Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
According to heavy fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show didn’t start to come into its own until its third season. According to me, they’re correct. Yes, if you read my reviews of Season One and Season Two, you’ll discover some confusion about the well-known attitude that those years weren’t very good, as I enjoyed my experiences with them.
However, as I also related in those reviews, I came to ST:TNG as a moderate neophyte. Before I received the Season One box, I’d watched all three ST:TNG movies but I’d never checked out a single episode of the program itself. This meant that I took in the shows as something new and fresh to me; I didn’t greet the series as a totally new encounter, but it still held mostly surprises for me.
If I liked the first two seasons of ST:TNG, how can I agree with the opposite view? That’s a trickier issue, but one I’ll resolve in time. For now, I’ll simply go over my thoughts about the 26 episodes that appeared during Season Three. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they show up on the DVDs.
To open Season Three, we get reintroduced to an original crewmember, ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). She split for a year but returned for this one. As she becomes reacquainted with son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) during Evolution, she wonders if her presence inhibits his natural growth and also fears that his role as a crewmember seems at odds with natural teenage development.
While this occurs, we also get a plot in which Dr. Stubbs (Ken Jenkins) tries to run a scientific experiment that depends on natural phenomena that occurs about every couple of centuries. Unfortunately, the Enterprise’s computer starts to malfunction in odd ways, and this jeopardizes the prospects for the experiment. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) tries to do what’s best for the ship, but Stubbs causes problems due to his obsession with his work. Wesley worries that he may be responsible for the problems, and we see a race against the clock to fix the problem in time to execute the experiment.
Most Trek fans can’t stand Wesley, and I can’t blame them; though I lack the common degree of antipathy toward the character, he could some whiny and irritating. That factor undermined “Evolution” to a moderate degree, as the scenes between Wesley and his Mom could seem a bit melodramatic at times. Otherwise, the main plot to “Evolution” offered a reasonably entertaining experience. I’ve seen this sort of story before, but it was fun to watch the crew try to solve the problems. The show became fairly silly toward the end, but it was generally decent.
In The Ensigns of Command, the crew of the Enterprise receive a communication from an antagonistic species called the Sheliak that they plan to colonize planet Tau Cygna V on which they claim some humans reside. Radiation levels there apparently make human survival impossible, but it seems that people live there nonetheless. An away team goes to the surface of the planet to check out these folks, and it turns out they’re the descendants of the inhabitants of a ship called the Artemis. Now thousands of them live on the planet, which will require more evacuation time than the Sheliak seem willing to offer.
This being Trek, matters can’t remain that simple. The residents of the planet don’t want to leave, so Data (Brent Spiner) attempts to deal with them. Picard runs into severe trouble when he tries to negotiate a compromise with the Sheliak, but they don’t want to listen. Lt. Laforge (LeVar Burton) attempts to find a way to run the transporters, but the planet’s radiation makes that seemingly impossible.
The moments on the planet don’t work terribly well, mainly because the inhabitants aren’t very interesting. The show tries to develop a romantic relationship between Data and Ardrian (Eileen Seeley), a cute young woman who digs computers, but these components seem fairly bland and silly. However, the struggles aboard the Enterprise are more compelling, as Picard risks war to keep the Sheliak off the planet. The legal-minded Sheliak seem unusual and interesting, and I like Picard’s end of things. Overall, this is a pretty average episode.
The Enterprise deals with another threatened colony during The Survivors. Actually, the threat no longer exists, as they’ve basically been obliterated. Bizarrely, most of Rana IV was totally destroyed, but one area stays intact, and only two survivors remain: Kevin (John Anderson) and Rishon Uxbridge (Anne Haney), an elderly pair of botanists. Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) leads the away team to figure out what happened and why the aggressors spared this couple.
While in the Uxbridge home, the crew briefly plays a musical trinket that somehow ship’s counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) senses back aboard the Enterprise. As the show progresses, we see that this sound tortures her, and she becomes more and more distressed as times passes. Apparently the warship that destroyed the planet returns, which leads to an odd chase. Picard then visits the Uxbridges to try to get to the heart of the various matters, and the rest of the show follows his progress in this matter.
“The Survivors” offers a strong episode of Trek. The show lacks much of the expected sentiment and it features an intriguing storyline that doesn’t follow the expected paths most of the time. A lot of Trek telegraphs its plot points, but this one kept me guessing most of the time, and it presented the matter in a tight and intelligent manner. Overall, this is a pretty terrific episode that shows all of the best elements of ST:TNG but few of the flaws.
One weak aspect of “Survivors”: the depiction of the opposing force. Wesley declares “Look at the size of that!” when it first appears, and we’re to believe that the vessel is five times the size of the Enterprise. However, it doesn’t appear very large; if anything, it looks like a shuttlecraft as depicted in some shots. This doesn’t actively harm the episode, but it seems like a definite flaw.
In Who Watches the Watchers, the Enterprise travels to assist some Federation anthropologists who secretly study the development of Mintaka III, a society that resembles primitive Vulcans. Early on, something attacks the three-man team, so the Enterprise crew rescues them, though one member disappears. In apparent violation of the Prime Directive, Dr. Crusher brings a Mintakan named Liko (Ray Wise) on-board to fix his injuries. She does so but apparently her attempt to zap his memory fails, for he tells his daughter of the magical beings of myth who cured him.
To locate the missing Dr. Palmer, Riker and Troi - with features cosmetically altered to make them resemble Mintakans - beam down to the surface. There they watch as Liko states that he saw a god-like figure called “The Picard”. Complications ensue when the Mintakans find an injured Dr. Palmer, which leaves Picard with a dilemma: should he beam up Palmer and risk more cultural contamination, or should he leave the doctor alone? Troi causes a diversion that allows Riker and Palmer to beam aboard the ship, but Troi remains stuck on the surface of the planet. Picard needs to find a way to rescue her and also dispel the newly restored Mintankan beliefs in the supernatural.
Normally I don’t care for the episodes that deal with simplistic primitive societies, but “Watchers” seems pretty good. The show pokes fun at the notion of Picard as god but doesn’t wear out the notion through comedy. It also provides a thoughtful discussion of the prime directive and the concept of religion without becoming heavy-handed. Like “Survivors”, “Watchers” offers some of the best aspects of Trek - a cool and unassuming intelligence that doesn’t clearly dictate ideas - in a winning package.
The Bonding offered an introspective episode of Trek. During an away team to an apparently abandoned planet, a mysterious force attacks the group and kills archeologist Lt. Aster (Susan Powell). This orphans her son Jeremy (Gabriel Damon) and puts the crew into an extended examination of death and mourning. Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) led the away team, and he feels anger and guilt over the occurrence. He tells Troi he wants to “bond” with Jeremy via a Klingon ritual, but she tries to get him to delay this process so the boy can better process his emotions. In the meantime, Wesley and his mother deal with their own lingering feelings about the death of his father.
The crew tries to also figure out the nature of the planet’s mechanisms, and oddly, Lt. Aster appears in Jeremy’s quarters. Slowly his prior reality on Earth with his mom and dad starts to reoccur, and the ship’s staff needs to deal with this faux Aster and the mystery behind her, especially after she struggles to remove Jeremy from the ship.
The original Trek series killed off “red shirts” left and right, but they rarely explored the ramifications of these deaths. Though clad in gold, Lt. Aster resembled a red shirt in spirit, since she was a guest crewmember. The show’s examination of the extended crew of the ship seemed intriguing, and the program delved into some emotional topics in a thoughtful way.
Once the faux Aster arrived, however, the show lost some of its momentum. I liked the emphasis on reality and the emotional impact and thought the trickery in the program’s second half took away from some of that. The episode still offered moderate insight - its discussion of the preferability of fantasy or reality presupposed 1994’s theatrical Generations - but I felt as though the show didn’t pull the trigger and delve as heavily into the topic as it should have.
During Booby Trap, the Enterprise encounters an ancient war cruiser from an apparently long-dead civilization. Two groups killed each other centuries ago, but an intact ship shows up in the midst of the remaining wreckage. Picard delights over the opportunity to examine a flawless Promellian battlecruiser, so he beams over with Worf and Data. They check out the historical records and have a few laughs, but matters become problematic when they return to the Enterprise. Something saps the ship’s power and renders its impossible for them to leave. From there, Picard needs to figure out how to escape the “booby trap” that affected the crew on the Promellian ship before radiation kills those on the Enterprise.
In the meantime, Geordi strikes out with sexy crewmember Christy (Julie Warner) and whines about his inability to succeed with women. He consults barkeep Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who gives him some advice. This matter gets weird as Geordi works on the power problem. He uses the ship’s logs to access the records of Dr. Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney), the designer of the equipment. He uses the computer to recreate Leah, with whom he hits it off very well.
The path the show will take seems quite predictable and silly. Geordi’s prospective romance with the simulation becomes inevitable and dopey and doesn’t add anything to the program. The general story that relates to the trap has its moments, but it would have worked better without the Geordi subplot. The episode remains decent as a whole, but I really could live without the Leah stuff.
An away team of Riker, LaForge and Worf beams down to the surface of an environmentally hostile planet in The Enemy. There they find a crashed Romulan craft and one survivor. Geordi falls into a pit and becomes separated from the others, who have no choice to return to the Enterprise without him. He tries to survive on the inhabitable surface while Picard and the others attempt to rescue him and also deal with the aggression of the Romulans.
Two Geordi-heavy episodes in a row can’t be a good thing. Burton can be a good actor, but I never much cared for his performance as LaForge; there’s something annoyingly chipper and superficial about the way he plays him. At least this show’s Geordi bits help flesh out the personality of the Romulans, as he gets to know another one of them on the planet. Nonetheless, “Enemy” feels too much like an Afterschool Special as the two cultures learn to knock down their prejudices and work together. That’s a fine message, but the show seems somewhat heavy-handed.
Odd footnote: Dr. Crusher’s hair became radically longer in this episode. She displayed a modified bob for the first few shows, and her locks gradually grew as the season progressed; they made it to roughly shoulder-length by the end of the year. But in this one, her tresses suddenly extended many inches. Had she lost hair, I could understand this, but the sudden growth seems very strange.
The Price finds the Enterprise on a mission to compete for a stable wormhole. That location will allow rapid transport to exceedingly distant places, and a civilization headed by Bhavani (Elizabeth Hoffman) wants to get the most for their resource. Matters become more antagonistic when the Ferengi arrive to butt in on the proceedings. Troi experiences some heat when a slick “hired gun” negotiator named Ral (Matt McCoy) sets his romantic sights on her.
“Price” expands our view of the Ferengi. They always came across as snarling and nasty in prior episodes, whereas here they just seem comically crass. I don’t think this change is a bad thing, though, as it’s good to see some differentiation between the Ferengi and all the other crudely aggressive species.
I liked those moments, and also enjoyed the “poker game” of the negotiations and the exploration of the wormhole’s stability. But boy, could I have lived without the romantic dalliance between Troi and Ral. It struck me as part of a soap opera and it didn’t add anything to her character. I still thought “Price” seemed like an interesting episode, but it faltered whenever we dealt with the Troi/Ral relationship.
Odder footnote: Crusher’s hair returned to its shorter length with this episode. It would progress in length in a normal way after this - “The Enemy” seemed to be the only chronological aberration.
A subculture of humanoid culture causes problems in The Vengeance Factor. “The Gatherers” attack and rob from others, but their kin on Acamar - led by Soveriegn Maruk (Nancy Parsons) - don’t think the matter can be solved by any diplomatic method. However, Picard convinces her to give peace a chance, and they meet with a group of Gatherers led by the crude and obnoxious Brull (Joey Aresco).
These events show some promise, but problems develop due to the actions of Maruk’s assistant Yuta (Lisa Wilcox). She causes the death of one of Brull’s crew and wants to prevent the reunification of the tribes. However, this doesn’t overtly appear to be murder, so the meeting takes place. We watch Picard as he tries to mediate between Maruk and Gatherer leader Chorgan (Stephen Lee). Dr. Crusher and Riker try to solve the riddle of the murder and ensure the possible success of the negotiations.
Riker gets to do some of his Captain Kirk act here. As soon as I saw him meet sexy Yuta, it felt inevitable that they’d connect. Frankly, those moments seemed manipulative, as they existed solely to set up an ultimate confrontation between Yuta and Riker. Frakes brings enough strength and depth to his role to make the trite proceedings richer than they should have been, but I thought this episode seemed a bit bland and predictable.
Trivia note: if Maruk looks familiar, there’s a reason. Nancy Parsons became best known for her portrayal of Beulah Balbricker in the Porky’s movies.
Only three episodes after “The Enemy”, we again encounter the Romulans during The Defector. A Romulan scoutship finds its way into the Neutral Zone, where a more powerful craft aggressively pursues it. The Enterprise takes in the ship and its sole occupant, Sublieutenant Setal (James Sloyan). He reports that the Romulans plan a massive provocation against the Federation, and he betrays his race to stop this. He states that the Romulans massed a major force cloaked to hide them from the Federation. Of course, this action arises suspicions, as many doubt his sincerity. The episode follows the attempts of Picard and the rest of the crew to discern the truth of the matter, which becomes especially tough when complications ensue.
Although I thought it was a little soon to bring back the Romulans, at least “Defector” used them in an unusual manner. Positively, the show kept the truth hidden to the audience much of the time. One problem with “Vengeance” stemmed from the fact it telegraphed Yuta’s actions; it lacked much tension since we knew where it would eventually lead. “Defector” didn’t do that, as the resolution remained in doubt until the end. The show presented a tight and exciting conclusion that made it quite memorable as a whole.
For The Hunted, the Enterprise visits Angosia III, a sterile but peaceful planet that desires membership in the Federation. Picard and Riker visit with Prime Minister Nayrok (James Cromwell) and decide that they look like good candidates. However, trouble soon brews when a shuttle from a penal colony appears and strangely eludes the Enterprise. Eventually they locate the craft and after substantial pursuit, they capture the escaped prisoner, Roga Danar (Jeff McCarthy). He’s a one-man army who requires extraordinary measures to be captured.
Troi develops an interest in Danar’s case when she senses his pain. She learns that he’s a trained soldier, and Lunar V exists as a virtual prison for others like himself; they’ve committed no crimes, but they no longer match the pacifistic nature of the Angosians so they get stuck on the penal colony. Despite protests from Troi and Data, Picard has to submit to the wishes of Nayrok and return Danar to his captors. Danar would rather die than do so, and he fights this attempt.
Danar reminded me a lot of a futuristic Rambo. A perfect killer programmed by a government to overcome all odds, Danar seemed a little too perfect to me. The episode had its moments, but too much of it rang false; I find it hard to believe that the copious resources and experience of the Enterprise crew would be so easily thwarted by one dude, no matter how skilled he may be. The episode also telegraphed the coolly evil nature of the Angosians; from the first moment we met Nayrok, it seemed clear their society wasn’t as wonderful as depicted. Ultimately, “Hunted” appeared fun at times - we don’t usually see this much fighting in an episode of ST:TNG - but it never became anything more than average.
Trivia note: the original series of Trek enjoyed a long tradition of actors who played different roles at times, and “The Hunted” provides that for ST:TNG. In addition to Nayrok, James Cromwell played warp engine pioneer Zefram Cochrane in First Contact.
The High Ground finds Dr. Crusher under duress. Crusher, Worf and Data beam down to deliver medical supplies to a planet undergoing terrorist attacks from separatists called the Ansata. A bomb explodes and Crusher insists on addressing the injured folks. One of the insurrectionists takes Crusher hostage, and she soon meets Kyril Finn (Richard Cox), one of the crew. The Ansata need a doctor, so Finn keeps her prisoner to help in that regard. She gets to know their side better while the crew of the Enterprise tries to gain her return. Because this is Trek, matters get a lot worse before they improve.
Given the current state of world affairs, “Ground” seemed more than a little spooky; a scene in which we heard of children who bombed buses was especially eerie. Divorced from those elements, it provided a fairly measured look at the concept of terrorism that might not be very popular these days, if just because it didn’t excuse the party being terrorized from responsibility. Overall, it provided a reasonably solid episode, and I believe it offered the first ever sight of Picard in hand-to-hand combat.
As the first original villain on ST:TNG, Q (John DeLancie) earns a special place in the show’s history, and he also became a popular character. Deja Q provides his first appearance during Season Three. As the Enterprise tries to keep a moon from plummeting toward a planet surface, Q shows up on the Enterprise bridge. He claims that the Q continuum booted him and stripped him of his powers.
Understandably, Picard and the rest of the crew don’t trust or believe the mischievous dude. They plop him into a detention cell for the time being while they try to establish the veracity of his claims and also save the potentially doomed planet. Q offers his knowledge to assist their rescue efforts, which Picard grudgingly accepts. The episode examines the various work as well as attempts by an alien species to get back at Q for his past taunts.
Q programs usually work pretty well, and this one followed suit. DeLancie played the role with the appropriate snottiness and arrogance, and he did nicely here. Data’s efforts to teach Q how to be human offered some nice humor, something solely needed after a series of fairly dark programs. Overall, “Deja Q” provided a pretty solid show.
In A Matter Of Perspective, the Enterprise visits a space station to obtain information about a potential source of energy. However, the station mysteriously explodes. Riker barely makes it back to the ship as this occurs, and the Tanugans - the residents of the planet the station orbited - plan to take him into custody as a murderer. Investigator Krag (Craig Richard Nelson) demands to use their legal methods, but Picard convinces him they can recreate the events on board the station in the Enterprise’s holodeck, where they’ll try to get to the bottom of the events. This focuses on reenactions of witnesses, all of which differ in crucial ways.
Anyone who saw Rashomon or its many imitators will recognize the structure found here, and “Perspective” used the method reasonably well. I thought the development of the mystery to seem fairly engaging and compelling. However, the program lacked great suspense, as the results rarely seemed in doubt. “Perspective” provided a good but unexceptional episode.
One of the oddest episodes of Season Three, Yesterday’s Enterprise finds the Enterprise present at some sort of mysterious time displacement. This moderately alters reality. This Starfleet is at war, and Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) rematerializes from the dead. Uniforms and ship architecture seem mildly different as well, though the changes aren’t extreme. Guinan senses that things are strangely wrong, but Picard can’t grasp the concept.
Of greater immediate concern, this bizarro Enterprise encounters the titular older vessel, the Enterprise-C. Picard deals with its chief, Captain Garrett (Tricia O’Neil) and tries to sort out the facts of the matter. He discovers that they could send back the Enterprise-C to their original time, but this would ensure the destruction of the ship and the death of its crew.
Time travel stories always offer a tricky set of issues, and “Enterprise” caused some of the same confusions and concerns. Nonetheless, it handled those topics fairly well and offered an entertaining look at an alternate universe. The return of Yar made it especially interesting, since we knew she existed only in this setting. The program remained reasonably intriguing from start to finish and seemed like a solid episode.
Data decides to “procreate” in The Offspring. He creates a “child” called Lal (Hallie Todd), something that upsets Picard, but he lets Data have his baby and eventually backs his decisions. Data wants to allow Lal to chose its own gender and appearance, and it ultimately decides to be a human female. Data trains Lal how to integrate into society and become more human, which inevitably causes complications, and Starfleet want Lal to be trained elsewhere, away from her “father”. Eventually Admiral Haftel (Nicholas Coster) arrives to deal with the issue, though he clearly feels that Lal belongs off of the Enterprise.
Haven’t we already crossed this bridge? While somewhat dissimilar in plot, “Offspring” reminded me an awful lot of Season Two’s “The Measure of a Man”, in which Starfleet tried to define Data’s humanity. “Offspring” seemed like a forced rehash of that show’s theme, and the program ended on a fairly sappy note. I can’t say I disliked “Offspring”, but it didn’t do much for me.
Continue to Disc 5-7 and the technical ratings...