As Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 25, my 14 favorite episodes

28-Sep-12 1:08 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.
My father never signed me up for Little League or Boy Scouts or karate lessons. Instead, 25 years ago today, he sat me down to watch the premiere of the follow-up to a show he watched as a boy: Star Trek. The debut of The Next Generation in 1987 marked the first return of the show to television since The Original Series went off the air 18 years earlier. With TNG, Star Trek remained on TV for another 18 years, until the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. It remained a weekly tradition for me and my father for that entire time, more than half my life thus far, and has defined more of my interests and ambitions than I can measure.
Star Trek: The Next Generation cast

They boldly went — and took me and my dad along for the ride.


TNG is now being re-released on Blu-ray DVD, including several bonus features, such as "The Origins of The Next Generation". "There are a lot of issues and challenges in the Eighties and Nineties and the end of the century that need talking about — and they need talking about in drama, because drama will move people, cause people to think much more than any street show," said Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In the course of addressing those issues, Roddenberry and crew created some wonderful, memorable stories featuring a talented cast. I recounted many of them in a special package that friends Peter Watson, Gene Demaitre, and I put together for the show's 20th anniversary in 2007, but at no point did I specifically name my favorite episodes.

Since the cast and crew of TNG recently identified their favorites, I figured I should, too. So finally, out of 178 episodes, here are 14 that, in no particular order, stand out in my memory.

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Worth Every Penny

30-Sep-07 4:52 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on Worth Every Penny

LONDON (Reuters) — Lois Maxwell, the Canadian-born actress who was to many fans the definitive Miss Moneypenny in James Bond films, has died in Western Australia aged 80, the BBC reported on Sunday.

It said Maxwell, the demur foil to Bond's suave rake in 14 films from 1962's Dr. No to 1985's A View to a Kill, had died in Fremantle Hospital. She had been suffering from cancer. [Story continues]

In viewing the recent Casino Royale, I was disappointed to see so many staples of the franchise gone from this installment — but not as sorry as I am to see go the people who played them. Desmond Llewelyn gallantly handed over the reins of Q to a slightly younger generation, just as Caroline Bliss and then Samantha Bond (no relation) kept alive the role of Miss Moneypenny. I hope the legacy Ms. Maxwell founded will be honored by her character living on in future installments.

TNG at 20: Where, Oh Where, Has My Little Spock Gone?

24-Sep-07 4:30 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

It was the best of generations, it was the worst of generations. Finally, after so many years, Star Trek was returning to our homes. The excitement was tangible: the teaser clips showed this wonderful (albeit strange-looking) new Enterprise, one that made Kirk's Enterprise seem like the family runabout. But never mind all that — it was Star Trek!

However, not all was breathless anticipation. All our favorite characters were gone. (Or so we thought!) How could it be Star Trek without Spock? And what on Earth(!) was this rumor that a Klingon was part of the crew!

Nevertheless, when the big night finally arrived, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from the TV! In the opening sequence, I mourned the loss of the haunting theme from the original series and groaned at the politically correct change to, "Where no one has gone before…" And as the episode progressed, my fears deepened as it turned into the type of episode I always liked least — some omnipotent being ("Q") was playing havoc with the laws of time and space. I wanted science fiction, not fantasy!

But there were highlights, too. It almost brought tears to my eyes when Admiral McCoy came aboard, providing a physical, connecting link to the past. (Little did we know that Spock and Scotty would also reappear.) The new Enterprise was a work of art, much more streamlined than the old model (so very important in the vacuum of space…), though it still suffered from the same inexplicable ability to provide seatbelts for the bridge crew! The computer still had the same wonderful "voice", another link with the past. The computer consoles were beautiful, as was Counselor Cleavage, err, Troi.

Eventually the episode ended, and for all my misgivings about the changes (Data was no Spock!), I knew I would be back next week. Well, mostly. I'm ashamed to admit I missed some of the early episodes, but a strange thing happened as the series progressed. I found I was growing to like the new characters in their own right, and I was enjoying their interactions and personalities. And an even stranger thing happened. My wife, a profoundly non-SF person, was also enjoying the series. (It didn't hurt getting to watch Will Riker each week!) They had managed to make the show appeal to more than just the Trekkies out there.

The rest (of the future of the future) is history. The Next Generation (and the other Star Trek spin-offs) were not the prime-time success in Australia that they were in the USA, leading to unusual broadcast schedules. I was often forced to watch or record episodes at midnight (or later!) — but watch them all I did. I grew to love the show, and like many people I believe it was the best of all the Star Treks. Certainly I grew to feel that the crew members were part of a family, one I was almost a part of myself. I laughed with them, worried for them, and yes, even cried with them. Picard was an outstanding captain — far better than Kirk, IMHO. Worf taught us all about "honor". And Data was a wonderful character for the scriptwriters to "play" with.

But he never did supplant Spock as one of my favorite non-humans of all time.

Peter Watson is old enough to remember watching the original Star Trek at home in Australia in glorious black-and-white. As a software engineer he gets to hang out with other people who know something about Star Trek. Visit his Web site at http://www.peter-watson.net/


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

TNG at 20: To Everything, There Is a Season

23-Sep-07 11:41 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to enjoy a full, cancellation-free run. This October 2nd, its 176 episodes will be available in a new box set (watch the trailer, read the press release). Though $40/season is a fair deal, $278.89, after shipping, is still no small amount of change. And, as Trek Nation has been recently reminding us with their retro reviews, some entire seasons of TNG have not aged well.

There are many ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. Various fan collectives offer thematically-related content, so if you like time travel or Q, you're bound to be satisfied — unless you dwell on what these packages miss, such as "Future's End". For my money, The Jean-Luc Picard Collection is the best value, as I prefer episodes that offer not an anomaly of the week, but significant, focused character development. "Tapestry", "Darmok", and "The Inner Light" are worth their weight in latinum, and with the former two both coming from season five, perhaps that is the series' best season. Other fifth-season episodes "I, Borg", "The Perfect Mate" (another Picard episode, and one which first unites Patrick Stewart with Famke Janssen, prior to their X-Men team-up), Spock's return in the two-part "Unification", and the first half of "Time's Arrow" supports this theory.

But only with the new, complete DVD collection can you get all the above along with gems like "The Best of Both Worlds", "Yesterday's Enterprise", and "Relics" — so if you have money to burn, take the good with the bad and splurge on all seven seasons (plus exclusive features and documentaries). But if you don't, then what season (or fan collective) do you recommend, and for what episodes?


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

Dirty Bond

13-Sep-07 3:51 PM by
Filed under Films; 9 comments.

It took awhile, but RiffTrax was motivation enough for me to finally get around to watching the new James Bond.

Two years ago, I watched the original 1967 Casino Royale, a comedy starring David Niven as James Bond that was so unexpected that I couldn't help but enjoy it. On the surface, the film and its characters appeared to take themselves seriously — which made the strangeness of the encounters and accessories (think Get Smart) all the more laughable. IMDb describes this adaptation as follows:

Sir James Bond, a spy from the old school (a good spy is a pure spy) is called back to service by the death of "M" and the imminent collapse of civilization. The opposition tries to compromise him, but even as nubile young agents are thrown at him, he remains above it all. Going beyond parody to sillyness, every agent is renamed James Bond, 007 to confuse the enemy, including Woody Allen who plays Little Jimmy Bond.

Compare that plot with that of the 2006 film, and you'll find almost no similarities. I expected as such; what I did not expect was to enjoy the 1967 film more. I take no exception to Daniel Craig as James Bond and don't see what all the fuss was about his casting. My more pressing concern is the direction Craig was given.

Despite being set in 2006, this film is a prequel: only M (Judi Dench) returns, with Q (John Cleese) and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) nowhere to be seen. But whatever the cast, the setting — with Bond having recently gained his double-oh designation and having had few true adventures — puts our protagonist is in a place where he is coarse and unrefined. Craig comes across as more of a thug than the elegant, svelte super-spy to which we've grown acquainted. I'm told audiences approved of theis film's grittier nature, but I watch Bond films to escape the dark reality I see mirrored in so many other media. I want a hero who's fighting Russians, Germans, and other classic, archetypal, even stereotypical adversaries — not his own ego and dark impulses.

I don't know which model Ian Fleming intended, but the Bond character has transcended his roots and now is held accountable not to his creator, but to pop culture and his audience. Maybe they've covered that ground in the last 20 films, and it's time to move on. Or perhaps now we're through with the the awkward introductions, the next Bond film will have a suaver star. I enjoyed Casino Royale's villains and action sequences enough to see what happens next.