Friday, 29 November 2013

Terminus written by Stephen Gallagher and directed by Mary Ridge

This story in a nutshell: The Big Bang explained and the Big Crunch averted…

Fair Fellow: You have got to give Peter Davison his due he is a very perceptive fellow. When he decided enough was enough after his second year and that his third would be his last it was because of the dearth of decent material he was given in season 20. Snakedance and Enlightenment aside he is pretty much sidelined, ignored or used as a device to channel plot exposition through. Very rarely is he written as a character in his own right, perpetuating stories. In Terminus the Doctor is not given any moments of charm or humour and as a result he is an unrelentingly dull person to be around. All he does is explain the plot (something Davison does very well to his credit, I was never lost) and reel off technobabble. It’s such a waste of an actor of his calibre. He has to suffer a number of particularly inept fight scenes also, directed without much thought under terrible time constraints. In the DVD documentary Davison admits this was a particularly fraught production and he didn't really enjoy it and that comes across on screen. This is not the work of an actor in love with his part. The one moment he shined was during Nyssa’s explanation for why she wanted to leave; his gentle acceptance is very touching and there is a brief rekindle of that special connection between the two characters. As Big Finish have shown, it could have been so much more.

Narky Aussie: In Terminus Tegan manages to be suspicious, rude, accusatory, unwelcoming, judgmental and shout when she can’t get her own way…and that’s just in the first scene. Turlough describes her approach to things as sledgehammer tactics – I always said he was a perceptible sort of fellow. Tegan is groped all over by nasty Lazar hands so I find it a little odd that it’s Nyssa that contracts the illness. If she had to save a friend or defend herself she might consider killing somebody. How funny is it when she has to try and stop the ship from disengaging and when she fails she simply screams ‘shut up!’ to the computer. A rare talent, this one. Her reaction to Nyssa’s departure is, surprisingly, quiet and very sweet.

Alien Orphan: I’ve always liked Nyssa because even though she wasn’t always given the best material in the programme Sarah Sutton was by far the most reliable and convincing of performers in the early Davison era. It's great to see her leave in a story that plays to all of her strengths and weaknesses. If synthesizing and enzyme is Nyssa’s idea of a good night in I imagine she will be single for a long time. Why can't these geeky characters be seen to kick back in their spare time and have some fun? Nyssa is always reading books on maths and tinkering with sonic vibrators. It’s fabulous to have Nyssa alone and afraid in a creepy location, she really has earned this screen time. There is a sudden close up on her face as she explores the Lazar ship which really managed to put the wind up me. Although he doesn’t really deserve the attention Nyssa sticks up for wimpy Olvir. It makes sense for one of the regulars to catch the disease and what could be more horrifying than to subject sweet innocent Nyssa to such filth and degradation? Nyssa slips out of her skirt and parades around in her underwear - the lads punch the air with delight and the ladies step up their women’s lib campaign in protest (fronted by Janet Fielding, of course). ‘Are you Doctors?’ ‘Baggage handlers’ – I really like that exchange because it sums up exactly the sort of people Nyssa is dealing with. And will be dealing with for some time. She slaps Valguard around a bit and later tackles Olvir and jumps his bones, it is great that when the occasion arrives Nyssa is always seen to be able to take care of herself physically. She is a compassionate woman and begs for the more ill victims to be cured before her. She really comes into her own in the last episode, realising that the cure works but it isn’t controlled and than are just trading one killer for another. ‘The Company isn’t interested’ ‘Are you though?’ Who would have guessed that Nyssa would wind up as a drug peddler for a leper colony? I know it isn't as simple as that but that is what it essentially boils down to. Her decision to stay is sensitively handled, she has loved her time on the TARDIS but on Terminus she has a chance to put her skills into practice and really help people. Nyssa chokes back tears and kisses the Doctor goodbye…it's one of the more understated goodbyes and yet one of the more touching examples because of it. I will miss her and I don't say that about many eighties companions.

Traitorous Ginge: An assassin in the TARDIS posing as a companion is such an intriguing idea it’s a shame they didn’t keep it going a bit longer. Davison and Saward bemoan that the idea was already too protracted over 12 episodes but with a little imagination you could easily work an anti-hero into the TARDIS crew permanently. Imagine somebody with the moral scruples of Avon from Blake's 7 travelling with the Doctor? Mind you the fifth Doctor is so forgettable at this stage to put somebody that interesting by his side would reduce his meagre status even further. Perhaps that is why Turlough's role was reduced to nothing post-Enlightenment. He was too interesting and taking the limelight away from a rather wishy washy Doctor. Charm the way he uses it is to disagree agreeably. Tegan thinks he has the manners of a pig but I can only think she is talking about herself. I love his eye rolling sneakiness the moment anyone’s back is turned, Mark Strickson has perfected that look. The decision to kill the Doctor is clearly weighing heavily on Turlough’s mind. Without realising it he almost causes the end of the universe by accident. Way to go, Turlough.

The Good Stuff: Continuity is littered about Adric’s room; it’s a nice, subtle way for the audience to pick up on previous adventures if they have been loyal to the show. The first episode feels as though it belongs in the very first season, there are protracted character development scenes in the TARDIS, a slow build up of tension and a cheap but thrilling location. It could almost be The Daleks. The blackness invading the TARDIS and the skull face appearing in Nyssa’s room is bloody scary (the music, which I will slaughter elsewhere in this review, is extremely effective at this point). The sound effects on the Lazar ship generate far more tension than the direction. The shields come crashing down, the computer leaks information, the lepers emerge and fill the corridors with disease…the first episode is very well done. The first cliffhanger is easily laughed at but this story is supposed to be operatic, it isn't poor Olvir's fault that it is confined to a cramped BBC studio. Imagine thousands of lepers spilling into a vast, dank and decaying terminus and then play the scene again. The CGI Terminus is beautifully realised and it is another example of the DVD extras providing far more scope than the original model work could manage. There is a 360 degrees view with the sun providing a gorgeous backdrop and the ship docks with a greater degree of detail. Gallagher injects a pleasing amount of darkness into the script with talk of sterilisation, drug addiction, disease and corruption. I love the idea of a lift descending into Hell. A commercial company is running Terminus, making plenty of money and not going through the appropriate procedures to cure any of the victims. Sounds like a typical Eric Saward vision of the future to me, but a gripping one. The Company sends coloured water instead of the drug that the slave workers need to survive; you couldn’t pay anybody enough to volunteer to work at Terminus. Bor is a delightful character and played with childish glee (even when his face is covered with hideous radiation burns).  Eirak is one of those morally ambiguous characters that Doctor Who slips in every now and again to keep things interesting, sitting somewhere between ally and enemy. Terminus was once capable of time travel, it was a ship in flight with an enormous amount of unstable fuel, which was ejected into the void causing a chain reaction: the Big Bang. Putting aside the production problems, that is a pretty damn solid hard SF idea to build a Doctor Who story around. The pilot time jumped forward and the shockwaves caught up billions of years in the future and killed him and damaged the second engine. Whereas the first explosion created the universe, the second would destroy it. One of the few times the entire universe is put in jeopardy, what a shame that it couldn't have been executed with as much skill as it was written. I really like the uncertainty of the ending, which has no easy solutions and a lot of work ahead of them; it makes for a realistic conclusion.

The Bad Stuff: The Doctor shoving the chair in the door is so lame. There’s more of Roger Limb’s tinny, tinnitus inducing music, which is such a shame because a spookier score could really have benefited this story. Liza Goddard turns up in a huge goldfish bowl and hideous eighties make up and the atmosphere drains like letting air out of a balloon. Why are these pirates dressed up like 80’s glam rockers? Bask in one of the worst robots ever to be committed to film (Until Kamelion comes along). It is supposed to be strong enough to drag victims to their treatment when in reality it looks as though a good sneeze could shove it over. ‘ADVANCE PARTY TO RAY-DAR, COME IN RAY-DAR, COME IN!’ – Goddard is both shockingly wooden and very funny (Simon walked in on that line when I last watched it and fell about laughing...I remember he was quoting this line for a good few weeks).  Proof if it was needed that three companions is too many, Tegan (yay!) and Turlough (boo!) are shoved into some service hatches for two episodes and given nothing to do. It's like the Nyssa in bed syndrome in Kinda all over again except more obvious because we keep cutting back to them not getting involved in the plot. Is Olvir the wimpiest transvestite of all time? ‘I’m supposed to be combat trained’ - you would think going around dressed like that he would have learnt how to look after himself.  Episode one spends a lot of time delaying the exposition to ramp up the atmosphere but come the second episode the slothenly pace really starts to harm the story. I really like the design of the Vanir but the costumes are made out of such cheap, clunking material that they serve to highlight the cheapness of this production. Pity the poor pot belied, bearded Garm. He wants so desperately to be treated as a serious performer but is mostly greeted with gales of laughter or a good pat on the head. The Terminus sets are so underdressed, featureless and unmemorable which might have been the idea but the result is there is nothing to feast your eyes on but empty blackness. And that gets boring very quickly. Crossing the line into the forbidden zone should be a terrifying prospect but in this Poundland funded production it turns out to be duct tape on the floor and a great hairy dog that has escaped from a kids entertainment party. Everything has fallen to pieces come episode three; the Doctor is fighting ineffectually with Valguard, Bor jumps in, the Garm waddles into view…it feels like it is being made up as it goes along. Terminus is shoehorned into the Black Guardian trilogy but the Doctor and Turlough are separated throughout so we are stuck with reminders at the beginning and the end of the story and several bizarre reminders in between that have nothing at all to do with the story. Terminus doesn’t advance Turlough's character arc at all. The conclusion is a big grey dog pushing a lever, its such a crushingly dull way to avert the destruction of the universe that you have to wonder why they bothered. 

Result: What surprised me when looking at Terminus with an objective eye rather than watching it merely for entertainment is that there is far more to enjoy than I previously thought. The script is actually very good and full of dark, seedy ideas and in particular first episode (even Kari and Olvir could have worked if they had been Valkyrie style space pirates that looked as though they might head butt you at any minute) is one of the strongest scene setters of the era. I have always thought that Terminus deserved a stronger director but having seen Mary Ridge's superb work over at Blake's 7 it seems obvious that the terrible time pressure and studio problems really dented her confidence. I would have loved to have seen her helm another Doctor Who because if she brought anywhere near as much drama to the series as she did in the B7 episodes Terminal and Blake we would have been in great shape. Listen to Fiona Cumming discuss her in the documentary and you get the impression that she was the consummate professional director capable of delivering much more than she does here. Take into consideration the madness that was happening behind the scenes and bask in the fact that it is as good as it is in places, or that it was made at all. Terminus is a horror story in space and needed far more atmosphere and a sober score to bring its creepy ideas to life; it needed the same sort of atmosphere that pervades David Maloney’s Planet of Evil. With clunking action scenes, dull sets and a distinct lack of sparkle you will probably lose interest in the later episodes which is a shame because there is some intelligent detail and realism in the script. Minus points for wasting Davison but plus points for letting Sarah Sutton go out on such a strong note. Whilst I would hardly call Terminus a success, it is one of my biggest surprises since starting this marathon (The Tenth Planet is still my biggest, followed by Mindwarp, followed by Terminus). Worth watching with the production nightmare in mind (see also Nightmare of Eden): 6/10

Listen to me tackle episode one in a very positive way:

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Mawdryn Undead written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Peter Moffatt

This story in a nutshell: There’s a new boy in the TARDIS and he’s trying to kill the Doctor…

Fair Fellow: Back in the day when I used to review Doctor Who stories for the Doctor Who Ratings Guide (I think I was one of the sites most prolific reviewers but looking back at them now makes me cringe…I simply did not know how to string a sentence together and used to get terribly excited about things which would result in copious amounts of BOLD LETTERS and !!!!!’s) I used to try and convince the world how bland Peter Davison was as the Doctor. Yep I was one of those sorts of fans who thought he knew better than everyone else and went out of his way to try and convince you otherwise. In fact reviews used to bat back and forth between me and few others like a critical version of The Big Questions where we would debate the pros and cons of this incarnation (why we weren’t all off out enjoying the world and making love to beautiful men and women is beyond me). In the intervening years of DWRG and starting my own blog I found Big Finish and fell in love a brand new version of the fifth Doctor on audio and the skill that Davison (now a much older man) could bring to the role. It forced me to go back and see if I had missed anything on television and to my surprise I saw plenty more to enjoy that I had not spotted before. His charming naiveté in Castrovalva, how he was portrayed as a raving fool in Snakedance, his blazing eyed fury in Enlightenment and especially his definitive ‘old man in a young mans body’ performance in The Visitation and Frontios. However whilst I did find these moments scattered about throughout his run (his moral cowardice in Ressurection is another fantastic moment) there are an equal amount of stories where he is either utterly unmemorable (Four to Doomsday, The King’s Demons, The Awakening, Planet of Fire) or eaten up by the complex plot mechanics (Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity, Terminus). Mawdryn Undead is possibly the only story where he suffers the indignity of both. It should be a great story for the Doctor as portrayed by anybody because he gets to enjoy a reunion with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney can usually develop chemistry with any actor in the titular role) and face a moral dilemma that any actor worth his salt would get his teeth into. In both of these instances Davison lets the side down; his reaction to the Brigadier’s amnesia is one of mild annoyance (the focus on these scenes is almost entirely on the Brigadier) where some passion might have knocked the memories back into him and he emotes the end of episode three (‘It would mean the end of me as a Time Lord!’) like he is telling a kid what is on the menu tonight (replace with ‘it would mean a finger fingers and chips for tea tonight’ and you’ll see what I mean). There’s no passion in his performance, nothing to grab hold of. It’s a superb actor giving 50% and falling in between the cracks. It’s a shame because as I have said there are wonderful moments to be had for this Doctor during his run but unfortunately you wont find any of them in Mawdryn Undead. For this story at least, Turlough is ten times the character the Doctor is in terms of interest and the main difference between me reporting this now and me reporting this ten years ago is that I take no pleasure in it now. Come episode four there is so much plot to be resolved (the handicap of juggling lots of strong ideas) the Doctor becomes little more than a walking plot device trying to explain and tie the narrative up before the end. All of this would be fine and it’s a role he has played before many times but there is no personality here to make him anything more than a walking plot solver. Even when he walks out of the TARDIS to his death sacrificing himself for his companions (which is an incredible act) Davison looks a bit bored by the whole affair. I wanted to see a man with the weight of his future lives about to stolen from him not an actor wondering when the coffee break is going to be. Davison was not happy with the scripts for season 20 and these are the moments when it shows. Compared with the complexities that Nicholas Courtney is working into his performance, Davison's is sadly deficient.

Alien Orphan: Sarah Sutton struggles gamely with the line ‘he could have been atomised!’ but anybody trying to say that with a straight face is doomed to failiure. Poor Sarah Sutton is so used to hanging around in the TARDIS by now whilst everybody else is having fun (she suffers the indignity of it in The Visitation, Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead) that she makes it look as if she really enjoys it. Give the poor girl something to do or write her out. Oh she’s off in the next story, you say? It does seem odd introducing new companions when the old ones are getting a pretty short shrift.

Mouth on Legs: For once Tegan’s suspicious nature is right on the nail…why would a 20th century schoolboy step into a transmat capsule and then into a blue police box with a spaceship interior and be so indifferent about it all? Its so odd to see Tegan not approach somebody with her usual bad attitude and filthy mouth but I guess even Janet Fielding couldn’t bring herself to throw her weight around in the presence of a living legend like the Nicholas Courtney. She saves all of her bile for Mawdryn and in some hastily scripted scenes comes across as a right old cow (if this really was the Doctor I’d toss her out at the first opportunity) more than ever. I don’t care if she’s right to suspect Mawdryn becuase this woman’s bad attitude stretches my patience to its limits. It's not even that she is saying anything implausible, it's just the effort she puts into not being a very nice person. Its wearying. Rather wonderfully the one person she cannot brow beat is the Brigadier and he casually (almost perversely) throws as much sexism her way as possible. Although Tegan (or probably Janet Fielding) has to have the last word and quietly mutters ‘chauvinist’ when he is out of sight. It makes me wonder if that for all her objections to the contrary if Tegan is the sort of self punishing individual that would subconsciously seek out a chauvinist to marry. Brace yourselves because I am going to finish this section with something nice to say about Tegan…the quiet moment where she thanks the Doctor for the sacrifice he was going to make is gorgeous. Why can’t she be that subtle and warm all the time?

New Boy: I wont beat around the bush – I think that Turlough was the finest innovation to the show in the eighties. You can keep Ace and her horrendous eighties slang and angst and Kamelion who was so good he only hung around for two stories. Turlough was a genuinely fresh idea; an awkward, mistrustful youth who skips into the TARDIS on a promise to murder its pilot. That’s a fantastic character spec in my eyes (although Peter Davison and Janet Fielding seem to have a bit of a problem with it but just nod and smile at them…you often have to placate the stars) and paired with the inspired casting choice of Mark Strickson (who is on top form in his introductory story) and you have something that looked to be very special indeed. It would have taken a pretty inept script editor to waste a character as strong as this. Now I come here not to bury Eric Saward (he does that an awful lot himself in the DVD documentaries) but even he admits that he had a terrific actor in Strickson and a terrific character in Turlough and he failed to give him anything to do after his initial arc of three stories. But what comes next is not for this review…if you want to see how the strongest companion since Romana was treated like an irrelevance then check out my reviews for The King’s Demons, Warriors of the Deep, The Awakening and Resurrection of the Daleks to come. Everything that we see in Mawdryn Undead is very strong and it promises to be an incredible ride with this new companion. With Strickson epitomising shiftiness, a mysterious back story that we aren’t acquainted with and a dark deal made with an ominous force, Turlough can only be considered a success in his first story at whetting our appetite for more. The sad truth is that the 80s was a year where all kinds of fruit loop series were commissioned and one about an alien boy that wound up in a boarding school in England sounds exactly like the sort that would take off. With Mark Strickson, Nicholas Courtney and Peter Halliday fronting it it might have been pretty good too. Turlough calls Hippo ‘fat, ugly and dull’ in a parody of a school bully and yet Turlough clearly enjoys hanging around with Ibbetson because he makes him look better. It rather accentuates what a coward Turlough is, hiding in other peoples shadows (as he would go on to do with the Doctor) and then mock them for standing on their own two feet. The look on his face when he sees the transmat pod is one of pure joy. You can very believe that he thought that he would never see sophisticated technology ever again. In the latter episodes of Mawdryn Undead Turlough is reduced to wandering around corridors aimlessly but Strickson is so good at looking shifty I always wanted to see what he was getting up to.

Chap With Wings: It’s a fact that the Brigadier was an 11th hour replacement for Ian Chesterton who should have appeared in this story. Thank goodness it didn’t work out because it would have crapped all over my assertion that he and Barbara got married and went on to have a long and happy life together. To think of Ian living in that little shed having forgotten his old life and Barbara fills me with horror. When it comes to the Brigadier it is a very different story and this is a pleasingly melancholic stepping stone between his career in UNIT and his marriage with Doris. We have often wondered what happened to companions after the Doctor has left them and the Brigadier is a very singular case because he and the Doctor shared something very special (especially in the latter stages of the Pertwee era) and he was a large part of Alistair’s life for some time. The thought that whilst the fourth Doctor headed off and started enjoying adventures in time and space the Brigadier was trapped in a less than fortunate existence, amnesiac and alone is crushingly sad. What I especially love about Mawdryn Undead is how it reveals the Brig’s seven year depression and breaks it within the same story. It means we get to experience his emotional crisis (and one which lasts some time so it isn’t handled unrealistically) and have a happy ending which smacks of having your cake and eating it but where the Brig is concerned I wouldn’t have had it any other way than to end on a positive note. It's really nice to see Nicholas Courtney given some tough personal material and he more than rises to the challenge. It has been so long since Terror of the Zygons that the meeting between the Doctor and the Brigadier feels like a massive event and I love the way they play the game of him not recognising the Time Lord because he has changed his identity…and yet when it comes to it the Brig doesn’t know who the Doctor is at all. With a sinking feeling you realise something is very wrong. The Brig catches us up with what has happened to the UNIT family since we left the Earth; Benton left the army in 1979 and sells second hand cars and Harry was seconded to NATO where he is doing some very hush hush work. Clips of past adventures are tenapenny these days (Logopolis, Earthshock…) but the black and white montage that the Brigadier experiences really means something because he is reclaiming all those wonderful, terrifying memories (it's also a great example of Peter Moffatt’s visual storytelling, focussing squarely on the actor and allowing the music and the clips to guide us to the conclusion without ever telling us that he has these memories back). How can you not have the same sort of fuzzy feeling that a cuddle with your partner gives you on a winters morning when you see all those UNIT adventures squeezed together? If Nicholas Courtney was awkward at having to take the Brigadier to some emotionally unbalanced places (‘Treatment? There’s nothing wrong with me Doctor!’) then so much the better because that is expressed in his performance and it makes the moment all the more destabilising for those of us who know and love the character. Like a lot of people in the same situation he scoffs at the idea of a breakdown despite the clear indications that he has suffered some kind of trauma. It's nice that even in these less fortunate days of his life he has found a career in teaching that he rather enjoys. When the Brigadier marches into the TARDIS and says he knows how to handle it he does have a good point – who on the Earth has experienced it twice before?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who are they?’ ‘Fools who tried to turn themselves in Time Lords!’
‘What you want is murder eight times over!’ ‘No what we desire is our own death…’  – when you are dealing with dialogue like that we have gone well beyond the usual JNT snazzy set piece storytelling into something a bit deeper.
‘Sometimes you have to live with the consequences of your actions’ is the Doctor’s harsh judgement on Mawdryn and his fellows. I just wish Peter Davison said it with more passion.

The Good:
  • It has been mentioned before (most recently by Gareth Roberts in a hilarious article in DWM) that if you described the music in Mawdryn Undead as incidental that you would be arrested under the trades description act. It is attention grabbingly present in every scene it appears (that’s every scene) and it occasionally shits all over the action as Paddy Kingsland has a heart attack whilst attached to an electric guitar. However (and this is the rub) its actually one of my favourite Doctor Who scores because musically it is actually of an extremely high standard. Whilst it might have been better paired up with a more exciting story (it does seem to stress excitement in places where none is present…or maybe that was the idea?) it is still an atmospheric, aggressive, persistent and pacy soundtrack which when listened to independent of the story actually takes you to some very visual places. Some people still cry at the loss of Dudley Simpson when he was dropped at the start of the eighties (mostly when they are enduring aural torture at the hands of Roger Limb or Malcolm Clarke) but it's clear that bringing in the more melodic, less instrumental scores of the radiophonic workshop was a smart move and it gave the series a massive shot in the arm. Many people laud Peter Howell as the most innovative musician to have stepped up to the plate during this period (and I would never dream of arguing with them) but I also find Kingsland’s music a joy to listen to (in a way that only a sad Doctor Who fan like me can walking through the town with the Castrovalva music blaring in my ears…). Mawdryn Undead is perhaps his most controversial score but conversely it is the one time I would say that he approaches Howell in producing something truly memorable enough to be talked about today. The insane chords that strike when the TARDIS is about to strike the ship suggest we are going to see some fantastic Star Wars style effects as the cuboid TARDIS spins dramatically into a collision (actually the CGI on the DVD does give this whole scene much of the dynamism the music was hoping for!). Episode three is where the music is most needed because there is an awful lot of wandering around that spaceship and so Kingsland allows the different character themes to blend into each other as we cut from person to person. It makes the whole piece flow much more than it otherwise would. The upbeat score at the end of the story almost feels like a congratulatory pat on the back – we tied ourselves in knots with so many clever ideas and we managed unravel ourselves and tie them up satisfactorily! With the Brigadier back where he should be, Mawdryn given the peace he sought and a new TARDIS crew member that comes with a thrilling backstory it is exactly the sort of clap on the back uplifting music the show deserves to bow out on.
  • I do think there is something in the comment that other countries enjoy Doctor Who for its ‘Britishness.’ And what could be more of a metaphor for British stiff upper lippedness than a vintage car leaving a boarding school being driven by a boy in a boater? Who else could you drop into this environment but the Brigadier – the quintessential image of a British gentleman?
  • All credit to JNT for bringing back Valentine Dyall to play the Black Guardian again and it's wonderful to see him availing himself of one of the finer ideas of his predecessors run. I’m not sure about the logic of sticking a dead crow on his head (it does rather look like it fell out of tree and he couldn’t be arsed to remove it) but Dyall has a deliciously gruff and sinister voice that really brings the character to life vividly. There has been a change of Doctor, several changes of companion, script editor and producer since we last saw the Black Guardian but this is a very positive link to the past in a year full of them.
  • The cliffhangers in this story are all doing something different and that should be applauded. Episode one climaxes with the Doctor’s new companion trying to kill him (although to get full cliffhanger-worthiness out of the moment he picks up the biggest rock known to man and stands over the Doctor menacingly for what feels like the length of a bible) which is a very novel way of introducing a new regular to the line up. Episode two suggests that the Doctor has regenerated into something much more alien looking - an idea that has been discussed by fans before but never on screen and one that is explored through the next instalment. And episode three takes a far less visually dramatic cliffhanger route than usual and goes for a conceptual threat of the Doctor having to choose to give his lives to save Mawdryn and his friends. In each case these scenarios have never been explored before and Grimwade deserves credit for managing to find new, interesting avenues to explore when it comes to a cliffhanger.
  • Mawdryn could have so easily have been a forgettable character (when he doesn’t really threaten the Doctor and his friends in any other way beyond keeping them on the spaceship) but in the hands of David Collings (following his memorable performance in Robots of Death and his stratospheric performance in Revenge of the Cybermen) he becomes a much more interesting prospect. Collings plays him with just the right amount of acidity – he’s sympathetic but also rude, he’s obnoxious but has endured a terrible punishment. Because the Doctor is roaming about elsewhere in the story we never truly believe that this ever could have been him but its fascinating to see his companions (including the younger Brigadier) trying to get their heads around the fact that this abrasive man could be their new Doctor. Collings as the Doctor…don’t tempt me with such a delicious concept! The make up team deserve a massive round of applause because his scabrous burns look really nasty and you have to wonder what sort of pain you would have to endure to wind up as bruised as that. Although I’m not sure about the upside down spaghetti bolognaise on his head…wisely the director chooses to ignore that for the most part. With his no nonsense rude attitude and his unwillingness to suffer fools gladly (well he doesn’t suffer anybody really) Mawdryn almost plays out as a prototype sixth Doctor. Perhaps Eric Saward was taking notes of the things he liked about David Collings portrayal and saving them for the next incarnation. Whilst everybody else is wandering around the spaceship as though they are on a shopping trip Collings is using the space like a really good actor should, crawling across the floor and climbing the walls in desperation. The unusual balletic design of their robes gives the illusion that they these people are gliding across the sets – it's another oddity that works in this story’s favour. Death is always treated as something to fear on Doctor Who (including regeneration) so it is dipping its toes into some fresh waters when we close in on Mawdryn with a look of ecstasy on his face as he finally slips away. It's thoughtful moments like this that really elevate this story and it’s the only satisfying end to this terrific character. This is one of those stories that features a Saward massacre but to quote the Doctor from Caves of Androzani ‘it feels different this time…’
  • I love the dual timeline that Grimwade introduces so simply and yet so cleverly into the story. It’s the sort of thing that you imagine Doctor Who with its time travel abilities would have done plenty of times before but it has taken until its 20th season to make an attempt. It's one of those moments that really makes you sit up and pay attention to the story and one of the rare occasions when a second episode makes more of an impact than the first. There's another terrific make up job as well with the younger Brigadier looking for all the world as though the production team have a time machine and managed to sneak a younger version of Nicholas Courtney into the studio for a few days. The get out clause of both Brigadier’s heading for the spaceship sounds like it is a throwaway line (‘I remember I didn’t go with Nyssa and Tegan…I was standing near the transmitter when the TARDIS dematerialised…’) but this scenario does play out in episode four but after he has lost his memory. Clever stuff. This story has got quite a lot to answer for  (in a good way) when it comes to doppelganger stories in future series (and every science fiction show from Buffy to Farscape to Star Trek has a go at it). They build up the threat of the Brigadier meeting the Brigadier into something catastrophic that every time those any other show dabbles in the same concept I always think that something awful and Blinovitch Limitational is going to happen! 
  • For once Time Lord technology is not introduced simply to sound dramatic (the Demat Gun in The Invasion of Time, ‘Impulse laser?’ from Arc of Infinity) but to kick the story in a very different direction. The creatures suffering eternal life for dabbling in a science that they should never have been exposed to is poetic justice since they were trying to extend their lives. It goes to show just how dangerous Time Lord technology can be in the wrong hands. For once there is more than melodramatic sentiment in the title, the clue to their eternal torture is right there for the taking at the front of each episode. The image of the other seven creatures sitting in their thrones in complete silence as Turlough discovers them and barely able to react to his presence is haunting. This is the result of eternal life – eternal borderm and decrepitude. Between this and The Five Doctors, Doctor Who paints a pretty bleak picture of immortality.
  • Using time and his friends as a weapon against the Doctor is a far more insidious than simply pointing a gun in his face (ala Earthshock). Watching Nyssa and Tegan age to death (the make up looks disturbingly like they are severely battered housewives – that’s pretty destabilising for kids) and reduced to childhood is such a fascinating new angle of jeopardy I kind of wish they had made more of it. For Grimwade it is another captivating idea thrown into the melting pot that makes up this unusual story.
  • The way the uniting of the two Lethbridge Stewarts causes an explosion big enough for Mawdryn and his followers to exploit and finally commit suicide is so neat even Terrance Dicks (with his insistence on logical plot resolutions) would be applauding. I honestly couldn’t see how this was going to end satisfactorily – I thought the Doctor would whip up some indecipherable technobabble to kill Mawdryn and the Brigadier’s would never meet. What we get instead is far more satisfying. Its a script that has been running with two strong ideas only to bring them together in the climax and cancel each other out. Plus it kick starts the Brigadier’s breakdown and so effectively begins the story all over again. Very nicely done.
  • The parting shot of this show is a cremation in space. Stick the CGI on when you watch the DVD as it finally gives this poetic closing image justice.

The Bad:
  • Why did Saward feel the need to link each season with a mention at the beginning of each story with a summation of what the last one was about? If it has no place within the story you are telling then don’t include it. Ah but Tegan is still haunted by the Mara, I hear you say, it has a character purpose. Well, hardly. All it takes is for the Doctor to say ‘forget about it’ and she never mentions it again and gets on with the latest adventure. If this was something that truly got to her it would haunt her every thought…it strikes me of pretending to be character development rather than actually embracing what that actually means. It was even more apparent in Time-Flight in the wake of Adric’s death but just as sloppily handled here in a less showy way.
  • The console room has never felt more like a studio set than it does in the Davison era. The way everybody hangs around the console trying to look busy is painfully awkward. It's only when the TARDIS crew lands on the deserted spaceship which is packed full of lush detail that you realise what an embarrassingly empty space the TARDIS has become. It's even more apparent when Tegan and Nyssa drag some wicker furniture into the console room and sit down and then they look like two actresses left out of the action in front of some boring roundel flats. It is during these scenes that Moffatt’s point and shoot approach to telling a story really stumbles – it doesn’t matter so much on location when there is lush greenery to admire but in a set as drab as this his static camerawork really lets the side down.
  • ‘I want you to take the Brigadier back to the TARDIS – right to the centre!’ The TARDIS is an unending labyrinth. How long is that going to take? Maybe there’s room for the odd novel featuring the Brigadier and Nyssa wandering the TARDIS corridors? Hey I’ve seen books commissioned on less stable premise than that!

The Shallow Bit: The opening scene might be the gayest thing ever seen in Doctor Who (and this is a hotly contested category) with boarding school lads hanging around watching Turlough approvingly in their tight white T shirts and tiny sports shorts. The transmat capsule design looks oddly like the entrance to a particularly fruity 80s gay disco…perhaps JNT gave them some design tips? Janet Fielding hated her boob tube but it does make her look as cute as a button…some feat given her performance.

Result: It’s a JNT story written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Peter Moffatt and so naturally it is shite. If you thought that was what I was going to say you are wrong because I have a sneaky (as in it grows on me more every time I watch it) fondness for Mawdryn Undead with its atypical storytelling and generally attractive production. By far Grimwade’s strongest script for the series, it juggles a whole bunch of interesting ideas which include dual timelines, two Brigadiers, the Doctor regenerating into an alien, Nyssa and Tegan being infected by time and the Doctor sacrificing his remaining lives. Unlike Time-Flight (which is far too ambitious and complicated for its own good) and Planet of Fire (which is hampered by a shopping list of ingredients) Grimwade manages to tie all of these ideas into an engaging, well paced narrative that tosses aside the usual 80s lust for set pieces and tries to be a little more thoughtful. You’ve also got the introduction of the strongest companion we have seen on the show for some time and Mark Strickson proves to be an attention grabbing addition to the series. With his and Nick Courtney’s nuanced performances you can almost forgive how little the Doctor is given to do (beyond explain the plot) and how grumpy Tegan is in places (there’s nothing new in either of those observations and they’re a curse on the era) or how static the direction can be in the studio scenes. I’ve always found season 20 to be the weakest of the Davison seasons (any season that includes Arc of Infinity and The King’s Demons was never going to rank high on anybody’s list) but re-watching the stories out of order has surprised me with how innovative the story ideas are this year and how much intelligent science fiction Eric Saward was trying inject into the series whilst his producer was indulging in love letters to the past. Mawdryn Undead alone contains a number of really clever ideas (my favourite being the living death that Mawdryn and his cohorts are suffering – such a poetic consequence of their crime) but each story this year has one or two really engaging science fiction ideas at their core. Any story that can handle the Brigadier having a breakdown, reveal the dangers of misusing Time Lord technology and have the companion try and kill the Doctor and tie all three into a very clever climax is doing some quite special in my book. Add in an insane Paddy Kingsland score and some terrific design work and you have a mid eighties tale that is trying far harder than the series was given credit for at the time. Undervalued and well worth another watch: 8/10

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

TNG Season Four

The Best of Both Worlds Part II written by Maurice Hurley and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: The Borg head for Earth with Picard as their voice…

To Baldly Go: I’m not sure if Picard winning a marathon is the sort of rousing tale that would give me hope that the Captain will escape of this perversion of his body fighting. Drive, courage and determination are the qualities that Admiral Hanson credits him with. The shot of the tear running down Picard’s face as the Borg work him on is devastating, one tiny glimmer of emotion that he is dying inside as they force him to behave against his will. Guinan suggests that her relationship with Picard is beyond friendship and family and she will let him go because she loves him. It’s a shame when we discover what actually happened in Times Arrow as it turns out to be quite anti-climactic but at this stage their backstory is mysterious and intriguing. It is lovely how the crew rally around to save him, refusing to give up on the Captain when he may turn out to be the weapon of mass destruction that turns them all into Borg drones.

Number One: It looks like Riker holding out from leaving the Enterprise has paid dividends – Captain of the Ship! The tragic news of the loss of the Melbourne is a frightening reminder that that could have been him in command. When the shit hits the fan and it looks like there is no stopping the Borg from invading the Earth Riker is willing to collide the Enterprise with the Cube and destroy them that way. There are few episodes that handled Riker’s character better than The Best of Both Worlds (I can only think of Frame of Mind & The Pegasus between here and the end of the series) and over the course of these two episodes we get to understand precisely what his anxieties about leaving Enterprise are and where his career is heading before finally watching him gain confidence as he takes command of the ship and make some pretty risky decisions to get the Captain back. He has proven that he has more than enough to sit in command and the only omission here is him accepting a commission at the end of a story. It seems odd that after all this attention drawn to his ability that he shouldn’t have to prove it. This would have been the perfect departure for Riker but instead we get four more seasons of him hiding away in Picard’s shadow which renders the whole exercise strangely pointless in the long run. Trek should be brave enough to write characters out when the time is right. There’s nothing to say that Riker couldn’t have popped back a couple of times a year ala Wesley Crusher. Imagine the show with a new, brasher First Officer from this point on? It would really put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Boy Genius: Technically Wesley has not only saved the ship again but now he can add the whole of planet Earth to the list. I would say that should be enough for him to pass his exams. Just name drop a couple of times when he was directly responsible for saving humanity.

Brilliant Bartender: The outstanding Guinan scenes continue but this time with Riker in the Captain’s chair. She tells him in no uncertain terms that people are talking in Ten Forward and expect to die after their next engagement with the Borg, despite him stepping up to the plate. She helps Riker to see that whatever is issuing threats from the Borg ship is not Picard and it may be necessary to destroy what he considers to be Picard in order to bring down the Borg. She’s a realist and she can see the bigger picture, despite her intense feelings towards Picard. Guinan really was something special.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your resistance is hopeless…Number One.
‘I guess I’m just used to having the Captain’s ear’ and ‘You must let him go, Riker. It’s the only way to beat him. And the only way to save him…’ – more great Guinan dialogue.

The Good: The Federation must be desperate if it is considering a pact with the Romulans to get them out of this pickle. It is definitely worth watching the Battle of Wolf 359 that is depicted in DS9’s Emissary around ten minutes into this episode – it shows you with some style and expense what a joke Starfleet’s resistance was. I like the mention of the nanites from Wesley’s failed experiments in Evolution – it’s very unTNG to remember plot details like that and suggest utilising them in later episodes. The Enterprise progressing through the debris of forty dead Starships at Wolf 359 is astonishingly emotional, this is the point where the Federation had their arrogant bubble popped and they had to start trying harder to defend themselves. More than a touch of 9/11 to the material, long before the event took place. It is the same feelings of impotence and then the strength and single mindedness to fight back after the cataclysm. There’s a wonderful effects shot of Data and Worf leaving the Enterprise in a shuttle that takes place in a continuous scene. I love the shot of the Borg Cube sliding past Saturn’s rings as it enters Sector 001, it feels as though this is going to be the most exciting end to a Star Trek episode ever? It just goes to show the difference between the CGI Borg Cube explosions from Voyager and the model work from TNG. The former might be better eye candy but the latter looks more authentic. I have always preferred model work over CGI and it is a shame that the franchise dropped the art when a cheaper versions of digital effects became available. There is a palpable atmosphere of doom throughout The Best of Both Worlds which Star Trek usually eschews, it is one of the few times where the shit hits the fan to such an extent that it feels like nothing will ever be the same again. They would be talking about this attack for years to come.

The Bad: What a disappointment. The ultimate Trek cliffhanger gets possibly the most unsatisfactory resolution – the deflector weapon simply doesn’t work! All that build up for nothing? Well, not nothing since it shows that in the heat of the moment that Riker was willing to murder Picard. Showing the Borg arm implant being placed over a perfectly healthy hand spoils the illusion that the implement replaces the arm as I always believed (and is much more ghastly). Whilst I would never want to lose Patrick Stewart from the show (he is by far the best asset they have) it might have been interesting to have had half a season or so with Riker in command and Shelby as his First Officer. It’s such an interesting dynamic and far more riveting than the relationship of respect between Picard and Riker. Shelby really is the one that got away, DS9 would have grabbed hold of a character that worked this well and brought her into the ranks. It might have been more exciting had Locutus gone after the saucer section and destroyed it. How would Picard live with himself if he murdered the family of his own crew? It would make the material in Family even more powerful. There is a brief mention of why the Borg want to assimilate everything (to raise us to a higher level of being) but it isn’t enough. I suppose there is a level ambiguity there to keep them mysterious for further episodes (although when they do return time and again it is usually as stock baddies – Descent). I want to know how this race of cybernetic drones came to be and what their ambition was. Comparisons are often made with Doctor Who’s Cybermen but their backstory is much, much more interesting. Even Shelby looks as though she wants to laugh when Data informs them he has sent them to sleep.

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard suddenly waking up whilst Data is sneaking in on the Borg transmissions is a great shock moment and I love how he slowly plays tug of war with the captain and snaps the Borg instruments away off the Captain’s hand. I really like it when Data gets to play nasty.

Result: Not as disappointing as it could have been, The Best of Both Worlds Part II has some fantastic material surrounding Riker’s command of the Enterprise and the accumulating tension continues to build around this new implacable foe. Unfortunately the fact that they managed to make the Borg quite this powerful is what concludes this near flawless movie length story on a damp squib – their ultimate defeat might be logical and vaguely imaginative but it is also anti-climatic and unexciting. You shouldn’t be this ambitious if you haven’t got the budget to justify it and it is a disappointment that after all the appetite whetting for a battle all we see is the aftermath of Wolf 359. We have to wait until Emissary to get to see the results of the Borg attack. The raid on the Borg Cube is fairly dynamic (especially for TNG) and the dramatic consequences of Picard’s assimilation will make for some painful viewing in the future. Better than most conclusions to Trek two parters but still something of a let down after the incredible first episode, I wanted more from this but there still some stunning scenes to celebrate: 8/10

Family written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Three stories centring around family; Picard returns home to France, Worf’s parents visit the ship and Wesley receives a message from his father from beyond the grave.

To Baldly Go: The Captain wants to put the whole Borg ordeal behind him and tries to convince Troi that his injuries are healing and the nightmares are over but it is plain as the nose on his face that Jean Luc is having trouble accepting what has happened to him. He is trying to find himself again and since they are orbiting Earth what better place to do that than on the streets of his home village. His homecoming is vital material for his character since we get the chance to see the environment that shaped him during his childhood and to meet his brother. It would seem that even Picard cannot smooth talk his way with him. Watch Patrick Stewart and Jeremy Kemp in their scenes together, this is the work of two powerful British actors trying their damdest to give the better performance and for once I’m afraid that Stewart is the one left in the running. Kemp can convey so much meaning with a mere glance or a twitch of the eyebrow. Regardless of their obvious talent, their scenes together sing with tension, humour and glorious sibling rivalry. I doubt there is a person alive that doesn’t recognise this one-upmanship manifesting itself in such a gloriously childish way. Picard doesn’t see there is anything wrong in enjoying the convenience of a replicator but his brother thinks that life is already too convenient and people are losing the art of cooking and looking after themselves without technology to do all the hard work. He was always interested in grapes and his family holding onto the tradition of making fine wines but he never felt bound by those traditions. Picard is disturbed by the fact that he actually considered leaving Starfleet and applying for the position at the head of the Atlantis project but after everything he has been through recently a change in career would be completely understandable. Some might call it running away, others therapy. His brother makes a good point that Picard could do with some humility or humiliation. I’ve been saying that for years but when you are talking about a man having his mind and body raped by the Borg it touches a nerve that forces some violent feelings to surface. He never sought fame or glory but they always seemed to be thrusted upon him and Robert was always going to be waiting in the wings and seething with jealousy. Robert was supposed to look after him but he was bully and sometimes he enjoyed bullying him as payback for his popularity. This is absolutely vintage characterisation, gorgeously played. Watching the once mighty Captain Picard break down before his brother and scream that he should have been strong enough to fight the Borg is heartbreaking and I defy anybody to watch this and not be moved to tears.

Mr Wolf: Worf is highly embarrassed by his parents wish to visit the ship and see where he works. He has always been a stalwart professional and it is highly inappropriate for Klingons to visit each other at work but since they are humans they don’t bother with such silly traditions. There’s a lovely quiet moment where Worf and O’Brien bitch about their parents in the transporter room and it made me smile to think that so many years in the future when they are both settled on DS9 they would have many more heart to hearts, particularly after the death of Worf’s wife. I really like his parents, they are quirky and fun and I wish we could have seen more of them in the series ala Lwaxana’s frequent visits. They are very happy to tell Worf’s friends funny stories about him and his discomfort is blatant and amusing. He never was very good at pretence but Worf’s love for his parents shines through in Michael Dorn’s warm (and at times very funny) performance.

Dancing Doctor: Imagine spending this many years coming to terms with the death of your husband and then being handed a storage container full of items that brought so many memories bubbling back to the surface. You can see she has come to terms with his death and only remembers the happy times but a recorded message for Wesley from his father sees her conflicted about whether to re-open old wounds for her son.

Boy Genius: Wesley confronting his father in the holodeck is beautifully staged with Wheaton walking very slowly towards the hologram and taking in every detail. Starfleet meant a lot to his father and you can see where Wesley gets that desire and ambition from. When he ditches the technobabble and the ship saving theatrics it is astonishing how real this character can feel.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Did you come back because you wanted me to look after you again?’
‘So my brother is a human being after all…’
‘I can see in your face all the people I’ve loved in my lifetime. Your mother, my father and mother…’
‘It’s getting late’ ‘Yes but let him dream…’

The Good: What an amazing opening effects shot of the Enterprise docked at McKinley station in orbit of the Earth – the station literally looks like a hand that has curled its fingers around the ship. It seems very appropriate to have a more intimate, family oriented show after the epic and effects-heavy Borg two parter so we can breathe a sigh of relief with the characters and see how the events have affected them. It is the sort of consequences that the show is about to forget how to show as they move swiftly on from one adventure to another. The location work in and around the vineyard is so gorgeous and unusually charming and picturesque for Star Trek it gives the episode a distinct visual look. The shot where we pull back from the vines to see the fields, the farmhouse and the modern equipment in the distance is so beautiful it could be a work of art. I wish the final shot had been Picard walking away from the vineyard because it is the perfect way to end this episode that has helped get his life back on track. The fight in the muddy field is gloriously dirty and seething with emotion – it’s a real highlight of the episode. Patrick Stewart’s performance is magnificent, shifting from anger to manic laughter to choking on his tears as he bares his soul to his brother and tells him everything the Borg did to him. I was an emotional wreck by the end of it.

Moment to Watch Out For: Once again the best moment in the episode belongs to Guinan and the way she consoles Worf’s parents by telling them that when he comes to look out at the stars in Ten Forward towards home he isn’t looking for the Klingon Empire but Earth and them.

Moral of the Week: Family might not always like each other but they do always love each other.

Foreboding: ‘Some day I’m going to be a Starship Captain!’ says Rene which is almost a portent of the future since David Tristan Birkin would go on to play Picard in Rascals.

Result: Family is the perfectly judged coda to The Best of Both Worlds and manages to juggle three equally interesting plots without any of them feeling undeveloped or unsatisfying. It really feels as though the show is pushing forwards and developing its characters without forgetting what has already happened – Picard tries to cope with the psychological scarring from the Borg, Worf wants to suffer his dishonour at being stripped of his honour alone and Wesley finally gets the chance to hear his fathers voice as an adult. All three stories are well handled and beautifully performed and have moments of unexpected poignancy. Brilliantly, one of the best ever TNG episodes is not one that’s juggling empires and crazy ideas but a simple family affair loaded with genuine, heartfelt sentiment: 10/10

Brothers written by Rick Berman and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Data, Soong and Lore have a family reunion…

Fully Functional: The early scenes in Brothers confirms what I have always thought about Data, that he could be quite a creepy character if he fell into the wrong hands. His zombie turn, completely emotionless, as he takes control of the ship is all the more impressive because Spiner doesn’t show a shred of emotion. Almost as a reaction to his irascible turn as Soong, Spiner makes Data more child-like than ever. Soong finds Data’s choice to join Starfleet to be a disappointment when he was hoping he would follow in his footsteps. The colonists were never envious of Lore, they were afraid of him and Data learns here that he is not less perfect than his brother as he has always suspected. I have longed to see Data being given the same chance as Lore to experience emotion but when that possibility becomes a reality all of that youthful innocence is stripped away and he becomes a sarcastic, unpleasant and ugly. Fortunately it turns out to be Lore having once again taken an opportunity that belonged to his brother – thank goodness because I don’t think I could have continued to enjoy Data if he had been played in this vein. Data’s assertion that it is okay for Soong to die because they are so alike and he will live on within him is deeply moving and a surprisingly human sentiment from the android. I think Soong did a better job of programming him with sentiment than he realised.

The Good: Neither the director nor Brent Spiner give anything away in those exciting early scenes where Data seizes control of the Enterprise. Your mind races through several Star Trek possibilities (evil entity, Lore) but the one solution I would not have envisaged was that it was a summoning from his creator Noonian Soong. There is something very dynamic about having Data taking on the combined intelligence and strength of the entire crew and it becomes an engaging cat and mouse game of them trying to outsmart each other. It’s a great opening third because there is the massive question of why hanging over the action. In the early years of TNG there was very little opportunity for Brent Spiner to give a varied performance – Data was one of the most popular characters and the writers ensured there was a certain continuity with the character. However over time an increasingly bored Spiner would be seeking other ways to ensure his continued presence in the show  and one of those was to allow him to experiment. Soong is a great example of this actor at his height, creating a deliciously crabby genius but other examples would see the writers get a little desperate in later years with the return of Lore, an amnesiac Data and the character falling under the spell of an alien probe full of multiple personalities… Underneath all that latex you can still see Spiner’s eyes shining through and through and he gives a stunning performance. When Lore turned up I was astonished at how well the scenes were cut together – if I weren’t a fan and you had told me that it was the same actor playing all three parts I wouldn’t have believed you. Each is nuanced, unique personalities that are spliced together with real fluidity and conviction. Often in Trek you can tell it is an actor working against a green screen and the conversation is stilted (check out the two Janeway’s in Voyager’s Deadlock). There is none of that awkwardness here.

The Bad: The pre-credits sequence is an odd one for sure, a mini parody of Picard’s subplot in Family as we learn of the destructive behaviour of two boys on the Enterprise. My only problem is that we don’t know who these two boys are so it fails to make any impact whatsoever. We keep returning to this story throughout the episode, the writer turning this into the jeopardy plot as the crew race against time to save the boy. The last scene fails to work for me because I was hoping we were leading towards an conclusion that saw the kid dying and his brother learning a lesson but instead it is the usual twee platitudes and a particularly saccharine reminder of this episodes moral (‘Brothers forgive, Data’). Oh vomit.

Moment to Watch Out For: That frightening moment when we think Data has been turned into something unpleasant after the emotion has been implanted. And then the stronger chills when you realise this is Lore who is more psychotic than ever.

Moral of the Week: You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

Orchestra: Ron Jones has great fun as Data leaves the Bridge and heads for the transporter room – for a while it seems that every instrument at his synthesiser’s disposal is in action.

Result: An extraordinary triple performance from Brent Spiner and a dynamic opening 15 minutes makes Brothers another superb episode that lures you in with plenty of promise that it actually manages to deliver. It’s the second of three back to back family episodes of TNG, not quite as strong as the first (Family was much more multi-faceted whereas Brothers is far more focussed on one narrative) but far superior to the third. If I thought Datalore was a schizoid episode it doesn’t have anything on this which allows Spiner to create three distinct characters and have them all interact with each other. The fear of simulating human beings and it going horribly wrong is epitomised in Lore and even more so when he pretends to be Data, a fake human pretending to be a fake android. There is the feeling here that Lore could have gone on to be the ultimate TNG villain and if the writers had dared to give him some governance it could have been very exciting. Instead his pantomime villainy in Descent is the best we can hope for. If you are a fan of Data (and he is such an appealing character for the most part so who isn’t?) this is a superior hour of Trek: 8/10

Suddenly Human written by John Whelpley & Jeri Taylor and directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

What’s it about: A human boy is discovered as the spoils of war…

To Baldly Go: Picard has always been awkward around children and so we were bound to stumble across an episode where he is forced to look after a child at some point. Perhaps a spin off sitcom could be in the pipeline? Picard and Jono move in next door to the Doctor and his holographic family…scripted by Jeri Taylor and produced by Brannon Braga, their adventures reach all new levels of twee. They try and explain that Picard is the only person who has made any connection with Jono but it’s it feels like Troi saying ‘I don’t want to deal with this kid, you deal with him’ which is rather a narrow view of her responsibilities. Picard has become a stuffy collector of rare objects and shoving a young man into his quarters exposes that, he practically weeps as Jono plays with his collectibles as though they were toys. Picard considers not being parental as acknowledging his limitations – something I very much approve of people doing but don’t see an awful lot of on this show. Patrick Stewart brings all the subtlety and emotional he has to the material but the script lets him down, taking the most obvious route possible to get Jono to respect Picard.

Mr Wolf: A supporter of female emancipation, Worf is proud to be serving under a woman. Even if that woman is Dr Bev.

Alien Empath: Stating the obvious, as usual, Troi states ‘they’re terrified!’ as Jono and his peers all start screaming hysterically. How would they ever get on without her?

Dancing Doctor: Poor Jono, new to the Enterprise and confronted with the maternal force of Dr Beverly Crusher (who tries to inflict Wesley on him) and Deanna Troi. It’s argument enough for Jono to want to stab Picard.

Boy Genius: Pie in the face. Bloody funny. This should happen to Wesley every week.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Strange isn’t it? You’ll travel light years, dodge asteroid storms, brave hostile aliens and yet when asked to assume a parental role you cringe…’ – almost as much as I do when Troi gets on her psychobabble high horse.

The Good: The Enterprise is such a happy go lucky ship that it is always lovely when somebody violent and disturbing comes to visit. Jono might not be the world’s most interesting character but it’s worth his inclusion just for the scene where he has the medical orderlies running around after him in sickbay. Such fun! The direction of the racquetball scenes should be admired, Gabrielle Beaumont getting up close and personal with Jono with some handheld camerawork to suggest the disorientation of his memories resurfacing. In a show that is constantly sniffing the butt of humanity at the expense of its alien characters I was convinced that Jono would wind up reunited with his Admiral grandmother. It shocked me that that wasn’t the case.

The Bad: The high pitched squeal that Jono insists on making to mourn the dead is only a baby step away from being as annoying as pubic lice. It’s hardly a respectful sign of lamentation either. Picard suggests here that he probably skipped his childhood altogether because he was so obsessed with joining Starfleet but we learn later in Tapestry that he had his fair share of trouble during his teens. This wouldn’t have been complete without a scene of Jono listening to dreadful music in Picard’s quarters and him screaming his head off over it…Taylor replays the exactly the same scene in Voyager’s Real Life and its just as crass and obvious there. Talk of child abuse amongst characters as squeaky clean as Crusher, Troi and Picard neuters the drama…they deal with the situation in such a clinical and painfully sincere way. When DS9 handled the same theme years later it was far superior, Bashir feeling the appropriate amount of horror, Garak on hand to look at ashamed at the work of his people and O’Brien befriending the victim of a people he has come to hate. In comparison, this is far too black and white and simplistic. Besides the idea of child abuse is raised but then summarily forgotten a few scenes later when a moment of jeopardy is required at the conclusion. I’m not sure why the Enterprise crew object to the behaviour of the Talarians anyway…teenage Klingon rituals have been explored on this show and they are far more violent. And they were completely respected. If your face fits, I guess.

Moment to Watch Out For: The moment when Jono stabs Picard is wonderfully unexpected as it comes at the point where you imagine he is going to reach out to his mentor. Unfortunately the episode sees Picard take the moral high ground and forgive him for this action rather than condemning him. How is the boy ever going to learn?

Moral of the Week: ‘I believe that children are the future, treat them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside…’

Result: These are precisely the sort of well meaning but patronising and obvious episodes that DS9 managed to take on board and turn into touching and powerful dramas from when it took the crown from TNG (Duet, Cardassians and Progress to name three). An hour of Picard being forced to bunk up with a teenager and trying to teach him how to be a good human is not my idea of a fun hour of television. Sincerity is something of a weakness on this show – there’s nothing wrong with the subject matter being presented here and the performances are true enough but when the script refuses to push into darker territory you just skirting the issue rather than engaging with it. After three family oriented episodes in a row TNG is starting to feel like a neutered version of a daytime soap opera with aliens. Next week I’m expecting Worf to be the mid wife at Keiko O’Brien’s baby! Do you ever think that this situation is going to escalate into war? No, me neither and a quick speech from Picard and a word from Jono and the whole situation is resolved. If only life really was that easy. This is a pleasant enough hour but its never as probing or as dramatic as it could be. It is, however, worth watching Suddenly Human for the glorious moment when Wesley Crusher gets a banana split in the face: 5/10
Remember Me written by Lee Sheldon and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Slowly but surely, Dr Bev begins to realise she is the only person who ever existed in the universe…

Fully Functional: Data lists a number of very good reasons why there should be so many vacant rooms when the crew compliment is only 114 that still manages to sound absurd.

Alien Empath: When she thinks that she is going mad her first port of call is to visit Counsellor Busybody. Ever notice how nothing good ever comes out of that approach? The joy of Deanna being zapped out of existence can never be underestimated.

Dancing Doctor: Like The High Ground last year, this is another great episode for Dr Bev. It seems that when they choose to give her the limelight she excels, it’s when she’s shuffled into the pack that she resorts to autopilot. It’s nice to see Beverley behaving like a human being and taking her friends arm as they walk along the corridors of the ship. Gates McFadden adopts an amusing sitcom performance as she wanders the ship being told that everything she has ever experienced is a lie (‘I didn’t just conjure up one of my best friends from a test tube!’). I really liked the fact that Crusher considers the possibility that it isn’t a huge conspiracy and that she has simply gone completely gaga. Amusingly everybody starts looking at her as though she is one conker short of a tree, even her son. To be fair to them she does appear to have turned into a raving madwoman telling everybody about crazy events that have never happened. In the time before fan fiction (was there a time before fan fiction?) Dr Bev states that she has wanted to tell Picard something for a long time but before she can get the words out he has been gulped down by the bubble. What exactly was she going to tell him? It’s another Bad Wolf Bay moment, we all know exactly how she feels about him. From about halfway through the episode McFadden has that weird glazed look on her face again, as though she is taking drugs. But we’ll let her off this time since the universe is shrinking and fucking with her mind all the while. She’s written with some intelligence, locking the computer in a web of illogic (if she doesn’t have the necessary qualifications to run the Enterprise then why is she the only crewmember?). Not many people can claim to be the only person in the whole universe.

Boy Genius: Cleverly the episode becomes less about Beverley and switches its emphasis onto Wesley. The scenes of the Traveller mentoring him recapture that magic from Where No Man Has Gone Before. He tries to make him see through the maths that constrict his life and beyond, onto a whole new level.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Worf. Chief of Security. The big guy who never smiles?’
‘The two of us roaming about the galaxy in the flagship of the Federation, no crew at all!’ ‘We’ve never needed a crew before…’
‘What is the nature of the universe?’ ‘The universe is a spheroid region 705 metres in diameter.’

The Good: Is that the same effects shot of the Enterprise docking at the station from 100010001? If so I heartily approve because it kick starts the episode on a visually gob smacking moment of beauty. I love the way that the mystery starts off as something that could be shrugged off as an administrative error (Dr Bev’s request for Dalen going amiss) but soon grows (Dalen never existed) and continues to grow exponentially until its clear there is something very amiss. The revelations are very well paced to keep the viewers interest piqued. The seed is planted early on that a bubble has placed around the disappearing Doctor and despite the fact that the memory inconsistencies are only happening to Beverley I still didn’t figure that the bubble had in fact trapped her inside until the episode pointed it out. It’s not quite as clever as the twist in DS9’s Whispers which never allows for the possibility of its twist until the last minute. Anybody with half a brain could point at Dr Bev and realise she is the cause of the problem but I still enjoyed the misdirection. There are many scenes of Dr Bev agog at how the universe is changing around her and the crew reacting with poker faces as though everything is perfectly normal which I bet were great fun to play. The shifts become increasingly amusing the more dramatic (to the point where Picard tries to explain that only he and Beverley crew a ship of the Enterprise’s size). As the crew count gets smaller and smaller it becomes clear that whatever is happening, it is getting worse and only Dr Bev realises how things should be. At just the right point we pull out of the bubble universe that Beverley is trapped in into the real world and it changes the entire emphasis of the episode. The return of the Traveller is very welcome because his first appearance in the show was the first real moment of awe during the abysmal first season. I have nothing but positive feelings towards the character and he brings a great deal of that wonderment with him again. Thanks to Voyager we’ve been inundated with scenes of characters wandering around empty corridors but at the point that Remember Me aired it was still a giddy thrill to see a starship so devoid of life. There is a lovely shot of the Enterprise in the bubble universe as it starts to contract around it. The fact that the cavernous mouth that has been trying to consume her throughout the episode is in fact her method of escape is very clever. All she had to do was let go each time it tried to take her. I would have been disappointed had we not enjoyed scenes of the universe catching up with Dr Bev and eating away the walls as she runs away from it. Its nice that it isn’t just the fact that the bubble is there though but that she has to figure out its purpose and choose to walk through it herself. How she comes to that conclusion is very satisfying.

The Bad: Astonishing to think of O’Brien stuck at that Transporter Pad doing nothing of consequence all day. To think of all the scrapes he would get the crew out of on DS9, what a waste of a resource he was on the Enterprise. They have a terrible habit on this show of knocking on somebody’s door once or twice and after receiving no answer forcing entry. Just once I would like the person inside to be caught in an awkward pose to teach the interloper a lesson! There are a few moments where the direction is predictable – I could tell the exact point when Wesley was going to vanish before it happened. I still hate that spacious, comfortable, beige, leather and wood airport lounge Bridge and you can see its hideous design in full when Dr Bev is the only person wandering about in it.

Moment to Watch Out For: How awesome is the gaping maw of light that keeps trying to suck Dr Bev inside?

Moral of the Week: Dalen makes a great point about enjoying people while you can because once they’ve gone, they’ve gone. The episode then goes on to prove it.

Fashion Statement: I try to resist, really I do but Wesley Crusher at this stage was a massive childhood crush of mine and looking back I can still see why. What a pretty guy Wil Wheaton was.

Orchestra: This weeks musician has been taking lessons from the best, tugging on violin strings discordantly as the episode gets weirder and weirder. Jay Chatterway would go on to provide some unmemorable music as he stayed with the show for too long but he could always be counted on when things get a little quirky.

Result: Has Beverley Crusher gone completely insane? A great little mystery that plays some fun games with the dancing Doctor, Remember Me provides a high concept episode just when the show was starting to feel like a soap opera. It was always going to be the result of a quirk of technobabble but for the first two thirds of Remember Me there is a disquieting Twilight Zone atmosphere to the disappearances of the crew. Even more impressive is the climax which whilst resorting to some clever techno speak has the added bonus of re-introducing the Traveller and suggesting interesting developments ahead for Wesley. Gates McFadden isn’t the most accomplished of Trek actresses but given quirky material like this to bring to life and she delivers admirably. It would be nice to say something pleasant about the actress because of her acting talent but I think my goodwill mostly comes from the amusing way this episode plays out. It’s well paced and directed with some funny lines and a nice resolution when we realise what is really going on. When it comes to TNG aside from a few outstanding exceptions, what I remember most are the idiosyncratic high concept shows like this one. It’s one genre that TNG excelled in above all the other Trek shows: 9/10

Legacy written by Joe Menosky and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: Tasha Yar’s home planet and long lost sister make an appearance…

To Baldly Go: The way Picard speaks about Tasha he could be describing an entirely different character. One that I probably would have quite liked to have known. It’s nice that for once Picard looks within to see where they were tricked – each of them wanted to see something of Tasha in Ishara and were willing to be convinced by the few crumbs that she fed them.

Number One: Riker likes to think that he is still King of the poker table but Data hangs onto his chips for dear life when he tries to cheat him in a card trick. I really like the poker scenes, it shows the crew relaxing in a very cheeky, engaging way.

Fully Functional: Pairing up Data and Ishara seems the most obvious route to take considering how close he was to Tasha. It feels like we are walking over familiar ground but Brent Spiner once again gets the chance to show some delicate sentimentality without expressing a hint of emotion. He’s performance as Data is peerless at this stage. When the character fails, it is entirely due to the writing, not the actor. His ‘I have become used to her’ speaks volumes. Predictably (since he is the character that has made a connection with her) it is Data that Ishara has her big confrontation with at the climax when her true scheme is revealed. He’s learnt that trusting somebody can lead to betrayal, another human failing for the mechanical man. He considers himself fortunate to be spared the emotional consequences but the way he fingers Tasha’s funeral hologram proves that he is putting on his own poker face.

Alien Empath: ‘As for the identity of the young woman, I can’t really tell…’ Have you ever noticed that when the plot dictates that something remains a mystery, Troi’s powers of perception are mysteriously vacant. Once the plot has been revealed in full suddenly she is on fire stating the bleeding obvious. ‘I get a sense of ambiguity from her’ Deanna admits, playing it safe so she can say I told you so whichever way this goes down.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Coalition. Alliance. It all sounds so reasonable but what you’re describing is the behaviour of street thugs.’

The Good: Its all go in the teaser this week…poker, a visit to Tasha Yar’s home planet, pursuit and explosions. Let’s hope they can keep these energy levels up. The idea of visiting the planet that produced Tasha is terrifying in so many ways. She certainly painted a pretty diabolical picture of her homeworld and it’s just the sort of lawless, violent environment that TNG should visit more often. Filling in the background of a character so long after they departed the series is unusual but not unwelcome. The matte painting suggests a desolate world and the grimy, windswept sets extend that feeling, telling of a culture that is long past its best. Steam hisses through grates and there are plenty of grimy, industrial corridors to wander around. It’s a more fully realised world than we have seen on the show in a while. You can only imagine how people who live on the poverty line in constant warfare must feel about the arrival of the Federation with their luxury and affluent society (it’s explored better in DS9’s Emissary but the contrast between the two societies is made here). The mystery of whether Ishara is genuinely Tasha’s sister or just a fake to gain Picard’s trust does hold the interest. Tasha never spoke of her sister and the general feeling was that she was a coward for leaving the colony and fleeing to the comfort of the Federation. Ishara describing the conditions that they live under does go some way to explaining Tasha’s hyper active behaviour and reverence of the Federation.

The Bad: Massive points for the impressive stunt as a guy is tossed across the set by a phaser blast but minus more for the mattress disguised as a door that Riker walks across to enter the room and free their people. It can be very frustrating when you are watching television and people are so obviously walking into a trap. The trick is to fool the audience as well as the characters.

Moment to Watch Out For: I certainly wouldn’t have objected to Ishara becoming a full time member of the Enterprise crew and it’s almost a shame when the plot inevitably turns her into a villain. She’s precisely the sort of morally ambiguous character this show needs and when Ensign Ro joins this time next year she is practically a carbon copy.

Fashion Statement: Beth Toussaint with her smouldering Linda Hamilton looks and no nonsense attitude would have made her a perfect Security Officer on the Enterprise rather than Tasha. Pouring her into that tight all in one uniform is eye opening and enough to even distract Worf as he walks across the Bridge (and he later states that if Ishara were to ever join Starfleet they would be lucky to have her).

Result: Nicely directed with some engaging action and world building but held back by some predictable and sentimental writing, Legacy is two thirds of the way to being a good episode. It’s clear early on that Ishara (the unbelievably hot Beth Toussaint who would have made a terrific regular character) has her own agenda and we’re left waiting for the manipulated Enterprise crew to figure this out. I did appreciate the extended exploration of a deceased character even if that character is Tasha Yar and the long overdue peek at her much feared home planet that she always spoke of turns out to be as pleasingly grim as she suggested. We spend a bit too much time on the Enterprise when there is a perfectly dramatic situation to exploit planet-side but I guess this was always going to be more of a character tale than an action one. Had this been a show like Battlestar Galactica, Turkana IV would have been a hovel of inequities but I still appreciate the Enterprise visiting a world that is far less salubrious than usual. Legacy is engaging enough without ever hitting warp speed: 6/10

Reunion written by Thomas Perry, Jo Perry, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga and directed by Jonathan Frakes

What’s it about: Two challengers to lead the council, two murders to change the face of history.

To Baldly Go: These Klingon episodes bring the best out in Patrick Stewart. And the best of Patrick Stewart is very good indeed. He’s no longer acting in an American science fiction series but instead standing in the Globe theatre bringing a multi faceted piece of Shakespeare to life. He’s studied the script for every subtlety and nuance that he can bring to the screen and he makes sure that every line is delivered with absolute conviction. If that sounds like hyperbole, go and watch the episode. Picard reminds Worf that he chose to accept the consequences of having his name blackened to preserve the Empire – sometimes his upfront nature makes him a good friend as well as a Captain. I understand why Picard has to say what he does to Worf at the climax and Stewart brings his most commander anger into play but it’s another example of the Federation trying to squeeze out any ounce of the unfamiliar from its alien representatives.

Mr Wolf: It’s the call that Worf never wanted to receive…his missus is back and she’s got a baby in tow. Whenever TNG focuses on Worf the result is usually a fine episode and this is one of the best, pushing the character into the limelight and putting him through hell. Picard informs him that just because he did the honourable thing and sacrificed his reputation, he cannot go into hiding every time a Klingon visits the ship. At this point little baby Alexander is the cutest thing on two legs, standing on the transporter pad for all the world like an adult in his teeny one piece outfit. For once Worf has every right to look put out…he has a son that he never even knew about! K’Ehlyr is back and she’s still taking the piss out of the Klingon Empire, not giving a damn that she shouldn’t be talking to Worf and flirting outrageously with him. Why are the guest stars on this show always more fascinating than the regulars?  Who would have thought there would be mileage in the sitcom idea of Worf bringing up his young son? Whilst it adds another layer of domestic drama to season five (which as you will see when we get there really doesn’t need it) I can see why the writers chose to go down the path of having Alexander move to the Enterprise full time under his fathers guardianship as it’s an engaging way to explore Worf’s character further. It’s interesting to note that when Worf does settle down and marry it’s with a character who is very like K’Ehlyr (Dax is respectful of Klingon ways whilst not being a slave to them, she mocks Worf incessantly and engages with him on a very physical way, both sexually and recreationally). The scenes between Worf and K’Ehlyr re-ignite that powerful chemistry that was obvious from her debut episode (‘you’re a part of me Worf’). Her death is touchingly handled and the last act that she commits is to put Alexander’s hand in Worf’s. Duras is the only one that can prove Worf’s innocence but he doesn’t give a damn about that after he has slaughtered his mate, he just wants bloody vengeance. As if things couldn’t get any better, Worf even has his own Darth Vader moment in the last scene (‘I am your father’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you cannot be his father, at least be his friend.’
‘You have never seen death. Then look, and always remember.’

The Good: It’s so odd for TNG to be talking about a potential war and whilst it is a shame that nothing came of it, I appreciate the effort to make the Alpha Quadrant feel like an area of space on a knife edge. Reunion is an essential episode of Trek because it not only continues the story of the Duras (and as a result would introduce Lursa and B’tor who would go on to have numerous subsequent appearances) but also hands us one of the most fabulously over the top characters in the series canon – the theatrical, eye rollingly manic politician, Gowron. He’s deliriously watchable and even when not giving it his all (he’s remarkably subdued when compared to later episodes) Robert O’Reilly still makes every scene count. How glorious that TNG is dealing with continuing plotlines like this, it adds so much richness to the series. Because the show is constantly on the move the only arcs that can endure are planet wide ones with puts the series on a far more epic playing field. Talk of war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation impacts far more than it would with any other race because of their history. We know how bad it can get. Duras, knowing that Worf is innocent of the slander on his name, is still willing to besmirch his honour publicly. He’s such a fabulous coward and exposes the hypocrisy right at the heart of the Klingon Empire. As with most Klingon ceremonies the funeral rite is brutal, stabbing a pain stick into the heart of the victim to prove that he is dead. I love how Picard performs it respectfully but Duras thoughtlessly stabs K’mpec as though he is stoking a fire. Jonathan Frakes films the explosion in slow motion, capturing the moment in all its glory. Gowron tries to wield politics as a weapon to acquire the Council whereas Duras only knows how to talk with bloodshed. Introducing the Romulans adds a further layer of disquiet and the thought of them working with Klingons leaves an ugly taste in the mouth (as well as putting the Federation in a very difficult position). There is a stifling atmosphere as K’Ehlyr investigates Worf’s background and starts to discover how he has been set up by Duras…the way her fate is sealed is inevitable but keeps you on tenterhooks regardless. K’Ehlyr misjudges this situation horribly, pushing Duras too far by threatening to expose his treachery. The Klingon suicide bomber feels even more relevant and terrifying today than it did at the time.

Moment to Watch Out For: Reunion builds to an unforgettably dramatic climax when Worf discovers K’Ehlyr’s bloody corpse in his quarters (Michael Dorn’s performance is powerful enough but the fact that Alexander witnesses it too really had me reaching for the tissues). It’s great to see some blood staining those TNG sets, usually so sterile and bland. Suddenly the reminder about the Bat’leth earlier in the episode makes perfect sense as Worf arms himself and heads for Duras’ ship. In this state there is no telling what he will do and its is rare for TNG to have me this on edge and riding high on emotions this potent. To have a main character brutally commit murder is very unlike this show and its all the better for it. I’m glad they were too late to stop him.

Orchestra: A terrific musical score, dramatic and stirring. Ron Jones can sometime err on the wrong side of melodrama but he judges this episode perfectly. I felt every emotion he was trying to produce with his music.

Result: Riveting, Reunion is an episode that manages to push both the Klingon saga and Worf’s arc on in dramatic leaps and deserves its place in anyone’s top ten TNG instalments. Usually seeing four names credited at the top of an episode means I am about to pulled in many directions as each writer gives their own interpretation of events but this is an astonishingly focussed piece. I love the way it pieces together so many past elements, bringing together the K’Ehlyr and Duras plots and leaving both characters steeped in blood by the climax. Reunion is pure theatre (it would work just as effectively on he stage) but is steeped in mythology and concentrates on a dramatic sweep of events that could affect the entire Quadrant, it feels like the Klingon saga is widening the scope of TNG spectacularly. As a performance piece you have Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Susie Plakson, Robert O’Reilly and Patrick Massett all making the material count and collectively it is one of the most impressive TNG casts assembled. I have nothing but good things to say about this, the way everything falls into place is inevitable but only as the plot developments creep up on you and Jonathan Frakes handling of the material is exemplary. Unlike so many TNG episodes, the climax is unforgettably good: 10/10

Future Imperfect written by J. Larry Carroll & David Bennett Carren and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Riker wakes up from a dangerous Away Mission as Captain of the Enterprise…

To Baldly Go: Riker telling the older Picard to ‘shut up!’ was one of the highlights of my day! ‘I said shut up as in close your mouth and stop talking!’

Number One: When this show allows its characters to let their hair down, it can be wonderful. Riker’s party scene is a particular highlight, watching these actors relaxing in each others company and clearly having a whale of a time. I especially like the slap Deanna gives Riker when he fails to answer what he wished for after blowing out his candles – the randy bugger! So much emphasis has been placed on Riker wanting (or not) to become a Captain in the past and the second he gets that role handed to him on a plate he rejects the illusion outright. The idea of Riker performing the negotiations between the Romulans and the Federation with a 16-year gap in his memory is absurd but considering it was his altruism that made the alliance a possibility it’s fair to say that they wouldn’t be able to do it without him. Riker calling his son Jean-Luc is beyond butt licking, it’s practically reverence. When he asks who Jean-Luc’s mother is there is a flicker of hope on his face that it might be Deanna. Two thirds into the episode and I was completely convinced by the Riker/Jean-Luc relationship, aided in no small part but how tactile their relationship is. 

Blind Engineer: Levar Burton has such beautiful brown eyes it almost seems a shame that he hides them away for seven seasons.

Alien Empath: Why can’t our Troi be offered a tremendous opportunity at Starfleet Command? To be fair she is surprisingly tolerable in this episode, neatly underplayed by Marina Sirtis with just enough stillness and confidence to make her different from the histrionic Counsellor we are used to (skip forward a handful of episodes to Night Terrors to see what I’m talking about).

Dancing Doctor: Dr Bev’s shock tactics of getting Riker to confront a son he never knew he had to bring his memories back are highly unethical. ‘We did out best to prepare him’ says Troi. Umm, no. You really didn’t.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I could get used to the idea of a Ferengi Ensign…’ – well you better because Nog is on the way!
‘We’ve got to build some new memories…’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Despite our proximity to Romulan territory, the mission has been quiet and uneventful…’ – Picard really should know when to shut his mouth.

The Good: When compared with the game changing manoeuvring of the various cultures in the Alpha Quadrant from DS9’s The Search, Future Imperfect takes a far more subtle and realistic route. Both are illusions but there’s something to be said for not wanting change the goal posts quite so dramatically to make a point. Negotiations between the Romulans and the Federation are a nifty idea (one that would come to fruition in the unforgettable In the Pale Moonlight). It’s nice that they wait for 15 minutes into the episode to introduce the kid, just as the audience is settling down into this bizarre scenario another shock is thrown at us. Chris Demetral gives a lovely performance as Jean-Luc/Ethan (whatever takes your fancy) and it is especially noticeable in a show that prefers to hire children for their cuteness rather than their acting ability (Brian Boswell/Hannah Hatae). Demetral and Frakes put some work into making the father/son scenes work (initially awkward as the script demands but ultimately touching) and it makes you pine for this to be reality because it gives Riker something beyond his work to focus on. G’Kar was by far my favourite character on Babylon 5 (or what I could endure of it) and that was mostly down to Andreas Katsulas’ noble turn as the Ambassador and so to see him turning up in Star Trek in a semi regular role is genuine delight. Tomalak is all smiles and charm shielding a darker agenda and his infrequent appearances are always a delight. I really like the fact that the episode relies on the audiences memory of Minuet rather than pointing it out in a flashback (if it was made to day you just know that would be how this scene would play out). I wasn’t quite sure which route the writers would take as a back door out of the illusion and this proves to be rather neat, using the shows own continuity to trip the kid up. Riker testing the knowledge of his crew makes for a wonderful scene, he continually asks questions that they need time to be able to think up an answer. Once the curtain is pulled down and Riker turns up in the Romulan equivalent of a holodeck I was sold on the idea that this had been a ruse in order to gain the location of a key Federation Outpost in the Neutral Zone. This is exactly the sort of trickery you can believe the Romulans are capable of. I could see this ending with Riker managing to escape and he and Picard tutting at their nefariousness. For this to be another forgery, a situation conjured up an alien child who is just seeking a father is completely unexpected. This is one of the few times TNG enlisted a double bluff (oddly the only other time it is more effective is in another Riker-based episode, Frame of Mind) and it works a treat, using the series’ anti-Romulan ethos to convince the viewer that a lie is the truth.

The Bad: The fella who ‘detects unusual fluctuations in subspace frequencies’ and keeps Picard and Data from the party cannot act for toffee. The word stiff was invented for this guy. I’m not sure if the writers should have pushed quite this far away from the norm with the delusion – making Riker a Captain with a wife and child means the story is so detached from the timeline we know that it has to be a fake or at the very least an exaggerated truth. If the changes had been more subtle, they might have gotten away with it. As a result they have to jump through hoops with explanations like the retro virus that just happens to have eaten away the last 16 years of Riker’s life. You don’t buy it for a second.

Moment to Watch Out For: The dreadful, dreadful alien costume in the very last scene. How did they think they would get away with that? Especially when this could happily have been about a humanoid child.

Fashion Statement: I do love a man who grows old gracefully and the little flecks and streaks of grey in Riker’s facial hair gives him an air of distinction. I can’t decide whether Dr Bev looks foxier with her hair up or if she is more like mutton dressed as lamb. You decide. Picard sports a nifty little beard and Troi is dressed for business for a change. Aside from Data in the red outfit I would say that most of these alterations of the look of the crew are for the better. Even the Bridge of the Enterprise looks a bit beefier with tactical displays on the walls.

Result: A complex little puzzle with a double bluff ending, Future Imperfect might push a little too hard in places but there is plenty of intelligent detail and intruige. I really like the way the writers lull the viewer into thinking they are clever by quickly seeing through the first, obvious deception and then discarding that in favour of a more foolproof fake. The designers have gone to town with the redress of the sets and the changes to the Enterprise crew and I really enjoyed the relationship between Riker and his ‘son.’ I can still remember the ridiculously butch William Riker from season one but thanks to some clever writing and concerted effort by Jonathan Frakes his character has developed into a far more restrained, interesting man and the episodes that centre on him often turn out to be the best. Andreas Katsulas is always welcome, as is a Romulan presence on the show and the twist ending that reveals that aspect of the episode to be a fraud comes from nowhere. Future Imperfect is, as the title suggests, not a perfect episode of TNG, the direction is a little stiff and the potentially fascinating developments between the Romulans and the Federation are all a hoax but it is still another season four winner. It manages to tell us a little about Riker whilst offering a couple of neat surprises: 8/10
Final Mission written by Kacey Arnold-Ince & Jeri Taylor and directed by Corey Allen

What’s it about: Wesley and Picard are thrust into danger as the Captain takes the young Ensign on a final mission…

To Baldly Go: Usually the hero will take a bullet for the people in his charge but since this is Wesley Crusher we are dealing with (where everything has to be taken to the nth degree) naturally Picard taking no less than an entire rock fall in the face would be enough. Once this occurs you can predict the cloying ‘I was always proud of you…’ father/son death bed scenes ahead. Clearly Wesley has taken Picard to his heart as his surrogate father, trying to make him a proud of his accomplishments. What Final Mission tells us is that the Captain was actually quite comfortable in that role, even if he didn’t always show it.

Number One: Riker shows great initiative in not wanting to run after his stranded Captain but deal with the emergency in hand first.

Alien Empath: I bet Deanna practically salivates when a shuttle is downed like this, knowing that she can spread her cloying goody-goodness to the friends and family of the victims. I’m glad Dr Bev tells her to piss off, it’s no less than she deserves.

Boy Genius: Looking back over the first three and a half seasons of TNG I find myself not as antithetical towards Wesley I might once have been. It’s true that in season one when the writers had an irritating habit of pointing out how special and clever he was he did grate on the nerves and there were even a few moments in season two where his tweeness was unbearable. As the show grew up, however, so did the cast and that included Wesley. Wil Wheaton has always portrayed the character with a great deal of enthusiasm and it’s not necessarily his fault that he has been handed the worst of character specs, the boy genius. The better moments I remember are his scenes with Guinan and Picard, the growing intimacy between him and his mother and the way he stays calm in a crisis (he invisibly provides a lot of the solutions in The Best of Both Worlds). It’s not a character I am sad to be losing because despite those moments he has been slowly filtered from the series to the point where he just shows up on the Bridge pushing buttons these days (in comparison I think DS9 would lose something very special if Jake or Nog were written out) but I wouldn’t have objected so much to his continued presence either.

Saying that, the moment Wesley has a right paddy at Dirgo when he criticises Captain Picard I did want to slap him round the face. It’s that kind of hero worship that can give an Ensign a bad name. I’m not sure if the mystery of the fountain and looking after Picard’s wounds are quite dramatic enough for a final episode. I think I would have preferred something akin to Nor The Battle To the Strong with Wesley faced by death and danger on all sides and really proving his mettle. Suddenly you realise what the point of Dirgo is when Picard tells Wesley that he is going to have to stand up to him on his own. That’s hardly a way of proving that Wesley is an adult (maybe in Jeri Taylor’s eyes…). Wheaton’s performance is at its best when he underplays his scenes with Stewart (it reminds me of the Matthew Waterhouse/Tom Baker relationship in Doctor Who where he is so awe of the lead actor you can see him desperately trying to raise his game when they share the screen) and at its worst when he acts like a petulant child (he almost trips over his dialogue when his heckles get up). ‘How many people get to serve with Jean-Luc Picard?’ – butt licking to the end. Everything that Wesley has ever done is to make Picard proud of him…I can’t decide whether that makes me want to cry or vomit (the music is pushing too hard so it makes me want to reach for the latter). It would be a final Wesley episode if he didn’t get to push a load of buttons, Data-style, to show how clever-clever he is. Wesley Crusher saves the day!

The Good: It’s episodes like this where the impressive budget really shows and the actual sized shuttle that they have built and shoved in the desert looks very impressive. Massive kudos for the location too, it feels as though they have dumped the actors in the middle of nowhere which was precisely the idea. The sun glows orange just like it did during those lazy afternoons you had as a child.

The Bad: Joining the Academy is made to seem like a difficult process in TNG, Wesley literally has to wait for a ‘position to come up’ whereas I prefer the much more realistic process that Nog goes through in DS9 (having to have a letter of recommendation and take many exams). In comparison it feels like Wesley was just handed his position on a plate because of his first hand experience on the Enterprise. Nick Tate is a fine character actor but this isn’t the most demanding of rewarding of roles for him – go watch Honor Amongst Thieves for an example of what he can really do. I suppose an episode that is entirely filmed outside is out of the question, whilst the cave set is rather nice it is a shame to get out of the oppressive heat that makes those early scenes so visually stunning. The Enterprise averting a disaster plotline has nothing to do with anything, its just there to pad out an episode that is shockingly low on incident. The last scene where Picard tells Wesley he will be missed really works…that is until they labour the point by having Picard carried away holding Wesley’s hand all the way. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Stewart shows Wheaton how it is done during his ‘I envy you, Wesley Crusher…’ speech, really tugging at the heartstrings. What you see lying there is a middle aged man watching a young protégé heading off to have the adventure he has already enjoyed.

Fashion Statement: I’ll miss Wheaton’s dimples. That is all. 

Result: Slow paced and far too self consciously the ‘Wesley leaves the ship’ episode, Final Mission stutters frequently because it’s not committed as an adventure tale or as a truly memorable send off to the Ensign. It equates success with shoving Patrick Stewart and Wil Wheaton together in a confined space and exploring the father/son relationship between the two characters and whilst there are some nice moments between the actors, the velocity of the show really suffers as a result. I was so desperate for something to happen I was willing one of the characters to shuffle off the mortal coil. The Enterprise scenes are a lot of noise about nothing (the two plots never interact) and even the scenes between Wheaton and Stewart push too hard to be sentimental. Whilst it’s not VOY’s Once Upon a Time (and with a shuttle crash and its emphasis on the mother/sibling relationship you can see where they got their inspiration from) sickly sweet but it’s not that far off. Saying that the location work and set design are both superb, it really feels like TNG is commanding a large budget at this point. Following the incident packed and emotional Reunion and Future Imperfect, Final Mission fails to make the grade: 5/10

 The Loss written by Hilary J. Bader, Alan J. Bader & Vanessa Greene and directed by Chip Chalmers

What’s it about: Troi has lost her empathic abilities and her faith in herself…

To Baldly Go: Watch Patrick Stewart’s face when Troi rushes out of the conference room…he expresses more with a single look than any of the overripe dialogue in this episode.

Number One: After she has been such a cow, Riker greets Troi with a hug and lets her spill her grief into his chest. Somebody needed to shake her and tell her to grow up and I was really glad that it was him. He’s right too, she always had an advantage in every situation and that safety net has been wrenched away. Now she’s just like the rest of them.

Fully Functional: Riker wonders why Data no longer calculates time right up to the second any more and he tartly responds that people find it irksome. He’s growing, our boy. Given that he is incapable of acting emotionally towards Deanna (or so I am told) I would have thought that she would have gravitated more towards him if everybody else was walking on eggshells around her.

Alien Empath: Whilst spending time in the company of Troi when she is in full-on Counsellor mode is about as appealing as genital herpes, it is nice for once to see somebody come to her rather than her chasing down patients. Where I always thought her duties on the Enterprise consisted mainly of stating the obvious whenever they greet a potentially threatening enemy she’s actually seen doing some good here, helping an Ensign get over the loss of her husband. It’s fascinating to see that once her empathic powers are stripped away Troi’s true colour emerge; a cold, impersonal woman who only feels whole when she can pry into the feelings of others. Once Dr Bev starts trying to give her psychological advice she turns prickly and haughty, like she is stepping on her domain. She even rolls her eyes at the suggestion that because she has lost something powerful she should see a counsellor herself! The nerve of the woman, don’t preach if you can’t take your own medicine! She verbally assaults Riker in a way that perhaps a slap around the face would have been kinder, suggesting that everybody is treating her like a cripple. It’s about as far from the truth as you can get when the reality is that it is her perception of herself that has changed. She starts looking out for suggestions that she is worthless and publicly snaps at people in the workplace when she thinks that is the case. Worst of all she lashes out at her friends and questions their professional competence. Don’t alienate them all Deanna, you don’t have that many friends. I have far more respect for people who take a breath and do their best despite any physical and psychological disabilities (imagine my pride during the Para Olympics) and Troi’s frenzy of negativity in the face of adversity really rubs me up the wrong way. She even resigns as ships counsellor (yay!), running away from her responsibilities. When Troi starting speaking on behalf of all disabled people I felt like I wanted to switch off, tarring them all with her unlikable qualities. Once she gets her powers back, she’s nice as pie again. Bleaugh.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘D’you know what the worst part of this is, and I’ve seen it happen to so many patients? The way other people change. How they start to treat you differently. They walk on eggshells around you. Sometimes they avoid you altogether. Sometimes they become overbearing, reach out a helping hand to the blind woman…’ – this is a great speech that gets to the nub of how a lot of genuinely disabled people feel. Unfortunately its pretty moot coming from Troi since we haven’t seen anything of this sort of behaviour from the rest of the crew (it’s only a third into the episode after all, and they’ve only just discovered her disability).
‘Therapists are always the worst patients. Except for, doctors of course…’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘How do you people live like this?’ lashes out Troi. I would have slapped her at this point.
‘With all due respect, Captain, you don’t know what you’re talking about…’ – this is another point where Troi needs a slap. I’m not advocating violence against women but they do pander to her so!

The Bad: Poor Marina Sirtis, she’s made to clutch her head and groan in pain longer than any actress should. You can see her willing the director to shout ‘cut!’ Seven minutes into the episode and she’s still straining as though she needs the loo…it’s only at this point that Troi calls for Dr Bev. Being the hypochondriac that I am, I would have dragged her from sickbay at the first sign of symptoms. As for the nature of the phenomenon this week, we’re blind to its nature for far too long and once it is revealed its far too late. We don’t even get a visual to hook us in. It’s just a catalyst to blind Deanna and as soon as she has learnt the moral of the story it is inevitable that they will tear free and be on their merry way. It’s that sort of anomaly, one that knows when a lesson in character has come to an end. The second counselling session is one of those scenes that lingers in the memory because it is so indelicately scripted. Troi is feeling vulnerable and both she and Ensign Brooks are in states of denial about how functional they are and when the counsellor gives her some advice she throws it back in her face with ‘you’re absolutely wrong Deanna.’  It’s so in your face and tactless just to think of it makes me cringe. They couldn’t have found a way for Troi to doubt herself in a more indirect and penetrating way that this. It’s one of those episodes that feels as though its beating you on the head with the message and I’ve still got the scars. For Janet to then turn up once Troi has started to discover her inner strengths and say ‘you were right about me all along!’ just made me want to heave. Suddenly the episode introduces two dimensional beings that requires somebody with an intimate understand of psychology to communicate with them…make the pain stop! The ‘moths to a flame’ solution to problem could have been worked out by anybody and proves to be an overly simplistic alternative explanation to what is essentially a technobabble excuse to warp free.

Moment to Watch Out For: The wonderful scene where Guinan reveals that she is a far better counsellor than Troi would ever be. She allows people to discover their strengths in a very delicate, understated way. It’s effortless on her part and I really love that about her. The way she winds up Troi here really made me chuckle but she always allows her to learn about herself. If the rest of the episode had been scripted to this standard we would have had a real winner on our hands.

Moral of the Week: Your strengths lie in who you are, not your abilities.

Notes: To be fair to TNG, DS9’s Melora was a similar failiure and mostly for the same reasons (a lack of subtlety, a useless sub plot). Probably the best example of a crewmember experiencing a disability is Its Only a Paper Moon which charts Nog’s denial and journey through post traumatic stress disorder and losing his leg during warfare.

Result: This is like experiencing a 45 minute long counselling session with Deanna Troi - what a terrifying thought! Every year we get the dreaded Troi-centred episode and season four has two particularly gruesome examples, The Loss being the first of them. It’s nice to see the truth revealed about Troi – that without her empathic powers a real bitch lurks behind all the wishy washy psychobabble. However watching her mistreat the crew and doubt herself for 45 minutes does not make for an especially interesting hour of television. It doesn’t help that the menace that surrounds the ship is quite so insubstantial and there isn’t even a visual hook to lure the viewer in (at least Voyager gave us something pretty to look at every time they encountered an anomaly – the cosmic string doesn’t show up until two thirds into the episode). Sirtis really goes for it, probably a little too far when she is asked to play a primadonna, but she can only express what the script gives her and it spends far too much time labouring its point to ever be truly affecting. It’s another example of the intimacy between the Enterprise crew but we have to suffer what amounts to a daytime soap opera to reap those rewards. I’m not sure if the pay off is worth it: 4/10

Data’s Day written by Harold Apter & Ronald D. Moore and directed by Robert Wiemer

What’s it about: A day in the life of Data in the mans own words…

Number One: Data thinks it is Riker’s easy humour that attracts him to women but I think there might be another, less endearing reason, that he’s never without a date. Women love sharing their confidences between the sheets, you know, even in the 24th Century (check out Dr Bev and Troi in Sub Rosa if you have the stomach for it).

Mr Wolf: Wolf considers being invited to a human wedding an honour but isn’t looking forward to all the talking, dancing and crying.

Fully Functional: A day in the life of Data is a great idea and it highlights the Pinocchio style charm that he brings to the show with great aplomb and provides Brent Spiner another chance to prove how he has honed his performance as the android to a fine art. Initially he found it difficult to maintain friendships because human emotions were puzzling to him at first but he seems to have whittled it down to a relatable skill now. Poor Data is such an unpretentious android that he is happy to convey the message that Keiko wants to call off the wedding to O’Brien without a flicker of regret. Irony is a form of self expression that Data has not yet been able to master, he still takes everything at face value. Spot the cat is such a cute touch and adds another touch of humanity to Data’s character. Because he so calmly repeats everything that the other has been telling him without omitting any information or changing the emphasis of their words, Data winds up almost breaking up Miles and Keiko rather than saving their marriage. He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of getting married one day. Mastering a tap dancing routine is easy to a mimic of Data’s skill but its when it comes to dancing to slower, more emotive issues where he has complications.

Alien Empath: A much gentler, warmer appearance for Deanna than last weeks histrionics. She gives Data some of the best advice she would ever dish up – to leave the O’Briens alone to deal with their own problems. If only she could take her own advice at times!

The O’Briens: Thank goodness that somebody has finally seen what an asset Colm Meaney is to this show and decided to give him something to do beyond standing around pushing buttons. The introduction of Rosalind Chao as Keiko to the show gives the Chief a brand new focus and their marriage antics provide a delightful backdrop to this episode. This episode introduces elements that would continues to grow and develop over the next eight or nine years of Trek – that’s some staying power! – and afford the franchise the chance to really explore the idea of marriage in Starfleet (something that had never been done before). Giving O’Brien so much to do is a promising trend that would see him given some stirring material in the very next episode and beyond and an eventual upgrade to a regular character in DS9. Ultimately Colm Meaney would be one of the most prolific actors to have appeared in Star Trek, just edged out by Michael Dorn.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I could be chasing an untamed ornithoid without cause’ ‘A wild goose chase?’

The Good: The idea of a Bolian barber is fantastic and I wish we could have seen more of this most unusual of characters (the alien in the chair next to Geordi deserves a full refund, however).

The Bad: Has Levar Burton been busy with other work this season? He really hasn’t been given a great deal to do beyond stand around in Engineering promising results. Burying a Romulan intruige plot in an episode that is this fluffy feels like a waste of a much stronger, more dramatic episode. Ultimately it has to fight with the much more alluring ‘day in the life’ premise and it comes out looking weaker than it perhaps might have had it powered a show of its own. I never believed for a second that a character like T’Pel would be killed off in such a forgettable as a transporter malfunction. When Buffy explored the idea of a ‘day in the life of Alexander Harris’ they also had what would usually be a dramatic A-story hiding behind the fluff but more skilfully only gave us glimpses of what that story was about. You had to make up a lot of what was going on in your head because all you saw was how much Xander is usually involved in. Whilst focusing on the titular character, Data’s Day divides our time between the both the sitcom antics of the O’Brien’s wedding and the dramatic intrigue of the Romulan politics. It gives both plots equal footing and as a result services neither as well as it could. You Are Cordially Invited proves that a wedding is strong enough to hold up an entire episode.

Moment to Watch Out For: Without a doubt one of the finest Dr Bev scenes in her entire six year run on the show, Data’s Day features a gorgeous sequence where Beverley teaches Data how to dance. If there was ever a point in this show where the chemistry between the actors spills over on screen then this is one of those moments. This is Gates McFadden’s true vocation and she looks far more relaxed dancing than she ever does acting (interestingly she also sounds far more convincing when she improvises her dialogue as she did in this scene). There is a real visual style (the overhead shots are gorgeous) and energy to this scene that is lacking in the main bulk of the episode.

Orchestra: Love the Romulan theme. I would have them turn up every week just to hear that piece of music.

Result: By accentuating the positive rather than the negative, in Data’s Day we have a charming domestic drama rather than the distasteful example last week. I can understand why the writers felt the need to include the Romulan politics to add some element of intrigue but the shifting tone of the piece means that it pulls you between gentle comedy and drama from scene to scene. I think there was enough mileage (hoho) in the O’Brien’s wedding to make it the primary focus of the episode and its wonderful to see with the departure of Wil Wheaton that Colm Meaney is finally being given more screen time. Keiko is a fine addition and would prove to be an enduring character in the franchise and the actual wedding itself is beautifully understated. This is another chance to put your hands together for Brent Spiner who has perfected his performance as Data to such an extent now that I cannot imagine the Star Trek universe without him. He exudes a charming, child-like attitude throughout and proves to be highly engaging choice of character to trail for a day. Whilst this is all rather lovely (if terribly slight) season four is rounding up to be a real soap opera of a year with plenty of sweet servings but not much meat. The Best of Both Worlds seemed to be a turning point for the show, one that took risks and dared to shake up the status quo…let’s not let things get too familiar again: 7/10

The Wounded written by Jeri Taylor and directed by Chip Chalmers

What’s it about: O’Brien has to face his own prejudices as the Enterprise enters Cardassian space…

To Baldly Go: Patrick Stewart continues to bring a great deal of gravity to TNG. He gave me chills in the final scene.

Alien Empath: I love the look that Troi gives O’Brien when his hatred for the Cardassians comes off of him in waves. You don’t need to be an Empath to realise what he is thinking and the look on her face is almost contempt because his feelings are approaching racism. In hindsight it’s in that little moment that proves that he will never quite fit on this holier than thou ship. DS9 (with its more complex characterisation) awaits him.

The O’Briens: How wonderful to see the continuation of a characters journey from one episode to the next in this show, especially since that character is not one of the regular characters. Miles and Keiko discussing dinner is such a normal thing for people to do and it’s exactly the sort of domestic mundanity that this show usually avoids which does have the adverse effect of making its characters feel like cardboard cut outs at times. There is a real sense that the recently married pair have only just moved in together (I guess catholic values stretch long into the future) and that they are still discovering lots of new things about each other. It’s the first mention of O’Brien’s fearsome mother, the cook who didn’t trust replicators. We’ll be hearing a lot more about her. In a way I prefer the approach that TNG took with O’Brien than Barclay as a flawed character, he was always likable and not socially awkward and different in order to make the point. And yet he still has some radical views for a Federation officer. O’Brien is an average Joe, that is his MO, but he has his prejudices and he has a hard time letting go of them. When Maxwell heartily greets O’Brien I got a real sense of comradeship between them (although saying that when he tells Commander Riker that O’Brien used to be his tactical officer I wanted O’Brien to turn around and say ‘yes, and now I occasionally push a button’). O’Brien might have strong feelings for his former Captain but the second his current one asks him to aid him in bringing him down he doesn’t hesitate. The two old war heroes singing The Minstrel Boy together is a very touching moment, it taps into the obsolescence veterans must feel once the conflict is over. O’Brien has other wars to fight whereas Maxwell, who couldn’t let this one go, is going to be quietly tucked away. It is beautifully acted by both parties. O’Brien proves his individuality by admitting what Maxwell did was wrong but he was still proud to have served under him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think when one gets angry for a very long time one gets you to it. It becomes comfortable like old leather. And finally it gets so familiar that one can’t imagine feeling any other way.’
‘Its not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.’
‘It smells musty in here. Like a beaurocrats office’ – Maxwell on Picard. 
‘Take this message to your leaders, Gul Macet. We’ll be watching.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I count myself lucky, sir. I’ve served with the two finest Captain’s in Starfleet’ – the first example of O’Brien’s dreadful propensity for butt licking. The trouble is as soon as he moves onto DS9 his allegiances shift entirely in Sisko’s favour.

The Good: Considering the massive impact that Cardassia had on DS9 it seems astonishing that it has taken this long for them to turn up in TNG and how infrequent their appearances would be on this show. Of course they could never have predicted on this show that it would come to a stage when pretty much every episode would include a scene set on Cardassia Prime (especially in DS9 season seven) and it does seem to (almost invisibly) suggest on this show that there are vast spaces between each system. There is a really interesting conversation on the Bridge which exposes the naiveté of the Federation (Troi states that they have to trust the Cardassians because they are their allies now) and the hypocrisy of it too (Worf says that their trust has to be earned). The trouble is, neither of them is especially right but there is a grain of truth in each opinion. It’s definitely worth noting that the design of the Cardassian ships and the make up that gives them the appearance of scaly snakes is a step up from what we usually get on this show. Because of the effort that has gone in to making them visually distinctive it feels as though they are here to stay. It’s the first instance of the glorious Marc Alaimo in Star Trek, a man whose association with the show would stretch far beyond this standalone episode. Imagine if somebody else had played the first Cardassian we met…we might have been denied the glory of Gul Dukat in Alaimo’s hands. After the Borg threat the Federation is not prepared for a sustained conflict and so the stakes feel very high for Picard to hold the peace treaty together. Because we are shown little more than a space invaders display of the conflict it is left to Alaimo to make the deaths of the Cardassians mean something and his haunted expression counts for so much. Daro proves to be the rarest of things, a Cardassian with a soul that regrets the things that his people do. We wouldn’t be meeting many of them in future as they become the new big bad of the Quadrant. Some of those grey areas that would be further explored by both TNG and DS9 raise their ugly heads here – Maxwell suggests that the Federation is nothing but beaurocrats and they don’t know the sort of horrors that are being perpetuated out in Cardassian space. He’s painted as a bad guy but his impulsive behaviour mirrors how Sisko would act in the future and it is quite refreshing stance for somebody to take. Having your principles is all very well but it doesn’t make for great drama, week in, week out. There is one final sting in the tale when we realise that the Cardassians were up to no good all along which doesn’t harm the theme of the piece (that one man is still fighting a war that is long since over) as much as you would think. It sets up the Cardassians as a duplicitous species who aren’t to be trusted on their return.

The Bad: Hate the weird head device that the Cardassians wear in battle, but that might have something to do with them having dropped it in DS9 rather than there being any issue with the design itself. I’m just not used to seeing such apparatus. It looks like Macet has gone to work in bondage gear which takes you out of the story for a bit. The body armour isn’t quite right either, and a Cardassian with facial hair is just wrong but then I’m unfairly commenting with the appreciation of hindsight. Picard should never have let Maxwell back onto his ship – once he has decided to take escort back for punishment he should have shoved him in the Brig. The Wounded suggests that O’Brien is wrong to support Maxwell and that the Cardassians have turned a corner but this is ultimately proves to be quite misleading. We learn in Ensign Ro next year that they are still capable of great cruelty and after spending seven years amongst them on DS9 you wouldn’t trust them for toffee. It’s Daro who is the exception to the rule and it would have been very right on for him to take a position on the Enterprise.

Moment to Watch Out For: For Colm Meaney’s incredible performance alone, the scene in Ten Forward where O’Brien reminisces about the Setlik Three massacre. You don’t need any pictures, he paints a graphic enough image of how horrific it must have been. The scene between Picard and Maxwell is also worthy of much praise where Jean Luc condemns his actions and Maxwell accuses him of being a stuffy pen pusher. Given that the Dominion War is just on the horizon, it’s ironic that men like Maxwell would thrive during that conflict whereas men like Picard get lost in the deck.

Moral of the Week: Let your prejudices go.

Result: ‘What the hell has happened to this war?’ A great introduction for Cardassians and worthy for making O’Brien a flawed character (in a sense that he really doesn’t fit in with this crew), The Wounded only flounders because it needs some exciting action to back up its intelligent discussion. The Cardassians are present but not quite as we would come to know them (the make up is more severe, the costumes simplistic and even something as simple as the pronunciation of ‘Kay-nar’) but what immediately springs from their appearance is the chance to explore some darker themes like racism and wartime ethics. TNG’s overly talky, theatrical nature works against the story this week…what they are discussing is interesting but without seeing any of the violence that is implied that’s all it feels like. Talk. The lack of action highlights how mistaken Maxwell is that the war is still ongoing but the episode does try and convince us that the peace treaty is on a precipice and I never got the sense that this could tip in to all out conflict. It’s all about internal struggles rather than external warfare which works thanks to the strong acting talent on display but again shies away from any long term consequences. However for setting up one of the most fascinating aspects of DS9 and for giving two of that shows greatest assets (Colm Meaney and Marc Alaimo) their springboard to go on to do better things I am eternally grateful to this episode: 8/10

Devil’s Due written by Philip Lazebnik and directed by Tom Benko 

What’s it about: An alien is playing a long game, seeding her ownership to a planet before returning a millennia later to claim it…

To Baldly Go: When an actor of Patrick Stewart’s capability is choked up by the nonsense he is made to say you know that something has gone wrong in the penning of this episode. Picard looks unimpressed, stiff and unconvincing throughout, trying to extradite himself from an increasingly farcical situation. Picard points out that he is only there to secure the release of the Federation hostages but now he’s caught wind of a society being patronised and exploited by somebody other than the Federation he’s bound stick his beaky nose in. When Data entered the Bridge and revealed that the contract was binding I was longing for Picard to shrug his shoulders and leave, just for once. As if Lwaxana Troi vamping it up and coming onto the Captain wasn’t starting to get old, this week we get Ardra turning up in his quarters like a crazy vampish porn star. At least he tells her that she is cheap and obvious. 

Alien Empath: ‘This situation is deteriorating, Captain’ Troi’s input is as succinct and as evident as ever. My favourite moment came when Ardra told Troi that she has a melodramatic way with words…I’ve been saying that for ages! 

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We are attempting to contact the empty science station which at last report was under siege by an angry mob!’
‘I have the impression of her being a flim flam artist!’
‘We are not impressed with your magic tricks!’
‘Did you say uniform?’
‘Oh Picard I will enjoy you morning, noon and night!’
‘Did she not even pick up one piece of trash?’

The Good: Credit where it is due, the matte shots of the townsfolk fleeing are very impressive. Although they do use the same shot several times to get their money’s worth. 

The Bad: If Star Trek: Phase II was going to be made up of episodes like Devil’s Due and The Child perhaps we should consider it a lucky escape. The prologue features Data trying to understand fear by playing at Ebenezer Scrooge that has a tenuous link to the episode ahead at best. Its not a patch on his study of Sherlock Holmes either. It feels rather indulgent, even for TNG. Its hard to give a damn about the people of Ventax II who are portrayed as being the most naïve and exploitable race in the Quadrant. The appearance of the Klingon Devil has to be seen to be believed…because the overall effect is absolutely hideous and not in the way the director probably intended. Marta Dubois does the show no favours whatsoever by giving one of the most pantomime performances ever seen in Trek, strutting about with her hands on her hips and pointing out how stupid the people on this planet are. Had she been seen as more a threat then there might be some dramatic meat on the bone of this episode but given her propensity for arch dialogue and cheap tricks she comes across as little more than a cut price Q (the crew even point this out). A story built around the premise of out conning a con artist is worthy of some praise but when its presented in such a flat, uninteresting and visually stunted way it feels like a waste of a good idea (Voyager’s Live Fast and Prosper proposed a similar conceit and was as agonisingly slow and drab as this). Devil’s Due should have fast, snappy, witty and surprising – Picard constantly outmanoeuvring Ardra in an attempt to win back his ship. Instead he resorts to some god awful speech making and technical trickery. It was a chance to show how incisive he is but instead it points out his every move in a very laboured way, bleeding the show of any tension or revelations. Can you imagine a cheaper gag than beaming Picard to the planet in his underwear? Boiling down this potentially fun idea to a court case just seems so mundane. Ardra’s courtroom tricks could only be more inelegant if she had shouted ‘look over there!’ whilst she changed into her (terrible) devil outfit. If these economic illusions aren’t enough to convince Data of her lies I don’t know what is! I think I would have thought more of the conclusion had Ardra turned out to be a genuine omnipotent being rather than a con artist with a cloaking device. Had her lousy conjuring skills been there to disguise the fact that she really was ‘the Devil’ it might have scored some points for throwing up a last minute surprise. She’ll probably have her arms ripped out of their sockets for daring to mimic a deity and yet Ardra walks off giggling with her hands planted firmly on her hips just to remind us what a jolly adventure this has all been. Bleugh. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Oh my word. Watching a fake Deanna Troi seductively stroking Picard’s chest hair is not what I imagined I would see whilst eating my breakfast this morning. And the ending where the Ventaxian representative (who has just had the faith of his world turned upside down) simply walks up to Picard and thanks him for exposing ‘Ardra’ as a fraud and Jean-Luc re-emphasises this weeks moral is so painfully glib and simplistic I wanted to throw something at the TV. Very season one. 

Moral of the Week: Sort your own problems out. Don’t rely on other people to do it for you.

Orchestra: The music is ridiculously camp but whereas did the composer have to go? The score wants to constantly point out this is supposed to be funny…laugh damn you!

Result: So bad that it has season one written all over it, Devil’s Due needs to be bent out of shape, lobotomised, have its teeth punched in and its emphasis completely shifted before it would be remotely watchable. If they were going for a simple TOS style adventure then its an abject failiure because the one thing those walks into madness in the 60s had by the bucketload was charm and that is completely lacking here. There is a great episode to be had in the exploration of a mythological figure affecting a primitive society (but that is called Who Watches and the Watchers) and the main difference is that it treats the subject respectfully rather than playing it for cheap laughs. The dialogue frequently made me want to curl up in a ball and wither away and the more time I spent in Marta Dubois’ pantomimic company the more painful the episode became. Occasionally TNG will pull a really sharp comedy out of the bag (Deja Q, Tapestry) but more often then not when they try and be funny it's even more embarrassing than when they try to be preachy. Ultimately this is just too implausible to ever buy into (unless you really thought that ‘Ardra’ was going to have off with the Enterprise and Picard at the end). Had this somehow been about ‘the Devil’ returning to Earth and making the same claims I might have paid attention but how anybody could consider this an intelligent swipe at religion baffles me. It's nowhere near astute enough to be controversial. But then what do I know? My husband adores this episode: 3/10

Clues written by Bruce D. Arthurs & Joe Menosky and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: A missing day that nobody remembers except Mr Data…

To Baldly Go: Guinan is slightly baffled at Picard’s idea of fun, having to have him spell it out to him.

Fully Functional: On a ship where new staff members get greeted on the transporter pad with a hug (I jest, but that’s not far from the truth) its nice to have an episode where the crew are paranoid that somebody in their midst is lying to them. I enjoyed Picard finding some fools errand to get rid of Data so he could grill the crew on whether they thought he was lying through his teeth. Its another testament to Brent Spiner’s incredible performance as Data as he is given the role of the evasive spy that is deliberately misleading the crew and yet his poker face never slips. He delivers every line with calm, dispassionate logic even when he is exposed and accused. 

Alien Empath: Troi looks into a mirror and is horrified at what she sees. Now she knows how we feel every time she turns up in a scene. Later she is an emotionless zombie spewing out exposition…I much preferred her this way.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Do you also realise that you will more than likely be stripped down to your wires to find out what the hell has gone wrong!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘If we were out for a whole day…why didn’t our beards grow?’ – that’s what you’re worried about? 

The Good: Whilst it is quite delightful to be able to catch up with the Dixon Hill programme (in particular seeing Guinan getting in on the fun) I had to chuckle at Picard’s assertion that crew desperately needed some leisure time…they don’t bloody do anything! The set design within the programme is so evocative it seems a shame that we have to return to the floating fun palace where everything looks so flat and uninteresting. Data ‘phoning’ the Captain whilst he’s on the holodeck is great fun. There is so much potential in the idea that an entire day has gone missing and the crew have been deliberately misled to its absence you can see why Michael Piller was eager to progress with this script. The drama of discovering what the events of this ‘forgotten knowledge’ are comes from the fact that there might be reason that you would want the information excised. I rather like the idea of a xenophobic race that are deliberately hiding away from do-gooding explorers like the Federation. 

The Bad: The Enterprise is swallowed up by another spatial anomaly. You’d think that the producers would think this was an old device but they keep peddling out for the next…oooh 15 odd years! The fact that this wormhole is all a ruse means they almost get away with it – the only way the crew can possibly be convinced that they have been knocked unconscious for 30 seconds is to chuck in an anomaly! It says more about the tenants of the show than you might think. I think this episode would be a lot more interesting if the mysteries were a bit more vivid than Dr Bev’s experiments have been completed. The fact that the camera lingers on Data with a dramatic musical sting rather gives away the fact that he has just misled the Captain. I was hoping the mystery would be unravelled in a very intricate and intelligent way, using the effects of the missing day to work out the cause but ultimately Picard just takes the ship back where they had come from. Wasn’t it a bit ambitious to think that they could wipe out the knowledge of over a thousand people over an entire day? Couldn’t they just have chalked this one up to experience and promised never to have gone back. I suppose there wouldn’t be much of an episode then. You would hope that the events were so traumatic that the crew were better off not knowing what happened but then you remember that this is TNG and nothing particularly dreadful ever happens to its main cast. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The best moment is the most inevitable one…Picard coming face to face with the knowledge that he was responsible for the memory loss and Data’s secretive behaviour. Also worthy of a laugh is Worf playing Tasha Yar and leaping over the side on the Bridge and being overpowered by Troi.

Moral of the Week: Don’t trust androids.

Orchestra: There’s a gloriously insane musical sting inside the Dixon Hill programme when Johnny gets mown down in a hail of bullets and every instrument on the planet is attacked at the same time!

Result: Clues is an average episode of TNG with a great premise but lacking the pay off it needed to make it work. Repeated viewings have dumbed down the effect of the mystery but it doesn’t help that the events that have been forgotten aren’t anywhere near as dramatic as they could have been. It also exposes one of the biggest problems I have with this show which is that when little is happening on board the ship the characters just aren’t interesting enough to hold up the material. Aside from Data’s little mutiny there is little new that we learn about anybody here and there are much better episodes elsewhere that deal with strange occurrences happening to them (Schisms, Cause and Effect). To show how desperate the writers are to keep this as a cheap show the villain of the piece is Counsellor Troi with a modulated voice. The beigest puzzle for the beigest of Trek shows, this one is worth a watch once but doesn’t stand up to repeated scrutiny: 4/10

First Contact written by Dennis Russell Bailey, David Bischoff, Joe Menosky, Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller (everyone but the Braga!) and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Delicate First Contact proceedings between the Federation and a new civilization on the verge of developing interstellar warp travel are disrupted when Riker is detained on the planet.

To Baldly Go: ‘We are not here as conquerors, Chancellor…’ Hmm, I beg to differ. Its all a matter of perspective. So let me get this straight…as soon as a race develops warp technology and is about to push off into space the Federation likes to get in touch and give them a guiding hand? Don’t want them encroaching on their territory? Picard speaks with a sense of arrogance, almost as if the Federation has a monopoly on where this race can venture. They dress it up as a hand of friendship but its more like damage limitation. There is something remarkably insidious about sending down spies to do surface reconnaissance without the population realising it. It says ‘we don’t trust you not to panic or act irrationally at our existence’ rather than ‘hello.’ Picard is a gracious and welcoming host, pouring wine and spreading platitudes but lets not forget for one second that his real reason for enforcing pleasantries is to get his First Officer back. That is his primary objective, his secondary is protecting the Federation’s interest and the finally (but pushed to the front) is the friendship that he invites. Picard believes that the controversial decision to send in people to asses a culture before making first contact has prevented more problems than it has caused but the two situations that we have been privy to (Who Watches the Watchers and First Contact) seem to suggest otherwise. It wouldn’t be the first time that I feel that Picard puts the blinders up to keep his ideals intact. 

Number One: Given the early scenes you might think that this would be a great opportunity to continue to explore Riker in the same way they have been doing for the past season. However the more the episode progresses, his involvement becomes less and less prevalent and he turns up to remind us there is a cost to these negotiations going wrong. I loved the moment when Riker’s usually out of control libido is forced to remain in check when the nurse tries to bargain for a night in the sack with him with his freedom as his reward. When a woman is as forceful as he usually is, suddenly it is a massive turn off. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think you might want to clear your afternoon schedule for this…’
‘We are here only to guide you…’
‘I will have to say this morning I was the leader of the universe as I know it. This afternoon I am only a voice in a chorus.’
‘We will have to give up this self importance, this conceit that we are the centre of the universe.’ 

The Good: No opening speech from Picard, no Bridge scene setting the scene, no comforting banter. Instead this episode opens halfway through a story with Riker concussed, in the hands of aliens with his features altered. It throws up so many questions and what I especially like is that the aliens have as many as the audience at this point. Riker is a puzzle, a man with numerous genetic abnormalities and unrecognisable technology and he’s one that this race will go to any lengths to fathom out. In sharp contrast to the all welcoming Federation, this planet lives under a blanket of xenophobia that rots at its core. Durken is a fascinating character, a progressive who wants to break his peoples fear of the unknown but when faced with the reality of beliefs (meeting Picard and discovering the universe is far bigger than he ever suspected) he suffers a terrifying sense of culture shock. The episode goes to great pains to show how mistrustful these people are (irrationally so) but put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine if suddenly you found out that a close of friend of yours who has been a part of your life for some time (invited to your home, shared your recreational activities and met your family) was a plant, put there to see how safe you were to be around. How could that bring out anything but suspicion? Carolyn Seymour is always a good catch and whilst I prefer her to take on a darker role she throws herself into the role of Yale with real enthusiasm. You get a genuine sense that she is exceptional in this race, that her life has been enriched for the better for discovering the Federation’s existence. In comparison Michael Ensign embodies everything that is dangerous about this society as Krola, a quiet, intense man who wants to cut open Riker and see what makes him different from them. He’s willing to commit suicide to make it look as though Riker has killed him to expose the threat that outside contact represents to their society. That shows some conviction of character even if he is nutty as squirrel ¤¤¤¤. Its nice to see a First Contact procedure that falls apart because a continual success rate has clearly gone to the Federation’s head – sometimes you need to be reminded of your failings. That it takes the people who have been most welcoming to the Enterprise and its crew to point out that this isn’t the time to expand their horizons is just about perfect. 

The Bad: Not a fault of the episode but the series. I would have welcomed Carolyn Seymour being brought on to this show as a semi regular in the same vein as Whoopi Goldberg. Unfortunately Yale is never to be seen again. 

Moment to Watch Out For: When diplomacy fails the Federation simply beam in and take what they want. Whilst they were never going to leave Riker behind (understandably so) it really does illustrate the hypocrisy of their beliefs which are all about talk until they don’t get their way.

Moral of the Week: Sometimes progress is not a good thing.

Result: The antithesis of the season three gem Who Watches the Watchers that saw first contact from the Starfleet point of view, this time the producers have chosen to explore the idea entirely from the aliens perspective. It’s a beguiling prospect whichever way you approach it. I’m not trying to suggest that the regular cast is poor (although there are elements that deliver inconsistent performances) but it's interesting that as soon as a distinguished guest cast take the reins the results are far more accomplished than usual. First Contact exposes the paranoid, tentative first steps of the Federation (sending people in rather than simply saying hello) blowing up in their faces when it comes into contact with an equally mistrustful race. Like The Wounded there is much intelligent discussion and terrific acting moments but I felt as though the direction could be darker and the treatment Riker received more brutal. What it does achieve is to paint a thorough picture of an alien world and one that it would be fantastic if we could spend more time on to explore its festering social problems. Planets are tenapenny on TNG but this one stands out as much more vivid than most. A terrific episode that only falters because it spends far too long painting the unnamed race as villains and the Federation as always doing the right thing. Sometimes you have to wonder if they should just leave people alone…but then I guess that isn’t Gene Roddenberry’s vision: 8/10

Galaxy’s Child written by Maurice Hurley and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Geordi indulges in a disastrous fantasy whilst the Enterprise gives birth to a baby!

Mr Wolf: Worf is involved with the birth of the space creature and so he should be a dab hand when it comes to Keiko’s pregnancy in Disaster.

Blind Engineer: To be fair the signs were pretty obvious from the start. Not only is this a Geordi La Forge story (and those rarely turn out well) but its also a Geordi La Forge love story (and they never, ever turn out well). Not only is Geordi such a simpleton that he thinks he knows Leah Brahms because he had a romantic entanglement with a holographic interpretation of her but he automatically expects to find those feelings reciprocated when she beams on board the ship. To say that this man is hopeless in love is like saying that Hitler was a little bit naughty, a gross understatement. Hurrah for Guinan who points out to Geordi that he has fallen in love with a fantasy…boo hiss to Geordi for trying to convince her that that isn’t the case here. He’s been picking his uniform clean for hours for goodness sakes! He’s such a numbnuts that he starts forgetting he is speaking to the real thing and tries to get her to remember things that he did with the hologram. He’s clearly not great at picking up on body language either since Leah endures his dinner date with all the stiffness of a first year cadet trying to impress a lecturer. Its so awkward watching him sink in a romantic situation I just wanted the floor to swallow me up, let alone him. Scotty often treated the Enterprise like a lady and she repaid him in kind. We learn here that Geordi thinks of the Enterprise as his child…so I guess that also explains why she has so many temper tantrums these days. Its always lovely to have Guinan point out where this crew is going wrong (there’s a full time position for that given their flawed perfection) but for Geordi to not realise that he ‘filled in the blanks’ with the Leah hologram spells out he’s an even big dumbass than I suspected. How do they trust this man with the maintenance of the ship? He can’t even see what is under his own nose. There are plenty of times during this episode where Geordi was perfectly within his right to have a go at Leah but after she discovers his holographic girl toy version of herself isn’t one of them. Levar Burton is a fine actor and it’s a terrible crime to burden him with appallingmaterial like this. 

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Sometimes I feel more comfortable with engine schematics than people…’ – credit where its due, Susan Gibney manages to say that line with some conviction. But it doesn’t stop it being a horrendous line all the same. 
‘It thinks the Enterprise is its mother!’ An idea so horrendous they must have really been scraping the bottom of the pitch barrel this week. Maurice Hurley must have stayed up half the night weeping trying to whip this idea into some kind of dramatic shape. Michael Piller really dropped the ball with this one, he thought it was one of the best concepts all year. Instead it’s the bizarrest danger the ship has ever been in. Not surreal fantasy bizarre. More like how did they ever think that could work bizarre. Of course Voyager had to rip this idea off at some point.

The Bad: It's unfortunate when you can see how an episode is going to play out before the pre titles sequence has finished. Leah Brahms is ultimately proven to be a quite a nice person underneath it all so why she should beam onto the Enterprise and give Geordi a mouthful before they have even said hello is baffling. You can see how his expectations are going to be ruined, the arguments, the embarrassment of her finding out he has been getting off with a fake copy of her, their reconciliation and eventual friendship. All from ‘so you’re the one whose fouled up my engine designs’ line. I cannot imagine why somebody would describe their own personality as ‘cold, cerebral and lacking in humour’ unless they wanted somebody to counter that with a compliment and yet Leah is clearly just stating a fact. Watching the Enterprise assist in the birth of a space faring creature is a lovely idea in theory but one that perhaps should be confined to an establishing scene for an episode (showing that the ship is busy between episodes and not just travelling around as seems to be the case) and not played out in laborious detail over 45 minutes. Great drama it aint. I think the episode might have had more integrity had Leah remained angry with Geordi to the end instead the glib final scene where they laugh heartily over the events they have experienced. It doesn’t ring true after all the fireworks. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The abysmal moment when Leah stumbles across the holographic version of herself that Geordi has been using as a plaything. Yes this episode gets that desperate. I honestly thought my opinion of Geordi’s love life couldn’t plummet any lower but there you go. At least she has the credibility to criticise the appalling dialogue from Booby Trap. 

Moral of the Week: Sometimes meeting your heroes doesn’t live up to expectations.

Fashion Statement: What is up with the fashion in the 24th Century? Geordi invites Leah to dinner and dresses up in oversized chords that make him look like a child that has dressed up in his fathers out of date clothes. I can’t imagine why she didn’t fall for him. The creature flying away looks like a pair of floating testicles. Surely that wasn’t the look they were aiming for.

Result: To say that I went in to Galaxy’s Child expecting great things with the credentials of Maurice Hurley (writer of Q Who) and Winrich Kolbe (who would go on to direct The Siege of AR-558) would be an understatement. To say that I was overwhelmingly disappointed would also be the case. I’m not sure which is worse, a dreary love story that goes nowhere or a technobabble infused mystery that covers familiar ground (Tin Man did the space faring creature far better). These two plotlines fuse together to create a truly abominable hour of your life that you will never get back. When Gene Roddenberry conjured up a drama series that took place in space did you imagine that he was thinking about concocting stories where characters stood around discussing the riveting specifics of the ships component parts? Nope, neither do I. The direction isn’t just flat, it's non-existent and I swear the camera didn’t move once. I think that there’s a really great episode of Star Trek about meeting your hero and them not living up to your expectations but this most definitely is not it. A few stray points because Whoopi Goldberg salvages a few scenes: 2/10

Night Terrors written by Pamela Douglas & Jeri Taylor and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: The crew of the Enterprise start experiencing living nightmares…

To Baldly Go: Picard’s roof crushing experiences in the turbolift are probably the best realised ‘terror’ in the episode but that is almost entirely down to Patrick Stewart’s heart stopping performance.

Number One: It's lovely to hear that usually stalwart Commander Riker has been having irrational moments of anger and experiencing paranoid delusions in his quarters. The crew of DS9 experienced moments like this on their good days their day to day life was so stressful but for the TNG bunch it has to be the work of an anomaly. 

Mr Wolf: A few hallucinations due to lack of sleep and Worf turns to suicide. I thought he was made of stronger stuff. 

Alien Empath: She’s really on form this week. When detecting an emotional anomaly from the derelict ship Picard asks for specifics and she replies ‘I don’t know…something.’ Boy he must just love having someone this insightful around. It takes Troi half an hour of floating aimlessly through a void with metaphorical phrases taking shape in her dreams before she realise that somebody is trying to send her a message. I would seriously consider re-posting her to another ship or giving her another job on the Enterprise after this. It’s the most blatantly obvious method of communication linked into her job (reading peoples dreams and thoughts) and it takes her this long to take the hint? 

Dancing Doctor: Credit it where it is due – I am always ready to criticise Gates McFadden when she delivers a poor performance (which is about half the time) and so she deserves some praise for her convincingly tired and stressed take on the character here. At points she looks as though as much as she is trying to provoke REM sleep in the crew she is ready to slit her wrists through sheer frustration. 

The Good: To be fair the discovery of a ship full of corpses that have been brutally slaughtered is a gripping starting point for the episode. For once TNG doesn’t shy away from the horror of the situation and the corpses are bloody, propped at their work stations with weapons stabbed in their bellies. Its all rather gruesome. When Dr Bev reports that the crew seem to have wiped each other out I was setting myself up to look forward to a similar massacre on the Enterprise. Snakes in the bed are pure James Herbert territory which Landau pulls off with some skill because the cut is so quick and they are gone as quickly as they appear. The bodies sitting up in the morgue surrounding Dr Bev is similarly terrifying, a genuinely nightmarish image. 

The Bad: Thank goodness Captain Zahiva is dead when we catch up with her because from the brief snippets of her log that we witness, Deborah Taylor’s performance isn’t up to much. Combine the oddest shooting technique (focussing squarely on Counsellor Troi’s substantial buttocks…the slogan ‘one moon circles’ is gloriously appropriate), some sloppy CSO that awkwardly places Deanna over a cloudy backdrop, a horrendous performance from Marina Sirtis (mind you screaming lines like ‘I’m coming where are you?’ would be a struggle for any actress) and the complete lack of tension (ooh glowing lights in the dark…) and the dream sequences of Troi being attracted towards the source of the anomaly like a moth to a flame are riotously clumsy. TNG really needed to work on casting its smaller parts more cleverly because with its these roles that often help to smooth over an episodes rough edges. The ensign who starts experiencing hallucinations on the Bridge of the Brattain is terribly unconvincing in this respect. More O’Brien is always a plus but the dialogue handed to him and Keiko sees both characters acting (intentionally) out of character. She walks into their home with a mouthful of horticulture-babble that would sound unconvincing coming from any living being and just months after their wedding he is experiencing extreme jealousy pangs. This is a far cry from their natural scenes a few episodes earlier in The Wounded. We’ve seen Picard order sauce separations at the drop of a hat before this and yet when the crew start experiencing paranoid symptoms everybody goes to lengths to simply ignore the phenomenon and hope that it goes away. Its not often that I will favour the Voyager crew over the TNG one but in the episode One they put the entire crew into suspended animation and leave the one member of the crew unaffected by the hallucinatory effects of a nebulae in charge which is exactly what they should have done with Data here at the first sign of trouble. Making it three for three in the appalling guest roles, the heckler in Ten Forward that Guinan tries to calm down is also pretty awful to watch. The eventual bar fight that erupts lacks any kind of tension but is at least disrupted by a glorious moment from Guinan where she sports a hilarious souvenir (read: massive gun) to break up the crowd. Can’t we have an episode that entirely focuses on her character? She’s much better than the majority of this cast! 

Moment to Watch Out For: When the ‘eyes in the dark’ merge into an approximation of a humanoid and Troi hangs there in space begging for the entity to understand her you might well think that you have fallen into a hallucinatory nightmare of your very own. 

Orchestra: Far better than the (mostly) flat direction, the score is instrumental in creating a mood of disquiet in Night Terrors.

Result: TNG has several attempts at getting the ‘dream’ episode right and this is frankly one of the most mundane examples (check out Where No One Has Gone Before and Phantasms, they are much better). Aside from some strong imagery this hour is mostly a bland mixture of technobabble and psychobabble punctuated with hilariously inept sequences of Troi floating through clouds screaming ‘WHO ARE YOU?’ Because it is willing to push the nightmarish imagery to the fore it's still much more effective than most of Voyager’s comic strip versions of the same episode (Persistence of Vision, Scientific Method) but that still doesn’t mean that Night Terrors builds to anything that is particularly worth watching. By the end of the episode we are covering the same territory from The Loss just a few stories back with Troi trying to communicate with an alien race that is trying to reach out in the only way they can and that was a barely watchable process the first time around. It takes the good counsellor a laughable amount of time to realise that she is being fed a message and the solution feels a little trite after the punishing hallucinations the crew have been through. Because of its length every season of Trek is saddled with a fair number of middling episodes that feature some tired writing and performances. Season four of TNG seems to be affected more than most with the middle episodes proving particularly unmemorable. Night Terrors is trapped in that batch and aside from a flirtation with some nightmarish horror in a few heart stopping scenes you would be hard pressed to recall this: 5/10

Identity Crisis written by Brannon Braga and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: A much better use of Geordi than Galaxy’s Child. Here he’s struck by an unknown horror, losing his friends and investigating a creepy mystery…

Number One: There is a bizarre shot where Leijten is mourning the loss of Hickman and Riker is blurred out in the background apparently checking out her ass. I guess he never misses an opportunity.

Blind Engineer: Unlike the manufactured, fractious relationship between Geordi and Leah Brahms a few episodes back check out instead the very relaxed, natural chemistry that he has with Leijten. This is what happens when they don’t try and shoehorn Levar Burton (a naturally charismatic man) until the role of a socially awkward geek. The final scenes where Leijten reaches out to him to bring him back from the brink are effective and it’s a crying shame that as is the norm with this show that after setting up a strong relationship like this between one of the regulars and a new character (I can think of countless examples of this) that we never see them again. What the hell was the point of getting to know them then? 

The Good: Immediately the episode takes a visually arresting approach, a recording of an Away Mission that Geordi was a member of before he joined the Enterprise. You’ve a solid mystery to build straight away too – the other members of the Mission have gone mission and Geordi and Leijten are the only ones left. What unnamed horror is coming after them? And what did they disturb on the planet? It has to be one of the most atmospheric studio bound planets TNG ever conjured up. When I first saw it it conjured up instant storytelling possibilities and that is the mark of a good designer. An abandoned colony and shuttlecraft, misty swathes cutting through the darkness and an unnamed horror emanating from the planet. The way Susannah’s hands shake uncontrollably its like there is something psychological inside her trying to tear its way out. Its easy to forget with a show like TNG which seems very tame and santatised compared to a lot of science fiction that came afterwards that it could on occasion be very scary. The approach that they take to figuring what is drawing them to the planet is very rigorous and scientific but they forget that instinct is a strong factor too. The idea of being attracted back to dark place is a frightening one and this episode scores its best chills before we find out the reason. Sometimes the unknown is scarier than the truth. It baffles me that Brannon Braga should have gone so spectacularly off the rails over on Voyager because he clearly knows how to plot a good mystery and the sequences with Geordi on the holodeck show he can get down to the nuts’n’bolts investigation with some unnerving results too. He just seemed to forget everything that made the majority of TNG scripts so good when he jumped ship. Anytime a show breaks out the Predator cloaking effects the results are usually pretty dynamic (see also The X-Files’ Fallen Angel and The Sarah Jane Adventures’ The Last Sontaran). 

The Bad: It's when her hands start to melt and the veins appear on her body that the mystery surrounding Leijten becomes less interesting. Then we are just following familiar hokey old make up horror clichés. Actually the make up is pretty effective (with the silvery blue veins catching the light and glowing) but the tone of the piece lacks the crushing paranoia and tension when we were dealing with a psychological presence. Its around the second third of the episode when they needed to start throwing in some shocking elements to keep the interest levels up. The middle scenes feel as if they have lost the atmosphere of the early sequences and the pace of the latter ones. Kolbe is so desperate at the end of the second act that he climaxes on Geordi…about to go into the holodeck! Ooh, scary! Why is Geordi so shocked at the visual representation of the shadow on the wall…they are exactly the same shape! 

Moment to Watch Out For: It is one of the more interesting uses of the holodeck and the lighting is deliberately brought down to make Geordi’s investigation of the mystery more prominent and sinister (some of the actors are having trouble holding themselves still though).

Moral of the Week: Count the shadows.

Fashion Statement: I’m not sure if I should be applauding the make up team for trying some totally different and alien or condemning them for turning Geordi into a fluorescent version of ET. I’m on the fence.

Result: Kudos to Maryann Plunkett who almost single handedly manages to make the mystery of the first half come alive as something from the colony tries to tear its way out of her. There are lots of great elements to Identity Crisis (the unknown presence which manages to give the shivers, the investigation of the mystery shadow in the holodeck, the psychological breakdown of a Starfleet officer) but it doesn’t quite come together to be anything truly special. The pacing is a little off - it's really rather slow which shouldn’t be a problem for a horror movie but around the 20 minute mark I was bored of waiting for something to happen and just wanted the entity to reveal itself. Ultimately the promise of a scary threat isn’t delivered and the whole piece winds up not being about an awful lot which kind of justifies my theory that you should always start writing something with your conclusion in mind and work backwards. Brannon Braga clearly thought that this episode worked rather well because he re-wrote it as Voyager’s Threshold and we all know how well that one turned out. After beaming down to that terrific colony set I thought we were in for a really taut psychological thriller in space but instead Identity Crisis doesn’t quite know which sub genre of horror it owes its debts too and the results are confused. Entertaining, but not what it could have been: 6/10

The Nth Degree written by Joe Menosky and directed by Robert Legato

What’s it about: Barclay is back and he’s more confident and intelligent than ever…

To Baldly Go: I love the moment where Picard has run out of ideas on the Bridge and looks around at his crew and says ‘I’m willing to entertain suggestions…’ he might be a bit of a pompous know-it-all at times but I really like that he can admit when he isn’t good enough and ask for help.

Blind Engineer: Geordi points at the probe; a completely unknowable, alien artefact and states that it is why he is in Starfleet. You see, they can write well for his character when they want to.

Alien Empath: Troi tries to make an argument that playing in a theatre isn’t the same thing as withdrawing into the holodeck and losing yourself into a fantasy. I beg to differ, that’s exactly what actors do when they embrace a role and most of them have the courage to admit it. She says you’re not just acting, you’re interacting on stage but he was doing that on holodeck, just with creations of his own making.

Dysfunctional: I’m still not sure about these random holodeck openers that steal from popular literature. Whilst they are cute diversions they often have nothing to do with the episode themselves, show that not a lot is actually going on for the crew to spend so much time luxuriating in the holodeck and waste a large portion of the budget for the episode on what is basically charming frippery. The Nth Degree manages to turn that feeling on its head by pretending it is another Henry V or Sherlock Holmes pastiche time waster when it is actually Barclay playing Cyrano de Bergerac in front of the entire crew in Ten Forward, getting stage fright and losing his train of dialogue. Reg is dreadful actor who cannot wait to run off stage rather than face his adoring critics who are trying buoy his spirits. I’m not sure that his ‘friends’ are doing him any good by pretending that his performance was any good, its precisely this sort of molly codling that sees children facing the harsh reality of their (lack of) talent on shows like The X-Factor because their parents have told them their whole lives how incredible their (clearly dreadful) voices are. Its not especially subtle since Reg is instantly more confident and knowledgeable once he has been touched by the probe but the dynamic shift in Schultz’s performance makes it entirely believable. All those awkward tics have vanished and he suddenly stands tall and talks confidently. Its like he’s an entirely different man. He walks away from this experience not an entirely new man but with a newfound sense of purpose and acceptance by his crewmates. He walks proud with Troi on his arm and interrupts a game of chess to play the winning move. He’s not a Starfleet drone, but he’s halfway there and at least he’s still displaying real signs of personality. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re both on the same mission, Captain.’ 

The Good: The luxurious shots of the Argus Array are gorgeous and its design is unusually dynamic for this show. Unusually for TNG the teaser doesn’t conform to the rules and is almost 7 minutes long. I love it when they mould the format to fit the individual episode rather than the other way around. I bet somebody had to fight Paramount for those extra minutes. How awesome is the imagery of those juddering streams of blue light piercing Barclay’s brain? It looks like the computer is attacking every neuron in his mind. Its great that when Barclay becomes one with the computer via the alien probe suddenly the crew don’t trust either of them. It says something about their exploring nature that as soon as they discover something truly alien that doesn’t conform to life as they know it they are scared. Reg the Computer can pursue his friends around the ship and know their every move, he has a vast intelligence and his logic is so sound he will happily disobey orders if it is in the best interests of the majority. Suddenly Reg is talking about taking the Enterprise to far flung worlds, to truly expanding humanity’s knowledge. He’s become as powerful as a member of the Q and the crew don’t like it. They want to explore pace at their usual, plodding pace. When the ship starts tearing itself apart under the strain of what Barclay is asking of her there is a genuine feeling that the crew might not make it out a live this time. For once there is no clue as to where this is heading and that is rather exciting. They aliens are explorers just like the Federation with the minor difference that they never leave their home…they take others to them. 

The Bad: It's something of a problem on Star Trek that when people behave out of character it takes an age for anybody to notice let alone speak up. Barclay is display some very odd characteristics throughout the first half of this episode but it isn’t until about 20 minutes in that anybody actually points this out. Instead everybody sits there in silence thinking this is odd… 

Moment to Watch Out For: The dramatic pan down the strobe lit technology to reveal Barclay inhabiting the ships computer is one of the best scenes in TNG’s entire run. It's entirely unexpected and visually stunning, connecting with all the senses at once.

Moral of the Week: The fact that this all turns out to be the work of a rather benevolent alien race that just wants to make contact is rather lovely and pushes the idea that you shouldn’t always fear what you don’t understand.

Result: The Nth Degree (great title by the way) is an opportunity for Dwight Schultz to show the audience what he is capable of and the gradual journey that he takes from the socially awkward Reg that we know and love to a omnipresent super brain is extraordinary. One of the joys of this episode is that because of Barclay’s outrageous fantasies brought to life in his debut I was expecting certain scenes to trip me up and turn out to be set on the holodeck (such as the one where he flirts outrageously with Troi) but that never turned out to be the case. You never know quite what to expect from this character and that is the delight of him. With pretty much the rest of the cast their characters are so blandly defined you can predict their reactions to various events but Reg’s raison d'etre is that he is socially impeded and impulsive. It's interesting that the regulars simply don’t know how to react around him purely because he doesn’t conform (he would fit in perfectly on DS9). This installment also features some lovely ideas that push the excitement of discovering technology in space. The design work for the Array is fantastic, the probe is a fascinating new threat and the alien intelligence that consumes Barclay is realised in a very vibrant way. As a discourse on why humanity seeks out new life and how they recoil when it is totally alien from what they recognise, this is unique in TNG’s run. In a season that has produced some disappointing character drama and some disappointing high concept episodes this is a terrific example of both and a stunning performance piece at the same time: 9/10

Q-Pid written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Picard and his Merry Men have to rescue Vash from the sinister Sherrif of Nottingham…

To Baldly Go: Fortunately as Picard settles in to being the dullest man (ruminating on the joys of archaeology is his idea of a hot night in) in the universe a pretty woman shows up in his quarters to snap him out of it. Although I am far less convinced by him as a sex stud than I am an intellectual. Picard becomes a jibbering wreck when Dr Bev turns up and he has two women to contend for his affections. Picard is so embarrassed at the thought of the crew knowing that he has a sex life he not only failed to mention his time with Vash on Risa but also pretends to walk by her quarters, checks to see if anybody is around and then doubles back. What a joke the man is. Sisko happily flaunted Kassidy Yates in front of the crew (and why wouldn’t he since she was a smashing looking woman!) and she formed close relationships with them. Why is everybody so uptight on this ship? Professionalism can be wearying after a time. Did you ever want to see Picard dressed as Robin Hood swashbuckling in Nottingham Castle and kissing Maid Marion after he has rescued her. No, me neither. Strangely enough I think this is a role that would suit Kirk down to the ground but they have already gone to great pains to prove that Picard isn’t Kirk. This drives the point home firmly. In the end the moral of this story was something that Picard already knew. He still has feelings for Vash and he’s still not going to reveal them to his crew. So what was the point of all this? 

Number One: It almost becomes a comedy of manners as Vash is passed from one crewmember to the next before almost falling foul to the charms of Commander Riker. She’s heard it all before and can cut through his cheesy flirtations with ease. 

Mr Wolf: Worf doesn’t want to play at Robin Hood but as soon as their lives are threatened he goes all Hercules on us and psychotically hacks and slashes with his sword.

Dancing Doctor: Don’t go giving Picard those dirty looks, Dr Bev! You’ve had four years to jump into bed with the good Captain (like he would say no…) and you’ve chosen to ignore the feelings you clearly both have for each other. Stealing away his new floozy is a desperate bid to keep the man unattached.

Sparkling Dialogue: A few lines help sweeten the pill…
‘Yes your speech. Its dull, plodding, pedantic…much like yourself.’
‘Sir, I protest, I am not a Merry Man!’ 

The Good: The location work is lush and gorgeous and the sets lend a realism to the Sherwood Forest sequences. All wasted on this tripe. There will be better episodes feeling the pinch because of this expensive enterprise. 

The Bad: Have I really enjoyed 93 episodes of TNG, watched it mature into a respectable show with a consistent hit rate to endure opening scenes like this where Counsellor Troi and Captain Picard mull over a speech he has cobbled together? Compared to the thoughtful character work and intriguing mystery of the last episode this pales into insignificance. Everyone is so nice to Vash I was dying for somebody to have an attitude with her (Worf tries but he’s quickly placated) and the scene where she puts her feet up in his chair shows a complete disrespect for her lover. It’s the sort of behaviour I would usually condone to cut through all the pomposity on the Enterprise but she’s just so casual about everything I wanted somebody to toss her in the Brig. Either that or pair her off with the Outrageous Okona. They would get along famously (imagine the kids!). As if Q would feel duty bound to pay a moral debt to Picard. It’s the most dubious of reasons for justifying his involvement. Even his tricks seem a little forced and obvious these days…I mean where is the fun in putting the crew in Robin Hood outfits whilst Picard is giving a speech? There was a time when he turned up on the Bridge with a Mexican band puffing on a cigar. He had class back then. Why would Q let this programme have a mind of its own to a point where his schemes can be overturned by the slightest of actions by Vash and the Enterprise crew? There’s no great jeopardy because you know Q wont let any harm come to anybody (how about just Troi?).

Moment to Watch Out For: All that Picard snogging. Bleaugh. 

Fashion Statement: Clearly Dr Bev has been shopping at the 24th Century equivalent of the GAP since she shows up at Picard’s quarters in a blue chunky jumper. To be fair it rather suits her.

Result: How? How did Ira Steven Behr go from writing drivel like this to penning some of the finest Trek episodes ever produced during DS9’s run? I’ve heard of a learning curve but this is such a vertiginous climb upwards it's almost as if Behr was deliberately starting out poor so he could show what he could really do once he had settled in. I spent more time cogitating on this during Q-Pid than I did concentrating on the episode because the plot is so slight a gentle sigh could blow it away. Once upon a time TNG created a Q comedy that was both hilariously funny and full of substance (it was called Deja Q) but it seems those days are dwindling. Did the producers think that Captain’s Holiday was a roaring success that the experiment had to be repeated? Vash (or at least Jennifer Hetrick) was one of the more appealing aspects of Captain’s Holiday and Q usually lights up any episode he turns up in but the way the both hog the limelight here means they practically cancel each other out so neither of them makes much of an impression. So much of this episode is completely flat, lacking in pace or decent humour and the move to Sherwood Forest (yeah you heard me) seems more like an act of desperation than anything that has naturally sprung from the (lack of) story. The whole things reeks of the actors having a ball but forgetting that the audience might quite like some fun too. If you want to see an episode where a Star Trek cast get out of uniform and have fun in a literate setting check out Our Man Bashir. It has all the ingredients (style, twists and turns, great gags and formidable performances) that this lacks: 3/10

The Drumhead written by Jeri Taylor and directed by Jonathan Frakes

What’s it about: Admiral Satie, that loveable old Admiral from Starfleet visits the Enterprise…

To Baldly Go: Patrick Stewart gives one of his best ever performances in this episode. He always commits to the show but you can tell when he is invested in the material because he goes above and beyond what the script is asking of him to hammer home its message. We realise later that Satie came aboard the ship with an agenda and the way she subtly compliments Picard to get him on side is very nicely done. He’s so in awe of her (and her father) that he would have taken little persuasion anyway. I guess this proves that old axiom – never meet your heroes. When it comes down to it Picard has the strength of his convictions to stand up to Satie and refuses to convict somebody without any reasonable evidence. Turns out that Picard has violated the Prime Directive nine times since he took command of the Enterprise – he can’t be as square and as tunnel visioned as I thought! Satie tries to use that evidence against him, all pleasantries forgotten between them. The way she uses his experience as Locutus of Borg against him is one of the highlights of the season. His discomfort in this scene is mirrored by the audience watching because Satie might have finally have found his Achilles Heel. 

Mr Wolf: For once Worf is allowed to be an intelligent security officer (in the way that Odo was week in, week out) rather than a grunting thug with a weapon (see last week). Worf believes that if a man is not afraid of the truth, he would answer but Worf himself was afraid that the knowledge of his fathers innocence would bring down the Klingon Empire and chose to keep his vigil rather than expose the truth. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Because spies and saboteurs don’t like the bright lights of an open enquiry. They’re like roaches scurrying for the dark corner.’
‘The Federation does have enemies! We must seek them out!’ ‘Oh yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think.’
‘The hearings are not going to stop. They are going to be expanded’ and if her shocking racism wasn’t brought to light I dread to think where this could have ended. It could have been a threat to the Federation that is even more terrifying than the Borg because paranoia is something that is inside every one of us.
‘Have we become so fearful, have we become so cowardly that we must extinguish a man because he carries the blood of a current enemy?’
‘She or someone like her will always be with us waiting for the right climate in which to flourish. Spreading fear in the name of righteousness.’ 

The Good: This episode raises some very interesting ideas about racism in the 24th Century and some problems that I have found with Gene Roddenberry’s hypocritical vision of the future. In the very first scene J’Dan accuses Riker and Troi of suspecting him of sabotage simply because he is Klingon to which the latter disregards because Worf is their security officer. The inference being that our regulars are above racism. And yet I have found myself troubled in the past with some highly suspect behaviour towards a myriad of culture that don’t conform to Federation principles such as the Ferengi, the Brekka, the Romulans and just recently the Cardassians. Intolerance is a part and parcel of life and its something that we all suffer from. For Gene Roddenberry to suggest that this isn’t the case (especially when it ran rife in the Original Series) is not only an anathema to drama but it just lacks any credibility in the face of the evidence too. There’s something rather snide about saying that you aren’t racist and hiding behind the badge of the Federation when called up on it but then treat all of the Ferengi as petty, backward criminals. Racism was rife in DS9 too but they didn’t have the nerve to dismiss it or pretend that they were above it. What’s this? Dost me ears deceive me…continuity in TNG? Admiral Satie was responsible for bringing to light the alien conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet three years back so she seems like the perfect person to root out the saboteur. Jean Simmons is quite a coup for TNG and whilst she is clearly a little past her prime (she seems awkward with some of the dialogue) she still possesses that a terrific presence and really nails the performance when it counts. The way the idea of a Klingon/Romulan alliance is seeded here ready for the season finale is very sneaky but beautifully done. The exposure of the Klingon traitor is vital to the episode because it reveals that there is a problem with security on the Enterprise and that it is necessary to try and root them all out. The problem with this level of paranoia is where does it stop? Do you suspect Troi because she’s so full of gooey goodness that she must surely be working for another power? Or Riker who is so macho that he must surely have a secret allegiance with the Klingons? The way the idea of a conspiracy seeds itself and grows insidiously until it has consumed the ship is expertly handled by Jeri Taylor and Jonathan Frakes. Spencer Garrett gives a fantastically humble performance as Simon Tarses, the target of Satie’s bigotry. There is something of Babylon 5’s Psi Corps about Satie’s Betazoid aide, a man who has the power to read minds and interpret that evidence dangerously. The silent note taker is another interesting addition, taking down everything everybody is saying so it can be used against them later if necessary. What’s wonderful is how Simon does have something to hide, just not the thing that Satie wants him to be guilty of. 

The Bad: Wouldn’t it have been great had the saboteur had turned out to be a member of the TNG crew (like when Kira turned out to be the murderer in Necessary Evil)? Unfortunately the franchise isn’t ready to make a bold leap like that at this stage. 

Moment to Watch Out For: ‘How dare you! You who consort with Romulans invoke my fathers name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offence to everything that I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets! My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle! You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation but you Captain corrupt it! You undermine our very way of life! I will expose you for what you are! I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard!’ The shocking scene where Satie’s bigotry gets the better of her and she humiliatingly exposes it publicly. Clearly its something that has boiled down inside of her for so long that it had to erupt at some point. Thanks to an ill-spoken outburst her entire life’s work will be called into disrepute. The way Jonathan Frakes slowly pans out on Satie as the court breaks up around her, unable to even hold her head up, is immaculately directed. 

Moral of the Week: Nobody is above bigotry. 

Orchestra: The last episode to be scored by Ron Jones before the mighty Rick Berman (not the soundest decision maker in the Trek franchise) fired him to ‘try out new composers.’ Why they couldn’t continue with somebody of Jones’ ability and try new composers confounds me. There’s a reason why people vividly remember the score to The Best of Both Worlds but why nobody remembers anything from the last three seasons of Trek. Even DS9 was affected by this decision with the first three years worth of music proving largely unremarkable before they started using dynamic scores from David Bell and the like from season four onwards.

Result: ‘I don’t like what we have become…’ I’ve used this analogy before but I feel it is entirely appropriate with TNG as I make my way through the mixed quality middle seasons; like Little Miss Muffet when its good, its very, very good but when its bad, its awful! Fortunately The Drumhead is an example of the former and goes to some effort to try and be the best episode of the season. Witch hunts are terrifying and what especially unnerves me is how the paranoia spreads so that before long things have gotten out of hand and people are being publicly lynched potentially for crimes that they did not commit. The Drumhead starts out slowly, getting all of the investigation out of the way (but with Satie displaying possible racist undertones) before the evidence points towards the wrong suspect and explodes with drama as we are caught in a kangaroo court of the Satie's (they’re all as nutty as squirrel shit, aren’t they?) making. Satie is a terrifying character because she is entirely credible until her prejudices are brought to light and that is only after she has practically tried and convicted Simon Tarses. How The Drumhead reveals that racism has not been stamped out in the 24th Century makes it a vital installment (although if you have been paying attention you would have seen casual examples of intolerance since season one) and it shows that there is far more inherent drama in exploring these ideas than in pretending they no longer exist. Given its slow gestation period TNG should be this good every week by now but in reality it hits this level in quality in about one in three. This is the sort of episode Jeri Taylor could knock out before prolific exposure in the franchise exhausted her of imagination and wit. If this is the sort of episode that is produced when studio decrees that money has to saved somewhere then they should have laid down the law in that respect more often: 10/10

Half a Life written by Peter Allan Fields and directed by Les Landau 

What’s it about: Mrs Troi and her latest romantic exploit…

To Baldly Go: Marvellously Picard admits that in a situation like this he cannot interfere with the laws of a planet they are just getting to know. Unlike his actions a few episodes back in First Contact. The trouble with shows that have these kinds of ‘we can’t do…’ sort of rules the audience is instantly on the alert when it contradicts itself. The trouble with TNG (and to a greater extent Voyager) is that that go out of their way to have central characters who regularly turn their regulations into homilies and then awkwardly contradict them with astonishing frequency. DS9 got away with it by never playing by the rules and constantly interfering in other peoples worlds.

Alien Empath: Any episode that starts ‘Counsellor Deanna Troi, Personal Log…’ has either got to be a sick joke installment or a Lwaxana Troi episode.. Half a Life proves to be both. I prefer it when Deanna is deeply embarrassed by her mothers presence, it is much more fun when she embarrasses her daughter completely. Mrs Troi accuses her daughter of professional patroniser…I’ve been saying that for years! 

Mrs Troi: Not just incorrigible but insatiable too, Mrs Troi is back and so all the farcical situations that follow her around are back too. I’m not sure if the charms of the character have worn off at this point or if the writers just aren’t trying as hard but as with Q the staple returning ingredients of TNG have really lost their sheen this year. Finally Mrs Troi is passionate about something other than romancing men (although the outcome of her rage against Timicin’s ritual is so she can pursue a relationship with him). Is she seeing her husbands death in Timicin’s upcoming suicide? Is that why she is reacting so badly? Feeling mortal and afraid of your own death is something that catches up with us all so it is a very natural reaction on Mrs Troi’s part. A woman of extraordinary conviction which for once seems to be praised rather than condemned. She’s a woman who has always lived her life to the full, she cannot accept somebody just letting that go for the sake of a rule but even she doubts herself as she has to watch Timicin fall to pieces as his own daughter rejects him. She has brought that about for him. Its possible to feel something for Mrs Troi other than mild disdain after all as she loses the man she loves to this archaic ritual. She shows great conviction of character by insisting that she joins Timicin at his Resolution. I don’t know if I would have been able to have been so brave. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘…and it is Worf not Woof!’
‘Well its your Prime Directive, not mine!’ 

The Good: Some of the dialogue between Lwaxana and Timicin does resonate. Should children be expected to pay back the love that their parents lavish on them when they are elderly? And people should have the courage to stand up and fight for what they believe in…but only if its something that they are personally invested in. Don’t pick other peoples fights for them. How perfectly upsetting to hear from your own daughters lips that every day that you live beyond sixty is an insult to your people. To hear that she is ashamed of you (his tears at this declaration was the one point where I bought into the character emotionally). Troi is right (enjoy that because I wont say it very often) rituals do provide structure in society and without them we would be lost. 

The Bad: There is no shortage of co-incidence in the 24th Century and it just happens that as soon as Lwaxana Troi beams aboard there is a first contact meeting with a race whose ambassador just happens to be of the right age to marry Mrs Troi. David Ogden Stiers has some impressive TV credentials behind him (amongst them MASH) but is wasted in a role that throws away his considerable talent on such an uncharismatic part. Its tough to care about Timicin’s planet since it has never been heard of before, will never be heard of afterwards and the plot involving its salvation is weighed down by horrendous technobabble. If only there was a reason to give a damn…but the only characters we meet are such a dour, four-square fellows that it is hard to feel anything for them. I have met people in my time who have treated their grandparents so shoddily that they would probably move them to this planet post-haste. I love my nan (in fact, bizarrely, it is her 87th birthday today!) and so to me it just feels like the most ridiculous of premises. Indeed, the elderly have such a vital role to play in society (they are living chronicles of what happened before our time) that to excise them completely is to lose a piece of a past. Timicin tries to make a good case for the choices that his people have made but you’ll hear the same argument for suicide all over again in DS9’s The Quickening where it is far more convincing because the emphasis is so different. There it is stopping pain, here it is salvaging resources. 

Moment to Watch Out For: How bizarre to see Michelle Forbes turn up in such a thankless role? Is this what first caught the producers eye when casting around for Ensign Ro?

Moral of the Week: Look after the elderly, however long they have left.

Result: ‘What you’re really saying is that you got rid of the problem by getting rid of the people…’ Is this really the work of Peter Allan Fields (also responsible for DS9’s Duet & Necessary Evil)? Maybe nobody wants to write the Mrs Troi episodes any more so all the established writers get the newbies to pen them whilst they sit in the background and rub their hands with glee to be rid of such an appalling assignment. I guess we all have to start somewhere. Is this a preamble to admitting that this episode is a complete pile of horse manure? Well yes and no. Half a Life is not going to set your world on fire. It's got a trite premise (fear of obsolescence was dealt with far more effecting in Once More Unto the Breach), some forced humour and once again it appears that the director is going for a paceless exercise. Saying that it is nice to see Lwaxana being given some serious material for a change and it would appear that Majel Barret is more than up to the task (it was worth the writers noting that for the future, although perhaps with material that encourages a less hysterical performance next time). The issues are sound and some the dialogue is thoughtful but it isn’t dramaticised in a way that it is impossible to buy into emotionally (except for a few scenes at the end where Mrs Troi has to make some tough choices it feels more like a debate at a university). Full points for trying to do something different, minus half for not committing to it as thoroughly as I know this show is capable of: 5/10

The Host written by Michel Horvat and directed by Martin V. Rush

What’s it about: It would appear that Dr Bev is even more unfortunate in love than Geordi La Forge…

To Baldly Go: Look out for the awkward pause when Picard is told by Odan that Beverley is an extraordinary woman. He wouldn’t presume to speak for her commitment to Starfleet but Stewart conveys how painful it would be to lose her without saying a word.

Number One: Will’s choice to carry the symbiont is a brave one (I don’t know if I would be so keen) but then he’s never been one to shirk dangerous situations (apart from accepting his own Command). Crusher says that she has always thought of Riker as a brother but that’s quite bold statement considering they barely spend any time together alone. 

Blind Engineer: Often brilliant and insightful, Data’s suggestion that he carry the symbiont is so blatantly ridiculous you have to wonder why they bothered to include the line.

Alien Empath: ’Its Ambassador Odan…I continue to feel fluctuations of emotion from him’ What like every other person on the ship? Remember when Baby Q from Voyager stitched Neelix’s mouth shut? Somebody should call him up and tell him to put a spell on Troi – unless she says something relevant or that a five year old couldn’t pick up from body language then her mouth has to be sealed shut. In the end of the say Odan is simply trying to conceal his symbiont (which is a danger to no-one) but if Troi’s suspicions where heard by somebody of the mind set of say Admiral Satie from a few episodes back then he would be lined up against a wall and shot. Her admission about the first man she ever loved being her father is a genuinely lovely moment for the character. I thought they had forgotten how to write her this well. 

Dancing Doctor: We’ve had an episode that kicked off with Deanna Troi making a log which turned out to be all about her mother and now Dr Bev is getting in on the action in and episode that concerns her. Let’s take it as written that whenever somebody other than Picard gets to reveal their riveting personal thoughts in a voiceover they are going to be the star attraction. In this case it does not inspire confidence but if Data or Worf were to oblige it would get things off on exactly the right foot. The flame haired Dr Bev proves to be quite a horny devil, getting her hands on a man after all these years and smothering him with kisses. Gates McFadden and Orth-Pallavicini share great chemistry and seem to get on really well (he says that she has beauty within and without which doesn’t come across quite as trite as it sounds) and it does rather indicate (given past form) that something awful is about to befall one of them. I’ll let you guess which. Considering Dr Bev and Odan have been exploring each others lives (do I really have to spell it out?) it does seem odd that she never noticed a bulging presence down below when embracing him. There is a reason why Riker and Crusher haven’t got it together…because Frakes and McFadden don’t share a convincing romantic bond. Dr Bev is not bi-sexual so rejecting the female Odan is understandable but its interesting that she can accept his essence in another man (after some resistance). Does this mean it was the soul rather than the body that she fell in love with…and if that is the case shouldn’t that still be the case regardless of the gender? I’m not sure if any of this makes any sense. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You can’t be open to love if you can’t risk pain.’ 

The Bad: There is a very good reason why DS9 stopped telling stories where the regulars meet what appears to be their perfect match but somebody gets in their way (they don’t want to exist in normal gravity, they can’t handle the pressure of Trill society condemning them) and they are left heartbroken. There is something rather unsatisfying about the whole thing, especially when the chemistry between the two actors is really good and you can see potential for the couple to flourish. Instead DS9 took the more interesting and long term route of pairing off the regulars with specific recurring characters (Sisko & Kassidy, Odo & Kira, Worf & Dax) so we could see how those relationships would develop over time. TNG unfortunately doesn’t have that kind of pluck and so O’Brien and Keiko aside (their relationship was also explored in more depth in DS9) they allude to relationships past (Riker & Troi, Picard & Dr Bev) without ever daring to take the step of actually having them admit their feelings and explore the consequences. It’s a bit chicken ¤¤¤¤ if I’m honest. And so we are lumbered with episode after episode of the ‘regulars meet the person of their dreams’ episodes which never go anywhere and don’t particularly impact beyond their ability to entertain for 45 minutes (sometimes that is all that is needed but shouldn’t TNG be aiming for something more…and besides their concept episodes already fulfil this function so shouldn’t the relationship episodes be striking for a deeper core?) if they are good (Tapestry, In Theory) and prove an agonising experience if they are bad (Haven, Loud as a Whisper, the Leah Brahms episodes, Captain’s Holiday, Aquiel, Sub Rosa). DS9 of course had the benefit of hindsight but they are not innocent in this respect…the early seasons are also littered with such episodes but they soon learnt that this was counterproductive to the characters and adapted. TNG’s problem is that they never seem to learn, they just keep doing the same thing whether it works or not. There’s some dreary environmental/energy/weather* crisis tethered onto the love story to try and pad out the hour but you would do best to just shut your eyes and have a catnap during these scenes. They don’t really much to do with anything. As soon as Odan leaves in the shuttle and gives Dr Bev a rose, his fate is sealed. When it comes to relationships on this show the centre cannot hold. Since this is the introductory story for the Trill it goes to great pains to show that nobody in Starfleet (not even the esteemed Dr Bev) knows anything about the nature of these beings. Its not a fault of TNG that DS9 would later state that the Trill are a much larger presence in the Quadrant than is realised here (and that somebody like Curzon Dax was responsible for the signing of the Khitomer accords) but in hindsight this episode jars horribly with what is to come. 

*delete where applicable

Things We Never Saw Again: The Trill become an important part of the DS9 universe thanks to Jadzia Dax but when she is introduced a lot of the elements of The Host are dropped. For example we never saw her belly bulge out disturbingly as Odan’s does here and more importantly he doesn’t seem to have the distinctive Trill markings.

Moment to Watch Out For: ‘Perhaps it is a human failing but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes. I can’t keep up. How long will you have this host? What would the next one be? I can’t live with that kind of uncertainty. Perhaps some day our ability to love wont be so limited…’

Moral of the Week: According to Dr Bev, the 24th Century is not ready for same sex relationships.

Result: As I said in Half a Life, full marks for trying something different but The Host wins even more minus points for fudging the issue so spectacularly. Let’s get the good things out of the way first…the chemistry between Dr Bev and Odan is immediate and enjoyable (so often these shows can sink because the actors are incompatible) and the ‘girls chat’ sequence between Crusher and Troi finally sees two behaving as human beings and not Starfleet drones. Unfortunately much of the rest of the episode is without merit; Odan’s fate is signposted thanks to the nature of the series, the nature of the Trill is handled awkwardly (and retrospectively dismissed), the episode tries to juggle a subplot that adds nothing of substance to the piece, the attitude it takes to bi-sexuality is tepid and borders on insulting and the whole tone of the second half is so preachy and cod-SF that it’s a real struggle to get through. I get that Dr Bev isn’t attracted to women and I don’t have any issue with her telling the female Odan that that is the case…what bothers me (and I’ve heard it discussed quite often when this episode is talked about) is the idea that the 24th Century isn’t ready for bi-sexual or even gay relationships. If that is the case perhaps morality is debilitating condition in the future because there doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem with it in modern times beyond some religious objections. This was an opportunity for both Dr Crusher and Gates McFadden to really shine but thanks to some hysterical writing and backtracking it fails to come off which rather than addressing the issue of same sex relationships in the future, it actively shuts the door on them: 4/10

The Mind’s Eye written by Rene Echevarria and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Geordi is recruited by the Romulans as an assassin and spy…

To Baldly Go: I always think that Patrick Stewart does his best work either as Locutus of Borg (where the character was given rare prominence) or when immersed in the Shakespearean politics of the Klingon Empire (the theatre being Stewart’s old stomping ground). He speaks with absolute authority in these episodes, holding himself rigid and making the sort of eye contact that can make a man wither. When he leans forward and swears at Vagh, for once I never questioned his intentions. 

Mr Wolf: In a sequence that suggests Worf needs to crack down on his security procedures he asks the four people on the Enterprise who are capable of the sabotage where they were during the time it must have been committed. Everybody is accountable accept Geordi (since he is the culprit) and rather than take him into custody like any decent security officer (Odo would have done it in a heartbeat, even if it was Sisko) he merely takes his word that he was in his quarters and starts to look elsewhere for the perpetrator. Geordi has even been off the ship recently and easily kidnapped and brainwashed! This is so slack you can only hope that somebody pulled him up on it afterwards. When Data suggests a search of the two possible Romulan spies at the climax it seems that Worf’s role has been completely superseded at this point. 

Blind Engineer: Obviously sensing his complete lack of luck with the ladies, Picard has ordered Geordi to Risa a few days ahead of the conference to enjoy himself. I don’t know what’s creepier – the fake Geordi that oozes off to have fun on Risa or our Geordi who has been programmed to act as Romulan spy. Both of them are exquisitely acted by Levar Burton, finally given material that is worthy of the actor. The way he so effortlessly takes the phaser during the simulation of Ten Forward and walks up and murders O’Brien, approaching him in his usual causal manner and joining his friends for a drink afterwards, gave me the shivers. Livingston happily points out the incongruity of this scene, panning across from La Forge grinning to O’Brien dead on the floor behind him, his face a picture of shock. All it takes to make Geordi more relaxed than Troi has ever seen him is some Romulan neural treatment. 

Alien Empath: Where are Troi’s amazing empathic powers when they are needed? Rather than cottoning on to the fact that Geordi has been co-erced into acting as a Romulan assassin she is under the impression that he has had a great holiday! I would seriously think about cutting her salary. I like how when pushes for information about any romantic interests that might have reared their heads on Risa Geordi strings Troi along for a little while before giving her no information and slamming the door in her face. Nosy cow. 

The Good: The pre-titles sequence is unusually for TNG, avoiding the usual flowery banter revealing the presence of the Romulans in as little as two minutes, gloriously melting from the background when Geordi is distracted playing games with the computer. John Fleck is a sinister presence as Taibak and its easy to see that when David Livingston gets to direct another muscular Romulan episode (DS9’s Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges) he chooses him to play another vital role again. The imagery of Geordi trapped in the chair (it looks like a torture chamber what with his roaming whited eyes and the probes that extend into his brain) and the stylish POV shots from his Visor’s POV are unusually brutal and imaginative for TNG. This is the sort of inventiveness that the show should be aiming for every week. I never thought the writer would have the nerve to play out the O’Brien in danger set piece again but for real this time and the resulting sequence is one of the tensest moments in the shows entire run precisely because we know what Geordi is capable of now. What a shame nobody saw Geordi deliberately spill the drink otherwise this could have been wrapped up a lot sooner. The Romulans are so predictably duplicitous you have got to love them. As Kell is criticising them for just that, they have plots within plots unravelling that sees them expose themselves in order to make their plant (Geordi) more convincing. Make your enemies look the other way and you can get away with all sorts over here. Its more convincing than that since Geordi is forced into the difficult position of having to track down a saboteur that turns out to be himself. If you want to see the twists and turns of this episode played out in a series where it doesn’t spell out the saboteurs involvement all the way then check out DS9’s In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light. 

The Bad: Oddly the direction in the teaser is the weakest part of this episode, the camera obviously static to reveal a surprise over Geordi’s shoulder and giving away the upcoming twist. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The twist that Kell is working with the Romulans and aiding Geordi’s sabotage comes completely out of the blue. The writer and director have had our minds so focused on Geordi and his machinations around the ship that I had taken my eye of the ball and not even considered that there may be a second agent. TNG doesn’t often surprise me like this and its always a joy when it happens. 

Moral of the Week: Don’t always trust your friends. It might sometimes be the person you’re least likely to suspect.

Fashion Statement: The Romulan shoulder pads still look ridiculous. Its hard to look menacing when dressed up like a vampish character from Dynasty.

Foreboding: What with the suggestion of a Klingon/Romulan alliance in The Drumhead and now the silent Romulan observer in The Mind’s Eye its clear that components are being put in place to ensure that the finale is as memorable as possible. Its unlike this show to get this prepared so let’s enjoy it while we can. There will come a time when Descent is the best we can expect from a TNG finale. Anybody familiar with the character of Tasha Yar will recognise Denise Crosby’s voice but that makes things even more intriguing.

Result: For TNG, this really is about as good as it gets. There’s a rock solid plot which is full of twists and turns, a muscular tone to the piece which springs from Geordi’s programming as an assassin, some unusually tense direction that is trying to be much more than the flat soap opera this series usually aims for and some lovely performances and effects. The Mind’s Eye starts well and just gets better with each subsequent scene. The return of the Klingons and the Romulans means the political landscape is being given some consideration again and TNG continues to map out the quadrant for subsequent Star Trek series’ to take advantage of. What’s more this a Geordi La Forge episode that not only doesn’t suck (a rarity) but proves to be one of the standout installments of the year. It utilises the character very well (his charming personality disguising his murderous intentions, his engineering skills) and finally gives Levar Burton the chance to show the audience what he is made of – it only took four years! There’s a real race against time feel to the conclusion of The Mind’s Eye where Data rushes to try and uncover Geordi’s involvement in this plot and catch up with him before the assassination takes place. It just goes to show how much the show has matured since season one as it would have been pointing out every plot turn in childish detail back then whereas we have to keep our wits about us to keep up with Data here. The Romulans are working towards destroying the alliance between the Federation and the Klingons…where precisely is all this heading? Sterling stuff: 9/10

In Theory written by Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and directed by Patrick Stewart

What’s it about: Data’s in love (actually no he’s not, that’s the problem…)

Mr Wolf: It is bizarre that last week when there was a bona fide Romulan assassin on the ship Worf was at his most slack, completely missing the fact that Geordi had no alibi at the time of the sabotage because they are mates. This week when something as mundane as a few items of technology have been strewn about and broken he is all over the case like a rash. Priorities, Mr Worf!

Fully Functional: When Data is written for well he is a glorious character, a Pinocchio in space trying to figure out how to be a real boy. The trouble is that during season four they have completely lost track of the character…the last time he was anything more than a glorified adding up machine was Data’s Day over half a season ago. Let’s give Menosky and Moore a round of applause then for spotlighting the character so effectively here and for reminding us why he is one of the most important figures on this show. I love the way that Data, without any form of sarcasm or pretence, lists the reasons that Jenna should not get back together with her ex because that is precisely what she asked him to do. Data tells Jenna from the off that he has no human feelings so it isn’t like she doesn’t know what she is getting into. All the things that Jenna describes (kindness, patience, understanding) can be given just as easily by a friend than a lover…its just because she is in a weak place emotionally that she sees something that isn’t there with Data. He has to write a subroutine in order to woo Jenna because the feelings weren’t there in the fist place…a big clue that is dodgy territory. There is something deeply uncomfortable about Data purring his way into Jenna’s quarters and flirting with her. Its so unnatural for him it actually comes across as being slightly sinister. When Jenna says there is something artificial about the way he is approaching their relationship and that it isn’t the real him its clear she is forgotten completely that he is an artifical construct. Data is precisely the sort of person that you want to break up with…when Jenna lists all the reasons why their relationship wont work he has no logical choice but to agree with every one. 

Blind Engineer: Really? Data is asking for relationship advice from La Forge? It would be like asking a Dalek to name ten people that it likes.

The O’Briens: Miles and Keiko are simply too happy on this ship. It makes me want to make them unhappy the way they are so joyfully embracing domestic bliss (of a type you only ever see on a sitcom like TNG). The sooner they move over to DS9 where they can be thoroughly miserable and get involved in some decent drama, the better.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You do not wish us to continue our lovers quarrel?’
‘What were you just thinking?’ ‘In that particular moment I was reconfiguring the warp field parameters, analysing the collective works of Charles Dickens, calculating the maximum pressure I can safely apply to your lips, considering a new food supplement for Spot…’ – the answers not to give when a woman asks you what you were thinking whilst kissing her. 

The Good: Didn’t we do the ‘so and so asks for relationship advice from the entire crew’ with Wesley in The Dauphin. It was much more amusing in that episode (especially Worf’s mating cry) but works well here too. I especially liked Worf’s concern for Jenna and Picard’s clear discomfort from talking about women with Data (obviously Riker thinks he should go for it but then he is the raging boner of the 24th Century). I love the shot of the woman stuck in the floor, it comes completely out of the blue. If only the threat to the ship had caused similarly horrific incidents earlier rather than simply rearranging the furniture it might have been easier to buy into the danger. 

The Bad: I understand that Data’s friends might want to encourage him to try out a romantic relationship but was anybody thinking about Jenna throughout all of this? There was no way that this was ever going to work out. She is looking for an emotional investment in a device that has no emotions. Where is the beloved Counsellor Troi (its not unfair of me to say that she hangs around like a bad smell when couplings emerge…she was pursued Geordi and Dr Bev in the past couple of episodes!) to warn her of the dangers of pursuing this relationship? She chats to Data about it but there seems to be no attempt to warn Jenna of the dangers of what she is walking into. Or do the crew of this ship really have more feelings for what is essentially a word processor with arms than a flesh and blood member of the crew? Riker offhandedly suggests that Jenna knows what the risks are but if he took the time to examine the situation in any depth beyond ‘Data’s got a hot girlfriend’ he would see that that isn’t the case. Even Guinan is a little off this week. She actively encourages Data to pursue this relationship when the most emotional thing he can say about Jenna is that her understanding of Dilithium is below average. What about Data’s inability to experience sexual pleasure or procreate? Isn’t that going to be an issue down the line? I’m not suggesting that a relationship is based around sex but it is an important factor in the leap from a powerful friendship to a romantic couple. Is it me or is this ship just a bit too fluffy for its own good? Cats wandering around the corridors being brought back to their owners door? I thought I had wandered into The Brady Bunch for a second. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The way Data sits there completely unaffected by the fact that he has just lost the love of his life is one of the most heartbreaking moments in this shows run. 

Moral of the Week: If you’re looking for a way out of a relationship with a cold, unemotional man, don’t leap into one with another.

Fashion Statement: Guinan’s attire is even fruiter than usual! Now she’s in crushed velvet and has a sash that puts Worf’s to shame!

Result: The inevitable Data romance episode bucks the recent trend by turning out rather sweetly, if lacking much substance. Its also like watching the biggest car crash of a relationship known to mankind since there was never any chance that this would ever work out. Both Data and Jenna are lovely individuals but one is a machine without any kind of emotional ability and the other is a lovelorn soul desperately searching for somebody to fulfil her needs. Just because he is convenient and polite it doesn’t mean that Data is anything other than a disastrous prospect. He’s an android and she’s taking all her advice from a relationship manual called The Book of Love. It was never going to end well. Its another show with a bizarrely out of place subplot that seems there just to add a degree of tension that is missing from the relationship angle. For the first half of this installment little of consequence happens aside from a few dismantled trinkets and ultimately the threat is so immaterial it would have been very embarrassing had this irrelevant plot device put paid to the Enterprise’s travels. The performances of Brent Spiner and Michelle Scarabelli are heart-warming and the tone of the piece is often right on the money but that doesn’t stop this romance from being something of a brainless exercise: 5/10

Redemption Part I written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Shifts of power in the Klingon Empire with the Romulans pulling the strings…

To Baldly Go: Sometimes Picard is so backwards that you have to question his motives. He tells Worf to seek redemption for his fathers name but when he learns that he is using the facilities of the Enterprise to do so he seeks to halt his progress. You can’t have your cake and eat it, Picard. I wasn’t at all surprised at the Captain’s decision regarding Toral. Like there was ever any doubt. Pleasingly he states that he doesn’t have to lecture Worf on the merits of non interference…even he realises that it has become something of a bore. They just love lingering the camera on Patrick Stewart whilst he is conveying a strong emotion in silence, don’t they? And why not? He’s so very good at it. 

Mr Wolf: ‘Being the only Klingon to serve in Starfleet gave you a singular distinction but I felt what was unique about you was your humanity…’ One of the things that really bugs me about this show is how the alien characters are always encouraged to behave human. What is wrong with allowing these various cultures embracing what makes them different? Its one of the things that made DS9 unique for me. Odo was a changeling despite how much it upset others, Worf truly embraced what it was to be a Klingon warrior, Dax revelled in her past lives and Kira’s life is steeped in her heritage as a Bajoran. They were different and proud. In comparison the TNG crew were actively encouraged to tow the ‘human line’ or were chastised accordingly. They are almost a little embarrassed to be different which is hardly in line with Gene Roddenberry’s ‘all colours, all creeds’ vision. In the first scene Picard tells Worf ‘patience is a human virtue and one that I am glad to see you have taken to heart…’On the one hand he tells him to embrace his Klingon half and go after his fathers name but half an episode later he is telling him he needs to keep the two worlds that divide him separate! If I were Worf I would get dizzy at the directions I was being pulled in! How things would change over time…Worf declares Gowron a man of honour in Redemption but anybody who knows how the Klingon saga plays out in DS9 will know that the politician would eventually die by Worf’s sword. Worf declares that Klingons don’t laugh but Guinan has to disagree (‘absolutely they do…you don’t laugh’). She makes Worf realise that he isn’t like other Klingons and living amongst humans and being an alien makes him very similar to his son. Worf is just as able to play the Klingon game as Gowron, suggesting to his brother that they wait until the Chancellor is surrounded by his enemies and then reach out in support of him. The ceremony that sees Worf regain his honour in the eyes of his people is very satisfying because it is a TNG character arc thread that has been laced through several seasons and followed up satisfactorily. That is a very rare thing on this show and should be embraced when it happens. Worf resigning his commission is a powerful moment, if only because with him gone there is pretty much nobody remarkable left to watch on the show. He’ll be back don’t you worry. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I practice at level 14’ ‘I guess I could come own to that level…’
‘When the time is right we will deal with the Federation. And Captain Picard…’ 

The Good: Gowron is such a marvellously over the top character I don’t know how anybody can fail to love him. He turns up on the viewscreen at the beginning of this episode and declares boldly that they have prevented a Klingon civil war. As though it would be that easy. He’ll take advantage of anything that gives him more opportunity to seize power and so when Worf throws him a bone (the dishonour of the Duras family) he seizes the chance to investigate, not to clear Worf’s fathers name but to avail himself of his rival family’s continued humiliation. The Klingon saga is one of the delights of this show. They have taken hold of something that was handled adequately on TOS (the Klingons were effectively at times but little more than stock villains most of the time), revolutionised the race and embraced a gripping, nuanced ongoing narrative that has been fascinating to follow. Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan continues to surprise me in the fact that she can work against just about any character on this show. She’s by far the most interesting (and most mysterious) character that this show has to offer and her proximity to any of the regulars (whether it is somebody as thoughtful as Worf or as irritating as Troi) automatically forces the characters (and the actors) to up their game. The Great Hall of the High Council continues to be an impressively vast and moodily lit set. Often this show is lit up like some tacky gameshow but during the Klingon episodes they have made a decision to bring the lights right down and fill the scenes full of atmosphere and menace. Lursa and B’tor are a great pair of characters; embracing their sexuality, full of their own self importance and as capable of political manoeuvring as their brother. They strut into the Great Hall all tight leather and cleavage and indulge themselves in Klingon politicking. I love the way they fawn over Picard to try and influence his decision, thrusting their considerable assets into his face to try and get him to change his mind. They underestimate what a four-square fellow Picard is though, turning his nose up at a chance of some violent rumpy-pumpy. Toral is such a weak, spineless fool, clearly a tool for the sisters Duras and his ascension to Chancellor would be as disastrous as King Joffrey’s rise to power was on Game of Thrones. A puppet King, being controlled from behind the scenes. These sequences make for great viewing because you are never certain how Moore is going to resolve things. Having Gowron in charge is questionable enough, but with Toral it would be a poisonous day for the Empire. Its practically lose/lose with Picard watching on in horror waiting to see how it all pans out. The implications for the Quadrant at large and the Klingon relationship with the Federation is up for grabs. Compared to the fireworks and stunning battle sequences that were to come on DS9 the action in this episode is laborious and lacking in energy. Compared to anything else we have seen on TNG to this point, it is exceptionally powerful and explosive. Take your pick. The Romulan presence makes things even more interesting (and sees the show following up on breadcrumbs left earlier in the season).

The Bad: After enjoying half an episode on Quonos and Klingon battle cruisers it is like a slap in the face to return to the Enterprise. In comparison the sets are basic, sharply lit and cheap looking. Amazing how much more filmic this show looks when they turn the lights down. There is a massive song and dance made about Worf leaving the Enterprise which would be very touching if we didn’t all know that he would be back at his security post at the end of the last episode. Say what you will about Voyager (and I certainly had a good stab) but when they stole the sequence of the crew filling the corridors to say goodbye to Neelix at least it was permanent. It’s a little embarrassing to see all the crew assembled in the transporter room to say goodbye to Worf…where the hell have they all been throughout this episode? 

Moment to Watch Out For: The cliffhanging moment that leaves me simultaneously scratching my head and baffled at the sheer eccentricity of Denise Crosby turning up as a Romulan and the sheer horror of the thought that this could mean the return of Tasha Yar. 

Moral of the Week: Always hold out hope that a good deed will eventually be rewarded. 

Fashion Statement: As much as I have droned on that Worf should be able to embrace his Klingon side he just looks wrong in the uniform.

Foreboding: Guinan and Worf discuss what it must be like for Alexander on Earth, pre-empting his full time residence on the ship next year (prepare yourselves…). She also says that one day he is going to want to know what it means to be a Klingon. That day does come but not until Sons and Daughters far into DS9’s run.

Result: A hugely effective Shakespearean drama that starts off as an intimate character tale of Worf trying to redeem his family name but evolves into an epic continuation of the Klingon saga that suggests a permanent shake up in the Quadrant. Mind you we had such promises at the climax of the previous year and the resulting season was shakier than the one before so I’m not getting my hopes up that things will change that much. It's not quite up to the standard of Reunion from earlier in the year because the first half is quite slow and talky but the build up towards the conclusion sees the plot and character dynamics accelerate and the appearance of the Romulans complicates things very nicely. Worf continues to be the shows most interesting character (who ever saw that coming after he barely made an impression in the first season?) and his desire to seek redemption for his family gives him a clear goal that is muddied thanks to the politicking that is going on around him. Patrick Stewart has rarely been finer (but then he embraces the theatrical nature of these Klingon episodes like he has returned to the stage) and the introduction of Lursa and B’tor shows a promising growth in the semi-regulars on this show. Even the direction and design is more dramatic and atmospheric than usual. The only thing letting Redemption down is that it isn’t The Best of Both Worlds which it had to prove itself against. But the fact that it caps a variable year with something this memorable means that it is having a good stab at rivalling last years blockbusting finale and goes some way towards achieving that goal. As much as I argue that the regulars on this show are a mixed bunch (I genuinely believe that), it is true that last years finale used the ensemble far more effectively than Redemption, which only cares to spotlight Worf and Picard and ignores practically everyone else. Entertaining and potentially goal changing (if a little too quiet for its own good), the effect of this episode rests on its conclusion: 8/10