DVD
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Complete Season 2

Starring: Patrick Stewart
Paramount
84.99
PHE8214
Certificate: PG
Available now


The voyages of Picard's
Enterprise continue, with the crew encountering more Klingons, more Romulans, more Ferengi, Sherlock Holmes' arch enemy Professor Moriarty, a duplicate of Picard himself and an unstoppable new foe known as the Borg...

You could say that Season 2 of The Next Generation is like Season 1, only more so. Its best episodes are far stronger than the highlights of the previous year, but its weakest instalments are more toe-curlingly bad than the first season's most embarrassing lowlights.

Of the better episodes, the tense and emotive courtroom drama that is The Measure of a Man is an absolute classic. And Q Who is both an excellent Q episode (John De Lancie gives one of his best performances as the mischievous entity) and a stunning introduction to the chillingly impersonal Borg. Elementary, Dear Data is another winner, a logical and irresistible development of the holodeck detective program in Season 1's The Big Goodbye and Data's (i.e. Brent Spiner's) superb impersonation of Sherlock Holmes in Lonely Among Us. There are a couple of excellent explorations of Klingon culture in A Matter of Honor and The Emissary - this being a time when the Klingons still had novelty value. The intriguing and unsettling time-travel tale Time Squared isn't bad either, and the same can be said of the extremely worthy Loud as a Whisper, Contagion (in which something very bad happens to a Galaxy-class starship) and Peak Performance.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the first season's Haven and Skin of Evil seem like works of art compared to the shoddy plotting and duff dialogue in Up the Long Ladder and Shades of Gray. Up the Long Ladder contains the classic (not) exchange of dialogue: "Clones..." "Clones?" "Clones!" Meanwhile, Shades of Gray is an example of that woeful cost-cutting standby of American television, the clips show - a very disappointing way to end the season. The Icarus Factor also makes tedious viewing, being primarily composed of a string of sequences that go something like this: Riker's dad (Mitchell Ryan) tries to make peace with his son (Jonathan Frakes), who then storms off in a huff, repeat ad infinitum. The Outrageous Okona has its moments, particularly those involving the loveable rogue Captain Okona (William O. Campbell), but is seriously impaired by too many unfunny "comedy" scenes as Data tries to cultivate a sense of humour. Manhunt is a real Frankenstein's monster of disparate elements that don't really mesh together, featuring the return of Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett), a return visit to the Dixon Hill setting of The Big Goodbye, and some big fish people (whose leader is played by Mick Fleetwood).

The remaining episodes, The Child, Where Silence Has Lease, The Schizoid Man, Unnatural Selection, The Dauphin, The Royale, Pen Pals and Samaritan Snare are rather average, but entertaining enough. Unnatural Selection is a rehash of the "Classic" Trek episode The Deadly Years, and not the last one either - the idea of a rapidly ageing crewmember would be used again in Deep Space Nine's Distant Voices. The Schizoid Man is predictable, but lifted by more scenery-chewing from Brent Spiner as a possessed Data, a virtual repeat performance of his evil Lore character.

One aspect that is a clear improvement on Season 1 is the special effects. In general, the space shots look smoother and more expensive. The Child boasts an impressive establishing shot that tracks from the exterior of the ship, through a window and into the interior set.

This is not to say that the production team is averse to a little frugal recycling of effects from the previous season. A view of the transition from impulse to warp speed seen through an observation window uses effects that were originally filmed for the warp experiments in Where No One Has Gone Before. The shot of the Enterprise being flung parsecs off course in When the Bough Breaks is put to good reuse in Q Who.

A few characters are changed or undergo a "cabinet reshuffle" of assignment for the second season. The departure of Lieutenant Yar (Denise Crosby) is of great benefit to Michael Dorn's Klingon Worf, who functions splendidly as Security Officer. La Forge (Levar Burton) takes on the much-needed role of regular Chief Engineer. Apart from growing a beard, Commander Riker also lightens up his previously rather humourless character. Watch out also for the developing role of Colm Meaney, as he rises in status from nameless Transporter Chief to become Miles O'Brien, who will one day join the crew of Deep Space Nine.

Two new cast members also join the team: the mysterious (at least, she is at this point in the show's history) bartender Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and the new Chief Medical Officer Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur). Dr Pulaski is rather obviously based upon DeForest Kelley's Dr McCoy - witness her disparaging attitude towards the unemotional Data, which is akin to McCoy's ribbing of Spock, and her loathing of transporters - but her character still possesses great strength, easily standing up to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). She only served for this one year before Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) returned for the third season. This is a pity, because I happen to prefer Pulaski's no-nonsense authority to the sentimental whining of the bleeding heart Beverly Crusher!

You may notice that this is a shorter season than usual, comprising just 22 episodes instead of the usual 26. This is because production was hampered at the time by a writers strike. However, to partially compensate for this, there is a little more documentary material than we got with the Season 1 box set - one hour and twenty minutes' worth in total.

Sure, this season contains more than its fair share of dull or embarrassing moments, but this box set is still worth the asking price for the many top-class episodes it contains.

Richard McGinlay

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