“Star Trek: TNG” (Season 1) – Top 5 Episodes

Introduction

S1 of the American sci-fi TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) started airing in broadcast syndication in the US on September 28, 1987, and concluded on May 16, 1988 (after 26 episodes were broadcast). Set in the 24th c. the series follows the adventures of the crew of the Starfleet starship Enterprise-D. It was the first live-action TV series in the franchise to be broadcast since Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) was cancelled in 1969; it was also the first to feature all new characters. Paramount Television eventually sought the advice of the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, who set about creating the new show w/ mostly former TOS staff members. An entirely new cast were sought, which concerned some members of TOS crew, as Roddenberry did not want to re-tread the same steps as he had in the first series. Aliens such as Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans were banned at first.

The characters in the series gradually changed during preproduction, with adjustments made to the names, genders and ethnicity. When the cast was announced at first, LeVar Burton was the main actor highlighted because of his work on the Roots miniseries; his character, Geordi La Forge was named for a disabled fan. Although the casting was managed by producers Rick Berman and Robert H. Justman, Roddenberry intervened to switch the characters assigned to Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby. Sirtis took over Crosby’s role as Deanna Troi, and Crosby became Tasha Yar (previously named Macha Hernandez). Michael Dorn (who came from a musical theater background) played Lt. Cmdr. Worf- the first Klingon in Starfleet. Worf would go on to be developed more in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as would transporter chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney).

Behind the scenes, the writing team became chaotic; Roddenberry’s insistence on re-writing scripts and other behavior alienated some staff. Longtime contributor D.C. Fontana quit, filing a claim with the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) as she had been acting as story editor (but was unpaid in the role). The series had a problem recruiting potential writers; by the end of S2, all the writing staff recruited during S1 (except for Rick Berman) had quit. While highly anticipated, initial reviews other than for “Encounter at Farpoint” were poor. The second episode, “The Naked Now” had fans and critics concerned that TNG would re-hash plots of The Original Series; “Code of Honor” was seen as racist.

Episode 1: Encounter at Farpoint

They bloody hated us. -Marina Sirtis recalled (in 2002, while doing publicity for Star Trek: Nemesis) re: critical reception to TNG debut

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) assumes command of the Federation’s flagship (the U.S.S. Enterprise), and its new crew w/ both humans and non-humans races. On the way to Farpoint space station on the Bandi planet, they come under the control of Q (John de Lancie), an alien from a superior civilization. Q calls humanity backward savages and puts the crew to a test. The Bandi leader, Zorn, offers use of the facilities, but no answers to how the station was built and what are the troubling feelings Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is picking up.

I think the Q thing did come out of a time requirement, but there isn’t any question in my mind that the best thing in the show is that Q story. If it had been only that other story, it would have been a disappointment. The other thing that comes out of ‘Farpoint’ is a vision of Roddenberry’s where we have Picard arguing for the future of mankind, representing the advocate of humanity to this Q who puts humanity on trial. That’s an extraordinary, philosophically ambitious idea, and it really helps to define why Star Trek is what it is. Without that, it would have been spaceships and monsters and special effects. -Michael Piller

Jonathan Frakes wasn’t the first choice for Riker; Rodenberry preferred Billy Campbell (see S2, E4: The Outrageous Okana). The producers liked Frakes better; Christopher MacDonald (see S3 E15: Yesterday’s Enterprise) and Jeffrey Combs (who became a frequent ST character actor) also auditioned for Riker. The intro scene of Riker and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), as well as subsequent follow-up dialogue, was almost identical to that of Decker and Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the second half of this ep, after Riker thanks a female ensign for helping him locate Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) and walks away from the computer panel, she does a (very obvious) downward glance at his butt (checking him out).

DeForest Kelley’s cameo (the actor’s final role) as Admiral McCoy was a late addition to the script devised by Roddenberry. Producer Robert Justman (who also worked on TOS) noted that Kelley was honored and refused more than SAG scale salary. This ep is the first mention of the “Ferengi Alliance” who are hinted at being an enemy of the Federation; they were intended to be the new villains (b/c peace had been made w/ Klingons). This idea was eventually abandoned after the Ferengi made their appearance and weren’t taken seriously (by actors and writers). This marks the first time that a saucer separation is seen onscreen; the reason why it was so rare to see the Enterprise-D separate is b/c writers found out it slowed the story down. At one point, Picard gives an order for Worf to raises shields. A “shield raising” sound effect is heard for the only time in the series. Also, Picard orders “print outs,” which are never seen onscreen or mentioned again.

The teleplay was written by Fontana and Rodenberry (“he added all the Q stuff,” Fontana explained). Fontana’s first story “Meeting at Farpoint” had several different storylines and names. The Enterprise-D had just completed a successful mission. The captain was named Julien Picard, the first officer was Kyle Summers, and security chief was Macha Hernandez. Summers was promoted to captain and was up to take command of the science vessel (Starseeker) at Farpoint Station. While in orbit of the station, crew transfers included Lt. Cmdr. William Riker, Lt. Cmdr. Data, Dr. Beverly Crusher and her 15 y.o. old daughter Leslie. Riker and Data share a deep friendship. An alien vessel appeared and sent a message that all personnel had to beam to the planet or die. The captain of the Starseeker fires photon torpedoes at the vessel resulting in the destruction of his ship. At Picard’s orders, the crew of the Enterprise-D beamed to the surface and made contact to their enemy, the Annoi, an ape-like species w/ superior technology. The Annoi made the crew and the inhabitants of Farpoint their slaves to mine a mineral- Balmin. An away team incl. Data, Riker, Troi and Hernandez get aboard the Annoi ship w/ the help of Leslie Crusher’s knowledge about the ship’s layout. Troi then learned that there is no engineering room aboard, as the ship is a lifeform. This lifeform was enslaved by the Annoi and needs Balmin to survive.

Episode 5: Where No One Has Gone Before

Lt. Commander Data: Captain, we’re here. Why not avail ourselves of this opportunity for study? There is a giant protostar here in the process of forming. No other vessel has been out this far.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Spoken like a true Starfleet graduate.

Riker considers Federation scientist Kosinski’s (Stanley Kamel) project to boost the ship’s propulsion absurd, Picard obeys the Admiralty’s orders. Kosinski never wears a communicator, even though he is in a Starfleet uniform. This is unusual, but many details indicate that Kosinski is a civilian (the insignia, being called an “expert” or “Mr.” Fascinated by this process, Wesley sits w/ his alien assistant (Eric Menyuk) and they become friendly. The results jump the ship into a galaxy millions of light year away! Deciding against immediate study, Picard orders Kosinski to get them back. Only Wesley notices that his assistant, who “fades” supernaturally, is the real key. The next jump brings them to a place everyone’s hopes or fears come to reality. The alien assistant grows weak and and reveals his “Traveler” identity. Wesley is rewarded w/ the role of acting ensign; he can come on the bridge and will study for the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. This ep is considered by many to be the original premise behind the series Star Trek: Voyager.

Riker: Then why, in all of our history, is there no record of you or someone like you ever having visited us?

The Traveler: What wonderful arrogance! There is no record because we have not visited you before.

Riker: Why not?

The Traveler: Well, because, up until now – if-if you’ll forgive this – you’ve been… uninteresting.

Justman said that hiring 27-year-old Rob Bowman to direct was one of his proudest achievements on the show. Bowman went on to direct 12 more eps of the series. Bowman remembers: “It was a very enlightening script, the likes of which you don’t very often see on television. I felt very fortunate that it was such a great script, but, personally, I was terrified because it was my first episode and I wanted to make a good impression. I worked on that show every day I had the script, which, including the shooting, was like 20 days for me.”

While shooting the scene in this episode where Riker tells Picard “It wasn’t him, it never was. It was his assistant”, Frakes had some difficulty saying the line and eventually could not say it w/o breaking into a laugh. According to Stewart, the event soon spread “like a bushfire” on the set; even the sound mixer (Alan Bernard) had to wheel his sound cart off the set as he also couldn’t stop laughing.

This is a personal highlight from a season with little to have a song and dance about. […] It’s a superb episode which shows the strength of the main cast as well as displaying some great guest performances…

This episode marks the first glimmer of what this series would become and why I love it: a great mix of fantastic storytelling, science fiction and philosophy.

-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

Episode 12: Datalore

Picard: You’ll feel uncomfortable about aspects of your duplicate, Data. We feel uncomfortable too, and for no logical reason. If it feels awkward to be reminded that Data is a machine, just remember that *we* are merely a different variety of machine – in our case, electrochemical in nature.

The Enterprise visits Data’s planet (Omicron Theta) to learn more about his somewhat mysterious beginnings. The small population of the planet died of unknown reasons 20+ yrs back; Data was found around that time. The away team find an underground complex and a disassembled version of Data! They rebuild and activate him; this is Lore, a supposedly earlier/ superior version of Data. Lore is a word which means “The body of knowledge”. He claims he was disassembled b/c he was so human-like that he frightened the local population. Lore even has the ability to call upon a crystalline entity w/ great destructive power (which destroyed the planet and killed its inhabitants).

Lore: Dr. Soong made me perfect in his first attempt. But he made me so completely human, the colonists became envious of me.

Data: You lived with the colonists?

Lore: [nods] Until they petitioned Soong to make a more comfortable, less perfect android. In other words, you, Brother.

This was the final ep written by Roddenberry before his death on October 24, 1991. Spiner suggested that Lore be made Data’s “Evil Twin.” Initially, Lore was to be neither evil nor a lookalike of Data; Lore was first created as a female and a potential love interest for Data. Bowman credited Spiner for making the ep work, giving one example, “He did the one scene in his own office with Brent sitting down and Lore discussing what it’s like to be human. He did one side, we shot through a double, then turned around, read it the other way and shot the other half of it. Those two characters in those scenes are different people… he really painted those characters differently.” The line “Shut up Wesley!” spoken by both Dr. Crusher and Picard has become a popular catchphrase for fans to express frustration w/ Wesley (LOL).

Episode 25: Conspiracy

Picard: [after meeting with Keel about a possible Starfleet conspiracy] Friends, close friends, few and far between. Two of the oldest and closest were Jack Crusher, may he rest in peace and Walker Keel. Before various missions split us up we were virtually inseparable. I trust Keel completely. If he felt it necessary to violate regulations he must have had a very good reason.

Troi: But you’re putting your career at risk for him.

Picard: Friendship must dare to risk, Counsellor. Or it’s not friendship.

Capt. Walker Keel, an old friend of Picard’s, uses a top-secret frequency, to summon him to a top-secret meeting w/ two other captains. There is vague innuendo about a plot to take over the Federation by replacing Starfleet officers; this doesn’t impress Picard, but he reconsiders after Keel and his crew die in an explosion. Picard decides to visit Starfleet HQ w/ where he’ll be dine w/ some admirals. Riker will keep an eye on Admiral Aaron (who insists on visiting the ship) and is carrying an alien brain-parasite in a briefcase!

Roddenberry originated the idea for the ep in a single-sentence proposal entitled “The Assassins”. Robert Sabaroff expanded this idea to 30 pages, but his version was seen as too expensive. Tracy Tormé was then given the job of rewriting it, but some producers thought the new version was too dark (until Roddenberry read and endorsed it). Wired magazine has suggested that the premise was based on the Iran–Contra affair. In 2019, The Hollywood Reporter listed this ep among the 25 best eps of TNG. In 2020, GameSpot noted this episode as one of the most bizarre moments of series, the startlingly graphic explosion and melting of a parasitic alien and host.

Episode 26: The Neutral Zone

Data: They are the most unusual humans I have ever encountered.

Riker: Well, from what I’ve seen of our guests, there’s not much to redeem them. Makes one wonder how our species survived the 21st century.

While Picard is away at an emergency Federation conference, the crew discovers an ancient space capsule from Earth. Inside they find three humans in cryogenic chambers. Data asks to move the chambers to the Enterprise and Riker agrees. Picard returns and orders the ship to the Neutral Zone, as several Federation outposts near the edges of the zone have not responded to communications. He explains that the conference was about the potential threat of the Romulans, who haven’t been seen for decades. As Data and Dr. Crusher work to thaw the cryonically preserved humans, Picard admonishes Data for bringing them aboard during a crucial time. Picard and puts Riker in charge of looking after them.

Data: [on the Human female] Her name is Clare Raymond. Age: 35. Occupation: homemaker. Must be some kind of construction work.

The survivors—Claire Raymond (Gracie Harrison), a housewife; Ralph Offenhouse (Peter Mark Richman), a financier; and L. Q. “Sonny” Clemmons (Leon Rippy), a musician—are from the late 20th c. They all died of incurable illnesses and were placed in cryonic suspension after their deaths in the hope that cures might be found in the future. Dr. Crusher easily cures them of their illnesses. They have to cope w/ the culture shock of awakening in a distant future with the realization that everything they knew and had are now gone. Clemmons seems to fare the best and befriends Data. Claire is distraught at the thought of losing her children, so Troi suggests searching for her descendants. Offenhouse is irritated by the lack of access to news or other information; he uses the comm unit to disturb Picard on the bridge. Picard assures everyone that all questions will be answered, but that the ship’s mission requires his full attention.

Picard: This is the 24th century. Material needs no longer exist.

Ralph Offenhouse: Then what’s the challenge?

Picard: The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich yourself. Enjoy it.

The Enterprise reaches the Neutral Zone and confirms that the outposts have been destroyed. They are soon met by a Romulan Warbird; Cmdr. Tebok (Marc Alaimo) questions why the Enterprise has approached the zone. As Picard tries to explain his actions, Offenhouse arrives on the bridge and threatens to disrupt the tense situation, though he correctly guesses that the Romulans are also seeking answers. Picard and the Romulans agree to pool their resources to discover the culprit. Picard later comments that while the encounter went favorably, the Romulans may be a significant threat in future engagements. Picard arranges to transport the 20th-century humans to Earth.

Commander Tebok: Your presence is not wanted. Do you understand my meaning, Captain? We… are back!

[The Warbird departs]

Picard: I think our lives just became a lot more complicated.

This ep introduced the redesigned Romulans, w/ prosthetic forehead pieces (designed by makeup supervisor Michael Westmore). This also the the first appearance of the Romulan Warbird (created by designer Andrew Probert). Due to the impending WGA strike, writer/co-EP Maurice Hurley developed the teleplay in a day and a half from fan fiction by Deborah McIntyre and Mona Clee. Due to the WGA strike, certain story ideas were removed from the plot incl. the first appearance of the Borg, which was delayed until the S2 ep “Q Who.” “The Neutral Zone” was originally intended to be the first of a 2-part episode, but due to the strike there wasn’t enough time to write the second part and so the story was shortened.

In the writers and directors’ guide for the series, written by Roddenberry prior to the first season, Romulans were covered by one of the main writing rules: “No stories about warfare with Klingons and Romulans and no stories with Vulcans. We are determined not to copy ourselves and believe there must be other interesting aliens in a galaxy filled with billions of stars and planets.” Following the failure of the Ferengi as the main villains of TNG by the producers, the Romulans became the main villains during the early years of the series (besides the Borg).

4 thoughts on ““Star Trek: TNG” (Season 1) – Top 5 Episodes

  1. I read a history of ST: TNG a few years ago — it sounded like not a great place to work. I don’t know if it was worse than TOS or if it is simply that I have never read any single work about TOS production, just bits here and there. I liked several of Fontana’s TOS stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was just starting college (first year) when these episodes aired, and after the first two I was not watching them. I was really disappointed — felt like both tv and scifi had moved on from where this series was. And i despised the Q character (that much hasn’t changed). I started watching again in season five (grad school), when they were on at a convenient time, and felt very differently about the series; it had matured a lot. Eventually I saw a bunch of the earlier episodes on BBCA and didn’t hate them as much as I did in 1987, but Q still makes me cringe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • From what I’ve heard- ppl (incl. show writers) either totally love OR hate Q – LOL! I think that it gets good in S3 (I didn’t recall much of S1 & S2); they had a V rough start in S1 (think Shatner did a docu film on that recently). After S1, ALL the writers left; DC Fontana & David Gerrold even filed lawsuits (b/c they did LOTTA work, but didn’t get credit/$ for co-creating TNG)!

      Liked by 1 person

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