Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ – “Emissary”

25 years ago saw the beginning of a daring new chapter in the ‘Star Trek’ legacy…

Trek DS9 Emissary - cast

Beyond the Final Frontier: the crew of Deep Space Nine.

Year:  1993

Starring:  Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Siddig El Fadil, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Marc Alaimo

Series created by:  Rick Berman & Michael Piller (Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Michael Piller (story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller) / episode directed by:  David Carson

What’s it about?

Commander Benjamin Sisko is assigned to take command of Deep Space Nine, a surrendered Cardassian space station and upon the discovery of a wormhole leading to a distant corner of the galaxy makes contact with mysterious alien entities that exist within…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation at the peak of its popularity on television and plans for the cast to transition to the big screen, Paramount decided they wanted a new Star Trek series that would overlap with the final two seasons of The Next Generation.  Created by Rick Berman (guardian of the Star Trek franchise following the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991) together with Michael Piller (head writer on The Next Generation), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would present a slightly different take on Star Trek, focusing on a darker section of the universe that would allow for more conflict and drama whilst upholding the core principles of Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision and his intention to use the series as a vehicle for telling stories about the human condition.  In unison with Star Trek’s celebration of diversity, Avery Brooks – the first African American actor in the lead role of a Star Trek series – would head up the cast as Commander Benjamin Sisko.

“Emissary”, the feature length premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (first airing in January 1993), sees Commander Sisko, three years after the loss of his wife Jennifer (Felicia M. Bell) during Starfleet’s battle with the Borg at Wolf 359 (events which took place during classic Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds” and depicted in the exciting pre-titles teaser for “Emissary”) taking up assignment as commanding officer of the space station Deep Space Nine, which Starfleet has been invited to administer by the Bajorans – a deeply religious race who have been liberated from the brutal occupation of the militaristic Cardassian Union.  Raising his young son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) alone, Sikso finds the situation less than ideal but finds he must try and convince the station’s business owners to stay and maintain their community and help guide the Bajoran people to a better future and eventual membership in the United Federation of Planets.

Events take a mysterious turn when Sisko meets with the Bajaron spiritual leader (Kai Opaka – played by Camille Saviola), who believes Sisko is prophesied to become the emissary of the ‘Prophets’ – entities who are the deities of Bajoran faith – and urges him to find the ‘Celestial Temple’.  The enigma is unravelled with the discovery of an unusually stable wormhole near Bajor and Sisko makes contact with the entities residing within – the very Prophets of Bajoran theology.  Tension mounts with the arrival of Cardassian warships as the crew of DS9 prepare to move the station near to the mouth of the wormhole, which leads to a distant unexplored region of the galaxy known as the ‘Gamma Quadrant’, whilst Sisko attempts to prove to the Prophets, who are non-corporeal and have no perception of linear time, that he – and others like him – do not pose a threat.

Trek DS9 Emissary - station

The titular space station itself.

Avery Brooks is a solid leading man and has a lot to explore in “Emissary”, from the pain of his wife’s death and the caring relationship with his son to the loss of direction and eventual restoration of hope and belief in Starfleet’s mission and the principles of the Federation, Michael Piller’s script provides plenty of substance.  Filling out the rest of the central cast is Nana Visitor as Sisko’s waspish Bajoran second-in-command, Major Kira, Terry Farrell as Lt. Jadzia Dax (the new host of the Dax ‘symbiont’, previously carried by Sisko’s old friend, Curzon), the brilliant Rene Auberjonois as DS9’s gruff chief of security, ‘Constable’ Odo – a shape shifting alien of unknown origin, Colm Meaney as Chief of Operations, Miles O’Brien (a popular supporting character from The Next Generation), Siddig El Fadil (who would later adopt the stage name Alexander Siddig) as the young and eager chief medical officer, Doctor Julian Bashir and Armin Shimerman as Ferengi barkeeper – and thorn in Odo’s side – Quark (Shimerman coincidentally appeared as one of the first Ferengi in The Next Generation).  There’s an element of conflict at the outset that continues on into the first season to a certain degree and its rewarding as the characters grow and their relationships solidify, galvanising the crew of DS9.

In the tradition of Star Trek it’s a rich and varied set of characters, representative of different cultures both human and alien and this cross section of life together with the darker, more volatile backdrop of the series go on to fuel stories that parallel numerous social, political and religious themes.  The discovery of the wormhole also allows for missions of exploration to the Gamma Quadrant, ensuring Deep Space Nine isn’t completely landlocked and fulfilling the ‘trek’ aspect of the franchise.

“Emissary” also boasts a guest role for Patrick Stewart as The Next Generation’s Captain Picard (as well as the Enterprise) and the introduction of the superb Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat, the former Cardassian prefect of occupied Bajor.  Alaimo (who, as with Shimerman, played one of the first Cardassians on The Next Generation) would recur throughout the seven season run of Deep Space Nine, becoming one of the show’s most interesting characters and one of Star Trek’s greatest villains.

The production design by Herman Zimmerman is another notable aspect and given that DS9 is an alien facility (designed by the Cardassians and built by Bajorans) he’s afforded the opportunity to stretch his creative legs and create the world of DS9 virtually from scratch and it contributes greatly to the darker, slightly more otherworldly look and feel of the show in comparison to the previous Star Trek series.

Confidently directed by David Carson – who would shortly graduate to the silver screen with Star Trek: Generations“Emissary” does a decent job of introducing the central players and setting of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and whilst it would take a couple of seasons or so for the series to fully hit its stride, it would become an exceptional addition to the Star Trek universe with strong, well developed characters and some truly outstanding episodes that rank amongst the very best of the franchise and SF TV drama in general.

Geek fact!

J.G. Hertzler, who would later recur in the series as General Martok, appears (credited as John Noah Hertzler) in “Emissary” as the U.S.S. Saratoga’s Vulcan captain.

Images herein are used for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owners.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ – “Broken Bow”

Sixteen years before ‘Discovery’, there was another ‘Star Trek’ prequel…

Ent Broken Bow Crew

The crew of first ‘Star Trek’ prequel ‘Enterprise’.

Starring:  Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, John Billinglsey, Anthony Montgomery, Linda Park, John Fleck, Vaughn Armstrong, Gary Graham, Tommy Lister Jr

Series created by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga / Episode directed by:  James L. Conway / 2001

What’s the episode about?

On a mission to return an injured Klingon to his homeworld, the starship Enterprise and her crew are thrust into conflict with an alien race known as the Suliban…

Retrospective

Airing back in September 2001, “Broken Bow” is the feature-length premiere of the fifth live-action Star Trek television series, Enterprise (sans the ‘Star Trek’ prefix, which would be added from the show’s third season).  Created by Rick Berman, the franchise’s head producer (and its guardian following the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991) together with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager writer/producer Brannon Braga, Enterprise is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series set over a century prior to the voyages of Captain Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise and a decade before the formation of the galactic coalition known as the United Federation of Planets.

With “Broken Bow”, the story of Enterprise begins in 2151, almost a century after Earth’s first contact with the Vulcans (as seen in the 1996 feature film Star Trek: First Contact) at a time when the human race has recovered from the devastation of World War III and set their sights on the stars.  With the assistance and guidance of the Vulcan High Command, Earth has begun developing newer and faster starships, the latest of which is the Enterprise NX-01 – the first Starfleet vessel to incorporate the revolutionary Warp 5 engine that will allow humans to head out into deep space on a mission of peaceful exploration and contact with alien races.

“Broken Bow” opens with the crash landing of a Klingon on Earth, being pursued by mysterious alien soldiers from a race called the Suliban.  Wounded during the pursuit, despite the objections of the Vulcan High Command, Starfleet decides to launch Enterprise on a mission to Qo’nos, the Klingon homeworld, and return the injured Klingon – named Klaang (Tommy Lister Jr) – to his people.  It’s not exactly plain sailing however and when the Suliban capture Klaang mid-voyage, the crew of Enterprise are thrust into danger as they set out to locate and rescue the Klingon from his captors.

“Broken Bow” unfolds at a steady pace, its earlier sections taking time to introduce the main characters and the general setting of Enterprise, notching things up once the NX-01 embarks on her maiden voyage.  As the plot progresses we learn that the Suliban aggressors are a cabal of genetically enhanced soldiers, receiving orders from a mysterious benefactor (James Horan), communicating with them from the future and are fighting a ‘Temporal Cold War’ in which various competing factions are attempting to manipulate the timeline in their favour.  Here, the Suliban are planning to incite a Klingon civil war, evidence of which Klaang has obtained and which the Suliban are desperate to recover.

Ent Broken Bow NX-01

The wonderfully designed Enterprise NX-01, ready to launch into deep space…

With a desire to return to more character-driven stories, Berman and Braga ensured that they populated Enterprise with engaging characters.  Always their first choice for the lead, Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula is Captain Jonathan Archer, whose father, Henry, designed the Warp 5 engine.  Bakula brings a grounded, believable quality to the role and the flashbacks to Archer’s childhood are a neat addition that bring dimension to the character as we see how his relationship with his father drives his determination as an explorer and pioneer.  The rest of the principal cast comprises Jolene Blalock as Sub-Commander T’Pol, a Vulcan Science Officer posted to Enterprise at the insistence of the High Command, Connor Trinneer as spirited Chief Engineer Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III, Dominic Keating as Armoury Officer – and dutiful Englishman – Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Anthony Montgomery as Helmsman Ensign Travis Mayweather, a ‘space boomer’ born and raised on an Earth cargo ship and Communications Officer and gifted linguist Ensign Hoshi Sato.  Completing the crew’s complement are Archer’s pet Beagle, Porthos and the ‘Denobulan’ Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Phlox played with a wonderfully quirky charm by John Billingsley.  The central threat of the Suliban is headed up by the nefarious Silik, played John Fleck (no stranger to Star Trek, having previously guest starred in episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager).  Silik, the Suliban Cabal and the theme of the Temporal Cold War would be revisited throughout the four season run of Enterprise and would prove a compelling and intriguing storytelling component for the series.

Overall, the script for “Broken Bow” is decent, the direction (by experienced Trek director James L. Conway) solid and the cast and their respective characters are instantly likeable.  The Emmy Award winning visual effects are also excellent and hold up well today.  “Broken Bow” boasts numerous exciting action sequences, from the opening cornfield chase to the Suliban’s infiltration of Enterprise and the escape of Archer and his landing party from Rigel X through to the battle within the atmosphere of a gas giant and the climactic face-off between Archer and Silik onboard the Suliban’s ‘Helix’ base.

The show’s production design, by Herman Zimmerman (another Star Trek veteran, having worked on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as well as several of the feature films) is another strong component, the interior of the NX-class Enterprise given a cramped, submarine-esque layout with a nifty combination of LCD screen technology and physical, switch based control systems that gives the show a slightly retro-futuristic look that acknowledges the advancement of modern technology whilst retaining its place within the Star Trek timeline.  Along with the costume design (the flight-suit style crew uniforms a highlight), props and the ever impressive make-up by Michael Westmore and his team, Enterprise remains as visually appealing as it was over fifteen years ago.

Ent Suliban

The Suliban: another example of make-up maestro Michael Westmore’s talents.

Having Enterprise take place before the original Star Trek allows the series to present some fresh takes on the familiar.  The Vulcans of the 22nd Century are not quite as noble as they are in the other Star Trek series and tend to have a condescending attitude towards humans (believing they are not yet ready to join the interstellar community), adding an element of conflict to the show.  Similarly, humans are more fallible making the characters more relatable whilst still injecting them with the drive to learn and improve in accordance with Gene Roddenberry’s positive vision for humankind’s future.  Another notable departure concerns the iconic Star Trek technologies, most of which here are in their infancy or don’t yet exist – the universal translator can be unreliable, there are no shields, phasers are called ‘phase pistols’ and the transporter has only just been approved for bio-transport and reluctantly used by the crew as a last resort.

It’s known that Paramount were nervous about producing a Star Trek prequel series, perhaps fearing that audiences had become accustomed to and seemingly favoured the 24th Century setting of previous spin-offs The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  In fact, the studio were even more hesitant about Berman and Braga’s initial concept for Enterprise, where they envisioned a predominantly Earth-based first season examining political and social concerns surrounding the construction and eventual launch of Enterprise and humanity’s first voyage into deep space.

“Broken Bow” is comfortably the strongest premiere of the Berman-era Star Trek series and although Enterprise would struggle with dwindling viewership and gradual loss of interest in the franchise at that point (which sparked the show’s edgier direction in season 3) it’s still an enjoyable, underappreciated chapter in the Star Trek story.

Geek fact!  “Broken Bow” features a cameo from James Cromwell as Warp Drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, reprising his role from Star Trek: First Contact.

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ – Season One

How was Star Trek’s long awaited return to television?

ST Disc 01 - Title

‘Star Trek’ goes boldly once more in CBS series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Warning!  Contains major spoilers for season one of Star Trek: Discovery

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh.

Series created by:  Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

As war rages between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, disgraced officer Michael Burnham is assigned to the U.S.S. Discovery, enlisted by her Captain to aid him in ending the conflict by all means…

In review

Launched last September, Star Trek: Discovery saw Gene Roddenberry’s beloved science fiction franchise return to television screens for the first time since the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.  Received with trepidation from some fans but generating a generally positive critical response, season one of Star Trek: Discovery is arguably the strongest debut of a Star Trek series since 1966.

Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman (both of whom have previous history with the franchise) Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250’s – ten years prior to the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock et al and the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Original Series (and a century after previous prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise).  Given the advancement in real world technology, special effects in television and film and the tastes and preferences of audiences in 2017 there is naturally a certain degree of reimagining and modernisation in the look and feel of the series that, aided by a lavish budget afforded by it being produced for U.S. streaming service CBS All Access (and rolled out internationally via Netflix) provide Discovery with a feature film quality from the exemplary set, costume and make-up design to its stunning visual effects and beautiful cinematography this is a Star Trek series that truly blurs the line between television and film.

ST Disc 02 - Crew

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ boasts another solid ‘Star Trek’ cast.

Just as Star Trek: The Next Generation was a Star Trek for the 80’s and 90’s, Discovery is a Star Trek for the 2010’s where television dramas have become more complex and viewers more demanding.  Taking a long-form approach now common place for a TV series, the fifteen episode first season of Star Trek: Discovery forms one continuous story arc, commencing with the two-part premiere “The Vulcan Hello”/”Battle at the Binary Stars” which introduces Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), First Officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and whose crewmates include the Kelpien Science Officer Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones).  In a refreshing departure from previous Trek series this premiere serves as a prologue to Discovery, the majority of its recurring cast and the titular U.S.S. Discovery herself not making their debut until the show’s third episode, in which Burnham commits mutiny, that despite believing she is acting in the interests of Starfleet and the principles of the Federation, leads to war with classic Trek adversaries the Klingons (sporting a radical and controversial new look that takes some adjustment to but ultimately gives the race a more elaborately alien appearance).

ST Disc 03 - Klingons

A controversial new look for the Klingons.

Thus, the main narrative core of this first season becomes one about redemption as Burnham (who we learn was orphaned in a Klingon attack and subsequently raised by Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek – played by Gotham’s James Frain) re-examines her values and strives to regain hope and her place in the universe.  This marks another departure from the other iterations of Star Trek in that the series is focused mainly on a character other than a Starfleet captain.

The premiere concludes with Burnham being stripped of her commission and sentenced to prison for her actions but in episode three (“Context is for Kings”) finds herself assigned as a ‘specialist’ to the U.S.S. Discovery, Starfleet’s most advanced vessel incorporating an experimental star-drive that allows the ship to tap into a universe-spanning, interdimensional ‘mycelial’ spore network and jump instantaneously to any given point in space.  The ship is captained by the mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), an uncompromising commander prepared to do all that is necessary to win the war, with Lt. Saru serving as his first officer and a crew including Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who becomes the spore-drive’s ‘navigator/operator’ and is also Star Trek’s first openly gay regular character, his partner Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), an awkward but optimistic Starfleet cadet whose burgeoning friendship with Burnham helps to define both characters.

What’s immediately clear is that Discovery is a somewhat darker take on Gene Roddenberry’s baby, but in a manner that simply allows the writers, in true Roddenberry fashion, to examine the human condition and discuss the social and political issues of the day, coupling it with compelling character drama…those optimistic ideals of Star Trek are still there and peppered throughout the series as it becomes more and more ‘Trek-like’.  There may be aspects that some fans will nitpick about, but Discovery has to be approached with an open mind and it’s commendable that the writers have managed to strike a decent balance between catering to hardcore Trekkies and engaging new viewers who may never have seen Star Trek before.

Star Trek: Discovery boasts a superb cast with well-defined characters who grow and develop in leaps and bounds during the course of the season.  Sonequa Martin-Green is the reliable lead and Burnham’s journey is an interesting one, a human raised as a Vulcan who we see slowly regain her human heritage and deal with the mistakes she has made.  Doug Jones is a huge highlight as Saru, proving once again how adept he is at conveying raw emotion through heavy prosthetics, Jason Isaacs is gripping as the devious, sometimes brutal Lorca, Anthony Rapp infuses Lt. Stamets with a pleasing dose of Bones-esque irascibility and Mary Wiseman projects Tilly with the right mix of nervous energy and general likeability.  Joining the crew in “Choose Your Pain“ is Security Chief Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) which is also one of two episodes to feature another original Star Trek character: intergalactic conman Harry Mudd, played with verve by The Office’s Rainn Wilson who returns in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad“, a rather excellent time-loop romp in the vein of TNG classic “Cause and Effect”.  Much like Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, there’s an initial element of conflict between the various characters but as the series begins to take shape the relationships gradually start to settle and by the season finale there’s that definite sense of family we’ve had with other Star Trek crews beginning to blossom.

It’s fair to say that Discovery’s Klingon arc isn’t always consistently prominent (although recurring guest star Mary Chieffo plays an important role as L’Rell) but the backdrop of war gives the writers the opportunity to tackle various moral and ethical issues and dropping more character-driven episodes into the mix – -including Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer’s superb Saru-centric episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum“ – helps the cast to really start hitting their groove.

ST Disc 04 - Saru

The incomparable Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru.

Following a mid-season break, Star Trek: Discovery’s six-episode ‘second chapter’ saw the U.S.S. Discovery transported to Star Trek’s Mirror Universe (first featured in fan-favourite TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror”), ruled by the evil Terran Empire.  It’s an arc that sees the series kick things up a notch and numerous threads come together, culminating in revelations concerning two of Discovery’s crew – not only do we learn that Lorca is in fact his Mirror Universe counterpart but also that Tyler is actually Voq, the albino-skinned Klingon from the series premiere, a sleeper agent surgically altered and conditioned to appear human.  These twists, whilst more anticipated than unexpected (the seeds quite clearly planted) lead to dramatic consequences – not in the least for Burnham who had begun a romantic relationship with Tyler.  Shazad Latif handles the ensuing struggle between Tyler’s two identities with aplomb and the shifting dynamic between Burnham and Tyler is beautifully played.

Similarly, Jason Isaacs is able to let loose with uninhibited villainy as Mirror Lorca – right through to his blazing demise.  The same can be said of Empress Georgiou, with a returning Michelle Yeoh in delightfully devilish form, whose uneasy alliance with Burnham becomes a key aspect of the final episodes of the season.

Both the Mirror Universe and Klingon War arcs are wrapped up pretty quickly in the final two episodes of season one, not quite the intense earth-shattering finale some viewers may have anticipated but leaves the viewer with hope as Burnham, her status as a Starfleet officer restored, gives an emotional and poignant address about the true virtues of Starfleet and the Federation as entities of peace, understanding and exploration.  Saving its biggest punch for last, the finale (titled “Will You Take My Hand?”) closes as Discovery, en route to Vulcan to pick up her new captain, encounters another Starfleet vessel…the U.S.S. Enterprise!  This certainly opens up a galaxy of possibilities for season two of Star Trek: Discovery, a series that has shown good potential in its first season and can surely only get better? As Picard once said, “the sky’s the limit…”.

The bottom line:  A promising start to the newest Star Trek series, season one of Star Trek: Discovery boasts a solid cast and decent writing, that, coupled with strong production values has much to offer fans and new viewers alike.

All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season one (as well as post-show companion series After Trek) are currently available to stream via Netflix (worldwide) and CBS All Access (U.S. only).

All images belong: CBS, used for illustrative purposes only.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – “Encounter at Farpoint”

Trek TNG Farpoint 2

An all-new Starship Enterprise for a new ‘Star Trek’ venture…

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, John de Lancie, Michael Bell

Series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

Written by:  D.C. Fontana & Gene Roddenberry / Episode directed by:  Corey Allen / 1987

What’s the episode about?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise find themselves placed on trial by a powerful alien entity and must prove that humanity is no longer a savage race as they attempt to solve the mysteries of the enigmatic Farpoint Station…

Retrospective

It’s hard to believe that Star Trek’s second –and highly successful – foray into television is now thirty years old.  Whilst the original voyages of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise are arguably Star Trek at its purist and best, for many it was Star Trek: The Next Generation that was their gateway drug to a vast science fiction universe and a worldwide phenomenon that endures today.

With the popularity of the original Star Trek cast’s big screen adventures (which hit fever pitch with the release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986) a new series made for an easy sell – albeit a risky one when the concept meant introducing a whole new set of characters and an all-new Enterprise and their adventures in the 24th Century, almost 80 years after the times of Kirk and his crew.

Paramount television felt it was worth a shot and enlisted Gene Roddenberry to create this new iteration – Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Assembling some familiar faces in his production and writing staff including Star Trek producer Robert Justman and writers Dorothy ‘D.C.’ Fontana (who also served as head writer on the vastly underrated animated series) and David Gerrold (mastermind of fan favourite episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”), Roddenberry set out to perfect his vision of the future.

Originally intended as a single hour story, written by Fontana, “Encounter at Farpoint” was expanded into a two-hour premiere at the insistence of Paramount and the reticence of Gene Roddenberry who would add a framing plot to the overall story – coupling Fontana’s Farpoint Station mystery – where every visitor’s needs and requirements are miraculously and inexplicably catered for – with the Enterprise’s encounter with an all-powerful alien entity known as the ‘Q’.  With impressive special effects (that hold up well today in the series’ fully remastered Blu-ray release) and production design the result is, though not a fair reflection of how good The Next Generation would ultimately become, remains entertaining and enjoyable despite some of its hokey execution.

Trek TNG - Farpoint 1

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) faces the charges of ‘Q’ (John de Lancie).

In its premiere, the characters fans would eventually come to know and love are not fully formed and the actors not immediately in the ‘groove’.  Despite this and the odd piece of cheesy or clunky dialogue, the cast of The Next Generation turn in respectable performances.  Patrick Stewart is a strong lead albeit the Captain Picard here is a little different from the Picard we see later on, being a more distant and irascible version of the character who happens to have no patience with children (the Enterprise ‘D’ compliment including crewmembers’ families).  Stewart receives solid support from Jonathan Frakes as First Officer – aka ‘Number One’ – Commander William T. Riker as well as the rest of the Enterprise crew, most notably Brent Spiner’s Lt. Commander Data, a Starfleet android who yearns to be human – the Pinocchio analogy aptly drawn on by Riker during their first meeting.

The crew is rounded out by Security Chief Lt. Tasha Yar (played by Denise Crosby, granddaughter of Bing and who would depart the series before the end of the first season), blind crewman Lt. Geordi La Forge (Roots’ LeVar Burton), Chief Medical Officer Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) together with her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton, of Stand By Me fame), Ship’s Counsellor and old flame of Riker, the empathic ‘Betazoid’ Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and significantly – Klingon officer Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn), his race now at peace with the Federation.

As for the main antagonist, John de Lancie is quite simply superb as ‘Q’ and so well received that he would go on to reprise the role in several more episodes of The Next Generation in addition to appearances in future Trek spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  Much like Picard, the Q of “Encounter at Farpoint” is quite different from the lighter, more comical version of the character we would see in later seasons and this earlier take on Q is much darker, more malevolent and a credible threat to the Enterprise and her crew which drives the high stakes drama, his ‘trial’ of humanity and their handling of the great mysteries of Farpoint facilitating the morality play aspect of the narrative which Star Trek fans had become accustomed to.

Not forgetting its roots, a highlight of “Encounter at Farpoint” is a cameo from DeForest Kelley as the elderly (human life expectancy greatly increased by the 24th Century), even more cantankerous Admiral McCoy in a wonderful little sequence between McCoy and Data that hands over the baton from one generation to the other and is a real treat for fans.

Beyond “Encounter at Farpoint”, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a little shaky and uncertain but things began to improve in its sophomore year (which saw the introduction of iconic villains the Borg) and further refined with changes to the writing staff in the third season which saw the series become more character focused, Star Trek’s return to television would prove to be a huge success and The Next Generation would run for seven seasons (a total of 178 episodes) and spawn four feature films.  Along the way it would gain Whoopi Goldberg as a recurring guest star, pick up numerous Emmy Awards (as well as being nominated for several more – including Outstanding Drama Series in 1994) and launch a golden age of small screen science fiction.  Star Trek: The Next Generation demonstrated that the appeal and durability of the franchise was strong and is a series that continues to be loved all these years later.

Geek fact!  Riker and Troi were based on officers Decker and Ilia, characters who were to be part of the aborted 1970s Star Trek: Phase II series.  They would eventually be portrayed by Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Trek TNG - Farpoint 3

The cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ as they were in 1987.

R.I.P. Harve Bennett

This week sadly saw the loss of another member of the Star Trek family, this time producer/writer Harve Bennett who began his association with the franchise as a Producer on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Already a veteran television producer with credits including Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Bennett was brought into the Star Trek fold by Paramount Pictures, unimpressed with Gene Rodenberry’s troubled production of the over-budget (yet financially successful) Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Unfamiliar with Star Trek at this point, Bennett viewed all 79 episodes of the original series and it was “Space Seed” that he singled out as a springboard for the next Star Trek feature film.

With Director Nicholas Meyer, Bennett sought a fresh approach to the world of Star Trek that would reinvigorate the franchise yet oddly bring it closer to the spirit of the original series.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be a resounding success and Bennett would go on to produce sequels Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (which he also wrote), the massively successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (co-writing the screenplay with Nicholas Meyer) and the William Shatner helmed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – where he made an onscreen cameo as a Starfleet Admiral.

Whilst some elements of Bennett’s reinterpretation of Star Trek are still divisive (the more militaristic depiction of Starfleet for example), he brought the heart and soul of the series to the fore and much like J.J. Abrams some years later realised that it was the characters that were much beloved and drove the stories.  It’s also ironic that Bennett had originally pitched an idea for Star Trek VI which would have featured a new cast portraying the younger Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al at Starfleet Academy.

Harve Bennett’s contribution to the Star Trek franchise was more than significant and ensured its longevity both on the big screen and on television (Star Trek: The Next Generation would not have been possible without the success of The Voyage Home) where it has evolved and reinvented itself for almost fifty years and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Harve Bennett died 4th March 2015 aged 84.

You can read the GBUK Classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here.

Producer Harve Bennett oversaw the production of four of the original 'Star Trek' feature films including 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' which saw the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy.

Producer Harve Bennett oversaw the production of four of the original ‘Star Trek’ feature films including ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ which saw the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy.

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy

Words truly escaped me when the news broke yesterday of the death of Leonard Nimoy, best known for his portrayal of the iconic character of Mr. Spock in the equally iconic science fiction television series, Star Trek.

Having been a Star Trek fan for the majority of my geeky existence (so far) I cannot express how saddened I felt upon hearing the news, it felt like losing a friend – not someone I knew personally or had even met, yet, someone who was always strangely part of my life.  Nimoy’s contribution to Star Trek (and film and television in general) cannot be understated, his nuanced and introspective portrayal of Spock always captivating and effective in conveying the character’s struggles to reconcile the emotional and logical parts of his half human/half Vulcan heritage.  Nimoy shared great onscreen chemistry with co-star William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, a friendship that would filter into their personal lives with the two becoming close friends during and beyond their Star Trek years.

Aside from his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series (as well as guest starring in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “Unification”), Nimoy would go on to direct big screen voyages Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well as serve as an executive producer on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country where he also worked with director Nicholas Meyer on the film’s story.

Outside of Star Trek, Nimoy appeared in numerous other films and television series including a two year stint as ‘Paris’, the enigmatic master of disguise and deception on Mission: Impossible, a memorable guest role as a murderous surgeon in Columbo, both the 1960s and 1990s versions of The Outer Limits and even parodied himself in The Simpsons.  He would also go on to direct the smash hit 1980s comedy Three Men and a Baby.  He was also a writer having penned memoirs I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock and a talented photographer – there was even a singing career, perhaps not his finest hour, yet he managed to release seven albums!  Nimoy’s final onscreen appearances as an actor were guest roles in Fringe and the 2009 big screen Star Trek reboot and its 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.

Although Star Trek brought Nimoy fame and fortune it did lead to some personal troubles with the actor enduring a struggle with alcohol which he sought as a release, allowing him to ‘break away’ from the often cold and emotionless Mr. Spock.  He also smoked heavily and despite quitting over twenty years ago Nimoy was last year diagnosed with obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition related to smoking and which ultimately lead to his death.

Leonard Nimoy died on Friday 27th February 2015, aged 83.  Those closing scenes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan have become all the more poignant and emotional and made a legendary screen actor truly unforgettable…

Leonard Nimoy found fame in the iconic role of Mr. Spock in 'Star Trek' - a character loved by millions all over the globe.

Leonard Nimoy found fame in the iconic role of Mr. Spock in ‘Star Trek’ – a character loved by millions all over the globe.