One writer checks out Star Trek: The Next Generation, with no prior experience to save him…
This was originally written in 2013 and has been re-released as we celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary…
I had never really ‘got’ Star Trek in any of its various permutations until I enjoyed the first JJ Abrams film a few years back. Star Trek always struck me as being quite serious and worthy, which isn’t normally what I like – but since Star Trek: Into Darkness came out a week ago, I thought it would be a good time to try again.
It’s a massive generalisation to say that I don’t ‘get’ Star Trek, as all that I’ve seen of it is some of the original series and Deep Space Nine. I’ve also seen some of the films, and can remember nothing about them whatsoever. When talking about the new film with some friends recently, they were amazed to learn that I’d never seen The Next Generation. And to be honest, it’s something I have wanted to watch for quite some time – mainly because of Patrick Stewart being brilliant and everything, but also because I know it was one of the most successful shows of its time. It seems to be the most highly regarded of the franchises, and therefore it seems unfair to ‘reject’ Star Trek without having seen it. So it’s time, with a nod to Radio 4’s ‘Never Seen Star Wars’ series, to rectify that…
Before I watch any, this is how much I (think I) know about Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG):
- It has Patrick Stewart in it playing the Captain, Jean Luc-Picard.
- It has an android called Data in it, who is similar to Spock (displays no emotions/is functionally autistic).
- There are things called the Borgs.
- There are things called Klingons – they used to be ‘Bad Guys’ in the old show, but one of them is a crewmember so they’re probably sort of alright now.
- They have something called a Holodeck.
- That’s it.
That really is it. I’m flying blind. I’m going to watch 2 episodes, randomly selected (i.e. recently repeated). I did think about trying from the start, but don’t believe it’s fair to judge a show on its first few episodes, and frankly I don’t have the time to watch all of the many episodes in order – I’m watching some from Series 4, with an open mind and some toast.
For a start, and to state the obvious, Patrick Stewart has a very magnetic presence. It’s the scenes with him that I immediately find myself looking forward to, although it seems from the start that this episode will concentrate on Geordi La Forge (who needs a space-age View-Master in order to see). There’s a bit of almost-supernatural body horror with crewmembers, but it’s drawn out and uninspired; plot-wise it’s nothing you’ve not seen before in anything else. The story is a bit slight and its denouement is drawn out far too long when the audience (even a first time audience member like me) knows Geordi’s going to come back and be human again.
On the plus side, seeing the Holodeck in action was interesting. Geordi makes a 3D recreation of a scene he has been watching on video in order to walk around it, searching for the cause of a mystery shadow. But the interplay between the characters feels very much like a soap opera, and perhaps because it’s my first episode I don’t feel I’m invested enough to really care (Will I be burnt by fans for saying that, or do lots of people think it too?). All in all, while I thought this episode was relatively watchable, I didn’t really see the big deal.
So after one episode I was distinctly unimpressed (rating out of 5 – Meh). Luckily I had decided to watch more than one episode, and the next one I saw was called…
This was much more my cup of tea. A nice compact little drama dealing with ethics and racism, this episode made much more sense of the show as being hugely popular. Patrick Stewart plays a much bigger part in this one, but that isn’t the only reason I enjoyed it. Although the programme is still taking itself very seriously, it uses this seriousness to great effect as opposed to making it seem ridiculous. Scenes work better for being played absolutely straight. It’s a good story that transcends its sci-fi setting.
Joan Simmons is brilliant as an Admiral sent to come and help investigate suspected sabotage and ends up putting Picard in the dock, allowing him to be all eloquent in the name of justice and making her lose her temper. There are racial tensions in this episode – another Klingon accuses Worf of abandoning his roots and selling-out (essentially becoming an ‘Uncle Tom figure); and the crewmember in the dock for lying about his Romulan heritage is well handled – I cared about his character despite him only having about 10 minutes screen time, tops. Whereas the Identity Crisis felt very 80s with some cheesy schlock-horror stylings, this one was much more 90s with its emphasis on dealing with issues with a capital ‘I’.
So, what’s the verdict? I enjoyed it, and can see how it has a lot of scope for doing different things – a big ensemble cast presumably means the emphasis on characters rotates throughout a series. As a show it takes itself more seriously than it really has any right to, but that’s always been a difference between most US and British TV sci-fi. The best way I can think of summing it up is that I wouldn’t buy the DVDs but will probably continue to watch it on TV, which sounds like a back-handed compliment – but I’ve got Doctor Who DVDs to save up for here!
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