Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Complete Season 4

Starring: Patrick Stewart
Certificate: PG
Available now

Picard's fourth year in command of the
Enterprise is a time of reunions, including the return of Lore, the Traveler, K'Ehleyr, Vash, Kurn, and others. It is also a time of instability within the Klingon Empire and of increasing activity by the scheming Romulans...

Season 4 sees an increased level of inter-connection between episodes. Up until the end of Season 3, the majority had been stand-alone episodes, as was preferred by American television networks. But from this point on, events in one instalment start to have consequences that will affect future ones. It begins in earnest with Family, which deals with Picard's (Patrick Stewart) emotional trauma following his abduction by the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds and the ejection of Worf (Michael Dorn) from Klingon society in Sins of the Father.

Throughout the season, and particularly towards its climax, we also witness events that culminate in a conflict involving both the Klingon and Romulan Empires. Such "story arcs" are not as complex or as well developed as those that would subsequently become integral to Babylon 5, but nevertheless the Star Trek franchise has never looked back in terms of its storytelling techniques.

There's also a thematic consistency to this season, with many episodes concerning themselves with issues of family. Apart from the blindingly obvious examples - Family and Brothers - Suddenly Human deals with an alien's adoption of a human boy "kidnapped" from a battlefield; Legacy features the sister of the late Tasha Yar; Future Imperfect presents Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) with the prospect of having a son of his own; Data's Day sees the marriage of Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) to Keiko Ishikawa (Rosalind Chao); and Reunion introduces Worf's son, Alexander (Jon Steuer). It would appear that Klingon children grow very rapidly, because in the year and one-third since he was conceived in The Emissary, Alexander now looks like a boy of three or four in human terms. And by the time he appears in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's sixth season, he appears to be a teenager!

Many episodes feature return visits by characters from previous seasons. The series truly cashes in on its well-established mythology with the return of characters such as Data's twin Lore (Brent Spiner) in Brothers, the Traveler (Eric Menyuk) in Remember Me, Worf's ex-girlfriend K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) in Reunion, and both Q (John de Lancie) and Vash (Jennifer Hetrick) in Qpid. Riker's holodeck dalliance Minuet is mentioned in a pivotal scene in Future Imperfect, while the appealing character of Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz) puts in his second appearance, in what becomes an annual tradition from this point, in The Nth Degree. Another annual fixture is, of course, Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett), who returns in the surprisingly moving Half a Life. The season concludes with the opening instalment of the two-part Redemption, which features not only Worf's brother Kurn (Tony Todd) but also another blood relation of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby).

For me, the best "returning" character of them all is engine designer Dr Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney), a hologram simulation of whom Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) fell in love with during the previous season's Booby Trap. Dr Brahms is suitably freaked out when she discovers Geordi's holodeck program in Galaxy's Child, an aspect that rescues this often rather sickly-sweet tale about a helpless space-dwelling life form.

In terms of quality, this season may not be quite as strong as the previous one, but then Season 3 was a particularly hard act to follow. Unlike the third season, this one includes a truly bad episode, the tedious The Loss, in which Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) loses her empathic abilities and bemoans the fact annoyingly and repeatedly. Qpid isn't great either - although it is clear that the cast and crew had a whale of a time making it, the episode isn't as funny as it thinks it is. Final Mission looks fantastic in terms of production, but the "fountain puzzle" that the departing Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) has to solve is nonsensical - why is it there?

The cliffhanger ending to the previous season, The Best of Both Worlds - Part One, was also a hard act to follow. Although the follow-up doesn't quite live up to expectations, it is not nearly as disappointing as some harsh critics have suggested. On the contrary, The Best of Both Worlds - Part Two is a logical extension of its predecessor, and makes a spectacular opening to the season. Its plot contains an ingenious degree of symmetry: the first part dealt with the Borg capturing Picard; the second part has the Enterprise crew in turn abducting the assimilated Locutus and using him to their own advantage.

Generally, the standard of this season remains very high. My favourite episodes include Brothers, which features an excellent triple performance by Brent Spiner. Future Imperfect boasts the irresistible notion of Riker waking up 16 years hence. Despite ripping off its central concept from the Red Dwarf episode Thanks for the Memory, Clues is a clever and entertaining mystery. First Contact sets a precedent by telling its story from the point of view of the aliens rather than the Starfleet crew, and is an excellent pastiche of 20th-century alien/UFO paranoia. The Drumhead is an unsettling courtroom drama, featuring a chilling performance by Jean Simmons. In Theory is a quiet and charming tale (but with one truly horrifying moment) in which Data experiments with romance.

Also of note are the episodes The Wounded and The Host, which introduce the Cardassians and the Trill respectively, races that would eventually become pivotal ingredients of Deep Space Nine. It is interesting to note, however, that the Trill of Deep Space Nine look and behave quite differently to the ones that feature in The Host. One must assume that there are at least two different species of humanoid host on the planet Trill, whose personalities are affected to differing degrees by their joining with symbionts.

Among the extra features of this box set, we get more interview material than we've had before, coming to a total running time of around 100 minutes. In addition to material specific to the fourth season, there are also some thematic discussions concerning the entire series, including the design of alien life forms and architecture.

So, although the episodes contained herein are not quite as great as those of Season 3, this is still an excellent collection.

Richard McGinlay

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