DVD
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season One

Starring: Patrick Stewart
Paramount
84.99
PHE8131
Certificate: PG
Available now


In the 24th century, more than 70 years after the time of Captain James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard takes command of the brand-new Galaxy-class starship
Enterprise. But he isn't in for an easy ride. Picard and his crew must face enemies old and new, including Romulans, renegade Klingons, Ferengi, and a god-like entity called Q...

It's hard to believe that almost 15 years have passed since The Next Generation premiered on American television. I still get a thrill of nostalgia whenever I recall my excitement at watching the pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint, for the first time.

Looking back at these early episodes, you see a lot of elements that were later modified or ditched altogether. Commander Riker's (Jonathan Frakes) reluctance to allow Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) to beam down into potentially dangerous situations was discarded before the year was out. Despite being an extremely sensible code of practice (and a reversal of the usual situation in "Classic" Trek, in which the most of the senior officers would invariably beam down!) it makes for better drama if the star of the show is placed in the thick of the action.

Initially there was no main engineer character in TNG, the assumption being that, by the 24th century, people would be more concerned with the maintenance of the mental and emotional wellbeing of the crew than with the mechanical nuts and bolts of the ship - a very '80s attitude. Hence the introduction of Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis). However, the number of episodes that required a spokesperson for the Engineering department made it clear that there was still a place in Star Trek for a Scotty substitute, and so the second season saw the promotion of Lieutenant La Forge (Levar Burton) to Chief Engineer.

Although the special effects were the most impressive on any TV show at that time, and certainly more up-to-date than those on the 1960s series, some of the visuals - including various space shots and several of the alien planet sets - look rather cheap 'n' cheerful compared with later seasons.

You may also notice that Patrick Stewart initially uses (at the production team's request) American pronunciations of words such as "command", "class", "status" and "record". As the season unfolds, however, we hear the actor gradually introducing his own British pronunciations of such words.

The first season contains more than its fair share of distinctly average episodes, including Justice (nice costumes, shame about the plot), Angel One, When the Bough Breaks (too many cutesy children), Home Soil and The Arsenal of Freedom.

The Last Outpost starts well, but degenerates into the over-familiar "powerful alien tests humanity" scenario. Also, the first appearance of the Ferengi in this instalment fails to live up to the formidable reputation that had been so carefully developed for them over preceding episodes. Lonely Among Us contains many memorable moments, such as when Data (Brent Spiner) impersonates Sherlock Holmes for the first time, but is blighted by the Enterprise crew being even more self-righteous than usual. Hide and Q has many amusing and effective scenes, but is a rather unfocused and plotless affair. Coming of Age is a real mixed bag, featuring a tense investigation of the crew on the one hand, but a rather stupid Starfleet Academy entrance exam on the other - it seems as though only one entrant makes it into the Academy each year!

The strongest episodes include Where No One Has Gone Before, The Battle, 11001001 and Heart of Glory. Encounter at Farpoint might not be the best pilot in television history, but it beats the limp opener to Star Trek: Voyager hands down. The Naked Now, a sequel to the "Classic" Trek episode The Naked Time, is little more than a remake, but it is an exceptionally amusing and dramatic one. The Big Goodbye set the precedent for the all too numerous "holodeck goes wrong" stories that have followed it, but it remains a very enjoyable change-of-pace show. Datalore and Conspiracy are both like B-movies of the most enjoyable kind, the latter featuring something of a throwback to the "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude of Captain Kirk. Notably Conspiracy, which pays off on a plotline introduced in Coming of Age, concludes with a stunning cliffhanger, one that has never been resolved (on TV at least). Symbiosis is an effective discourse on drug dependency, marred only by a truly vomit-inducing scene in which Lieutenant Yar (Denise Crosby) attempts to explain the problem of narcotics addiction to the innocent Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton). The Neutral Zone marks the impressive return of the Romulans as a force to be reckoned with, and also foreshadows the second season's introduction of the Borg.

The real stinkers of this season are the dreadfully dull Code of Honor and Haven, both of which recycle story elements from the "Classic" Trek episode Amok Time, and Skin of Evil - ooh, a talking oil slick... I'm scared!

Despite its flaws, and in spite of the fact that the actors and producers are evidently going through a learning curve, there's a palpable spirit of adventure to this season. This is partly due to the "superhero-style" spandex uniforms that the crew wears, but has a lot more to do with the quality of the incidental music, which is far more distinctive than the bland lift music that we got in later years.

The majority of the first season episodes are scored by one of two composers: Dennis McCarthy and Ron Jones. McCarthy establishes some memorable themes in the pilot episode, and reprises and develops them throughout the season. Jones, who would go on to score the superb Best of Both Worlds provides extremely exciting music for The Naked Now, Where No One Has Gone Before, 11001001 and others. His Naked Now music, in particular, recaptures the dramatic qualities of the better instalments of "Classic" Trek.

The sound and picture quality of these episodes are an improvement on the previous VHS releases, although the fact that these shows were not originally produced with Dolby Surround in mind means that the dialogue tracks and mundane sounds (such as footsteps, etc) often seem a little hollow played on a Surroundsound system. It must also be said that a few instances of dropout persist from the master tapes, as well as occasional white flashes that appear on screen. Such glitches are only visible for a frame or two, but if the BBC's Restoration Team can clean up 35-year-old monochrome recordings of Doctor Who, then I'm sure that Paramount could have made a slightly better job of restoring tapes that are only 15 years old.

The extra features on the last of seven discs in this box set comprise just over an hour of documentary footage collated from various interviews with the cast and crew between 1987 and the present day, in which the personnel recall working on the first season. This material isn't especially riveting, but does have its moments, including a demonstration of the numerous elements that make up the transporter beam effect, and an amusing montage of Troi "sensing" things!

I shouldn't whinge too much. Taking a leaf out of the book of 20th Century Fox Home Video (with its box sets of The X-Files, Buffy and Angel), Paramount has provided DVD-compatible Trek fans with excellent value for money.

Richard McGinlay

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