I can’t believe that Star Trek: The Next Generation is celebrating its 30th anniversary today. As a kid, I eagerly watched every single episode. The U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) and its crew were my friends and companions. I had all of the action figures (including 2 of Lt. Commander Data so that one could be his evil brother, Lore), a Bridge playset, an Engineering playset, a transporter playset, tricorder and phaser replicas… let’s just say that if there was a Star Trek: TNG toy available, I had it. Yes, my grandparents spoiled me rotten.
TNG is as much a part of me today as it was when I was a child. I carried the lessons learned from those episodes that I watched during childhood into adulthood. That it is not weak to show kindness or to lose. That no one is so important that they have the right to usurp the rights of another. That we aren’t perfect, and we are all still learning, and that’s okay.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of TNG, I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite episodes. Feel free to add your own favorite episodes in the comments!
10. I Borg
A Borg separated from the Collective finds independent sentience, which makes the members of the crew of the Enterprise reluctant to use him as the carrier of a virus that could potentially wipe out the Borg. The interaction with the Borg, Hugh, and the moral dilemma presented make for a fantastic episode. I’m pretty sure the character of Hugh is what gave birth to the idea of the character that eventually became Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager.
The quintessential episode to quote if anyone ever asks you, who would win in a battle: Worf or Data? Unlike me, however, you might not want to quote the episode by its actual name. Well, unless you’re fine with being outed as an ubar-geek. When the holodeck malfunctions, all of the characters in Worf and his son Alexander’s cowboy western take on Data’s likeness and attributes. Overall, a very fun episode allowing Brent Spiner to stretch his acting legs.
I admit that season one of TNG was a bit hokey, but with episodes like The Measure of a Man, TNG really started to come into its own in the second season. The episode deals with Data, as he is put on “trial” to determine whether he is his own person or merely the property of the Federation because he is a machine. Fantastic acting on the part of Mr Frakes — whose Commander Riker must deliver a case against Data — really adds to this episode.
As you may or may not know, I’m a big fan of Marvel’s What If? series of comics. Tapestry is sort of a What If? of Captain Picard’s life. Killed by a shot to his artificial heart at the beginning of the episode, Picard is dead and finds out some most unappealing news: Q is God (“I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you; the universe is not so badly designed.”). Q gives Picard the chance to relive his life and never get into the fight that gave him his artificial heart. Picard witnesses first hand the butterfly effect as every action and inaction in his second-chance life leads to a new and different life — one that makes Picard realize that who he was in his “foolish” younger years has made him into who he is today.
This is, by far, one of the strongest and best Picard episodes out there. Kidnapped by aliens and stranded on a planet with the leader of the aliens who kidnapped him, Picard must overcome a language barrier that not even the Universal Translator can overcome. Patrick Stewart’s acting is at his finest, and while there isn’t a lot of action in this episode, there is still plenty thought-provoking dialog. I’m pretty sure our lead staff writer, Dan, might disagree with my assessment of this episode as I’m pretty sure that he dissed this episode in one of this Surfing Sci-Fi roundups. That’s okay; he also likes the Sookie Stackhouse books, so nobody is perfect (I kid, of course. Dan is awesome).
Kidnapped by the Borg, Captain Picard has become Locutus of Borg, a voice for the Collective. The Borg have come in full force and intend to destroy and assimilate the Federation. These episodes push everyone’s acting skills to the limit as the crew of the Enterprise find themselves struggling between their duty to protect the Federation and their loyalty to Picard and their desire to rescue him. This is truly one of the defining points for the Federation and for TNG as a series.
Scanned by an alien probe, Captain Picard falls unconscious for 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes, he lives for decades as Kamin, a man from the planet the probe originated. The probe was designed to seek out someone with whom to share the story of a planet that died over a thousand years ago so that the information they learned might be passed on — and so that the people and their world might live on in a way. Inside the probe, there is a box containing a flute — the same flute that Picard-As-Kamin plays throughout his life; as Riker leaves, Picard expertly plays the instrument. I find this to be one of the deepest and most beautiful episodes in the series. It’s obvious that Picard is deeply affected by his life as Kamin — the life he can never have, with a wife and family. Pulling Picard into the memories of another is a great way to tell a story-within-the-story and let the writers explore an alien planet that would have otherwise never been seen or known of by the Federation.
Picard, Crusher, and Worf are sent on a secret mission to the Cardassian planet Celtris III to find a mutagenic weapons facility. The mission is based on false information, and Picard is captured. Before the beginning of the mission, the Enterprise is handed over to Captain Jellico, whom the crew seem to take an instant dislike to. These episodes deal with many things at once — the crew’s inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to settle in with their new commanding officer, and the search for the kidnapped Picard — but the focus of this two-part episode is primarily on Picard himself as he is tortured and interrogated by Gul Madred, who is quite obviously (to the audience) toying with Picard. He promises to free Picard if the man will say that his prison room has five lights, when there are really only four. Finally, as Picard is taken from Gul Madred so that he can be returned to the Federation, he turns to his captor and torturer and shouts, “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” Once again, Patrick Stewart’s acting abilities never cease to amaze me. This is also the last episode of TNG to air before the beginning of DS9, so the tie-in with the Cardassians is a very good one.
Although this is a very early episode in the series (about halfway through the third season to be precise), I find it to be one of the best. Taking darker elements from the TOS episode Mirror, Mirror, the appearance of an old Federation starship causes a drastic shift in the timeline, bringing a new reality where the Federation is at war and the Enterprise is a ship of battle rather than a ship of exploration. The only clue that things are out of place seems to be Guinnan’s unease about the entire situation — especially in regard to the alive-again Tasha Yar. Although I’m not extremely thrilled about the “Tasha-Romulan” episodes that came out of Yesterday’s Enterprise, there’s no doubt in my mind that the episode itself is one of the most powerful in the series.
Some series end with a bang. Some end with a shoulder shrug. Others are just cut off without any real ending whatsoever. Should I ever have a Sci-Fi series of my own, I would like for it to end its tenure with the class and poise that TNG’s last episode presented. Picard finds himself out of sync with time, going back and forth into different parts of his life — past and future alike — and soon discovers that humanity will cease to be because of him — thanks to Q. Never giving up, Picard fights to the bitter end, proving once again that humanity has its place amongst the stars. Picard laments that he hopes to never find himself in Q’s courtroom again, but Q reminds Picard that the trial of humanity never ends. As the episode ends, Captain Picard — for the first time — sits down to play poker with the senior staff — his colleagues and friends. The series may have come to a close, but the mission of the Enterprise endures as they boldly go where no one has gone before.