Tuesday, 19 February 2013

TNG Season Three

Evolution written by Michael Piller and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Wesley’s latest experiment runs amok on the Enterprise…

To Baldly Go: The characterisation of Picard suddenly feels a lot more sophisticated and his decision to save his crew over any experiment even if it might be seen as playing it safe is admirable. ‘School project?’ Picard blanches unbelievingly when he realises that this is the reason the Enterprise has been rendered powerless.

Alien Empath: ‘I will share the feelings I wish to share’ says Stubbs to Troi and I felt like giving him a massive round of applause! Isn’t Troi’s continual probing into peoples feelings some kind of invasion of their privacy? I know it’s her job to help people get in touch with their true feelings but having Troi turn up at peoples quarters every time they have a paddy makes her seem like an irritating busybody.

Dancing Doctor: A big boo hiss for bringing Gates McFadden back as Dr Bev and getting rid of one of my favourite characters on the show (the irrepressible Dr Pulaski). At least with her return Piller decides to deal with the issue of being away from Wesley for a year and Crusher is desperate to know what she has missed but is scared of smothering him. Dr Bev concentrates a little too hard on her son’s life…she should be looking out for her own!

Boy Genius: Evolution is a great episode for Wesley because somebody finally acknowledges what a swot he is and the script goes to some lengths to show that there is a normal seventeen-year-old boy underneath all that geekery and duty. Stubbs sizes Wesley up in about two seconds and questions what he does beyond fly the ship and read. It is nice to see Wesley do something as normal as fall asleep during an experiment and be late for work. He’s his father’s son; honest, trusting and strong. He has come so far, so fast and his mother is scared that he is devoting himself too much to his studies and not having any fun. It seems that each season opener features some special moments with Guinan and like The Child those moments are reserved for Wesley. She manages to convince him to own up about his error without even changing the look on her face. He sounds almost angry when he tells Guinan that he always gets and A in his coursework. When Wesley snaps at his mother for not being around it’s like a coming of age moment for the character, for once he feels like a teenager and not a Federation clone.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Number One the Bridge, such as it is, is yours.’

The Good: Hang on one cotton-picking minute…isn’t season three of TNG when Micheal Piller joined the show? And suddenly its really rather good! In exactly the same way when he left Voyager it turned shite! Maybe, just maybe there is a trend here. The opening FX shot of the Enterprise orbiting the red planet is quite simply the best of its kind we have seen yet on this show. Phantom Borg ships, doors that open and close madly, a brass band blaring over the Bridge…not the most exciting of problems but worth a chuckle or two. The first mention of baseball in a Piller script is a pleasing one and would be adapted by DS9. Whilst nanites are hardly the same sort of threat as the Borg the fact that they can turn the ship against them (enhanced by Stubbs’ homicidal act) makes them a definite threat.

The Bad: Doesn’t it always seem that the people who visit the Enterprise (Okona, K’Ehleyr and Stubbs) fell more real than the actual crew?

Moment to Watch Out For: When Stubbs is attacked by the nanites he falls through the door to his quarters straight towards the camera like a corpse. When putting this disc in that was the strongest memory I had of this piece.

Moral of the Week: If you are a seventeen year old boy don’t forget to do all the fun things like getting drunk and sleeping around…all study and no play makes Wesley a dull boy.

Fashion Statement: There has been a slight adjustment to the uniforms on the show where they now have collars and they are more black than red…it’s a small difference but everybody looks a lot more comfortable than they did in the spray on uniforms. Although it does make Picard look a bit more like Hitler. Troi is suddenly wearing lipstick so bright it looks like she is aiming for the femme fatale look. Is Guinan serving jelly babies in Ten Forward? Wesley’s friends in Ten Forward look like they have walked out of the nearest GAP planet with their most garish colours and designs.

Result: A quiet opener but one which shows the strength of character that Piller would bring to the show. There is a mild attempt to explore how these nanites are a new form of life but the real focus is on taking Wesley Crusher and turning him into a human being and not a Starfleet drone. Wil Wheaton gives his finest performance to date and I hope that they can keep up this fine development throughout the rest of the season. Otherwise there are some nice new innovations (the uniforms) and some unsatisfactory ones (Pulaski out, Crusher in) but it is hardly the series changing opener that last seasons was because they were three quarters of the way there by the end of season two anyway. There are plenty of fun moments with the rampaging nanites and Ken Jenkins gives a strong turn as the latest obsessive scientist to visit the ship. Nothing groundbreaking but this is watchable and the show feels like it is in a good place for a strong third season: 7/10

The Ensigns of Command written by Melinda M. Snodgrass and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: One of the many dull TNG episodes about resettlement…

Fully Functional: Despite Dr Bev and the Captain turning up to his violin recital he tells them why he is going to fail before he has even attempted. There will be some fun and very sweet things done with Data over the next couple of years but I have to admit that I am growing a bit tired by the way that everybody feels that they need to give him patronising advice and the (lack of) humour with him taking everything so literally: ‘I’m afraid I don’t have time to ask a million questions.’ When you compare it to the sophisticated romances of Sisko and Kassidy and Odo and Kira, Data’s flirtation in this episode is more akin to two kids playing kiss chase in the playground. Its so twee I think I vomited a little in my mouth just so I could taste something sour to counteract the sugar.

Alien Empath: Knock me down with a feather - Deanna Troi is used for a reasonably useful purpose beyond nosing her way into the crews personal lives and sighing at her mother! Trying to make Picard understand that they cannot be expected to communicate on the same level with the Shelliac just because they speak the same languages is putting some of her knowledge gained observing alien cultures to good use. More of this please.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I don’t have any silly prejudices against computers! I like them!’
‘Still stirring up trouble?’ ‘Since when is talk trouble?’ – when its as boring as this!

The Good: I was rather tickled by the Shelliac and their dismissal of Picard’s diplomacy and compromises – its refreshing to meet a species that knows what it wants and wont be put off by the Captain’s chatter. When the Shelliac get bored of the Captain’s inane prattle they simply whisk him back to the Bridge in a very Q-like fashion. You would not catch me going in that transporter after it turned a piece of technology into a twisted modern art sculpture! The settlement does feel like a studio but it is impressively achieved and the water feature with the vertiginous steps give it a memorable look. Picard dusting off the Enterprise plaque before answering the Shelliac is way cool. He could do with more of this insouciance.

The Bad: After the distinctive visual look of Evolution it seems such a shame to be taking a shuttle down to one of those drab fake looking studio planets that were all the rage in season one. I do like the idea of a crashed Federation ship landing on this planet 90 odd years ago and them making a life for themselves…but aren’t they a dull old bunch? Scenes of Data trying to convince the settlers to leave their home are so insipidly written and performed you would be hard pressed to tell that there was any tension in the situation. Go and watch DS9’s Progress to see how this sort of thing can be achieved with tension, humour and great characterisation. Its so logically depicted Data actually contacts the Enterprise and gives them an update of the colonists wishes through statistics he has polled on the planet! Eileen Seeley is so wooden as Data’s fancy piece I was wondering if she was playing the part this emotionlessly in order to make her seem an android too – when she kisses him she just stares at him with a blank look like she is waiting for orders to do the vacuuming. Data’s approach to convincing the colonists to leave is about as theatrical as it comes (‘Who will be left to mourn you?’) and I’m very surprised that they were naïve enough to fall for it. When they decide to stubbornly stand by their leader and stay on the planet I would be out of there thinking ‘well, I tried’ and move onto the next assignment whilst they are slaughtered by the Shelliac. Everybody convenes in somebody’s living room (its probably cheaper from a production point) and the rebellious colonists look like a collection of students modelling the latest clothes from GAP. The Shelliac vessel looks remarkably cheap as though it has been constructed out of a few bottles of washing up liquid and couple of mother boards!

Moment to Watch Out For: There is a very funny moment when Picard visits the transporter room and he sounds like he is completely blitzed out on Romulan ale! Seriously go and watch it and listen to his sing song ‘carry on!’ as he departs!

Moral of the Week: Actions speak louder than words.

Result: With its childish plotting, unengaging characters and simple morals, The Ensigns of Command is a sudden dip in quality back to the worst excesses of the first season. It takes Data the entire episode to realise that he needs to take these people at gunpoint which in all honesty would have been my opening gambit. This faceless bunch of diplomats should have been left to their own fate if you ask me and I was hoping after ten minutes or so that they Shelliac would descend and kill the lot of them. Its also a remarkably cheap looking episode (I’m not sure why because there was nothing in Evolution that would have really stretched the budget…perhaps they are saving the money for episodes to come) with a return of the fake studio planet and a particularly corny looking ship for the Enterprise to square off to. Ponderous and very boring, when the best thing about an episode is Troi you are having an off day: 3/10

The Survivors written by Michael Wagner and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Two survivors on a devastated planet. What could possibly have happened?

Mr Wolf: Worf continues to be a source of delight and I loved the way he admired Kevin for threatening them with a non functioning weapon. His reaction to a sip of his drink is: ‘Good tea. Nice house.’ He always was a succinct one. His ‘Captain! They’ve hit us with 400 gigawatts of particle energy!’ is so wonderfully melodramatic I fell about laughing.

Alien Empath: Finally Troi is being punished for being such a nosy parker! I love the scenes where she is tortured by the music box because they are subtly done at first but as the episode continues she gets more and more hysterical as it starts to drive her mad. We only get snatches of the music but if you had listen to it over and over it would truly drive you insane. Maybe Troi will be a little more wary about probing people in the future? I think this might be the first time I have ever felt sorry for the woman. It might be the last time too, and all they had to do was torture her horribly. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Number One, I think you better see who’s at home…’
‘I saw her broken body and I went insane. And in an instant of grief…’

The Good: One of the best ever teasers for a TNG episode and a gripping mystery to solve. A colony planet that has been devastated except for one small square area of grass where a house stands. Visually it’s a quirky treat as the juxtaposition of the glorious looking house in the blasted wilderness looks so jarring but in a very pleasing way. Trust Riker to put his foot in it and end up hanging upside down. Kevin and Rishon have been expertly cast and John Anderson and Anne Haney (she was also brilliant as Judge Renora in the DS9 episode Dax) give the sort of subtle, heartbreaking performances they could have only dreamed of in the first season. I love the sets for the house with the double layered staircases – in fact it looks so nice I want to live there. I can’t say that about many functional TNG sets. Picard questions if they were collaborators and perhaps that was why they were spared but the initial assessment is that there is nothing unusual about Kevin and Rishon aside from the fact that they survived. Les Landau shoots this episode with an eye for imaginative visuals and scenes that would normally look dull and be shot head on (the beam down to the planet is an impressive long shot, there is tracking shot along the corridors of the Enterprise with Picard and Worf talking and Picard is filmed coming into Troi’s quarters through her mirror) are give some extra flair. Why is the ship protecting Kevin and Rishon? Its another intriguing mystery and the sudden cut to the two of them dancing leads you to thinking the pair of them must be in cahoots. Picard asks Kevin if he was kill to protect his wife and he tells him that he wouldn’t – it’s a touching statement of pacifism brought to life by a fine actor. The ship that turns up at the planet to destroy the house is a lovely piece of deception on Kevin’s part and it takes a man of Picard’s intellect to see through it. Picard chooses his words with precision (that they will stay as long as the two of them are alive). The choice to have a Shakespearean actor of Patrick Stewart’s calibre as the lead actor of this show comes into sharp focus after Picard beams Kevin and Rishon to the Bridge and deconstructs their fantasy and reveals what really happened during the attack. He does this with all the skill of Hercule Poirot himself and his explanation to Rishon that she is not a real person is devastatingly handled.

The Bad: Oddly if any episode needed Troi as a Betazoid to beam down initially and make her observations it is this one and she is no where to be seen. Aww bless there is a tiny shower of sparks on the Bridge as the ship fires on the Enterprise but compared to what I saw in DS9’s The Search the other day (fires raging, bulkheads collapsing…) it is remarkably tame.

Moment to Watch Out For: What a tragic answer to this episodes mystery – Kevin had the power to stop the attackers but as a man of peace couldn’t bring himself to do so and as a result his wife died. He could not bear to live without her and recreated their house and recreated Rishon and has been living a lie. Kevin killed the entire race in a moment of grief, 15 billion people died because he lost his wife. It reveals how much he must have cared for her and how powerful he is to dismiss an entire race in a moments anger.

Moral of the Week: You have to live up to the consequences of your convictions.

Fashion Statement: Troi’s new ocean blue outfit is horrible, it does nothing for her figure and sticks out in the Bridge like a sore thumb. How long does she wear this monstrosity for?

Orchestra: The musician has great fun with the score as the Enterprise takes on the ship that approaches the planet.

Result: Such a beautiful, simple idea pulled off with real style, The Survivors is a great example of stirring the season three episodes that I remember. It’s a classic Star Trek episode done with all the style and depth of the TNG and with its strategic plotting and exciting space battles it remains entertaining throughout. Patrick Stewart gives an outstanding performance as a man who has figured out this ruse a long time ago and is playing along to see if his theory is correct and the scene where he exposes Kevin as the lone survivor of the terrible war is magnificently played. Add to that the torturous subplot for Troi and the gorgeous relationship between the two survivors, some top quality location work and a director working overtime to make this look good and you have an episode that scores on pretty much every count. I would have made this the second episode of the season: 9/10

Who Watches the Watchers written by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler and directed by Robert Weimer

What’s it about: The Mintakans are about to come face to face with God…

To Baldly Go: I was taken aback by the Captain asking Dr Bev why she didn’t let the man due rather than poison their race with alien ideas. Scenes of Picard being seen in a haze of light like some kind of benevolent God are far funnier than I imagined they would be. This is the blackest mood we have ever seen Picard in and for the first two thirds of this episode he walks around the Enterprise in a foul mood – it is a look that suits him far more than the middle management diplomat he usually forced to play and Stewart grabs hold of the chance to growl far more than usual. It would appear that just like Sisko in the early seasons of DS9, Picard is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of being considered a religious icon. He has to try and think of a way to get through to Nuria and explain that his life and hers isn’t that different and the dialogue surrounding the talk of better huts and better bows sees him at his creative best.

Alien Empath: Two episodes in a row with a decent role for Troi? Don’t tell me that there is actual potential in this character that I was completely unaware of? This is the sort of role she is perfect for, beaming down to the planet and using her empathic abilities to try and calm the situation. Mind you she isn’t too successful at what with everything spiralling madly out of control but it’s the sort of role she should be fantastic at. She tries to assert that Liko has had a dream rather than actually seeing the Picard.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Before you start quoting me the Prime Directive he’d already seen us, the damage was done.’
‘More like “If you want his services I’m the one you have to go through”’ ‘What kind of services?’ ‘All kind’ ‘They are a sensible race.’
‘The Mintakans are starting to believe in a God and the one they’ve chosen is you.’
‘And now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the Dark Ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No!’ – Stewart is terrifying here. I hope we get to see his teeth like this more often.
‘To you it’s a simple tool. To her, its magic.’
‘You have taught us there is nothing beyond our reach’ ‘Not even the stars.’
‘Remember my people’ Always.’

The Good: I love the idea of a spying station malfunctioning and forcing a pre warp civilisation to face up to the technologies beyond their time – it’s a concept with so much mileage that this episode mines with ease. The location work is fantastic even by Star Trek standards and you genuinely believe this is the kind of rocky wilderness where these people have grown up. Finally we get to see why breaking the Prime Directive is a dangerous business. Before all we had was Picard lecturing people on how they should behave but now a writer has thought to show us the consequences of turning your back on non interference. For the Mintakans it means the return of ancient religious superstitions that could break apart their society. It’s a show like Who Watches the Watchers where all the guest cast are given unique and believable characterisation (Liko is ready to jump back into the time of superstitious violence, Oji believe what she has seen but is more open minded about the truth, Nuria tries to fight the grip of fear that has hold of her people and Fento is a wise old man who remembers the myths and is just frightened enough of them to see which way the wind blows) that reveals how tasteless the guest characters usually are (compare to the forgettable bunch in The Ensigns of Command). To match the strong writing these characters are cast extremely well too. The way story unfolds with Palmer turning up to ruin things just as Troi was starting to convince Liko that he had had a shared hallucination with his daughter and their subsequent plan to beam him to safety as Troi leads the Mintakans away like the Pied Piper with tales of a sighting of another scientist in the rocks is very engaging. Its so much more exciting than the usual nonsense stuck on the Enterprise. The scenes of Nuria aboard the Enterprise are mesmerising because we have never seen the ship through the eyes of somebody who finds it this magical before and instead of the floating lounge ship we are used to suddenly it is a dazzling miracle of technology. I didn’t even feel this wowed by the ship during Encounter at Farpoint. Imagine being able to see your world from the heavens, what an incredible experience that would be. The lightning steaks through the flame licked sets – this is a gorgeous looking episode.

Moment to Watch Out For: All the scenes dealing with divine intervention to bring the dead back to life is stunning in its simplicity and depth and leads to the brilliant moment where Picard is shot by an arrow to prove his mortality.

Moral of the Week: The Prime Directive is there for a reason but sometimes things work out when it is broken. Oh and Picard is not a God. I think some people forget that sometimes.

Fashion Statement: Riker and Troi make quite convincing looking proto Vulcans decked out in some pleasant garb. Shame they have to go back to looking like bureaucrats by the end of the episode.

Orchestra: Another of my favourite musical scores for Star Trek, it seems to me that series three was the pinnacle of music in Trek with some truly outstanding soundtracks. For some odd reason as this show continued the music got duller and duller and even infected DS9 and the early years of Voyager. During the latter stages of DS9 and Voyager the music was a lot more dramatic and tasty which in one show reflects the storylines and in the other is putting an exciting wrapping on a pretty boring gift. I really like the music during the chase sequence, its fun, quirky and exciting. Pan pipes are used in places which makes for a refreshing change from the usual horns. The music creates a sense of dazzlement as Nuria experiences the Enterprise with the violin in particular sweeping in to make this as magical an experience as possible.

Result: The idea of turning Picard into a Godlike figure to a race of primitive people sounds like the perfect recipe for a camp disaster and yet this is one of the finest crafted episodes of TNG you will come across in its run. It’s a script with great roles for Picard, Troi and Riker and a handful of guest characters that spring from the page and the story that unfolds is highly engaging with plenty of considerate dialogue. The production matches the quality of the script and treats us to some stunning location work, a superb musical score and plenty of moments of excitement and tension. Who Watches the Watchers the second of two back to back classics that show Picard at his very best and Patrick Stewart is magnificent. Tossing technobabble out of the window and going for something far more interesting, this is a stunning example of TNG at its absolute best: 10/10

The Bonding written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Lt. Aster is killed on an away mission and her son is living on the Enterprise…

To Baldly Go: Picard lets out a massive sigh as he realises that he is going to have to tell Jeremy that his mother was killed on an away mission. What an awful commitment to uphold. To be fair to Picard he has always questioned the policy of having children on a starship and here is a great reason to side against it. The way he takes Jeremy’s hand and says that nobody is alone on the Starship Enterprise is very touching.

Mr Wolf: Worf proves himself to be a man of honour in every respect by wanting to be there to tell Jeremy what happened to his mother because he was in charge of the away team. He wants to honour Lt. Aster by performing the Bonding ritual with Jeremy and taking the child under his wing.

Fully Functional: Data asks if the feelings of loss should run just as deep regardless of who has died and questions why everybody keeps asking how well he knew the deceased – sometimes Data is used to highlight the illogic of human behaviour and this is a great example.

Alien Empath: Well blow me down with a feather and call me George…Troi is put to good use again! I’m starting to wonder if this is going to be the turning point for the two weakest characters of the first two years, Wesley and Deanna. With the death of a crewmember affecting those who survived her and a young son to deal with there is plenty of work cut out for the ships counsellor. Picard tells Troi that her way is a sensitive one and I almost choked on my coffee, from what we have seen in the past two seasons that is far from the truth! However it is nice to hear her say that her job does have its rewards when she helps somebody to recover.

Boy Genius: Using Wesley in a dramatic, surprising fashion again there is a sudden cut to Bridge and focus on the young Ensign who remembers what it was like when the Captain visited him to tell him that his father was dead. Jeremy losing his mother and being asked to speak to him about his experiences is painful for Wesley because he hasn’t dealt with the loss of his father himself. It brings back all those feelings he felt the day that Picard visited. When he was told of his fathers death Wesley tried to hide how he was really feeling and acted brave and mature as everybody expected him to be but it felt as though somebody was kicking him in head. He was angry with the Captain because he led the mission and came home and his father didn’t and now finally he gets to tell him that. Wil Wheaton gives a very strong performance in these scenes – it is clear that this young actor was capable of much more than copious amounts of technobabble and this is a fine example of what he could bring to the role.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Her death with senseless. The last victim of a forgotten war!’
‘Lets just hope it doesn’t blow us to Kingdom Come whilst its trying to figure out how to blow us to Kingdom Come!’

The Good: Its great that the second you start thinking how twee this is all getting with Jeremy watching old memories of him playing with his mum she actually turns up in his quarters smiling and calling out his name. Its absolutely chilling. You have to wonder how Jeremy is going to start grieving when his mother reappears and their home on Earth is recreated in his quarters. I bet O’Brien was relieved when that gaseous entity attacked him in the transporter room…finally he has something to say in Ten Forward when he gets together with his mates! Isn’t it lovely that the being from the planet isn’t corrupt or evil but simply an apologetic lifeform that wants to help Jeremy to cope with the loss of his mother out of a sense of guilt that she died needlessly.

The Bad: I have always questioned the logic of keeping families aboard a ship that walks into danger week in, week out but this is a particularly tragic example.

Moral of the Week: Accept your grief because that is the only way you can move on.

Orchestra: The music when Lt Aster turns up in Jeremy’s quarters and talks of taking him down to the planet literally sounds like something moving up and down your spine. Brrr…

Result: The Bonding is an episode that makes you think it is going to be about coping with loss which it deals with very well but halfway through twists into something far more chilling and interesting. Like the best Ronald D. Moore episodes this is saturated in strong character material and there is a great role for both Wesley, Worf and Troi as they have to try and comfort Jeremy through the loss of his mother. Gabriel Damon gives a surprisingly subtle and touching performance in a role that could have diluted into syrupy melodrama. As a metaphor for pushing away fantasy and accepting and embracing loss no matter how painful that might be, The Bonding is a little gem that gives you much to think about: 8/10

Booby Trap written by Ron Roman, Michael Piller & Richard Danus and directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

What’s it about: Geordi gets it on with a nobody and spouts a whole lot of technobabble…

To Baldly Go: He used to build model ships when he was a child and wished he could climb into them inside the bottle. Actually that’s something I can relate to because I have always wondered about the adventures of the ships inside bottles. Its nice to see the Captain loosen up a bit and get excited about something other than protocol. He’s appalled to learn that nobody else builds ships in bottles but then O’Brien comes to his rescue (although this may be the first example of the Chief’s cringeworthy ability to suck up to any Captain as we would see many times again in DS9!). Even Troi finds it a rare pleasure to see Picard enjoying himself and she stands there basking in this rare display of emotion from the Captain.

Blind Engineer: Poor Geordi, what an incredible loser he is in not even able to seduce a date with a holodeck at his fingertips! It might have something to do with his approach – I like a date to be simple but fun but somebody playing a violin on a moonlit beach would leave me with only one impression. Sleaze ball. When even Wesley Crusher can see what you’re doing wrong you’re in serious trouble. Guinan gets to the root of the problem with her usual skill (it’s a gift) and that is that Geordi is trying too hard with women he likes which scares them away but relaxes around women he doesn’t.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I know my ship, inside and out’ ‘Well then you must know me, inside and out because a lot of me is in here’ – Only Star Wars can rival Star Trek for vomit inducing romantic dialogue.
‘Every time you look at this engine you’re looking at me. Every time you touch it, its me’ – pass me the bucket, there’s something venomous growing inside of me and it wants out.

The Bad: Isn’t it obvious when a ship has been derelict and stuck in its position for centuries that there is probably a reason for that? A dangerous one. Does Picard approach with caution? Nope, he heads straight over without no thoughts as to the consequences and once the Enterprise starts exhibiting the same problems he’s all ‘Dagnabbit we’ve fallen into a booby trap!’ Who even calls things booby traps? Every moment of this episode is predictable as hell – as soon as Geordi calls up Leah Brahms on the holodeck and she just happens to be a beautiful woman all the signposts are pointing at the two of them getting it on. But not before a few technical disputes of course. Yawn. Talking of making out with people that don’t really exist…is this masturbation? How far can you go with a holodeck character? Who cleans up the mess? Sorry I know I’m being tasteless but whilst I can see the appeal of being able to have it off with anybody your heart desires surely it is as empty and meaningless as a one night stand and would fuck you up in the same way? How much technobabble can one person handle? I have to be honest but I switch off completely when we go into scientific overdrive because all the gobbledegook really isn’t Shakespeare as much as some fans might like to convince you that it is. With Booby Trap I was switched off for a long time, possibly half the episode.

Fashion Statement: Is it my imagination or is Wesley Crusher growing into a fine looking adult? There were a few moments in this episode where I did a double take!

Orchestra: I can’t tell when the composer is using a synthesiser or an orchestra in this show but this episode definitely veered towards the former in an intrusive, distracting way. I’m not saying Rick Berman had a point but it could have been toned down a tad.

Foreboding: Guinan says that a bald man took care of her once and that is why she is attracted to bald men which could be a reference to Time’s Arrow.

Result: Two of the dullest clichés on TNG are Geordi’s inability to attract women and his penchant for technobabble and it astonishes me it took three writers to magic up this ‘prop my eyes open with matchsticks’ dull episode. When written well Star Trek can grip you with its morality tales and high concept ideas but when it is left to rest on its laurels you get something as dreary as Booby Trap. To save you guys the trouble of putting yourselves through this…the Enterprise is stuck between some rocks, Geordi takes 40 minutes to figure out a technobabble solution and Picard rides the ship home. In the meantime Geordi flirts with a holodeck character and finally gets a snog. Except she isn’t real. There now don’t you want to thank me for sparing you this hour of your life that you can do something more productive with? Dismal: 1/10

The Enemy written by David Kemper & Michael Piller and directed by David Carson

What’s it about: Geordi is trapped on an inhospitable planet and Worf has an impossible choice to make…

To Baldly Go: Picard makes a fine assessment that they need to give a considered response to the Romulans…although he does have delusions of grandeur in suggesting that this situation could escalate to such a degree that is remembered in the same vein of Pearl Harbour! He doesn’t want to order Worf to have the transfusion and he puts his ego aside and begs him to do it by choice.

Number One: Riker has come along in leaps and bounds this year, shirking off that macho persona that made me laugh so hard in the first season and a half for something far more professional (what a half arsed compliment that is) and interesting… However he stalks the ship in this episode and screams abuse at the crew because he is frustrated that Geordi is on the planet still whereas Picard calmly assesses the situation. You can see why one is a Captain and one isn’t.

Mr Wolf: Worf is immediately on edge with a Romulan on the Enterprise and orders a guard to be posted at sickbay much to Dr Bev’s chargin. It always frightens me when I say that it is refreshing to see racism rearing its head in the 24th century because obviously I wouldn’t want it to be the case that people were killing each other ad nauseum over race issues but it is such a natural flaw to have and these idealistic characters need as many of those as they can get to make them seem more real. Worf despises the Romulans and would rather that Dr Bev’s patient died than provide for her as a donor. His parents were killed by the species and he wont help even one of them. There is a similar character thread running on DS9 about Kira and Cardassians (although that is dealt with more often and far more powerfully).

Blind Engineer: How much more effective is this episode for Geordi than Booby Trap? He’s stuck in an impossible situation and he manages to think his way out of it. Trapped in a filthy hole on the planet from hell he melts down some metal pieces into a pair of pickaxes that he can use to try and climb his way out. He manages to form a relationship with the Romulan by being charming and irreverent and revealing his weakness (the way he reacts to being asked if without his visor he is blind is very telling). He gets through to him by agreeing that there are times when you should lay down your life for your ideals but this isn’t one of those times. If they work together they can get off this hell hole of a planet and back to the safety of their respective people. If this all sounds twee it really isn’t written or performed that way. It’s extremely well done.

Dancing Doctor: To be fair Gates McFadden has been reasonably effective since her return because she hasn’t been asked to do anything particularly challenging. However it all changes her where Dr Bev is thrown into the role of a Doctor desperate to convince a Klingon that he needs to help a Romulan and McFadden simply isn’t up to the task. She fudges the scene where she initially asks Worf to be a donor, saying the lines with a airy detachment and then when she shows him the Romulan close to death she is extremely robotic. It’s a shame because this is exactly the sort of material that Diane Muldaur would have really gotten her teeth into. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I would rather die than pollute my body with Klingon filth.’
‘Put on your best poker face, Number One.’

The Good: Avoiding the usual ‘Captain’s Log’ at the beginning of the episode means that I was instantly more gripped with this than I have been with practically any other episode of TNG. This is how to pull off an alien world in a studio, turn the lights right down, swathe it in mist and have shocking electric lightning strike the scene at unpredictable moments. It’s so nice to see the usually pristine Federation uniforms muddy and wet and it’s such a rare pleasure to see these people get dirty. Being able to look through Geordi’s visor is once again a visual delight. I really liked the throwaway comment from Dr Bev that there are too many subtle differences between Romulans and Vulcans to mention – its all you need to recognise that they look similar but are in fact a completely different species. Andreas Katsulas is one of Babylon 5’s strongest performers and he does a great job here as the Romulan Tomalak. The sets really are impressive in this tale, there’s a scene that barely last 30 seconds where Geordi is climbing across a mountainous maw with water running down to a lake below. I really admire how the episode allows Worf to stick to his beliefs and the Romulan dies – its not the usual sort of tidy ending we are used to. Suddenly you are left feeling ‘oh shit’ as Picard is going to have to explain this death away without starting a war.

Teaser-tastic: Wow, this is how to get an audience hooked within minutes. A bloody Romulan attacking Worf, Geordi falling down a muddy crevice and a general feeling of foreboding and horror.

Moment to Watch Out For: The performances of Patrick Stewart and Michael Dorn as Picard begs Worf to save the Romulans life. When the Captain sits down I could have sworn he was going to order Worf to do it but he sighs hard and respects his beliefs. A top notch moment of restrained drama.

Moral of the Week: Work together and you can achieve more.

Orchestra: The rising tension in the music as you realise that Geordi is going to be left behind is fantastic.

Foreboding: Interestingly Riker asks Worf what he would do if the Romulans made peace with the Federation – he should wait until the last few seasons of DS9 where they are openly fighting alongside them against the Dominion.

Result: A story of mistrust and racism, The Enemy is a strikingly effective episode that tackles the story in two equally strong narratives. Series three is where the Romulans really made their presence felt in TNG and they feel like a real threat despite whatever bridges are made in this piece. I love the look of the episode with the scenes on the planet proving to be refreshingly dirty and wet rather than the usual dusty studio bound planet. Worf continues to be one of the strongest characters on this show and he really has to question his beliefs here and the writers do a lot to salvage Geordi’s character after his dismal handling in the previous episode. I hope season three keeps up this intense storytelling because the writers are just starting to tap into something very powerful. Only Gates McFadden’s wooden performance mars: 9/10

The Price written by Hannah Louise Shearer and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: Troi has a passionate romance during negotiations for a wormhole…

Number One: Ral is such a clever sod. He knows that he cannot manipulate Commander Riker with talk as he does with the other delegates and so he goes for his heart and exploits his feelings for Deanna. However Riker outsmarts him at his own game and tells him that Troi is exactly the sort of woman to bring meaning to his sorry existence, practically handing her on a plate to him.

Alien Empath: Knock me down with a feather and call me Billy Jean! In the first scene Troi feels more real than she ever has to this point in the shows history. Not just an emotion seeking plot device but a genuine person who wants a real chocolate sundae (not replicated muck) and sighs ‘now what?’ when Picard calls for her. ‘God forbid I should miss my first look at the wormhole…’ Maybe Troi is always just out of shot in all scenes insulting her fellow crewmembers and its only when we cut back to focus on her when she is her usual bland self. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we as the audience could hear what she is thinking telepathically and she could comment dryly like this on all of Picard’s dreary sermons! Whilst it is a little uncomfortable to see somebody take advantage of Troi so easily (its never nice seeing women looking uncomfortable being touched) I love the way that Ral breaks through her counsellor persona in about five seconds and gets to the heart of who she is behind the mask of concern and empathy. I could have grabbed Ral and snogged him for a few decades when he turned the tables of Troi and accused her of invading peoples privacy on a daily basis the whims of he Captain.

Dancing Doctor: She fell in love in a day once and the affair only lasted a week but what a week…then she met Jack. Is she talking about Picard?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Have your Klingon servant get us some chairs!’
‘Your Captain. Your crew. Your edge.’
What? I was tense! I was ready to blow it up!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Anticipation is fun!’ – more dreadful romantic dialogue.
‘I rather like that I’m more difficult to read than your other men…’

The Good: The first stable wormhole known to exist (which is the exact same term coined to the wormhole in DS9 so something has to go wrong here!) being sold for a price is quite an intriguing notion. They think it leads to the Gamma Quadrant but actually it is a link to the Delta Quadrant. Mind you neither are places you want to go especially unless you fancy tackling the Borg en masse or the combined might of the Dominion. Its nice to have some real sensuality on Star Trek and although I find a whopping great close up on Troi’s oily and recently massaged feet quite revolting (feet just aren’t my thing) it is nice to see something as erotic as Troi massaging oil into Ral’s chest.

The Bad: What a hilariously inept bunch of representatives we meet in Ten Forward! You have the disdainful alien, the one with the massive forehead, the Indian and the gorgeous stud. While it is nice to see Troi do something other than invade peoples privacy (indeed it is quite pleasant to see somebody else doing it to her for a change) there is only so much mucky romance that I can handle and scenes of Troi staring dewy eyed at Ral whilst the violins play in the background. When Ral started going on about being half Betazed and not needing his heart until he met Troi I felt slightly nauseous.

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard’s comedy eyeball roll as the Ferengi complain about a Federation probe going through the wormhole. Oh and the look that Data gives Geordi in the shuttlecraft at around 28.35. That is the look of a confused actor and not an emotionless android.

Moral of the Week: Remember your duty even when your bit of fluff is manipulating you.

Fashion Statement: Nothing could quite have prepared for the sight of Troi and Dr Bev in those hideous exercise outfits!

Foreboding: We will catch up with the two Ferengi trapped in the Delta Quadrant in the Voyager yawnathon False Profits.

Result: The Price is fine for what it is but I could see ways that it could be wittier and with lots of clever screwball twists but it opts for a mushy Troi romance instead. Season three seems to be the point where the writers have really gotten a handle on her character and at times it felt as though they had read my mind and the list of complaints about her and written this episode to address some of them. I don’t think that Marina Sirtis is an especially strong actress (like Gates McFadden there she veers between vacant and melodramatic) but this episode serves her well. The negotiations for the wormhole are enlivened by the involvement of the Ferengi and I wished we could have seen more of them rather than focussing on Ral’s subtle techniques of negotiation. As I said it is pleasant enough but the moments where it strays into sloppy romance threatened to turn my stomach: 5/10

The Vengeance Factor written by Sam Rolfe and directed by Timothy Bond

What’s it about: The Sovereign of Acamaria wants to reintroduce the Gatherers into their society…

Number One: As soon as Riker claps eyes on Yuta we don’t even need the usual violins (although I’m sure I can hear them approaching in the distance) as it is clear by his masculine pose in her presence that he will be working his way into her affections before long. He’s not comfortable with the company of servants, he prefers to treat people as equals. When he lies back in his quarters Riker genuinely looks like he is about to knock one off but when Yuta turns up on his doorstep I guess he figures that is a far better alternative! Riker’s ‘fifty three years ago and she hasn’t aged a day!’ make me howl with laughter - he hasn’t quite lost his melodramatic streak!

Fully Functional: The joke of Data describing something in incredible scientific detail whilst everybody smirks and then tells him the simplistic name for it (in this case a camp fire) is starting to get old fast. You would think an android of his calibre would be programmed for more sophisticated humour.

Alien Empath: Wouldn’t it have been much funnier had Troi tried the alien dish and spat it out screaming ‘It’s awful!’ Deanna has the good sense to notice the sexual chemistry between Riker and Yuta and skidaddles out of Ten Forward so they can enjoy an evening together. 

Dancing Doctor: Dr Bev is like Columbo in this episode as she refuses to see things at face value and doesn’t rest until she can prove that the old Gatherer was murdered. Rather wonderfully she turns up every now and again in this episode with some other new piece of information surrounding his death – proving that she is little more than a plot device than a character.

Boy Genius: Poor Wes, every time a butch bloke comes on the ship he is made to look like a little squit of a man! It happened with The Outrageous Okona and now it happens with the leader of the Gatherers.

The Good: The first scene is quite atmospherically shot with some unsettling lighting and a camera that is in no hurry to get where it needs to be. The set for the planet is truly impressive, it is created on a scale that we aren’t used to and the mess of scaffolding and burning fires gives it a hellish look (and the opportunity to shoot on multi levels).

The Bad: A sophisticated race wanting to eradicate their primal and unsophisticated cast offs is a premise that would be dealt with with far more complexity in Voyager’s Remember – this almost feels like a comic book precursor to that tale. Marouk reminds me an awful lot of Kai Winn, only no where near as well played or written. The trouble with the premise is the Gatherers really aren’t that bad a bunch, I’ve seen worse behaviour on a stag weekend! They are just a bit laddish rather than outright violent and barbaric. It would have been nice had they saved the twist that Yuta is sabotaging the negotiations until the end of episode because having the audience so far ahead of the rest of the characters means we are constantly waiting for them to catch up and there isn’t much of a lift at the conclusion. Is it my imagination or does everybody look a bit bored during the climax where Yuta is exposed? Picard watches on trying to stifle a yawn and Riker can barely muster any anger as he reveals the evidence against her. Maybe I was just projecting my own coma.

Moment to Watch Out For: Obviously infected by all the testosterone wafting from Raul, watch out for the manly slap Picard gives Riker as he heads off to negotiate with the leader of the Gatherers.

Moral of the Week: You need to let old grudges pass. And don’t trust the brandy.

Fashion Statement: Notice when Picard sits down in the conference scenes – his uniform looks far too baggy for him! The subtlety in the look of the Gatherers is astonishing – they all have nasty scars, dirty stubble, thick hairy chests on display and they wear grungy leathers covered in studs! Just so we know they are bad. He swaggers too, and steals other peoples drinks. Oh and they all have mullets.

Orchestra: Go listen to the music that plays when the Gatherers open fire – if there was ever a more 1980s piece of science fiction music I have yet to hear it!

Result: About as subtle as throwing a brick through a window to find out if somebody’s home, The Vengeance Factor is the flip side to The Enemy a few episodes back by dealing with similar themes of mistrust and enemies coming together but without any of the delicacy that made the former episode work like a dream. We’ve had some slow episodes before but this one crawls at a snails pace and the viewer is always one step ahead of the characters which leaves little room for tension or surprise. Even the space battle (I use the term loosely) is so slack it might as well be two men shoving at each other in the street. The Gatherers prove to be the least subtle bunch of cowboys in the galaxy (besides The Outrageous Okona, naturally) and you have to wonder why the Sovereign wants them back and this episode is wrapped up with arse aching simplicity, even for TNG. This was a chore to sit through: 3/10

The Defector written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: A Romulan officer asks for sanctuary on the Enterprise but is he everything he claims to be?

To Baldly Go: You get some insight into why Picard enjoys his chats with Data, it is for his clarity of thought and objectivity that he seeks his counsel. Sometimes I find Picard’s conception of his actions to make the history books a little egotistical but the suggestion of war gives credence to his request to ask Data to record these events with a dispassionate eye so history can be their judge.  Jerak tells Picard that he has sacrificed too much for his career by failing to have a family. Patrick Stewart always gives his best performances in episodes of this nature where Picard has to think his way out of tricky situations and he can give as much gravitas to a sigh as he ponders the opportunities as he can to the complex dialogue. The Shakespearean connotations draw on Stewart’s time with the RSC and coaxes a number of scenes where I was gripped simply by the intensity of his acting.

Mr Wolf: The casual racism between Worf and Setal adds a real edge to this story, Worf’s continuing mistrust of the species that killed his father is a gift of the writers because it makes him so real.

Fully Functional: When Picard tells Data that there is no better place for him to discover the human condition than through Shakespeare I couldn’t agree with him more. This is certainly the most eye opening and literate of Data’s attempts to become more human and it opens the episode on an attention grabbing note. His attempts to gain the wisdom of Geordi about gut instincts is fine in theory but is practice it seems to consist of staring awkwardly across Ten Forward at the Romulan making him feel extremely uncomfortable.

Dancing Doctor: I love the awkward look between Dr Bev and Worf when she says she had the opportunity to study Romulans lately. Its nice to see that Ron Moore even this early in his Trek career manages to add some continuity between episodes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We have 48 hours to prevent a war. Or perhaps to start one…’
‘A Romulan defector is almost a contradiction in terms!’
‘I will not risk my people because you think you can dance at the edge of the Neutral Zone. You’ve crossed over Admiral.’

The Good: Its such an exciting opening mystery – why is one Romulan ship chasing another – that it drags you kicking and screaming into the episode. The model work for the Romulan ship and the shuttle is superb, the camera lingers exquisitely over every detail of this gorgeously designed ships. James Sloyan is one of those actors that turns up on every Star Trek show and never gives a duff performance - his turn here as a Romulan defector is very memorable but then so was Jetrel in Voyager and Dr Mora in DS9. I love it when we get to spend more time around the Romulans, as Picard says everything with them is a game of chess and these episodes are always cleverly plotted and full of surprises. The sudden explosion of the Romulan ship comes as a real surprise but it is treated like a throwaway moment in this magnificent episode. It’s nice to see science being used to uncover the Romulan plot - the way that Geordi reveals that the Romulan ship changed its speed three times so it didn’t catch up with Setal’s craft but still appeared to be pursuing it. It’s wonderful how Jarok reveals his true identity in such a low key manner since it adds credence to his claims and the more Picard tries to pick holes the more I believed him. Andreas Katsulas makes another impressive showing and his reappearance so soon makes TNG almost feel like a serialised show. Isn’t it great that earlier in the episode when Jarok pulls the pill from its hiding place that the writing and music convince you that this is instrumental some kind of sabotage and yet it turns out to be a suicide pill that he brought to end his life because it is in disgrace. An honourable Romulan? As Garak might say…there’s hope for you yet!

The Bad: When Setal describes Romulus as beautiful it does not correlate with what we later see in Nemesis and the special effects aren’t quite up to the task of bringing the moonlit valley to life.

Moment to Watch Out For: The brilliant, brilliant climactic face off between Picard and Tomalak with the Romulan Commander proving remarkably smug until Jean Luc pulls a rabbit out of his hat and wipes the smile off his face. One of the best conclusions to any TNG episode. 

Moral of the Week: Sometimes people are exactly what they seem to be.

Orchestra: The reintroduction of the Romulans again brings out the best in Ron Jones and the bombastic music during the teaser is his work at its best.

Result: The Defector is another season three gem and the episode that confirms Ronald D. Moore as the strongest writer on staff at this point. His engaging, labyrinthe script is full of twists and turns that keep you on your toes and offers the actors some very stirring chances to prove their mettle. The script spends some time playing games with the audiences expectations in attempting to convince you of Jarok’s good faith and building up to a possible conflict that could lead to war before the devastating final twist jettisons all the bluster and becomes a touching character drama all about one man. This is a TNG episode that is firing on all cylinders and the acting of everybody involved deserves massive kudos. Breathtakingly good: 10/10

The Hunted written by Robert Burnheim and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: The Enterprise is a refuge of a war criminal…

Alien Empath: A huge round of applause for Deanna Troi who proves her worth exponentially with her thorough summing up of Danar: ‘There is something unusual about him!’ Nice one Counsellor, how much training did it take to come to that conclusion?

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Eluded the Enterprise?’ questions Picard, agog at the thought that anybody could outmanoeuvre the flagship of the Federation! Ego much?
‘He came out of nowhere! I didn’t know anyone could be that fast!’ – Geordi letting us know how amazing Danar is!

The Good: Hang on a minute is that a brand new matte design planet that isn’t overused? I love the transit tubes that run beneath the city and there just feels like there is more detail in the effects work than usual. Jeff McCarthy gives a charismatic performance as Danar and he makes for a likable rogue in the same vein as (the outrageous) Okona from series two. A programmed super soldier is a popular idea in science fiction and at least The Hunted takes half the episode to drop its bombshell on the audience giving them some time to make up their own mind about Danar. 

The Bad: The shuttle cruising past the rock in space looks strangely cheap for a series that usually flaunts some very impressive model work. Listen to the first scene after the opening credits and notice not only how many times people mention the word ‘sensors’ but also how uneasy everybody suddenly feels coping with the technobabble. It’s an oddly discordant scene considering this should be like a second language to the actors by now. Hilariously Wesley is there to point out the plot to us so enjoy the moments where he informs us ‘he just bounced right off the shields!’ and ‘it’s an escape pod!’ Wow, this episode really is awkwardly realised – check out the cut to the blandest security member on the Enterprise who cannot get two lines out in the transporter room realistically and a choking funny fight scene that fails to convince. I can see the director was going for a real Die Hard hand to hand feel but weak action choreography and bland camera work means this looks like kiddie playground fighting (plus when one character lands on the transporter pad you can see how cheaply it has been constructed when it wobbles!). There is a very funny moment when Worf and his security team enter security and it looks like one of the engineers has been humping the console! The fight between Worf and Danar is quite nicely done (at last some real aggression!) but the containers they fall into are quite clearly contain nothing. Because the latter half of the story spends so long dealing with Danar’s attempted escape from the Enterprise there is no time left to deal with the consequences of what they have learnt about him – and the consequences for the Angosians of not joining the Federation. Can you imagine a worse fate than Picard and Troi beaming down to give you a moralistic lecture on how badly you run your planet? Somehow I knew this was coming as soon as the truth about Danar was revealed.

Moral of the Week: Fight your own battles, don’t programme people to do it for you.

Orchestra: On the plus side The Hunted features some of the best Ron Jones music we have heard for a while – I especially like the drums as Danar escapes his transport and wanders the Enterprise. Mind you in some points I wonder if Rick Berman had a point about the music being too intrusive, the scene where Danar faces his leaders at gunpoint is performing a very camp over score.

Result: Well meaning, but any episode that sees Deanna Troi empathising with a war criminal is going to be full of the sort of earnest psychobabble that she has become known for and this is no exception. What makes things worse is the first ten minutes which see a shockingly inept action sequence kick things off in the worst way imaginable. The director is going for Die Hard but what we get is more Blakes’ 7. Things are a lot more fun when Danar is on the loose but it (once again) exposes the weakness in the Enterprise crew because he runs rings around them so spectacularly. I couldn’t quite get a handle on whether they wanted to tell an action adventure or preach about using people as weapons during wartime and in trying to do both I think they missed out at excelling at either. I was pretty much entertained but it fails to reach the heights of this excellent season, there isn’t a hint of humour here and we learn very little that is new of the Enterprise crew: 6/10

The High Ground written by Melinda M Snodgrass and directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

What’s it about: Dr Bev is kidnapped by a terrorist cell…

To Baldly Go: Look at Picard’s face when they discuss Dr Bev’s abduction, he looks like he is ready to pull down the heavens to get her back. And he supports Wesley in a very fatherly fashion. It is such a shame that they didn’t let this family unit evolve into something tangible because it would have made for some interesting viewing but alas hints and whispers is all we get.

Dancing Doctor: The pre-titles sequences might just be my favourite scene featuring Dr Bev where she runs into the debris of a terrorist explosion completely unafraid and trying to help the wounded. She’s absolutely fearless and it is the first time I have genuinely rooted for her character especially when she defies Picard’s orders to save somebody’s life. Her hunger strike is understandable but when Finn tells her the only person she is hurting is herself it makes sense that she should keep her strength up. When Dr Bev says that she lives in an ideal culture with no need for violence I wondered if she knew how naïve she sounded.  I could have applauded Finn when he accuses her of sitting on the comfort that has come from the battles of the past whilst arrogantly frowning on his immorality. How awful to learn that the Enterprise is going to be the target of a terrorist attack knowing that Wesley is on board.

Boy Genius: Wesley looks an awful lot like Pike from Dad’s Army when he is told that his mother has been taken – completely forlorn and puppyish. Wesley’s sugary sweet ‘I was just part of the team’ in the last scene almost dissipated all my goodwill for this episode.

Sparkling Dialogue: Instead of the usual TNG posturing and moralising there is a real attempt to keep the dialogue real and hard hitting in this episode…
‘A dead martyr is worth ten posturing leaders.’
‘In a world where children blow up children, everyone is a threat.’
‘The difference between Generals and terrorists is only the difference between winners and losers.’
‘Is fear the only weapon you have?’
‘Its an imperfect solution for an imperfect world.’

The Good: This is a good example to show people who want to see how Trek should create a planet for a one off episode. Rutia III has a believable conflict that started long ago and sees people behaving against their nature in violent ways and is populated by plausible characters who are trying to cope with the situation on both sides. If you are going to write a plot about terrorism you need to be able to see both sides of the conflict and give them both a good reason for doing what they are doing and I really admire the way Snodgrass gives the Ansata terrorists a very human face rather than just painting them as villains. As soon as we realise that the Enterprise is under threat the whole episode steps up a gear and unbearable waiting game to see just how they plan to destroy the ship. Would Finn have shot Picard at the end? His death gives credence to the terrorist movement – if they are being treated this brutally maybe they have a good reason to fight. The symbolic gesture of the little boy putting down his gun makes for a very memorable ending. Perhaps if more people act the same way this conflict can come to an end. Its just a gesture rather than an easy solution and I will take that over a million easy solutions that has already become a cliché on TNG.

The Bad: What with The Hunted, The Defector and The High Ground (what is it with all these ‘The…’ titles this season) we have had quite a few serious episodes in a row. Has TNG started to lose its sense of humour? The scene of Worf creeping up on the least observant terrorists is unintentionally very funny. And then you can see him hiding behind a rock in plain sight! I think he needs to brush up on his sneak tactics!

Moment to Watch Out For: The attempts to get the bomb off the Enterprise are very exciting, probably the most exciting set piece all season. And then for them to storm the Bridge! How fantastic to see people like Troi and Wesley running for cover!

Moral of the Week: Talking can begin when one little boy puts down his gun.

Orchestra: Ron Jones’ music is far too intrusive in this episode, it is a piece that needs contemplative silences rather than TNG action music. Where his music comes into its own is when the Enterprise is under siege by terrorists and that is when you hear his work at its best.

Result: What a brave episode to screen by giving a human face to terrorism, The High Ground doesn’t shy away from its subject matter and as a result is one of the most honest and gripping episodes of TNG. It’s a fantastic episode for Dr Bev who gets to show what she is made of and make up her own mind about the terrorist cell. There aren’t that many episodes of TNG that keep me guessing what might happen next but this is one of them and I admired its ability to manage to keep this both action packed and have moments to spare for some thoughtful dialogue. This is precisely the sort of thing I expect from DS9 so I hope we see more this type again soon: 9/10

Deja Q written by Richard Danus and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: The inevitable Q turns human episode…

To Baldly Go: Hurrah! I have finally reached the episode with the Picard head-in-palm scene! Picard decides that saving Q might be a good idea because ‘it’s a perfectly good shuttlecraft’ in a statement that is loaded with meaning.

Number One: The Callamaraine have no sense of humour, a character flaw that Q feels Riker shares with them.

Only Human: John de Lancie is always a delight to welcome back (Q-Pid and The Q and the Grey excepted) and he is given some of his best material in this episode. This is a real learning curve for the demi God and a truly humbling experience and naturally he throws out insulting one liners like a Noel Coward firework. You have to feel sorry for Q who has been so mischievous in the past that he is now treated with contempt and suspicion even when he is telling the truth. His powers have been stripped and as a punishment he has to choose one form and one place to be. He chooses humanity because he remembers all of his fabulous times with Picard he had torturing his crew! Now he starts to regret it realising that he will be trapped in one shell and forced to cover himself with fabric because of some outdate morality. Q is terrified as the life oozes out of him…when he falls asleep! This is also the perfect chance for all those races that Q has pissed off over the years to come back and exact their revenge on him and he is duly tortured by one such gaseous entity. The episode takes on a whole new meaning when Q starts questioning his mortality and Data willingness to sacrifice himself. He gets a sudden and personal peek at what humanity is really all about and it is channelled entirely through the android. Without his powers he is frightened of everything, a coward and miserable. Q’s selfless act of self sacrifice is not the sort of behaviour that the continuum expects and goes to show how he has been influenced by his chats with Jean Luc…and the other Q would rather give him his powers back than go back to the continuum and face all the questions and tribunals about this appalling act.

Fully Functional: ‘Sir he is reading as human’ ‘What is there and echo in here?’ Thank Christ somebody has finally pointed out that these characters point out the obvious all the time! Data makes the wonderful observation that chocolate sundaes have a profound psychological effect on people! His belly laugh is the perfect finishing touch to this episode.

Blind Engineer: It is interesting to note that of all the characters who insult and torture Q in this episode it is Geordi who expresses the strongest opinion with his quiet but nasty ‘Commander, he’s not worth it.’

Dancing Doctor: Q calls Beverly’s return to the Enterprise as nothing more than Starfleet shuttling her back into exile!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What must I do to convince you people?’ ‘Die’ ‘Oh very clever Worf, eat any good books lately?’
‘I can’t disappear! Any more than you could win a beauty contest!’
‘Please don’t feel compelled to tell me the story of the boy who cried Worf!’
‘The robot who teaches the course in humanity!’
‘I don’t perceive your skills to be in doubt Q. The Captain is merely concerned with your ability to successfully interact with his little trained minions.’
‘If it means anything to you you’re a better human than I.’
‘I wasn’t the one who misplaced the entire Deltived asteroid belt!’
‘Oh you’re so stolid! You weren’t like that before the beard!’

The Good: Isn’t it wonderful that this episode lulls you into a false sense of mediocrity by making you believe it is going to be another preachy, dreary natural disaster Trek tale (with two of the least inspiring guest perfomers bringing to life the population of this planet!). All you need to cut through this patchiness is for Q to appear naked on the Bridge with a pithy one liner (‘Red alert!’). Throughout the episode we do keep heading back to the jeopardy plot to remind us of the usual drivel we have to endure and highlighting how energetic and delightful the Q material is. This is a chokingly funny episode and really shows how much this show has learnt to lighten up and take the piss out of its characters (I especially loved Q’s list of appalling human weakness and settles on ‘having to bath’ when looking at Worf!). Q’s solution to the planets problems by changing the gravitational constant of the universe is precisely the sort whacked out idea that he used to be able to perform on a whim. Corbin Bernsen turns up at the climax to give Q his powers back and sort this messy situation out and gives a delightful performance while he does. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The reunion between Q and Guinan is everything you could hope it be with her basking in his newfound vulnerabilities and testing that he really is human by stabbing him with a fork! I also howl with laughter every time I see Q materialise that little cloud into his palm after he gets his powers back…it’s nice to see that he hasn’t learnt his lesson at all! The last scene on the Bridge is one of the most blisteringly funny things I have ever watched…especially when Q sticks a pair of cigars in Picard and Riker’s mouths!

Moral of the Week: Humanity isn’t all flesh and blood, sometimes its just how you react.

Fashion Statement: They really should have put Q in a different outfit because his newly formed package is accentuated throughout the entire episode.

Result: What was that I was saying in The High Ground about this showing having lost its sense of humour? Its not just that this is a screamingly funny episode with more brilliant lines than you can shake a stick at but it is also a thoughtful treatise on what it is to be human and amazingly manages to avoid the usual Trek preachiness about such issues. John de Lancie joins the Enterprise crew for one episode and it lights up season three like a supernova; his charming, charismatic performance is an absolute delight in a show that was starting to become a little too serious for its own good. The fact that Q is willing to commit suicide rather than endanger the Enterprise crew is the point where he and Jean Luc stop considering each other enemies and have a grudging mutual respect. I know I was as shocked as you…development of characters on TNG! I don’t know what has happened in season three of TNG but it has completely pulled its act together and is producing one quality episode after another. Clearly that learning curve was worth it because this is gorgeous television. Even Picard’s closing ‘engage’ is laugh out loud funny: 10/10

A Matter of Perspective written by Ed Zuckerman and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Framed for murder, Riker has to try and get himself out of a tight hole (oh stop being filthy…)

To Baldly Go: Picard is trying to enrich his life by trying his hand at painting but Mister Data slaughters his first attempt and as such he never attempts it again.

Number One: I never thought I would say this but I kind of miss the carefree Riker from the first season. I know I whinged and complained about his being a macho stereotype who climbed over chairs like an ape and had and climbed to bed with women about as much as he carried out his duties but he was a lot more fun back then. Watch the character and Jonathan Frakes’ performance in this episode because both are pretty stiff and forgettable. At least when he was melodramatic there was something to watch…nowadays he is just another dreary Starfleet lackey. The scene showing Riker forcing himself onto Manua is wonderfully appalling because he is characterised so over the top unpleasant.

Alien Empath: ‘I didn’t sense any deception from her’ – thank goodness we don’t have to rely on Deanna’s intuition to prove Riker’s innocence! Why is Troi even there? She doesn’t contribute a thing to the episode.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I certainly didn’t try to rape her!’ – I’m sure if I am comfortable with a show as camp as TNG playing about with words like rape.

The Bad: As soon as Riker is arrested the episode already feels terribly contrived – its another one of those ‘guilty until proven innocent’ cultures that Trek has a habit of introducing us to. The second Manua appears you know where this is all heading with Riker being accused of thinking with his lower half rather than his brain. The characterisation of this trouble married couple walks past cliché and keeps going until it is within waving distance. I probably would have filmed the scenes of Picard and company watching the holodeck evidence head on rather than from behind simply because they are not superimposed terribly convincingly on the scenes and it makes me chuckle to think of Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes nodding thoughtfully at a green screen. Surely the very idea of evidence being revealed via a holodeck is nonsensical – this is a device that can happily be programmed to show whatever you want it to show. It would probably be the work of seconds to manipulate the programme and frame Riker. The conclusion fails to rouse any interest because it consists of little more than an awkward technobabble rabbit out of the hat and a solution that fails to be intelligently reasoned. Hang on…if Dr Apgar is responsible for his own death then why was his wife trying to suggest that Riker tried to rape her? She had nothing to do with this at all? 

Moral of the Week: Guilty until proven innocent is a lousy way to run a justice system.

Fashion Statement: Manua dresses in sleek underwear and strokes a door control as though she is fingering herself! In series one Riker would have been right in there.

Orchestra: Bless Ron Jones who is trying to inject mystery and tension into this episode where there is none -  his music is by and large the best on the show as far as I am concerned but I sometimes get the impression that he often gives an episode what he thinks it needs rather than what it does need. I get the impression that he thinks every show is going to be fantastic and scores it appropriately but it is only when his ambitions and the quality of the episode match that he scores a great result (his score for The Best of Both Worlds is still one of my favourites in Trek).

Result: I have seen this kind of episode done on various cult shows but this might be the earliest attempt I remember outside of the Japanese film, Rashomon. Like everything this season it is an attempt to do something a bit different but this is one of the shows with lofty ambitions that it fails to reach. The mystery surrounding Riker’s guilt is marred by the fact that he is such a Starfleet drone these days there is never any doubt that he would sleep with another mans wife or kill anybody. At one point Riker shakes his head in his hands whilst watching the damning evidence unfold and I was in a pretty similar situation watching this episode play out. There are few episodes of Trek that scream ‘set up!’ more than this one: 3/10

Yesterday’s Enterprise written by Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler & Ronald D Moore and directed by David Carson

What’s it about: The Enterprise NCC-1701C survives its final battle and history is irrevocably changed…

To Baldly Go: Patrick Stewart’s angry performance in Yesterday’s Enterprise is one of the things that really makes it stand out as a dramatic classic. This is a Picard that has been hardened by warfare and wont stand for any of the usual nonsense that our Picard lets slide. He is still a man of integrity but he pulls his punches when he needs to and makes tough choices without doubting himself. The scene between Picard and Tasha when she reveals Guinan’s foreknowledge is beautifully performed by both actors – ‘There’s no sense in this at all!’

Mr Wolf: All those prune juice jokes for Worf in seasons to come, the joke starts here with Guinan introducing him to the bowel opening drink. Worf considers Earth females to be too fragile but Guinan disagrees and says she can think of a few women that would find him tame!

Security Chief: Denise Crosby must have stepped back into this greatly improved (and ever popular) version of the show that she abandoned ship and regretted her decision. The return of Tasha is not something that I am particularly interested given the handling of her character in the first season but even I have to admit it is pulled off with some verve here and it might have been an interesting shake up to have kept her back for a few episodes. Many people say that the Tasha/Costillo romance is an unnecessary distraction but it is vital for two reasons. The first is that we need a reason for Tasha to choose to go with them and the second is to prove how given the right writers this character could have been toned down enough to be made to work.

Brilliant Bartender: Guinan finally gets a blisteringly good role in an episode and it pleases me to see that it is in one that is so fondly remembered by fandom. Her instincts are spot on but when she comes to Picard telling him that everything is wrong she sounds like some mad old soothsayer. She cannot explain it to herself so she cannot explain it to Picard but she knows that those 40 billion people should not have died in this war. In a very chilling scene Guinan tells Tasha that she died an empty death without purpose and that they weren’t meant to know each other at all.

Dancing Doctor: ‘Nonsense Doctor’s always over protect their patients’ ‘And Captain’s always push themselves too hard’ – even Dr Bev is getting in on the great characterisation.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Families. There should be children on this ship’ ‘What? Children on the Enterprise? Guinan we’re at war!’ – if only Picard, if only…
‘Who knows if we’re even dead or alive?’
Tasha…you are not supposed to be here.’
‘We’ll make it one for the history books’ ‘I know you will Captain.’
‘Lets make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.’

The Good: The shift from the reality we know to the much darker version when the Enterprise survived is seamlessly achieved and pulled off without any kind of explanation at first. It is like an electric shock to the audience that are left floundering as to how Tasha Yar could be back and the ship can have changed so much and I love that they are willing to take that kind of risk with the show. The new Bridge is gloomy, dramatically designed and just about a million times more evocative than the beige airport lounge we are used to. You can definitely see where the increased budget went. Can we keep it please? The Enterprise is now a battleship in a war with the Klingons and the Captain begins his usual voiceovers with ‘military log.’ The Bridge that the Away Team beam over to is smoky, dirty, destroyed, littered with corpses and fires – probably the most haunting beam in site to the whole series (until the teaser to Best of Both Worlds). We don’t require the changes explained to us in laborious detail, Picard merely mentions that the act of a Federation starship saving a Klingon colony may have averted 20 years of war and we have all the answers we need. Suddenly we are in Trek moral dilemma territory at its best. To make things as they were Garrett needs to send her ship back into a conflict that she knows she wont survive – would you become a martyr to prevent two decades of war? Whilst many people would simply say yes that is a near impossible choice to make because by accepting it you are agreeing to go to your death so history remembers you fondly. We have had many scenes of debate amongst this crew over the mot trivial of issues but here is a whopping great decision for them to make and suddenly the differing opinions of the crew make for terrific drama. One more ship will make no difference in the here and now and ultimately going back to their deaths might be the only way to help – to prevent the war altogether is the only way that the Federation is going to win. Garrett’s death is shocking enough but then the camera pans down to show a piece of shrapnel sticking from her bloody forehead. Gorgeous model work and effects make the final battles scenes stirring and exciting, exactly the sort of sensational climax this episode needed. Riker is killed, Picard leaps over to tactical and the Enterprise is hammered by Klingon firepower…

The Bad: This has been pointed out in my favourite Trek review website (Jammer’s Reviews) but I completely agree so it is worth re-iterating. This is not so much a criticism of the episode itself but of the running series but it seems it takes a spatial anomaly to bring this series to the brink of war. It is easily the most cynical portrayal of the Federation at war that we ever get in TNG and it is absolutely gripping. With DS9 they actually take the series down this route proper and come the beginning of series six we are literally in this kind of hell.

Moment to Watch Out For: The tension when Guinan walks into Ten Forward and sees Tasha standing at the bar is one of the most uncomfortable moments in Trek. She knows that Tasha is supposed to be dead and Whoopee Goldberg does more with a stare than most actors could do with an episode.

Moral of the Week: Small events can have vast consequences.

Fashion Statement: Wesley looks awesome in a red uniform and the sooner they pour him into one and out of the grey tunic the better. The uniforms of the old Enterprise are just one step further than those from the movies which is a lovely touch of continuity.

Orchestra: A huge round of applause for Dennis McCarthy in this episode who delivers a knockout score for a knockout episode. The early scenes featuring Guinan have a discomforting discordant sting playing through them and the later battle scenes are made all the more dramatic and dynamic for the music.

Result: In the season three sweep stakes Voyager has been running on the spot with little interest and DS9 has been using its first half to build to a kick ass second half but it is TNG where all the classics are. I have awarded no less than four episodes perfect marks so far and Yesterday’s Enterprise wont be the last masterpiece before the year is out. It doesn’t surprise me that this episode is written by strongest of DS9 writers and the ones that would take the sister show down this exact path for real. You can almost imagine that this is what the Enterprise was like during the Dominion War. There is a fantastic role for Guinan who acts as an anchor to our universe and the return of Tasha Yar is far better than I could have ever expected. The story only has one route to travel down and that is for things to return to normal but as a peek into a dirty, violent and uncomfortable Alpha Quadrant with the Federation spirit blasted to hell by war this is an absolute work of tour de force. Yesterday’ Enterprise is about as dramatic as TNG comes and it has a premise that I wished they had saved for the movies because it is ripe to be exploited with a big budget. Its certainly far more effective than any of the TNG movies we got. Stunning: 10/10

The Offspring written by Rene Echevarria and directed by Jonathan Frakes

What’s it about: Data builds himself a daughter…

To Baldly Go: He was never happy with having children on the ship but to have his first officer create an android and refer to it as his child is all too much for Picard. He might have made a case for Data as a sentient lifeform in A Measure of a Man, but that does not give him the right to further populate the ship with others of his kind. At least without permission. It shouldn’t be but it is different to somebody falling pregnant. It has far greater implications than just another human child. Patrick Stewart brings the core of the episode to light stupendously when he angrily tells Data that he has created a new life and it cannot just be switched off. This is the second time that Picard has put his reputation on the line for an android, it is starting to become something of a crusade for him.

Number One: Commander Riker is on personal leave so Jonathan Frakes can helm this episode. However he appears briefly in what might just be the finest scene in the piece, where Lal manhandles him off his feet and plants a smacker on his lips. It isn’t often we see Riker floored by the sexual advances of a woman.

Fully Functional: Picard looks positively affronted that Data would build a new life form on the Enterprise and says that he would have liked to have been consulted. Data’s response that he doesn’t see anybody else consulting him about their leisure activities. Whilst procreation is a very natural, there is something wholly unnatural about Lal and her construction and it is one of the few times Data’s robotic personality actually seems like it could be dangerous simply through not thinking through the consequences of his actions. If this android had turned out to be destructive (like Lore) it would have been a costly whim. By creating Lal he wanted to give something back to Starfleet for what it has given him, which is a sweet gesture. Transferring Lal’s memories into his own positronic brain means that she will be with him forever. Aww. How Brent Spiner plays this episode so unresponsively given the tone of the material is a credit to his skills as an actor.

Dancing Doctor: Seeking Dr Bev’s advice as a successful parent…there is so much that is wrong with that statement I don’t know where to begin. Dr Bev remembers a time when she wasn’t very popular…she’s just trying to give me material to work with, isn’t she?

Boy Genius: Wesley gets a haircut. Clearly things are busy in the Alpha Quadrant.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Father says I would learn a great deal working with someone as old as you’ ‘You’re hired.’
‘There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.’
‘I love you father’ ‘I wish I could feel it with you’ ‘I will feel it for us both.’

The Good: The make up for the androgynous version of Lal is extraordinarily good and the scenes of it wandering the corridors naked certainly raised an eyebrow. Perhaps they should have adopted this approach when it came to designing an aesthetic for the J’naii, the androgynous species that are visibly being played by men and women in The Outcast. The scenes of Data teaching Lal about life should have been irredeemably twee but both Brent Spiner and Hallie Todd play the scenes so delicately they have a childlike, fairytale atmosphere to them. It astonishes me that I get a real father/daughter vibe from a pair of androids but that comes down to the effort of the actors. The shot of Lal in the classroom on her own always pulls at the heartstrings, ostracised from the other children. Who hasn’t had a moment like that in their lives?

The Bad: What a shame Lal didn’t choose the Andorian persona because that would have made for a very different sort of episode. By the time Lal starts working with Guinan and grabs Commander Riker for her first snog (or biting experience) my goodwill had started to run out for the syrupy tone of this episode. I can handle an awful lot of twee (I managed to stick with Glee for three seasons on the strength of the musical numbers) but this pushed me to the limit. What is up with those godawful Admirals who turn up in episodes like this just to get in the way. They have no logical function beyond trying to create some false drama and certainly no personality of note. At least Guinan takes the piss out of his po faced attitude.

Moment to Watch Out For: The unexpected moment where Lal walks into Troi’s quarters and experiences fear for the first time.

Moral of the Week: The ties of family are more important than duty.

Result: I don’t want to be too hard on an episode that has such good intentions and some genuine emotional beats but whatever came after Yesterday’s Enterprise was always going to suffer by comparison and The Offspring doesn’t do enough to keep the impetus of this incredible season going. It’s slow and talky and contains the usual idiotic Starfleet bureaucracy (I swear their only function is to cause wrap everybody in red tape) and in the grand scheme of things it is pretty forgettable stuff. Coming after such a momentous episode it gives the impression that whilst things are exciting in an alternative universe, back in our universe very little of note is going on. However kudos to Brent Spiner and Hallie Todd who give their all to make their relationship as watchable as possible. The episode passes by harmlessly enough and the last ten minutes are unexpectedly powerful as we realise that Lal is frightened of being taken from her father. Sweet, but disposable: 5/10

Sins of the Father written by Ronald D. Moore & W. Reed Moran and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: The honour of Worf’s father comes under scrutiny and the Enterprise visits to Qo’noS…

To Baldly Go: Patrick Stewart is perfectly at home in such an overtly theatrical episode and it gives him the chance to get his mouth around some seriously meaty dialogue. Nobody can argue with quite the same intensity as Stewart when he is on form and the way Picard negotiates Klingon politics in Sins of the Father is very impressive. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that one of Jean Luc’s favourite dishes is caviar. It says a lot about a character. At least he sees the good in shaking up the status quo of his crew and keeping them on their toes. Worf can think of nobody he would want at his side more than Picard and he is clearly touched by the remark and puts himself forward. 

Mr Wolf: Kurn patronises Worf, treats him like a child and as a rule bound Starfleet officer who is caught between two worlds he takes the punishment from his brother. He uses every opportunity to insult Worf – at the dinner table he suggests that the food that has been prepared is too bland for the stomach of a Klingon whilst his brother is tucking in. He even suggests that Worf’s blood has thinned in this environment. Worf discovers that his father is accused of aiding an abetting the Romulans on the attack on Khitomer, the attack where his father died.

Boy Genius: Sometimes I wonder if the term boy genius has breached the trades description act. When a Klingon officer is barking instruction on the Bridge the last thing it is wise to do is to start gossiping with your android neighbour!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I shall try some of your burnt replicated bird meat!’
‘Just a short while ago I had to stop myself from killing Commander Riker…’
‘It is a good day to die Duras and the die is not yet over.’
‘You are still fat, K’mpec.’
‘The Empire will not be destroyed for the sake of one family’s honour.’

The Good: Having a Klingon officer visit the Enterprise tells us as much about our culture as it does there’s and proves to be an intriguing counterpoint to season two’s A Matter of Honour. Tony Todd is such an fine actor and whilst I don’t think Kurn is his Todd’s most memorable performance in Trek (for me that still goes to his turn as the older Jake Sisko in The Visitor, although it is a world away from the older Alexander in season seven of TNG) it is still a nuanced turn and easily the one he is most recognised for in the franchise. It is long past time that somebody instilled a little professionalism on the ultra relaxed Bridge (I loved the momentary look of disgust he throws when he sits down on one of the padded chairs – half the time Data and Wesley look as if they are lying down the incline is so comfortable). Listen to Wesley and Geordi moan about Kurn’s criticisms of their performance, perhaps Picard is too lenient with his crew since it appears they aren’t able to take constructive criticism and having their work monitored. I love the faux Dallas moment when the revelation that Kurn and Worf are brothers is dropped, it feels like it has stepped out of a corny daytime soap opera. Qo’noS is one of those Trek worlds that leaps off the screen vividly and it is a brutal landscape, struck by lightning and dominated by exotic buildings consisting of blood lit chambers. Clearly some effort has gone to getting the aesthetic of this ancient, honourable race right. K’mpec is a big and bold Shakespearean villain who can rattle off a speech to crush a mans character with absolute ease. I love the scenes between Kahlest and Picard because it feels as though Star Trek is entering into an exciting new territory of underhanded politics played in dark rooms on alien worlds. The truth of the Duras involvement at Khitomer is hardly a blinding revelation but the way it is all hushed up to prevent the High Council from shattering shows Worf to be a man of rare selflessness. He excepts the dishonour that the lie of his fathers betrayal brings him to keep his people united and strong. To have a race which is proven to be honour bound and completely hypocritical and to take an innocent man and make a traitor of him is highly unusual in Trek on both counts. It is rare when the protagonists are rewarded for their integrity on this show and it makes a real impact when it stirs in a little injustice. The franchise is far more potent because of the events of this episode, there is a ready made world and a sub genre of Trek that TNG (and DS9 and VOY) can dip into on the odd occasion.

Moment to Watch Out For: Worf agreeing to accept the public humiliation of banishment in his fathers name reveals exceptional character growth. I’m not sure who decided to turn everything around as far as Worf is concerned (I am willing to bet it was Ronald D. Moore but you can never be too sure when the ideas/development is decided by a committee) but he has grown from a grunting savage in the first season into a character if rare depth and distinction in season three. When I moan about a lack of character development on TNG, I should be reminded of Worf who really has come such a long way. How anyone can fail to love the guy after this baffles me. A private moment to tell Duras that he is the son of a traitor is enough for Worf.

Moral of the Week: One mans honour is worth less than an Empire.

Foreboding: The talk of a Klingon civil war is brought to fruition towards the end of season four.

Result: Another powerhouse and further proof that TNG was really willing to widen its scope and further explore the universe as a whole in it’s third year.  Star Trek has always been an expensive form of theatre so it is great to see them strip away all the effects and really go for the most elaborately theatrical script and setting possible. The performances are heightened accordingly, as is the drama and the Trek universe is a much richer place for this visit to the Klingon home world. There is a strong mystery at the centre of this episode (what really happened at Khitomer?), brilliant character revelations (Worf has a brother) and an unforgettable setting (this is a world where Picard can be caught in a knife fight in a back street). Worf stands proud throughout the episode in the face of belittling accusations and proves once again why he is TNG’s standout character and a man of rare depth and honour. A tense atmosphere, awesome dialogue and powerful performances (especially Patrick Stewart who has truly come into his own of late) combine to make this another season three delight: 9/10

Allegiance written by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Picard is kidnapped and his double moves in on Dr Bev…

To Baldly Go: I’m willing to bet that Patrick Stewart enjoyed being let off the leash this one time and it is great fun to watch him playing what is essentially a parody of his usual character with all his quirks exaggerated (even the way the double says ‘engage’ feels like he is taking the piss). I can’t be the only person who prefers this laid back Picard that socialises with his crew and enjoys a good flirt with Dr Bev? He slaps Geordi on the back, toasts his crew, guzzles down ale and sings songs! As soon as he invites her to dance and tries to kiss her she should have called security straight away – there is no way that our Captain Picard would ever pull that bug out of his butt and relax like this! Isn’t it hilarious that as soon as Picard loosens up and starts enjoying himself all his senior officers start questioning whether he is an imposter…says something about his character, doesn’t it? At the same time ‘our’ Picard is just authorative as ever, tackling the not-so-difficult puzzle with an intensity it doesn’t really deserve.

Blind Engineer: Geordi uses the Captain’s request to improve engine efficiency to leave the poker table ASAP because lady luck left him long ago.
Dancing Doctor: Even though they have history I still can’t imagine why Picard would want to pursue somebody as vacuous as Dr Bev. Beneath that blank stare of hers all I see is Federation medical training and an overprotective love for her irritating son. Virtues in some peoples eyes maybe, but not mine. Admittedly Gates McFadden looks pretty hot when she dresses up in this episode so perhaps that is enough to turn the doppelgangers head. The after sex conversation would be so dreary though. Dr Bev thinks that their positions force a sense of professional detachment – see what a barrel of laughs she is! If she is happy with their relationship the way it is then why would she turn up at his quarters for dinner looking smoking hot? She then accepts his invitation to dance and kisses him. Unless she just enjoys stringing him along?

The Good: I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the precredits sequence because it features the least atmospheric alien abduction ever captured on film but they then managed to pull out a half decent surprise when Picard wakes up in the strange room and another version of his greets Worf on the Enterprise. It’s nice to be able to see a Bolian female and the make up for all the captives is of an extremely high quality.

The Bad: I say that the make up of all the captives is good, that is until the great lumbering toothy beast appears which might just be the least subtle alien make up job ever seen in this show. Goodness knows how he is supposed to eat that food with those daft teeth! You should go and watch the film Cube to see how this sort of thing can be done to enhance maximum tension – I love the premise of four strangers waking up in a room together and trying to piece together why they are there but the direction here is so mundane it feels like the weekly meeting of the local WI. How on Earth does Picard figure that they are in a laboratory maze being observed at how they work together under pressure? They haven’t been under any pressure! When the aliens reveal themselves they are dressed in the campest clothing this side of Rocky Horror.

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard telling Riker that he is the one that has got a problem. Riker looks as if he might cry at any minute.

Moral of the Week: Dr Bev is not willing to thawed out by Picard. 

Result: The most banal episode for an age is let down by some pedestrian direction which could have made it a far more tense experience. I have this vision in my head of an altogether different episode where Pulaski never left the ship and the faux Picard came onto her instead. That would have been a hilarious experience. Allegiance should have been a real endurance test for the captives; preying on their fears, starving them, turning them against each other violently (they do question each other but its more like a cosy chat than intense paranoia) but the worst that happens is that they have a green light shone in their faces. Ooh, scary. The episode ambles along blandly enough and then suddenly the writer realises he needs to restore the status quo so Picard makes some nonsensical deductions (based on very little information he has gleamed from the situation) and the aliens are caught in the most foolish of traps. It worries me that TNG can swing from powerful drama to toe curling childishness in single step and this is definitely a rather desperate version of the latter: 4/10

Captain’s Holiday written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by Chip Chalmers

What’s it about: Picard heads of to Risa for a vacation…

To Baldly Go: I remember reading news stories about Patrick Stewart being unhappy about the apparently asexual Captain role he had been handed on the show and was going to the lengths of suggesting that he would quit if something wasn’t done about it. So it comes to two episodes in a row where the Captain has become irresistible to women (well Dr Bev and Vash) and he even starts getting his chest out to prove his virility. It is not a shift in his favour as far as I am concerned, I rather thought the idea was to contrast Picard with Kirk and it was his more thoughtful, less kinky behaviour that really stood him out as being something different. I should have known that Picard hated going on vacation, clearly the man lives for his work and little else. Fortunately Dr Bev is on standby to force him out the door when he tries to wangle his way out of it. His idea of a great holiday is visiting a symposium on rogue star clusters which sounds about as pleasurable as recovering from scabies and so instead Riker (who knows all the sleaziest vacation spots, I would imagine) points him in the direction of a planet famed for its lustrous exploits. When a gorgeous woman snogs his face off the only thing he can say is ‘a simple handshake would have sufficed!’ – get that bug out of your butt Picard! We need the duplicate from Allegiance back because he would bent Vash over backwards and giving her a quick seeing to without a moments compunction. Mind you if I was engrossed in a good book in the sun and had women bothering me and people splashing me I would get cross too…but then I’m usually engrossed in something a little more lowbrow than a study on ethics. This experiment might have made more of an impact if we hadn’t seen the imposter Picard letting his hair down (metaphorically speaking) last week but as a consequence of following that episode ‘our’ Picard comes across a little too stilted to truly have fun.

Number One: Of any character in the Star Trek universe it comes as no surprise to me that Riker recommends Risa, a planet of sensuality. Maybe he thought it would loosen him up a bit. Riker is such a rogue, he asks Picard to buy him a Horgon which is the Risian equivalent of asking for a prostitute. He’s definitely trying to show his Captain a good time.

Alien Empath: Even Troi is in on the conspiracy to get the Captain on holiday by pretending that her mother will be visiting shortly and cannot wait to catch up with him. She comments quietly that Riker mentions too often how imaginative the Risian women are, highlighting her jealousy.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘From the moment I met you I knew you were going to be trouble’ – Indiana Jones you aint, Picard.
‘Lies! Treachery!’ – doesn’t Sovak remind you of Kenneth Williams’ character from Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’).

The Good: It’s great to see an Andorian vacationing on Risa, a most neglected species in the post-TOS universe (until Enterprise came along). Vash is such a marvellous, devious character that uses her feminine wiles to disguise her lies and I wish we could have seen a lot more of her in Trek. Unfortunately she only turned up in two lame TNG comedies – her best appearance is in a so-so DS9 episode and that is hardly a screaming endorsement of her potential. Jennifer Hetrick makes an instant impression and I would have enjoyed her presence on the Enterprise a little more, embarrassing the good Captain with her forthright attitude (but in a very different way to Lwaxana Troi).

The Bad: I don’t enjoy knocking the unoriginality of this show but the two aliens that materialise in Risa look practically identical, sound practically identical and walk identically to the pair from the last episode. Even the fact that they are from the future with dire prophecies fails to spawn any curiosity about them, they talk in a dull monotone and walk as though they have crapped themselves. Gah – the dialogue in the first scene on the Bridge is so stilted I felt as though we had beamed back to the first season! Marina Sirtis in particular seems completely at sea and fails to convince. It is impossible to correlate Max Grodenchik’s performance as Sovak which is pantomime and ridiculous, with his very sweet creation of Rom in DS9. Still if this excruciating turn earned him the regular spot on the sister show then I will endure it. Not enjoy it, endure it. Picard grabs the Ferengi’s gun and punches him out like the Karate Kid, this second childhood for the Captain just gets more embarrassing by the minute. Strangely enough had you swapped Picard with Kirk I think 50% of this episodes problems would be solved (there would still be the forced humour but at least it wouldn’t feel so out of character). Watching Picard and Vash sleeping together under the stars like first year archaeology students should be quite sweet but the scripting makes them sound like a couple of naughty kids.

Moment to Watch Out For: Sovak digging furiously in the sand to find the device –pure pantomime and cringeworthy and epitomises the episode perfectly.

Moral of the Week: Picard loves adventure and women fall over themselves for him.

Fashion Statement: ‘You look very handsome if I may say so, sir’ says Troi of Picard wearing the most hideous grey hospital gown to go on holiday in! Stewart has far too much flesh on display than my stomach could take.

Result: Less of an episode of Star Trek and more of an instalment of Patrick Stewart’s mid life crisis with him parading around in his underpants with his hairy chest on display and being the object of lust for some of the most beautiful women in the galaxy. It’s all a bit embarrassing to watch and with static direction and a slack pace even the Indian Jones style adventure fails to rouse much interest. Surely this is one episode which earned the right to be shot on location and feature some glorious sunny coastline photography? The writing team were pretty much held to ransom by a demanding Stewart but the simple fact of the matter is that Captain Picard does not fit this kind of episode and the way it ploddingly plays out almost feels like an expression of that awkwardness. Saying that, I’m not letting Ira Steven Behr off the hook for writing this drivel. On form he is one of the strongest Trek writers but he is known to have his off days (usually when it revolves around tacky comedy or anything to do with Risa – Let He Who Is Without Sin). This episode would have been ten times more watchable had it been assigned to Wesley, a character who genuinely needs to let his hair down: 3/10

Tin Man written by Dennis Putman Bailey & David Bischoff and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: A race between the Romulans and the Federation to reach a mysterious sentient spaceship…

To Baldly Go: It is surprising that Picard is so accepting of Deanna because he clearly feels quite uncomfortable around Betazoids. His fear of Mrs Troi and her voracious sexual appetite is legendary and the look he gives Tam when he reads his mind upon their introduction could wither fruit. I understand his apprehension since we all have feelings we like to keep hidden away.  The trouble with this particular Betazoid is that he fails to put on his poke face whilst he is reading you and you don’t need to be a telepath to know what he is thinking. It would make anybody uncomfortable.

Fully Functional: It is a rare occurrence that the characters in TNG mirror my own thoughts but I was questioning the bareness of Data’s quarters just seconds before Tam mentions it. Data thinks a great deal about humanity and he is an honest researcher, not treating anything as trivial or irrelevant. Tam tells Data it is not a sin to be different even though he may have heard otherwise. There is a lovely little coda that sees Data return to the Enterprise and realise that that is where he belongs just as Tam belongs on Tin Man. For an android, he has found his spiritual home.

Alien Empath: You might think that I would be salivating at the thought of any episode that takes a cynical approach towards Troi and her invasive gift but my psychobabble alarms started ringing cacophonously once an ex-patient of hers was introduced. Saying that Troi means well is like saying that moralising episodes like Symbiosis mean well, it’s an accepted annoyance of this show that she will poke her nose into the business with anybody with the slightest personality flaw. The only real way to survive on the Enterprise without her interference in your life is to pretend that everything is normal and you are a satisfied Starfleet drone otherwise that dreaded door chime might ring and she’ll be on your doorstep; sympathetic, persistent and really exasperating.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It seems you have woke your Tin Man.’
‘Tin Man hurts and wants to die.’

The Good: I don’t mean to suggest that I am some kind of schizophrenic but I find myself sympathising with Harry Groener’s Tam Elbrun more than I do with the crews reaction to him. This is a character with poor social skills but a brilliant telepathic mind who hates the way the crew evades their real feelings and prevaricate to keep the peace. His sharp criticisms are welcome because it is always fun to see the most relaxed crew in Starfleet on their toes. The way he is so impatient that he can’t even be bothered to let people finish their own sentences and does it for them would be very annoying in practice but it does makes me smirk to see characters like Riker and Picard so wound up. A living starship dead is space with the Federation and the Romulans racing each other to lay claim to it is one of those instantly engaging ideas that makes you wonder why nobody has thought of it before. We learn that Betazoids only discover how to read minds as they hit puberty and it is very rare for children to be born with telepathic ability and those rare individuals are often socially challenged by the experience of growing up with so many thoughts screaming in their heads. The Tin Man ship is quite unassuming and cute looking, laced with veins of energy and I wonder if that was a deliberate design choice to lull the audience into a false sense of security so the moment it defends itself really hits home. This is precisely the sort of being that the Original Series crew used to come across week in, week out, encountering an ancient mysterious and it highlights the thirst for knowledge that this promotes but doesn’t engage in nearly enough. Knowing that the star will go nova, Tin Man has parked itself on its doorstep so it can be torn apart in the approaching storm. With its curved corridors and organic pulsing you have to wonder if the designers of Farscape weren’t paying attention to this episode when they came to design Moya, another living ship.

The Bad: I was waiting for the scene where Troi visits Tam in his quarters and with depressingly predictability the episode does not disappoint. Given how much he hates counsellors I wonder if O’Brien has a tripwire set up to detect Troi if she enters his quarters which sets an axe on a pendulous trajectory with her head? There is more than the usual amount of Bridge throw-yourself-at-the-wall acting required in this story. I’m not sure why it bothered me so much with this episode but the lighting on the Bridge is so thoroughly beige and colourless it really spoils the atmosphere of the series. I wish they could have kept the deliciously dark look that they took for a test drive in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

Moment to Watch Out For: A Romulan ship swings into view and blasts at the Enterprise – I love moments like this in Trek that take you by surprise.

Moral of the Week: Not everybody in the 24th Century is a Starfleet drone. Thank goodness.

Orchestra: As the Romulans approach there is an intriguingly sinister violin score like shivers running up and down your spine that made the moment.

Result: The success of Harry Groener’s socially inept Betazoid in this episode makes me wonder if it led to the creation of Reg Barclay, proving to the production team that a flawed character would work within this setting. It is so invigorating to meet a character that speaks his mind and turns his nose up at authority, once Pulaski left the ship I thought that all belligerence had been erased from the Enterprise. I would happily swap Tam for Troi any day of the week, a socially dysfunctional counsellor would make for a fantastic addition to the show. Tin Man is an intriguing piece which deftly walks between moments of drama and depth and as I raced towards the conclusion for once I had no idea how it was going to end which is a rare and exciting feeling on this show. I am so happy about the increased presence of the Romulans this season since every time they show up the shows excitement levels increase exponentially. The ending where a man who cannot settle into society and a being that has lost its crew decide to form a partnership and roam the galaxy is both predictable and twee (this is TNG after all) but for once they get away with it because both elements are so well handled throughout the episode that you can see how much they are made for each other. Rather lovely and a healthy antidote after the last couple of clunkers: 8/10

Hollow Pursuits written by Sally Caves and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Introducing Reg Barclay and his wonderful flights of fancy…

To Baldly Go: Picard is not used to seeing an unsatisfactory rating on a member of his crew, after all his ship is a refuge for the best of the best. I would have loved for somebody to have mentioned that back in season one when this bunch of misfits were always making daft mistakes. Thank goodness Picard doesn’t stoop to the level of name calling. Having worked with autistic children I can say with some certainty that the way that Patrick Stewart plays his scenes showing Picard’s discomfort with Reg is akin to watching people interact with socially awkward individuals. It’s quite a subtle level of uneasiness but it is nevertheless easy to spot.

Number One: In his holodeck programme Barclay describes Riker as ‘a pretty mannequin in a uniform full of hot air.’ Whatever his faults are socially he is clearly an excellent judge of character. It looks like office gossip has remained a staple of  humanity right the way through to the 24th Century with Riker and Geordi bitching about Barclay and even calling him names. It seems that if you aren’t the best of the best then you are penalised on this ship. What a pair of wankers. I realise a certain level of aptitude is required on the Enterprise and that Reg doesn’t make the grade in some areas, however I find the way Riker intimidates him verges on bullying at times. It’s fascinating that a character I thought I knew inside out could be shown in such an unlikable light – in his own inept way at handling this delicate situation Riker is as flawed as Barclay.

Blind Engineer: It is extremely intrusive of Geordi to simply walk into somebody’s holodeck programme – I’m sure it’s something that the Chief Engineer wouldn’t have appreciated considering his sexual activity with the Leah Brahms fake earlier in the season. Again I accept that Barclay should be living up to his responsibilities and not hiding away in a fantasy world but there are more subtle ways that this could have been handled than embarrassing him like this. Geordi could have prevented Riker and Troi from walking into his fantasy world like this but instead he seems to actively encourage them. As though he wants to humiliate him back in line.

Alien Empath: It makes me laugh that in Reg’s fantasy life Troi is the nurturing counsellor that we all know and tolerate but with it she also sexual favours to aid their treatment. I hate to sound like a horny Ferengi but I prefer her this way, she’s far more relaxed and less histrionic. When Troi finally gets her claws on Barclay it looks like she is going to use the same seduction techniques that he favours, dimming the less and moving closer to him on the couch. At least she has the decency to admit that she is intimidating.

Boy Genius: Of all the people to be making up nicknames about others Wesley ‘I’ll save the ship/irritating boy genius/apple of his mothers eye’ Crusher is taking the proverbial. A shame we didn’t get to see Barclay dissecting him on the holodeck.

Brilliant Bartender: Guinan is always full of such great advice, I wonder if we shouldn’t dump the rest of the crew and have a sitcom set in Ten Forward with her and Barclay. I enjoyed her tale about her mothers brother, the one who refused to fit in and how she loves spending time around him because he was the only one who was normal (she was making a comment on you and your chums there, LaForge). And she’s a sympathetic voice for Barclay suggesting his social clumsiness is a result of how the people on the ship treat him. Guinan is the best character on this show by several light years. Perhaps that is why the shows later years suffer where Goldberg vanishes without a trace.

Socially Inept: Reg Barclay is precisely what the Enterprise needs to balance things out a little. He’s seclusive, a fantasist, social incompetent and only mediocre at his work. I can really believe in a guy like Barclay who shies away from the world. Dwight Schultz is such a likable actor and poured into this role he really makes you feel for Reg – every time he opens his mouth you want him to be confident and sure of himself and sink in your seat as people react to his nervous tendencies. In private Reg is a swaggeringly charismatic macho stereotype and the person he will never be in public. You can see how there is something therapeutic about Barclay letting off steam in the holodeck and being able to say things to people within a fantasy environment that he can’t in real life (I bet there is somebody in everybody’s professional life they wish they could do this to). 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I am the Goddess of Empathy! Cast off your inhibitions and embrace love, truth, joy!’
‘Why is Lieutenant Barclay being referred to clandestinely as a vegetable?’
‘I look forward to your report Mr Broccoli!’ – I actually screamed out loud at this – of all the people to make this faux pas so publicly!
‘Cast aside your masks and let me slip into your minds…’ ‘Muzzle it!’

The Good: The teaser tells you practically everything you need to know about the episode and the opening scene is very funny (Troi has never been better). But it’s no where near as laugh out loud hilarious as seeing Troi wind swept in a sunset lit Garden of Eden. Then we hop to another gigglesome scene with Dr Bev swinging from a tree and Wesley filling his face full of pie. It is so refreshing to see this show taking the piss out of itself so completely since it doesn’t come around too often. Patrick Stewart, Levar Burton and Brent Spiner as the Three Musketeers had me cheering and then Jonathan Frakes bumbles onto the set. This is comedy gold. The last scene is a gorgeous piece of theatre, we know that this isn’t the real Enterprise crew but Reg is actually saying goodbye to something far more important than that.

The Bad: The stuntman playing Barclay during the swordfight is clumsily apparent as he has much darker hair than Schultz.

Moment to Watch Out For: Any of the scenes in the holodeck. Absolute genius.

Moral of the Week: Don’t bully the awkward members of your team, try to understand them.

Result: Few episodes of TNG will make you laugh and squirm in equal measure with this much aplomb. This is the kind of character drama I always praise DS9 for but it is handled with the same kind of sensitivity and charm as I expect from my favourite Trek show (ahem, the other one). Dwight Schultz brings a brand new energy to the show that you didn’t even realise had been missing and Barclay becoming a regular is another terrific development for the series in it’s ever improving third year. It’s kind of a shame that they bothered to include the technobabble plot but then I guess there had to be some problem for Barclay to solve in order to integrate him but I find these scenes take you away from what is important about this episode – the trials of socially inept member of Starfleet. Such a simple premise and so well done, this is another winner for season three: 8/10

The Most Toys written by Sharri Goodhartz and directed by Timothy Bond

What’s it about: Data is acquired for the museum of a wealthy and unstable man…

Mr Wolf: Worf’s answer to Deanna’s comment that he has replaced the role of two dead crewmembers who both happened to be friends is succinct and convincing. He attempts to honour their name by living up to the high standards of which they performed their duties. Worf looks so odd sitting down at the Conn!

Fully Functional: It feels as though it has been ages since we last had the spotlight on Data but that is the result of watching three shows simultaneously because it has only been five episodes since The Offspring. In reality, we haven’t seen the spotlight on Riker or Wesley for an age and I hope that can rectified soon. Data tries being reasonable with Fajo by requesting to be able to leave and when he declines he tries a forceful approach which causes him substantial pain. We’re not used to seeing the android in such a situation of being quite this impotent and it’s an intriguing device to create some tension. It is especially clever to show the android in such a vulnerable state since Data cannot feel emotion. Is it part of his programme to seek out vulnerabilities in his enemies – I guess so if his existence is threatened. Look at Data’s face as he watches his uniform burn away, for a moment I thought I saw a flicker of modesty and sadness. Data has no way of defying Fajo except by refusing to do as he says and he stands there like a lifeless mannequin when he tries to exhibit him. Holding the gun on Fajo is an astonishing sequence for the possibilities it presents. He has a choice of killing Fajo and freeing himself from this life of slavery or going back to sit on the chair and performing as a puppet to his every whim. Add the feelings that he must have about Varria’s blood on his hands and it’s a surprisingly tense and unpredictable moment. Would he have broken his programming? By all accounts he did fire the weapon which is a surprising (but not unwelcome) development.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘For an android with no feelings he sure managed to invoke them in others.’
‘What a marvellous contradiction! A military pacifist…’
‘Perhaps something occurred during transport, Commander’ – that is quite a chilling line.

The Good: I keep seeing names of writers that I do not recognise in the third season of TNG so obviously they were shopping around to see what fresh writing talent would bring to the show. The difference between this and Voyager, which is pretty much entirely written by a pool of about five staff writers (who began by working on the latter seasons of TNG), is clear when you compare the quality of their respective third seasons. The teaser is a great hook into the show with the shuttle destroyed and the crew’s stunned reaction to the sudden loss of Data. Plus they really have gotten those explosions down pat now with the effect of debris screaming past the camera making a very dramatic visual. Saul Rubinek (who as far as I understand wasn’t the first actor offered the role but replaced the original actor after tragic circumstances) is another guest actor who gives an extremely charismatic performance and after Harry Groener and Dwight Shultz this is starting to become a great show for guest actors to cut their teeth on. Fajo is like an overgrown child who is too used to getting his own way but also capable of the unpredictability and viciousness of a child which makes him quite frightening. Fajo revealing his  collection of unique works suddenly explains why he has kidnapped Data (his little puppet in a glass cage is very cute too). To have to tidy away the house of a departed family member is horrible and that sense of there being something missing is wonderfully realised as Geordi and Wesley explore Data’s quarters posthumously. When Fajo cannot get his own way he forces the issue violently and you see that this man will go to any lengths to exploit Data to willingly join his museum of unique relics. Would Fajo have pulled the trigger and killed Varria? Who knows but it is a catch your breath moment of shock saved by Data’s timely obedience. For once technobabble is used in a satisfying way to show the crew figuring out how they have been duped by Fajo. The climax is left entirely down to the actors to show the complexities of the stand off between Fajo and Varria, it’s a completely dialogue free scene where he cruelly makes her believe that he is going to let her live and then kills her anyway.

The Bad: For a show that is said to have a futuristic Shakespearean language style of its own you have listen carefully to Picard’s opening speech which is so full of long science fiction guff that you have to wonder if it was written to deliberately trip Patrick Stewart up. There is a gorgeously lit and designed set that the Away Team beam down to check on the water supply but I swear it is identical to the set used when Geordi was trapped on the planet in The Enemy.

Moment to Watch Out For: Data trying to mimic the smile of the Mona Lisa is so lovely I feel that the entire episode has been justified just for that small moment of glory.

Moral of the Week: Don’t push Data too far. He will crack eventually and it wont be pretty.

Fashion Statement: Fajo’s visitor has the oddest looking golden strip of metal that seems to be coming out of his ear, curls around his face and heads straight up his left nostril. Goodness knows what that is all about! Their just making up these alien designs now!

Result: Another superb episode that starts with a simple premise and builds it until the characters are really surprising you. It’s another vital step on Data’s road to humanity where he learns to handle humility and aggression and Brent Spiner gives a paradoxical performance that allows Data to show no emotion at all and yet engage our sympathies completely. Regardless of the behind the scenes nightmare of having to recast at the last minute, Saul Rubinek also brings a lot to the role of Fajo and he remains the most dangerously unpredictable character in the third season. I am so happy with the quality that TNG is producing at the moment, this is easily the shows most consistently excellent season and fills me with no but hope for the future. The Most Toys manages moments of depth and tension with equal aplomb and it barely leaves two sets: 8/10

Sarek written by Peter S. Beagle and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Spock’s father comes aboard the Enterprise to host a peace treaty but his mind is not what it once was…

To Baldly Go: Picard met Sarek as an awe struck youth and just stood their grinning as he spoke to him wondering how to make small talk with somebody who shaped the Federation. He was hoping to get the chance to talk with him again and share his experiences and memories about the history he has made but it is all scuppered by his illness (hidden behind overprotective aides). Sarek finds Picard’s career to be satisfactory, which is high praise from a Vulcan. Picard’s decision to perform a mind meld with Sarek in order to give the man his moment of triumph is probably the most selfless thing we ever see him do. If it goes wrong there is every possibility that he could be afflicted by the same mental illness. Pleasingly he admits to feelings of apprehension about the process and even he couldn’t predict the outpouring of such a forceful regrets and feelings. Patrick Stewart is never frightened to make Picard a flawed character capable of admitting feelings of weakness and as the show develops they are allowing him more opportunities to do so. Given what Picard is about to go through in the hands of the Borg I might have set this episode back in the season a bit because surely there is only so much punishment a man can take before his mind breaks. Now wonder the show had to take an episodes pause in Family to allow him to try and put himself back together again.

Fully Functional: There is a lovely moment when Picard asks Data if he still wants to be human when he can see for himself the effects of old age ravaging a once great man.

Dancing Doctor: I wonder if perhaps the extreme emotions that the crew are feeling aren’t intensified versions of how they really do feel about things. Dr Bev slaps Wesley because he talked back to her and because he is starting to care more about going on a date than embarrassing his mother in front of the Captain (which would never have happened a couple of years ago).

Boy Genius: What would it have taken for Wesley to have mentioned that he was going on a date with a guy and not a gal? It’s such a simple throwaway line and it would have done a lot to redress the balance in the sexuality stakes in the 24th Century. If anybody would have truly made an impact as a homosexual example in the 24th Century it would have been Wesley and it’s a shame they missed this opportunity to show how all minority groups are accepted in the future. It could have been slipped into conversation as it is here with nobody reacting in the slightest.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You are accusing the greatest man of his time of losing his mind on the eve of his moment of triumph…’

The Good: Where precisely is this set in relation to the movies? Had Sarek and his wife appeared in The Voyage Home yet (obviously they have within the Trek timeline but how did these two stories correlate with their time of airing)? Either way this is the sort of cross pollination between the series that I really like because it makes us feel as if they are all taking place within the same universe. The concert is one of those exceptionally powerful moments that comes along every now and again in TNG with the rising music giving way to a single tear that causes ripples throughout the audience. So simple and yet so startling in its emotional power. Mark Lenard gives a bravura performance as a man who wants to keep his emotions under control but cannot help sudden bursts of intense feeling – he is such an erratic character it is uncomfortable to watch him because you don’t know which way he is going to jump.

The Bad: Geordi and Wesley suddenly turning on each other is handled as well as it can be but it reminds me but coming from a show that shirks this kind of tension it feels forced (although I do love the insults they throw at each other with Geordi telling Wesley that every man on the Enterprise knows women better than he does and Wesley accusing Geordi of having to find his women on the holodeck – great points both). Appropriately enough had this occurred on DS9 you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that anybody was acting out of character. The scene in Ten Forward with O’Brien brawling over a table is similarly unconvincing. The fight is a mixture of some genuinely nasty stunts (one guy gets his head rammed into the bar) and some dodgy moments of playground feuding (with two guys shoving at each others faces either side of Geordi). Even Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes cannot make their sudden outburst on the Bridge convincing – these moments are too pantomime to take seriously.

Moment to Watch Out For: Strip away all the nonsense with the regulars behaving out of character and focus on two fantastic actors giving their all with some genuinely affecting material (Stewart and Lenard) and that is where you get the results. Picard breaking through Sarek’s barriers of logic and dispassion in his quarters commands your full attention and Sarek’s robotic repetition of ‘ILLOGICAL!’ as though he can fight the emotion that is coursing through him breaks your heart. If you want to see everything that Patrick Stewart is capable of as an actor it is channelled in the scene where he unleashes Sarek’s emotions and he gets to be sinister, playful, sleazy and controlled. It’s remarkably uncomfortable to watch and reveals many of Sarek’s inner demons to the audience (he wants to feel everything and all of his friends have turned to ashes). Stewart is simply astonishing. I defy anybody who doubts his credentials as an actor to watch this scene and hold their opinion.

Moral of the Week: Old age comes to everybody, even great men, and it cannot be fought.

Result: Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart give extraordinary performances in this episode with the former offering a mixture of calm logic and unpredictable bursts of emotion and the latter proving his worth in the intense frenzy of feeling brewed after the mind meld. They both hold this episode up because despite its lofty ambitions to add to the mythology of the Trek universe there are some unfortunate moments where the crew start turning on each other. TNG has made its bed by suggesting it is the cosiest of Trek shows and as a result this kind of tension has an unreal quality to it, almost pantomime. How dreadful to watch a great man stumble and it is sensitively handled but I feel that the writers missed a trick by not showing the conference and having Sarek suffer a breakdown in front of the delegates. That would have been devastatingly uncomfortable to watch. If you want to watch an episode that deals with the poignancy and uselessness of senility check out Once More Unto the Breach, it handles the themes with far more sympathy and passion. There is something very clinical about the handling of the theme here that befits the Vulcan presence but only feels as if it has been nudged at rather than embraced fully. What you are left with is a flawed episode with moments of powerful tension that is raised above average by some extraordinary performances: 7/10

Ménage a Troi written by Fred Bronson & Susan Sackett and directed by Robert Legato

What’s it about: Riker and Troi go on holiday and wind up as prisoners of the Ferengi!

To Baldly Go: Rather wonderfully, Picard tells Riker to piss off and have a holiday with Deanna since they are on an extremely routine mission. Picard’s Shakespearean rantings to Lwaxana are funny but it is weird to see the usually unfaultable Patrick Stewart going so far over the top that he’s somewhere over the rainbow.

Number One: How glorious to see Riker in civvies and enjoying himself because all he has done this year is behave in a very dreary Starfleet fashion. It would seem that that the growth of the beard has turned him into a true Starfleet drone. He tosses away any of that kind of pretence, grabs Deanna and plants one on her on the smacker almost as soon as they are down on the planet.

Alien Empath: ‘I’m sure counsellor Troi appreciates the chance to spend some time with her mother…’ Not from where I’m sitting! I would be over the moon to have a mother as deliriously insane as Lwaxana (for the record the mother that I have is wonderful but the point still stands) but Deanna sits there griping and moaning at her eccentric and attention seeking mother. She really does turn everything into an epitaph. Her mother tells her that if she had stayed on Betazed she might have been a happier person. Why does Troi have such a problem with her mother talking to her telepathically? If I shared that gift with somebody in the room you could but your bottom dollar I would be chatting away in my head. And not in a bitchy way, oh no. It’s true, how much happiness can Troi get at always being there for other people (read: poking her nose in their business) and never being there for herself. Interestingly she heads for her mothers quarters and apologises for being so grouchy with her at the reception (yay) but then proceeds to lay into her again (boo!).

Boy Genius: While it is nice to see that Wesley’s story is (finally) being pushed forward with talk of him heading of to the Academy, once again his naiveté comes to the fore when he expects to be posted back to the Enterprise once he passes his exams (actually that is two examples of jumping the gun because he is assuming he will make it into the Academy). Because of his heritage (and I prefer the actor) I find Nog’s struggle to join Starfleet far more rewarding.

Mrs Troi: ‘Darling you are so excitable lately! Have you ever thought of a leave of absence?’ People find Mrs Troi and her relentless pursuit of men for herself and her daughter as something of a parody of a sitcom mother who is always interfering but in reality matriarchal figures have been behaving this way in fiction right back to the time of Mrs Bennett in Pride & Prejudice. Yes that is right, I have made a spiritual link between TNG and Austen. Mind you she should really take a hint with Picard who would rather spend his time showing guests the new door mechanisms of the turbolift than grace her with his company!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The sacred chalice of Reeks is an old clay pot with mould growing inside of it!’
‘When will you get it into your head that it is over between us, Jean Luc!’

The Good: Is that Ethan Philips as one of the Ferengi characters? Notice how toned down he is in this show? With a mixture of effects work and some gorgeous location work Betazed comes alive as a colourful and vibrant planet. Certainly more so than Risa ever did. Perhaps this should have been the pleasure planet?

Moment to Watch Out For: Mrs Troi and Deanna are beamed out of their clothing and stand there naked as the day they were born in front of a Ferengi sleaze bag in a moment of pure titillation. Whilst I’m hardly an expert I actually found Majel Barrett to be the more womanly of the two with her curves in all the right places.

Moral of the Week: Lwaxana really isn’t as daft as looks. She is even willing to sacrifice herself for her daughter.

Fashion Statement: Mrs Troi’s outfit at the reception has to be seen to be believed since it looks as though somebody has ripped away a section that should be covering her breasts in the heat of passion! Plus the skirt ticks upwards in the style of a 50s waitress in a casino! Why are Wesley’s trousers always open at the back? I could think of some rude answers to that but I’ll leave that to you imagination!

Result: For those of you who don’t like Ferengi shows or Lwaxana shows you are in for a whole heap of trouble with this one. As this tale played out I was reasonably entertained but I couldn’t really understand the point of the story since we have already experienced (pretty lame) examples of both types of stories before. Season three of TNG has its highest number of classics in its entire run but it also has a high number of ‘meh’ episodes too and like a lie detector graph it goes up and down with alarming frequency. There is no tension whatsoever on the Ferengi ship because they are all portrayed as being so dumb and it is an insult that mother and daughter Troi are imprisoned for so long and the Enterprise investigations is about as sophisticated as an Enid Blyton mystery. Riker plays chess, Lwaxana masturbates a Ferengi and Wesley gets to save the day and misses his exams – it’s as exciting as that: 5/10

Transfigurations written by Rene Echevarria and directed by Tom Benko

What’s it about: John Doe metamorphasising…

Blind Engineer: Even Worf is embarrassed by Geordi’s horrendous flirting skills and that is coming from one of the least attractive men on the ship. Worf gets to remind Geordi with the awesomely succinct line ‘less talk, more synthahol’ when he indulges in even more technobabble than usual relaxing in Ten Forward.

Dancing Doctor: Sometimes lines give you an opening and force you to comment and ‘sickbay is a very boring place to be’ happens to be one of them. I wonder why that is the case because I am sure it wasn’t when Dr Pulaski was on the case. It stands to reason that Dr Bev would fall for such an unmemorable man, when everybody talks about his confidence and charisma all I see is a mild man who is happy to be getting better.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We do not want relations with you!’ – stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Picard!

The Good: Wey-hey! The first instance of O’Brien running into sickbay in a wet suit having broken his arm thanks to his passion for kayaking. I’m surprised he didn’t lamp Wesley when he slapped him on the arm.

The Bad: Worf and Geordi at the bar in Ten Forward fails to work as two jocks eyeing up a lady simply because the pair of them are both so…sanitised. O’Brien and Bashir would have pulled it off with much more laddish charm. It annoys me that Trek can be so predictable at times but as soon as Geordi’s visor is hooked up to the victim I could spell out the rest of the episode there and then – alien interference. And since he has been so dreadful with the ladies in the pre titles sequence (and the past), I was willing to bet that suddenly he would be mister charisma. Surprise surprise, I was right. Why is it on Trek shows that when crewmembers get possessed and start behaving in a particular out of character manner (in real like this never happens but on Trek it is pretty much a twice a week job) that nobody seems to notice. Instead of realising immediately that there is something wrong with Geordi because of his sudden ability to pick up women at a drop of a hat, Worf believes that it is his tutoring that has caused this sudden transformation. Listening to Wesley and Dr Bev talking about who they both feel attracted to is a very odd experience. Precisely halfway through this episode there is a scene that poses as a scientific investigation but in fact is line after line of impenetrable and tedious technical bollocks, featuring no drama or characterisation, just dull characters spouting geeky nonsense. This really isn’t good enough. John’s escape attempt is one of the dullest on record and Ron Jones tries to compensate with one of his most exciting scores – unfortunately the former makes a mockery of the latter and it feels like trying to gift wrap nothing. Although there is a moments worth of entertainment when a stunt man who clearly isn’t Michael Dorn takes a dive into the shuttle bay.

Result: I really don’t know what to say about Transfigurations because I have just finished watching it and it has made no impression whatsoever. Focussing on two of the dullest TNG characters (Dr Bev and Geordi) and packed full of technobabble, it feels as though we are just treading water until we reach the finale. It is a vacuous mystery that leads to the dreariest of speeches, the sort I thought we had left behind in season one. What with his unexpected anger in Sarek and his newfound confidence here it would appear the only time Geordi registers is when he is behaving out of character and he still isn’t very interesting. They seem to have turned him into something of a whipping boy, either hopeless with the ladies or possessed by the latest nomad to wander onto the ship. I kept seeing moments of potential that were wasted – John Doe being able to heal people could have been dealt with far more enticingly and his apparent charismatic magnetic pull (even Wesley comments on this) could have led to an amusing comedy episode. In the end what we get is another dull self-righteous TNG episode which takes itself far too seriously and winds up feeling like a waste of 45 minutes. So close to the end of the finest year of this series it is a shame that the series seems to be running out of steam again: 3/10

The Best of Both Worlds Part I written by Michael Piller and directed Cliff Bole

What’s it about: The Borg have finally caught up with the Federation and they just aren’t ready…

To Baldly Go: I don’t think we will ever see a Picard/Riker scenes of the likes of the Captain asking his First Officer ‘what the hell are you still doing here?’ again. It’s the type of razor sharp characterisation that Michael Piller favours and takes your breath away in its simplicity and power. Picard knows he is ready to work without a net and take command and suggests he looks at his career objectively. The final nail to Riker’s ego is the Captain suggesting that the Enterprise will go on just fine without him. He’s not giving up on his First Officer but rather trying to encourage him to make the next step which he is clearly more than capable of taking. Picard gives one of his famous defiant speeches to the Borg but this time he is facing an implacable enemy that doesn’t care for his words and proceed to rape him of his identity. After three years of relatively placatable foes, Jean-Luc has butted heads with a species that plays dirty and doesn’t even care about it.

Number One: ‘This is the third time we’ve pulled out the Captain’s chair for Riker…he just wont sit down’ It’s been a long while since we have seen Riker’s career given such focus and with a third commission of a Starship he is starting to look like a coward for continually hiding in Jean Luc’s shadow. It is as though he has been physically struck when Shelby admits that she is after his job, suddenly his poker face slips and we can see a man unsure of where his future lies. It’s arresting when Picard compares Shelby with the Commander Riker he recruited when he first took command of the Enterprise and it shows how much of a Starfleet drone he has devolved into since Encounter at Farpoint. Riker might have been ridiculously macho and camp in season one but he took far more risks and was much more entertaining as a result. He plays things absolutely by the book these days and when even whiter than white Troi is calling you seasoned there needs to be some modification of your character! Even he can recognise Shelby’s drive and ambition and he misses those things in himself. Riker wonders if he is too comfortable in his current position. It turns out he is ready for the Captain’s chair but events will manipulate him into the seat of power of the flagship of the Federation. His defiant look of confidence when he orders the Enterprise to fire on the Borg ship with Picard aboard is possibly his finest moment in the series.

Boy Genius: He may get straight As at school but he has a lot to learn about poker. It’s lovely to see Wesley chilling out for a change.

Brilliant Bartender: The wonderful Picard/Guinan scenes continue and together they foreshadow the loss of the Captain by discussing Nelson at Trafalgar. Her knowledge and wisdom come in very handy in these circumstances and she tells Picard that humanity will survive whatever the losses. Given the events of Times Arrow are in her past and Picard’s future she has knowledge that he is going to be fine. She could have tipped him the wink at least but by doing so she may have changed the future. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Inform Starfleet Command. We have engaged the Borg’ – the words we have been longing to hear.
‘May I speak frankly, Sir?’ ‘Always’ ‘You’re in my way’ and ‘If you can’t make the big decisions Commander I suggest you make room for someone who can’ – I love Shelby’s straight talking attitude.
‘I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward you will service us.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Data was a available. I took him. We came…’ – I’ve heard some lines that are open to interpretation before but this one takes the biscuit!

The Good: You know the Borg remind me an awful lot of the Daleks when they were first set up in Doctor Who, not in their specifications or aesthetics but in how they were introduced. Opening with a story that showed them as a terrifying unstoppable force and then following that up with a big budget blockbuster that showed them at their epic best. I love how this episode begins with what seems to be a standard TNG plot device of a colony in trouble only to completely pull the rug out from under this franchise weary Trek fan with the gob smacking matte painting of the entire colony scooped away from the planet. Immediately attention grabbing, this should be the kind of shock that opens every other episode. It just goes to show how unprepared the Federation is for an attack, the naiveté of their mission to head out into space and explore regardless of the consequences is what almost brings them down. Shelby is an instantly engaging character and the sort that sets the cat amongst the pigeons with the usually unflappable Commander Riker. I love how she manages to rile him in a way that few characters can (but then she is after his job) and I would have welcomed her continued presence on the Enterprise beyond this story. They tried to emulate her success with Ensign Ro but after a strong introduction, the Bajoran Ensign was indoctrinated a little more than I would have liked. Using the poker game to expose the power game between Riker and Shelby is clever and as the two of them go head to head the tension in the room is electric. Even the technobabble makes an impact with its ominous projections – if a Borg ship is 78% damaged it can continue to function effectively and their best shot on their last encounter barely scratched the surface. Suddenly the shrewdness of introducing this foe in a quieter story where their implacability was exposed, now we know how relentless this race are when they have the scent. Once a cube shaped ship has been sighted in Federation space there is a palpable sense of tension as Picard marches around the Bridge waiting for their encounter. The Borg cube fills the view screen as it tears through space hungry for another victim to assimilate. The Enterprise fires everything it has and it doesn’t even make a dent and you start to wonder if any of them will make it out of this one alive. This episode isn’t content with just bringing the Borg back it also assaults us with stunning visuals such as the Enterprise gliding into a strikingly painted nebula. It’s tense watching the crew desperately improvising to simply disable the Borg crew and prevent themselves from being destroyed. It really does go to show that the Federation has been twiddling its thumbs since the first Borg incident rather than throwing everything they have got into aiding their defence during their next encounter. There is one very menacing close up of a Borg drone after it has beamed onto the Bridge, a single entity of the sort that would normally be disabled in seconds but one with the instruction to kidnap rather than kill. Piller raises the game of the entire series by tossing the threat not solely at the Enterprise, but moving onto Earth. It makes total sense that they would need a human voice to talk for them and why not aim for the top. Just how moody is the lighting on the Borg ship? It is lit from below and shifts about to throw menacing shadows across the actors’ faces. It’s the ultimate cliffhanger – destroy the Borg and destroy the Captain or let them both loose into Sector 001 to wreck havoc. An impossible choice but Riker proves he really does have what it takes to make it in the Captains chair by ordering LaForge to fire. What a cruel, exciting way to leave the season. I can only imagine how people were feeling when their screens went blank and they had to wait so long for the next season. It’s breathtaking in its conception and execution and has been adopted into popular culture as one of the ultimate cliffhangers.

The Bad: Whilst there is something terrifying about the Borg being able to bring down the Federation with only one ship it does beg the question of why they didn’t send an armada?

Moment to Watch Out For: Nothing can quite prepare you for that first sight of Picard converted into a Borg drone – it isn’t the zombie white make up or the technological attachments that shock me it is whoever thought of the laser eye which reaches straight out to the viewer as he turns towards the camera. Absolute genius.

Orchestra: One of the best scores in Treks entire run and by far Ron Jones’ greatest triumph, The Best of Both Worlds goes to show how much atmosphere the music can bring to a show. Early scenes feature ominous undertones which suggests that dark days are coming before the Borg reveal themselves and Jones lets rip with a gorgeous electronic vocal and the orchestra goes nuts to stress the drama of the situation. I love how the music builds and builds during the raid on the Borg Cube until you literally left panting with excitement. And that surely has to be the ultimate cliffhanging sting, it stretches out for about ten seconds of pure dramatic bliss.

Result: So tense I don’t think I unclenched my buttocks for 45 minutes. This is quite simply the best episode of TNG by a country mile and everything that season three perfected is exemplified and amplified here; the characterisation is so good it sings, the production values are out of this world, the dialogue gets to the heart of the situation and there is a sense of ominous foreboding that pervades every second of the episode. It’s so gripping its almost a shame because there is no way that the second part can live up to the shocks and surprises of this superlative build up. The Borg were a gamble that has paid dividends and at this point in their history they are the most frightening alien race the Trek universe has ever coughed up. With the threat to Earth and the perversion of the Captain it manages to feel both epic and intimate and the escalating anxiety builds to one of the most celebrated cliffhangers not just in Trek but in television history. The best finale from the best season of TNG, this really is as fantastic as it gets: 10/10


NX84904567890 said...

"The Ensigns of Command" is fairly poor but I really like the final confrontation between Picard and the Sheliak commander.

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ali said...

It occurred to me reading your praise of BOBW...I can't help but feel heartbreak that these fx don't dazzle as they used to! I remember sitting in front of the 8'' black & white set in my room (the color set was downstairs) and basking in the ship models and deaths rays and always wondering, how did they do that? In some ways it was more impressive than a feature film because it was on TV, and on a weekly basis! That's one advantage of the bigger, slovenly Trek franchise that is painstakingly micro-managed; they overcame both the shooting schedule and the technical restrictions of their time to craft some truly timeless images.

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