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Star Trek: The Next Generation – 11001001 (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Maybe it’s just because I’m delirious coming out of Angel One, an episode that managed to make Datalore look almost reasonable by comparison, but I quite like 11001001. Part of that comes down to the fact that it’s one of the few episodes in this troubled first season that manages to take the restrictions imposed on the show by Roddenberry and make them work. It helps that the aliens of the week – the Bynars – are among the more interesting creatures to appear on the show so far. And it finally makes for a nice Riker episode, finding a way to team up Riker and Picard, a duo that haven’t spent enough time together at this point in the series.

Base, the final frontier...

Base, the final frontier…

On a purely superficial level, like with Where No One Has Gone Before, 11001001 looks really good in high definition. Reviewing these episodes again, I don’t think I’ve given enough credit to the team that carefully and meticulously pieced the show back together in this fabulous format. The approach of the Enterprise to the Starbase in the opening scene looks absolutely breathtaking, and it’s great to see little details like the people boarding and leaving the ship as it docks. As usual, Ron Jones’ score sounds suitably impressive. It really is great that CBS are keeping the series alive in this format, and I hope to see the remastering continue into the future.

However, the success of 11001001 lies in more than just its impressive visual sweep. Roddenberry famously restricted the stories that the writers could tell during the early seasons. He expressly forbade character conflict, and – as a result – a lot of the first season seems a little too neat and tidy. Characters seem to always get what they want. There is always a happy ending. Nobody really loses out, except maybe a few unnamed extras in uniforms who serve to heighten the peril. (Although even death was uncommon in the early days of the show.)

Look, they're practically in bits...

Look, they’re practically in bits…

11001001 finds a way to work within that framework. It offers a challenge and a crisis that doesn’t stem from malice, but from misunderstanding. It allows the show to put the characters under threat, while still affording all involved a happy ending. okay, the notion that the Bynars couldn’t contact Starfleet directly seems a little silly, especially since Starfleet are the designated good guys. There are stretches of the show where Picard seems to do little except ferry aliens around. If the most important ship in the fleet is that dedicated to being cheerfully helpful, it’s difficult to believe that there’s even a remote possibility Starfleet Command couldn’t share a ship to prevent the death of a culture. Unless that culture isn’t warp capable. In which case… well, they had a good run. Probably.

Still, if you can make that (relatively small) leap in logic, the episode works quite well. The Bynars are a convincingly alien species, with a wonderfully disconcerting effect of dubbing male voices over female actors to create something other. The notion of a species that can only survive in pairs in fascinating, and Picard notes that they have achieved harmony between organic life and machines. “As I understand it, over time they have become so interconnected with the master computer on their planet that their language, their thought patterns have become as close to binary as it’s possible for organic beings.”

Painting a pretty picture...

Painting a pretty picture…

It’s a shame that they were never brought back, because they make for an interesting contrast with the Borg. For a genre built on limitless possibilities, science-fiction tends to be wary of the union between man and machine, so it’s rare to see it presented in a mostly positive light. Sure, a solar flare might wipe out your entire species, but the Bynars seem like a functioning society, rather than some monstrosity in need of organic salvation.

While the show isn’t dripping with tension, it also manages to give us a pretty nifty dramatic hook. We know that the Enterprise will be fine, but there’s something eerie about seeing the ship abandoned, hijacked for an unknown purpose with only Picard and Riker left aboard. Nobody doubts that Picard would happily blow up the ship rather than let it fall into enemy hands, but it’s nice to see neither Picard nor Riker hesitating to do what needs to be done.

Ships of the line...

Ships of the line…

Of course, there’s not really too much tension here. The phasers are entirely unnecessary – though there is something quite effective about seeing the normally diplomatic Picard taking a trip to the “Weapons Room.” Riker and Picard manage to disarm the auto-destruct with considerable time to spare, and there’s no last-minute glitch to suspend the tension or to make either character sweat even a bit. While it’s nice to see the show avoid a classic self-destruct cliché, it still feels a little too clean for its own good.

Indeed, the episode practically gives us a “happy ever after” ending. It’s nice to see the Bynars are willing to take responsibility for what they did, but Picard seems to shrug it off, noting how easily everything wrapped up. “No one has been hurt. You have achieved your objective. You have your planet back in order. We have our ship.” We’re told that there will be a hearing, but not to worry too much about it. But, I suppose, it’s more tense than anything else this season and the happy ending makes sense in such a way that it is almost earned.

To thine own self-destruct be true...

To thine own self-destruct be true…

However, aside from the Bynars, 11001001 works quite well because it’s a Riker-centric episode where the character isn’t a massive douchebag. Hide & Q would have been unfortunate no matter which member of the ensemble anchored it, but Angel One just gave us a massive dose of sexist!Riker that I really don’t want to ever see again. Thankfully, 11001001 manages to avoid that particular portrayal, while still giving us a Riker who seems far from squeaky clean.

On the special features of this blu ray collection, the actors are all relatively vocal about their (legitimate) criticisms of that first year. While Stewart comments on the show’s sexism, Frakes biggest complaint was the lack of character drama. In that light, it makes sense that Riker (as portrayed by Frakes) is presented as the most flawed of the leads. I’m not sure if it’s down to the scripts or Frakes’ delivery, but Riker can come across as a bit of dick in these early episodes… and I kinda really like that.

Retaking the Bridge...

Retaking the Bridge…

Here, when he finds Geordi teaching Data how to paint, he jokes that they should document that for posterity. “Think about it. A blind man teaching an android how to paint? That’s got to be worth a couple of pages in somebody’s book.” It’s a long way from the sexist excesses of the last episode or the temper tantrums of Hide & Q, but it still suggests that Riker is a character who could easily rub you the wrong way and the member of the crew most likely to wind up in a bar fight.

Indeed, 11001001 is hardly the most complementary portrayal of Riker. It is based around his ideal woman, Minuet, and she says quite a lot about him as a person. Riker asks, “How did you learn to dance so well?” Minuet responds, “From following you. I can anticipate your lead.” Discussing Minuet with Captain Picard, Riker notes, “It’s as though she’s been plugged into my subconscious. She already knows what I want her to say before I’m aware of it myself.” Of course Riker’s ideal woman would exist to meet his every need. She doesn’t have to be interesting in her own right or have her own agency. Minuet is only of interest to Riker in the way that she responds to Riker’s demands, how she anticipates his lead.

A Minuet in hell...

A Minuet in hell…

It’s hardly the most fulfilling of romantic entanglements, but we know enough of Riker to understand how it could fit – Minuet can flirt with Picard, but it seems unlikely she’d lure him in as completely as she fools Riker. It’s a plot device that could easily become just a little bit unfortunate – particularly in a season with the same gender-related problems as this season of The Next Generation. However, here it feels like a reflection of Riker’s psyche rather than sexism on the part of the writers. At least that’s how I read it.

11001001 also flirts with some ideas that would be developed later in the series, around the particulars of the holodeck – especially the danger of confusion we’d see in Hollow Pursuits. After all, one imagines that having a deck on the ship that can fulfil your crew’s every need must be quite risky. In Deep Space Nine, Quark would basically run the holosuites as a sort of a brothel, and Riker seems to gingerly broach the topic of sex here. He asks, “How far can this relationship go? I mean, how real are you?” Minuet replies with a variation on Data’s infamous “fully functional” line, “As real as you need me to be.”

Two brains are bigger than one...

Two brains are bigger than one…

I suppose that it says something about the humans of the 24th century that the holodeck isn’t that dangerous a social idea. After all, Star Trek exists in a world where all basic human needs have been met, but humanity continues to press out and explore because it has decided that knowledge is inherently valuable and worth pursuing. The kind of person volunteering to work in such an environment would probably be able to resist the temptations of the holodeck, even if I can’t help but imagine the ability to programme a version fo home far from home would be almost as compelling as living in your own fantasies.

As an aside, I find it interesting that Picard can just wander into the holodeck while it’s running for Riker. It didn’t even seem to announce him. He seems a little embarrassed to walk in on Riker and Minuet, but what if he had arrived a half-hour-or-so later? “I’m sorry, Number One,” he apologises, “I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Given that you are effectively walking into a person’s fantasies, you’d imagine that the programme might pause or stop if another person arrived uninvited. Although, I suppose, that sort of transparency would probably keep anything the holodeck from being too seedy.

Back in the saddle...

Back in the saddle…

The show wasn’t quite ready to tackle these questions yet, but it is nice to see them broached. Riker himself seems to acknowledge the possibility for confusion. “I know you are a computer-generated image, but your smell, your touch, the way you feel. Even the things you say and think seem so real.” At its best, The Next Generation was very thoughtful and reflective science-fiction, and 11001001 feels like it is trying to be insightful and clever. It doesn’t probe its questions deep enough but – at this point in the run – even asking them is good enough.

11001001 isn’t a classic, but it’s a solid piece of entertainment, and proof that Angel One isn’t representative of the show at this stage in its development.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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