Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Complete Season 5

Starring: Patrick Stewart
Certificate: PG
Available now

Wesley Crusher may have left for Starfleet Academy, but the
Enterprise soon gains a feisty new ensign in the shape of Bajoran Ro Laren. Worf's son Alexander returns to the ship on a permanent basis. And the crew meet a legendary officer of a previous starship Enterprise - Spock...

The consistency of quality that The Next Generation enjoyed during its third and fourth seasons lapses a little during its fifth, though fortunately the strong episodes still greater outnumber the weak.

The highlight of the year for me is The Inner Light, closely followed by I, Borg. The Inner Light is an intensely moving story in which Picard (brilliantly acted by Patrick Stewart) lives out his lifetime as a husband and father on an alien planet.

Though slightly marred by some over-sensitive liberalism on the part of Dr Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) - which is at odds with her own participation in The Best of Both Worlds - I, Borg brilliantly conveys the message that individual members of even the most feared nation or political regime are not necessarily worthy of our hatred. This message is as relevant as it ever was, as innocent civilians in so many countries continue to pay the price for their leaders' harsh policies.

Darmok is often mentioned by fans in the same revered breath as The Inner Light and I, Borg, but actually I find the notion of a language composed of metaphors to be rather silly!

Other episodes that make this box set worth buying include the thoroughly entertaining Disaster, a witty homage to the disaster movie genre, and the trend-setting time-loop tale, Cause and Effect. There are more eye-popping visuals on display in the action-packed Power Play and in The Next Phase, in which La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Ro (Michelle Forbes) become insubstantial "ghosts". Power Play also benefits from villainous performances by Marina Sirtis, Colm Meaney and Brent Spiner as the possessed Troi, O'Brien and Data. There's also plenty of action and uplifting moments in Redemption II, which concludes the previous season's cliffhanger ending, and in Time's Arrow, which provides this year's exciting conclusion.

Rather more unsettling are Violations, which depicts mental rape, and The Outcast, which is an evocative condemnation of prejudice based on sexuality. Riker's (Jonathan Frakes) justifiable outrage at the treatment of his alien lover Soren (Melinda Cilea) by her own society is only slightly offset by the uncharacteristic manner in which Picard turns a blind eye to Riker's subsequent actions, which clearly contravene the Prime Directive.

The First Duty is one of two return visits by Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), and is definitely the better of the two (the other one is The Game). In The First Duty the cadet faces a conflict between his loyalty to Starfleet and his loyalty to some rather dishonest friends (one of whom is played by a pre-Star Trek: Voyager Robert Duncan McNeill). This development makes an excellent contrast to the sickeningly nice Wesley of Season 1, during which he uttered the dreadful line, "I'm with Starfleet. We don't lie."

Season 5 is also notable for its introduction of the angry young Bajoran Ro Laren, who makes her first appearance in Ensign Ro and injects some fresh character interaction. Following the introduction of the Cardassians during the previous season, more groundwork for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is set up in this episode, which establishes the Cardassian occupation of the planet Bajor. Had the actress Michelle Forbes been available, it might have been Ro Laren who ended up becoming Sisko's liaison officer in DS9 instead of Nana Visitor's Major Kira.

Another celebrated event of the fifth season is the very special guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy as Spock in the two-part Romulan saga Unification, although the story is rather slow-moving.

The weaker episodes of this season include the dull New Ground, in which Worf has to face up to his parental responsibilities and the Enterprise has trouble with a new method of propulsion called the Soliton Wave. There is a lot of talk about the Soliton Wave replacing the conventional warp drive, but this seems nonsensical, because spaceships would still have to use warp engines whenever they travelled to unexplored regions of space. The Masterpiece Society and Ethics are only slightly less tedious. Following a couple of decent annual guest appearances by Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi in Seasons 3 and 4, Cost of Living returns to the standard of her first- and second-season episodes - i.e. this frivolous "story" is embarrassing to watch. The Perfect Mate, in which Picard falls in love with a woman destined for a political marriage of convenience, isn't too inspired either, as it recycles the primary story elements of the Star Trek episode Elaan of Troyius.

Still, five real duffers out of 26 episodes isn't too bad, and there are bags of extras - even more than in the last box set. This time there is more than two hours' worth of interview material, including a half-hour tribute to series creator Gene Roddenberry, who died during the making of Season 5.

As before, in addition to material specific to this season, there are also thematic discussions that analyse the series as a whole, this time covering famous guest stars and the creation of written and spoken alien languages. In fact, there is so much material here that I am left wondering why some of the more generic stuff wasn't instead used to fill out the box set of the shorter Season 2. But that is a very "glass is half-empty" view to take.

To accentuate the positive, this collection of episodes - 21 of which range from fair to fantastic - is well worth forking out for.

Richard McGinlay

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