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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Up the Long Ladder (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s been a while since Star Trek: The Next Generation has been openly offensive. So, just in case you’d forgotten that this was the same production staff that gave us “Riker beams down to a planet of beautiful women and screws their heads on straight” or “Troi’s womb is occupied by an alien intelligence, isn’t that cute?”, the writing staff have conspired to remind us that just because prejudice doesn’t exist in the 24th century (tell that to the Ferengi!) doesn’t mean that it can’t exist inside a late twentieth century writing room.

Begosh and begorrah! The space Oirish are coming!

"Wait, we're actually filming this?"

“Wait, we’re actually filming this?”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Samaritan Snare (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

To describe Samaritan Snare as a step down from Q Who? feels like an understatement. Q Who? was Star Trek: The Next Generation realising that it needed to improve its game if it ever wanted to measure up to its predecessor, interrogating some aspects of the series that had been taken for granted, calling the crew out on their arrogance and offering an opponent that could really push the Enterprise crew for all that they are worth.

It was really the logical culmination of themes running through the second season, themes that seem to faintly echo into Samaritan Snare, another story about the arrogance and ego of the Enterprise crew. Unfortunately, while it does seem to acknowledge many of the same weaknesses and flaws that Q Who? hit upon, it can’t help but seem a little disappointing. Here, the Enterprise are not thrown against an impossible-to-defeat adversary. Instead, their arrogance turns them into interstellar marks.

His heart just isn't in it...

His heart just isn’t in it…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC) Annual #2 – Thin Ice (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Riker is a character caught between a rock and a hard place. According to the series bible, Riker was imagined as one of the “dual lead characters” for the show and clearly envisioned as an impulsive and brilliant Kirk to Picard’s more rational and stoic Spock. However, it didn’t quite work out that way, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the writing on the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation tended to be a bit more sterile and bland, so Riker was never really allowed to step too far out of Picard’s shadow.

Instead, we got lots of characters talking about how ambitious Riker was, without seeing it for ourselves. It’s implied that Riker’s career led him to separate from Troi, something Peter David ran with in Imzadi. Everybody is constantly telling everybody else how Riker desperately wants to be a starship commander. And yet, when it come to the actual characterisation of Riker on the show, none of this shines through.

Due to the constraints imposed on the early years, interpersonal conflict was impossible in early Next Generation scripts, putting Riker in a paradoxical position as a character. We’re repeatedly told how ambitious and career-orientated he is, but none of that shines through.

Dead space...

Dead space…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Icarus Factor (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Icarus Factor is a character-driven story. At least, it wants to be a character-driven story. The problem is that Star Trek: The Next Generation hasn’t reached the point where it can really do character-driven storytelling with a measure of consistence. (The fact that Picard confronting his future failures in Time Squared worked was more down to Patrick Stewart than the episode’s script.)

The Icarus Factor is a story focusing on Riker as a character, and it suffers from the fact that Riker hasn’t really been well-defined to date. We’re repeatedly told that he’s ambitious and career-driven, but most his on-screen characterisation has fluctuated between reckless, jerkish and horny. So The Icarus Factor tries to compensate by giving Riker the most generic back story possible for a lead male character on a television show.

This is the story of Riker’s daddy issues.

Somehow, this image just sums up Riker as a character...

Somehow, this image just sums up Riker as a character…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Time Squared (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Time Squared is an intriguing little episode, if not entirely satisfying. Like The Royale before it, it features the Enterprise stumbling across a phenomenon that it can’t explain. Also like The Royale, the episode presents an existential horror to the crew. Time Squared is significantly stronger as a character piece, forcing Picard to confront a potential future version of himself that he can’t reconcile with his own expectations and self-image. Unfortunately, the open-ended mystery of the episode lacks the bizarre charm of the unresolved questions dangling at the end of The Royale.

"I never noticed before, but the Captain has pretty spectacular bone structure..."

“I never noticed before, but the Captain has pretty spectacular bone structure…”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Royale (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

“None of it makes any sense, sir,” Riker succinctly states before the credits role on The Royale. The Royale is a decidedly nonsensical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where an away team find themselves trapped inside an atrocious casino melodrama and have to figure out how to return to the ship. The episode is packed with interesting visuals and a bizarre situations, but it never quite comes together in the end.

And, yet, despite the obvious problems, The Royale is intriguing. Visually, it’s one of the most striking and memorable episodes of the show’s first two season. The rotating door to nowhere is a beautifully strange image, and the sight of the Enterprise away team wandering around a twentieth century casino is enough to prevent the episode from ever becoming boring. The Royale isn’t the best constructed episode of the show’s first two years, and it has more than its fair share of problems.

However, it’s also a wonderfully bizarre and adventurous piece of science-fiction, as if Riker has beamed into a cheap imitation of The Twilight Zone. That’s enough to make it well worth a watch.

The whole plot revolves around absurdities...

The whole plot revolves around absurdities…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Masks by John Vornholt (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Generally, I’ve been looking at novels and tie-ins that are specifically or thematically related to specific episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a valid approach to writing about the show, searching out material that expands or develops themes and concepts and characters lightly touched upon during the episode in question. However, some times it is also worth taking time out to look at what was happening in tie-in fiction at approximately the same time.

Obviously, the scripts written by writers working on the show were the result of a careful creative process drawing input from the writers in general, the producers and the studio. They were crafted with a key eye to shaping the future direction of the show, by the people working on the show. Looking at official tie-in material from the same time allows us to venture a bit outside that circle, and to get a glimpse of what The Next Generation might have looked like to a creator outside the writers’ room as it was going to air.

Masks was published in July 1989, after Shades of Grey had aired and the second season had limped off the screen. While author John Vornholt obviously could not have seen the whole season on submitting his novel, it is interesting to get his view of the sci-fi spin-off in its sophomore season.

tng-masks

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Unnatural Selection (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s really strange that this is our first Pulaski-centred episode. It’s even stranger that it’s the shows only Pulaski-centred episode, given she’s a new character being inserted into an established ensemble. It’s even stranger-er that the episode doesn’t really seem to have much to say about Pulaski apart from the fact that she is the show’s new doctor – and she’s a bit of an idiot. Which is not necessarily what you want when you’re trying to endear a new character to the audience.

Then again, Unnatural Selection is a pretty good indicator of where Star Trek: The Next Generation is right now. The show hasn’t quite figured out that it’s a good idea to anchor character-centric stories in the character upon which that intended to centre. It’s one of the most successful aspects of Michael Piller’s approach, and part of what really revitalised the writing in the show’s third season. As it stands, Unnatural Selection seems to be a story about medical stuff, so it gets to focus on Pulaski. Who is really just sort of there.

I can see this getting old fast...

I can see this getting old fast…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Schizoid Man (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

I should probably hate The Schizoid Man. It is certainly a very, very flawed piece of television. It would be a lot more forgivable had it aired during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the show was still trying to find its feet – including it early in the second season feels like the show is pushing it a little. In many respects, The Schizoid Man embodies a lot of the (legitimate) complaints about the weaknesses of The Next Generation as a television show: the performances from the peripheral members of the main cast are a bit ropey, there’s an incredibly false sense of urgency generated by techno-babble and the dialogue is just terrible.

And yet, despite that, there’s quite a lot here to like. Stripping away the terrible dialogue and the unnecessary convolutions, The Schizoid Man is a very basic morality play, one touching on themes the show will handle a lot better a few episodes down the line. Brent Spiner is surprisingly creepy as Graves-as-Data, and W. Morgan Sheppard is pretty great in an admittedly thankless part as the misogynistic and creepy Ira Graves.

23rd century Schizoid Man...

23rd century Schizoid Man…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outrageous Okona (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 (and a tiny bit of the second), episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, I’m not sure if you can call two solid episodes in succession a “streak” or a “roll”, but Where Silence Has Lease and Elementary, Dear Data were two hours of television that demonstrated how far the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation had come since its rocky first season. However, it appears that the two very good episodes in a row did not represent a sudden change in direction and did not assure consistency. The Outrageous Okona is a bad episode, by just about any measure. It’s not necessarily as offensive as Angel One or Code of Honour, but it is quite painful to watch.

Unlike a lot of the bungled “message” shows in the first season that contained misjudged ideas or offensive elements, The Outrageous Okona is merely a terribly written and unfunny mess of an episode that simply gnaws at the viewer.

He works best Solo...

He works best Solo…

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