Sunday, 27 January 2013

TNG Season Two

The Child written by Jaron Summers, Jon Povill & Maurice Hurley and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Counsellor Troi is impregnated by an alien lifeform and has a baby that grows up and dies in the space of an episode. Only on Trek, folks!

To Baldly Go: Naturally when he is slighted by a new officer on board his ship Picard heads off to give them a lecture on protocol. Fortunately Pulaski manages to shut him up before we hear too much dribble about Starfleet etiquette. Immediately this looks to be a very interesting, fractured, relationship.

Number One: Although he looks much better with a beard Riker is still sitting down in the butchest of fashions (he sort of cocks his leg over the chair in the most ridiculously macho way) and pining after Troi. At the news of her pregnancy he demands to know who the father is like a jealous lover. It’s a shame that this relationship spend so long just being alluded to because it would have been fun to see the mechanics of a lover affair on a Starfleet. Unfortunately with Riker and Troi they only got together properly during the movies when nobody really gave a damn about this crew anymore.

Mr Wolf: Worf is all in favour of abortion with no regard for Troi’s feelings whatsoever. I know he’s a Klingon but that’s pretty harsh.

Alien Empath: Troi’s still around and she’s looking much foxier than last year. Okay that’s sexist but this story does open with a teaser of her writhing around in bed and being violated by an alien lifeform which points to the fact that she is still blatantly the ‘female’ member of the crew. Its nice that she cuts through all of the discussion in the observation lounge and tells these insensitive men that she will be having the baby whether they like it or not.

Medical Attitude: Imagine the placard waving Trek fans stampeding on Paramount screaming ‘Bring back Gates!’ Dr Crusher has been replaced and it’s about time…the major difference between Gates McFadden and Diana Muldaur in the roles is that the former is a dancer and the latter is an actress and it shows instantly. Dr Pulaski makes the worst possible impression on Picard by heading straight to the nearest bar rather than reporting in to her new Captain and so naturally makes the best impression on me. There’s a medical slant to this episode to give the new Doctor a chance to show her stuff but the fact that she doesn’t manage to save child means she begins her watch on a failiure. Kudos for making her a flawed character but its perhaps not the feeling they should have been going for when introducing the new Doctor. Pulaski might have only been with us for a year but she sure made an impact, for good or for ill.

Fully Functional: Pulaski treats Data like a machine, which everybody seems to take exception to. I don’t mean to be indelicate but he is a machine. Despite what is proven or not in Measure of a Man he is a construction made up parts and can be turned off by the flick of a switch. Whilst Pulaski might be insensitive, she is correct.

Boy Genius: Wil Wheaton is clearly growing into the role and despite some initial stiffness he makes quite a favourable impression in this episode. It’s a good sign considering Wesley will be sticking around without his mother. In a very sweet scene Guinan makes Wesley realise that he is leaving because that is what is expected of him rather than what he actually wants to do. 

Brilliant Bartender: Everything about Guinan works a charm from her very first scene. She looks vaguely ridiculous in that giant hat but it suits her mysterious angle and she’s played by a fantastic actress who can squeeze every nuance out of dialogue. If anybody ought to be worried it should be Marina Sirtis because Guinan approaches the counselling role in a far less intrusive and condescending way than Troi. People say she is very old and that she knew Captain Picard on the Stargazer. There’s one of the most subtle (and underrated) relationships in the franchise.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Last night as I slept something that can only be described as a presence entered my body…’ – how did Marina Sirtis keep a straight face saying that line? I would love to see the outtakes for this one.

Ch-ch-changes: Pretty much all the alterations the producers have made are better and benefit the show. Worf and Geordi look much better in gold uniforms and Wesley finally has a uniform that is worthy of the Bridge rather than his multicoloured job last year. Dr Crusher has gone back to Earth to teach medicine and in her place comes the walking attitude problem that is Dr Pulaski. Geordi is now in charge of Engineering (finally somebody who will stick around for five minutes since the role becomes something of a death sentence in the first season and it gives him a permanent role on the ship) and Riker has grown a beard. And most importantly there is somewhere for the crew to chill out now…Ten Forward! The inclusion of the wonderful Whoopee Goldberg and Guinan is the icing on the cake. The fact that so much was changed does expose that mistakes were made in the first series (as if the quality of the episodes didn’t say that for themselves) – if you compare with DS9 (I can hear you groaning at me making that comparison again) and aside from making the station look a bit sunnier there were very few alterations between the first and second seasons. One of them got it right from the off.

The Good: The light entering the ship is a lovely visual and we get some heady shots from its POV. The model work is particularly good here, as though the producers really wanted to come back with some stylish visuals. Ten Forward is an awesome new location on the Enterprise and it’s a relief to finally have somewhere to hang out and chill out. There were so many scenes in season one where you might have mistaken the crew for socialising rather than working on the Bridge because they were lounging about and chatting. The lighting is brought right down in Ten Forward and it is teeming with social atmosphere. Again compare to the Bridge and tell me which is more effective. Worf and Data being present at the birth of Troi’s child is very sweet. I love the reveal of Ian as a four-year-old boy; Rob Bowman really captures the moment of shock for the Captain and the Doctor. There is an awesome camera shot that starts outside the ship and vertiginously heads down into Ten Forward.

The Bad: Poor Troi looks hilarious waddling onto the Bridge in her maternity wear. It looks like we’ve switched onto a programme on coping with obesity in the workplace in the 24th Century. Saddled with the misfortunate of being episodic television it’s sad that we know that before the episode ends that the baby will no longer be with us. Imagine the fun we could have had watching Troi juggle being a working woman and a mother?  Astonishingly after having had a child and watched him slip away Troi is back on the Bridge at the end of the episode cracking jokes. Really? She would recover that quickly? The last scene is supposed to be a fun allocation of supervisors for Wesley but actually shows how this show is terribly childish compared to the others – Worf has agreed to tuck him in at night and Riker is going to supervise his growth into a man. What a horrifying thought.

Moment to Watch Out For: Marina Sirtis acting her heart out as Ian dies. It’s a new emotional high for the series.

Result: The plot of this episode is basically a load of old sweaty bollocks with Troi being impregnated by an alien lifeform that grows at an exponential rate to learn about the species it comes in contact with. It shouldn’t work at all and is wrapped up with typical TNG swiftness but there are some major compensation as we head into the second season. The innovations to the series impress far more than the episode itself. Rob Bowman makes the best of his chance to kick-start a new year and his direction is as impressive as ever but this time he can turn the lights down and explore the ship with a decent budget behind him. The camera never stops moving and there are some subtle effects that show that the show has stepped up to a whole new level visually. The scenes between Guinan and Wesley really standout and the proximity of Whoopi Goldberg forces Wil Wheaton to raise his game considerably. . Watch any scene when he is not with her and he is back to being a Starfleet robot again. The Child is an odd one for sure, promising a more dynamic season but still saddled with the offensively swift conclusions we have become accustomed to: 7/10

Where Silence Has Lease written by Jack B. Sowards and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: An anomaly. That’s about it.

To Baldly Go: For no explicable reason Picard is extremely worried about Riker and Worf spending some R&R together and since they are in no danger whatsoever I can only conclude he his own reasons. Once again Picard is happy to set off the auto destruct but at least we have Pulaski around to tell him what an extreme overreaction that it is this time. Rather than 50% of the crew being killed, Picard will merrily slaughter 100% Data asks what Picard’s philosophy of the afterlife is and he gives such a long winded answer I genuinely have no idea what he was talking about. Was there a script editor at this point in the shows history?

Number One: Riker suggests looking at the anomaly is like ‘looking into infinity.’ And you would know that how exactly? Riker gives some sound advice to Wesley: ‘If you encounter any holes – steer clear!’ What the devil is he talking about, though?

Mr Wolf: Clearly Worf has been taking a dose of Tasha Yar pills this morning and he quickly recommends going to red alert when nothing of consequence has happened. As Picard asks, ‘why?’ all Worf can do is look a bit embarrassed. When things get a bit surreal he has another paddy declaring ‘This ship has one Riker and one Bridge! This is impossible! Impossible! Arggghhhhh!’ which did make me chuckle.

Medical Attitude: There’s no two ways about it and whether you love her or hate her Pulaski does perk the interest when she is on screen. Until she appeared on the Bridge we had watched the crew staring at the view screen for ten minutes and then along comes Pulaski like an iron fist shouting ‘it does know how to do these things, doesn’t it?’ about Mister Data and I was laughing my head off! An actual emotional reaction to Where Silence Has Lease. Again Pulaski seems to be the only person who remembers that Data is a machine and not a person.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why do I get the feeling this was the wrong time to join this ship?’

The Good: When the Romulans fire there is a dramatic zoom across the Bridge past Picard and focussing on Worf – its almost as if we are following the course of the torpedo. Thank goodness the Romulans turned up because I was all but running out patience by this point. The Yamato (the Enterprise in all but name) looks glorious from within the anomaly. I really enjoyed the conceit of two Bridges next to each other.

The Bad: Here is another example of a Starfleet Captain choosing to go right to the edge of an anomaly to explore and then feigning shock when it reaches out and envelops the ship. I think the opening voiceover should be altered with a new directive: ‘To seek out new life and new civilisations (especially anomalies that screw with the ship).’ Even freshman director Winrich Kolbe thinks that the Bridge sets are crushingly dull and he is forced to shoot endless scenes in the tanned airport lounge from hell. At least Rob Bowman got to explore the ship a bit in The Child. Weirdly we lose Wesley on the Conn halfway through the episode. Regardless as to whether they add any colour to the episode or not Geordi and Pulaski coming to the Bridge is exactly that – nothing more than a way to break up the endless dull talking scenes in the same location. Both of them appear, say a few lines, hang around in the background and then leave. ‘Captain its almost gone!’ cries the unnamed guy on the Conn – if I were Troi I would get up from my post and start on him, saying ‘I’m the one who states the obvious on this Bridge!’ Nagilum is easily the cheapest looking alien with have ever seen on Trek, just a face in an anomaly and pretty badly made up one at that. Its quite amusing to note that when his crew start displaying personality (Troi saying she would rather take her chances as one of the 50% who survives and Data calling him ‘Jean Luc’) he states categorically ‘this is wrong.’

Moment to Watch Out For: Pulaski doing the robot dance across the Bridge as Nagilum tries to figure out why she is of a different construction to the males. One of the most unintentionally hilarious bits of Trek I can remember.

Teaser-tastic: The oddest teaser yet and no mistake. Written to convince the viewer that Riker and Worf are in danger on a nearby planet (nicely realised with steamy smoke and wreckage) of being attacked by a number of aliens (the skeleton face looks great, the cumbersome bug less so) that turns out to be Worf’s daily exercises on the holodeck.

Moral of the Week: Do not approach anomalies. Ever.

Myth Building: O’Brien seems to be a Lieutenant in this story and yet in DS9 he suggests that he has deliberately stayed an ‘unlisted man.’ Does that mean he lost his rank when he took the post on the station?

Result: The first twenty minutes are one long Bridge scene with all and sundry watching an anomaly on the view screen which is about as thrilling as it sounds. Freshman director Winrich Kolbe is trying to make his mark and shoots the set in as many ways as he can (without being too imaginative…this is Star Trek after all!) but the truth is the Bridge is such a dull set he is fighting a losing battle. When the Yamato turns up with exactly the same sets as the Enterprise you realise this is going to be the cheapest story on record and the money is being saved for better episodes elsewhere. There was the odd moment of character (Pulaski gets the best line, quoted above) but for the most part Where Silence Has Lease is one long shaggy dog story that plods along aimlessly and goes nowhere especially interesting. Clearly not all the lessons of the first series have been learnt: 3/10

Elementary Dear Data written by Brian Allan Lane and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: A Sherlock Holmes adventure for Mister Data…

To Baldly Go: It would have been tragic had the one Brit if the cast (does Marin Sirtis count as well?) hadn’t been able to enjoy a slice of Holmesian drama and Patrick Stewart steps into this world with effortless ease as though he belongs here. He looks more comfortable in a top hat and tails than he ever has in his Starfleet uniform.  

Fully Functional: Whilst I don’t know if I would be beating down Brent Spiner’s door to play Sherlock Holmes in any real sense it is wonderful to see some follow up to Data’s interest in the character in Lonely Among Us. Naturally Data is a gifted musician and can fiddle his way through a beautiful violin piece. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself kicking back with his dressing gown on, puffing on a pipe and pondering on the latest Holmes mystery. In a setting like this the Pinocchio aspects really come to the fore and he is a little wooden boy who wants to be human be playing games. Its delightful.

Blind Engineer: Geordi makes a very good point that a Sherlock Holmes mystery with no mystery is no fun at all and encourages Data to approach the scenario without all the answers so he can truly prove his worth as a master detective.

Medical Attitude: Once again Pulaski marks the strongest points in the episode (and more often than not gets the best lines) particularly when she suggests that Holmes understood the human soul and used it to match his deductive reasoning (whereas Data is all memorisation and resuscitation). This is precisely the sort of episode that was needed to warm us to Pulaski, a fun piece that she can get involved in and one that highlights her Spock/McCoy style banter with Data (which it does mimic whether people like it or not). She believes inspiration and imagination are out of Data’s reach. I bet some people were delighted to hear that Moriarty will hurt the kidnapped Pulaski ‘if necessary...’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘To feel the thrill of victory there has to be the possibility of failiure.’
‘The game is afoot!’
‘Are you alright?’ ‘Yes except being crammed full of crumpets!’
‘I’ll still fill you full of crumpet!’ must be one of the rudest lines in Trek ever!

The Good: Geordi’s gift to the Captain on the Victory, a giant model sailing ship, is absolutely gorgeous. I want one. The foggy, gas lit streets of Victorian London are atmospherically realised in the studio complete with horse and carriages, whores and a façade of pubs and houses. You would never be able to tell this has all been brewed up in an American studio. The whole nature of Moriarty being created to outwit Data and to recognise his life as a fiction on the holodeck is an intriguing new angle for these sorts of episodes. I love the mixture of luxury (candelabras, statuettes, paintings and his awesome steam punk technology) and the technology in Moriarty’s secret lair. Data reacting so shocked at Moriarty’s drawing of the Enterprise takes this episode into a whole new level of ingenuity. More impressive imagery with the blood red emergency lighting and holodeck grid bleeding into the Victorian London façade. The episode reaches its crux when Moriarty suggests that Data is a machine but is that all he is…and in the same fashion that Moriarty is only a hologram or has he transcended his original function by becoming self aware. It’s an issue that is explored with prolonged sensitively with the Doctor in Voyager but this is the first stab at feeling around the idea and the writers should be commended. Daniel Davis could so easily have played Moriarty in a ridiculously over the top fashion but he plays the part with great sensitivity and intelligence that earns him a return appearance in series six.

The Bad: My one complaint is that the tension between Data and Pulaski isn’t resolved in this episode. It really should have been because it was taken to delirious extremes here.

Moment to Watch Out For: That first step from the holodeck into the foggy Victorian London street. A blissful moment that seeks to justify the continued use of the concept and succeeds.

Moral of the Week: Life takes on many forms, not all of them human.

Fashion Statement: Geordi looks gorgeous in his Watson outfit, Data a powerful presence in his deerstalker and Pulaski takes on a whole new level of sophistication in her beautiful Victorian finery. Even Worf (The Hound of the Baskervilles, naturally) and Picard gets in on the action and dappers up.

Orchestra: The music takes on a very jolly edge in the teaser as we realise that Data and Geordi are off to play Holmes and Watson.

Result: Stylish, whimsical and clever; Elementary, Dear Data is a gorgeous episode of second two that hits all the right notes for me, especially as a Holmes aficionado. The atmosphere of Victorian London is brewed up atmospherically by director Rob Bowman (who else?) and Brent Spiner, Levar Burton and Diana Muldaur throw themselves into the spirit of the piece with real gusto. The episode is extremely imaginative in its ability to make you think upon the nature of the reality of holodeck creations and is rooted in character as Pulaski wages that Data cannot possess the imagination to figure out a mystery that he does not have the answers for. There are some decent takes on the same theme of holographic individuality in later episodes but they are rarely as stylishly handled as they are here and come Voyager the idea has simply gotten out of hand. The mere fact that this is a peek at British history written and directed by Americans and isn’t stereotypical or offensive is something of a miracle. Where is the dreadful cockney slang that pollutes every show from The X-Files to Buffy? A joy to watch: 9/10

The Outrageous Okona written by Burton Armus and directed by Robert Becker

What’s it about: A roguish freighter Captain visits the Enterprise and all hell breaks loose…

To Baldly Go: Picard tells Okona he is free to socialise with the members of his crew…pretty much giving his permission to turn up at anyone’s quarters and offer his services! Its nice to see that the Enterprise is the 24th Century equivalent of an sleazy knocking shop.

Number One: After spending thirty seconds with Okona you can see this is exactly how a blokey bloke should be portrayed in the 24th Century and how unconvincing Riker is in the role in comparison. Fancy Riker being emasculated by another man…usually it’s the powerful broads he hooks up with!

Fully Functional: Data is right, the ‘you’re a droid’ gag isn’t funny. He heads to the holodeck to try and learn something about humour but soon Data and Mr Comic are gooning about on the stage screaming their heads off with funny teeth and I thought I had fallen into an alternative universe of painfully unfunny farce. Its my least favourite style of comedy, far too undisciplined and manic.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘He’s a man who lives his life by his own rules…’ – cheese factor ten!

The Good: You’ve got to love how Okona (sorry the outrageous Okona) greets Picard not with a smile but by filling his view screen with a shot of his bum as he bends of over with his back to the viewscreen. I like him already. Mischievous, irreverent and somewhat brazen – no wonder Picard looks upset, we all know how he doesn’t like people visiting the ship with any personality or acting with autonomy.

The Bad: Susan Meyer is my least favourite (and by far the least convincing due her dozy exploits) character in Desperate Housewives and as soon as Teri Hatcher turned up in a Starfleet uniform on the Enterprise I had visions of the ship being plunged into the nearest black hole due to her incompetence! Why is Wesley in the transporter room to greet their visitor? Its clear he is only present because he and Okona will form some kind of relationship. I never thought I would say this about TNG but some of the model work in this episode is pretty ropey. The episode is so predictable that you will figure that Okona has committed crimes on both worlds as soon as the first party demands his surrender. On one side of this conflict you have a pregnant young woman and on the other side you have an irate young man…can you guess where this is going? We go from soft pornography early in the episode to some truly dreadful daytime soap when everybody beams on board the Enterprise. I’m not sure it’s a shift in the episodes favour.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Okona heads to Teri Hatcher’s quarters and the door opens and she is inside dressed up in a slinky red dress ready to welcome him. The music, lighting and tone gives this the feel of a sleazy eighties porn video and it is shocking to behold. There is a moment between Riker and Wesley in Engineering that genuinely looks as though they are flirting with each other.

Moral of the Week: Being able to laugh isn’t the be all and end all of being human.

Fashion Statement: There are no two ways around it but (the outrageous) Okona is a real hottie in a floppy fringe, stubbled up kind of way. I remember the actor from Moon Over Miami (a short lived comedy cop show starring Ally Walker) and I fancied the ass off him in that too.

Orchestra: What is up with that super dramatic music when Worf heads off to stop Okona’s unending line of sexual conquests through the ship? Is this supposed to be drama?

Result: How did TNG recover from episodes of this quality? The appallingly titled Outrageous Okona features two plotlines that fight each other to be the most embarrassing narrative thread yet on this show - one sordid and painfully predictable and the other excruciating and unfunny. Is this the only episode of Trek to deal with the shenanigans of a man whore? What am I talking about…Kirk, Riker and Bashir! The one good thing that comes out of this drivel is that Okona himself is actually something of a charmer and if his nefarious activities had been toned down slightly I might even have been happy to see him hang around. Ultimately though the big twist to The Outrageous Okona is that Okona isn’t that outrageous after all: 2/10

As Loud as a Whisper written by Jacqueline Zambrano and directed by Larry Shaw

What’s it about: A peace negotiator with a disability…

To Baldly Go: As soon as Picard says ‘our orders are transportation only, no interference’ and stresses it again that they mustn’t get involved you know exactly what the central dilemma will be in this episode. Should a show be this desperately predictable? When Riker raises his token objections to his Captain leading an Away Mission he goes ‘cluck cluck cluck’ to suggest he is treating him like a mother hen. Good point.

Number One: He thinks it is not their job to police the galaxy when that is pretty much all they did in the first season. And blow a raspberry at most of them as they warped off and left them suffering.

Mr Wolf: Busybody Deanna is there in the transporter room to embarrass and bully Worf into admitting his confliction of this Away Mission. It would have been very cool if he had head butted her.

Blind Engineer: Geordi doesn’t resent his visor or being blind because he likes who he is and he wouldn’t be that person without either one. A comparison is made between his visor and Riva’s chorus.

Alien Empath: Riva seems to have found a kindred spirit in Troi and clearly fancies her a great deal and they share some awkward moments of flirtatious psychobabble where you or I would simply start kissing. Troi says that she cannot wait until her and Riva can find their own method of communicating without any of the chorus present – pretty much telling him she cannot wait to jump his bones. Have you ever noticed how Picard’s strict emphasis on etiquette has bred a crew of really horny teenagers almost as if their frustrations have to leak because of their strict conformity? Imagine sending down Troi to mediate a peace between two warring factions, she would so instantly wind them up with her touchy feely approach that I predict the planet would go up in nuclear detonation in about ten minutes.

Medical Attitude: Pulaski has restored sight in two patients before in a similar situation to Geordi’s. Having brought up this intriguing possibility…why didn’t the writers go through with it? She can only offer choices, not guarantees. Once again Pulaski gets the most interesting scene in the episode. Can we please not have Dr Bev back?

The Good: The idea of Riva being the living embodiment of a Greek tragedy with his own chorus of characters to express his thoughts perks the interest. One is the scholar and artist, one is the libido and warrior and finally one is harmony, wisdom and balance that binds the others together. It’s the sort of premise that I haven’t seen in any other show and that should be encouraged. Plus the effect of the lasers which reduce you to a skeleton and disintegrate that too works very nicely. It might have been very nice to have had a deaf character as a regular on this show with an interpreter but it would have to have been realised in a much more exciting way than this episode.

The Bad: When we head back to the Enterprise after meeting Riva check out the poses between Riker and Pulaski on the Bridge, it looks as though they have been playing pat-a-cake. Seriously…go and have a look! As soon as Riva’s lust steps forward and asks Troi to escort them to their quarters Picard should have realised he was in for a whole heap on trouble. The problem with an episode that is trying to be thoughtful such as this one on a show like TNG is that after the inspiring concept is revealed we are treated to scene after scene of the Enterprise crew being understanding and considerable which is as exciting as watching paint dry. I get that this crew is sympathetic, kind and accepting but isn’t it all a bit tedious? How much more interesting if somebody discriminated or felt uncomfortable around Riva. Its the return of the planetary studio sets with some especially unconvincing looking polystyrene rocks gaining some prominence. Scenes of Data learning sign language are as gripping as they sound. Riva brokers a peace through teaching both sides sign language? Teaching them to communicate together by teaching they to talk in a brand new way is an optimistically simplistic approach to this planets problems. Plus it drives home the planets moral in a preachy and overbearing way.

Moment to Watch Out For:  I thoroughly enjoyed the death of Riva’s chorus because finally something a little less staid was going on.

Moral of the Week: Deafness does not prevent people from communicating. What an amazing revelation.

Fashion Statement: Deanna seriously needs a new uniform because the purple all in one makes her bum look huge.

Result: With three of the five episodes watched so far proving as painful as having your teeth extracted bloodily with a pair of pliers it proves that the innovations this season haven’t raised the bar of quality in the slightest. I respect the idea of presenting deaf people so positively in the future but that is the word that permeates this episodes with crushing banality, respect. Everybody is so nice and welcoming and pleasant the end result is very dull indeed. With no conflict for the first 20 minutes it is akin to watching people all admitting they love each other very much in a church gathering. They try and inject a bit of sauce into the piece by suggesting a romance between Troi and Riva but since this gives everyone’s dullest Betazoid the chance to spout more psychobabble than ever it doesn’t even lower the tone in the slightest. Riva is spreading his own brand of niceness through the galaxy so even the potentially interesting planetary conflict lacks any drama. Its an episode of this level of biegeness that makes me long for the good old days of the outrageous Okona: 2/10

The Schizoid Man written by Tracey Torme and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Celebrated genius Ira Graves figures a way to survive beyond the grave…

To Baldly Go: Whilst he is a little rude to him, it is hilarious to see how worked up Picard gets when one of his crew starts exhibiting a little autonomy. When Picard orders Data to wait in the corridor his response made me spit out my cereal: ‘Why should I? This concerns me as much as it does you.’ The world of TNG is so bland that displaying that sort of behaviour is tantamount to possession whereas on DS9 (and occasionally Voyager) they would be out of character if they didn’t talk to each other like that!

Fully Functional: Brent Spiner once again proves that he is by far the most versatile and impressive performer in this cast and rather than chew the scenery (which is often a given with possession stories) he chooses to underplay the Graves in Data scenes which makes them far more chilling. Poor Data, imagine trying to better yourself by taking on the image of Commander Riker. His roles models really are quite limited. Unfortunately his good taste also seems to have malfunctioned because instead of going for a little goatee or something subtle he slaps on a ‘good, full, dignified’ beard. When Riker made the assertion that Data was Pinocchio in Encounter at Farpoint something didn’t quite ring true…and Graves singing ‘If I only had a heart’ reminded me of why – he’s the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz! The Tin Man finds out that he is human after all because of everything he has tried to experienced in trying to be a human so I guess Data should take some comfort that he will get a similarly happy ending. His relationship with his Grandpa is really rather sweet and I liked the comparison of a dying man taking the time to mourn a man who can’t die. I’m not sure why the events of Conspiracy should be so fresh in Data’s mind but it is nice to see he thinks of Tasha after their intimate encounter last year.

Alien Empath: When Troi runs screaming with laughter from Data’s quarters I found myself laughing with her and probably for the first time.

Medical Attitude: Pulaski sends (the very cute) Dr Selar in her place to Graves’ house which begs the question why? We’ll find out soon enough!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Women aren’t people…they’re women!’ – somehow Graves makes that line sound like a compliment!
‘I was once as beautiful as I am smart!’ ‘Really Grandpa?’ ‘No. Not really. But what the hell, I’m dying.’
‘Those who knew him…loved him! And those who did not know him…loved him from afar!’
‘It seems to have an especially strong hatred of you, Captain’ – Troi makes that sound like it is an unusual occurrence!

The Good: Its hard to not like a bloke like Graves who struts around with his self esteem somewhere in the stratosphere and insulting all and sundry. Graves’ ego knows no bounds and when Troi meets him he tells her it will be one of the truly great moments in her life! He taught Dr Soong everything he knows and declares that Data has no aesthetic value whatsoever. Even when he is trapped inside Data he cannot resist blowing his own trumpet and when he is trapped inside Data he rather wonderfully describes himself as ‘a man for all seasons!’ at his funeral service. Data whispering on the Bridge turbolift is pretty unnerving.

The Bad: Is that the rocky studio landscape from series one out the window of Graves’ house again? The story doesn’t even pretend to build up to the surprise that Graves has implanted himself into Data – he tells him he plans to plant his great intelligence into a machine and then he is dead. If the audience can’t connect A to B then they probably need help to turn the TV on. The idea that Picard and his lackeys cannot figure what is going on when Data starts acting wildly out of character is baffling and exposes a lack of respect for these characters in the writing.

Moment to Watch Out For: Its worth watching this episode for the scene where Data happy slaps Picard across Engineering.

Result: Very predictable and ultimately winds up as nothing but an attempt to creep us out (which is as good as a reason for this show as any), what surprised me about The Schizoid Man was how many times it made me laugh! Graves is a hilarious strutting egotist and whether he is human or android his self worth knows no bounds and he is wonderfully rude to this vanilla bunch of lovelies on the Enterprise. The episode lets the audience know what is going on straight away but leaves the crew in the dark for ages which makes them look as thick as they are dull and I hope that wasn’t the goal they were aiming for. Ultimately your appreciation of this episode will come down to whether you enjoy another chance to see Brent Spiner play a different role and I thought he did a superb job, providing laughs and chills in equal measure. Spiner holds the episode together and makes it worth watching: 7/10

Unnatural Selection written by John mason & Mike Gray and directed by Paul Lynch

What’s it about: The deaths of the crew of the Lantree of old age prove an intriguing medical mystery for Pulaski to solve…

To Baldly Go: Hang on…this is where Picard wants to take the chance to assess the new Chief Medical Officer? Seven episodes into the season? Was this episode originally supposed to be earlier in the seasons run? How satisfying to have a character like Pulaski who can not only talk Picard’s objections down but also remind him of the human cost to their unwillingness to take risks. When he approves her request to study the child in the shuttlecraft he’s probably thinking if she does succeed great but if she doesn’t she’ll age to death and he’ll be rid of the argumentative harridan!

Medical Attitude: Sweetly when her published paper gets a mentioned, Katherine looks positively embarrassed at meeting one of her fans. It is through her strength of will alone that Picard agrees to beam one of the children aboard to collect some data on this virus. She understands that medical research is sometimes a risky business. Pulaski is still making scathing barbs at Data which is probably unfair at this point and even she realises this and apologises to him. We discover as soon as she found about an opening on the Enterprise Pulaski put in for a transfer because she has been an admirer of Picard’s for some time. Pulaski admits that she jumped into examining the boy without thinking and refuses to endanger the Enterprise under Picard’s instructions. She would rather be a martyr to the cause than risk anybody else’s life. When asked if Pulaski would be normal after Picard’s plan Data replies ‘as normal as ever’ which is very funny.

Alien Empath: Picard asking Troi what she thinks of Pulaski’s dedication to her duty is a nice way of using the counsellor rather than writing her in as a nosy parker as they usually do. Oddly after this sequence Troi is present in a number of scenes where she doesn’t really contribute anything but there are lots of long lingering shots of her looking deeply concerned. ‘I recommend  caution’ she says at one point which is always a safe bet when you have nothing else to contribute. What is very nice is to see a regular like Troi warming to Pulaski and calling her Kate, it helps the audience to relax to the new Doctor if the crew are.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t have to quote the rule book!’ – you tell him Pulaski!
‘As androids go you’re in a class by yourself.’
‘If I live through this I’ll have a much better understanding of geriatrics.’

The Good: The Enterprise catching up with a vessel where all the crew have died of old age is a pretty good place to start a story and the image of the emaciated crew in the exact same positions on the Bridge as we are used to seeing on our Bridge is quite disturbing. Genetically grown children with telepathic abilities and an immune system so advanced it is impossible for him to contract diseases = the future of humanity? There is a sequence that sees a shuttle undocking that is entirely new special effects material and it is top brass. The early stages of Pulaski’s ageing is an example of some very subtle and effective make up, the later stages less so. An antibody that doesn’t wait until a virus attacks the body but actually seeks out an airborne infection is a pretty nifty idea, medically speaking. This episode isn’t afraid to flaunt some pretty weighty scientific ideas and I rather like that. Destroying the Lantree at the conclusion is a surprisingly emotive moment.

Moment to Watch Out For: O’Brien getting some decent screen time for a change although at this point he is just a walking plot device rather than a functioning character.

Fashion Statement: Oh dear, young man in boxer shorts alert. If I were Pulaski I would want to get him alone in the shuttle craft too but for entirely different reasons.

Result: As a character exploration of Pulaski this episode is a massive winner in my book. Not only does Unnatural Selection create a dynamic medical mystery for her to get her teeth into and risk her life for but it also allows us to see the crew finally rally around to save her life and accept her. The blossoming relationship between Pulaski and Picard is proving to be very fulfilling and it is so unlike this show to introduce conflict like this and explore and conclude it in such a satisfying manner. It’s a very welcome development for a series that has taken to infant storybooks for its inspiration for characterisation to this point. Add to that a number of interesting and imaginative concepts and a dramatic drive to the episode and you have something akin to a pretty decent show. Its one of those TNG episodes that tries quite hard to be a little different and it really bugs me to see it criticised as much as it is. I think some TNG fans simply do not like Pulaski and judge the episode on their dislike for the character rather than on the shows merits itself. The best ‘normal’ episode of the season so far. My biggest complaint would be that this should probably have been scheduled after The Child: 8/10

A Matter of Honour written by Burton Armus and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Riker accepts an exchange post on a Klingon ship…

Number One: I don’t want to be too harsh on an episode that deals with Riker as effectively as this one but I have to point out that finally the writers have found somewhere where Riker’s macho posturing will fit right in. He agrees to do the exchange because nobody has ever done it before which is as good a reason as any! Beating up Klag and shoving his head into a sparking console is that first time I cheered for Riker since the show began. He’s always been an impulsive sort of fellow (I actually miss that when he is neutered in later seasons) and within this environment he thrives. When asked if he could endure a Klingon woman he replies ‘one or both?’ On the Enterprise that would be the most agonising chat up line (and he would say it) but on the Klingon ship he is celebrated for his nerve. This episode puts Riker in the impossible position of having to uphold the honour of the ship he has sworn his loyalty to during the exchange even when it is attacking the Enterprise. That is the sort of dilemma this show should be indulging in more often. Riker is tested by being asked for the secrets of the Enterprise but he refuses to break his allegiance to Starfleet even when he is willing to die like a Klingon – he embodies the best of both worlds.

Mr Wolf: Ironically in a episode that is set up to highlight how effective a Federation Officer can be on a Klingon ship it has far more success in revealing how awesome a Klingon is on a Federation ship. At his best Worf is a fine character and he provokes some very funny moments with his deadpan (lack of) humour. He gets some great moments in this episode as he has to deal with the troublesome and egotistical Ensign Mendon and I was laughing hard at his ‘you may impress me’ on the Bridge.

Boy Genius: Oh man, just as I was thinking that they hadn’t dropped the ball with Wesley once this season he lets slip an (accidental) racial slur. Why is he so twee a character? Stating the bleeding obvious about Mendon making errors and praising the wonderful Picard and his etiquette. Like Harry Kim you just want to see him scratch his ass or pick his nose or do something that makes him seem like a normal guy.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He is not very attractive but I will have him.’

The Good: The phaser shooting range is an awesome idea and my number one ‘I want it designed for real’ concept in Star Trek. With their blood red lighting, echoing hull and clanking doors, the Klingon ships have the look and feel of a military submarine preparing for attack. Its such a sharp contrast to the vanilla design of the Enterprise it makes an atmospheric and refreshing change of scene. Every time Star Trek requires a big beefy testosterone fuelled character they always seem to call on Brian Thompson – I swear he was one of the Dozai in Rules of Acquisition and he definitely played a Jem H’adar at one point too. The trouble is he is too good at it! You might think that the scenes in the Klingon Mess Hall are like watching a bunch of pack animals savaging a live beast but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve experience my mates around a table full of fajita goodness. They make this bunch look positively tame.

The Bad: I still love the idea the Benzite’s method of breathing in gas but surely Mendon must be high on the stuff to think that he can walk around the Bridge and suggest improvements to everybody’s work. ‘Soon we’ll get things running perfectly!’

Moment to Watch Out For: There’s the glorious scene of Riker tucking into a Klingon feast in Ten Forward consisting of the least appetising looking food you are ever likely to see. Being somewhat adventurous in my eating habits I would be right in there with him trying all the worms and mud but I think even I would hold fast on a hairy drink!

Orchestra: I really enjoyed the Klingon theme that accompanied them in Heart of Glory and it looks as though it is going to be a running score for their species. The music during the final confrontation had my feet tapping away like mad.

Result: A sub genre of TNG is starting emerge in the Klingon episodes and they are proving to be amongst the most successful. Well actually A Matter of Honour is a tale of two halves with one proving effective and dynamic (the awesome idea of Riker serving where he belongs on a Klingon ship) and the other drowning in the usual TNG kiddie friendly morality (Mendon learns the errors of his ways under Wesley’s guidance). Fortunately the former takes prominence and the material is so good that its almost enough to make you forget about the latter. The action always feels meatier in the Klingon episodes and the music more dramatic and it makes me wish they couldn’t inject some of these qualities in the normal, dull old morality plays this series indulges in. Riker appearing on the Enterprise view screen and ordering Picard to surrender is so cool that it (almost) wipes away any ill feeling I have had for him in the past: 8/10

The Measure of a Man written by Melinda M. Snodgrass and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: The question of Data sentience is brought to light…

To Baldly Go: Patrick Stewart gives his best performance to date and one of his best performances in the shows entire run in The Measure of a Man. Backed into an impossible situation, Picard has never pulled off such a coup before and Stewart makes sure we feel every moment of his fear, determination and triumph. During the courtroom scenes you can see an actor at the top of his game, relishing the theatre of the piece and finally getting to prove what ideal casting he was for the role. Considering this is an episode that reinforces all of the strongest aspects of Picard’s character it is hilarious that he opens it indulging in the most cringeworthy come-on this side of the Alpha Quadrant. It brings a sense of order and stability to Phillipa’s universe to know that Jean Luc is still a pompous ass (her words, not mine). Picard isn’t used to having the rug pulled quite so firmly from underneath him and protocol being used against him like this and whilst he will adhere to Starfleet’s directives he looks thoroughly ashamed of himself for doing so (even to the point of not being able to look Data in the eye). He speaks with great passion to argue for Data’s safety and its very stimulating to see the Captain go out on a limb like this, to genuinely break new ground. Overt sentimentality is not one of Picard’s failings. He wants Data’s qualifications to be read out in the hearing to prove what he has achieved.

Number One: The second episode in a row that puts Riker in an unenviable position of having to work against one of his friends. To have Riker prosecute against Data might sound like a daft idea but the episode takes it very seriously and whilst he doesn’t want to win Riker has to make sure that he can. He agrees to do his best against Data or he will be handed straight to Commander Maddox to be taken apart. Its fantastic to toss aside all that macho posturing and present Riker as an intelligent man and his reasoned argument in proving that Data is a device rather than a man is compelling to watch. Riker doesn’t need to be told that he has lost the argument, the way he looks admiringly at his Captain says it all.

Fully Functional: Maddox evaluated Data when he applied for the Academy and was the sole member of the committee that objected to his entrance because he did not consider him a sentient being. There is another reminder of Data’s affection for Tasha which shows before the court case even gets underway that he has gone beyond the limits of his programming. Data doesn’t wish to be reduced to mere facts when the substance of his life will be deleted. Its not ego or vanity that makes him resign from Starfleet but his wish to keep Dr Soong’s dream alive. Ripping the paper after the present has been opened is very funny in a way that his previous attempts to emulate humanoid behaviour the silly beard and the stand up comedy) weren’t – it’s a logical response to Wesley’s suggestion. Its here that we realise how close Data and Geordi are and their relationship continues to grow from this point onwards. When his options are reduced from limited to none, Data’s reaction is simple and unemotional. He objects to the idea of being taken apart but he has no emotional investment in trying to stay ‘alive.’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Would you permit the computer of the Enterprise to refuse a refit?’ – I love that line because until that point the episode has been crafted for the audience to back Data 100% and yet with this brilliantly succinct point we realise (once again) that he is just a machine.
‘Starfleet was founded to seek out new life well there it sits!

The Good: Introducing the poker game was a really smart idea and not just because it allows us to see these usually stuffy characters in a new, relaxed light but its also about time both Pulaski and O’Brien (especially O’Brien) had some fun material. The game shows Riker in a strong light and proves Pulaski’s point about Data having no real instinct, its brimming with character which is just what I like. I love the idea of a character who enjoys the adversarial nature of a good court case more than getting to the truth and Phillipa is exactly the sort of character the writers of this show should be bringing to life more. I have been waiting for Guinan to get some material as meaty as this since her introduction and the way she consuls Picard gives her a vital role on the ship – unlike Troi she talks to him intelligently and nudges him in the right direction. To bring up the issue of slavery provokes the audience because it connects us to the drama emotionally and reinforces the lessons that Star Trek can provide. Maddox’s three criteria to sentience is intelligence, self awareness and consciousness. Picard cleverly makes a case for Data with regards to all three.

The Bad: What is up with all these dull pastel colours that they deck out their Starbases in? ‘We have rule of law in this Federation!’ – what an odd line. Shouldn’t Pulaski have been involved in this episode in some way given what she feels about Data?

Moment to Watch Out For: Patrick Stewart’s blistering performance in the last act. I literally sat to attention when Picard turned on Phillipa and asked if she knew what Data was.

Moral of the Week: Life comes in make shapes and forms. Do not judge too harshly.

Result: The Measure of a Man is often referred to as an excellent courtroom drama but the court scenes are confined to the last fifteen minutes and so I would like to rebrand this as an excellent character drama. Which is all the more impressive when the central character under discussion is Mister Data. TNG has already made attempts to take contemporary issues and transplant them into the 24th Century usually with clichéd and melodramatic results but this episode mixes philosophy and ethics to stirring effect and the dialogue leaves you on the edge of your seat. The threat to Data’s life is clear and by putting Picard and Riker on either side of the bench the script provokes winning performances from both Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. There is no definitive conclusion, nobody knows whether Data is a lifeform or not but everybody can agree that there is more to him than just a machine. A sublime morality play that redefines what TNG can do and the best episode to date: 10/10

The Dauphin written by Scott Rubenstein & Leonard Mlodinow and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: It’s the episode we have all been dreading…Wesley Crusher falls in love!

Mr Wolf: The sudden cut to Worf screaming the Klingon mating ritual on the Bridge is really funny – anybody within four decks must have shit their pants to hear such a terrifying sound! More proof of the excellent comic potential of Worf who gets quite turned on as he talks about Klingon women clawing at him! Worf underestimates the strength of Anya and has to restrain his anger as she boasts that she is stronger than him. By the end of the episode he even says that he will miss her because she is a worthy opponent. If she wasn’t so vertically challenged this wouldn’t be half as fun as it is but the visual dynamic really works.

Forever Ensign: After spending weeks at the con being a mouthpiece for the Enterprise it is nice to see that Wesley has blood running through his body and dilithium. I have been waiting a season and a half to see him obsess about anything else but ships duty and the second he catches the eye of a pretty girl he completely forgets about boring science experiments with Geordi. Good lad. Is Wesley so square that he doesn’t know how to ask a girl out? Does he need to ask every member of the crew their opinion on love? Jake Sisko simply gets on with it on DS9 and gets embarrassed when his father tries to involve himself. They don’t call him Wesley ‘give me your approval’ Crusher for nothing! When he finally gets his chance to shine he stands there like a zombie before the love of his life whilst she does all the talking. Gah – he even needs Guinan to tell him to run after Salia when she leaves their date crying. Is he really as clueless as he appears? Wesley even takes the mickey that his life isn’t exactly wild. Somehow I don’t even buy it when Wesley is angry with Salia for lying about her species since he looks so vacant when he orders her from his quarters. Isn’t Riker supposed to be looking after him? He needs to teach the guy the art of masturbation to loosen him up a bit.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Believe me, Ten Forward is very real’ – Wesley is such a schmuck its hard to think that anybody would ever fall for him.
‘A taste to remember me by’ – Star Wars and Star Trek fans are often in combat at which franchise is better but I think we can both agree that both of them suck at romantic dialogue. This isn’t Phantom Menace bad, but its pretty close.

The Good: Anya is such a fun character and pairing her with Worf was such a smart idea. Her best moment comes when she stomps into Sickbay and orders Pulaski to murder her patient with the potentially infectious disease.

The Bad: I can’t imagine a much more clichéd situation than royalty falling in love with the wrong person. Its almost exactly the same plot as the episode Haven but stretches way back to Romeo and Juliet. The furry animal that comforts Salia has to be seen to be believed. Surely Salia can’t be so daft that she cannot figure how to use the food replicator when all you have to do is say what you want. I refuse to believe that the giant teddy bear with bulbous red eyes is the best that a show with TNG’s resources could come up with! Poor Worf has to wrestle with the thing! We’re treated to another pretty unconvincing planetary backdrop although if you could actually stand beneath a planet like Jupiter with its dominant rings it would be extraordinary. There hasn’t been a scene as brilliantly awful between two unconvincing monsters such as the one between Anya and Salia growling at each other in their hairy forms since Big Daddy T Rex and his mate Billy Brontosaurus had a punch up in Doctor Who’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

Moment to Watch Out For: The phenomenal flirting scene between Riker and Guinan that might convince you if you turned the TV on at this point that this episode is pretty good. Guinan’s ‘shut up kid’ to Wesley made me howl as she luxuriates into Riker’s dreadful chat up lines!

Moral of the Week: Don’t think with your penis.

Fashion Statement: Given this is his first foray into romance, Wesley’s hair is appropriately coiffured and his comb over makes him look a lot softer.

Foreboding: Now I’m probably seeing patterns that aren’t there but could Anya be one of the Founders? Perhaps one of the Hundred that were sent out?

Result: Despite some peripheral elements that see this show gaining more confidence, The Dauphin fails to work because Wesley is simply too wet to take seriously and is paired off with the equally soppy Salia. Most of the episode seems to consist of Wil Wheaton staring boggle eyed at something be it the love of his life or the dreadful shaggy monsters on display. As a romance it lacks any sexuality and as a tragedy it fails too because both characters are so hopelessly nice that you want both of them to suffer. However a couple of glorious advice scenes from Worf, Riker and Guinan make this at least worth a look and I really enjoyed the fun tension between Worf and Anya. Needless to say this episode features the worst monster costumes ever to appear in a Star Trek episode and I’m including TOS. There’s an excellent romance episode that ends with one regular character being dazzled as their lover turns into light before them but that episode is DS9’s Chimera: 5/10

Contagion written by Steve Garber & Beth Woods and directed by Joseph L Scanlan

What’s it about: The destruction of the Enterprise’s sister ship launches a full scale investigation and the ship starts being plagued by the same failures…

To Baldly Go: The director takes the time to go through a long string of personal logs by Captain Varley and focus on Picard’s uncomfortable reactions of a listening to a dead man who just happened to be a good friend of his. Once again Patrick Stewart is excellent without saying a single word and he really seems to have found his groove now as Picard. It is so nice to see the writers looking back at where they went wrong in season one and rectifying their mistakes slowly – in The Naked Now Picard lectured Wesley on the dangers of alcoholism in a way that made both characters look stupid but there is a lovely sequence in this story where he invites Wesley into his Ready Room and teaches him about the Iconians. Archaeology has long been a hobby of Jean Luc’s since his Academy days. He admits to Wesley that he handles the deaths of so many people because he has to but it still moves him greatly.

Number One: Even Riker acknowledges that he and Picard have had the conversation about the Captain leading an Away Mission a hundred times. Doesn’t Riker realise that Picard is the lead and he would never bite the dust? As long as he takes a red shirt with him to draw their fire he will be fine.

Mr Wolf: ‘Sir we have not established that that is truly a gateway!’ cries Worf as Picard orders him through. ‘This will be the test’ informs the Captain. Oh how I laughed my head of at this exchange.

Medical Attitude: I love Pulaski’s lecture to her subordinate about the time honoured method of practising medicine with your head, your heart and your hands rather than relying on technology all the time. She has so much more personality than Dr Beverly ‘I have a tricorder for a heart’ Crusher. Can we please keep this crabby old cow?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m like a caveman confronted with a tricorder.’
‘Welcome to the Bridge, Mr La Forge’ – with an entrance like that he deserved some acknowledgement.
‘Data?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘What happened?’ ‘Any answer would be mere speculation’ ‘This is yet another example of how our actions have random results’ ‘Thanks Data, I noticed.’

The Good: Two Starfleet ships hanging around in the Neutral Zone and one being crippled sounds like the sort of meaty Original Series premise that really would have worked back then and still has plenty of juice in it now. Even more impressive is the destruction of a Galaxy Class Starship (I especially love the fiery debris that heads straight for the view screen) which proves this episode isn’t wasting any time messing around. When the Romulans show up it is the delectable Carolyn Seymour playing the Commander…is this episode trying to earn as many brownie points as possible?  To have the crew talking about a ship that has exactly the same design spec as the Enterprise gives the early scenes a real edge…what happened to the Yamato could easily happen to the Enterprise and they need to unravel the mystery to make sure it doesn’t. The Iconians and their gateways are a fascinating concept and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to revisit this in later episodes (DS9 included the gateways in To the Death but it is little more than background colour for the battle that is taken place between two Jem H’adar factions). You have a number of gorgeous planetary landscapes seen through the gateway that look far more impressive than any of the fake studio backdrops we had last year. Varley feared that the Romulans could use the gateway as a weapon and given their warlike stance that is a thought to chill the blood.

The Bad: The money must have been spent on the other set pieces since the last shot of this episode features pathetic little fireworks going off on the planet seen from orbit.

Moment to Watch Out For: I want to say the extraordinary pre titles sequence because it compounds one jaw dropping moment after another but for me the best scene was Geordi in the turbolift which is terrifying (especially if you have a fear of elevators…if you do then you may never step into one again) and powerfully realised.

Orchestra: Mental music as Geordi goes sprinting through Engineering to get to the Bridge!

Myth Building: The Yamato is the Enterprise’s sister ship.

Foreboding: ‘We would appear magical to Stone Age people’ – see Who Watches the Watchers.

Result: A mature episode that handles its themes with appropriate seriousness and yet still has time for humour. Cleverly this episode is both a technological thriller (for those fans who love the technical aspects of the show) and a nicely directed drama too (for those of us who couldn’t give a fig for the technobabble) with some real danger to the Ship. In between some gorgeous set pieces you have some real wit and great lines too and everybody from Geordi to Riker having a very funny moment. Even Troi is giving good advice! Just when you think it can’t throw anymore cool moments at you Picard steps through the gateway onto the Romulan Bridge! Everything clicks in Contagion for me and it is another example of the improving quality of TNG: 9/10

The Royale written by Keith Mills and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: A hotel on a poisonous planet?

Mr Wolf: Worf thinks that dying in your sleep is a terrible way to go! More comedy Worf moments as he fails to rouse the ‘turbolift’ and answers the telephone (his gruff  ‘hello!’ is hilarious).

Fully Functional: Its worth watching this episode just to see Data in a cowboy hat, cutting cards and playing 21s. He seems to be having great fun at the crabs table and it is during these scenes that the episode scores its best moments.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why would anyone go to all this trouble as window dressing for a dead man?’
‘When the train comes in, everybody rides!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Looks like he died in his sleep’ says Riker of a corpse that has completely decomposed in a hotel bed. How did they ever let such a top class brain like this leave Starfleet Academy?
‘I don’t believe this dialogue’ hilariously is a Troi line, the Queen of cod-emotive speech!
‘It’s a puzzle we may never solve’ is exactly the sort of throwaway line that gets many a Star Trek episode out of explaining its purpose.

The Good: The closing image of the teaser is great…the camera zooms in on a piece of space debris with the emblem NASA and it looks like we’ve got ourselves a mystery. The revolving door in the darkness is so out of place on a lifeless planet that it really works for me. I don’t know if the Royale location is shot on location or if it is an impressively realised set but either way all the money once again seems to be poured into the quirkier episodes. The inescapable revolving door is a quirky bit of nonsense. Despite myself I couldn’t help but get caught up in the quirky cheapness of tone in the casino sequences.

The Bad: This is one of those times when predicting a future event (or not) strains credulity – Picard suggests that Fermat’s Last Theorem has not been cracked for 800 years and yet it was comprehensively solved in 1993, just a few years after this episode was aired. It looks like they forgot to dub in the noises when O’Brien beams the Away Team down – he’s pressing the buttons on the console but they aren’t making their usual bleeping racket. Fortunately the Away Team manages to make contact with the Enterprise at the exact point that they need the help of its databanks. Out of a sense of guilt for killing the crew, the aliens created the Hotel Royale from a novel figuring that it was a guide to their preferred lifestyle – there are so many other novels you could have had fun with other than this lame melodrama. Imagine a Dickens or an Austen coming to life. At least they admit it is a badly written novel…but the hideous clichés start leaking into the episode before its conclusion that make it tough to enjoy at times. Besides considering the standard of writing on this show so far (I count around seven or eight really well written episodes in a season and a half) it is somewhat embarrassing for them to point out clichés and badly written characters in a show that has (so far) flaunted them as a matter of law.

Moment to Watch Out For: Watching Data earn enough money at the tables to buy the Royale so they become the foreign investors.

Moral of the Week: Don’t read trashy novels. 

Orchestra: The musician has great fun emulating the cheesy lounge bar music that would accompany a movie of this nature and I love the fun percussion during the gambling scenes and the horrendous eighties-ness of the saxophone. Its no Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang but its a far more enjoyable and imaginative score than practically anything in this shows last three seasons.

Result: A completely frivolous exercise that doesn’t seem to have much point to it, however The Royale is no where near as bad as its reputation. Its one of those episodes that is often mooted as one of the worst episodes of TNG but it isn’t even close. The fun of seeing Riker, Data and Worf in the period hotel setting is odd enough to work for a while but there comes a point where the episode stops imitating a sleazy throwaway novel and embodies a sleazy throwaway novel complete with bullish gangsters, broads and a jilted lover. Visually and musically the episode is impressive  and whilst this isn’t especially thoughtful or entertaining I would rather watch a loose and quirky piece like this than sit through ‘dramas’ like The Last Outpost, Justice and Home Soil. Saying that there is a similar DS9 episode set in a casino (Badda Bing Badda Bang) that walks all over this attempt and proves to be much more energetic and stylish. Its okay but its just filler at the end of the day: 5/10

Time Squared written by Maurice Hurley and directed by Joseph L Scanlan

What’s it about: The Enterprise retrieves a dead shuttlecraft only to discover another Captain Picard inside…

To Baldly Go: Finally we get to see Picard who is usually so steadfast and reactionary in his dealings with space flotsam looking truly disturbed when he comes face to face with the one thing that he cannot comprehend – himself! The slightly aged make up and Patrick Stewart’s haunting performance as the older Picard makes his awakening a very chilling moment. Worf seems certain that the last thing the Captain would do is abandon ship if it was in danger but the look on Picard’s face suggests that he isn’t quite so sure. Its nice to see that when it comes down to it, Picard would even mistrust himself if the situation arose. Aside from his features there is nothing about him that he finds familiar and he is desperate to know what could possibly have encouraged him to leave his crew to their fate. One of his strengths is to evaluate the dynamics of a situation and then take a definitive pre-emptive step and take charge. He’s frustrated because he can’t see the solution or even define the problem. They say if you travel far enough you are bound to meet yourself at some point and having experienced that he hopes it never happens again.

Number One: The more this season progresses, the more I am enjoying Riker’s presence on the show and he makes some extremely succinct points about Picard’s reaction to this dilemma.

Medical Attitude: As usual Pulaski is the only character who talks any good sense! When the Captain is so thrown by the appearance of his doppelganger and the implications that he might have fled the ship in fear for his life she comments that his anxiety levels have rocketed and it might become necessary to relive him of command if he becomes paralysed by it when the six hours is up. Troi jumps in and defends the Captain’s command competency but if she had listened carefully Pulaski was only think about the health of the Captain and the crew. I hope some of this common sense leaps over to Dr Bev when she returns.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I am more than apprehensive to play back a log that wont be recorded for several hours.’
‘You’re saying I should just sit down, shut up and wait!’
‘Captain’s Log. We have apparently intercepted with…something.’
‘Before we must go forward the cycle must end.’

The Good: The scene in Riker’s quarters is an odd mixture of the amiable (its great to once again see Pulaski socialising with the crew) and the awkward (the bad eggs gag really isn’t very funny) but overall it is nice to see some behind the scenes camaraderie. The floating shuttlecraft spinning through space is a gorgeous image which is topped by the even more intriguing surprise of the Captain being its occupant! Questions of the second Captain’s presence becomes complicated when we discover that he is from six hours in the future. What could possibly have happened to force Picard to abandon his ship in a shuttlecraft? Its one great shock after another as they play back the log of six hours in the future to see the Enterprise destroyed. I love the intelligent discussion when they are trying to escape their fate – like Contagion there is a genuine feeling of danger is they get this one wrong. The solution that the Captain left the ship to save the crew from the effect of the distortion is satisfying and entirely in character and even once he has made the decision we are left with the uncomfortable feeling that this is exactly what happened before when the ship was destroyed. Shots of the two Captains walking through the ship are exquisitely achieved and the dialogue is cut together seamlessly.

Moment to Watch Out For: The effects shot of the Enterprise being sucked into the funnel is glorious and not the sort of glitz that you see every week on this show.  

Moral of the Week: The future is not determined. Make your own decisions.

Orchestra: The music goes out of its way to use every trick in the book to make the meeting of the two Picards as uncomfortable as possible, especially the scene where the older Picard first wakes up. The excitement builds at the climax as the Enterprise heads into the anomaly and the music is more than up to the task of keeping up with the pace.

Result: A fascinating puzzle to solve and an episode that once again mixes clever science fiction ideas with strong characterisation. The central dilemma of the second Picard and trying to piece together why he left ship leads to some terrific moments for Riker and Pulaski as they try and advise and take precautions against the approaching event. I love all the talk of predeterminism and the crew trying to second guess themselves so they don’t reach the critical point in which the Enterprise explodes. I was literally slack jawed when Picard shot himself – it is the last thing I expected to happen. Time Squared is complex, intelligent and visually stunning; Maurice Hurley’s other episode of the season is the one that gets all the attention but this delicious conundrum is almost as strong: 9/10

The Icarus Factor written by David Asseal & Robert L McCullough and directed by Robert Escove

What’s it about: Daddy Riker is on board and things start to make a lot of good sense…

To Baldly Go: How wonderful to hear Picard acknowledging what a dick he was when Riker first boarded the Enterprise in Encounter at Farpoint and giving him some long overdue praise for his manual handling of the saucer reintegration. He decently spells out the options that Riker has in a very honest fashion and I loved his little admission (putting a secret finger to his lips) that there is nothing quite like holding the reins.

Number One: Riker is being offered the Captains chair on the Ares for his skill as an explorer and a diplomat. Kyle hasn’t been in touch with Riker for fifteen years and he came to the Enterprise to make his apologies and try and build a relationship with him. He is extremely proud of his son’s accomplishments and he has always been competitive with him. They’re not so different and that is so often the problem between parents and siblings (trust me). Will has been on his own since he was fifteen years old and everything he has achieved he did on his own. Rather wonderfully Pulaski throws a handful of cold water in Riker’s face and tells him to ditch the emotional baggage before taking command of a ship. When his mother died they grew apart and Kyle kept trying to challenge Riker to keep him strong but he just saw it as bullying. Regardless of his parenting it did give Riker the ability to fight for his positions throughout his career and get where he is today.

Mr Wolf: Worf’s bad attitude in this episode makes me once want to pat him on the back when he chews out Wesley and then picks him out of his teeth. When Data wants to ‘relieve Worf’s suffering through social interaction’ I was really hoping he would get a bop on the nose for his troubles too. They are such a nosy lot, this crew and perhaps Worf just wants a little me time. Words aren’t always easy for him but he tries to express his feelings about Riker leaving in the best way he can.

Medical Attitude: The last thing Riker was expecting was his father to walk into Ten Forward and plant one on the Pulaski’s smacker. Its more healthy material for her character whose backstory is growing by the episode. It’s a shame that all this good work would be for nought ultimately. She has been married three times and each was a good man and they are all still good friends. She loves Kyle Riker but she doesn’t need to hear it back because their affair was in the past and that is where it belongs. Her greatest medical skill is her empathy (that comes from Troi of course) but Pulaski herself considers it to be her PCS (Pulaski’s Chicken Soup!). She would have married Kyle in a heartbeat back then but he had other priorities.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘With all due respect…be gone! Sir.’
‘If I was not a consummate professional and an android I would find this entire procedure insulting.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Its time for us to have a talk so lower your shields!’ – don’t you hate it when they slip Star Trek tech into dialogue like this?

The Good: Its great to see Riker and O’Brien sharing a drink together in Ten Forward – slowly Miles’ character is becoming more dominant and it wont be long before he is given some really dramatic material. His story about the Klingon head exploding made me howl with laughter! Its very interesting to see Miles at Worf’s ascension ceremony and holding Pulaski back when she wants to step in – he will be looking out for Worf as far forward as DS9’s Image in the Sand/Shadows and Symbols where he helps to comfort him after the death of his wife. The Klingon ascension set is gorgeously designed and lit…much like most of the Klingon sets on this show they show up the luxury liner Enterprise with ease. Troi and Pulaski share a lovely moment when they discuss what silly boys human males are and that is why they find them so appealing.

The Bad: When Riker and his dad decide to solve their problems with a physical contest you feel like somebody should come between them and tell them what big babies they are being. Pulaski does try but they go ahead and beat the crap out of each other regardless. I do like the idea of Ambu-Jitsu but don’t the pair of them look like trussed up action figures. The trouble with the father/son plotline taking so much dominance we don’t get to understand why Riker didn’t take his promotion and it does look rather like he is hiding away in Picard’s shadow.

Moment to Watch Out For: There’s a gorgeous scene between Riker and Troi which is as good as their hints at romance in Encounter at Farpoint were bad. The feelings between these two seemed to have vanished into the ether and this a touching reminder of their history.

Moral of the Week: Tell each other how you feel at the time or resentment will brew.

Result: People point to this episode as being particularly like that of a soap opera and that makes me laugh loads because TNG is the soapiest of science fictions shows all the time. There is nothing especially melodramatic in The Icarus Factor that you wouldn’t see in half the episodes of every season of this show. Meeting Riker’s old man is invaluable for his character and the backstory makes a lot of good sense out of the butch Cassidy Commander we saw in the first season – of course this man wanted to be as dominant and as powerful as possible because he is always trying to outdo his father. It’s the second episode in a row which throws an uncomfortable event at the crew and sees how they cope with it and slowly this crew is gelling into an effective family unit and both Pulaski and Troi get great moments with their respective Rikers. The Worf subplot is nicely done too and all that leaves is the C plot (Riker’s promotion) which has so little time devoted to it that I would have abandoned it and  used the time more wisely in the other narrative threads. I wouldn’t want every episode to be like this but as a pause between the action for some character boosting it is pleasant enough: 7/10

Pen Pals written by Melinda M. Snodgrass and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Data gains a pen pal and Wesley takes command…

To Baldly Go: Picard doesn’t want the comfort of a pet when he rides a horse on the holodeck, he wants a companion and he is gentler and more sensitive with this animal than he is with most people. This was rather a nice angle for the more reflective Picard, both visually and emotionally, and its shame they never revisited it again (as usual DS9 remembers its characters pastimes – indeed Sisko’s love of baseball was actually worked into the series more times than I care to remember!). He respects people who ask a questions if they don’t know the answer rather than blundering forward out of ignorance to protect their pride.

Fully Functional: I love how everybody looks at Data as though he should be ashamed of his actions but he simply stares back at them with that dispassionate android look of his. Whilst Geordi, Riker and Picard get into a heated debate about the fate of these people Data cuts right through all the red tape and says that this civilisation is not a subject of philosophical debate and they are people in trouble. There is such a sense of childlike joy when Data tells Sarjenka that he will be taking her to the stars, they really are kindred spirits.

Boy Genius: Nice to see that the writers haven’t completely forgotten that Riker is supposed to be leading Wesley’s education whilst his mother is away and it is even more satisfying for him to want to push him into an uncomfortable role of leadership to see what he is made of. Mind you do you think this is some kind of transference because Riker is too afraid to take the big chair himself? Somehow they manage to compare Wesley to a sword who will need to have a fine edge and wont dull at the first blow but I think this dialogue thinks it is being more clever than it actually is. Maybe it is all down to the performance but when Wesley is offered command of the planetary survey mission and he smiles proudly at that achievement I don’t feel the same irritation when Harry Kim bristles with excitement every time Janeway feeds him a treat like a good puppy. Its natural for Wesley to wonder about personality conflicts with older members of his team – my husband experienced the same thing when he was put in a managerial role at the age of 20 but you have to face those conflicts head on. I like how he looks so deflated after the first person he speaks to about his chosen team members suggests he made a mistake and hanging around outside the lab nervously again feels like such a natural reaction. This is great characterisation for Wesley, far more mature and interesting than his kiddie training programme in Coming of Age. He worries about the future decisions that he might make that turn out badly – what if somebody dies because he makes a mistake?

Alien Empath: Troi prefers a mode of transport that doesn’t have a mind of its own because as a Betazoid she gets swept up in the emotions of the beast.

Medical Attitude: There is a very sweet moment between Wesley and Pulaski that shows that she could have taken on a more parental role for him had she continued in the series and she probably would have been a lot harder on him (for his own good) than his actual mother. Once again a huge yay for Pulaski who gives the finger to the Prime Directive which rigidly determines the fate of peoples lives in a very negative way. It is cowardly and callous at times and I’m glad she said it. She even shows some healthy development, asking Worf if the emotions the android is feeling for his friend is invalid because of who he is. At the beginning of the season she could barely acknowledge that he was more than a machine.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you don’t trust your own judgement then you don’t belong in the command chair.’

The Good: I know it is only a small observation but considering the amount of planets that the Enterprise visits that look absolutely identical it is nice to enter orbit around a hellish looking planet such as this one. Riker telling O’Brien to take a nap so that Data’s transportation to the planet is off the record is great (‘I’ll just be over here nodding off’). There is a lovely (if not entirely convincing) effects shot of Data witnessing the volcanic surface of the planet.

Moment to Watch Out For: The look on Sarjenka’s face when she sees her planet from space free of volcanic disturbances. Even Picard almost looks touched (although naturally he would never suggest such a thing when the rules have been so brazenly broken!).

Moral of the Week: Sometimes the law don’t work.

Result: Such an odd episode in that it feels very relaxed for the most part and gives dominance to what would be a Wesley Crusher sub plot in any other episode and highlights Data’s childlike nature in his scenes with the alien kid. We’ve reached a stage in the series now where they are comfortable enough to give us ‘day in the life of…’ episodes where there doesn’t need to be a melodramatic thrust to events all the time and I think that’s rather wonderful. Violating the Prime Directive is not the focus of an episode but a quiet moment of consideration. Both Wesley and Data are afforded very positive characterisation that strengthens them in the eyes of the audience and both of their narratives feature very satisfying closure. This isn’t a big bold TNG episode like the next story but it is hugely amiable and fun to watch. The scene in Picard’s quarters where everybody pitches in their opinions makes for great television and is exactly the sort of thing this show should be encouraging: 7/10

Q Who written by Maurice Hurley and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: The Borg finally turn up to whip this show into shape.

To Baldly Go: Q calls Picard an impossibly stubborn human but that is the only way the Captain knows of infuriating the mischievous entity. Wonderfully he decides to go along with Q’s proposal to join the crew and discusses what tasks would be too menial for such an entity. Its Picard’s hubris that they are ready to encounter anything that comes their way that encourages Q into providing him with a lesson to prove him otherwise and as somebody who has long found Picard’s arrogance insufferable at times it is a gorgeous premise for an episode. Stupid, stupid Picard doesn’t heed Guinan’s warnings (or Q’s come to mention it) and heads off to explore this region of space anyway…and look at the consequences. I love that this is a race that cannot be affected by the Prime Directive and has superior firepower because it goes to show without those two elements to hide behind Picard basically has nothing to fight with. He is a desperate, frightened man who is reduced to begging to escape this latest threat. The episode might suggest that Picard showed great humility in asking Q for help but lets not forget that none of this would have been necessary if it wasn’t for his tumultuous ego in the first place. When he contacts the families of those 18 crewmembers I hope he remembers to tell them that those people died to teach him a lesson.

Number One: When Riker starts lecturing Q about putting the ship in danger and causing the deaths of several crewmembers, I had to give him a round of applause for his reaction. ‘Oh please.’

The Listener: Is it any wonder that the shows knocks out an episode this good when Whoopi Goldberg is finally allow to take part in the main plot rather than just hanging around at the sidelines? There has always been something quite enigmatic about her character but she plays the disturbing scenes of Guinan sensing a wrongness on the ship with subtle incongruity. Standing there with her hands clawed talking of a centuries long feud with Q opens out some exciting avenues for her character. When asked for her advice about the outer fringes of the Quadrant she says with ominous foreboding ‘If I were you I’d start back now.’ This is great stuff because the Borg are terrifying before we have even have the chance to met them. The Borg destroyed the cities of Guinan’s people and scattered them amongst the galaxy. She is genuinely afraid of them and that makes us afraid.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘And Micro brain! Growl for me…let me know you still care!’
‘To give you a taste of the future, a preview of things to come…’
‘How do we reason with them? Let them know we’re not a threat?’ ‘You don’t.’
‘You can’t outrun them. You can’t destroy them. If you damage them the essence of what they are remains. They regenerate and keep coming. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless.’
‘If you can’t take a little bloody nose maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. Its not safe out here, its wondrous.’
‘They will be coming…’

The Good: Why didn’t we see more of Ensign Sonia Gomez? How refreshing to find somebody who is cute and fun, opinionated and accident prone. She feels like a real person in a way that half of the regulars on this show don’t. Plus she spills hot chocolate all over Picard which no matter how many times I watch it makes me howl with laughter (‘Yes Ensign it’s all over me’). When Gomez says that whatever they discover out in space they are going to be the first to see it she captures the sense of wonder that is possible on this show with far more clarity than anything the first season tried to shows us. Sometimes the simple way is best. Its nice to hear that not all the Q are alike and that our Q has suffered the consequences for his actions in the first season. The idea that he might be humble enough to renounce his powers to be excepted into a new family is so out of character that it has a ring of truth to it and suggests that the there is more to him than meets the eye. He offers himself as a guide to tackle some of the terrors await to find his offer rejected…and so naturally like anyone scorned wants to show them exactly why he would have been such a good asset. In some ways he is very human. I love it when the Enterprise is tossed around like a frisbee, it made me laugh in When the Bough Breaks and it made me laugh here. Whoever designed the Borg Cube was a genius because its simple functionality is what makes it so impressive. We don’t need Romulan Warbirds or Klingon Birds of Prey when a simple cube can scare the living daylights out of us. Some people might consider the Borg to be the Cybermen from Doctor Who done correctly but I personally see them as the ultimate science fiction zombies. Their ghoulish flesh, blank expression and the way they suck the life out of anything they come into contact with stresses the horror of a great zombie feature. They are frightening because like zombies they have no way of communicating on a personal level – they don’t consider humanity worth getting to know because that doesn’t factor into their lifestyle, they just want to cherry pick the best of their technology. Like zombies when you manage to overpower one there are always more coming at you. And like zombies they have a human visage but show none signs of humanity as we recognise it. The design of the interior of the Cube is fantastic, suggesting a worker bee mentality as each individual is plugged into the ship and works towards optimum function. The slow pan out to reveal the enormity of the Cube and how like a functional, sombre factory it is really drives home that this society has no need for individuality or aesthetics. I cannot imagine anything more chilling than taking something as beautiful as a baby and stripping it of its humanity. The scenes in the nursery see the series really pushing at how far they can take this horrific concept. Watching the ship regenerate itself like a living thing when it is so clearly a machine unnerved me – we have never seen anything like this in science fiction before. The final scene with Guinan is just the icing on the cake…the Borg are coming.

The Bad: Since Ensign Gomez wasn’t to play a major part in this series it is a shame that they didn’t go the whole hog and have one of the casualties in the destroyed sections of the ship. It would have truly haunting to have given a face to the victims. It might seem churlish to mention this during their inception which is so damn good but come the end of TNG’s run the Borg would be reduced to squabbling, individuals and lose everything that was effective about them here. That makes me really sad.

Moment to Watch Out For: The astonishing sequence where the Borg carve a slice out of the Enterprise and drag it towards their ship. You can literally see the different decks as the section of the Enterprise slides away from the saucer section. Its stunningly realised but also a further demonstration of their impotence in the face of the Borg.

Moral of the Week: Humanity is not ready to face the horrors that are to come.

Orchestra: The dark foreboding music as we are first introduced to the Borg is splendid, really disturbing. You’ve got the best score until Best of Both Worlds (funny that) when Picard orders the Enterprise to flee from the regenerating Cube and it pursues. Its dynamic and very exciting without having a heart attack in an orchestra, just how the music should be every week.

Result: An entire episode given over to teasing the audience for The Best of Both Worlds and a genuinely spine-tingling experience in its own right, this is light years ahead of the best of TNG so far. Not only the return of Q something that is handled correctly (and rarely bettered) for the first time but finally the writers conjure up a species that makes space travel a truly frightening experience. We have never seen anything like the Borg before in Star Trek and the way they cannot be reasoned with and relentlessly pursue the ship for their raw materials (which includes the crew) really winds you after a season and half of half hearted threats from lesser races. The visit to the Borg ship is one of the highlights of TNGs run and not even the scenes inside a Cube in Best of Both Worlds comes close to being a disturbing as this first exploration. Stellar direction from Rob Bowman, a fatalistic tone and hope of scary things in the future, Q Who is TNG’s first out and out classic: 10/10

Samaritan Snare written by Robert L McCullough and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: The Enterprise answer a distress call and the Captain heads off to a Starbase for heart surgery…

To Baldly Go: Picard takes great exception to being ordered about by somebody else on his Ship which just makes it all the funnier when Pulaski puts her foot down. He thinks its inappropriate for him to have his heart surgery performed by Pulaski because of his image amongst the crew and she rather sweetly tells him if he goes to a Starbase and has the procedure done his image will be safe with her. He’s not happy about his innards becoming the subject of Starfleet gossip (get over yourself, man). For ambitious Starfleet Officers there are certain costs involved and not having the time to get married is one of them. Its lovely to hear that Picard hasn’t always been so disciplined and that his heart problems are a result of drunken brawl involving racists comments and a knife in the back. He remembers laughing out loud when his heart was pierced with the weapon. Picard believes there is no greater challenge than the study of philosophy. There is a lovely love/hate relationship brewing between Picard and Pulaski which is more interesting than anything he has going with Dr Bev in later seasons – it pains me to think that she will be off soon now she has settled in so well. I love his ungrateful reaction when he realises she saved his life.

Number One: By Picard being cagey and telling Riker that his trip to the Starbase is ‘strictly a matter of image’ I can only imagine what is going around in the First Officers head!

Boy Genius: I love Wesley’s slightly hysterical ‘you will?’ when the Captain tells him he will be joining him on the shuttlecraft. Wil Wheaton is really growing into the role and it seems that close proximity to an actor as good as Patrick Stewart really seems to up his game. The scenes in the shuttle are very nicely done because the parent/child relationship between them that has been hinted at before finally comes to fruition. Wesley is terrified at being alone for such a long period with Picard  but still wants to use the time to get to know him better. The Captain is angry at being forced to have the cardiac procedure and takes his bitterness out on Wesley. The dynamics between them really work and I hope they push this relationship as the show continues. Wesley thinks its too bad that the Captain doesn’t like kids because he would have made a good father. Pulaski is so cheeky she asks Wes to make sure that the Captain actually goes into the procedure!

Mr Wolf: Why does nobody listen to Worf? Tasha I could understand because she was so histrionic but when Worf calmly says that they should find out more about the Pakleds before sending Geordi over and is ignored it makes you wonder why they bother to have a Security Officer.

Alien Empath: Troi is such a joke at this stage – I don’t recall her doing anything particularly useful for a while now and in a moment of hilarious melodrama she runs onto the Bridge like a walking plot device shouting ‘Lieutenant La Forge is in great danger!’ Oh so now you listen to somebody, Riker, thinks Worf. Data pipes up with the most unDataish line of ‘our Betazoid Counsellor is often aware of things beyond our capabilities.’ Is it my imagination or is she more highly strung this week, almost haughty?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I didn’t want you involved in this!’ ‘You’re welcome.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Would you be suggesting a ruse of some sort?’ – the dialogue in the Pakled sections of the this episode is really below par.
‘This man is dying!’ – that guest artist is really earning his fee!

The Good: Once again Ensign Gomez is the cutest thing on television and it is disheartening to think that this is her only other appearance. Sometimes I wish TNG would take the DS9 approach of introducing new characters, seeing that they work and turning them into guest characters that make return appearances. Am I the only person who finds the Pakleds genuinely unnerving? It’s the same sort of unease that O’Brien has with the genetic mutants in Statistical Probabilities – they are slow and daft but capable of being really unpredictable and violent too. It is because they are so simple that they seem threatening, it is almost a façade for their scavenging hunger. Because they seem so benign you get the impression they could snap at any second and when they finally show their hand and shoot Geordi it is with massive grins over their faces.

The Bad: Compared to the later, sleek runabouts the design of the shuttlecraft is bulky and cumbersome. The scene on the Bridge where the crew are all trying to give Geordi a hints of their intentions doesn’t work because the script is abysmal. Are we supposed to think that Captain Picard will die on the operating table?

Moral of the Week: Don’t judge by appearances.

Result: Such an odd episode as the Picard/Wesley plot is very nicely written with some nice development for both characters but the Pakled plot lacks any subtlety whatsoever. The crew are impotent in the face of this grinning loons (they are seriously creepy) and come across as really incompetant despite the situation they are in (Pulaski says ‘he might need medical attention’ upon learning that Geordi has been shot twice). Even the conclusion of this plot is performed in a very childish way so it makes the Pakleds look like absolute chumps. Its worth watching for the lovely material afforded to Picard, Wesley and Pulaski but otherwise this is pretty forgettable stuff: 5/10

Up The Long Ladder written by Melinda Snodgrass and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: A bunch Irish refugees cause chaos on the Enterprise…

To Baldly Go: Even Picard laughs his head off at the absurdity of this episode.

Number One: As soon as he is insulted you know that Riker takes this as a challenge to woo Brenna and he volunteers to stay and help. He has clearly met his match because she pretty much strips down to her underwear to get him to make a move (not before suggesting that he doesn’t like girls – the very idea!).

Mr Wolf: Worf is once again used for comic relief as he faints on the Bridge after contracting the Klingon form of measles. ‘How will I live down the humiliation?’ he cries. Worf is something of a romantic the way he adheres to Klingon rituals.

Medical Attitude: It really doesn’t need pointing out again but I’m going to anyway – Pulaski rocks! She takes almost perverse pleasure in lying to the Captain about Worf’s condition saying that he has been committing himself to a fasting ritual. Whereas Riker and Worf are wandering around trying to figure out why there are so many of the same person about Pulaski is secretly scanning one of the inhabitants. She’s a canny one.

Alien Empath: Troi pipes up with ‘I would urge caution!’ in a very stagey manner. Is she even needed on this Ship? Perhaps Picard keeps her around just to laugh at her when she’s not in the room.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This is my Security Chief Lieutenant Worf’ ‘I don’t suppose security is much of a problem for you.’
‘My God Picard the place is a bloody death trap!’
‘That isn’t necessary, the Ship will clean itself’ ‘Well good for the bloody Ship!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Is your entire population made up of clones?’ ‘Clones!’ ‘Clones?’ ‘Clones!’ – its like a scene from Rocky Horror!

The Good: I love the scene where Worf brings tea to sickbay for Pulaski and how she doses herself up so she can join in the ceremony with him (the tea is usually poisonous to humans) and then asks him to read her some love poetry. Of all the characters you can imagine flirting together…Worf and Pulaski? Its just insane enough to work.

The Bad: Can you imagine anything more patronising for Colm Meaney than to have to beam up a bunch of Irish simpletons and their squealing livestock whilst the composer slaps an Irish jig over the scene? One of these days there will be a portrayal of the Irish that fights against the stereotypes (check out Chris O’Dowd’s superb comedy Moone Boy to see what I’m talking about) but with Danilo trying to foist his daughter onto Picard because he commands a Starship this is certainly not one of them! Naturally Brenna is a feisty broad because that’s how all Irish women behave and they turn the cargo bay into a farming community…ye gads this is simple stuff. When Danilo wants to try and brew up some alcohol because all Irish men are brain-dead drunks and goes boss eyed at the taste of a Klingon beverage before being accosted by his fiery daughter I could feel the Irish population calling for this offensive show to be torn from the schedules! The writing boils this down to the most simplistic level – one half of the colonists went for the agricultural approach (the Irish ones of course) and the other half the technological approach and so with plenty of sophisticated technology under their belt what does Riker think when they encounter three of the same person. Triplets! Are these people so superior that they cannot understand that asking to make clones of the Enterprise crew is a little personal? Riker murders the clones of himself and Pulaski without even considering the fact that he is killing a new life. Considering this is Star Trek it is odd to think that something akin to abortion should be treated so casually (mind you check out Voyager’s Elogium for the most offensive non-exploration of a miscarriage ever committed by a drama).. The way the episode figures that putting together the simpletons and the smarts as a ‘match made in heaven’ made me shake my head with despair.

Moment to Watch Out For: Pulaski forbids monogamous relationships suggesting that to get the population up to scratch each man has to sleep with three women and Danilo thinks he is more than up to the task!

Moral of the Week: Irish are good hardworking folk…thanks for that.

Result: I really wanted to hate this one as much as I’m told I should and even though the portrayal of the Irish was embarrassingly offensive (the equivalent for a gay man would be the Enterprise arriving at a planet where all the boys wear tight tops with their stomachs showing mincing around gossiping and whipping each other with wet towels…a bit like the City of Gold in the Tripods) but it was such a light change of pace I found myself smiling more often than I was scowling. What is strange is how halfway through the episode this amusing bunch of stereotypes are dropped and suddenly we are in a deadly serious piece about genetic cloning. It would take a far better writer than Snodgrass to try and weave these two plots together with any subtlety and the conclusion is one that firmly belongs in the so bad its good season one category. It’s a great episode for Pulaski if nobody else and she gets all the best scenes: 5/10

Manhunt written by Trace Torme and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Mrs Troi wants to bed Picard…

To Baldly Go: It is only when he is being tortured that I can truly sympathise with Jean Luc Picard because those are the times when he come across as a person and not a walking rulebook. Whenever Mrs Troi visits the ship the sense of desperation that brews up around him is very funny and her deliberate attempts to show him that a little humiliation goes a long way (I love it when he informs all the Bridge officers that the dinner with Lwaxana will be formal dress inadvertently letting them all know he has been ensnared for the evening!) goes a long way. Just look at his ‘oh shit!’ face as Mrs Troi welcomes him to dinner in her slinky outfit prostrating up the wall! He’s caught between an Ambassadorial insult and a hard place and its so nice to see him squirm (whilst all the time remaining polite and smiling!). He manages to wangle out of being Mrs Troi’s dessert in a desperate bid to get Commander Data to join them and regale them both with his spellbinding anecdotes (even Mr Holm is yawning in the background).

Number One: When Riker hears that Betazoid women’s sex drive quadruples during the phase he looks delighted. He’ll be sniffing around Deanna forever more now!

Alien Empath: Isn’t it wonderful when Lwaxana turns up to embarrass and cajole her daughter? So far this season Deanna has done a whole lot of nothing so it is about time they reminded us that she existed and what better way to do that than to have her appalled at her outrageous mothers latest visit.

Mrs Troi: She’s just wonderful, isn’t she? Within minutes she has shocked her daughter, embarrassed the Captain and insulted a pair of visiting Ambassadors (‘The last time I saw something like that it was being served up on a plate!’). Can’t she be a regular…when she turns up she performs exactly the same role as Quark does week in, week out on DS9 – she is rude and manipulative and cheekily points out all the flaws in everybody’s characters! She has retained the services of Mr Holm despite the outrageously lustful thoughts he spews in her direction! I bet she deliberately weighs down that bag of hers with rocks so she can emasculate the men wherever she is visiting. She sizes up men as commodities and this time she has her sights set on Captain Picard and uses her telepathy to suggest that people are thinking a certain thing (usually about how sexually attractive she is) when that is about is far from their minds as you can get. It is only during midlife that a Betazoid woman becomes fully sexual and unfortunately for Picard Mrs Troi is going through the Phase. Worf’s thoughts are primal and savage and she likes that in a man.

Medical Attitude: As soon as she learns that Mrs Troi is all sexed up and the Captain has gone to dinner she forbids Deanna to want him of her condition, considering it an excellent exercise for his reflexes and agility. I love Pulaski.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Jean Luc what naughty thoughts!’
‘An animal is always at its best when its hunted’ ‘Or hunting!’
‘I’d still say they’d look better in sauce.’

The Good: Mr Holm takes the Captains liquor as a person gift and downs the entire bottle in front of him! His Geordi impression is lovely. The final gag that those innocuous looking Fish People are assassins and Mrs Troi knew so all along is probably the best moment in the episode.

The Bad: Just a few episodes back we were treated to aliens as spine chillingly realised as the Borg but now the money has run out its all about the giant goggle-eyed fish men! The slippery fish are clearly supposed to be alive but just a quick glance shows that this is inert food that is being made to look as if it is moving. Apparently judging a human being by its physical appearance is the last human prejudice that has yet to be quelled – come on Roddenberry aren’t we allowed any vices? Unbelievably Mrs Troi starts walking around the Ship trying to choose which man she wants to mate with – I refuse to believe that Ambassadorial privileges extend to prostituting a member of the crew! I’m not so keen on the Dixon Hill sections this time round even though there has been some real effort put into the sets. It just feels like pointless filler as the season comes to a close. Lwaxana’s marriage to Riker is where this episode finally nosedives – its an insult to her daughter and Majel Barrett (who usually walks a fine line between pantomime and natural) announces the wedding with stressed melodrama. The Fish People eating their muck has to be one of the oddest sights you will ever see in TNG. Does Mrs Troi really think that the Dixon Hill programme is another part of the Ship?

Moment to Watch Out For: Not only Worf’s admiration for the Fish People but Wesley’s odd seduction techniques telling the Security Chief that he is handsome for a Klingon.

Moral of the Week: Avoid a horny Betazoid at all costs.

Fashion Statement: Picard has donned his dress uniform again…emphasis on the dress. There is no mistaking Robert O’Reilly’s mad staring eyes, is there?

Result: Since Q Who TNG has been cruising and this is the worst example yet. It is  an episode that sees Picard hiding away from Mrs Troi in the holodeck whilst she scours the ship and deciding who she is going to have sex with. That’s about it. The first half of the episode is awkward but funny in spots but stretching this out for an hour was a big mistake and by the end Mrs Troi’s outrageous demands have gone beyond a joke. The Dixon Hill sequences are as atmospheric as ever but really hollow – when compared with the Moriarty stuff earlier in the season it pales in comparison. It feels as though nothing is happening in the Alpha Quadrant at the moment it would be nice if the crew had something to do instead of cavorting with Irish simpletons and having dinner with Lwaxana Troi. Even when the dreadful looking Ambassadors wake up (which is about as surprising as this episode gets) Picard and Riker enjoy another round at the Bar. There are few giggles to be had but this is filler of the most unfathomable kind: 3/10

The Emissary written by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: An old flame of Worf’s visits the Enterprise on a secret mission…

To Baldly Go: He notes that whenever Starfleet gets enigmatic he knows he is about to face a challenge. Careful Jean Luc, that’s the closest you get to treason!

Mr Wolf: In his usual deadpan way Worf tells Data to either play poker or talk but not both but for once he’s not being rude, he’s got a great hand and he wants to clean everyone out. He almost causes a diplomatic incident with his rude greeting to K’Ehleyr, because of their past he seems to forget that she is a VIP on board the ship. Worf nibbles his fingers in a very cute way when he knows he will be chewed out by the Captain. K’Ehleyr makes herself look beautiful for Worf but he stubbornly refuses to notice (‘I am familiar with your appearance!’). I was applauding as K’Ehleyr pointed out that Starfleet hasn’t improved one bit and that he is as stubborn as ever. Look at Worf as K’Ehleyr kicks the crap out of his holographic creatures, he looks thoroughly turned on by the whole experience. Perhaps this is the Klingon equivalent of pornography and the two of them fighting together is like foreplay. Because they make love Worf considers he and K’Ehleyr bonded for life (he makes the same mistake with Ezri Dax in DS9 so many years later to show that he never learns) whereas she thinks the tradition of marrying who you sleep with absurd. He is unwilling to be left on his own with K’Ehleyr after their fight so drags in Data as a chaperone. K’Ehleyr admits that she was tempted to take the oath with Worf and has never had such strong feelings towards anyone.

Medical Attitude: ‘Looks like its just you and me, handsome’ says Pulaski to Worf as everybody else ducks out of a game of poker and it is between the two of them. By this stage of the season she’s a far better character than Dr Bev could ever hope to be.

Alien Empath: Deanna says that she never felt trapped between human and Betazoid cultures, she tried to appreciate the richness and diversity of the two worlds. Even in her heritage she’s deathly dull. Just what you need once you have given in to your bestial nature…Troi turning up on your doorstep to make everything alright! ‘you’re upset’ she says unbelievably and K’Ehleyr (another round of applause) replies ‘your finally honed Betazoid sense tell you that?’ How lovely for somebody to tell Deanna that they don’t want any counselling thank you very much.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Whoever said getting there was half the fun never rode in a class A probe.’
‘I don’t bite. That’s wrong. I do bite.’
‘Lieutenant I order you to relax’ ‘I am relaxed!

The Good: Imagine shoving Mrs Troi into a probe that is barely big enough to fit her? She would have to leave her luggage behind! Although it does seem a tad ridiculous to send an important visitor in this fashion it does add an air of mystery to the episode – what could be so urgent that this is necessary? Suzie Plakson makes an instant impression as K’Ehleyr, a strong minded and sensual Klingon woman and perfect for thawing out cold as ice Worf. Whilst I’m sure it would be easy enough to tell these bloodthirsty Klingons waking up after 75 years in cryo sleep that the war is over (K’Ehleyr thinks otherwise although she is willing to try), I like reminders that things were not always as peachy between the Federation and the Empire. You get the feeling this could shake things up a bit if it got out of hand. There are thirteen Federation colonies in the vicinity of the Klingon ship and it has to be intercepted before it reaches them. K’Ehleyr has her mother’s sense of humour and her father’s temper (sometimes she feels there is a monster inside of her fighting to get out), a terrifying combination!

The Bad: As usual Worf’s exercise programme on the holodeck comprises of one fake looking creature (I wont even pretend to know what it is supposed to be), one reasonable looking one (the skeleton) all wrapped up in a dreadful studio bound landscape.

Moment to Watch Out For: It sounds ridiculous to try and describe the way Worf and K’Ehleyr are aroused by each others scent but that is exactly the sort of bestial mating ritual I could imagine the Klingons favouring. Thanks to the committed performances this isn’t embarrassing to watch but surprisingly sensual.

Moral of the Week: If waking up after 75 years make sure you know the political landscape of the galaxy before attacking any outposts.

Fashion Statement: Those poor tables in the guest quarters get smashed more often than not. I suggest they change them to plastic ones.

Result: K’Ehleyr is such a delightful character and played with such zeal by Suzie Plakson it is a crying shame that she never joined this crew to hound Worf throughout the galaxy. God knows he needs it. The Emissary is one of those very rare things, a Star Trek romance episode that doesn’t descend into mawkish sentimentality and the gripping subplot helps greatly in that regard. Worf is emerging as one of the best characters on this show because for all his pretence of being a Klingon warrior there is something very human about his behaviour. Worf pretending to be the Klingon Captain of the Enterprise is a real highlight (‘Welcome to the 24th Century!’). I can’t wait until K’Ehleyr returns: 8/10

Peak Performance written by David Kemper and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: A battle simulation between the Enterprise and the Hathaway…

To Baldly Go: Picard initially rejected this mission because he firmly believes that Starfleet is not a military organisation, its primary mission is exploration. Just you  wait until the Dominion War. However with the Borg threat he feels that his crew needs to hone their tactical skills. Its nice to hear the Captain standing up for his First Officer so strongly, Picard suggests that only a fool would question Riker’s judgement and he is the finest officer with who he has ever served. 

Number One: Prefers brains over brawn because he feels that combat skills aren’t that important in the making of a Starfleet Captain. Does such naiveté get beaten into you or are you born with it? Only 21% of the time does Riker rely on traditional tactics and so the Captain has to be aware of his unusual cunning.

Mr Wolf: Worf continues to be one of the finest characters in this show because he is imbued with so much humour. I love his way of dealing with the model he is making (he smashes it, very much as I would do) and he tells Riker he will be irritated if he doesn’t get to a certain stage in the game with Kolrami because he has wagered on him. Worf thinks this whole exercise is pointless because a battle where there is nothing to lose and nothing to gain is no battle. ‘Where am I going to get the Opti-cable?’ someone asks Worf and he reaches up and tears down some of the wall! He’s a laugh riot!

Alien Empath: Is there so little for Troi to do on this ship that she is now left mopping up tears when somebody loses a game?

Fully Functional: Data is surprised to lose against Kolrami but he should have realised from his experiences playing poker that games are about strategy and personality as much as they are about rules. Besides losing is character building and he has come that little bit closer to being human by experiencing it.

Medical Attitude: Pulaski is dishing out her own kind of justice as usual and cajoles Data into taking on the ultra smug Kolrami in a game of Stratagema because she knows he will kick his ass! When he loses and refuses to serve on the Bridge because he thinks his judgement is now impaired you can count on Pulaski to head straight to his quarters and demand to know how long he is going to keep sulking! Couldn’t they have kept her on as the counsellor? She’s much more gung-ho!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘With your skill and your stamina we’ll have this old lady ready to fly!’
‘I’m less than one hour away from a battle simulation and I have to hand hold an android.’
‘It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.’

The Good: Roy Brockhurst is an absolute delight as Kolrami – it is the kind of quirky role that needs the actor to go at it full throttle and Brockhurst never once holds back. Stratagema is one of those games that turns up on Star Trek that looks great fun to play. Riker’s delighted reaction to the activation of the dowdy Bridge of the Hathaway (‘Its ours!’) mirrored my own. Somehow I knew this episode is going to be a great deal of fun and if I had the choice of which ship to fight I would definitely take the older, decrepit ship that required me to improvise. Who ever knew that Wesley could be such a sneaky so and so using his own geeky reputation for running experiments to steal anti matter aboard the Hathaway? Kolrami laughs his head off as Picard is fooled into thinking that a Romulan ship is attacking! How funny that a random Ferengi ship turns up in the middle of their battle and starts firing on the Enterprise.

The Bad: Even though he has a superior ship it does seem a trifle unsporting to steal Picard’s tactical officer, chief engineer and navigator!

Moment to Watch Out For: This is one episode where even the twee ending is acceptable because you are so desperate to wipe the smile off of Kolrami’s face!

Fashion Statement: I realise this is facetious to mention but there is a very unfortunate shot when Troi goes to visit Data after he has lost the game and her hair falls between her open arm. It looks alarmingly like she has extremely hairy armpits!

Result: This is the third time this year that Picard and Riker have been pitted against each other (Measure of a Man & A Matter of Honor) and once again it proves to be a recipe for success. There is a real feeling that the actors have formed strong bonds of friendship on this show now and their chemistry spills over on screen creating a delightful atmosphere. I personally found the preparations for battle were far more effective than the battle itself (simply because I cannot take the Ferengi seriously as a foe) but there are tons of great moments in getting ready to take on the Enterprise (Wesley in particular gets to shine). Even the subplot of Data having a crisis of confidence works well. A nice, watchable episode that gives me hope that the next season can continue to utilise this crew with this much efficiency: 8/10


NX84904567890 said...

"Is Wesley so square that he doesn’t know how to ask a girl out?"

I'm surprised that you even have to ask that question!

My favourite thing about this episode is that Wesley is once again told to shut up, though sadly only once.

Ambaryerno said...

"... Riker is still sitting down in the butchest of fashions (he sort of cocks his leg over the chair in the most ridiculously macho way)..."

Just as an aside, this is actually for practical reasons: Jonathan Frakes is an ENORMOUS dude, I think even taller than Michael Dorn. The "Riker Maneuver" (the Captain Morgan pose) is done so that he'll actually fit in frame with actors who are seated! It's also because he has a bad back from working as a mover.