Mark Davis has reviewed the Region 1 release of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2. Here is the much anticipated second box set release from Paramount. It seems the reasonable collection of extras on the first set were not a one off. Also the quality of these early seasons is certainly better than I recall. So good news all round. Not quite a world exclusive this time, but we came close.
Well, here we are again. A mere couple of months after the review of ST:TNG Season 1 and already I have received my Season 2 boxset. The rapid release of these sets is of course a double-edged sword. For those of use lucky enough to be able to afford them it is a boon. Whilst everyone else has an agonising wait as they see the releases stacking up.
So let’s see what we would be missing out on with Season 2. Well as I have already said, season one was patchy due to writers shifting constantly in and out and the characters coming more into focus as the season went on. I would like to say that with this settling in period complete the show was more consistent and went from strength to strength. Unfortunately Season 2 had its fair share of new problems.
Firstly there was a writer’s strike during this season and as a result it was only 22 episodes long and other episodes (Shades of Grey springs instantly to mind) suffer from a patched together script. Indeed some of this season involved dusting off scripts that were to have been used in the proposed Star Trek: Phase II series in the 70’s and some of these weren’t as polished as they could have been (The Child for instance). On top of all this the creative staff was still shifting and writers still seemed to be operating on a revolving door principle.
Also cast changes were in the offing. Denise Crosby had left towards the end of Season 1 but this wasn’t enough for the producers. They felt that the character of Dr. Crusher was not working and did not renew Gates McFadden’s contract. Rumours abounded as to the real reason (She wasn’t pregnant) but the accepted version is the one given here. Diane Muldaur came in as the new abrasive and forthright Dr. Kate Pulaski. Muldaur of course was no stranger to Star Trek having played 2 different doctors in the original series (“Is There In Truth No Beauty” and “Return to Tomorrow”). Pulaski was meant to be a character that created more conflict, specifically with Picard and Data. To this end it worked but the character seemed to be a weaker female version of Dr. McCoy and suffered accordingly.
The other cast change was an addition. The Enterprise gained a new recreation/bar area called Ten Forward and the resident bar tender was Guinan played by Whoopi Goldberg. At the time Goldberg was a hot property having recently been nominated for Best Actress in The Colour Purple. Goldberg was a long-time trek fan and when she’d heard about Denise Crosby leaving she offered her services via LeVar Burton. The producers didn’t take her seriously as she was regarded as a “film star” at the time. Eventually she rang the producers directly and got the part she coveted. Guinan’s influence on the crew dynamic was far more subtle than Pulaski’s and this meant the character worked. Used sparingly, she dispensed advice to most of the main crew and her mysterious background helped to keep the audience interested (indeed her character arc carried on until almost the end of the last season).
The rest of the cast settled down and in most cases improved on their season one performances. Stewart and Spiner were again the standouts although Goldberg with her occasional appearances proved to be a positive addition. Dorn and Burton improved steadily as they were given more to do (indeed Geordi was now Chief Engineer). The biggest improvement came from Sirtis, her outfits became more sensible (boo) but her performance became more restrained and some of the ridiculous histrionics from Season 1 were corrected. Frakes continued to disappoint with Riker, he was still far too wooden and never seemed comfortable in his role despite some lighter moments in this season. Finally Wheaton was pretty much the same and the fans still hated him.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that these upheavals in production and cast would produce a weaker season. However this season was significantly better than its predecessor. The number of weak episodes was far fewer and apart from Shades of Grey there was nothing as bad as the lowest points in season 1. Episodes to watch for are Q Who (The Borg appear for the first time here), The Measure of a Man (A great piece of drama) and A Matter of Honour (Riker on a Klingon ship). Of course there were weak moments as well The Outrageous Okona, Up the Long Ladder (Dodgy Irish sounding aliens!) and The Dauphin (Wesley’s first romance… blech) all spring far to readily to mind.
You may have noticed that Shades Of Grey is missing from the list. This is because it deserves its own paragraph. Basically the writer’s strike had crippled production and the budget was running out. It was decided that a 22nd episode was needed to finish the season. As they had limited writing availability and no money they knocked out a clip show. Riker was infected with a disease and to help him fight it they stimulated certain emotions in him and clips represented these. This concept might have worked in Season 7 or it might have helped flesh out the character if they’d shot new sequences as his flashbacks. As it was they only had 2 series worth of clips and the end result was in the words of writer Maurice Hurley “Terrible… Just terrible”. Whilst I’ll sound like comic-book guy (The Simpsons) when I say it… This was easily the worst episode of Star Trek ever from any series (and that includes Voyager!).
Basically Season 2 builds on Season 1 despite the fact the producers and writers seemed determined to change a formula that was starting to bear fruit (Conspiracy & Neutral Zone). These changes were mostly successful and resulted in a good solid season with a few weak spots. Many Next Generation fans have said that they won’t buy season 1 or 2 as they feel it is intrinsically flawed compared to seasons 3-7. Having rewatched the lion’s share of them I’d say they are missing out on some classic episodes and should reconsider.
After the first release the most important thing for Paramount was to carry on its good work and make as few changes as possible. A series such as this needs to look uniform on the shelf and the menu system needs to have a familiar look and feel otherwise the concept of the series as a cohesive whole is broken.
Luckily Paramount has avoided a lot of the pitfalls they could have fallen into. The packaging is identical to the first release except the text is raised silver and orange rather than burgundy. The digipack inside is also orange as are the discs. The colour coding is subtle and helps to distinguish the sets from one another. The episodes are listed on the inside cover as they were before and the digipack folds out to reveal 6 discs (there are only 22 episodes this time). There is also a small foldout leaflet containing a list of episodes in alphabetical order along with a short introductory paragraph to Season 2.
The menus are almost identical to the first release with a couple of minor changes. The introduction now reflects the changed cast, which is obviously a good thing. Unfortunately whilst the menus are still authentic looking LCARS screens the method by which they are highlighted is different. This is only a very minor niggle but it is still annoying nonetheless. Why Paramount show inconsistency in this way is a mystery to me.
To be honest you may as well go and read my Season 1 review to get my opinion on the picture as there is no change for this release. The picture is still clear and fairly sharp (given its NTSC video master source). There is very little damage to the picture and grain is minimal. The black level and contrast is mostly excellent. The criticisms are also much the same. There is a certain amount of colour bleed and the space-based effects still shimmer and have jaggies. The transfer this time seems slightly sloppier as I detected more artefacting this time although it is still a perfectly good picture. Again, for a 15-year old TV show this is a great presentation.
The sound this time round is slightly better as I feel the source was better (no pops or crackles here). The 5.1 track is just as good as before. It is atmospheric and uses rears well without overdoing it, dialogue is clear and audible throughout. The bass rumble as the Enterprise flies past the screen is suitably impressive. The stereo track is again included which is a nice bonus and I still listen to the stereo mix on occasion as it feels more authentic.
Paramount’s attitude to the Next Generation extras is as I suspected. In order to ensure each set has some extras they have been spread evenly. In this case we get five featurettes instead of the four on the previous set and this time total running time is 80-minutes. Given this average we are going to end up with around 8 hours worth of extras contained in all 7 sets and that’s a lot of Star Trek.
Season 2 Overview. This 15-minute featurette covers the move into Season 2 and some of the new ideas and themes brought in. Muldaur and Goldberg have interviews explaining their new characters and how they feel/felt. Also the creation of Ten Forward is discussed and covered in some depth. Finally the piece covers the increasing popularity of the new series and it’s loyal fan base.
Selected Crew Analysis. This 15-minute section is very similar to the one in the first set. Almost every cast member is covered and the interviews reveal how they thought their characters were developing in the second season. Sirtis is admirably frank about her character in season one and expresses her happiness at being given a better chance in season 2. This time round Muldaur, Goldberg and Stewart get the lion’s share of the screen time, others like Burton only get a minute or so and Spiner is missing completely. As the piece is only 15-minutes on each set this isn’t surprising and it seems that after 7 boxsets we should have covered each character very well indeed.
Starfleet Archives. This 17-minute piece is the first extra that is not TNG or series specific. It covers the archive that Paramount hold, which contains all of the Star Trek properties. Here we see models, props, designs, paintings, furniture, walls and drawings from all Star Trek series and all Star Trek films. Highlights are seeing the Enterprise D full size model in the flesh so to speak and it certainly is magnificent. This is an amazing feature and shows just how much effort goes into Star Trek. The cataloguing alone is mind boggling as there are 5 or 6 warehouses full of stuff. Just as an aside at this point I’d like to clear up an oversight. The Enterprise D model shown has the number 1701-E on its saucer and the presenter says this is a trivia point and never answers it. To save the more casual fans scratching their heads I’ll fill in the blanks. When the 1701-D was destroyed in Generations they knew that the next ship was to be the 1701-E. The Effects guys changed the number on the Saucer just before they packed it away for the last time. This was probably done as a joke or maybe because they fully expected the Enterprise E to be Galaxy class.
Departmental Briefing – Production. This 17-minute piece covers the production design on the second season. The main focus for the first 5-minutes is Q-Who where the Borg are first seen. This is followed by a piece on Ten Forward, it’s creation and genesis. The section on writing is the most interesting even though it is the shortest. Here it is explained how in a season the producers sit down and decide on how a character will develop over the season before any writers have even worked on a script. This way the character arcs can be gradually built into different episodes.
Departmental Briefing – Memorable Moments. This piece, lasting 17-minutes, shows some memorable season 2 moments. This time it isn’t each cast member’s favourite moment. The format seems slightly more jumbled with each piece not being specifically linked to a cast or crewmember. Highlights are Marnie De Lancie’s appearance in Loud as a Whisper, The hand painted morph in The Dauphin and Mick Fleetwood appearing as a giant fish alien in Manhunt.
Criticisms? Well there aren’t any commentaries at all which is annoying and the episode trailers aren’t present which is an unfortunate oversight. The main criticism though is blindingly obvious in this season set. There is no negativity at all, no mention of production problems or turmoil. As a result we don’t hear a word mentioned about the writer’s strike and we never know why there are only 22 episodes. They also carefully skate around the issue of the change in cast to bring in Pulaski and Gates McFadden doesn’t get a mention. I shall be interested to hear what they have to say about that in the season 3 set when McFadden returns. The sad fact is that whilst Star trek is a money making franchise we won’t get to hear a lot of the real stories behind the series. So these DVD sets carry a lot of information but don’t expect anything other than a squeaky clean veneer rather than a true picture.
Season 2 of The Next Generation improved on Season 1 technically and artistically. The disc package is of similar quality to season one although the extras are slightly better this time round. This consistency is important for Paramount to maintain because if they achieve this level throughout we will have a fantastic set of discs to honour a great Sci-Fi series. Price is of course still an issue and I still feel these sets are slightly overpriced, however Paramount will charge what they can get away with. Anyone who has Season 1 would be mad to miss out on this set and those who are determined to give the first two seasons a miss, I can only ask you to give it another try.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum