Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 Box Set
May 14, 2003
They said it couldn’t be done, a new Star Trek that replaces Kirk and co with new actors? What nonsense. However do it they did, and Bill Shatner’s balding bonce was replaced by a balder, bolder captain. And now the new crew are back once again to reaffirm their success as the best Trek ever with their second season on DVD.
The Next Generation season one was very much a pilot year, where characters were being defined, effects were rushed and stories were ripped off (‘The Naked Now’ being a copy of an original Star Trek tale). This second year saw our crew Trek outside of the studio for the first time to some location shooting, and away from the back lit Blue Peter style planets they explored in season one. Tasha Yar’s Waterloo would have been so much more effective had she not wilted on a cheap sound stage with some coloured paper for a backdrop. Well now the crew have money and can afford those location shoots from time to time, and the show was so much the better for it.
The first point of note in Season 2 is the departure of Beverly Crusher to Starfleet Medical and the arrival of Katherine Polaski, played by Diana Muldaur. Diana was actually a returning Trek cast member as she had twice succumbed to Kirk’s charms in the original series, then of course playing the nubile young romantic interest as opposed to her now iron faced professional woman. That’s progress I guess. Doctor Polaski only lasted one season as Gates McFadden returned from her sabbatical from the show after a year.
Another notable change features the spectacular rise in rank of Geordi La Forge. He is merely a lowly Ensign in season one and the subject of some in-joke that had a blind man steering the ship. Season two sees him promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and installed as Chief engineer. I don’t remember him doing anything in the first year worthy of that kind of promotion, but then they didn’t have an engineering section in the first year. Mr Scott would never have stood for it.
The episode ‘Contagion’ featured a familiar problem to anyone that works in an IT based infrastructure. The Enterprise is developing serious faults that threaten to destroy the ship, as it has already her sister ship – killing all of the crew. Geordi works tirelessly to try and figure out what is happening to no avail, the faults continue to appear and it’s only a matter of time before they become serious enough to threaten the ship. Will the crew be saved? Will the Enterprise be destroyed? As I mentioned before with the IT infrastructure, the problems may seem familiar but the solution is even more so. How does Geordi save the ship? The same way any IT person deals with a PC, reboot. Yes even in the twenty fourth century simply turning a machine off and then on again will cure all of the faults inherent therein.
It sounds like a cop out ending, if it weren’t so true to life that is.
Should you not realise it, this is the year that we are introduced to the Borg in the episode ‘Q Who?’. True their costumes feature large amounts of black spandex under limited prosthetics and their ship is a tad on the basic side, but they are still Borg. In these early years the character of the Borg hasn’t been fully fleshed out, hence they actually breed biologically and attach implants to their young, who live in nurseries not unlike the pods seen in the Matrix. Also the Borg are interested in stealing technology rather than assimilating people, this comes much later in TNG and even then not in any great detail. It’s not until Voyager that we get to know the Borg properly, largely due to arrival of Seven of Nine of course. Yay.
Still, Borg they are and frightening they still seem. Q pops up again and offers to help Picard learn about the galaxy. When Picard refuses the omnipotent one catapults the Enterprise into the far reaches of the Alpha Quadrant (some geographical baboonery here perhaps given what we know about the Borg from Voyager?) where they encounter a large cube shaped vessel. The rest as they say is history. Star Trek managed to get some decent mileage out of the Borg with no fewer than six TNG episodes, numerous Voyager episodes and a movie. Not bad for something stolen from Doctor Who!
On the whole the storylines in season two are of a vastly superior quality to those of the first season, with members of the cast that can genuinely act being given the opportunity to do so. I am largely referring to Patrick Stewart here of course. He gets to shine in TNG’s first real court room drama episode ‘The Measure of a Man’. This is a powerfully scripted episode that deals with the rights of the android Data and the future of an android race, with relation to slavery. Classically trained Stewart excels himself, as he does in future courtroom drama episodes. The series really benefited from having a genuine actor in the captain’s chair, as opposed to the ham fisted approach to acting taken by his predecessor.
The season finale of season two was nothing short of scandalous. ‘Shades of Gray’ promised to be a tense, nerve wracking episode that showed Will Riker on the verge of death. Infected by a nerve hampering toxin Will slipped into a coma while the doctor and Troi attempted to save him. One major character had been killed of in season one breaking that all important Star Trek rule of only the new guy dies, so there’s nothing to say they won’t do it again. However this episode wasn’t treated as an opportunity to create tension, it was treated as a chance to reduce the shooting time by cutting in some old footage. Each show takes approximately seven days to shoot so by having Riker experience ‘Dreams’ of past episodes for around twenty minutes they can get the seven day shoot down to three. Disgusting.
This cheap episode technique was used once on The A-Team in an episode entitled ‘Curtain Call’ where Murdoch was shot and had flashbacks of previous jaunts. Thankfully this awful technique has not been repeated on Star Trek to this day. I’d recommend giving ‘Shades of Gray’ a miss and treating ‘Peak Performance’ as the last episode of season two, a decidedly stronger story.
The features on season two, as with the first season are inherently watchable if you’re a Star Trek fan. Again we are treated to snippets of interviews recorded at the time as well as recent footage, together with behind the scenes shots and creative discussions. The most interesting of these mini features focuses on the models used for the Star Trek shows themselves and reveals the enormous Paramount Studios warehouses that are home to all of these items. It’s really a fans wet dream to see endless rows of crates piled up to the rafters all stuffed with Trek items from Batleths to phasers, from Shuttle Craft to Space Stations. Many items are accompanied by anecdotes that will inform the most Klingon literate among you, such as how one model was used for two different space stations simply by inverting it!
When I reviewed season one I complained about wanting more behind the scenes footage than they were willing to offer, as season two has now added to that catalogue of Trek tidbits I am beginning to see the logic. After all seven series have been released there will be at least eight hours of interviews and behind the scenes shots to entertain you and bore your non initiated friends with. If that’s not enough by way of features then you really need to get out more.
One thing I’m still curious about however is the character of Guinan. They gave a brief explanation of how Whoopie Goldberg had requested a part on the show, and how they needed a bar tender for their new set of Ten-Forward but any kind of background on her character was again overlooked. When watching Star Trek the first time round, and again via this DVD release I’ve found Guinan’s character to be the most interesting and well developed, while knowing very little about her. She has a past with Q that is not explained, her people come from a distant part of the Galaxy that the Federation have yet to explore, they were almost wiped out by the Borg and she seems to have a power that transcends our knowledge of dimensions. In the later episode ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ she knew that the timeframe had changed somehow even though history had been rewritten, yet any explanation of this was not offered. This is a serious point that I would like some help with, does anyone know exactly what Guinan is?
The mystery of Guinan aside this is one excellent release, better than season one in almost every department (besides the lack of Denise Crosby of course). The only quibble I have with this is the awful season finale, but I choose to ignore that and treat season two as a twenty one episode season… so there.
I now wait in anticipation of season three, but I’m saddened that Enterprise has finished its run. I guess you can’t have the Best of Both Worlds?