“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.”
When the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation beamed into our living rooms, I was quite impressed with the quality of work that was done to bring the next generation of Star Trek into the next generation of home video. If ever there was a franchise that cried out for high definition, it would be Star Trek. It was impressive but not quite as dramatic as the three seasons of the original show. Then came the second season and a disappointing step backwards in quality. Paramount had decided to subcontract out the even number seasons in order to deliver the Blu-rays in a reasonable amount of time. I applaud the effort, but the second season was just a huge letdown for the most part. We’re assured that the company would no longer be involved in future releases.
The third season saw the project back in Paramount’s hands, so expectations were high. The third season discs exceed that expectation. It’s almost as if they knew they had some making up to do and improved upon the quality beyond that of the first season. This collection is the best restoration yet on a Trek release. More about that in the Video section of my review.
“Resistance is futile.”
Let’s talk about the third season a bit. The biggest news was that Gates McFadden was to return as Beverly Crusher. It was welcome news indeed. Diana Muldaur’s Dr. Pulaski never really warmed up to the fans, and it was a good move to correct the mistake of letting McFadden go. The intro titles were spruced up a bit. The uniforms changed from the one-piece jumpsuits to the much better looking two-piece uniforms. That change led to one of the show’s more amusing traditions. Patrick Stewart developed a habit of adjusting the top portion of the uniform when he would stand. The habit would become known in Trek circles as The Picard Maneuver. The only problem was that the new uniforms were so expensive (over $3,000 each) that extras on the ship would still be seen walking around in the previous design. Martin Rush would take over as cinematographer, and the look of the show improved dramatically.
The change that made the most impact happened in the writing staff. Michael Pillar was brought in as head writer, and his influence on the storytelling was monumental. Suddenly the series was telling the kind of stories that we always knew Star Trek was capable of telling. His staff included fan Ronald D. Moore who submitted a script while on a set tour arranged by a girlfriend. He would go on to create many of the Klingon culture stories that would make the one-time enemy into the most richly explored alien species on the show. Pillar had no connection to the original show and was able to bring about a fresh look on the material. He challenged the writers to go beyond what the show had been to that point. He brought the focus back on the characters and the story and less on the “alien of the week” formula that would have led to quick stagnation.
The actors deserve credit for truly finding their characters in the third year. It didn’t hurt at all that they had much better stories in which to do this. Patrick Stewart appeared to finally have embraced Picard, and that had a trickle-down effect on everyone else.
There weren’t a lot of stinkers in this season. Still, let’s play another round of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, shall we?
Who Watches The Watchers: A “duck blind” malfunctions and a primitive race is exposed to Starfleet, which has been observing their culture. Picard is mistaken for a god, and the only alternative is to continue to break the Prime Directive to undo the damage done. It’s a thoughtful episode that examines the ethics of what a “superior” race does when confronted with a primitive culture.
The Enemy: La Forge is trapped on a hostile planet with a Romulan. The two must cooperate in order to survive. It’s very much an Enemy Mine situation, and the beginning of a better understanding and use of the Romulans.
The Defector: Another Romulan episode has an Admiral defecting to the Federation to stop his people from establishing a secret base and starting a war. The episode benefits from a wonderful performance by James Sloyan as the Romulan defector.
Déjà Q: Perhaps the best of the Q episodes finds Q being drummed out of the continuum and stripped of his powers. He comes to the Enterprise for sanctuary just as the crew are trying to save a planet from a moon about to crash into their planet. Of course, no one believes Q has really lost his power, but he has. He’s also got plenty of enemies, and now the Enterprise has become their target to get at Q.
Yesterday’s Enterprise: This is one of the show’s best episodes in spite of the fact that it features the return, of sorts, of Tasha Yar. When a disturbance brings the Enterprise C from a pitched battle with the Romulans, everything changes. Suddenly, the ship is a military vessel and the Federation has been fighting a 20-year war with the Klingons. Yar is still alive but finds she shouldn’t be. The earlier ship was defending a Klingon outpost, a gesture that could have averted the war. It still can if the crew is willing to go back to what will surely be a suicide mission.
Sins Of The Father: The first of the many Worf Klingon heritage episodes. Worf must defend his father’s honor to the Klingon High Council. His father has been labeled a traitor, and Worf is to bear the shame. But when it’s proved that Worf’s father was not a traitor, he must accept the lie in order to protect the Klingon government. It’s a matter of honor that will be revisited again and again.
It all really starts here, the whole Duras family intrigue and Picard’s special relationship with the Klingon High Command.
The Most Toys: Data is captured by Fajo (Rubinek) who collects rare things. It’s a wonderful character episode. It’s bittersweet because the episode began filming with David Rappaport in the guest role, but he died before the episode was finished. His scenes had to be reshot when the part was recast with Saul Rubinek, who does an incredible job here.
Sarek: Spock’s father returns with a rare Vulcan disease that causes emotional outbursts. Picard carries his Katra for a time to complete Sarek’s mission. It’s a bit odd that the original show was not allowed to be referenced at this time by an edict from Rick Berman. Writers fought for mention of Spock, and Berman compromised by allowing his name to be uttered once by Picard while sharing Sarek’s mind. It’s such a silly idea that was eventually thrown out. Wonderful to see Mark Lenard back as Sarek.
The Best Of Both Worlds Part 1: This is the episode that changed everything. It was written by Michael Pillar when he thought he was going to leave the show. He wanted to leave the next season writer with an impossible jam to get out of. Of course, he stayed and had to write himself out of his own box. The result is the best drama television can offer. It’s good enough to be a feature film. Paramount must have agreed, because they did open it up for limited theatrical release in support of the Blu-ray.
Evolution: Wes leaves his science project unattended and nanites escape. They evolve into intelligent creatures and rage war against the Enterprise when a scientists kills some to protect his own project. The idea is too silly and looks like a reject from season two.
The Survivors: A couple are the sole survivors of a colony that was destroyed. In spite of a wonderful performance by John Anderson in one of his final roles, the story is too contrived to be believed.
The Bonding: When a mother is killed on a mission, Worf wants to take responsibility for the boy. Unfortunately, he’s not alone. An entity from the planet feels bad that mom died so it tries to reproduce her for the boy. What a lame episode.
The Vengeance Factor: Riker falls in love with an alien woman who uses a DNA poison to get revenge on another clan. It’s pretty bad watching the actors try to take this plot seriously.
A Matter Of Perspective: Riker is accused of murder by a scientist who suspected him of having an affair with his wife. Of course, they do a zillion holodeck versions to try and get at the truth.
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. CBS, once again, did the restoration in house. After a drop-off in quality from season 2, this one is even better than the first season. 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. Colors have a rich texture that I found quite impressive, particularly the deep red of the new uniforms.
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 five discs. The following extras are also included:
Episode Promos for every episode
You also get all of the Mission Logs from the DVD set in standard definition.
Inside The Writer’s Room: (1:10:52) Four of the writers join Seth Macfarlane to talk about the series. Seth is a Trek geek who really knows his episodes. It’s very candid and informal and fun.
Resistance Is Futile – Assimilating Star Trek: The Next Generation: This three-part feature deals mostly with the writers and the stories themselves. They go over episodes from the season and talk about how the ideas evolved. The third segment features the cast looking back on the season. Each segment roughs about 30 minutes.
A Tribute To Michael Pillar: (13:50) A fitting look at the writer who just might have saved Star Trek. Cast, crew and his family talk about him both as a writer and person.
This is a good year for Star Trek. I’m about to catch a press screening of the new movie, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at both Next Generation and Enterprise episodes for review. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Suffice it to say you should make room for both shows on your shelf as the seasons continue to get the HD treatment. “Your life, as it has been, is over.”