This week marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. I was a junior in college at the time, at a height of my gaming and fandom endeavors that I wouldn’t regain for a long, long time. And now, here was a reincarnation of my beloved Star Trek. I couldn’t wait, and collected scraps of information from various television previews (Entertainment Tonight, etc.) on VHS so I could study them. Later on it would become apparent that ST:TNG was a second shot at the series Roddenberry wanted to do in the 1970’s, which ended up being turned into Star Trek The Motion Picture.
My girlfriend at the time even went so far to make me a uniform, right after the premier of the pilot episode, that I was able to wear in time for a science fiction convention in November. I didn’t win a prize, but I was one of only two people at that particular convention to have a Next Gen uniform, so I was pretty pleased with myself about that.
At the time, I was dazzled by Encounter at Farpoint, although in retrospect I see its flaws and the awkwardness of the whole show in that first season. There were some definite highlights (mostly when they harkened back to the original series, such as episodes like The Neutral Zone and Heart of Glory, and darker episodes such as Conspiracy) and some definite lows (The Naked Now, Justice, and When the Bough Breaks), but on the whole I was hooked and would remain so for its entire run.
Looking back, I think some of my attraction to the first couple of seasons was nostalgia, and I was definitely willing to put up with inferior quality just for the sake of having new Star Trek at all. But some of my current dissatisfaction with the early episodes is tinged by my comparisons with the later episodes. I see something like Too Short a Season or Angel One, both of which had a lot of great potential, and wonder what they might have been had they been done in the fifth season.
The cast definitely grew into their roles, with the exception of Patrick Stewart, who was pretty much on-target from the first. I can’t say I was particularly saddened to see Wesley Crusher go, but those episodes where he was treated like a regular member of the crew, rather than some bobble-headed wunderkind, were definitely better treatments of the character. I did prefer Dr. Pulaski to Dr. Crusher, specifically because she was a more abrasive character, and would have given us a unique lens through which to view Klingon culture, as a counterpoint to the various Worf episodes. Q and the Borg were of course terrific villains, as were the later-introduced Cardassians, but the Ferengi, who were originally intended to be the “big bads” of the show, were quickly abandoned as such and only really found traction in the next series, Deep Space 9.
As the series went on, it entered a golden age. The third, fourth, and fifth seasons were excellent (although of course not without their klunkers such as Season 5’s The Game), and of course had the series first and best cliffhanger episodes; Best of Both Worlds parts I and II. What makes them so effective is that they work on a variety of levels, dealing more with the characters than the Borg in many cases (the subtext of Riker’s concerns about aging and his career advancement were among the character’s highlights throughout the entire series).
While it did tend to wind down in the last two seasons, even they had absolutely terrific episodes (True Q, Ship in a Bottle, Gambit Parts I and II, Lower Decks, etc.) and the series finale was a fitting capstone to the whole. On the whole, I probably prefer this series to the original, although Deep Space 9 is still my favorite overall.
For whatever reason, they never really hit their stride in films, never matching the power of a Wrath of Khan or even the joyful romp of The Voyage Home. They did manage to accomplish something I never thought possible, though; they managed to make a Trek movie (Nemesis) that was worse than Star Trek V.