like the archetypal Doctor Who villain reveal transplanted into Star Trek. Everything from the pulsing neck, the menacing map of the sector behind him, the repulsive body horror of Picard and Riker shooting him until his head explodes and melting of his stomach until the mother alien is exposed is uber camp and utterly brilliant. Later seasons of TNG could take a leaf out of this episodes book for looking a bit ridiculous but taking some awesome risks. The final smoking shot of the melted down corpse is stomach churningly good.

Moral of the Week: Starfleet is evil. But I already knew that.

Orchestra: Another awesome horror score in the same vein as Skin of Evil. There are scenes with protracted pieces of music that constantly lower in pitch to get under your skin and stress the wrongness of the situation.

Result: Star Trek does Invasion of the Body Snatchers and pulls it off with real verve. The episode as written does lean towards the camper excesses of the first season and so its Cliff Bole who should be given the biggest round of applause for injecting every scene with an atmosphere of dark menace. It’s such a shame that this is the fastest and most simple defeat of an alien invasion on record because this is a story that had the potential to run and run. The episode starts off with a real sense of foreboding but as soon as we beam down to Earth it is b-movie territory all the way but in a phenomenally engaging way. What I really admire is the shock elements of the story that take TNG into much more graphic territory than usual; it features a number of out and out horror scenes that will make your kids wet the bed. Even if you find this episode too excessive its worth watching to see Riker having two tons of shit kicked out of him by an old man and then forced to pretend to eat icky grubs. Almost insanely tacky in places but a really enjoyable taste of explicit horror: 9/10

The Neutral Zone written by Maurice Hurley and directed by James L. Conway

What’s it about: The Romulans are back…and so is folk music!

To Baldly Go: Picard would rather outthink than outfight the Romulans. That does seem to be his raison d’etre.

Mr Wolf: Worf happily spreads his racism towards the Romulans across the Bridge once they are revealed.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He’s comparing the Enterprise to a cruise ship’ – Picard sounds shocked but that’s exactly what it is!
‘Captain…they’re back!’
‘This is the 24th Century. Material needs no long exist.’ ‘Then what’s the challenge?’

The Good: Isn’t it lovely that only Data and Worf beam over to the artefact. It makes a nice change from puffy chested Riker and Tasha. Note the special effect as Picard stands in front of the Observation Deck window and the stars whip by behind him. Simple, but impressive. I have had so many conversations with friends of the years about cryogenic freezing and the pros and cons and someone usually always pipes up with they would only do it if they had a life threatening illness and they could be cured in the future. Which is exactly what happens here! Nice to know that it does actually come true. The Romulans have noticed that the Federation has started spreading across the galaxy like a moralistic stain and they have declared no more! How great is it to hear those words?

The Bad: Forgive for thinking that this was a moment of absolute stupidity on Picard’s part (we’ll let it go because he is worried about the Romulans) but if I was about to wake up three 20th Century human beings the last person I would call to be present at that moment is Worf. A security officer, yes. One that looks like a hulking monster, no. Having the three 20th Century humans adjusting to 24th Century life really detracts from the main storyline of the reintroduction of the Romulans which I feel would have been strong enough to hold up the finale on its own.
Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where the Romulan ship decloaks is very powerful, it feels as if Picard’s decision will determine whether they go to war or not.

Teaser-tastic: It’s a nicely atmospheric opening to the finale with Data and Worf stumbling across cryogenic pods full of corpses and a number that survived the accident.

Moral of the Week: Think before you react. Picard firing on the Romulan ship could have lead to war.

Fashion Statement: Why do they put the three humans in the ugliest boiler suits known to man?

Myth Building: Two Federation outposts in sector 3-0 have been destroyed. Could this be the invasion of the body-snatching bugs from the last episode? Or a prelude to a whole other invasion? Television didn’t last much beyond 2040 – I wonder what the latest fad will be then? A species destroying human and Romulan outposts…this is excellent forward thinking in TNG’s part to set up the threat of the Borg.

Orchestra: Another terrific score, all the music that deals with the Romulan plot is brilliant especially the dramatic sting when they are revealed.

Result: What you have in The Neutral Zone is a series reshaping itself and opening out the Star Trek universe with a tacky and disposable subplot bolted on the side. There is a pleasing sense of foreboding about the return of the Romulans and their eventual showing up doesn’t disappoint but all the nonsense with the daft idiots out of time coping with life in a time when there is no money or television is really distracting. If you could take away this irrelevance TNG would have closed its extremely dodgy first season on four very good episodes that see a series finding its feet and working out how to go forward. As it is this is an uneven season finale that doesn’t really go anywhere but it does offer some hope for the future: 6/10