Tuesday, 19 August 2014

TNG Season Five

Redemption Part II written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by David Carson 

What’s it about: Klingon civil war is in the air…stirred up by the Romulans. 

To Baldly Go: You get the impression that Moore is giving us a taste of how the show would be if he was holding the reins and immediately Picard is a more dynamic character without losing any of the depth that has made him stand out from Kirk. His refusal to believe Guinan’s story about the Enterprise-C sees a return of that steely, immovable Picard from Yesterday’s Enterprise. Proving that in Moore’s hands he could be a much more interesting, less studious character, Picard raps Data’s hand at the climax for disobeying orders (which is where the scene would have ended in seasons one and two) but follows that up with a cheeky smile and ‘nicely done.’

Mr Wolf: One of Moore’s complaints about TNG was that the characters were not allowed to breathe as individuals or to explore their own separate cultures and he sets out to make an active criticism of Worf here in that respect, highlighting how even amongst his own people he acts like a Starfleet drone. Jean Luc has waved his magic wand over this sour faced, duty bound Klingon one time too many for that conditioning to be broken so easily. Worf has completely forgotten what it is like to be involved in Klingon politics. It’s not about bandying together to fight your enemy and all standing around patting each other on the back (that’s the Starfleet way). No, it’s more like standing on the deck of an old pirate ship and whoever takes their eye off the ball gets a cutlass in the throat as they each try and succeed each other, everybody jostling for command. Worf gets told that he made the wrong choice putting on the Klingon uniform and gets a good beating for his morality. This guy really needs to choice which side of the line he is going to stand on. That is his curse.

Fully Functional: He approaches it as a question of logic but it feels like there is something of a bruised ego when Data isn’t assigned a ship in the fleet. I’m not sure why Data sounds so angry when he threatens to relieve Hobson of duty…surely he would approach this as dispassionately as anything else. Unless Hobson’s obstinacy is enough to rile even a machine that doesn’t possess emotions. 

The Traveller: As usual Guinan is responsible for some of the best scenes. Its lovely to have some kind of follow up to Yesterday’s Enterprise and Guinan spells out the events to Picard and how it is perfectly plausible that Tasha could have had a Romulan baby. Whoopi Goldberg really lends some credibility to this most absurd of plot twists. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If I’m right then you are responsible for this entire situation…’
‘But its our way! It’s the Klingon way!’ ‘But it is not my way.’ 

The Good: Talk about opening with a bang! One Klingon ship is firing on another, we pan across a bridge in flames past a dead officer with a piece of bulkhead sliced into his face and settle on Tony Todd in commanding form as Kurn igniting a suns corona and destroying the two pursuing ships. You have most definitely got my attention. The direction of these scenes is quite unlike anything we have ever seen in TNG before, it reminded me more of the atmosphere of DS9 in its later years (the attack on the Dominion shipyard in Shadows and Symbols played out in a very similar fashion). Its bizarre seeing Timothy Carhart in such a subservient role because I vividly recall his turn as the fat-sucking serial killer on The X-Files but he does the best he can with his standard material here. His racial slur is probably his best moment (can you be racist with an android? Are they a separate species?), suggesting that Data is more concerned with the functioning of the ship than the people on board. There is a wonderfully dramatic shot of the Enterprise and Sela’s Warbird squaring off against each other. There is a real vitality to this episode that you rarely get a sense of in TNG. Given I had the same reaction to Tasha Yar as a skin rash, the return of Denise Crosby to the series isn’t something that I greeted with much enthusiasm. However they have shoehorned her into a role that is entirely without emotion - that of a Romulan Commander - so all my previous complaints about her performance (that it was too melodramatic, that her emotions exploded from her like fireworks) are no longer relevant. She’s not dazzling, but she’s more than competent here. That’s enough for now and its lovely to have a potentially semi-recurring character and figure head for the Romulans with this kind of emotional sting. Whilst Tasha’s sob story is laid out it is worth remembering that this isn’t our Tasha Yar that Sela is talking about but the battle hardened one from an alternative timeline. It took Lursa and B’tor an age to turn up but I was smiling from ear to ear when they did…especially B’tor’s drooling over Worf. These two are such fun. The way they simply beam out and leave their puppet child Toral to his fate made me laugh my head off. The sooner they return, the better. Data lighting up the Romulan Warbirds with torpedoes like picking out mines in the ocean is another glorious visual. It was only at the end of this story that I realised that TNG has managed to generate a significant number of excellent recurring characters – Guinan, Gowron, Kurn, Lursa and B’tor, Sela…it might not be a match for DS9’s oeuvre (but then a list that contains Garak, Dukat, Winn, Weyoun, Rom and Nog was always going to dominate) but its still an eclectic bunch of characters that are well worth re-visiting. 

The Bad: Is it my imagination or are all Starfleet Admirals just there to say no? It’s a negative to the new logo that fronts the title sequence. Because of it the show looks like we are entering a gay disco. It’s hilarious that Picard talks of their awesome fleet of twenty ships. Twenty? And it takes them a great deal of time to assemble that many! Come DS9’s later seasons Starfleet would assembling fleets of hundreds of warships. The Data as Captain subplot is so mundane in the case that you can see how it will play out as soon as Hobson requests a transfer away from him. Data will prove himself in combat and his crew will rally around him. The end. Its enough to make you want to give up your TV and take up fly fishing. Not even Moore can breathe life into that sort of material. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Without a doubt the best moment in this episode was when Commander Sela appeared on the viewscreen and declared that Tasha Yar was her mother. To this day I cannot decide whether this is an awesome, shocking revelation or the most god-awful soap opera trickery. But the fact that it can be interpreted in both ways is what makes it such a great scene. To follow this with a scene between Picard, Dr Bev and Troi discussing the ways that Tasha could have given birth to Sela when she would have had to have been a child at the time and her medical records show that she never gave birth is even more hilarious. 

Moral of the Week: Be careful who you send back in time. You never know who they might end up in bed with.

Orchestra: Dennis McCarthy is one of the new resident musicians that Rick Berman brought in to replace Ron Jones. He tries valiantly to inject some pace into the action scenes with his muted score but its nothing compared to what Jones would have achieved (see The Best of Both Worlds).

Result: Astonishingly Redemption Part II doesn’t drop the ball but instead runs with the idea of a fresh, dynamic take on TNG. Enjoy it whilst it lasts because season five is the soapiest year of Trek of all time so things are about to get comfortable again real soon. My favourite element of the concluding episode is the awesome revelation regarding Commander Sela and how it connects to Yesterday’s Enterprise. It simply isn’t like TNG to play with its own continuity in such a fiendishly clever way and the truth about how her mother behaved in history is finally revealed. There’s also a higher action quota than usual and director David Carson provides some stunning sequences (particularly the pre-credits waltz through a suns corona) that still hold up today. It’s a shame that amongst all the continued Empire building (for both the Klingons and the Romulans), the pyrotechnics and the politics that we should have to suffer the sub plot of Data learning the ways of Command. Whilst I’m happy that it is shunted off into a minor subplot rather than commanding an episode of its own, it feels like it’s only there to remind us that this is still dreary old Star Trek at heart. With such a myriad of plots taking place, Worf’s resignation and re-integration into Klingon society gets squashed down to a few scenes but they serve to highlight what would become the central dilemma of the character: Human or Klingon? I could forgive him anything for the glorious ending where he refuses to kill Toral and walks away, unafraid to be different from his peers. He really is exceptional in every way. There is an awful lot going on in the conclusion to Redemption and most is really rather good: 8/10

Darmok written by Joe Menosky and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: ‘Darmok and Jilad at Tinagra…’

To Baldly Go: In Picard’s experience communication is a matter of patience and understanding…he really has to learn to keep his mouth shut. He obviously wasn’t paying close attention during the Scouts when he was a nipper as he seems to have little luck when making a fire whilst his alien companion enjoys warm and light from a distance. Whilst the presence of dangerous cutlery and the two highest ranking officials on both ships might suggest a duel (Arena-style) it is only Picard who interprets it that way. What does that say about him as a man? Much of this episode falls on Patrick Stewart and he captures the frustration and triumph of being forced to understand an alien language with his trademark subtlety and skill. His recount of the tale of Gilgamesh is riveting, Stewart paints a picture with words that is far more dynamic than anything the director can whisk up within this episode. He is a fine storyteller. I really must try and see him on the stage before it is too late. Picard really runs rings around his crew here, figuring out the Tamarian language in an impossibly tight situation. His crew have the luxury of the ships resources and can pool their resources and get absolutely nowhere. 

Mr Wolf: I don’t know how Worf got any work after he left the Enterprise. Whenever anybody wants to beam the Captain away from the ship they seem to have no trouble whatsoever. There is a very amusing moment in DS9 where Odo lists a number of security breaches that occurred on the Enterprise during his run…but the shapeshifter suggests that they were the exception rather than the rule. Working my way through this series it seems to me that it is the other way around! 

Alien Empath: Troi is on the verge of having another hissy fit. She’s quite hysterical at times, isn’t she? When it comes to imparting obvious information she is all over it. When it comes to an episode where her apparently essential empathic observations are required she is useless. It is galling because given the right kind of material, I know this character can be made to work. 

The Good: Deanna makes a fantastic point about how they may have advanced technologically and culturally to such an extent but when a new species with a language turns up they are completely stymied. The unknown creature that Picard and the Tamarian Commander have to face is intriguingly realised through smoke and mirrors. They could have gone with something as obvious as the Gorn but instead this optical illusion is much more interesting…and unknowable. There is something triumphant about the moment when Picard finally realises how the Tamarians communicate (their Commander practically falls to the floor and preys to the heavens that his companion has finally started to comprehend!). I loved the discussion of storytelling and how without details or knowing the context of how a story is being emphasises you can have no understanding of it. This is healthy, intelligent discussion in a show that can so easily fall into the trap of having its characters talk like walking automatons. I could almost forgive Kolbe anything for that glorious final shot of Picard at the window. If only he had injected that kind of imagination into shooting the rest of the episode. 

The Bad: Whilst it is a very cute idea that a species speaks entirely in metaphor I don’t know if on any level it is convincing. Surely you would need more than a handful of poetic phrases to get by in your day to day life? Considering the high amount of location work this show boasts it disappointed me that the director failed to make good use of this opportunity. After the dynamic direction of Redemption we are back in typical TNG point and shoot territory. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard being beamed away at precisely the wrong moment. It’s the sort of last minute rescue that is lauded on this show and his ungrateful reaction is a lovely subversion of that.

Moral of the Week: A problem shared is a problem halved.

Fashion Statement: Jean-Luc is sporting a new leather topped uniform jacket for this story, almost as if he knows he is going to be trapped on a scorching desert planet which is going to require something cooler to wear.

Foreboding: The presence of Ashley Judd is welcome and it pre-empts her role in The Game. It’s another character like Ensign Gomez in series two that should have stuck around for longer.

Result: I fully accept that this episode has a fantastic message and says some clever things about the nature of communication…but it is just so slow going in places that I found it hard to keep my attention levels up. The relationship between Picard and Dathon is lovely but the threat should have been introduced far sooner and the constant cuts back to the Enterprise add very little to the overall piece. Joe Menosky is a writer that I often underestimate because of his later allegiance with Brannon Braga over on Voyager which saw the show runner bleeding away much of the mans talent and churning out episode after episode of popcorn entertainment. Sometimes his imagination takes him too far into cuckoo territory (Masks, Emergence, Distant Voices) but at other points he hones his imagination into something truly creative and impacting (The Nth Degree, The Thaw, Blink of an Eye, Muse). Darmok shows that Menosky is a writer that thinks outside the box and is willing to try new things. Its interesting and intelligently written, but not terrifically engaging. Ultimately you have to give Darmok points for trying something fresh, for pushing Gene Roddenberry’s morality to the front and for continuing to distinguish Captain Picard as a much more thoughtful, intelligent man than Kirk. I just wish that the originality and inventiveness on display here could have been packaged in a more dynamic way. TNG’s in house directional style really holds back some of its better episodes (VOY had the reverse problem, it was often beautifully executed but appallingly written). Patrick Stewart and Paul Winfield’s superb performances overcome most of this episodes visual problems: 7/10

Ensign Ro written by Michael Piller and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Enter the Bajorans…

To Baldly Go: Who hasn’t been in the hands of a hairdresser who has an opinion about everything? Unfortunately you cannot escape until they have done their work so you have to grin and bear it. Picard shows great restraint by listening to Mr Mott’s critiques of his command decisions during the recent Romulan skirmish and it looks like he often tries to get away as soon as possible. Picard knows enough about politics to recognise that offering a terrorist leader amnesty is not going to be enough to appease him. Initially, Picard absolutely does not want Ensign Ro serving on his ship which shows that his old prejudices haven’t completely evaporated and this episode can perhaps be seen as an abject lesson for him not to judge by appearances. Certainly their developing relationship shows both Picard and Ro learning from each other and it is a very refreshing stance for the show to take with regards to its central character. At the beginning of this episode he very much thinks that the flagship of the fleet warrants the best of the best and a convict like Ro deserve no such honour. Stewart aces the scene where he describes the Admiral’s true intentions, spelling out the horror of what he has been set up to expose. Going forward the final scene proves very satisfying with Picard asking Ro to join the Enterprise. Forbes and Stewart interact so beguilingly I can’t wait to see more of them together. 

Number One: Riker has been given an order to accept Ro aboard the Enterprise but he greets her with absolute disdain and the first words out of his mouth are practically a racial slur. Hardly the enlightened times that Gene Roddenberry would like us to think they are, and again very stimulating after the usual bland amiability this show often dishes up. 

Blind Engineer: Geordi’s prejudicial reaction to Ro’s presence on the ship proves what I have always suspected. If your face doesn’t fit, you’re screwed on this ship. Individuality and autonomy is frowned upon. In some ways Eddington was right – their expectations of conformity makes them worse than the Borg. At least they’re upfront about it and don’t hide their prejudice behind politeness and smiles. 

Ensign Attitude: What a refreshing character Ro Lauren is. Finally here is a woman that breaks the gender specific roles that Gene Roddenberry forces upon his female characters. He has this rather sexist way of pigeonholing women into traditional, nurturing roles (Dr Bev is Doctor, Troi a counsellor, Guinan a bartender, all roles where they can look after the emotional needs of the crew) and along barrels this feisty Bajoran who breaks all the rules. She’s a terrorist and a military tactician and embraces all the toughness that is usually reserved for the male characters on Trek. It’s another reason that I enjoyed DS9 so much. It refused to put its female characters in nurturing roles; Kira was a strategist, Dax a science officer, Kassidy ran a shipping company…it is probably Bashir who plays the most nurturing role on that show. Ro beams on board the ship with a bad attitude that refuses to shift, rejecting the friendships of the crew and very much refusing to tow the Starfleet line. She reminds me of a stronger version of Pulaski, very much an individual and all the more interesting for it. Certainly Ro is more extraordinary in this episode alone than Troi or Crusher have managed in over four seasons worth of stories. Whilst there are similarities between Ro and Kira (when she bald facedly tells Picard that she doesn’t want to be there it reminded me of Kira’s opening speech about the Federation taking over the station in Emissary) there are enough differences to show that moving Ro to DS9 might not have been the best. One of Kira’s strengths was that she wasn’t a member of the Federation and was critical of them to begin with but by the time the sister show kicked off Ro had already established herself as something of a team player (even if she was an outspoken one). Having Michelle Forbes come on board as a semi regular is a very attractive prospect, not only because she is a fantastic actress who invests a great deal of energy into giving Ro some emotional wallop but the character is one that is worth exploring further as well. It’s very telling that Guinan and Ro are attracted to each other (not like that) because they are two of the strongest characters on the ship. It’s a fascinating relationship, Guinan baiting Ro and telling her how things are and Ro attempting to push her away and failing miserably. Guinan is a welcome touch of reality on TNG, not do-gooders like Troi and Crusher but somebody that Ro can engage with and be honest with. I think if anybody else told Ro that she enjoys pushing people away and making a nuisance of herself they would get a punch in the face but Guinan is so charming and upfront about her observations she gets away with it through sheer gall. They’ve both lost their homes and they both need the presence of other people to give their lives meaning. For Guinan to stand up to Picard and admit that Ro is her friend is probably the nicest thing anybody has ever done for her. 

Alien Empath: There is a very telling moment when Troi and Crusher exchange a glance when entering Ten Forward and decide, against their better judgement, to try and reach out to Ro. To make an effort despite your true feelings is real two facedness. They should be honest to themselves and only approach her if that is something that they really want to do. Offering charity company is an affront and Ro sees straight through them and tells them to piss off. It’s very easy to like Ro.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t you understand these are desperate people ready to martyr themselves…they don’t want to talk.’ 
‘Now I see how history has rewarded them.’
‘Why is it every time I tell you something you tell me I mean the exact opposite?’ ‘Because you’re one of those people who has their poles reversed.’
‘They’re terrorists dammit! When in the hell would you want to protect them?’

The Good: Now this is what I have been waiting for. I have been looking forward to the introduction of the Bajorans (or the Bajor as they call themselves here) and a stronger presence from the Cardassians ever since I began this marathon because they were such a fascinating and essential part of DS9. It’s interesting to note that they are initially introduced as villains, terrorists that have bombed a Federation colony in order to secure the claim for their planet. The Federation Ambassador calls the Bajorans a terrorist problem and the Federation seems to sympathise with the Cardassians. Chased off their own planet, forced to settle wherever they can…Starfleet at least recognises that their plight should be heard even if their non-interference policy means they can do nothing about it. They want to address the situation with the Cardassians quietly and behind the scenes which I guess means that Starfleet is willing to get involved but they just don’t want to be seen to be doing so. The Bajorans have endured decades of empty promises, they aren’t going to fooled by more of the same from the Federation. There’s a very effective voiceover where Picard talks about the achievements of the ancient Bajorans which plays over a pan across the ruins of a settlement where they are now barely reaching subsistence level. Showing how things are different in the future than they are now, Picard mentions how saddened they were about the atrocities that occurred to the Bajorans but they happened within the borders of the Cardassian Empire and so they couldn’t wrestle with their consciences and intervene. Certainly doesn’t stop armies nowadays. Does that mean it is an easy stance for the Federation to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others? Now a Federation colony has been attacked, suddenly they are concerned, they can react. Picard looks out at a suffering camp of Bajorans and doesn’t understand why in an age of such affluence and ability there should be such suffering on such a scale. Trek has been known to get on its soap box but this is actually quite a subtle reference to the Third World. The location work and set design of the Bajoran camp is very good, it’s packed with extras to give it some weight and is filmed with far more of a cinematic scope than the OB work in Darmok. I really liked the fact that the terrorist leader is seen in such a horrific, crippled state. It would have been so easy to paint him as a villain but it is clear he has suffered considerably at the hands of the Cardassians. The story of Ro’s father being tortured and killed in front of her as a child is shocking, very much not what TNG is usually about. You can see that not only did they pick up the Bajoran/Cardassian scenario of this episode to power DS9 but also the tone of it. 

The Bad: Another corrupt Admiral? Starfleet seems to be rotten to core! A complaint about DS9 this time; Ro’s dilemma between helping her people and being honest to Starfleet is played out in exactly the same way in Past Prologue. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The very idea of the Federation getting into bed with the Cardassians is chilling. Thank goodness O’Brien never found out about that! There’s a very satisfying moment when Picard spells out that Kennelly has been duped by the Cardassians and that they destroyed the Federation outpost in the first place.

Moral of the Week: Sometimes the bad guys aren’t who they appear to be.

Result: A superb episode that takes TNG in a dark direction and involves itself in a political situation that is bleached in shades of grey. The Cardassian/Bajoran conflict is such an immediately riveting idea you can understand why the creators of DS9 (including Michael Piller) took hold of it and ran with it. At the centre of this astonishing drama is Michelle Forbes who is an electrifying presence as Ensign Ro and with this episode alone proves far more interesting than about two thirds of the TNG line up. She strikes up an unexpectedly rich relationship with Guinan and her interaction with Picard has some real spark. It’s fantastic that she will be hanging around. The plot twists and turns with yet another Starfleet Admiral proving corrupt and Ensign Ro caught up in his political machinations. The answers are extremely satisfying, highlighting once again that the Cardassians are not to be trusted. They are definitely a race that have a lot more to offer, dramatically. The only thing this episode is lacking is any action. The character interaction, dialogue and multi-layered plotting is so strong that you wont notice for quite a while but it would have been nice to have witnessed some of the terrorist atrocities that are discussed in the episode to give it some energy. Still I refuse to complain too much about an episode that had me this enraptured. It's made me want to watch DS9 all over again: 9/10

Silicon Avatar written by Jeri Taylor and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: The return of the crystalline entity…

To Baldly Go: Picard is either a visionary or spectacularly naïve in his wishes to communicate with the crystalline entity rather than simply blasting it from the sky. You decide. He argues that the entity has as much right to be there as humanity and the simple fact that it chews up entire colonies in its wake is simply part of some natural instinct or feeding pattern. Fair enough, but let’s put Picard’s family down on one of those planets that has been ravaged and see if he still says the same thing afterwards. Its tough for him to maintain the moral high ground when the screams of the latest victims are ringing across the Bridge. 

Number One: Riker tries to charm his way with one of the colonists but she doesn’t fall for his tricks. Anybody can see that Riker is not the sort of man to put down roots; he’s an adventurer, a risk taker and a man who will seek out a different woman in every port. I really appreciated the moment when Riker turned on Picard and told him that he wasn’t a raw cadet anymore and that he doesn’t need to patronised. Sometimes the Captain needs reminding that people can have an opinion about something that conflicts his own thoughts and be right. 

Alien Empath: ‘I don’t think you need an Empath to tell you that woman’s feelings…’ 

The Good: If you can get past the stomach poisoning efforts of Will Riker attempting to bed another woman then the pre-titles sequence is actually quite attention grabbing. The crystalline entity fills the sky and sunny glade that looked an ideal place to settle a colony becomes a wind swept disaster area. Extras fill the screen as the entity tears away strips of land. As patronising as it may sound the mix of both imaginative location work and dynamic filming (there is a pan that follows the fleeing colonists alone a rise in the ground that looks great) is refreshing and far outside the usual comfort zone of TNG. Carmen’s death is entirely unexpected and therefore much more shocking. Even when we move into the studios there is an attempt to keep things tense and exciting, Riker and Data causing a cave in to trap them in the claustrophobic tunnels. Emerging onto the blasted surface of the planet brings back some of that Best of Both Worlds tension, the idea that the Enterprise could be facing a foe that is capable of truly devastating destruction. I did like the way that Dr Marr walks from the Bridge trying to hold her dignity intact when she is clearly as nutty as squirrel shit. 

The Bad: With Kila Marr you basically have exactly the same character as Admiral Satie in The Drumhead (also written by Jeri Taylor). I’d say she is better performed (Eileen Geer’s mumsy portrayal really draws you in at first) but less successfully written. Her prejudice against Data is made immediately obvious (and its not charming like it was with Pulaski); she ignores his questions, is obviously uncomfortable in his presence and requests not to have to work with him. Whilst I usually congratulate this show for adding a little tension to the mix this is so clunkily handled it’s a little embarrassing to watch. Data is so utterly without guile and has given Kila no reason to doubt his intentions so her discrimination comes across as unrealistically stubborn and bull headed. As soon as Data learnt that her son died on Omicron Theta he should have informed Picard and pulled from this mission. There is no way that somebody this involved should be working towards understanding an entity that murdered her kin. Its obvious as soon as Kila (and the audience) learns that Data contains the thoughts and memories of the colonists what she is going to ask of him eventually and it is further evidence that she is too unbalanced to be given this assignment. When she starts publicly talking about killing the crystalline entity its absurd that she is allowed to continue. The camera keeps settling on Troi looking disturbed in the presence of Kila but failing to do anything. What on Earth is this woman good for? I was literally screaming at the TV during the last few scenes, waiting for Kila to make her move. It seems ridiculous that Picard and the others are shocked at how events transpire. They have all been aware of her feelings towards the creature, she has expressed a desire to wipe it from the galaxy and when the time comes and she makes her move Picard turns to Troi for advice as she merely states ‘something is very wrong, Captain.’ What is wrong with these people? Is Dr Marr so deluded that she thinks her son would be proud of her for destroying such a unique lifeform for him? 

Moment to Watch Out For: It might be insane for Data to surrender to the request to ring Kila’s son to life from his memories locked up in his head but the scene is beautifully performed by both actors regardless. 

Moral of the Week: Keep an eye on your officers. Some of them might not be as psychologically stable as they seem.

Result: The first ten minutes of Silicon Avatar are so strong there was no way that it could continue to maintain that phenomenal momentum. What looks set to be a visually dynamic action adventure episode against a powerful foe soon develops into the usual trashy relationship nonsense that this show often pulls out. It’s irritating because nothing is explored in any great depth; Kila’s regrets are because she never made time for her son and he was taken from her before she ever had a chance to get to know him. In these instances it’s a case of too little, too late. It’s clear as soon as she steps aboard the Enterprise that she is unfit emotionally to handle this mission and Picard (and especially Troi who is around for this very reason) are remiss in allowing her to continue in such a twisted, tortured state. Any deaths that occur because of Kila’s actions they are also responsible for. The crystalline entity too is barely given any consideration when I thought this would have been the perfect opportunity to have a closer look at an alien life. To see more continuity in play is great but since nothing is added to the mythos of the creature it is merely a catalyst for the ‘emotional’ tale that takes dominance. It is destroyed before we have a chance to learn anything about it calling its return into question if it was going to swept aside so casually. I can see what Jeri Taylor was going for here but you have to be an exceptional writer to tell a revenge tale on a deeply felt level, not just an adequate one. Some nice performances and action aside, this is pretty humdrum for the most part and exposes some serious personnel issues on board the Enterprise: 5/10

Disaster written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
What’s it about: The Enterprise is struck by a disaster which splits up the crew and forces them to look out for themselves…

To Baldly Go: The look on Picard’s face when he is confronted with the three most obnoxious kids on the Enterprise is like he has just trod in dog ¤¤¤¤ and reached the middle of a very sour sweet at the same time. I really like this continuing idea that Picard is hopeless around children and tries to avoid them as much as possible. He proves when he is stuck in an impossible situation with them that he knows precisely how to handle them. You have to keep them engaged, give them something to do and treat them like adults. They respond positively to all three.

Number One: I always thought William T. Riker was a rational sort of fellow. But he falters here in quite an unexpected way. He doesn’t want to remove Data’s head and use it as a tool because he is too attached to the android as a person. We need Pulaski back. She would have ripped his head with her bare teeth to get the ship operational again. 

Mr Wolf: ‘You may now give birth…’ There’s a great reason why Worf isn’t a Doctor. It has something to do with his bedside manner (he compliments people who bear their pain well) and also because when it comes to medical matters (like a lot of men who think they are hard) he is a completely wimp. The thought of having to give birth to Molly (obviously unnamed at this point) chills him to the core of his raging Klingon heart. Michael Dorn adjusts his performance perfectly, playing each line like he is starring in a sitcom and each nugget of dialogue is followed by a bout of laughter from the studio audience. 

Fully Functional: Data’s head on a table has got to be worth a laugh. Not as much of a laugh as the Counsellor Troi cake, but still worth a chuckle or too. 

Alien Empath: Points for trying to give Deanna something to do other than stand there all airy fairy and state the bleeding obvious. Minus more for making her the least convincing command officer ever to appear in a Star Trek episode, although that is deliberate. The woman is useless. Uncertain of herself, indecisive to her fellow crew mates, backtracking on decisions already made and thinks that every situation must be related to events that she has previously experienced. Some might see her eventual standing up to Ensign Ro as some kind of redemption for her inexperience and ineptitude but even Troi comes to see (quite a way in the future mind, this is TNg so you can’t expect immediate development) that she needs to brush up on her command skills. Her best moment comes when she refuses to be smug when she makes the right call and tells Ro that she could have easily have been right. 

Dancing Doctor: Don’t you hate those people that try and badger you into dancing/wedding dress shopping/acting in their stupid plays? Guess which one Dr Bev is guilty of here? She’s clearly so desperate for volunteers she is hunting tone deaf singers like La Forge! Gates McFadden has such a weird way with dialogue – she has difficulty saying something as ‘Geordi, this wall is hot.’ How that can trip up any experienced actress baffles me. 

Ensign Attitude: How promising to have Ensign Ro back so soon. Usually semi regulars are consigned to the ‘once a year’ slot on this show. She’s also completely horrid to Troi and that definitely earns her some brownie points. Actually whilst Ro does make some very good points about separating the saucer, ultimately she is wrong and would have condemned those people to their deaths. As a result she comes across as a little frosty when now would be a good time to have the audience (and the crew) warm to her a little. Still a little friction never hurt anything and it is now to see that thread of discontent around this character continuing. 

The O’Briens: The conversation about the O’Brien’s baby’s name isn’t the most stimulating dialogue but it's an amiable scene nonetheless.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Then I shall appoint you my Executive Officer in charge of radishes.’
‘This is not a good time Keiko!’ ‘It's not open for debate!’

The Good: The teaser hops around the Enterprise from location to location with some aplomb and when the disaster strikes the direction is suitably turbulent and explosive. It feels like this is really happening. Amazing how much more atmospheric the Bridge is when they turn the lights down. There’s a terrific high angle shot in the turbolift as Picard and the children wake up. In fact all the scenes in and around the lift shaft look incredible, you would really think that they had put those kids in genuine danger. 

The Bad: Some children are not supposed to be actors and cannot deliver anything resembling a convincing performance. This hysterical, snivelling bunch are a particularly irksome example of this. It doesn’t help that all three of them are written to behave as irritatingly as pubic louse. When the lift started tumbling and certain death was imminent it must have felt like a blessed relief for Picard. You’ll never see less persuasive crying than when Picard tells the children to pull themselves together. The ‘you have the Bridge, Number One’ gag at the end is supposed to be cute but it made me want to claw out my eyeballs and never watch television again. I felt like I had been transported back to season one.

Moment to Watch Out For: Worf slapping the baby awake. Too cute for words.

Moral of the Week: Book Worf in advance as your midwife. He’s fully booked for the next two years. Check out the great gag in DS9’s Ascension when the O’Brien’s announce they are going to have another baby.

Result: It's not a bad idea for a story to set a disaster in motion and have vignettes take place across the ship as the survivors try and salvage the situation. It’s not the most demanding of ideas, but its still quite an entertaining one. Naturally some plotlines work better than others and the highlight for me has to Worf delivering Keiko’s baby in Ten Forward. Michael Dorn once again proves what an asset he is to this show and the scenes expose a very easy chemistry between him and Rosalind Chao and a number of knockout comedy moments. It’s genuinely funny, it all springs from the characters and it is broadly played enough to feel like pure sitcom. All three of the other mini plots have problems; Picard is trapped in a turbolift with a trio of kids that would make a vacation with Wesley Crusher, Dawn Summers and Gibson Praise a viable alternative, Troi is (deliberately) characterised as the worst commander in the history of Trek proving that she really is useless and goodness knows what Geordi and Dr Bev are up to other than indulging in lots of florid medical and technobabble. Riker and Data crawl around some ducting but that doesn’t really go anywhere interesting except for the quirky visual of Data’s decapitation. I don’t want to be too harsh because the way the episode cuts between these stories forces an unusually fast pace on events that keeps things very watchable and visually this is actually something of a treat (the lighting is brought right down and the ship feels full of menace as a result). It’s nice to see so much of the Enterprise in one episode too and to be reminded that it is a location full of storytelling possibilities. The DS9 version of this episode (DS9 is just as guilty of nicking ideas when there are gaps in the schedule) is unfairly compared to Disaster but I would say it is the superior installment (well I would, wouldn’t I?) because each of its vignettes is steeped in strong character whereas the approach here is far more functional (repair the ship). Don’t go into Disaster looking for anything deep or meaningful, just approach it expecting an hour of popcorn entertainment and you wont be disappointed: 7/10

The Game written by Brannon Braga and directed by Corey Allen

What’s it about: Wesley is back which means the Enterprise must be in deadly danger and only one person can save it…

To Baldly Go: In a moment of spectacular egotism Picard looks embarrassed when Wesley says that he sought out Boothby at Starfleet Academy and he hopes he didn’t tell the cadet lots of stories about him. To learn that he didn’t remember him at all (at first) is sold by the hurt look on Patrick Stewart’s face. He might have failed organic chemistry because of AF but it certainly doesn’t seem to have done his career any harm.

Mr Wolf: Worf baked Wesley Crusher a cake? Is there something going on between these two that I should know about? 

Alien Empath: ‘I never met a chocolate I didn’t like…’ No wonder she’s got such a gargantuan butt! I’ve noticed more and more efforts to try an turn Troi into a person rather than a walking psychology textbook and The Game features the most irreverent and enjoyable example yet. She discusses the delights of a chocolate pudding to Riker with such orgasmic delight I completely forgot all of the quirks of her personality that usually rub me up the wrong way and actually started to enjoy her company. We need to see more of this Troi, a woman who can enjoy the simple pleasures of life without having to psycho-analyse it. 

Dancing Doctor: Suddenly with Wesley around again it feels as if this character has a purpose again. She’s been handled somewhat aimlessly ever since he left, highlighted in the occasional episode but mostly kept in the background. Compared to the sort of firm characterisation that was afforded Dr Pulaski in season two (you always knew when she was around) she has become an extremely forgettable member of the regular cast. It’s quite an insult to the woman that she only gains any kind of status when she gets to act as a mother but thems the breaks. When Crusher invites Data to sickbay she sounds like a brain-dead drone that has been lobotomised by the game but considering this is Gates McFadden’s default style of acting it’s hard to tell the difference. 

Boy Genius: He’s back and you might just find him more cloying than ever. It’s nice to know that he is being pushed in Starfleet Academy and to find out that it isn’t the walk in the park he imagined it would be after his time serving on the Enterprise. It’s very often the way with these brainiac types that they can solve any kind of technical problem and yet they are unaware of what is going on right under their noses. Wesley walks into Engineering and talks with Robin but completely fails to spot that she is staring into the middle distance like a brain-dead cretin until it is almost too late. 

The Good: We open on a teaser that is rather more interested in the sexploits of William T. Riker than I would like to witness but it does prove to be much more important than it initially appears. Had this been more seriously handled we might not have been duped into thinking this was just a throwaway peek into Riker’s shore leave…even if it means we have to watch him chase a feisty redhead around a room for nearly a minute. The game itself is quite imaginatively realised even if it does look rather like the crude CGI graphics of The Lawnmower Man by today’s modern standards. The way it is played with real life events going on in the background is inspired because it shows how it is interfering peoples every day lives. It’s a game that gives you an orgasm every time you clear level so I can see what it takes off the way it does. Robin’s personal laws so she never forgets vital lessons that she has learnt is rather a nifty idea. 

The Bad: Picard describes the report that they will be rendezvousing with a shuttlecraft carrying Wesley Crusher as good news. I would be more reluctant if I were him, past experience should have taught him that Wesley’s proximity to the ship always puts it in a deadly danger that requires the boy genius to save them. The surprise party sequence where Wesley behaves as densely as he is often accused of is far too self congratulatory for my tastes. It screams of the writer, director and cast screaming we get on really well you know. I prefer the chemistry between the actors to spring naturally from the situations they find themselves in (check out the post-credit sequence from DS9’s The Circle where every man and his dog heads to Kira’s quarters to say goodbye to her) rather than having it beaten into me with false smiles. The scene between Data and Wesley in the corridor is far more believable because it feels so much more natural (especially Wesley’s embarrassment at his mum ‘the dancing Doctor’). A whopping close up on Dr Bev having an orgasm isn’t my idea of entertainment…more like a nightmare but I appreciate that some others may get some enjoyment from her shivering reactions. The scene where Picard sends his crew away from the Bridge like puppets to distribute more copies of the game is so hokey I thought I had wandered into a bizarre B-Movie parody of TNG. Nobody seems quite sure how to play these entertainment conditioned zombies and so settles on staring densely at the camera (in Gates McFadden’s case its hardly different from how she usually plays the character). The resolution featuring Data and his flashing light is so pat they may have well have just cut to everything back to normal and have Picard’s voiceover stating ‘Data saved us all with his usual skill…’ 

Moment to Watch Out For: The final ten minutes of The Game build to something of a vibrant set piece with Wesley being hunted through the Enterprise. Corey Allen gives this sequence real energy and punch and the music stands out in particular. When it comes to holding Wesley down and forcing the game upon on him (with his mothers purring voice assuring him that everything is okay) things have suddenly become quite serious.

Moral of the Week: Don’t always be keen to try new things.

Fashion Statement: This episode has something for everyone. Wil Wheaton has grown into a fine looking man and is finally able to relax a little as Wesley. But he’s nothing compared to the unrivalled hotness of Ashley Judd as Ensign Robin Lefler. Together they make a very cute couple and she proves to be exactly the sort of girlfriend he should have been sporting in seasons two and three to poke a finger in the eye of everybody (including me) who damned the kid as a geeky genius with no balls. Troi practically climaxing over a chocolate sundae comes dangerously close to being food porn. Watch out for the moment where Wesley and Robin are discovered by Worf and Crusher on his bed pretending to have multiple orgasms. I kid you not.

Result: Absolute nonsense but extremely engaging because of it, this (and others like it) is the reason why TNG was such a knockout ratings success. It’s not looking to probe the characters or build an intelligent scenario, it just wants to provide 45 minutes of fantastic entertainment. It’s the reason why the show was so popular at the time (because people didn’t have to follow the plot lines every week, they just had to tune in, be entertained for an hour and then get on with something else) and also why it has little of lasting worth. The idea of a game that invades your mind and brainwashes you might be absurd but they run with it in as serious a way as possible and the way it slowly gains prominence on the ship is nicely portrayed. It builds momentum until Wesley is being chased all over the ship in a terribly exciting set piece. Robin Lefler is a fine romantic foil for the kid and they make a very cute couple, it’s a shame that Ashley Judd was destined for greater success because she’s a welcome presence. There are some cute character moments peppered throughout although at times it is a little too self-congratulatory for its own good. As much as people might try and defend TNG as an engaging science fiction series it was more often indulgent popcorn entertainment like this than ardent fans might care to admit. There’s nothing wrong with that (and this is a really enjoyable episode), I just prefer my favourite shows to aim a little higher: 7/10

Unification written by Jeri Taylor and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: The return of Mister Spock…

To Baldly Go: If anybody else asked to see Sarek in his weakened state his wife would never allow it but since their mind meld Picard has become a part of him (thank goodness she resisted saying part of the family because I don’t think I would have been able to take it). How funny is the look on Picard’s face when he is lumbered with some minor functionary to speak on behalf of Gowron? Clearly he isn’t worth sending anyone more important to speak to him. He’s like a character in a Jane Austen novel in his ability to keep a straight face and talk so elegantly about Gowron whilst making his feelings perfectly clear and stabbing the Chancellor in the breast. To be fair I would find Data standing erect in the corner of a room staring out at me quite distracting if I was trying to sleep.

Alien Empath: Troi is handed a role that seems more than matched to her capabilities – charming a rougish jobsworth that they need help from. 

It’s Only Logical, Captain: I’m surprised it has taken this long to bring somebody over from TOS to TNG given this shows tricky gestation period. When DS9 kick started they relied on TNG semi regulars (Q, Lursa & B’tor, Mrs Troi) on a regular basis to ensure that the majority of the TNG crowd at least gave the show a chance. The thought of Spock playing a pivotal role in an episode is one that is very exciting and Leonard Nimoy is such a fine actor you know you are going to get something of worth from him. The thought of Spock defecting to the Romulans and betraying the Federation is such an abominable one it give the early scenes a real kick. He wrapped up all of his affairs carefully as if he knew he was going and all the evidence suggests this was planned defection but anybody who understands the character knows that this cannot be the case. Sarek might be estranged from his son and argue with him interminably but he will never accept that he has defected to the Romulans.

The Good: The tribute to Gene Roddenberry at the start of the episode is subtle and pinned to the most appropriate of episodes. Mark Lenard is as terrifying here as he was in Sarek; the usually cold, logical man gripped by a fever of emotions. Put two actors of the strength of Lenard and Patrick Stewart in a room and you can expect to see acting that will focus your attention acutely. Whether you know or not that this is the last time we you will ever see Sarek alive it is a scene that comes with real dramatic intensity. For a man who has given so much of himself to both Vulcan and the Federation this is an ignominious way to die, trapped in a fever of the one thing you are terrified of. It’s quite upsetting to watch and shows that TNG doesn’t always play it safe to write out a much loved character in such a cruel way. I love the idea of Gowron being such a strutting egotist that he is literally re-writing Klingon history to omit any mention of the Federation’s aid in his ascension to power. His crazy eyes should be a staple of every episode. The Enterprise should always be visiting visually interesting places like the junkyard in space. It’s the sort of location that Douglas Adams would shove into a Trek episode to pin a pin in the balloon of their pomposity and airport lounge aesthetics. Riker and his crew investigating who is stealing the storage tanks might be a little plodding but it shows the entire Bridge crew working together and pooling their talents. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough. 

The Bad: As soon as Admiral Brackett beams onto the Enterprise, Picard should clap her in irons. It don’t think he’s ever met an Admiral that isn’t corrupt in some way and he should nip her plans in the bud before she has a chance to put them in motion. Oh…she’s as innocent as she seems? Egg on my face. A trip to Romulus is so rare it should be full of visual splendour and excitement but it seems to consist of stock control room and underground tunnel sets that you would find on any bog standard Trek episode. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The cliffhanger, which instead of being a moment to delight unfolds in such a predictable and banal fashion. 

Moral of the Week: Make sure you don’t say goodbye on an argument. You never know when you wont see somebody again. 

Fashion Statement: Data and Picard dolled up as Romulans is definitely worth a chuckle or two, especially the former.

Result: Unification wants to be an ambitious, game changing blockbuster but it is coming from a show that doesn’t like altering the status quo. That means the introductory episode is a complex and challenging piece but once the second half has reset everything it frustrates you because of what it could been and where it could have taken the series. The best scene comes in the first third between Picard and Sarek and there is some formidable acting on display between Stewart and Lenard, so much so that the rest of the episode is left in the shadow of their efforts. I love it when Trek shows pull together a variety of planets and plot threads into one epic narrative and that certainly seems to be in evidence here. The only thing that is missing is a sense of urgency about events, there was more excitement chasing Wesley Crusher around the Enterprise last week than there is with the potentially awesome concept of bringing together Gowron, Spock, Sarek and Sela in one episode. It desperately needs some action to bolster the politics, action that I know TNG is capable of now (see the first scene of the season). Plus is this really the sort of episode that needs a sitcom subplot of Picard and Data bunking up together? It comes at the point where the episode really needs some excitement so its doubly galling that we are indulging in this sort of mundane pleasantry instead. There is so much recommend in Unification that it is quite frustrating that I cannot do so wholeheartedly. It should be a classic but instead it is just a good, regular episode of Trek with the odd moment of brilliance: 7/10

Unification Part II written by Michael Piller and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Will Spock succeed in unifying the Vulcans and the Romulans?

To Baldly Go: I’m torn between Picard’s devotion to the Federation (because Spock really should have discussed with them a peace treaty that would have repercussions for the Alpha Quadrant) and thinking he is a jobsworth who cannot do anything off his own steam (because I rather like the idea of a rogue Ambassador sticking a finger up at bureaucracy and getting off his ass to get something done). Is Picard being close minded to suggest that re-unification is a much more difficult process than the extended therapy that Spock is offering? Perhaps, but that shouldn’t stop you trying. It’s lovely that Spock should accuse Picard of speaking with Sarek’s voice, it’s a terrific use of continuity to build a characterful relationship between the two characters. Analytical and dispassionate, Spock understands why his father was drawn to him. A complete contrast to Captain Kirk. Ironically Picard may know Spock better than his father ever did and their exchange of memories at the end of the episode is very touching. What a shame that they never followed up on this because within one episode they managed to create a bond between Spock and Picard which is as strong as but very different from his bond with Kirk. 

Number One: Possibly the finest Riker scene in years when he smoothes his way through a bar, chats up an alien gal and plays the blues. He should limber up like this every week. Even better is where he squares up to the most obnoxious, fattest Ferengi ever seen. 

Fully Functional: Scenes between Data and Spock are (if you’ll forgive the pun) fascinating, especially when Spock informs him that there are Vulcans who have spent their entire lives aspiring to be what Data has been given (un)naturally.

Alien Empath: Does she still exist?

Dancing Doctor: Dr Bev walks onto the Bridge and says her two contractually obligated lines with all the passion of somebody who has been left out of the action would. I really wouldn’t have bothered to have her appear. 

It’s Only Logical, Captain: Is it my imagination or does Leonard Nimoy sound a little bit bored here? Sometimes Vulcan’s are so lacking in emotion (its built within their characters after all) I find it hard to tell the difference between deliberate, cold acting and disinterest. Spock learns that his father is dead and he turns and faces a wall where we cannot tell what he is feeling (although the simple fact that he has to turn away says that he is trying to hide something). Nimoy has still got it in those moments when he is called to react in a deadpan fashion to criticisms of his character (that knowing eyebrow arch is still hilarious). I think the hologram of Spock is supposed to be deliberately monotonous and artifical…but I couldn’t tell the difference between this and what Nimoy was doing elsewhere in the episode. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I was involved in cowboy diplomacy as you call it long before you were born…’
‘I will be the first one to cheer when the Neutral Zone is abolished.’
‘Just what I need, another set of hands.’
‘I think I’ll take this opportunity to remove my ears…’
‘A fat Ferengi has just entered the establishment!’ 

The Good: The bar setting is fantastic and unusually seedy and under lit. I love it when the show pops out into far more exotic locales like this instead of taking place in dreary spotlessly clean control rooms and offices. The four armed alien taking drugs is such an anathema to this series usual approach to aliens I thought I had tripped into an episode of Farscape.

The Bad: The simple fact is that whilst Spock says that it was a ‘personal decision’ to not bring his plans of re-unification to the Vulcans or Starfleet the truth of the matter is there is no good reason beyond that there wouldn’t have been a mystery to power the first episode. I like it when they shake up the format a little bit and they stretch the teaser to nearly six minutes to celebrate the return of Spock. Unfortunately it is something of a plodding dialogue scene that feels like it goes on forever. Its clear from the start of the scene between him and Spock that Neral is double crossing him (he’s just too amiable to be quite believable) and Sela walking through the doors as soon as Spock has left is painfully predictable. What was the point of bringing Sela into this tale of Romulan shenanigans and giving her absolutely nothing to do. Here was her chance to dominate and she barely features. We’re told that Romulans are a passionate species (it is the very thing that separates them from the Vulcans) and yet when Picard and Spock are captured they are treated very agreeably and kept in comfortable conditions. Enough with the courtesy, I want to see some real threat to the characters on this show. Ultimately Sela’s character comes down to a very childish set of stereotypes. She hates the Vulcans and wants to exploit them to make her people strong. Unusually for Piller the characterisation is quite shallow, boiling this character down to the simplest of motives. She’s defeated by the most obvious ploy and a Vulcan neck pinch. Its so mundane I think a voiceover simply telling us that she had been defeated might have been preferable. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Worf sings Klingon Opera in the bar. Wowzas, you’ll never be able to scrub that memory from your mind! Needless to say they introduce a more melodious version of the genre come DS9. 

Moral of the Week: Peace is a long game. Be patient.

Result: So much promise, so little satisfaction. It’s sad that past disappointments inform the audience before the episode has concluded that the landscape of the Alpha Quadrant wont change. Things could have transformed when the Borg attacked Earth. Things could have changed when a Klingon civil war threatened to erupt. But TNG loves suggesting ambitious changes and tidying away the toys in all the box again rather than embracing the potential long term drama inherent in these possibilities. Was re-unification ever going to take place in this episode despite the incessant chatter about it? Not a chance. However I don’t want to dismiss this episodes positive attributes of which there are many; its great to have so much action taking place off the ship on exploring alien worlds, there’s a glorious couple of scenes featuring Riker in an alien bar, Michael Piller’s dialogue is as sharp as ever and the appearance of Nimoy (even if he isn’t at his sparkling best) makes this more than worth your time. In the negative column is a bizarre Data subplot that adds nothing and the general feeling that the crew of the Enterprise isn’t really needed at all because Spock is doing rather well on his own without them. Unification is such a mix of the good (I loved the comparison between Spock and Data) and the disappointing (the direction is generally very flat and paceless, the lack of any action that an episode on this scale desperately needs) that the resulting experience is watchable but extremely frustrating. This should have been the knockout TNG double lengther to rival The Best of Both Worlds but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t come anywhere close: 6/10

A Matter of Time written by Rick Berman and directed by Paul Lynch

What’s it about: A visitor from the future appears to inform Picard that a very important historical event is about to occur…

To Baldly Go: Jean Luc is the picture of modesty when it comes to discussing why he has been chosen as a study of historical interest. I would say his experiences with the Borg and the Klingons over the past few years would make him an ideal candidate but the Captain suggests there are far more interesting examples of humanity out there. Picard talks passionately about changing the future as written and making the right choice but his impressive speech falls on deaf ears.

Alien Empath: Troi is as valuable as ever. When asked if she can sense what Rasmussen is holding back she responds ‘I don’t know.’ Her suspicions about Rasmussen are based on little more than instinct which for once turn out to be right on the money. 

Dancing Doctor: There’s a wonderful scene where Dr Bev flirts outrageously with Rasmussen and then pulls away suggesting that she could be his great, great, great Grandmother. I can’t imagine why she isn’t written with this much spunk every week as Gates McFadden responds to the material with a deliriously loose performance. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every choice we make influences the future! Living is making choices!’

The Good: ‘Not unlike the nuclear winters of 21st Century Earth…’ Excuse me? Care to elaborate, Picard? Naturally the crew has questions about the future; Riker wants to know when time travel becomes commonplace, Dr Bev seeks information about the cure for the Talurian plague and Data wants to know if he is still running in the future. Another planet, another ecological disaster except this time it is less of an intrusive subplot and actually built into the structure of the episode.
‘Oh Professor…Welcome to the 24th Century.’ 

The Bad: Matt Frewer has that Jim Carey ability of managing to be utterly disarming and as irritating as dermatitis at the same (actually they sound pretty similar too). I really wasn’t sure whether stick Rasmussen in this section or the one above because he fluctuates between the charming and the annoying with disturbing frequency. However his constant refusal to help Picard out during this crisis sealed his fate…at the end of the episode we realise he doesn’t actually know how things pan out but the way he continually takes a historically moral stance bugged the hell out of me. He constantly alludes to an important event that is about to emerge that never actually arrives, its all sleight of hand which for the most part the crew of the Enterprise is entirely taken in by. Also Rasmussen is smitten by Dr Bev which says everything about his taste in women. Saying that the disaster subplot is necessary is one thing (otherwise there would be no famous historical event for Rasmussen to hint at) but it is also stricken with hideous technobabble and presents us with another faceless race that we have never seen before and will never see again. If this was happening to a planet we already knew about and characters that we had come to care about then it would make a real impact. Come seasons five, six and seven DS9 was only dealing with well known recognisable planets populated by semi regular characters because it was far easier to give a ¤¤¤¤. Come season seven of TNG we are still visiting locations from the random planet bible. As it is I didn’t really give a damn whether their planet turned into a snowball or a sun. The audience is let in on Rasmussen’s theft of Enterprise equipment far too early, it immediately suggests that he isn’t telling the truth despite his suggestions to the contrary. All this talk of pre-determinism and the right to make a choice is worthy but its also stating the bleeding obvious too. Picard comes to the conclusion that he has the right to make his own decisions. He should have already known that really, being the Captain. 

Moment to Watch Out For: It's terribly satisfying seeing Rasmussen being taken away in chains. He was a right annoying get.

Moral of the Week: Make your own choices. Don’t be influenced by anybody.

Result: ‘It’s a pity you weren’t a bit more inventive…’ Well said Picard! A Matter of Time is nowhere near as fun as it should which is a shame because it sports a fantastic premise and a chance for the show to really let its hair down with regards to temporal shenanigans. This is the only teleplay for TNG written by Rick Berman and he pretty much suffers from the same affliction as most of the others – that he is willing to plant the seed of a good idea out there but he isn’t willing to follow through with an episode that takes any risks. So whilst there is a suggestion that the latest dreary technobabble leaden subplot is one of the most important moments in history, its pretty clear from the tone of the episode that that is hardly going to be the case. Also Rasmussen is a fascinating prospect as a character from the future (he could have leaked all sorts of interesting titbits about the characters personal futures and future storylines to whet the audiences appetite) but as a conman from the past he merely serves as a predictable plot function and shows up the Enterprise crew as being particularly easily duped (except, oddly, Troi who usually buys into any old nonsense). Berman writers for the regular cast well (its bizarre how Dr Bev and Troi are so natural in his hands) but the episode gets bogged down in temporal waffle (which is only riveting when Patrick Stewart wrings every ounce of excitement out of it in one standout scene) when it should take a far more emotional approach. If you want to watch a dramatic tale that deals with characters from the future witnessing and influencing past events then check out Doctor Who’s The Aztecs. It might be creakier television visually but it has a dramatic thrust and moral core that TNG’s effort lacks entirely. Rasmussen’s fate is well and truly deserved: 5/10

New Ground written by Grant Rosenberg and directed by Robert Scheerer 

What’s it about: Alexander is back and he’s here to stay. Oh goody.

Number One: Imagine if Riker had died trying to save the Gilvos. That would be a hilarious way to go.

Mr Wolf: Some child actors have it (I’ve just watched Les Miserables and it was packed with some very fine young actors) and others don’t, it’s as black and white as that. Brian Bosnell hasn’t got it. He reminds me of Matthew Waterhouse from Doctor Who, awkward in front of the camera, moving mechanically and struggling to make the most basic dialogue sound convincing. The news that he is moving onto the Enterprise permanently is not one that does the show any favours. Pretty much Worf was the only character I could fully endorse on TNG (Guinan too but she’s hardly around anymore) and I was wondering if there was anyway they could spoil his terrific run of form on the show. I think they might have just found it. Worf has always (well, mostly) been written with good humour but by having him bring up his son on the Enterprise suddenly he is being written as a humourless moralistic Picard clone, always lecturing, never satisfied. To be fair to Alexander he has been abandoned by his father and lost his mother so there is a reason why he is behaving so tediously but I went through similarly traumatic experiences in my childhood and I never treated people quite this appallingly. Worf has the nerve to tell an experienced teacher working on the flagship of the Enterprise (so let’s assume that she’s over qualified) that she isn’t good enough to teach his son because he is a Klingon. What a nerve. Worf walks around with his head in the clouds thinking that Alexander’s behaviour is all his own doing and not a result of his dreadful parenting. I’ve been studying psychology for some time now but I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert and it’s patently obvious to me that the root cause of Alexander’s issues is abandonment (the first thing he said in this episode is that he doesn’t want to leave). Worf’s naiveté is spelt out during a arduous counselling session with Counsellor Troi and it is painful to watch. 

Alien Empath: Any episode that encourages giving Troi a large slice of the pie makes me nervous but she’s the only person that talks any good sense to Worf in New Ground. Go figure. 

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Alexander has acted shamefully and I find as his father I must now deal with him but I find I would rather fight ten Valdak warriors than face one small child.’

The Bad: Another week, another tedious technobabble subplot. Geordi rather tempts fate by suggesting that the first testing of the latest splash of technology is going to be as exciting as the first warp flight involving Zefron Cochrane. I was willing for this to be the case but somehow (given similarly dull subplots in a great many episodes of late) I doubted it. It’s another example of the ‘more interesting guest character’, Georgia Brown is so naturalistic and full of good humour as Helena Rozhenko I would happily request that she remains on board the Enterprise instead of Alexander to hound Worf’s steps and make sure he is behaving like a good boy. I think the ‘everybody contacts Worf whilst he is in a meeting with the Captain’ sequence was supposed to be funny but because he reacts so badly to the interruptions it lacks any warmth or humour. I was all for the Gilvos turning up as Quark’s pet in The Nagus because it is a comical scene in an inherently comical episode. They look ridiculous but the whole scene was so it kind of got away with it. Here where they are treated like a deadly serious species threatened by extinction and are realised by a man shoving his hand up a glove puppet and failing to make any natural un-armlike movements is just appalling. This show commands some of the finest prosthetics experts in the business and this is the best they could come up with? As for the fight sequence in the holodeck…I feel like I’m kicking a sick puppy criticising this episode so much but it’s just dire. Alexander fails to react with any kind of skill or fluidity – I’ve seen kids his age floor adults in martial arts. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Is it worth getting to the point where Worf invites Alexander to join him permanently on the Enterprise and challenges him to the difficulty of trying to live together? 

Moral of the Week: Parents are often to blame for a child's mistakes. Look to yourself before blaming others.

Result: They should know better than this by now. This is the point where a show has had the time to gestate into something worthwhile, to figure out what works and what doesn’t and concentrate on the latter. DS9 was putting out episodes like Rapture, In Purgatory’s Shadow and Dr Bashir, I Presume at around the same point in its respective run. New Ground is so lacking incident and interest it is baffling as to how it ever got off the ground. Watching Worf trying to deal with the initial stages of parenthood could have been really funny (if it was pitched at the same sitcom level as Disaster when he brought Molly to term it would have been a laugh riot) but it plays out with crushing monotony, highlighting all of the worst aspects of him as a parent and Alexander as a son. If the purpose of New Ground was to show how deeply unlikable both characters are then it succeeds in spades. It might not be so bad if there was a amiable subplot to help liven up the ‘drama’ (as many an early DS9 and VOY would deploy) but we’re lumbered with another disaster story which exchanges human interaction with robotic techno-waffle. If this was told with a little hilarity it might have been bearable but its so deathly serious you might find it the perfect antidote to insomnia if you are having a struggle trying to get to sleep. This is Supernanny in Space with the parent having to learn as much about their approach to the relationship as the child and its agonisingly dry to watch Worf come to this realisation. A languorous experience: 2/10

Hero Worship written by Joe Menosky and directed by Patrick Stewart

What’s it about: A lost boy and a concerned android… 

Alien Empath: Get this woman off the Ship! Not only is she full of excuses for why she cannot sense Timothy’s deception (ever noticed how she never senses anything when there is a mystery but always senses things when the episode has already pointed out whatever insight she is about to make) but she also thinks it would be healthy if an mentally ill child spends a great deal of time with an emotionless automaton to aid his recovery but will be completely unaware of his needs as a human being. When Ezri suggests that Nog hangs out in the holosuite in Its Only a Paper Moon everybody comments that she is nuts (like you would) but when Troi suggests something equally as absurd on the Enterprise everybody nods their heads thoughtfully as though she the epitome of insight. It’s just bizarre. When Timothy starts behaving like an android Troi suggests this is a very healthy approach to his progress. Basically she screwed up and she’s not going to admit it. Troi suggests in a critical moment that she and Timothy should go below and get out of everybody’s way. Why doesn’t she take that advice all the time?

Dancing Doctor: Imagine beaming away from the wreckage of a ship and the first person you come into contact with was the robotic visage of Dr Bev? I would be scared that I was about to have all my emotions stripped away. Watching everybody on the Enterprise feeding into Timothy’s delusion is more unsettling than it is cute. 

The Bad: We have stumbled across half destroyed ships before and the execution here isn’t very bold. Sparks and bulkheads fly and the hull sounds like it might collapse but the characters walk about as though they are in no danger whatsoever. Kids on Star Trek prove to very lucky indeed. Last week Alexander was trapped under a girder and escaped unscathed and this week Timothy has half the ship fall on him and he is beamed to safety. In reality both children would probably be smashed to a pulp but that wouldn’t make very entertaining viewing (I would take it over New Ground though). The episode goes to some lengths to point out that Timothy might find a lack of emotion in this trying time an appealing idea so the first instance where we see him dressed up like Data is no surprise at all. I don’t like it when a story points out its developments quite so evidently.

Moment to Watch Out For: Timothy admitting that he is responsible for all the deaths is a great moment. It proves to be more of an attempt to break for an advert on a dramatic high rather than the conclusion that the plot reaches. It’s a cheat but in the moment it works.

Moral of the Week: Don’t leave Counsellor Troi in charge of disturbed children.

Result: After helming two episodes I have come to the conclusion that Patrick Stewart is not the most magnetic of directors (unlike Jonathan Frakes who epitomises that approach) and Hero Worship suffers from an antediluvian visual style. We’ve had the ‘Data’s Day’ episode and the ‘Data gets a girlfriend’ episode so I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Data adopts a child’ episode appeared in the schedules. The thing about these installments is that as amiable as they are (Data’s Day, In Theory and Hero Worship all embody a childlike attitude which is hard to dislike) they don’t really have the scope to go anywhere and despite Spiner’s obvious appeal they feel like further filler episodes in a show that is already chock-a-block full of them. When DS9 discovered an orphan (The Abandoned) it turned out to be a genetically engineered killing machine that allowed the audience close to the shows central nasties before proving they are beyond redemption. TNG attempted it first and treated us to vaguely dull exercise in post traumatic stress – since Data feels no emotion he cannot make any connection to Timothy and thus the core of the episode is a heartless one. Instead we are expected to invest in Timothy himself which would be a lot easier if he wasn’t walking around pretending not to have any feelings either. Hero Worship is reasonably performed (Joshua Harris is light years ahead of Brian Bosnell) and written (although the enquiry into what has happened to the science vessel is more technobabble than investigative drama) but it’s another family episode in a season that is full of them and it isn’t one of the better ones. The Bonding did all of this in season three and it is a far superior episode: 5/10


TI(M) said...

Please do the rest of this season. I would love to get your ideas about the award winning inner Light.

Martin Hudecek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Hudecek said...

Blogger Martin Hudecek said...
Well I really enjoyed much of this season. It was more easy to get into than any of the prior 4, but I do rate s3 and s4 as better quality. But this year was just easy to watch without needing to think too hard, and sometimes that's all good escapism needs.

My ratings are as follows:
DARMOK 7 (=)
ENSIGN RO 7 (-2)
THE GAME 6 (-1)

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