Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 20 years since “Encounter at Farpoint” first hit the syndicated airwaves. I think a lot of has to do with the fact that I remember the build-up to that first episode and sitting down to watch the two-hour premire in late September 2007.
Boy, do I recall being really excited about the premiere. And the new Enterprise could separate into two parts…man, that was awesome!
So, just as I did for classic Star Trek, I’ll be counting down my ten favorite episodes of Next Generation, starting tomorrow. But this time, I’ll be joined in the countdown by my good friend Barry from Inn of the Last Home. I’m not sure if he’ll do the daily countdown with me or just post his top ten list on the big day Next Generation premiered (well, it’s the official day according to my Trek calendar….the problem here is Next Gen was syndicated so there wasn’t one day where the show premiered all across the country. It was kind of staggered. But hey….you do what you can).
As Barry and I were discussing our lists back and forth, we came up with a lot of great episodes we’d enjoyed. And while I have come up with a top ten, there were a few that garnered an honorable mention.
11001001 – Probably the first “great” episode of Next Generation. The Enterprise has pulled into a starbase for repairs and a bit of R&R. A group of aliens called the Bynars work to upgrade the ship’s computers and simulate a warp-core meltdown to evacuate the ship. All except Picard and Riker who are hanging out down on the holodeck in a New Orleans jazz club with an attractive female named Minuet. (She’s a distraction to keep Riker busy while the Bynars hijack the ship). I’ve always enjoyed this one and as Next Gen struggled to find its storytelling voice in the first season or so, this is one of the earliest installments that shows the promise that will later bear fruit in season three. It’s also an episode that is referenced back to in the “mess with Riker’s mind” episode (really weren’t all Riker episodes after season three that way?) “Future Imperfect.”
Heart of Glory – A first-season episode where you can see the brilliance that is to come teased a bit here. One of the strongest character arcs in modern Trek was that of Worf. And that storyline begins here where the Enterprise finds a wrecked freigher in space with a trio of Klingons aboard. As the episode progresses, we learn a bit more about the Klingon culture and their system of battle and honor as well as a bit more of Worf’s backstory (it will get better fleshed out once Ron Moore arrives on the writing staff). The big thing that kept this one out of my top ten is the first act or so which is nothing more than “wow, let’s all look through Geordi’s visor” and while it was fun the first time, it’s a bit tedious on repeat viewings.
Measure of a Man – A second-season episode that is probably in most fan’s top tens. I like it and the story is compelling, but it just barely missed my list. It’s the one with the legal trial to decide if Data is a sentient life form with rights or merely property of Starfleet. A compelling episode with some great performances, especially by Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart. My only big criticism is the script forces Riker to be the prosecution in the case, which seems a bit forced.
Deja Q – The Enterprise is trying to keep an asteroid from crashing into a planet and wreaking havoc when Q shows up on the bridge, naked and powerless. Seems Next Gen’s best nemesis has hacked off the Q-Continuum and been stripped of his powers. This is one of those episodes that goes from laugh out loud funny one moment to being poignoint the next. Q quickly realizes that every one he’s tormented in the universe is going to want a piece of him now and requests sanctuary aboard the Enterprise. This one has some of the best laugh out loud jokes in the history of Next Gen, including Q’s reaction to falling asleep, his first chococlate sundae and Worf’s response on his Q can prove he’s mortal (“Die.”) But as I said, it switches gears effectively between the humor and the seriousness as Data laments that Q has become in disgrace what Data aspires to be most. There are more Q-centered episodes on my top ten list and I’ll get more into the genius that is John DeLancie in this role then….
Sins of the Father– Next Gen didn’t really have a long-term story arc like most modern sci-fi shows….unless you count the story of Worf and the Klingon soap opera. At least twice a year, we’d get a storyline examining the political struggles of the Klingon Empire and they were, for the most part, written by some guy named Ron Moore. The first one here finds Worf taking dishonor to protect the Empire and prevent civil war. This will have major ramifications for the rest of the series and really all of the modern Trek shows. The next installment, Reunion, is just as good, if not better. It brings in a lot of plot threads to one compelling story and it keeps twisting and turning in unexpected ways. The final scene as Picard reprimands Worf for what he’s done is superb.
Lower Decks – The final season of Next Gen brings us an episode that looks at what it’s like to serve on the Enterprise if you’re not one of the regulars. A fascinating look at the characters from those under their command. Part of the reason I like this one so much is that it breaks the mold of Enterprise shows up, some wacky phenomeon is going on and there’s a character story for one of the main crew of the show. Seven years in, this one is a refreshing and well done change of pace.
So, there you go….the honorable mentions. Tomorrow, the top ten countdown begins….