Picard: "Oh no, Number One. I'm sure most will be much more interesting."
When Star Trek: The Next Generation originally aired in the late eighties/early nineties, it was my absolute favorite show. It's been a zillion and a half years since I've sat down to rewatch the pilot, though, and unfortunately, "Encounter at Farpoint" is even worse than I remembered. The series does improve tremendously, though. Honestly. Would I lie to you?
"Go back whence thou camest."
"Encounter at Farpoint" was written by D.C. Fontana, one of the best Original Series writers, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. And it shows, but not in a good way. Instead of something new, they gave us two familiar Original Series tropes: the all-powerful godlike alien that the crew must outwit, and the scary alien who turned out to be not so scary and was just trying to protect itself.
Despite my impatience with the over-used god-like aliens in the Original Series and his obvious resemblance to Trelane, the best thing about this episode is John de Lancie as Q. Although the 2079 trial sequence with the faux Nazi backdrop felt pointless, I enjoyed Q arriving in a flying chair like Rygel on Farscape and sarcastically manipulating Picard into defending humanity. The Musketeer outfit with the bad thee-ing and thou-ing was a bit much, but I smiled when Q showed up in the end wearing Picard's uniform, promptly sat in the captain's chair, and called him a dullard and "mon capitaine". I could swear de Lancie made Q's eyes positively twinkle with mischief.
By the end of the episode, we learned very little about Q and his Continuum. Since Q mentions "ugly little primate faces", we can assume that we don't even know what he really looks like. Q said he would return. I'm looking forward to it.
"Farpoint Station. Even the name sounds mysterious."
I only wish it had been mysterious. One problem with this pilot is that everything is so obvious. When Groppler Zorn yelled at the station for producing magical apples, we all knew he was keeping a powerful alien prisoner, and Groppler's groveling manner as he tried to drum up business told us why. Later, it became even more obvious when Troi did her impression of Spock in "The Devil in the Dark" ("Pain! Pain!") At least it ended with the two giant space jellyfishes entwining tentacles and living happily ever after.
"To boldly go where no one has gone before."
The entire crew of our new Enterprise D felt stiff and uncomfortable, although that might have been those tight new body-stocking uniforms. At least they did the right thing breaking up the introductions by having Picard pick up half of his new senior officers at Farpoint Station.
-- Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was the standout, and he felt believable as a starship captain. Picard would do anything to protect his crew and the civilians on his ship, but immediate surrender, Picard? Way to to wimp out in your very first episode.
-- Commander Will Riker (future brilliant director Jonathan Frakes) was just too stiff, upright and earnest. He gets better. Actually, everyone gets a lot better. Way better.
-- Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) is an android who wants to be human. He also carries serious character gravitas, since he is obviously the new Spock. (Although Spock's psychic side and "half-breed" background were given to Deanna Troi.) Data is a walking computer, physically super-strong, and he can imitate any sound. So why can't he whistle?
-- Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) had a Betazoid mother and a human Star Fleet officer father. Betazoids can "sense" things, like a huge Farpoint Station alien in pain and that Q is a superpowerful unknown. Riker and Troi have a past; she called him "Imzadi". Unfortunately, Troi was saddled with the ugliest uniform and hairstyle in the pilot, as well as the worst lines.
-- Lt. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) has been blind from birth, but sees with the help of a visor that causes him pain. La Forge was named after a disabled Star Trek fan, by the way, which was a lovely gesture by Roddenberry.
-- Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) was a big indicator that women's liberation had finally arrived. She is the security chief and wears pants, plus there's that cute butch hairdo. Yar mentioned her youth on a pretty horrible planet.
-- Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) was a big indicator that the Klingons had become allies. Dorn's costume included a tacky-looking sash originally worn by a Klingon character in the Original Series.
-- Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) was set up as an obvious love interest for Picard since they have an uncomfortable history (he brought her husband's body home to her).
-- Wesley Crusher (the currently very cool Wil Wheaton) is the Dawn Summers of The Next Generation, and was apparently created solely to provide conflict for Picard, who is uncomfortable with children. Enough said.
-- We don't do spoilers for future episodes on Doux Reviews, but I am compelled to point out that the character listed as "Battle Bridge Conn", played by Colm Meaney, will eventually become Miles O'Brien, an important continuing character in the Star Trek universe.
"That nonsense is centuries behind us!"
Although this pilot featured two hairy old Original Series plotlines, there were obvious attempts to show that Next Gen was going to be different. Troi wore a hideously ugly miniskirt-like uniform, but so did a male crew member, and Yar and Crusher wore the standard uniform with pants that the men were wearing. The old flip communicators were replaced by metallic brooches doubling as insignia.
Obviously, one new, big difference is the holodecks that use transporter technology. Although it seemed odd that Data chose a tropical holoplace to visit, and everyone else was apparently able to barge right in.
One big complaint about the Original Series was that it was illogical for the Captain to constantly endanger himself leading "away teams" down to alien planets. Riker's first speech to Picard addressed that particular problem.
And then there's the fact that the Enterprise D can split into two so that the civilians in the saucer section can hide while the military types confront danger in the stardrive section. Unfortunately, the stardrive section looked like a duck. Picard made Riker supervise the reconnection later on, which felt like an arbitrary test, or possibly a punishment for being taller than Picard was. Riker did it perfectly. Of course he did.
Bits and pieces:
-- Star date 41153.7, to start. We visited Deneb IV/Farpoint Station.
-- I've always loved the opening credits and the music. I had a cat named Vincent that loved the music, too.
-- If you're new to Next Gen or haven't seen it in awhile, may I strongly suggest the high def/blu-ray version? The non-high-def versions are grainy and not nearly as much fun to watch.
-- Patrick Stewart was a major crush of mine during the entire run of Next Gen, despite the fact that he was so much older. He was younger than he looked, though; Stewart was only 47 at the start of the series.
-- Groppler Zorn looked human, although he was apparently a nasty native of Deneb IV.
-- Zorn kept threatening to sell the base to the scary Ferengi. Do Ferengi really eat people?
-- Q's force field reminded me of "The Tholian Web".
-- Q mentioned the post atomic horror in 2079, and dressed up as one of drug-addicted soldiers who wore ugly velcro-like uniforms.
-- Our very first red shirt, Lt. Torres, was frozen by Q, but lived. Yar was also frozen. She was a little hot under the collar, anyway.
-- The Enterprise D can travel as fast as warp 9.8, although it is extremely risky.
-- Riker watched a briefing right on the bridge. Apparently there are no earphones on the Enterprise.
-- Majel Barrett, who played Original Series character Christine Chapel and "The Cage" character Number One, was the voice of the Enterprise computer during much of Next Generation. I'm pretty sure she didn't voice the computer in this episode, though.
-- I initially loved John de Lancie. And then he was rude to me when I asked him a question at a convention. While I was living in Los Angeles, I attended an art lecture that he also attended, where I did not attempt to speak with him. Mostly because I didn't want to give him the opportunity to be rude to me twice.
-- Original Series crossover alert: Data escorted a familiar-looking Admiral over to the Hood, a 137-year-old Admiral who railed about beaming and complained about Vulcans. Note how his name is never mentioned. Roddenberry did that to keep it a surprise.
Data: "Ah. To seek covertly, to go stealthily, to slink, slither, creep, skulk, pussyfoot, gumshoe…"
Q: "But you can't deny, Captain, that you are still a dangerous, savage child race."
Picard: "Let's see what this galaxy class starship can do."
Picard: "Make it so."
His famous catch phrase. I didn't realize he said it so early in the show.
McCoy: "I see no points on your ears, boy, but you sound like a Vulcan."
Data: "No, sir. I'm an android."
McCoy: "Almost as bad."
Riker: "Do you consider yourself superior to us?"
Data: "I am superior, sir, in many ways. But I would gladly give it up to be human."
Riker: "Nice to meet you, Pinocchio."
Data: "Sorry, sir. I seem to be commenting on everything."
That's because you're doing the best job with the exposition, Data.
"Encounter at Farpoint" is an inauspicious start to a terrific, groundbreaking series that I loved very much. One out of four jellyfish aliens,
Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.
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