Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 Review
Many Next Generation fans will tell you that season 3 is where the series really began. If you’ve read my previous reviews you will know that I don’t agree. I feel Season 1 and Season 2 are better than most people give them credit for. Saying that seeing season 3 again has reminded me how good the Next Generation can be.
It is a miracle that this season is as good as it is. At the end of season 2 Maurice Hurley left and Gene Roddenberry took a back seat. As a result Rick Berman took over the day to day running and Michael Piller was brought in to head up the writing staff. Piller himself admits that when he took over there were no story ideas and no scripts in the bag. In some cases the writers were writing pages the night before the scenes were shot!
Despite the upheavals Piller and Berman managed to steer a steady course and the writing seemed to settle down. New writers where brought in and Piller encouraged the submission of spec scripts from outsiders. This resulted in the recruitment of Rene Echevarria, a waiter at the time, who wrote the amazing episode, The Offspring. Roddenberry was reknowned for rewriting scripts and annoying writers (many of whom left as a result) whereas Piller seemed to work better with the writers and the end result seems more cohesive and solid. It pains me to say this but the reduced input of Roddenberry seemed to really improve the series a whole. Most of the anachronisms were gone and conflict between crewmembers was increased slightly, which helped to make the show more dynamic.
Once again in season 3 the cast changed. It was felt that the character of Dr. Pulaski was not working out (where have we heard that before?). Rather than get a third doctor in three years they went back to Gates McFadden and after some persuasion she agreed to return as Dr. Crusher. The rest of the cast remained the same and now that Geordi had been in engineering for a year and Guinan was firmly behind the bar the Enterprise crew seemed settled.
By now the cast knew their roles and their characters were well defined. This comes out in the performances, which in all cases far outstrip the performances in Seasons 1 & 2. Stewart and Spiner go from strength to strength with Spiner putting in an almost perfect performance in the Offspring and The Most Toys. LeVar Burton and especially Michael Dorn improved immensely with their characters being given more background and more to do. Sirtis carried on improving although she still tended to veer towards over-emotional acting on occasion. Frakes continued to improve as Riker and most of his wooden acting had now vanished. His performance in Best of Both Worlds part 1 is exemplary. Goldberg continued to impress as Guinan in her guest appearances and Wil Wheaton drifted along, his acting is always solid and average, nothing outstanding and nothing awful. My one bug bear was the return of Gates McFadden. She was awful in season 1 and she wasn’t much better here. Obviously she hadn’t been inside the character for a year but she does stand out as the weak link.
Given the lack of scripts and the speed in which they had to be produced you would have expected this season to be patchy. Nothing could be further from the truth and instead we have here one of the best (if not the best) seasons of Star Trek ever. Many of the neglected characters were given background and depth. Geordi in Booby Trap and Worf in Sins of the Father spring instantly to mind. Also this episode introduces us to the Klingon home world and the history of Worf’s family. In addition this season covers more personal/touching moments in Survivors and the Offspring, which is one of the best Star Trek episodes I have seen. Not only this but the Captain finally leaves the bridge and sees some action in Captains Holiday. Humour is well catered for in Menage a Troi and Q returns in Deja Q. Even the weaker points of the season are not bad episodes. The Bonding and Tin Man are fairly weak but only in relation to the rest of the season, if they had been in Season 1 or 2 they would have been regarded as two of the better episodes.
Special mention must go to two episodes in this season, which are head and shoulders above most Sci-Fi television. The first, Yesterday’s Enterprise was a huge undertaking that almost never happened. The script was written piecemeal by several writers in an attempt to hit deadlines caused by schedule conflicts between Denise Crosby (returning as Tasha Yar) and Whoopi Goldberg. This episode was a tour de force for set designers, effects people and the actors involved. The realisation of Enterprise NCC1701-C on screen plus a complete re-dressing of the Enterprise D bridge set was inspired. Many fans point to this as a favourite episode and I don’t blame them. The second is of course the classic, never-equalled cliffhanger The Best of Both Worlds part 1. The Borg return and the Enterprise D is again thrust into combat with them. I will not spoil anything but this is an amazing episode. The point where it leaves you is agonising especially as viewers at the time had to wait 5-6 months to see the conclusion. It is also notable that they made the Borg so strong, powerful and deadly here that they left themselves in such a corner that the second part was almost an impossible task to write (see my next review to see what I though of the conclusion)…
The production values and model work for this season are markedly better than their predecessors. The new credit sequence is beautiful and reflects the improvement throughout the Season. The new 4ft model of Enterprise looks marvellous and this represents some of the best model work done for television. The dodgier effects from Season 1 & 2 are forgotten as the effects team settle down and produce good work week after week.
By now you have probably seen the score I have given to this and raised an eyebrow. If I have given a 10 to season 3 what happens if Seasons 4,5,6 or 7 are better? Well I don’t think they can be. This is perfect Sci-Fi television and it is perfect Star Trek. Some may argue about the 2 or 3 slightly weaker episodes but even the worst episode of this season is better than 90% of television Sci-Fi. The later seasons of Next Generation sometimes equal this season, but they never better it.
Again Paramount have stuck to their guns and produced a set that fits nicely amongst the other seasons. This time the lettering and spine are a tan colour as is the digipack inside. The discs are a similar design with tan colouring and I must say I prefer them to their R2 counterparts. Again the inside of the box carries the episode listing for each disc. The digipack has reverted to 7 discs this time and the foldout sheet contains the episodes in alphabetical order along with a short introduction to the Borg.
This time around the menus have changed yet again. The introduction obviously shows pictures from season 3 for each of the crew. The menus themselves have an episode in each corner of the screen as opposed to the top to bottom list on the other sets. The menus still have the LCARS look to them (except Best of Both Worlds which has a delightful Borg interface). I am in two minds about these changes, whilst they keep the LCARS look and feel some may prefer uniformity so no matter which disc of which set they will always get the same menu structure. Personally I am veering toward the former opinion as I think it is nice to showoff a different LCARS menu system in each set.
This is where most of the real fans are going to sit up and take note. The first two seasons only existed on 1” NTSC analogue tape and as a result the picture was not amazing. From this season on the source materials are digital (according to any sources I can find), therefore there should be a marked improvement. Unfortunately the improvement is not as great as many had hoped for. The print is as good and as clean as previous seasons. The good news is that the aliasing and shimmering have all but gone from the space based effects scenes. The picture seems a little sharper although still not amazing and there is definite improvement in the shadow detail and black level. The colour bleeding still seems to be there(unfortunately) and the artefacting is still present that I saw in Season 2, so this is obviously a bit rate problem. It is difficult to determine how many of these flaws are now caused by the source and how many are caused by a sloppy transfer. Overall I am happy with the picture and it is more than adequate for a TV series of this age.
This time the sound is almost identical to the last two releases. The 5.1 mix is as solid as ever with good use of the rears for atmospherics and the bass feels punchy as the starships rumble in and out of picture. Again hats off to Paramount for this, they resisted the temptation to overdo directional gimmicky effects. The original stereo track is also here for the purists and both tracks are crisp and clear with no pops or crackles.
The extras seem to be settling into a distinctive pattern here. The extras that are here are a good solid collection of featurettes. However as before there are no commentaries and the contributers shy away from telling us anything other than the company line, which is understandable.
Season 3 Mission Overview. This featurette runs for 18-minutes and gives us a rundown of the changes and differences in season 3. The majority of cast and crew are interviewed here with a mixture of interviews from 89, 94 and present day (shot on the set of Nemesis). Highlights are the interviews with Michael Piller who explains his new approach to the series. Also mentioned extensively are Jonathan Frakes’ directorial debut with Offspring and the return of Tasha Yar for Yesterday’s Enterprise. There is a curious section that introduces Guinan and Goldberg explains how she was probably the last major character that Roddenberry created. This is curious because it would naturally slot into the Season 2 extras as that is where Guinan first appears.
Selected Crew Analysis. This 14-minute section covers all of the characters that get major development in Season 3. Dr. Crusher is a main focus as she returns to the fold and McFadden attempts to explain her absence and return. Picard, Worf and LaForge are all covered as there are major changes for them this season. The on-off romance between Riker & Troi is also mentioned with the actors attempting to keep the romance bubbling whenever they can. Finally Lwaxana Troi is given a short piece here to show how well her character interacts with the crew. None of the crew gets any sort of in depth look but given the running time this it isn’t surprising and it is good to hear how each cast member feels about their development on screen.
Departmental Briefing – Production. This 20-minute piece covers the production design on the third season. The main focus here is the change in writing staff and Piller’s open door policy to script submissions. The second part covers the changes in model work and visual effects. Here we see details of the new 4ft Enterprise model with greater detail that was created for this season. Also covered are the visualisation of the Klingon home world (which won an Emmy) and the Alien design for Tin Man.
Departmental Briefing - Memorable Moments. This piece is a rather short 13-minutes and gives us a selection of cast & crew favourite episodes. Unlike Season 2 this section is more defined and covers the makeup crew on Offspring, the Mariachi Band on Deja Q and Baseball references on The Most Toys (amongst others).
Overall these extras are as good as the previous seasons and even though I have reservations about the superficial nature of the extras I have to say the concept is growing on me. I would still like at least one commentary per set and maybe trailers for each episode as they were shown on TV but this is nitpicking.
The Next Generation hit its stride in Season 3 and it kept the quality up for at least the next 3 seasons as well. The disc package is accomplished with a slightly improved picture and great sound. The superficiality of the extras is still a niggle but all in all you can’t really complain too much. The price is still irritatingly high but Paramount will price this as high as they can get away with and it seems sales are strong despite the price so we only have ourselves to blame. So it is yet another qualified pat on the back for Paramount and let’s hope they can keep it up right through to Season 7 and beyond into Deep Space Nine.