Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: Encounter at Farpoint

Airdate: September 28, 1987
1 of 176 produced
1 of 176 aired


The movie franchise finally having convinced Paramount that Star Trek could be a money making property, Gene Roddenberry was courted by studio executives to create a new television show based upon it. This new show would be syndicated, meaning no direct network control or censorship. It would have a budget of $1 million per episode, relieving some of the dire financial pressure that squeezed TOS so harmfully. In effect, Roddenberry is promised a certain degree of carte blanche, and he takes it and runs with it. Re-uniting some of the key players from his TOS production crew (Bob Justman, D.C. Fontana, William Ware Theiss, and David Gerrold, among others), and adding great new talent discovered over the run of the movies (Andrew Probert, Rick Sternbach, Herman Zimmerman, and the incomparable Mike Okuda), Roddenberry sets out to "do it right," creating a show that aims to be superior in every way to TOS, better stories, better production values, more realism, fixing some of the problems of the previous show. Does he succeed? Time will be the judge. In this first installment, written by D.C. Fontana and Roddenberry, we meet our new crew, see their new vessel, and run into a chaotically omnipotent entity who threatens to mothball the whole new voyage before it even begins.

The mothballs are hidden inside the foofy hat.


Matthew: Any discussion of this episode has to mention that it is a bit schizophrenic. Apparently, Paramount pressured Roddenberry to expand a 1 hour pilot out to 2 hours. Thus, where he had just begun with the Farpoint story, the Q story was grafted on after the fact. It's probably a pretty good thing, too, since the Farpoint story taken on its own was rather boring. In general, there is a feeling of "padding" to scenes here and there, such as the saucer reattachment, the space jellyfish cavorting with each other, and other scenes of that nature.

Kevin: Pacing would have to be the biggest problem in terms of writing. On their own, both storylines are good and good Star Trek. Their marriage is a little clunky. Like in TMP, I understand we're going to spend a little more time looking at stuff, since it's all new and shiny, but they went over the line in a few places, particularly the space jelly scenes.

Matthew: I love me some post-apocalyptic sci-fi, and we get a very evocative scene in Q's trial. What's great is that we get this in the first episode of TNG - it's been a question burning in Trek fans' minds since TOS - what the heck happened in between now and then? There are mentions of World War III, Colonel Green, the Eugenics Wars, and the like. But they're always just little snippets of dialogue. Here it is fleshed out in horrifying detail, and placed in a definite time frame for the "post atomic horror", 2079.

Kevin: You know what still freaks me out to this day? That dude with the busted umbrella. There's something depressing about a world where someone would cling to that. I would have liked a little more explicit connection to the canon established in TOS, just say the words "eugenics" and "wars" somewhere, but that's a small complaint. I think these images would have even more resonance with audiences at the time. The fall of the Soviet Union was a few years off, so this would still carry a ring of terrifying possibility.

Matthew: For the most part, I think the character introductions were pretty well handled. In a very efficient manner, we are introduced to two key romantic dyads, Riker/Troi and Picard/Crusher. We also get Geordi's uniqueness, Wesley's precociousness, and the Data/Pinocchio story.  The only characters that seem to get short shrift are Worf and Yar. Although they get a fair number of lines, they come off pretty one note. And outside of her Imzadi-crush on Riker, Troi's scenes are rather painful in the worst Troi way... "Pain!" Some characterizations are noticeably different than what we will eventually get throughout the series, but I consider this more a strength than a weakness. Watching characters evolve over time is one of TNG's (and later Trek's) great joys.

Kevin: Part of the problem for me is that the first TNG I saw was seasons three, four, and five, so I first saw these characters different and more established than they are here, so I can't quite separate out my knowledge of what's to come from watching this episode. But, even though I know these characters aren't fully formed yet, I can see an audience finding enough there to remain interested.

Matthew: Overall, I was much more interested in the Q storyline than the space jellyfish story. It's a good thing that the pressure of the Q trial was added onto the Farpoint story, because things could have been pretty ho-hum otherwise.

Kevin: The greatest strength of the Q storyline is that it manages, in a very subtle way, to establish the central theme and arc of the series, one that will be beautifully resolved in the series finale. Has humanity evolved with its technology? What kind of people have we become? What kind of people will we become? It's the perfect rubric to analyze the crew's actions. Also, Q is the perfect nemesis for Picard. Picard is a man of duty and conscience. He feels responsibility in every aspect of his life. A Kang or a Khan isn't quite the symmetrical villain for Picard. They also feel things like duty and loyalty, just with a different focus. Picard's true arch-enemy is one that is powerful and intelligent like he is, but not bothered with the weight of the universe. Q's casual dismissal of things he's worked for or the easy and thoughtless was he uses his vast power must strike Picard as truly horrifying.


Matthew: Personally, I found Frakes' Riker to be the most charming and interesting character on this show. You get the feeling that it was going to be a bit more Riker-centric show than Picard-centric. He would be executing orders, going on away missions, etc. And Frakes is more than up to the task. He is the Shatner of the show, here. But Patrick Stewart's sheer stage presence can't be denied, and probably took over before things went too far. Both are big fun to watch.

Kevin: I like that TNG is consciously a more ensemble show than TOS. I like having more people to care about. And yes, characters like Crusher and Troi will get severely short shrift on the scripts, but the moments they all have on screen always play as truly ensemble pieces. Picard is definitely the best-trained actor in the bunch, but he never consciously or unconsciously upstages his castmates. 

Matthew: John De Lancie is amazing, great, wonderful, brilliant, from syllable one of his performance. It's scenery chewing without the teeth marks. It just feels so good to watch him. "Irrepressible" was used to describe Q, and it describes De Lancie's performance to a tee.

Kevin: I've said before how acting in science fiction is a tightrope walk between conviction and overkill, and John DeLancie could teach the master course in it. From his first sneering lines in crazy costumes, you know he believes what he is saying, and he delivers his speeches perfectly. I also want to give a shoutout to DeForrest Kelley, who gave a lovely cameo as Dr. McCoy. Data is clearly the Spock avatar, so the banter works on its own and as acknowledgement of that. "She's got the right name. Treat her like a lady, and she'll always bring you home" may be one of my favorite lines in the franchise, thanks largely to the perfect delivery.

Production Values

Matthew: Although things won't achieve their effortless, polished look until let's say Season 3, you can see the strengths of the designs straight away. Andrew Probert, Rick Sternbach, Michael Okuda, and Herman Zimmerman have created a beautiful look, from the ship exterior, to the room design, to the artwork, to the graphics. It's totally convincing from the get-go, and makes you go "ooh" and "aah" and want to have this nifty stuff. The designs do a great job of embodying Roddenberry's idea of "Technology Unchained," an aesthetic that reflects a world more concerned with improvements to quality of life, over and above having the newest, most powerful "thing." These sets aren't bristling with metal and buttons, they are sleek and organic. You're supposed to feel good using them, and I for one definitely feel good watching them.

Kevin: I've said it before and I'll say it again, the D is hands down my favorite ship in the franchise. It looks like it wouldn't leave a wake if it moved through water. It's elegant and stately and powerful. The interiors are just as great. The warm color palette is appealing, and never feels dated to the 80s (the hairstyles do that just fine). The uniforms are among my favorites as well. I will like them more when they make them separates in season 3, but the color blocking feels mature and uniform-like while retaining the fields of bold colors that made the original so appealing. I like that they are slightly muted versions of the original colors. It drives home the idea that Federation is older and more established by now.

Matthew: The Farpoint and Bandi City model work is not great. Apparently, they only had a week to execute the designs. It kind of showed.

Kevin: I was not really a fan of the corridors inside the space jellies. The textures felt odd to me, and not in a good way.


Matthew: Although it is uneven in story, acting, and pacing, there is a momentum, happiness, and lightness that really sells this episode and, I will argue, the whole series. If the pilot fails to draw you in, the whole show could be in danger. A new Trek series with completely different settings and actors is a tough sell in 1987. But the nearly perfect casting and designs overcome any issues with writing and pacing. Nevertheless, the story is strong enough to not need too many apologetics - Q is really cool and is used perfectly here. I always enjoy watching this episode, and I consider it a 4. It's not a transcendently good classic, but it is a lot of fun.  

Kevin: I agree, this is a 4, for a total of 8. There's a lot of stuff here that will resonate throughout the series and make TNG what it is. Some pacing problems and some creaky dialogue (specifically the PAIN! and the LONELINESS!) keep this from a 5. But there is certainly enough here to make the viewer tune in next week, whether they were TOS fans or not, and enough nods to canon to keep the TOS fans from storming Paramount demanding blood. All in all, a very good start.



  1. We'll be determining and announcing that in the next day or two.

  2. Ahhhhh... okay! This was a great review, by the way. If we have a Trek night sometime soon, I'd love to do a guest review with you!

  3. I think this is one of our better podcasts, too.

  4. I'm kind of surprised you gave it a 4. I have to watch it again to see if I would give it that, but I remember the last time I watched this thinking it wasn't super compared to the TNG stories I love to watch over and over again. Just remembering it I would want to give it a 3.

    Maybe I should watch it again after work someday and see if I remember how it went correctly.

  5. Watching it in HD has me almost wanting to retroactively grant it a 5. But that's just a knee jerk reaction. The story issues are still there, even in HD.

    The production values score definitely would receive an uptick, though, since was can now see just how wonderful those values are. The special effects are actually legitimately "movie quality," a fact which was not evident in 480i resolution.

  6. Really? An 8 you guys? This was the most boring episode ever. I rarely watch in on rewatch and when I do, it always makes me want to break down and yawn. it was campy, cheesy, rigid, ridiculous and childish. Troi looks like an intergalactic cheerleader and everyone talks like in slow motion. Even Q sucked and he rarely ever sucks and is unlikeable.

    1. The review starts with an acknowledgement that half the story is boring. But the other half is gangbusters. Tat, combined with really effective character acting/introductions and a lot of introductory excitement, pushes this to a 4 in my book.