As becomes clear from the abundant special features on this packed Blu-ray release, Star Trek: TNG was a risky proposition. Star Trek had moved on to the big screen, its characters long-since iconic, the cast of this new series were relative unknowns, seeking to very big shoes and all of the time the question hung there in the air – could Roddenberry do it again?
The answer proved to be “yes”, though this is a far from imperious debut season for the now rightly lauded show. The characters understandably take time to establish themselves and we in turn take time to warm to them. The youngest of the contingent, Wil Wheaton as Wes Crusher, proves a little annoying at first, though manages to loosen up as the season progresses. Although beset by feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, Patrick Stewart excels as the new captain, Jean-Luc Picard, putting clear water between his iteration of a Star Fleet captain and that of Shatner’s Kirk. Not better or worse, just markedly different and all the more enjoyable and satisfying for it.
Most of the cast give excellent accounts of themselves, with Brent Spiner’s Data an obvious stand-out, his quest for humanity well-crafted and subtly played throughout. The show would not really hit its stride until (spoiler!) Denise Crosby’s Tasha Yar was written out, resulting in Michael Dorn’s (Klingon) Worf being promoted to head of security and eventually in later season’s Geordi La Forge becoming head of Engineering. It is inevitable with a show that would go on to span seven seasons and four further features that it takes time to establish itself, but some of the characterisation is noticeably thin in this first season.
There isn’t enough space here (nor enough patience among our readership) to analyse all 25 episodes of this opening season, but we get a few stand-out episodes here. We meet Data’s sinister brother Lore, who would go on to pepper much of the span of the show, similarly Q, an omnipotent alien who becomes fascinated by humans and Picard in particular sets himself up as a strong recurring character. Two separate episodes cover the possibility of a conspiracy within Star Fleet and although by modern standards some of the special effects have dated horribly, the story-telling and acting are strong enough to paper over the cracks. The episodes cover a good range of action, encounters with aliens, moral and ethical conundrums and mythology building (the return of the Romulans, the first tease at what would come to be the introduction of the Borg) and the fact that the high water marks of the end of season 3 and much of season 5 are fallen short of is no reason to lambast what is a commendable enough season of science-fiction.
Not as good as the show would become, but much better than a lot of what has gone before and since, this will perhaps chiefly appeal to those who are already fans, but should hold the interest of the uninitiated as well.
Extras: Masses. We have a multi-part documentary looking at the creation and initial reception of the show, featuring pretty much everyone. We also get introductions to episodes, a gag reel and a number of retrospectives. A handsome package to go along with an exemplary HD brush up of the episodes themselves.