Friday, January 20, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Relics

The Next Generation, Season 6
Airdate: October 12, 1992
129 of 176 produced
129 of 176 aired


When the Enterprise intercepts a distress signal from a ship that went missing 75 years ago, they also discover the cause of the distress - the immense gravitational pull of a Dyson Sphere. When they board the derelict vessel, they receive a surprise of a different nature - a man out of time, in the person of Captain Montgomery Scott!
Has James Doohan worked with two bald captains, now? Only Shatner's hairdresser knows for sure.


Matthew: This episode has two distinct parts (perhaps a bit too distinct, but I'll get to that in a bit). The first I'll discuss is the great character story for Scotty. It's a bit sad to say, but this may well be his biggest role in an episode or movie. Playing from a classic "Rip Van Winkle" angle, Scotty is cast as a man out of time. The transporter mechanism of getting him there is too cute by half in my book, and seems to contradict dialogue from Realm of Fear (not two episodes prior) about pattern degradation. Wouldn't a .03 percent pattern degradation be fatal? Maybe it was his missing finger? Anyway, regardless of how he gets there, his scenes while in the future were generally entertaining and touching. His scene in the holodeck with Picard is wonderful., and I enjoyed his scene with Geordi, jury-rigging the Jenolen. Both are good indications of true Star Trek fun - being able to swing between wistful remembrances of days gone by, straight to breathless "MacGuyver" style excitement. Although beaming through shields was a bit of a Deus Ex Machina, it was still fun to watch.

Kevin: I'll say that I appreciate the depth of explanation, and it's something we go into on the podcast, but the technobabble is really good. Particularly between Geordi and Scotty, it really sounded like an internally consistent set of ideas at play, even if the ideas themselves are fantastical. It keeps the too neat solution of the transporter buffer from sounding like magic. As for Scotty himself, like we said when Nimoy made an appearance in Unification, the risk of the stunt casting is it may feel like the guest star came first and the episode second, and happily I think the avoided that here. There are some issues which we'll get to, but the fish out of water story was solidly built enough to avoid that problem, and the familiarity with Scotty is intelligently mined to give the episode more emotional depth.

Matthew: The Dyson sphere concept is soooo cool. The plot we're given? Not as cool. This might count as the most half baked giant Space Beef Wellington ever. Come on, guys, you tell us that this thing is the equivalent of 250 million class M planets, and must be the product of a civilization about as far beyond the Federation as they are beyond Renaissance Italy, but you don't explore the thing, don't tell us who built it, and don't relate any aspect of its operation at all to the character story? Not landing on the interior of the sphere and even giving us even a one minute glimpse of the ruins of the "sphere builder" civilization is kind of a crime. The sheer technological superiority of a civilization capable of creating such a structure is just too big not to address, and it leave a yawning gap in this show. Just a sentence or two, even! It's as if two post it notes were close to each other on the editorial staff bulletin board, and they got mashed together.

Kevin: There are few science fiction ideas that are so grand in scope, it's actually disorienting to think about them. There are so many questions that even partial exploration would have been fascinating to contemplate. Where did the material come from? It has to literally be all the matter contained in a planet. How does it not tear itself apart? Even a minor structural problem would have to rip the thing in half. This really should have gotten its own episode, or we should have gotten more time with Geordi and Scotty exploring it. It was as ripe for engineering-related bonding, if not more so, as repairing the Jenolen.

Matthew: I had a few problems with characterization. On the one hand, Scotty seemed a bit too doddering. Being fascinated by transporter machinery? Cool. Ripping open a warp engine while shouting doom because you notice something that's changed after 75 years? Dumb. Geordi, on the other hand, even given Scotty's annoying behavior, became way too jerky way too soon. I understand the red headed ensign being a twerp. But Geordi? Even his people skills aren't that bad.

Kevin: Maybe this should have been a two-parter. We could have gotten a slower burn on Scotty and Geordi's relationship and more time with the sphere. Alternately, I think Scotty's annoyance could have been packaged as over-eager to catch up and help out. That would have made Scotty less doddering and then Geordi's annoyance could have been packaged a little more softly. That all being said, the scenes on the Jenolen are lovely. I always get a good chuckle out of "It would take a week just to get started! But we don't have a week, so no use crying about it."


Matthew: This is one of James Doohan's finer performances. He finally gets a role with a lot of emotional color to it, and he shows that he has the chops to have deserved more screen time. The doddering bits in Engineering weren't great, but that has to be at least equally to blame on writing. Overall, it was a lot of fun, and may just be the best of the three TOS guest shots we've gotten on TNG. I think what sealed the deal was "no bloody A, B, C, or D."

Kevin: I like how present the TOS characters felt for me even though we only get a single mention of Kirk's name. Having now seen all the TOS episodes, Scotty's sense of loss is really palpable, and heartbreakingly displayed. His regret is as much for the crew as the ship, and it was compelling. Something I really loved was how Scotty mentioned initial regret for Franklin, and then deflected praise for his accomplishment. It's a feather in the cap of the writers and actor that Scotty reacted appropriately to the loss of what to us is a minor character. I couldn't help but think of his reaction in WOK to young Peter Preston's death.

Matthew: I was not a big fan of LeVar Burton's acting choices here. Again, the script made him a bit too nasty, but it could have been softened in the reading. Patrick Stewart on the other hand was lovely, especially in his holodeck scene with Doohan. His character has really mellowed and grown since his bristly annoyed-guy stage early on in TNG.

Kevin: I sadly agree on Burton, and it's more sad because even with some awkward character direction, Burton usually manages to infuse Geordi with genuine warmth. The little choice of Picard sitting in a lower-placed chair was a nice touch, and subtly deferential to the elder character. I also enjoy any scene where dignified professionals take turns slamming back shots.

Production Values

Matthew: The Jenolen was a nice piece of model work, both in its overall layout as well as in the "crash" scene on the exterior of the sphere. The ship interior was a straight up re-use from "Realm of Fear," but there is nothing wrong with that per se. It was cool how they used the old transporter effect and sound.

Kevin: I liked the use of the TOS effect, as it implied the Jenolen was out of date even at the time. There are few things I love more than movie-era Okudagrams, and their use was a nice touch. The use of the refit-era nacelles was also a good touch.

Matthew: The Dyson Sphere exterior looked pretty good, but not great, having a sort of early CG look from a distance, and an oddly copy-paste look in medium shots. Close-up shots with the Jenolen model were cool, though. The sun effects were also kind of ho hum. The interior matte painting, on the other hand, is one of the coolest ever in any iteration of the series. The sheer, awesome scale of it was breathtaking.

Kevin: The rent metal effect on the surface of the sphere was really well done, and I liked that for a large grey sphere, nothing read as "Death Star." The interior matte painting gave me chills. Literally. It really raised a whole new set of questions about the reality of this idea. What must it be like to see a lake curving up the horizon? If your house is next to the entrance door, do you have a panic attack every time the door opens that you're about to swallowed by an infinite void? Cause I would.

Matthew: The holodeck enterprise bridge was a totally cool triumph for the effects staff. Nearly seamlessly mixing rotoscoped green screen footage from TOS, practical elements such as a fan made captain's chair and console, and the actors, it was wonderful to look at, and really added to the scene.

Kevin: For years, I assumed they rebuilt the whole thing, the effect was that well done. The visual clash of the two styles of ship was a nice visual reinforcement of Scotty's displacement.


Matthew: Looking at what I've written, it seems like I'm damning "Relics" with faint praise. In fact, I'm really trying not to do so, it just has so much great stuff that wasn't quite followed through on. It is a lot of fun to watch, very probably more than the sum of its parts, and I think still scrapes into the top quartile of the series, for a 4.

Kevin: There's a lot of missed opportunities, but enough ones they seized to make this a humdinger of an episode for me. The acting, with the exception of the misstep of overly-doddering Scotty, was exquisite. The emotional core of the episode is definitely in the top tier of the franchise, and coupled with even a half-baked but mind-bogglingly awesome idea comfortably puts this in 4 territory for me, for a total of 8.


This time we're joined by Matthew's sister, Elizabeth, and Kevin C. Neece, from fellow Trek blog Undiscovered Country Project. Enjoy!


  1. While I agree that I wish the episode did show more of the interior, there is the Star Trek: TNG book "Dyson Sphere".

    I kind of find the concept of a Dyson sphere to bit a bit TOO crazy, though. I love Kevin's question about looking UP at a horizon. But it is just impossible to escape the lack of feasibility of mining or creating that much matter to create such an object.

    And even if they did have the ability to create that much matter (which, I imagine, would have to be some kind of industrial matter-energy replicator system well in advance of theirs), how much time time would it take to assemble that much matter? Had this civilization developed some type of warp-speed assembly process?

  2. This episode tends to make me cringe... not because of gruff Geordi or feeling sorry for Scotty... but (to me) bringing back TOS characters is dangerous cliché territory. This episode certainly didn't flop, but, there are four cringe-worthy things to me every time I see it:
    1. The sphere is shown curved "up close". Consider the sphere is roughly 2 AUs across, which is about 186,000,000 miles across. Once the Enterprise got up close to it, it would appear to be a giant wall with no appreciable curvature. Same for the interior surface. You would have to get well away from it to see the curvature. Its outer surface would be pitch dark as well.
    2. They just barely got through the door and then they're suddenly too close to the star. That was fast! (And being up close to the gravity of the star doesn't crush their bodies--a disbelief I guess I've learned to accept in Star Trek).
    3. The impulse engines suddenly were working right when they needed them to with no explanation or announcement. When was it that they were they able to get away from the threatening star? Just when Geordie/Scotty showed up?
    4. Beaming through the shields.

    I agree, this episode would have been better appreciated as a two-parter. I can certainly see a Dyson sphere being a reality, though I can also see such a civilization that can create one as being capable of fixing their errant star.