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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 2 (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.

Although, as Rick Berman argues in the documentary Making It So, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation “was at least in syndicated ratings terms, extremely successful”, there was trouble brewing behind the scenes. The show lost two-thirds of its regular female cast members, and the season ended with a whimper rather than a bang as the 1988 Writers’ Strike cutting into the development of the final couple of scripts.

The second season was no less plagued by problems, even as the show proved a ratings and commercial success. The show’s writers’ room was in disarray, with conflicts erupting between Tracy Tormé and Maurice Hurley over scripting for the show – leading to the use of both of Tormé’s WGA-approved pseudonyms on consecutive scripts from the writer. Episodes were coming over budget and behind schedule, necessitating a clip show to round out the season.

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Even on the set itself, new cast member Diana Muldaur had difficulty fitting in the cast, and did not wish to return after the second season. Katherine Pulaski would disappear from the show (and the franchise) with little fuss – her last appearance being in the rather disappointing Shades of Grey. While The Next Generation was successful by just about any objective external measure, it had yet to really find its own internal balance.

Still, the second season of The Next Generation did show hints of improvement. The show was finding its feet. While the average quality of the episodes was nothing like what it would become in the show’s third season, even the more middling instalments of the show’s second season (like Contagion or Where Silence Has Lease or Peak Performance) were leaps and bounds ahead of where the show had been in the first season. It was getting where it needed to go, but not nearly fast enough.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Lives of Dax: Sins of the Mother (Audrid) by S.D. Perry (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. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode Conspiracy.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch was the first truly successful attempt to continue a Star Trek television show past its final episode. Of course, there had been novels written before taking place after the finalés of the various shows, but the Deep Space Nine relaunch was the first conscious attempt to directly build upon the events of the series and structure the novels as something of an “eighth season” to the show. If I get through the seven years of Deep Space Nine, I am seriously considering covering the novels.

What’s interesting is that the novels didn’t quite come to be in an instant and decisive sort of way. There was a hazy grey period where books were published after What You Leave Behind, but not necessarily structured as part of that “eighth season.” Two of those books, The Lives of Dax and A Stitch in Time were retroactively welcomed into the relaunch. Indeed, this short story from S.D. Perry proves to pretty essential to the relaunch as a whole.

Like Deep Space Nine itself, the novels picked up and developed on particular themes and plot threads. The entrance of Bajor into the Federation is the most obvious, a plot point set up in Emissary and never completely resolved in the show. However, one particular plot thread seems to have emerged from out of nowhere, stretching back to an aborted arc from the very season of the second generation of Star Trek television shows. The relaunch built heavily on Conspiracy.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Shades of Grey (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.

Well. That’s over now. Star Trek: The Next Generation limps across the finish line of its second season with a compilation clip show designed to save money and keep the season’s episode count up. Shades of Grey is frequently cited as the worst episode not just of the second season of The Next Generation, but of the show as a whole. While it’s hard to entirely agree with this assessment – Shades of Grey is cynical and lazy, but it’s neither as sexist as Angel One or The Child nor as racist as Code of Honour or Up the Long Ladder – it is possible to see where that argument comes from.

Like the first season before it, there’s a sense that the second season of The Next Generation might have been better had it ended an episode earlier. Indeed, the second season could have ended with Q Who? and the only episode anybody would really miss would be The Emissary. Unfortunately, one imagines the syndication agreements and network policy made this impossible. While one suspects many of those involved would be happy if Shades of Grey simply faded from existence, it remains part of the show’s syndication package.

This is a little like what this episode feels like...

This is a little like what this episode feels like…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Manhunt (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.

There’s a strange sense of fatigue as we come towards the end of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as if the effort of producing Q Who? has really just drained the show of any ambition or drive. To be fair, there are probably more banal motivations at play. The 1988 Writers’ Strike had taken the entire industry by surprise and has been credited with dropping television ratings by ten percent. It damaged the tail end of the first season, causing an improvised conclusion to We’ll Always Have Paris and is probably responsible for the mess that was The Neutral Zone.

The damage also bled into the second season. Even closing with a clip show, Shades of Grey, the second season wasn’t able to meet the average quota of twenty-six episodes per season. The season premiere, The Child, had to be hastily repurposed from an aborted script for Star Trek: Phase II. Even with the shortened orders, the second season of The Next Generation frequently saw episodes coming in behind schedule and above budget. This is one of the reasons that Rob Bowman, despite being responsible for two of the season’s strongest episodes (Elementary, Dear Data and Q Who?), did not become a regular director.

"It's a good time for nap time..."

“It’s a good time for nap time…”

Behind the scenes, the show seemed to be threatening to pull itself apart. Tracy Tormé and Maurice Hurley were frequently at loggerheads with one another over all manner of issues. Tormé was only allowed to register two pseudonyms with the Writers’ Guild of America, he used both on the second season of The Next Generation, protesting over modifications made to his script. It’s no wonder that the writers’ room pretty much exploded at the end of the season, with both Tormé and Hurley departing. When Michael Piller was put in charge on the third season, he had to pretty much start from scratch.

All of which explains why the tail end of the second season seems so lifeless and limp. The Emissary is really the only second season script with any life in it once the show gets past Q Who? Most of the rest of the season seems to trying to limp across the finish line. Still, even with all of that in mind, Manhunt feels a little mean-spirited. It’s an episode designed to mock at Lwaxana Troi, to reduce a middle-aged woman going through a process explicitly compared to menopause to the butt of some particularly harsh joke. It’s hard to find that all that amusing.

Starlit dinner...

Starlit dinner…

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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 – Coming of Age (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.

Coming of Age is interesting, if only because it is one of those rare instances where an episode’s B-story is far more compelling and interesting than the primary drama unfolding. Coming of Age is apparently about Wesley’s entrance examination to Starfleet Academy, which seems to have quite high standards for an organisation that let Riker and Yar into its ranks, but that teenage academic story feels a little trite and cliché.

Far more interesting, however, is the strange investigation conducted into the crew of the Enterprise at the behest of Admiral Gregory Quinn, who makes a dramatic impression by suggesting to Picard, “I have reason to believe there may be something very wrong on this ship.”

Evidently he has been watching the first season as well.

Picard off-guard...

Picard off-guard…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Too Short a Season (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.

Too Short a Season falls back on one of those classic Star Trek stand-bys, the story of a dangerously obsessed senior officer who proceeds to put the lives of the crew at risk in order to feed his own ego. I’ve always found it hilarious that Starfleet seems to have truly terrible psychological screening, or maybe they just kick the more unreliable officers upstairs. After all, while Admiral Jameson is clearly a sandwich short of a picnic, at least he’s out of the line of fire. Too Short a Season winds up seeming like quite a trite episode, despite the fact that some of the elements are arguably intriguing on their own. It feels a little too safe, a little too comfortable, and far too predictable for its own good.

A shady character...

A shady character…

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