The TDF Top 10 - Star Trek: The Next Generation
In the second of our series on the 10 greatest episodes / two-parters of classic TV shows, we head back to Star Trek: The Next Generation to pick the 10 greatest episodes of the first great Star Trek spin-off...
In a series like Star Trek: The Next Generation, picking your 10 favourite episodes is a seemingly impossible choice. It is a show littered with classics (at least from its second season onwards), that deciding a top 10 comes down to your personal choice. Are you a fan of Data-centric episodes or the exploration of the Klingon culture through Wof? Do you like the high concept episodes like Darmok, nostalgic stories like Unification and Relics, action-blockbusters like Yesterday's Enterprise and Cause and Effect? Of the prestiege drama episodes like The Inner Light? Does Q float your boat or do the Borg top the list whenever they're on screen?
The beauty of Star Trek: The Next Generation is that it has everything. In picking 10 episodes (and yes, I've classed two-parters as one or The Best of Both Worlds would take two spots), I've selected the ones that resonated with me as a Star Trek fan, but also ones that relfect the diverse range of storytelling that the show brougth us. From scientific and pschological mysteries to thrilling action and and a dash of Patrick Stewart's Shakespearean-level performance, these ten episode are my best of the bunch.
So without further ado, I present the The TDF Top 10 - Star Trek: The Next Generation...
10: Face of the Enemy (6.14)
While the Borg might be the stand-out big bad of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it is the Romulans who are best served as the show's big recurring antagonists. It's no surprise that they became integral to Star Trek: Picard. There are many great episodes featuring the Romulans (The Defector and Unification get the biggest nods), but it is season six's Face of the Enemy that stands out with a fascinating look at the inner workings of a Romulan ship.
Before Nepenthe, this was Deanna Troi's best episode. Waking to discover she has been abducted and changed to resemble a member of the Romulan secret police, The Tal Shiar, she must negotiate the powerplay between the intelligence and military factions, with Carolyn Seymour proving to be a perfect foil as Commander Toreth. A tense game of cat and mouse to the very end, with Troi and the Enterprise caught in the middle.
9: Frame of Mind (6.21)
Star Trek: The Next Generation loves a good mystery and this season six episode is a fascinating tale that sees Riker flit the line between reality and utter madness. It offers Riker one of his best episodes as he discovers that the play he is performing on the Enterprise might very well be the asylum he is actually trapped in.
The audience is pulled into Riker's insanity, questioning whether he has been kidnapped and subjected to psychological torture or whether his insanity has caused him to question his very existence on the ship. Jonathan Frakes delivers a wonderfully unhinged performance, in an episode that keeps the audience - and Riker - on their toes to the very end.
8: Parallels (7.11)
Season seven is generally a step down in quality from the previous runs, but Parallels is certainly a stand-out. Worf finds himself jumping from one reality to the next, starting with subtle changes to his world and then discovering an Enterprise where he is the first officer (red does look good on him!) and in a relationship with Deanna Troi - yes, this is the reason the rest of the season entertains this bizarre hook-up between the two, but it's so entertaining, we can forgive that.
The unfolding mystery of what has happened makes for a thrilling ride, culminating in that moment when the hundred of Enterprises converge and we witness that heavily damaged Enterprise D with a ragged Riker clinging to the helm, having spent years evading the Borg. As with many of the realities presented, it's a fascinating look at what might have happened, if the events of Best of Both Worlds had turned out differently...
7: Darmok (5.02)
"Darmok and Jalad at Tangara!"
A fascinating exploration of language, Darmok is widley regarded as a classic -and for good reason. Patrick Stewart triumphs in this episode as Picard is stranded on a planet with an alien captain without the luxury of the universal translator to help him.
The manner in which Picard and Darmok find ways to communicate, using stories and phrases to speak to each other, is one of the cleverest episodes Star Trek has done. With one of the franchises' core staples removed, the script finds new and innovative ways to tell the tale of two very different people forced to work together.
6: The Measure of a Man (2.09)
Who knew The Measure of a Man would be so important to Star Trek lore? Decades before Star Trek: Picard picked up the story of Data and Bruce Maddox, season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation delivered its first classic in an intense debate over Data's right to live. As an artificial intelligence, does he has the same right as organic life? This is Star Trek at its best; locked in a moral debate over life itself with a real sci-fi twist?
"Now, the decision you reach here today will determine how we will regard this... creation of our genius. It will reveal the kind of a people we are, what he is destined to be; it will reach far beyond this courtroom and this... one android. It could significantly redefine the boundaries of personal liberty and freedom - expanding them for some... savagely curtailing them for others. Are you prepared to condemn him and all who come after him, to servitude and slavery? Your Honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life; well, there it sits! - Waiting."
With speeches like this, Patrick Stewart defines himself as the captain of the Star Trek franchise. Measure of a Man is a challenging, thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be alive and Star Trek: The Next Generation's first real step towards becoming the prestige television it would rightly become.
5: Chain of Command (6.10 / 6.11)
"There... are... four... lights! "
This season six two-parter really shakes things up for the show. After their debut in The Wounded, the Cardassians take centre stage, setting up their continuing role of spin-off Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Everything is turned upside down, with Picard and Crusher reassigned to infiltrate enemy lines, while the arrogant Captain Jellico (Ronny Cox) takes command of the Enterprise and establishes a far harsher command regime. It's thanks to Jellico, that Deanna Troi finally gives up her ridiculous cat suit outfits in favour of a Starfleet uniform.
But it is the events of the second episode that really stand out, as Picard is captured and tortured by the merciless Gul Madred (David Warner in his third and final Star Trek role). Picard's strength and resilience wins through, refusing to succumb to Madred's manipulation, even as his life is on the stake. An often-harrowing story, Chain of Command really cements the Cardassians as one of Star Trek's greatest enemy races as Star Trek: The Next Generation goes down a dark and powerful path...
4: Yesterday's Enterprise (3.15)
The third season was where Star Trek: The Next Generation started to deliver consistently good episodes and Yesterday's Enterprise was one of the best. The arrival of the damaged Enterprise C through a rift in space propels the Enterprise D into a darker alternate timeline where the Federation is losing a war to the Klingons and deceased former security officer Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) is alive and well.
There are so many great things about Yesterday's Enterprise, from the gritty alternate Enterprise D to the focus on Yar (Crosby gives her best performance yet). Tricia O'Neil brings grit and determination to the role of Enterprise C Captain Garrett, discovering the loss of her ship changes the outcome of the quadrant and facing the moral dilemma to return to certain death to save it. And of course, Yar learning of her alternate self's death sees her return with the Enterprise C, setting in motion her return as commander Sela to come...
3: All Good Things (7.25)
All Good Things is one of the best and most satisfying TV finales of all time. Going full circle to the events of the pilot episode Encounter at Farpoint, this feature-length episode picks up Q's trial over humanity as Picard is flung back to the maiden voyage of the Enterprise D (complete with a returning Tasha Yar) and forward 25 years to a point where he is suffering from a neurological disease (a thread returned to in Star Trek: Picard) and divorced from Beverly Crusher.
It is a fun, thrilling time-travel adventure that sees Picard attempt to solve the same mystery in three different points in time, with the very future of his race at stake. From old faces to older - and not necessarily wiser - members of the Enterprise crew, it is both an engaging mystery in its own right and a wonderful celebration of the entire show. And who didn't choke up the first time you saw Picard join the crew for a game of poker in the episode's closing moments?
2: The Inner Light (5.25)
Praising The Inner Light as one of the greatest episode of Star Trek ever has become something of a cliché, but it still deserves all the praise. Picard comes into contact with an alien device that plucks him away to another world, where he lives out an entire lifetime in the space of a few minutes. This is Patrick Stewart at his absolute finest; from his struggles to get back to his ship to his long life as a husband and father, relieving the final years of the doomed people that sent out the device.
The whole life in a flash is a classic sci-fi device, used in countless Star Trek shows from the excellent Far Beyond the Stars to Blink of an Eye. But what elevates The Inner Light above those classic episodes is Patrick Stewart's performance. It offers a very different side tot he Starfleet captain - a life that he never got to experience in reality. A rich, powerful piece of storytelling with a heart breaking ending; this is not just Star Trek, this is prestige drama at its best.
1: The Best of Both Worlds (3.26 / 4.01)
The Borg are one of the great villains of Star Trek history and The Best of Both Worlds, the two-parter bridging the third and fourth seasons, is one of the franchise's greatest stories. Having made a terrifying debut in season two's Q Who? (an episode that almost made the list), the full might of the Borg comes crashing down on the Alpha Quadrant, which sees Picard assimilated, a Federation fleet wiped out and the fate of the Federation at stake.
There are so many huge moments, from Picard's capture and shock reappearance as Locutus, to that ending as Riker orders the Enterprise to fire on the Borg cube and his captain. The starship graveyard at Wold 359 (and event expanded upon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's pilot episode The Emissary) to Picard's rescue and the final nailbting race to shut down the Borg over Earth. Mixed into all the high drama is an intense story for Riker, who finds his career challenged by eager rival Shelby (it's a shame she never returned to the franchise) and forced to take the captain's chair after Picard's assimilation. The moment he finds the ship meant for him destroyed at Wold 359 is a grim wake up call. The Best of Both Worlds saw the Borg at their greatest, shaking up the series like never before and defining what was meant by a great series cliffhanger.
There were many more episodes that almost made the cut. Q Who, The Offspring, Family, Remember Me, Redemption, Cause and Effect, I Borg and Timescape were all up for consideration too. But what are your top 10 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Let us know in the comments below...
Enjoyed this article? Check out our greatest TV seasons feature on Star Trek: The Next Generation season five...