Could it happen again? Could Gene do it twice? Could Star Trek come back to television with an entirely new crew, and arguably a new mission? The year was 1987, and rather than subjugate himself to the strict rules of network television; Gene Roddenberry decided to try Trek on syndication. This was such a gamble… but Paramount wanted more Trek, and after the successful film series with the stars from The Original Series, they wanted lower salaries. So after The Animated Series and the aborted Phase II, we finally saw a new Trek on TV.
At the time, many saw this as a strange new take on Roddenberry’s original. Some said it was a “Republican” view of the future, while others complained that the crew was too unemotional and robotic, except, of course, Mr. Data.
But in the end, many critics agreed that Star Trek: The Next Generation was superior to The Original Series in nearly every way, and the show lasted for seven seasons and spawned four feature films.
The episode started with a new look at the galaxy, with updated graphics and the theme from The Motion Picture. For the first time, fans got to see the beautiful, streamlined Enterprise-D. Who cares that there’s no atmosphere in space — the ship’s aerodynamic style seethed “the future.”
It was Patrick Stewart’s iconic voice, which narrated this new opening, and started his captain’s log to start everything off. Captain Jean-Luc Picard explained, as he gazed out a window at space, that the Enterprise was en route to Deneb IV, “beyond which lies the great unexplored mass of the galaxy.”
They had to go to Farpoint Station, a base created by the inhabitants of the planet.
As Picard made his way to the bridge, audiences saw engineering and met Counselor Troi and Mr. Data, who questioned Picard on his use of the word “snoop.” Then suddenly, Counselor Troi sensed an intelligence.
In front of the Enterprise, a large grid appeared. Almost like a red and orange mesh, large enough to prevent the ship from escaping. A huge net.
Much has changed in 100 years. The seats Mr. Data and the navigator sit in are like leather-clad Lay-Z-Boys, and all computers are controlled by touch. Interesting that the world would have this sort of tech with the iPhone by 2007… Star Trek predicted it thirty years before.
A human male appeared on the bridge, dressed as Christopher Columbus. The being said that humanity had gone too far into the galaxy. He told Picard that they are ordered to return to their home solar system.
Picard asked the being to identify itself, and he responded: “We call ourselves the Q.” The turbolift doors opened with a security team inside. Before they stepped out, Q created another grid inside the door and trapped them inside. Another crewman stood up to stop and Q, who froze him solid.
Q again ordered Picard to go back or “thou wilt most certainly die.”
Thinking that the crew could not identify with his dressed as a 15th Century explorer, Q changed his appearance to be a 20th Century U.S. Army official. Picard scoffed, and called what Q wore a “costume.” He said that by the time humans wore uniforms like that, the race had started to make rapid progress away from armed conflict.
Q then switched to a new costume, which was worn in Earth’s World War III conflict. Worf and Lt. Tasha Yar asked to remove Q from the bridge. Picard denied her request. Q continued and said that as humans learned to navigate through space, they found new allies and enemies to fight and slaughter.
Picard threw it back at Q, saying that what was happening now was the ship was encountering self-righteous life forms who appointed themselves judge. Q lit up and said that a trial was a fantastic idea. Q left, and as he did, he said the next time they met, it would be just in the manner Picard suggested.
At that point, Yar and Worf again asked to fight. Picard asked Troi her thoughts, who said that Q’s mind was far too powerful, and she recommended that the Enterprise avoid conflict.
Let’s pause and meet the new bridge crew:
First, we have Data, an android, which was faster and stronger than the rest of the crew but would struggle to interact with them. Data was the “Spock” on this Enterprise, as he had no emotions. But unlike Spock, Data wanted them. Data was like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz… he could do almost anything, and he only wanted a heart.
Next, we have Tasha Yar, who was rescued as a child by Starfleet from some terrible place. She serves as the ship’s security officer… for a while.
Deanna Troi serves as the ship’s counselor and is from the planet Betazed. Betazoids are like humans in every single way, except they have empathic powers. Troi is only half-Betazoid, so she cannot read minds, but instead, she can sense feelings like hate or fear from Picard’s advisories. Her outfit in this first episode was an interesting call-back to TOS and the “leggy yeoman” who used to wait on Captain Kirk.
Finally, for now, we have Worf — the Klingon. Gene Roddenberry told actor Michael Dorn to make Worf his own. Dorn certainly did, as Worf appeared in four Trek feature films (five if you count his relative in The Undiscovered Country, who was also played by Dorn) and more episodes of Trek than any other character. The Klingons were often compared to Communists in The Original Series, which was the great advisory during the 60s. But when TNG aired, tensions were not quite the same, and in 1989, the Soviet Empire collapsed. Some thought Worf was Trek’s way of reflecting these changes.
Back to the story — Picard decided to “see what this Galaxy Class starship can do.” Picard asked Data to determine what would happen if the saucer section was detached at high warp speed. Data said that was ill-advised as any speed but theoretically possible. Picard hoped to surprise Q with these maneuvers.
As the ship turned and jumped to warp, the grid merged into a ball and followed. As they hit Warp 9.3, Worf warned that the engines were at the red line. Picard asked Troi for guesses on what they were dealing with. She said it was beyond what they would consider a life form.
When the advisory began to overtake the Enterprise, Picard ordered aft torpedoes to arm and then for the Saucer Section to separate. This caused all members of the crew whipped around and stared at their captain. He ordered Worf to command the Saucer Section. Worf objected, saying that he was a Klingon warrior, and his place was in the battle. Picard overruled him, saying that Worf was a Starfleet officer and that he would do as he was ordered.
Data, Troi, Yar, and Picard, went to the Battle Bridge and met Chief O’Brien (as played by actor Colm Meaney).
As the Saucer separated from the Stardrive Section, we got to hear some more of Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible theme. They did this because the Saucer Section contained the family living quarters, which was another reason by the Enterprise-D was different from the 23rd Century Enterprise.
The Stardrive Section turned to face Q and his “ball.” Picard ordered that they would surrender. As the ball caught up, Picard, Data, Yar, and Troi found themselves in a mid-21st Century “post-atomic horror” courtroom.
This was cool but probably unnecessary. I think the producers spent a bunch on that saucer separation animation and they wanted to dazzle the audience in this pilot and first episode of the new series.
Soon, Q appeared as the judge of the court, floating into the room on a throne. A guard, dressed in the same armor that Q wore on the bridge approached the crew and demanded that they stand. He fired a machine gun into the air, and Yar attacked him. Q said that the guard was out of order, and then a second guard shot and killed him.
“The prisoners will not be harmed — until they are found guilty,” said Q.
It was announced that the crew would stand trial to answer for the savagery of their species. Yar refused to stand down and lectured Q for a moment until she too was turned to ice.
This crowd … or jury is reminiscent of those street urchins who tore through Ebenezer Scrooge’s belongings in “A Christmas Carol.” They laughed and mocked the crew as they mourned for their “frozen” comrade.
Picard challenged Q to a fair trial, and Tasha thawed out. Q agreed to run the trial under the idea of “guilty until proven innocent.” He forced Picard to face the charge of being a “grievously savage race.”
The bailiff asked Picard to reach the charge. Picard held the tablet for a moment and then said that he saw to charges against them. Q said Picard was out of order, and two soldiers approached Data and Troi with their automatic weapons drawn. Q ordered them to shoot if Picard answered “anything other than guilty.”
Picard pleaded guilty — provisionally. Q listened. Picard had Data repeat the testimony concerning fairness. Q ruled this evidence irrelevant.
Exasperated, Picard agreed that humanity had been savage, but he argued, this was not true anymore. He asked Q to test them and judge them by their actions. Q agreed.
Picard and crew found themselves back on the battle bridge with O’Brien. Data reported that they were en route to Farpoint Station.
Meanwhile, Commander William Riker, the new first officer for the Enterprise, was inspecting Farpoint Station ahead of the ship’s arrival. He met with the station’s administrator (Groppler Zorn) and commented on the station’s advanced materials, the abundance of power and the overall design. At each turn, the administrator tried to flatter Riker or change the subject.
As Riker turned to leave, Zorn offered him some fruit. Riker said he wished there was an apple available, but there appeared not to be. Moments later, there was an apple.
After Riker left the room, Zorn scolded … something. He said that tricks like making the apples appear would arise Starfleet’s suspicions and ruin their plans. If that were to happen, there would be punishment.
Later, Riker found Dr. Crusher and her son, Wesley, in a courtyard outside. As they shopped around, Riker asked her if they could do something useful as they waited for the Enterprise to arrive. Crusher said that Riker was trying to kiss Picard’s ass by dreaming up problems with Farpoint, which did not exist.
Dr. Beverley Crusher would be the ship’s doctor soon, and while she was very qualified, she and Picard had a mysterious past, which we’d learn about in later episodes.
Her son, Wesley, was supposed to be the personification of Gene Roddenberry as a child in the future. But to many, he is the Jar Jar Binks of the series, always popping up and ruining scenes. I, personally, had no problem with him. I always thought his outfits were a bit odd. Like under styled pajamas.
Finally, we meet Riker, who many compared to the swashbuckling Kirk. Trek purists always pointed out that Kirk put himself in far too much danger and should not have beamed down into dangerous situations. For crying out loud, Kirk put on a spacesuit and grabbed Spock’s lifeless body outside of the Enterprise inside of V’Ger in The Motion Picture. Couldn’t Sulu or someone else have done that?
Anyhow, now Picard had Riker, his “Number One,” who would be available to lead the away teams, while the cerebral captain stayed on the ship. Also, Jonathan Frakes would eventually grow a beard in 1988, which Roddenberry approved of, which helped him look less “Shatner-like.”
As Crusher was looking at bolts of fabric, she wished out loud for a specific style, which suddenly appeared. Riker said, “a-ha — told ya,” and Beverly was forced to agree that he was right. There was something strange about this place.
As the Crushers walked away, Lt. Geordi La Forge and reported to Riker that the Enterprise had arrived, Stardrive Section only. Riker beamed up… by pressing the golden Starfleet logo on his chest.
WOW! I can remember thinking how cool the TNG communicator badge was back in the day. Way cooler than Kirk’s communicator (sorry).
And speaking of cool, who was cooler than La Forge? His VISOR was the best. He could see through walls, and he could tell if you were lying. I could have cared less that he had headaches and all that. He was the coolest character ever, as far as I was concerned. LeVar Burton played La Forge through the seven seasons of TNG and the four feature films. Many of us hope he returns to Star Trek: Picard as well.
Tasha Yar greeted Riker in the transporter room. Things were tense as Riker entered the battle bridge. Picard said that he wanted to catch Riker up on things before they could “talk.”
Riker sat and watched a video edit of how Q terrorized the crew. Picard ordered Riker to conduct a manual docking of the saucer and stardrive sections.
He stood behind Data and O’Brien and eyeballed the two sections back together, giving them orders to rotate and use thrust here and there.
Later, as Picard and Riker met, the first officer explained that he felt the captain’s place was on the ship, and not on away missions. Picard asked Riker not to allow the captain to make “an ass” of himself in front of the ship’s children.
“It’s a new ship, but she’s got the right name,” said McCoy. “You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”
In sickbay, Geordi explained how the VISOR worked to Dr. Crusher. The doctor walked through some possible remedies for the pain he felt as we wore the “appliance,” which would have negated its use.
As Riker walked onto the bridge, fans were treated to a little taste of Alexander Courage’s original Trek theme. Riker asked Worf where Data was. The Klingon explained that Data was piloting a shuttle back to the U.S.S. Hood, with a certain admiral, who refused to use the transporter.
It was an ancient Dr. McCoy, who lectured Data on why he would not use the transporter. After Data told McCoy exactly how old the admiral was, McCoy asked where Data’s pointed ears were. Data said to him that he was an android. “Almost as bad,” said McCoy.
“It’s a new ship, but she’s got the right name,” said McCoy. “You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”
As the Hood left orbit — by the way, the Hood was an Excelsior-class starship — Q re-appeared and told Picard that they were wasting time. Q said they had 24 hours to prove themselves. Picard said they’d continue on the mission and act as if Q was not watching.
As Riker left Picard, the captain introduced him to Counselor Troi, but this was not their first meeting. As she spoke directly to Riker’s mind with her powers, she acted outwardly as if she were in a trance. They told Picard that they’d met sometime before.
Back on Deneb IV, Picard, Troi, and Riker met with Zorn with whole-lotta questions. Picard said Starfleet might be interested in more stations, just like this one. Zorn said they only wanted to build this one, and if they could not come to an agreement as it were, then Zorn would make an alliance with the Ferengi.
Zorn must have known that Picard and the rest had no clue about the Ferengi and their bargaining skills. There was no way in heck they’d get a better deal from the Ferengi!
Anyhow, Troi felt great pain and loneliness from something that was very close, but not Zorn or his people. Picard asked Zorn what this was, and the Groppler got angry. Picard and crew walked out of the meeting.
Onboard the Enterprise, Riker was looking for Data. He asked for help, and a young female officer (who smiled a lot at Riker) showed him (and the audience) how advanced the computer system was. She asked where Data was, and the ship told her. He thanked her and walked off — as she looked at his butt.
Riker found Data in the holodeck, a new advancement on the ship, which would allow crew members to go to virtually anywhere, thanks to computer simulation and holographic projection.
But, more importantly, this allowed TNG writers to create Earth-like worlds without the Enterprise stumbling into “fake Earths” all over the galaxy, as they did in TOS. This did not stop TNG writers from taking us to human settlements of various types, which had problems similar to Earth’s near past or 1990-era present.
Riker found Data practicing his whistling in a forest. Riker told Data that the captain wanted them to solve a riddle on Deneb IV. The human asked the android if his rank (Lt. Cmdr.) was honorary, as he was a machine. Data said that he graduated from Starfleet Academy, Class of ’78 and that he was superior to humans in many ways, but he’d “gladly give it up to be human.”
“Nice to meet you, Pinocchio,” Riker said. Data didn’t get the joke.
Suddenly, Wesley Crusher came bounding along and fell into a stream. Data pulled him out. They exited the holodeck, and Picard met them. Wesley stood in front of the captain, dripping. He offered to get something to wipe up the mess. Picard agreed.
In sickbay, Wesley was annoying the crap out of his mom, asking a billion questions and trying to get her to take him on the bridge. She said “no,” but he kept nagging. Hmmm.
Back in the bazaar, Riker and Data decided to look for clues on the planet’s surface, while Tasha, Troi, and Geordi went into the tunnels below the station. Troi was miffed because she wanted to go with Riker.
In the tunnels, Tasha and Geordi found something. The construction was unlike anything they had ever seen before. Troi found terrible pain. Riker and Data beamed into the tunnels for more details. Troi told them that this emotion for from a lifeform, unlike anything, ever encountered.
“What the hell?” Picard said as he saw Wesley cowering in the turbolift entrance. “Children are not allowed on the bridge!”
Dr. Crusher revealed herself and reported for duty. Picard’s face softened as she explained that this child was her son. Picard said that he knew Wesley’s father, and invited the boy to look around the bridge. Wes even got to sit in the captain’s chair, and he knew a whole bunch about everything, which annoyed Picard.
A sudden perimeter alert ended this tender moment, and Picard kicked Wesley off the bridge. Worf reported that the vessel that was approaching was of unknown origin and type. It was not responding to hails.
It looked like a vast saucer-type ship, with a glowing purple center — and it was 12-times the Enterprise’s volume (wow). Picard ordered the away team to return to the ship, and the shields to be raised. Zorn said that he did not know who this ship was.
Worf said that sensor scans merely bounced off the alien vessel. The ship fired on the Old Bandi City, and not on Farpoint itself. As they got to the surface, Riker and crew were near the area that was under attack.
Riker ordered that Georgi, Tasha, and Troi return to the ship, while he and Data investigate. Troi protested, but Riker ordered her to comply, and they beamed up.
As Zorn pleaded with Picard to do something to stop the attack, the captain ordered Riker and Data to get Zorn and beam him up for questioning.
Just when Picard ordered phasers, Q appeared on the bridge. Picard told Q to “get off my bridge!” Q mocked the order of phasers.
He again accused Picard of being savages and a “primate” and asked what the ship was doing to help the injured. Crusher said they were prepping. Picard ordered the ship to maneuver … but Worf noted that they had lost control of the vessel.
On the planet, Riker and Data walked into Zorn’s office. The Groppler was whining and whimpering, saying that he had no idea why they were under attack. Then he was beamed out, but not by the Enterprise.
Riker signaled that Zorn was gone, and wondered if Q was behind it. Q heard this and sneered. Troi broke in and said that she felt “enormous satisfaction,” from somewhere else, not from the planet.
Picard told Q to “leave or finish us!” Q said he would leave if Riker would provide some entertainment. Q told Riker to beam over to the other ship, and Riker agreed to go.
In the middle of the action, Picard left the bridge to visit Beverly Crusher in sickbay. He apologized for being rude but said that he would approve a transfer if she wanted, as he reminded her of her husband’s death. She pushed back.
Riker, Data, Troi, and Tasha beamed over to the ship. They encountered the same sort of construction that was in the tunnels on the planet. Troi felt anger, hate, and power, directed to Bandi City.
Riker noted that there was no circuitry or machines on board. Soon they heard Zorn’s voice. They reached the source and Zorn was being tortured while suspended in a force field.
Troi realized that she felt only one alien’s presence. Data and Riker freed Zorn.
On the Enterprise, Worf pointed as the vessel started to glow purple. Q appeared in a Starfleet uniform, saying that the time was up, and he blocked all actions. Picard realized that he could not beam the away team back, and started pleading with Q.
Once Picard said, “I will do whatever you say,” the away team and Zorn appeared on the bridge.
Like an imp, Q urged Picard to destroy the alien. Picard told the crew to ignore Q’s orders.
Riker asked Zorn why the alien ship was attacking. Picard asked if this was due to a wrong done against another creature. The Groppler said they’d done nothing wrong, and they were trying to help the creature.
“Thank you,” said Picard, who then ordered Tasha to use the phasers to create an energy beam. Riker noted that it stood to reason that there must be creatures who could transform energy into matter, which was how they made the station.
The alien ship then descended onto Farpoint, and it looked much less like an alien ship and more like a galactic jellyfish.
After the Enterprise’s energy beam finished, the creature emerged from the planet and joined its “mate.”
Picard figured that the Bandi captured it, gave it enough energy to live and made it create Farpoint Station.
Troi reported a “feeling of great joy and gratitude from both of them.”
Picard then turned to Q and asked him why he used other lifeforms for his “recreation.” Q left but said that we would not promise not to come back.
TREK REPORT SUPPLEMENTAL:
What can you say about this? It was incredible how they packed so much into this episode. Roddenberry and his old pal from the TOS days, D.C. Fontana, created a new Trek universe, with an entirely new cast, new ship, new enemies, new technology, and even, new music. And it all worked! The story for the episode itself was great too, with the introduction of an original signature villain, Q, to boot. And the ending, with the giant space jellyfish, was incredible also.
With just a cameo by a TOS character, the new Trek series was off and running, carrying the franchise into the 1990s and beyond.
RATING: 5 out of 5