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Old 03-02-2021, 11:02 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Interestingly, perhaps inevitably, all Star Trek series begin with a two-hour (sometimes broken into two parts) premiere episode, and so it is with the first to pick up the baton after Kirk and Co had warped off into hypergalactic retirement, Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is often tricky, as if you make it too boring (as in “The Cage”) you can damage your prospects of being picked up by the network. But while “Encounter at Farpoint” is far from the best TNG episode, even in season one, there was never a danger of it not being picked up, as it was to be the triumphant return of the franchise after over twenty-five years in the wilderness, and the audience was certainly there for it. More, there were two distinct audience demographics: those who had grown up on the original and were either salivating at the prospect of its return (or waiting to tear it apart with savage commentary and criticism; didn't matter, they still had to watch it first) and those who either had never seen it and were interested, or else were just science-fiction fans. There wasn't much of sci-fi on the TV at that time, and so anything even vaguely space related was welcome. Plus TNG was coming in on the cusp of a new sci-fi revival, with films like Star Wars, Alien, ET and Blade Runner, to say nothing of four Trek movies whetting the appetites of sci-fi enthusiasts young and old. It was, in short, a great time for the Return of the King.

But any show that has reached such iconic, almost legendary status is going to be hard to replicate, and the inevitable comparisons would be made, so how to make this not simply a continuation of the original series, but a quantum leap forward? Well, plenty of ways. First of all, while maintaining the accepted family atmosphere aboard ship, the “power trio” idea had to be dispensed with. The original Star Trek had mostly focussed on Kirk, Spock and McCoy, with occasional contributions from the likes of Scotty, Uhura or Sulu, and later Chekov, but I don't think there's one episode in the entire three-season run that did not feature all three of the main characters. This put the others at a disadvantage, relegating them to the position almost of bit players, guest stars even. An episode would survive the absence of Sulu or Scotty, and much of the time Uhura was just a glorified telephone operator, but the three main men always had to be in the camera's crosshairs.

TNG sought to do away with that to an extent. While it's true that the captain was, and always would be, the centre of any action, this new series “farmed out” or even shared out the adventure. It would not be unheard of for Doctor Crusher, Geordi or Worf to have their own episode, and even the “kid” on board, Wesley, would feature prominently in later ones. Relationships would be explored and developed, and to a much greater degree than had been in the original series, where little more than a hint that Nurse Chapel was in love with Spock was allowed, or references were made to Kirk's many ex-girlfriends and conquests. Here, everyone was related in one way or another. Geordi and Data would become fast friends. Riker and Troi had past history they were still trying to get past, and even the captain had a romantic interest in the doctor, although it would be some time indeed before he would admit it, more before he would act on it.

The crew was larger, the ship more powerful and majestic, and the storylines would of course be more far-reaching, deep and intelligent, and there would be, by and large, little of the easy humour for which Star Trek had become known. Picard was a hard man, an authoritarian who seldom smiled, disliked and distrusted children, and seemed to have few hobbies other than reading. He was a solitary man, alone among over a thousand souls, with responsibility for their safety, and though his crew were loyal to him and would follow him into Hell, at first he does come across rather a little like Christopher Pike on his one and only voyage aboard the USS Enterprise.

“Encounter at Farpoint”

On the way to Deneb IV, the new USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is heading towards its first mission. A starbase has been built there, called Farpoint Station, and the Federation wish to know how it was built so quickly and if more can be built. Picard is yet awaiting the arrival of his ship's doctor and first officer, who are to meet them at the station. En route though they are suddenly accosted by a malevolent intelligence which manifests upon the ship's bridge, calling itself “The Q”. It accuses the human race of being a “dangerous, savage child race” and directs Picard and his crew to return to their home planet. Picard of course refuses, loudly proclaiming the advances humanity has made, and the creature, seemingly intrigued by the captain's ideas of testing them, retires, promising to return.

The Q has however blocked the path of the Enterprise with a weblike net, which Picard now attempts to break away from. He prepares the ship for “saucer separation”, a procedure which will detach the main bridge in the flat, disc-like section of the top of the ship from the main body. As they accelerate away from the net it follows them, and they find it impossible to outrun. Picard orders the saucer separation, and despite his chagrin, Worf is ordered to take command of the saucer section, into which all the women and children have been herded. The remainder of the ship, now known as “the battle bridge” turns to take on the “hostile” as it gains on them. It is however a futile action, and Picard reluctantly orders their surrender.

Once he does, they all find themselves in a courtroom, where the judge is none other than the intelligence known as The Q. Troi confirms that, though the scene they are in is out of the late twenty-first century, and cannot be real, must be an illusion, it is real. The Q again accuses the crew of being savage and dangerous, and tricks them into admitting their guilt under duress. Outmanoeuvred, Picard puts forward a challenge: let the Q test him and his crew, let them represent what mankind has become, and let him see if they have in fact evolved beyond what the powerful alien accuses them of. The Q is satisfied, even happy with the outcome, and tells Picard that solving the mystery of Farpoint Station will serve as his litmus test. The court dissolves, and Picard and his crew are back aboard their vessel.

Meanwhile, at Farpoint Station, Commander William Riker awaits the arrival of the Enterprise and visits the man in command of the station, an alien named Zorn. He expresses amazement that the station could have been built so quickly, and so perfectly suited to the needs of the Federation. Zorn is evasive, refusing to answer questions, but when Riker has left he seems annoyed and berates something above him, almost as if he is talking to the ceiling. He talks of “arousing their suspicion”, and it's clear that something here does not meet the eye. Riker meets up with the ship's doctor, Beverley Crusher, who is also awaiting the arrival of the ship. He tells her and her son, Wesley, that he has noticed odd things about this station. Just now, he had wanted an apple and though there was none in the bowl proffered him by Zorn, a moment later there was another bowl which he could swear had not been there, and yes, it had apples in it. Similarly, Crusher looks at some cloth and notes it would be nice if there were a gold pattern on it, and suddenly there is. She of course thinks he's seeing conspiracies where none exist, and looking for ways to impress his new captain, but he is sure it's more than just an overactive imagination.

Riker is somewhat surprised to learn that Crusher is on first-name terms with the new captain, but Wesley advises him that it was Picard who brought the body of his father home, when he fell in an away mission, some years ago. Geordi LaForge, navigator aboard the ship and also awaiting its arrival so that he can take his position, reports to Riker that the ship has reached orbit but is missing the saucer section. Picard has ordered Riker to beam aboard immediately, as he does. Almost right away he is shown footage of what has transpired with The Q, and then Picard receives news that the saucer section is ready to reunite with the main ship. Seeing this as an early test of his first officer's competence and his ability to work under pressure, the captain orders Riker to conduct the reintegration of the ship, manually, a task he carries out perfectly. Picard grudgingly congratulates him on his prowess, though calls it “a fairly routine manoeuvre.” He does however take issue with his new second-in-command's determination to second-guess the captain when he deems he is putting himself in unnecessary danger.

Here though the mask slips a little and Picard allows himself a moment of weakness, as he admits he is not good with children, and asks, well orders I suppose, Riker to help him in that area. LaForge shows Crusher his visor, a computer implant that allows him to see, even though he is blind. Usage of the implant does cause him pain, but he suffers it in order to be able to see, even if he does not see the same way we do: his visor detects electromagnetic waves, colour spectrums etc. Riker is looking for Data, but Worf tells him that the android is on “special assignment”, ferrying a special guest, an admiral, to the Enterprise by shuttlecraft. This turns out to be McCoy, in what's a pretty shamefully self-indulgent cameo that last about a minute. As they prepare to leave Farpoint, The Q appears again on the viewscreen, advising them that if they do not solve the problem in twenty-four hours they risk summary judgement against them.

Riker is reintroduced to Deanna Troi, the Ship's Counsellor, but Picard is unaware they are ex-lovers. Troi is half Betazoid and therefore telepathic, and she and Riker share an uncomfortable, though private moment when she speaks to his mind only. They keep their relationship from the captain, admitting only that they know each other. All three beam down to the station and meet with Zorn, who is less than happy at Deanna's presence, she being a telepath. He is also annoyed at Picard's attempts to get him to agree to build other starbases for them, or to trade for the materials and knowledge that allowed them to build Farpoint. He makes it clear he is interested in entertaining neither suggestion, and just wants to sell the rights to use this station alone. While there, Troi experiences powerful emotions --- negative, painful ones, ones of loss and despair, but she can't say from where these feelings are emanating. As the exchanges get more heated, and all their questions continue to be evaded, the trio leave a fuming Zorn, unsure of what is going on.

Riker gets his first taste of the brand new Holodeck, a holographic projection room on the ship which can be programmed for any environment, scene or fantasy. He is looking for Data and finds him here, as well as Wesley Crusher. Data shows how superhumanly strong he is when he lifts Wesley with one hand when the kid falls into a holographically-created, but very real and very wet, stream. Riker also finds out, to his amusement, that the one thing Data wishes is to be human. He has not the software to accomplish this, but is trying to add to his programme by trying things like whistling, and hopes that by better studying humans and coming to understand them, he may one day emulate them. In the tunnel below Farpoint Station, Geordi is unable to identify the material the walls are constructed from, and Deanna receives even harsher images and emotions, making her sink to her knees in despair.

A strange alien vessel arrives and begins to attack the planet, firing unknown weapons down at the city below. It does however appear to be avoiding hitting the station itself. It refuses to respond to hails, and Zorn professes to know nothing about it, though Picard is loath to believe him. He knows, all right: it's in his voice. He's hiding something, and the arrival of the alien vessel has thrown him into almost a panic. Picard orders Riker, still on the planet, to bring him to the Enterprise where they will get what information he has out of him. However, before they can do so someone else teleports him away. Troi begins to sense a new emotion: satisfaction, but it is not from the same source. The Q reappears, gloating over Picard's inability to solve the conundrum, goading him that he has not the brains to figure it out. Q, tiring of their efforts and looking to be amused, gives them a clue: beam over to the alien vessel, he advises them, and though Picard is against it Riker volunteers to go, which impresses the seemingly-omnipotent alien.

Picard goes to Crusher, to apologise for his stiff and overly formal welcome to her: she is an old friend, or at least the wife of an old friend, and he should have been more forthcoming. He tells her that serving aboard the Enterprise may be hard for her, being constantly reminded of her husband through him, and suggests a transfer, which he will approve, but she turns him down, saying she is where she needs and wants to be. In fact, she tells him, she requested the post. On the alien vessel, Troi Data and Riker find Zorn held captive and in pain, while the empath feels anger, revenge, satisfaction from a much closer source than before.

As they rescue Zorn, Q reappears on the bridge, sneering at Picard's efforts to unravel the mystery, but when the away team returns, sent back by the alien vessel, he begins to see it. The vessel is not a ship but a living being, and it is trying to help --- rescue --- one of its own kind which has been trapped on the planet surface below. Creatures who can convert energy into matter, the second alien was pressed into service by Zorn and his people, forced to assume the shape of Farpoint Station, and allowed only enough energy to survive but not to break free. Picard has the Enterprise beam energy down to it, allowing it to break free and join its mate. Farpoint Station is no more, the duplicity has been uncovered, Q is disappointed that the humans solved the puzzle and vanishes in a huff. Picard leans forward and declares “Let's see what's out there!”

Quotes
Troi: “Captain! I'm sensing a powerful mind. Massively powerful”
(Picard surely wants to blush, and say “Well, I wouldn't say massive, but if you insist...”! )

Data: “It registers as solid, Captain.”
Troi: “Or an incredibly powerful forcefield! Captain, if we collide with it at this speed---”
Picard: “Shut off that damn noise!”
(Picard is referring to the red alert warning, but you can just hear Deanna grumping “I'm only saying. No need to be rude!” )

Picard: “Let's see what this “Galaxy”-class starship can do!”

Picard: “Commander, signal the following in all languages and on all frequencies: we surrender.”
(And a generation of Trekkers put their heads in their hands and groan “Kirk would never have surrendered!” Welcome to the new generation...)

Zorn (to the air apparently): “You have been told not to do that! Why can't you understand? It will arouse their suspicion, and if that happens, we will have to punish you! We will, I promise you!”

Picard: “I'm not a family man, Riker, and yet Starfleet has given me a ship with children aboard. I'm not comfortable with children. But since a captain needs an image of geniality, you're to see that's what I project.”

McCoy: “I see no points on your ears, boy, but you sure sound like a Vulcan!”
Data: “No, Sir. I am an android.”
McCoy: “Hmph! Almost as bad!”

Picard: “Counsellor, may I introduce our new First Officer, Commander William Riker. Commander, this is our Ship's Counsellor, Deanna Troi.”
Troi: “A pleasure, Commander.”
Riker: “Likewise, Counsellor.”
Picard: “Have you two met before?”
Riker: “Yes sir, we have.”
Picard: “Excellent. I consider it important for my key officers to know each other's abilities.”
Troi: “We do sir, we do.”
(How little he knows of their shared history, and the unheard telepathic message Troi sends to her “Imzadi”!)

Zorn: “Captain! The Ferengi would be very interested in a base such as this!”
Picard: “Fine. Let's hope they find you as tasty as they did their past associates!”

Riker: “But you're ...”
Data: “A machine, Sir, yes. Does that trouble you?”
Riker: “Honestly, yes.”
Data: “Understood, Sir. Prejudice is very human.”
Riker: “Now that does trouble me. Do you consider yourself superior to humans?”
Data: “I am superior, Sir, in many ways. But I would give it all up, to be human.”
Rike: “Nice to meet you, Pinocchio.”

Picard: “Some problem, Commander?”
Riker: “Just wondering if all our missions will go this way, Sir?”
Picard: “Oh no, Number One. I'm sure most of them will be much more interesting. Let's see what's out there.”

Parallels
There's a very distinct similarity here in what Q is doing to what Squire Trelayne made Kirk undergo in “The Squire of Gothos.” He, too, was a judge and accused Kirk, whom he then hunted.

There are also slightly less similar, but still alike, parallels to be drawn with “Devil n the dark”, in which the killer of miners on a planet is found to be a creature that can burrow through solid rock, and which is killing in revenge for the destruction of its eggs, cracked when the miners broke into a shaft which was in fact the creature's nursery.

It wasn't meant to be this way!
Sometimes ideas were barely pencilled in and fleshed out later, so that things changed over the course of the series, many of them taking on totally different aspects and meanings than they were originally intended to have.

Q, presented here as a dark, evil, all-powerful enemy, would soon become the butt of jokes, a nuisance, an annoyance and at one point, an unwilling member of the crew. He would become a source of comic relief, but one thing that would always be true was that, like Mister Burns in any episode of The Simpsons, you could be guaranteed a good story if he were in it.

Data, the android officer, quickly loses his stilted syntax, where he prefaces each statement with a qualifier, such as “Inqury: blah blah” or “Supposition: blah bah.” This would probably have got old very quickly, and was in fact dispensed with by the end of this episode.

The Ferengi are here mentioned only, and painted as a deeply unlikeable race who seem quite savage. When we actually meet them, in “The last outpost”, for the first time, and later, in “The battle”, this image will be kept up to an extent. But fairly quickly it becomes obvious that the Ferengi, small with huge ears and an abiding passion for wealth and its creation, and retention, are more comic relief than anything. In fact, of all the many characters and races throughout all four series and incarnations of the programme, none would come to be more loved and give us more amusement than the Ferengi, especially when we get to Deep Space 9 and meet Quark. But that's for another time. For now, all I can say is that whatever they were meant to start out as, the Ferengi became something totally different, a real and true example perhaps of a character or type taking over its own destiny, and writing itself as it wanted to be written.
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Old 03-02-2021, 11:47 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Ch-ch-ch-changes

There were of course many changes from the original series, the first and most evident in the opening titles. Whereas Kirk spoke of a “five year mission” --- no doubt in the hopes that the series would get five seasons, no such luck! --- Picard talks of an “ongoing mission”. Ironic really, as TNG ended up running for seven full seasons, so he could theoretically have said “her seven year mission”. Also, the ship is not anthropomorphised, neither in the credits nor in the show. It is always “it” or “the ship”, never “she”, that I can remember. Speaking of gender neutrality, the original voiceover had declared that the mission was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, but now it was “to boldly go where no-one has gone before”, so they kept the tagline but updated it for the more PC 1980s. Mind you, given Picard's lack of hair, it could have been rather unkindly changed to "To baldly go..."

The ship has gone from being a Constitution-class vessel with about 400 crew to having a complement of over a thousand and being upgraded to “Galaxy”-class. It's still powered, however, by the humble dilithium crystals that provided engine power to NCC-1701, and indeed, speaking of that, it retains the construction number but with an extra letter, so that it is now NCC-1701D. Some things are not open to that much change.

Whereas the original Enterprise was essentially a warship, an exploratory but primarily military vessel, with only the crew aboard essential to its operation, the new incarnation is more of a floating city, or at least floating apartment block, with families living there, shops and schools and recreational facilities all provided. Plus of course the Holodeck, of which more later. The primary goal of NCC-1701D is not combat, but exploration, and though it's armed as well as any warship in the fleet --- and is in fact the flagship --- Picard tries to rely more on diplomacy than brute strength in any negotiation. Of course, if that fails then the ship is more than able to hold its own.

Expanding on the multi-cultural idea central to the franchise, NCC-1701D has as part of its crew not only an android and a telepath, but one of the traditional enemies of the Federation, a Klingon, though we will find later on that the age-old “cold war” that had been raging between the two races over the run of TOS has come to an end, and they are now uneasy allies.

Oh, those uniforms! Seems for the Counsellor at any rate, the idea that drove the Original Series was still in vogue, and Deanna wears a quite short minidress, which quickly disappeared to be replaced by, um, a tight catsuit affair? Eventually her clothing would become more flattering and respectable, and her hair, down here but which will be for much of the first season stuck up in a very unbecoming bun, would soon flow loosely about her shoulders, allowing her to reveal the sexy woman who hid behind the cold mask of the half-Betazoid Counsellor.

The captain, too, is far from the genial, easy manner of James Kirk. Here, he's a tough authoritarian, a disciplinarian, a stickler for the rules. Slow to smile or see a joke, keeping himself aloof and unapproachable, he's almost a throwback in personality to Captain Pike. The difference here, and it's an important one, is that he is surrounded by interesting, likeable characters who, while they will certainly include the captain in their circle if and when he requires or demands it, are perfectly capable of socialising with each other and building their own strong bonds and relationships among one another. So although the captain might seem to be cold and unforgiving, his crew are quite the opposite, and though he will be the central figure in the series, there will be episodes which will take place around or even without him, and they will generally not suffer from his being the figure in the frame.

This is also the first time Star Trek will feature actors other than American ones (Sulu and Chekov excepted): the man in charge is English, something of a cosmic shift for US science-fiction, and portrayed as being of French descent, another first.

Holodeck Stories
The Holodeck is indeed an amazing technological marvel. Using the latest advances in dimensional hologrammatical creation, anything that can be imagined can be programmed into the ship's computer and realised as a holodeck simulation. This will lead to many stories being set on, or around, the Holodeck and here I'll be talking about how this innovation is used, whether its use helps or hinders the story, and whether, as the series gathered pace, the writers tended to rely a little too much on it for their storylines.

We're introduced to the Holodeck here, and it's totally incredible. Virtual reality to the nth degree; a real forest is created within the environs of the ship, so real that when Wesley falls into a stream he emerges from the holodeck soaking wet. Data explains it thusly: some matter within the holodeck itself has been reconfigured to make things like trees, rocks, and presumably, streams to be used in the simulation. I don't quite understand this, or whether it was an idea they stuck to, as when someone shuts the holodeck simulation off, we're left staring at basically a gridlike pattern in the room, the bare building blocks of the holodeck. So where, then, has the material that was supposed to be being converted gone? If there is nothing in the room, and if everything has been fabricated from a virtual reality programme, then why, when you leave the holodeck wet are you still dripping water onto the deck, outside the simulation? Is it because the programme is still running? But if you were to meet a hologrammatically-created character in there, one who existed nowhere else but in the simulation, and he or she or it tried to cross the threshold of the holodeck, it would vanish. We will see it happen: nothing truly “exists” beyond the confines of the simulated world. So by that logic, the water Wesley fell into should not either, and he should emerge dry.

Someone with deeper knowledge of the workings of the holodeck might be able to answer that. For me, it's a bit of a conundrum that, certainly within the strictures of the series, is never adequately addressed or explained. Similarly, if the wall is actually there physically, but “disguised as forest”, as Data points out when he throws a rock seemingly into the trees and it bounces off the bulkhead, how have they been able to walk “through” that bulkhead just a moment before? Holodeck mechanics will always confuse me. I mean, no matter how realistic the simulation is, how can you walk, drive or ride a road for an hour that is in reality situated in a space which would take you at best ten minutes to traverse? I don't think it's ever adequately explained though, so I certainly won't attempt to.

A real, live boy!

Data's continual pursuit of humanity is a recurring theme throughout the entire series. In this section I'll be cataloguing his efforts --- successful and less so --- to become as human as he can make himself, from physical changes to, more usually, the way he relates to the others in the crew, and they to him.

Even here, he has already dropped the qualifier before each sentence, as I already mentioned, and by the end he is frowning that he seems to be commenting on everything. Riker tells him to keep it up; it's a very human thing to do. Riker has already called him “friend”, which must please the android. Or would, if he knew what pleasure was and could recognise it. He reveals here that his rank of Lieutenant Commander is not honourary, as Riker had assumed: he went through the entire Starfleet Academy course and earned his uniform, just as any other living entity has to.

Family
Somewhat like the original pilot “The Cage”, the pilot for TNG begins with certain things already in motion. The new Enterprise is on her maiden voyage, to be sure, but certain relationships have already been established, or hinted at. This serves to give these characters history almost immediately and make us care about them, unlike the hamfisted way the TOS pilot went about it. Here I'll be cataloguing the relationships that spring up, fall apart, bind together and in some cases threaten to tear the crew apart.

Riker and Troi

We are given an insight into their history together when Troi communicates telepathically with Riker, intimating that they have had a previous sexual or romantic relationship. She calls him, in his head, imzadi, which we later learn is the Betazoid word for “beloved”. She talks about not having wanted to say goodbye, and asks if he remembers their last liaison. They say nothing of this to the captain, who might see this as a conflict of interest, romance in the workplace and all that. Riker must however be somehow unaware of Deanna's posting to the Enterprise, as he acts shocked and embarrassed and uncomfortable when he is “introduced” to her by the captain.

Their relationship threatens to resurface and overpower their duty when Troi shouts after Riker, worrying he may be hurt by staying on the planet while ordering her to return to the ship. He retorts coldly “You have your orders”, but some part of him must be gratified to see she still cares for him. As does he for her; when she is experiencing such strong emotions below the city that they threaten to overwhelm her, he flies to her side and apologises for ordering her to open her mind, even though he knows that it was necessary, even vital. But prior to that, afraid of being alone with her, and how it might compromise their mission, he refutes her suggestion as they are splitting up that she should go with him, and instead goes with Data.

Picard and Crusher

This is a much more low-key relationship throughout the series, but it's clear that Picard, while the best friend of her late husband, has feelings for Beverly, feelings he would never have acted upon or even admitted to while Jack Crusher was alive, and, feeling responsible for his death, will now never reveal, for fear of dishonouring his friend's memory. He believes the posting must be difficult for Crusher, and offers to approve a transfer request, until she tells him she actually requested the posting to his new command. Knowing that she therefore has --- or says she has --- no problem being so close to him, he relaxes but there will always be that undercurrent of repressed sexual tension that could explode at any moment.

Days with Data
Just for the craic, I'll be recording here some of the crazy things Data says, as he struggles to emulate and understand human behaviour. Sometimes they are quite remarkably funny, though here the only one that springs to mind is when he asks Picard to explain what the word “sneak” means, and after the captain has given him some synonyms, he takes over with more, saying “Ah yes! To slink, go stealthily, slither, glide, gumshoe.” It's not really funny, not this time, but it does serve to illustrate how literal he can take the world sometimes, and he will, trust me, come up with some howlers.
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Old 03-02-2021, 11:48 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Time to check out the totty --- er, I mean, strong female characters --- in the Trekverse. More than possibly any other science-fiction series, Star Trek has some really important female characters, even a captain of a starship. The first sf series I think to really push women to the forefront, Trek has led the way in redefining the role of women, not only in science-fiction but in drama too. The days when all women did in drama was scream or be terrified or saved by the hero are long gone, and Trek has led the way in abolishing that stereotype.

Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols

Of course perhaps one of the most important, certainly one of the first African-American women to be given a role of any substance on television drama, Uhura was the feisty Swahili who, er, manned the switchboard on the original USS Enterprise. Really, to an extent I don’t understand why her role is so trumpeted and celebrated: she was nothing more than a glorified telephone operator and receptionist who took Kirk’s calls. “What? You’ll have to speak up. Cling what? Oh: Klingon! Sorry? No, I’m afraid the Captain is not available for --- what did you say again? --- man to man combat to prove who is the greater leader? No, I’m sorry, he’s currently living in an alternate existence where he moves so fast we can barely make him out as more than an insect’s buzz. Perhaps I can pencil you in for next Thursday? No? You have a planet to conquer. I see. Hmm. Monday week? That’s fine then. I’ll put it in his diary.”

In reality, much of the dialogue Uhura had was along the lines of “Message coming in for you Captain”, or “Hailing frequencies open Sir.” It was only in the movies she got to really step outside her predefined role and actually act a bit. Nevertheless, for the time I suppose it was a big step for her not to be making the synth-coffee, so there is that. Roddenberry’s ideas of equality for women though didn’t stretch to how they were dressed, as every woman on the Enterprise for most of the series wore very short skirts and FMBs. Uhura will however always been known as half of the very first ever interracial kiss on television, though the episode in which this occurs, “Plato’s stepchildren”, was banned for many years, mostly for this very reason but also because of the rather graphic for the time allusions to torture.

Uhura served on the Enterprise from the first episode after the real pilot (she wasn’t there for “The cage” either) and remained there till the end, carrying on to reprise her role in all the movies starring the original Trek crew. As a result of her portrayal of the character Nichelle Nichols got to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who convinced her to stay on, after she had been considering leaving the show, telling her that she was an icon and a beacon for black Americans. Her role inspired Whoopi Goldberg to test out for the role of Guinan in TNG, but you can’t have everything.

Interestingly, of the few female characters on TOS, Uhura generally did not get treated like a woman, as in, she was not comforted, ignored, laughed at or harrassed. Perhaps because of her role, or because she was black and therefore seen to be tough (or because the studio didn’t wish to shoot themselves in the foot by featuring a black actress and then downplaying her significance) she was generally respected and treated almost as one of the boys. She did occasionally get to go planetside, but not very often. She seems to have had a sort of crush on Kirk, as she says in the aforementioned “Plato’s stepchilden” that he always made her feel safe, always seemed to know what to do, always in command.

Uhura’s character was ported into the reboot of the franchise from 2009, and played by Zoe Saldana.
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Old 03-03-2021, 05:15 AM   #14 (permalink)
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As much as we’ve laughed at some of what I consider to be the poorer episodes in the franchise (plenty more to come!) the bulk of the episodes were really good, and a lot of them were actually great. This would of course have to be the case, otherwise even the original series would not have survived, and Star Trek as a whole contains some of the very best science-fiction, and indeed drama, writing, on television. Some episodes of course stand out head and shoulders above others, and these will be the ones I’ll be looking at here in this section. The times when the writing was spot-on, the acting perfect; plots that moved on or developed an overarching storyline or else stood alone but stood out from the crowd in so doing. The times when you would look at the series and say, yeah, this is what it’s all about. The times you would be proud to be a fan, and wonder what would come next. The times when the series rewarded its viewers and justified its presence on the air. In other words, the times they completely


Title: The Best of Both Worlds, Part One
Series: TNG
Season: Three
Writer(s): Michael Piller
Main character(s): Picard, Riker
Plot: The feared enemy the Enterprise briefly encountered in the previous season’s “Q Who”, the relentless Borg, find their way to the Alpha Sector and begin destroying planets as they harvest lifeforms to assimilate. When the Federation opposes them, they assimilate Captain Picard and make him their tactical leader.

Forever the very best episode of TNG --- perhaps of all the series --- this episode reintroduced us to the Borg, a synthetic, robotic lifeform who all operate as one, like a beehive. They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be bargained with, they cannot be defeated. Their ships are huge floating computers in the shape of massive cubes, and they begin to regenerate as soon as they take damage, as the Borg drones set about repairing their vessel. “The best of both worlds” is a two part episode, one of only a handful in TNG, but I prefer the first part as it builds up the tension; at first, we don’t know quite what’s happening on the colony that has been attacked, although this is a mystery that is quickly solved. Then there's the rivalry between Riker and Shelby, who plans to replace him after he has taken command of the new ship he has been offered, but he refuses the promotion.

We also get our first proper look at the inside of a Borg cube, near the end, and learn a little more about them when we see a Borg baby already hooked up to a computer. But our biggest shock is of course the assimilation of Picard, which ends the episode, and the season, as “Locutus of Borg” orders the Enterprise to surrender and escort them to Earth, Riker preparing to fire on the Borg cube.

Rating (could there be any other?):

Title: Devil in the Dark
Series: TOS
Season: One
Writer(s): Gene L. Coon
Main character(s): Kirk, Spock
Plot: Something is killing miners on Janus VI and the Enterprise is sent there to investigate. It turns out to be a creature who can burrow through solid rock, but there is a twist in the tale.

There’s so much I love about this episode. One of the first eco-friendly episodes, it takes the whole idea of a ruthless, savage attack and turns it completely on its head. From the title, we’re led to believe that what is on this planet is a horrible, deadly beast that wants to kill, but what we end up with is a mother fiercely protecting her young, and when unable to and they die, avenging them. Spock comes into his own here, the only one capable or open-minded enough to realise that the Horta may not be simply blindly killing, and he initiates a Vulcan mind meld with it --- I believe this is only the second time the telepathic communication is used --- to divine its intentions, eventually creating the framework for a peaceful and profitable coexistence between the miners and the aliens. Even the name of the planet is well chosen --- Janus being the two-faced god of the Romans, and this episode certainly having two sides to its story. The central theme, that we need not always judge a book by its cover and should seek violence only as a last resort, was one that Star Trek in its many incarnations returned to time and again.

Rating:

Title: Living Witness
Series: VOY
Season: Four
Writer(s): Brannon Braga, Bryan Fuller and Joe Menosky
Main character(s): The Doctor
Plot: An alien museum in the future hosts an exhibition about Voyager, but it has all its facts terribly skewed. When the Doctor’s program is found and rerun, he sets the record straight but causes controversy as he challenges long-held beliefs.

As ever in this series, it’s an episode with the Doctor or Seven (occasionally both) that proves how good Voyager could be when they really tried. This episode truly stands out, even if its main premise is somewhat hijacked from Babylon 5’s “The deconstruction of falling stars”. Robert Picardo puts in as ever a flawless performance and proves that, like or even sometimes superceding Data, a non-human lifeform can often by more human than an actual one. Although he is only, in this episode, a backup copy of a hologrammatic simulation of a real man, he is still worried about the consequences revealing the actual truth about Voyager and the part the peoples of this planet played in its story will cause, and even at one point accepts he may be tried as a war criminal rather than bring this evidence to light.

Rating:

Title: The Visitor
Series: DS9
Season: Four
Writer(s): Michael Taylor
Main character(s): Jake Sisko
Plot: A young girl, a student who is considering a career in writing, arrives to speak to the reclusive writer, Jake Sisko, who is now quite old. When asked why he only write the one novel, Jake relates the tale of how his father died in a freak accident, or so they had thought. In fact, Sisko was trapped in an alternate dimension and Jake has spent the next few decades trying to bring him back. At the end, he realises he must die in order to save his father. The current timeline is erased when Sisko, on Jake’s advice, manages to avoid the discharge that “killed” him originally. It’s a beautiful little episode, based on a feeling of “what if” and showing the depth of love between the bioy and his son. Tony Todd shines in the role of elder Jake. Given all the Dominion stuff going on from season 4 onward, this is a quiet, personal but extremely poignant and powerful episode that shows why DS9 was regarded as the most mature and creative of the entire franchise.

Rating:

Title: Darmok
Series: TNG
Season: Five
Writer(s): Joe Menosky, Phillip LaZebnik
Main character(s): Picard
Plot: When the Enterprise encounters a race with whom communication appears to be impossible, Picard is transported to a nearby planet by the captain of the alien vessel, and they try to figure each other out, while also teaming up against a savage alien monster that plagues the planet.

An incredible example of how words are not always necessary for communication, somewhat similar in tone to season two's "Loud as a whisper". With gestures, hints and examples Picard learns enough of the language of his adversary to realise that he is not after all being challenged to single combat, but to stand with the alien captain against the monster on the planet. His attempts to understand what is going on, and the denouement, when he eventually returns to the ship and is able to converse with the aliens, are worth watching the episode for alone. A great character piece for Stewart, and the alien captain, played by Paul Winfield, does brilliantly as he tries to explain his language to the annoying human who insists on misinterpreting everything.

Rating:
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Old 03-03-2021, 05:16 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Name: Risa
Alignment: Neutral, but a member of the Federation
Home to: Risian culture
Capital city: Nuvia
Orbital star: Epsilon Ceti B

If Ferenginar is a place you wouldn’t maroon your worst enemy, Risa is where the in-crowd go. Officially the holiday planet, it is able to boast controlled weather, which means that there are no nasty surprises waiting for you and you can be guaranteed a good holiday. Risa is also one of the most beautiful planets in the galaxy, having such features as Suraya Bay, where the villas are actually built into the cliffs that overlook the lake, Galartha, a rock face that changes pitch and handholds as you climb, subterranean gardens and Temtibi Lagoon, where it never rains thanks to the weather control.

If casual sex is more your thing though, you’ll go a long way before you find inhabitants as sexually permissive and adventurous as the Risians, who are always ready to make a newcomer feel welcome. Weapons are not allowed on the planet at all, so it’s also a very safe and law-abiding place. Surprisingly enough, Risa was not always the paradise it is today. Originally it could have rivalled the Ferengi homeworld for rain and high winds, and had little to recommend it. But through the employment of a sophisticated weather control system the Risians terraformed the planet and made it into the hot tourist resort it has become known as. Also interesting is the history behind Risa’s transformation, which mirrors the tale of Bugsy Siegal’s creation out of the desert of Las Vegas as the mecca of gambling.

A man named Arlo Leyven, on the run from the authorities, crashed on Risa and immediately saw its potential. He decided to make it the premier tourist spot in the galaxy, and borrowed heavily from the shady Orion Syndicate to finance the building of and use of the weather system that would turn Risa into a paradise and make him a very rich man in the process. He was however assassinated some time later and the planet itself was devastated by the Borg attack on the Alpha Quadrant. It has since been rebuilt and remains one of the most popular destinations in the galaxy for tourists.
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Old 03-03-2021, 05:24 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Although in general we at The Couch Potato do not tend to concern ourselves overmuch with music, it is perhaps appropriate to look into the various themes and soundtracks that have attended the franchise over the decades, from the very first, original theme by Alexander Courage to the current updated ones for the reboot movies. Therefore I wish now to present to you

At the bottom end of the scale, a theme not too well known --- indeed, a series not that well known either --- but which has a certain charm that appeals to me. It's basically just the original series's theme slightly altered, but I rather like it. So in at

we have

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Old 03-03-2021, 09:10 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Name: Jake Sisko
Race: Human
Born: Earth
Assignment: Deep Space 9
Marital status: Single
Family: Captain Benjamin (Father), Jennifer (Mother, deceased), Joseph (Grandfather), Kasidy Yates (Stepmother)
Important episodes: A Man Alone, The Nagus, Babel, The Jem’Hadar, Civil Defense, Explorers, Homefront, Paradise Lost, Shattered Mirror, Rapture, The Reckoning, Nor the Battle to the Strong, Call to Arms, A Time to Stand, Sacrifice of Angels, Behind the Lines, Valiant, The Visitor, Tears of the Prophets, Shadows and Symbols.

Quite young when he is uprooted from his home and transplanted to the space station Deep Space 9 with his father, Jakes moans about the inconvenience but soon realises he is in a spot envied by other kids his age, as the wormhole is discovered and he has a front row seat. Even so, Jake is a young boy and he does the things young boys do, ie get into trouble. Most of this is thanks to, or at least with the complicity and encouragement of Nog, Ferengi son of Rom, Quark’s cousin. The captain does not approve of the association, believing the Ferengi to be a bad influence on his son, but despite that --- or probably because of it --- the friendship thrives. Jake is with his father taking a break in the Gamma Quadrant when they encounter the first Vorta and soon after the Jem’Hadar. Jake and Nog manage to alert the station by flying the runabout back to friendly space.

Jake soon decides he does not wish to follow in his father’s footsteps; much more quickly than Wesley Crusher in TNG he comes to realise that a career in Starfleet, although expected of him and basically mapped out for him, is not the path he wishes to tread. Instead he turns his energies towards writing, cataloguing the events that occur at the station and later the unfolding of the Dominion War. Although she dies when he is eleven, Jake gets to meet his mother when she visits from the alternate universe and kidnaps him in order to force Captain Sisko to pursue her there and then help build a replica of the Defiant. Although he finds he has no stomach for fighting, he elects to remain behind when Deep Space 9 falls to the Dominion, in order to report the news of developments and, clandestinely, to help organise a resistance against the station’s occupying force.

In later life Jake became a famous writer, but he only ever wrote one novel. This occurred, however, in an alternate timeline that was destroyed when he managed to prevent his father dying, so whether it really happened or not is unknown.
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Old 03-04-2021, 02:30 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Vulcans

Class: Humanoid, pacifists
Home planet: Vulcan
Feature in: TOS, TNG, VOY, ENT
Values: Logic, calculating thought, peace, serenity, clear thinking, non-violence
Vulcans of note: Sarek, Surak, Spock, Tuvok, T’Pel, T’Pau

The polar opposite of the Klingons, Vulcans prefer the cold logic of the mathematic equation to the hot blood of the warrior, and are much happier in meditative contemplation than searching for worlds to conquer. Contrary to public belief, they do have emotions but have learned over the millennia to control them to such a degree that it often seems as if they do not have them. It is rare indeed to see a Vulcan smile, laugh, cry or get angry. They consider such “base displays of emotion” to be beneath them, distasteful and embarrassing, and in fact see them as illogical, the very antithesis to the core beliefs on which their society is founded. Vulcans share a common ancestry with the Romulans; both were part of the one race, but whereas one offshoot decided to pursue logic and rational thinking, and expunge emotion as far as possible from their world, the Romulans retained their warlike tendencies and split off from the mother race, making the planets Romulus and Remus their home worlds. Though they are essentially Vulcans, Romulans are shunned by Vulcans as they remind them of the path their entire race was heading down, and are an uncomfortable reminder of how all Vulcans could have ended up, were they not saved by the great thinker Surak and the freedom of logic.

However, because they refuse to show emotion Vulcans are looked on as cold and arrogant. Well, they kind of are: Vulcans don’t think they’re better than anyone else, they know they are. It is pure logic, as far as they see it. If they can resist being prodded, jabbed, angered, goaded where another race --- any race --- would lose its cool, then that makes them better. They’re certainly more intelligent, having devoted so much time to studying philosophy, arts, science and of course mathematics, and they’re not shy about showing it. In fact, Vulcans don’t show off: they simply do what they do and if others think that’s showing off then it means literally nothing to them. Their quiet, unruffled nature of course makes them perfectly suited to be mediators, ambassadors, negotiators. Vulcans however are almost totally pacifist; they abhor violence and even though they possess great physical strength will seldom ever use it. They do have a way of incapacitating an enemy without hurting them, something called a nerve pinch. This causes the subject to drop down unconscious, though for how long is unclear.

Vulcans were the first alien race humanity encountered, shortly after conducting their first warp speed test flight, and therefore the destinies of both races has always been tightly interwoven. Even so, few Vulcans have served in Starfleet, as the idea of military service is seen by the vast majority as a waste of a superior mind. Spock’s father, Sarek, always disagreed with his son’s decision to join Starfleet, and it was a source of bitterness (inasmuch as there can be bitterness between people who control their emotions so rigidy) and distance between them up until Spock’s rebirth after giving his life to save the USS Enterprise. Vulcans seldom intermarry, but Sarek fell in love with a human woman, and married her. This then made Spock half-human, and therefore something of an outcast in his society growing up. Having human heritage did however give Spock a unique insight into humans, and helped him to work better with these emotional creatures.

Despite their logic --- or perhaps because of it --- Vulcans are very spiritual and believe in the resurrection of the body, as well as certain gods. They attend to their mysticism and worship with the same stoic, unemotional dedication they apply to learning, or studying. Women seem to have equal standing in their society, probably because it is after all illogical to differentiate between the sexes, and as Spock points out to his captain at one juncture, they have no egos to bruise. Because emotion colours speech, all Vulcans speak in a calm, unhurried tone and seldom betray any expression beyond perhaps the raising of an eyebrow.
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Old 03-04-2021, 02:31 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Counsellor Deanna Troi, played by Marina Sirtis

With a new ship, a new series and a new way to look at things, TNG created the position of Ship’s Counsellor, a role that had never existed before. Basically part therapist, part almost nanny to the ship’s crew, it is Deanna Troi’s job to ensure the mental well-being of those who serve aboard NCC-1701D, and most crew members would schedule or have scheduled for them regular sessions. She is also very good with children, as she has to be, with the Enterprise carrying families into space. She is part Betazoid, a race of telepathic humanoids, and her telepathy gives her a unique advantage in her field, as she can sense when people are worried, not telling the truth, hiding something etc. She is however more than just a shrink, carrying the rank of Lieutenant Commander, and a bridge officer. Her talents are too precious to waste and so Picard makes use of them whenever he can. It’s always useful, for instance, to know if the ship facing off against you is actually going to risk opening hostilities, or if the captain is bluffing.

Troi goes down to the surface on away missions more than other female officers; again, she could be vital in any situation, as we see in the pilot episode when she detects the creature at Farpoint and its loneliness. She has been romantically involved with Commander Riker, though this seems to be in the past now. Nevertheless, when they are alone she often refers to him as “Imzadi”, or beloved, and it sometimes seems as if they have unfinished business. In the event though she falls for Worf, helping him to look after his son before he leaves the Enterprise and finds love with Jadzia Dax. In the final “proper” Star Trek movie, “Nemesis”, she is shown as having married Riker. She is a strong female role model, but perhaps mindful of the miniskirt-and-boots era of TOS, the producers of TNG originally give her an unflattering tight bun hairdo and a purple catsuit to wear, before she is eventually allowed to gracefully blossom into an attractive but independent young lady later in the series.

She maintains a close but always platonic relationship with Reginald Barclay, a transporter engineer whose shyness she helps him overcome, and is one of Data’s friends. Picard values her counsel but rarely if ever uses her first name, and of course she is very friendly with the other strong female on the ship, its doctor and chief medical officer; they often work out together and have dinner. She has the dubious distinction of being the only person --- never mind female --- to have crashed the Enterprise and destroyed its saucer section. Her mother in the series is Lwaxanna Troi, played by the late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who turns up from time to time in the various series. She learns, in the episode “Dark page”, that she once had a sister but that the child drowned, and her mother has or had blocked this memory out so completely that she had managed to convince herself she had only one daughter ever. Deanna’s father was a Starfleet officer, killed in action when she was little.
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Old 03-04-2021, 02:32 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Coming soon to Star Trek Month: the battle everyone wants to see!
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