“Space… The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.”
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. No, this is not a Charles Dickens review. It very accurately describes the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first season went over much better than anyone really expected. The Trek faithful embraced the series and the new characters. It was now time for the show to find its own feet with a second season. Unfortunately, several things went wrong. The Writers’ Guild went out on strike, and that meant no new scripts. Paramount was even talking about getting rid of the series. That was until someone remembered that this was not the first attempt to resurrect Star Trek for the television screen. In the late 1970’s Paramount was preparing to launch its “4th” network. The anchor was to be a return of Star Trek, commonly referred to as Star Trek: Phase Two. All of the original cast would return with the notable exception of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. The show would basically continue that crew’s voyages. Then Star Wars lit the box office on fire. Combined with the scrapping of the network, until later, the television series became Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Spock returned along with two new characters. You might recognize Riker in Decker and, of course, Troi in the Deltan Ilea. The series was no more, but several scripts had been written and shelved. With some tweaking, Star Trek: Phase Two‘s scripts became Star Trek: The Next Generation’s foundation for season two.
The second issue involved Gates McFadden who played Dr. Crusher. She had become quite vocal about her opinion that the first season was, at times, too sexist. The big shots got tired of her complaining and fired the beloved actor, and Dr. Crusher was promoted off the ship, and off our television screens to be the head of Starfleet Medical. In her place familiar Trek guest star Diane Muldaur became the McCoy-like Dr. Pulaski. That was very convenient when it came time to giving her lines originally written for McCoy. Unfortunately, she lacked all of his charm and retained his gruffness and was quite unpopular. It seemed that Star Trek: The Next Generation was about to go belly up. Some of the show’s absolute worst episodes appear here (more on that later).
But something else happened as well. The show found its footing anyway, and when original scripts finally came down the pipeline again, they were among the show’s finest. LaForge becomes Chief Engineer and Worf becomes security chief. Ten Forward was added as a place for the crew to unwind, and Whoopi Goldberg began her run as the recurring as bartender Guinan. The show was finally on its way. Which brings us to another round of: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Elementary, Dear Data: Data finally gets to explore the Holmes fascination hinted at in season 1. When LaForge challenges the holodeck computer to create an opponent capable of defeating Data, a new kind of Professor Moriarty is brought to life, who endangers the entire ship. Daniel Davis gives one of Trek’s best guest performances as the Holmes nemesis. The episode also did a wonderful job of exploring the friendship between LaForge and Data.
A Matter Of Honor: Riker participates in a crew exchange program and serves as the first officer on a Klingon ship. I’ve never been much of a fan of Frakes and his acting ability, but he does manage to shine here. It was also the first step in the show’s detailed look at Klingon culture.
The Measure Of A Man: Star Trek takes on the Dred Scott Case when Data refuses to submit to an officer’s experiments to disassemble and study him. When he attempts to resign his commission, a court must decide if he is a living being and protected by the same rights as others. Or is he property of Starfleet? Riker is assigned the task of proving Data is merely property. Star Trek was always good at social issues, and this is one of those finest moments.
The Icarus Factor: Once again, Klingon culture comes to the forefront as Worf must go through a Klingon ritual that marks his Age of Ascension. It’s a baptism by fire and another look into why Klingons are the way they are.
Q Who: This is not only a Q episode, but it introduces the most popular bad guys in recent Star Trek history. Q is angry at the crew for rejecting him, so he spins them very far from where they should be. There they encounter The Borg. If you know Star Trek, you know who these guys are. This is where it all started.
The Emissary: Suzie Plakson makes her first appearance as K’Ehleyr, a female Klingon who will eventually have a son with Worf.
The Child: This is so bad it’s hard to watch. Troi becomes impregnated by an alien who is curious about the crew. It’s incredibly awkward and forced at every turn. It is also the most evident of the Phase Two scripts.
The Schizoid Man: It’s another “Data gone bad” episode. We seem to get at least one a year where something else has control over Data or it’s his evil brother Lore. This time a dying scientist puts himself inside Data so that he can live forever. It’s made worse by a Data/Picard rivalry for the cute assistant the “dead” scientist always loved but knew he was too old for her.
The Dauphin: Wes falls for a girl who is being transported so that she can lead her people out of war. If you find Wes annoying, this one will really bring out the groans.
Unnatural Selection: The crew encounter a disease that makes people age very quickly. They claim they haven’t seen anything like it. I guess they lost Kirk’s old logs. Okay, it turns out not to be the same thing, but they never even notice the similarities. Plus that age makeup on Pulaski is Aunt Esther ugly.
The Royale: This is the absolute worst episode of any Trek series. The crew finds a hotel all alone on a barren planet, and it just gets worse from there.
Shades Of Gray: A Star Trek clip show? Say it ain’t so.
With the help of an infusion of cash from Netflix to be the exclusive stream supplier of Star Trek television, Paramount decided to give the series a high-definition facelift. You won’t find the dramatic effects changes here that you did on the original series. Where it was possible to find original material, the crew used it and remastered it all in high definition. There are some notable exceptions where new complete effects were provided. The crystalline entity is a very glaring example. The new effect blows away anything you might remember having seen previously. Often the raw footage from the ILM model work was discovered and rescanned at the high resolution. The non-effects work was easily converted as it had been originally shot in 35mm film. The result isn’t quite as splashy as the work on the original series, but it is quite impressive. Suffice it to say that you’ve never truly seen this show until you’ve had a chance to catch these Blu-rays. I don’t care how much money you spent on the laserdiscs, DVD’s, or even VHS copies that currently occupy your video shelf. No self-respecting Star Trek fan can be caught dead without these discs and the ones that are promised to follow.
Each episode is presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio. Yes, I would have liked to see widescreen here, but they do address that in the features. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. Again, this is not as dramatic as the original series. One of the problems is the prevalence of earth tones and subdued colors on this show. It’s not really the kind of color or flash that pops on a high-definition image presentation. The real key to these episodes is crispness and detail. The show was always quite a bit soft around the edges. Close-ups always appeared smooth and featureless. No longer. The model never had more detail in texture and lighting. Faces show distinctive features that didn’t exist in earlier versions. Data’s makeup flaws are actually clearly visible, particularly around the eyes. The image is sharper than it has ever looked for this series. We all saw this originally on old analog televisions.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is not near as ambitious or impressive. Surrounds attempt to remain true to the original production, so nothing here is aggressive. The theme certainly has more punch as does the dialog. The big winner here is the sub, which tends to add depth to the overall effect. The original sound is still available for purists.
You get all of the episodes on 5 discs. The following extras are also included:
Episode Promos for every episode
Energized! Season 2 Tech Update: (7:56) HD The Okudas once again talk about the changes and challenges in season two.
1988 Reading Rainbow Segment: (17:00) SD LeVar Burton takes his reading rainbow show on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s actually quite a detailed look at various aspects of production even if it was targeted at kids.
Extended Version Of Measure Of A Man
Reunification: 25 Years Of Star Trek: The Next Generation: (1:01:53) The cast sit in a comfy set on sofas and share their memories of each other and doing the show. There are some pretty amusing moments here.
Making It So – Continuing Star Trek: The Next Generation: This behind-the-scenes of season two comes in two parts. It covers the controversies with surprising candor. In total it’s almost an hour and a half.
Gag Reel: (10:30) SD
You also get all of the Mission Logs from the DVD set in standard definition.
There is a downside. Yes, the transfers are still great, but the extra work here is lacking. Unfortunately, Paramount wanted to keep a fast schedule with these seven seasons, so they farmed out the even-numbered seasons to other houses. This one did not do near the job Paramount’s people did on the first. I’m told this house will not be doing any other seasons. “Let’s count our blessings, shall we?”