Warp Factor Trek

The Star Trek Fan Website

Roughly five years after they separated following Star Trek: The Motion Picture, reconciliation between Gene Roddenberry and Paramount occurred when the company approached Roddenberry to develop a new Star Trek show as a series creator. The result would be Star Trek: The Next Generation, another beloved incarnation of the franchise. Ten months after Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was released, its success led to the triumphant return of Star Trek to television with The Next Generation, boldly taking the franchise into the next eighteen years.

The premiere of The Next Generation ripped up and/or redecorated many of the sets from the first four Star Trek films. The show’s first episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, tasked Industrial Light & Money with building the exterior model of the USS Enterprise-D.

The Enterprise-D faces a Borg cube (CBS-Paramount)

The Next Generation also introduced the Borg, which turned out to be the greatest nemesis we saw on Star Trek during TNG’s run. Rather than looking like true “bionic zombies,” however, the Borg in The Next Generation were portrayed with relatively simple white makeup and black spandex with various plastic goodies attached.

Michael Piller, a television writer/producer, came on-board Star Trek: The Next Generation for its third season and is credited with having truly turned things around for the show. After suffering through bad writer attrition during the first two seasons (going through no less than twenty-four staff writers, three times the normal attrition for an hour-long drama), Piller put together a solid writing team that set the show on a course in the right direction of emphasizing the characters rather than the “alien/situation of the week.” He also gave us “The Best of Both Worlds”.

In “The Best of Both Worlds”, Captain Picard announces that the Enterprise has “engaged the Borg” (CBS-Paramount)

Despite featuring the relatively simple-looking Borg in a central role, the TNG two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds” represented a turning point for our stalwart new heroes from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Before this spectacular cliffhanger and two-parter, TNG could hardly do anything right in the eyes of many fans; after it, they could do no wrong. This cliffhanging two-parter truly showed that the TNG crew had come unto their own. The Next Generation had proved themselves as far more than a cheap carbon copy of the original and were now fully acknowledged as the living, breathing version of Star Trek.

“The Best of Both Worlds” pushed the envelope of adventure and excitement not only in terms of a seemingly invincible enemy that our heroes were just barely able to stop but also behind the scenes too. Michael Piller’s spectacular two-parter taxed TNG’s production savvy and special effects budget to their very limits. This was an adventure that could not be followed up on until these characters had made the transition to the big screen.

Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney), and Michael Piller on the Borg set of “The Best of Both Worlds” (CBS-Paramount)

By the time Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was announced, I too had come to accept TNG as the Star Trek that should be allowed to continue unfettered. An aspect of the show I appreciated in particular was how the character of Miles O’Brien was portrayed. He had gone through a very satisfying metamorphosis from being just an extra in the background to a regular fixture in the transporter room. O’Brien, by the fourth season of TNG, had become popular enough to gain a first and middle name and a new wife named Keiko, and, by the fifth season of TNG, was a family man and as much a member of the team as the regular cast.

Meanwhile, the Klingons were presented as the Federation’s allies on TNG, a fact that served as one of the inspirations on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Spock actor Leonard Nimoy, to help promote that film, did the TNG two-parter Unification”, which included a reference about the “consequences to [Kirk] and to his crew” during the mission they undertake in the film.

Picard, in Romulan disguise, with Spock (CBS-Paramount)

Whereas Spock made his presence known in the series, the same could not be said of his TOS friend James T. Kirk. In fact, Gene Roddenberry made comments that Kirk probably was dead by TNG’s time.

Even by the time the show was in its sixth season, The Next Generation was still going strong. There were a couple of highlights in that season, including the two-parter “Chain of Command”. However, my all-time favorite TNG episode was another Season 6 outing: “The Chase”. It was directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes, who proved himself a capable director with several of the show’s best episodes.

Jonathan Frakes on the set of “The Chase”, with some of the alien-playing actors (CBS-Paramount)

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to find enough time to catch very much of seasons six or seven of TNG when they first aired, now legally an adult and meanwhile working and studying during my first semester of college. My father routinely watched and taped the show, just as he did with reruns of Classic Trek, and I would occasionally watch one with him.

By the time the show ended, The Next Generation had proven highly successful. We were now used to getting movie-quality production values and special effects on a weekly basis on television.

Bringing the series to a spectacular close in “All Good Things…” (CBS-Paramount)

The final episode of The Next Generation‘s weekly adventures wasn’t even filmed entirely before a follow-up movie, Generations, went into pre-production; filming on the TNG series finale wrapped immediately before the movie started filming. Nonetheless, that last episode, “All Good Things…”, proved to be a great finale for the TV adventures of the TNG cast, who were thereby given an exit (of sorts) with style.

I loved The Next Generation all through my teen years. It featured many familiar elements that were capitalized on so well on television, and I thought they were nearly perfect just the way they were on TV. The show included some of the greatest storytelling Trek ever saw, in which great risks were taken with the characters and with Gene Roddenberry’s vision, including such examples as the two-parters “The Best of Both Worlds” and “Chain of Command”, as well as the show’s feature-length series finale, “All Good Things…”.

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