Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
This is the first in what I hope to be a weekly series over the next few months. In the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 disaster – the series has been withheld from fans outside of North America, if you somehow missed the news – I won’t be covering the show at all. Instead I’ll be writing up re-watches of some of my favourite episodes from Star Trek’s extensive back catalogue. This week we’re visiting The Next Generation’s final season to look at the episode Masks.
First up, a brief introduction to this format. I’m not calling these articles “reviews.” It wouldn’t be fair to do so because I’ve seen Masks – and all of the other episodes we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks – more times than I care to remember! This won’t just be a recap of the plot of the episode – I will be giving my thoughts and analysis as we go. But it can’t really be an objective “review,” strictly speaking.
Masks was one of the last episodes produced for The Next Generation before production shifted to Star Trek: Generations. At this stage we’ve been with the crew of the Enterprise-D for almost seven years and we know them well – so we think we know what to expect. Season 7 tried to shake things up at various points – like in Genesis where the crew all de-evolved! And Masks is kind of in a similar vein. We’ll see the ship transformed, and Data in particular will take on several different personalities.
Masks is one of those episodes that sticks in my mind. The Enterprise-D and her crew found themselves in many wacky and unpredictable situations over the years, but there’s something about the Aztec-inspired aesthetic that really makes what’s going on in Masks feel ancient and otherworldly. It’s a story that feels at home in the Star Trek franchise; the kind of episode no other sci-fi series would even attempt.
The episode is also a great one for Data actor Brent Spiner, who gets a chance to show off his range as an actor. There’s always seemed to be a disconnect between the character of Data and the personality of the man who plays the role! Data is cool and logical, but Brent Spiner has an almost chaotic energy to him, full of life and with a great sense of humour. Masks isn’t the only episode of Star Trek to give him more to do – look at his roles as Lore and as various members of the Soong family for more examples – but it’s certainly an episode that gives Spiner many opportunities to shake up his regular role.
Data is such a wonderful character, and his series-long quest to become more human saw him attempt to mimic a variety of different behaviours. At the beginning of Masks we see him taking an art class, learning to sculpt and to use his imagination. Because of the largely episodic nature of The Next Generation, even in Season 7 Data is still chasing his ambition of becoming human in much the same way as he had been earlier in the show’s run. The character saw evolution across the series as a whole, but moments like these at the beginning of Masks could sometimes feel like a reset, reinforcing Data’s android nature and showing how he doesn’t fully understand some element or other of what it means to be human.
I wouldn’t try to argue that Masks is an especially important episode, either for The Next Generation or Star Trek as a whole. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t groundbreaking or transformative for the franchise in the way certain stories can be – it doesn’t introduce new characters, factions, or themes that would carry over to future projects, for example, nor is it a transformative event in the lives of any of the main characters.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun episode with an interesting premise. In a way, what we have in Masks is an examination of computer viruses and the major cultural and technological differences that exist between cultures. After encountering the D’Arsay archive inside of what appears to be a comet, it transmits its information to the Enterprise-D, but that computer code plays havoc with the ship’s systems – and with Data. Though this computer virus analogy isn’t the episode’s message or primary focus, it’s not a coincidence that a story like Masks was created at this time.
In 1994, when the episode was initially broadcast, home computing was growing exponentially. Along with the rise of the PC came fears of computer viruses, and antivirus software was becoming a big business. Though Masks mainly considers cultural themes within the story itself, I’d argue very strongly that the premise – disruptive or even malicious software being beamed to the Enterprise-D – is a reaction to the way the home computer market was shaping up at the time.
Computer viruses continue to plague systems today, of course, but with improvements in antivirus software and better computer education, the fears most folks have of viruses has diminished. In that sense, this aspect of Masks feels like a step back in time a quarter of a century – which it is, of course! The idea of rogue computer code harming – or in this case transforming – one’s computer was certainly a relevant concern at the time, though, and although it’s one that the episode doesn’t feature prominently it’s still an interesting aspect.
Masks also looks at how we deal with cultures very different from our own, and how we need to be careful when interpreting history. Captain Picard is at his best in episodes like Masks, getting the chance to show off one of his real passions – history. Picard is well-placed to jump into the story and find a use for his skills, and is supported at various points by Riker, Troi, and perhaps the most unusual choice – Worf. One of Worf’s lines about the sun and moon proves crucial to unlocking the mystery of the archive, and while Captain Picard definitely needed others around him in these scenes, I’m not sure I’d have chosen Worf!
The struggle that Picard and the others had of trying to interpret an unfamiliar culture is one that historians and anthropologists have long dealt with. And to me, Masks is an example of Star Trek doing what it has always done: using a sci-fi lens to examine a real-world subject. Usually the stakes aren’t so high, of course, but putting a kind of ticking clock and threat in the background gave the story an impetus it would’ve otherwise lacked; had Picard and the crew simply been trying to learn about the D’Arsay symbols and characters out of curiosity, the story wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
On the technical side of things, Masks was one of the first Star Trek episodes to use computer-generated imagery (CGI), using the new technology for the comet and D’Arsay archive. The remastered version, which is what you’ll find on blu-ray and streaming – didn’t preserve the original CGI model, recreating the archive from the ground up based on the original design. The DVD version, however, and other older copies (like VHS) do still have this piece of Star Trek’s history. You can also find images of the original CGI model online, of course.
A few times across The Next Generation, sped-up shots would be used to show Data working or moving faster than a human could. Out of everything present in Masks, this short sequence (which shows Data sculpting a treble clef in his art class) is perhaps the only part that feels dated in 2021. The rest of the episode’s effects hold up remarkably well, and the remastered CGI sequences look great even on a modern 4K display.
Many times across Star Trek’s long history there have been so-called “bottle shows.” These are episodes which primarily use existing sets and often don’t bring in many new characters or guest-stars, focusing on just the main cast. Though there was a set built for Masks – the temple, which would later be re-used in Deep Space Nine – the episode is mostly a bottle show, or perhaps a semi-bottle show! It focuses on a handful of characters, mostly re-uses existing Enterprise-D sets – with a few additions and changes to reflect the transformation the ship is undergoing – and feels like a very self-contained story in that respect.
Given Data’s prominent role, Brent Spiner is the star of Masks. And while we see elements of his portrayal of Lore in one of the personas that Data assumes, for the most part he makes each of the D’Arsay characters feel unique and distinctive. For an actor who spent most of The Next Generation’s run playing a very unemotional, unreactive character, I can quite understand why Brent Spiner would describe Masks as one of his biggest acting challenges on the show. I think he rises to the occasion and shows off a range that any actor would be proud of; making each persona feel separate despite only minor costuming changes is no mean feat, and he pulled it off very well. There was a risk, perhaps, that in order to differentiate each of the D’Arsay personas in such a short runtime each would have to be exaggerated to the point of pantomime caricature, but that didn’t happen in the final episode. That alone should be testament to Brent Spiner’s talents and hard work.
There are a few lines from Masks that resonate with me from a mental health standpoint. Though the episode isn’t intended as an examination of mental illness, Data developing an android version of “multiple personalities,” as Troi puts it, does bring up some comparisons. When Data asks Geordi what it feels like to lose one’s mind is a line that very much struck a chord with me, not least because it’s a question I’ve asked myself (and doctors) in the past.
Data’s line as the episode draws to a close about feeling “empty” following the removal of the D’Arsay personalities likewise felt very relatable. It isn’t always easy to tell where the line is between one’s own personality and aspects of oneself that might be better characterised as manifestations of mental illness, and even the removal or lessening of a mental health symptom can, in some cases, bring with it a feeling of emptiness or of feeling incomplete. That’s definitely a second thing I find relatable – and I think it shows how stories which only touch on themes of mental health can still be impactful even if mental health isn’t the focus.
The only real criticism I have of Masks is that its ending feels a little too quick – almost abrupt, really. After a slow buildup which sees the Enterprise-D progressively transformed to resemble the D’Arsay culture, Picard has a short conversation with Masaka, and then after a quick “woosh” everything is un-transformed and back to normal. A quick epilogue with Data and Picard in the ready-room closes the episode, and the final few minutes just feel a little rushed, especially considering the deliberately slow pacing of the rest of the episode.
Despite that, I enjoy Masks. It isn’t my all-time favourite episode of The Next Generation, but it’s one of those solid standalone stories that Star Trek does far fewer of since the move to serialised story arcs and shorter seasons. Masks shows off a different kind of science fiction with its slightly wacky concept of an archive transforming the ship into stone artefacts, but at the same time it’s a story that’s grounded in real-world parallels of history and anthropology. Brent Spiner puts in one of his finest performances, taking on a variety of personas that force him to step well outside of his normal bounds as Data.
So I hope this was a bit of fun. My objective at the moment is to remain connected to Star Trek and the Star Trek fan community but without providing any support or coverage of Discovery in light of the awful decision from ViacomCBS. Later this week I hope to look at an episode from Star Trek: Enterprise, and I already have dozens of other ideas for episode re-watches as we move through the holidays and into 2022.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is out now on blu-ray and DVD, and is available to stream on Netflix outside of the United States (at least for the time being). The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.
I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.
On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”
The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.
Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?
That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?
Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?
Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.
Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.
Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.
In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First Contact–Regeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.
Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.
The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.
This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.
And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.
In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.
Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.
All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.
So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.
Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.
Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.
What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.
Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.
So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Search for Spock, The Next Generation Season 3, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Star Trek 2009.
Over on Disney+, Marvel has recently put out a series of animated short films with a very interesting premise. These shorts asked what might’ve happened in the Marvel universe if circumstances had changed, characters had taken different actions, or things had ended differently.
Alternate history has always been a subject that fascinated me! So with that in mind, we’re going to consider a few “what ifs” from the Star Trek franchise – from an in-universe point of view, naturally! There are more than 800 Star Trek stories at time of writing, meaning that there are literally hundreds of potential scenarios where a different decision or different outcome could have radically changed the Star Trek galaxy.
As always, please keep in mind that all of this is one person’s subjective opinion! I’m indulging in fan-fiction and pure speculation based on my own thoughts about how some of these scenarios might’ve unfolded. If you hate all of my ideas, or something you like wasn’t included, that’s okay! Within the Star Trek fandom there’s enough room for different opinions.
With that out of the way, let’s consider some Star Trek “what ifs!”
Number 1: What if… Captain Picard couldn’t be saved after being assimilated?
This isn’t going to go the way you might be expecting! In this scenario, the events of The Best of Both Worlds play out as we saw on screen: Picard is captured, the Borg defeat the Federation at Wolf-359, Riker and the Enterprise race to confront them over Earth, and Captain Picard is able to communicate to Data how to defeat them. The Borg cube explodes, and the Federation lives to fight another day! But unfortunately Captain Picard then dies – severing his connection to the Collective and/or removing his Borg implants was too much for his body and mind to take, and he doesn’t survive beyond the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.
As Starfleet and the crew of the Enterprise-D mourn the loss of Captain Picard, Captain Edward Jellico is assigned to the ship as his replacement, and many of the events later in The Next Generation proceed unaltered. As Q would tell Picard in the episode Tapestry, even without him in command the Enterprise-D and Starfleet would be fine.
The Federation, armed with new knowledge of the Borg, developed new ships like the Defiant-class and Sovereign-class, and were even able to defend against a second Borg incursion a few years later – albeit at great cost. But the loss of Captain Picard would have a huge impact later, in the year 2379. A coup on Romulus brings a human clone to power – Shinzon. Shinzon’s plot to destroy the Federation was only stopped because of his personal connection to Picard, a connection that fascinated him and that he hoped could save his life.
Without that obstacle in the way, Shinzon sees no reason to wait or to play nice with the Federation before implementing his plan. He takes his flagship, the Reman warbird Scimitar, and heads straight for Earth before the Federation even has time to respond diplomatically to the change in government on Romulus. Under cloak, the Scimitar deploys its thalaron radiation weapon – massacring all life on planet Earth and crippling the Federation government and Starfleet command.
With war now assured between the Romulans and Federation, Romulan commanders who had been sceptical of Shinzon rally to the cause. All-out war breaks out between the Romulan Empire and the residual Federation, but without a government or command structure to provide a coordinated response, and seriously demoralised from the attack on Earth, things don’t go well for Starfleet. The Scimitar proves to be an unstoppable force all on its own, and its thalaron radiation weapon is able to devastate multiple other planets: Betazed, Andoria, Alpha Centauri, Mars, and others. The Federation is forced to sue for peace on very unfavourable terms.
However, Shinzon wouldn’t live to see the Romulan victory. Without the original Picard, there was no way to save his life from the DNA degradation that he was suffering from, and shortly after the Federation’s defeat Shinzon dies. His Reman viceroy would succeed him as the new leader of the Romulan Empire, an empire which now incorporated large swathes of what had once been Federation space. Whether the Romulans could hold all of this territory, and whether their empire would accept a Reman leader, are now open questions…
Number 2: What if… Spock wasn’t resurrected on the Genesis Planet?
This scenario sees the events of The Wrath of Khan unfold exactly as we saw on screen. Khan stages an attack on the Enterprise, steals the Genesis device, and is defeated at the Battle in the Mutara Nebula. Spock sacrifices his life repairing the Enterprise’s warp drive, allowing the ship to outrun the blast of the Genesis device. But in our alternate world, Captain Kirk doesn’t give Spock a Starfleet funeral. Instead Spock’s remains are returned to Vulcan, in line with his and his family’s wishes. There is no chance for a resurrection because Spock never came into contact with the Genesis Planet.
Spock would indeed prove instrumental in several key events later in his life that now can’t happen. But we’re going to focus on the Kelvin timeline today. Spock’s actions in the Kelvin timeline saved Earth from Nero’s attack – but without his presence there’s no one to stop the crazed Romulan commander.
Assuming that Nero arrived in the Kelvin timeline thanks to Red Matter (presumably deployed by someone else from the Federation as part of a plan to save Romulus), he has no reason to wait for Spock before enacting his revenge plan. After destroying the USS Kelvin (killing the infant Kirk in the process), Nero races to Vulcan and destroys the planet in the year 2233 – decades earlier than he would during the events of Star Trek 2009. Before the Federation even has time to realise what’s happening, and with Vulcan still collapsing, Nero heads to Earth and deploys his weapon for the second time – destroying the planet.
Nero then moves on quickly, targeting Tellar Prime and other Federation member worlds and colonies. The devastating losses mean it takes Starfleet a while to reorganise, but eventually the remaining fleet comes together to make a last stand over Andoria – the last remaining Federation member world. The battle against Nero’s powerful flagship is long and incredibly difficult, but Starfleet eventually prevails through sheer numerical advantage – despite suffering huge losses.
Nero’s defeat wouldn’t mark the end of the rump Federation’s problems, though. With many planets and colonies destroyed, more than half the fleet lost, and millions of people turned into refugees, the Federation is an easy target. First the Klingons come, seizing planets and systems near their borders. Then the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Romulans also join in, picking off star systems that the Federation could no longer manage to defend. Federation space shrinks to a small area in the vicinity of Andoria.
The Andorians were not happy with the large numbers of refugees who sought them out, though. Plans were put in place to resettle humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and others on new colony worlds, even though doing so would leave them vulnerable. After being kicked out by the Andorians, the remaining Federation members maintained their alliance more out of fear and necessity than anything else. How long these small populations can survive in a hostile galaxy is unknown…
Number 3: What if… the USS Voyager went the other way?
The events of Voyager’s premiere episode, Caretaker, play out much the same as they did on screen in this scenario. But after that, things take a very different turn – literally! The Maquis raider Val Jean, under Chakotay’s command, is transported to the Delta Quadrant by an entity known as the Caretaker. The USS Voyager is likewise transported by the Caretaker’s Array, and after the death of the Caretaker and a short battle with the Kazon, Captain Janeway orders the destruction of the Array. Voyager must find a way home.
Instead of taking the most direct route to Earth, Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager consider an alternative idea – heading for the Gamma Quadrant, and the far side of the Bajoran Wormhole. From there it would only be a short journey back to Earth! The crew debate the ideas for a while, and there isn’t a clear consensus. No starship has ever undertaken such a long journey before, so there really aren’t ground rules for route planning when it comes to long-distance interstellar travel.
Using the map above (which is non-canon) as a guide, the crew quickly figure out that both a direct route home via the Delta and Beta Quadrants or an indirect route via the Gamma Quadrant and Bajoran Wormhole are roughly the same length and would take roughly the same amount of time.
The two crews can’t agree at first. Chakotay and the Maquis, keen to avoid going anywhere near Cardassian space and fearing being turned over to Cardassian authorities upon their return, firmly advocate for the Delta Quadrant route. Neelix claims to be familiar with space in both directions and along both routes, but ultimately the decision falls to Captain Janeway.
Somewhat ironically when considering her actions in Endgame, Janeway chooses the Gamma Quadrant route. Why? She’s fearful of the Borg, naturally. Whatever dangers and obstacles may await Voyager in the Gamma Quadrant, she tells her crew, Starfleet has known for years that the Borg’s home territory is the Delta Quadrant. Taking that path seems positively suicidal in comparison, so Voyager will instead head for the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Bajoran wormhole.
Voyager’s superior technology makes battling the Kazon sects in the area around the Caretaker’s Array relatively easy, but they have to be careful to avoid space claimed by the Haakonian Order – the conquerors of Neelix’s people, the Talaxians. After they leave their starting region, though, the truth is that we simply don’t know very much at all in canon about this area of space. Would Voyager find a faster way home through some technological means or natural phenomenon? Or would the ship and crew have to undertake a slow, decades-long journey to reach the wormhole? Would they even survive at all, or instead fall victim to some villainous faction or dangerous anomaly present in this unexplored region?
Number 4: What if… the USS Discovery didn’t go into the far future?
I already have a theory discussing in detail why I think the USS Discovery didn’t need to go into the far future based on the outcome of the battle in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and you can find that one by clicking or tapping here. For the sake of this scenario, though, all we’re going to say is that somehow Captain Pike, Burnham, and Saru figured out a way to defeat the Control AI without sending the USS Discovery into the 32nd Century.
Obviously some changes wouldn’t appear until the 32nd Century. Without the USS Discovery and Michael Burnham, no one is able to discover the source of the Burn or the huge cache of dilithium in the Verubin nebula. Without the USS Discovery and its Spore Drive to fight over, the Emerald Chain doesn’t stage a bold attack on Starfleet HQ. Su’Kal would almost certainly die alone when the KSF Khi’eth is destroyed – whether that event would trigger a second Burn is unclear.
But more substantial changes could have taken place in the Star Trek galaxy centuries earlier. With the Spore Drive still in existence in the 23rd Century, it stands to reason that Starfleet would have continued to explore the technology – it works, after all, so if a new way of navigating the mycelial network could be discovered, the Spore Drive would be an absolute game-changer for the Federation.
At some point, Starfleet scientists would hit upon the idea of using empaths to connect to the mycelial network in place of augmenting human DNA. After promising test flights using Betazoid and even Vulcan navigators, in the late 23rd Century Starfleet is able to begin a wider rollout of the Spore Drive. At first a handful of ships are kitted out as rapid-response vessels, able to jump across Federation space at a moment’s notice to assist with emergency situations.
The Spore Drive would soon attract the attention of other factions, however. Unwilling to allow the Federation a massive tactical advantage, particularly in the aftermath of the Federation-Klingon war, the Klingon Empire begins development on their own Spore Drive programme. The Romulans follow suit, and by the early part of the 24th Century the Spore Drive has become a mainstay of interstellar travel in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
No longer limited by geography or travel time, Starfleet is able to jump to interesting-looking phenomena across the galaxy with ease, initiating dozens of first contacts decades ahead of schedule. On one unfortunate occasion, however, a Spore Drive ship jumps to the Delta Quadrant… right into the heart of Borg space. The Borg quickly assimilate the vessel, taking the Spore Drive technology for themselves and putting a target on the Federation’s back. Due to the distances involved, Starfleet remains unaware of what happened, merely recording the USS Discovery-C as “missing in action…”
Number 5: What if… Benjamin Sisko wasn’t the Emissary of the Prophets?
Ignore for a moment the revelation from Image in the Sand about Benjamin Sisko’s Prophet-induced conception! For this scenario, we’re considering that there were two occupants of the Runabout which first discovered the Bajoran Wormhole: Sisko and Jadzia Dax. Though the Prophets would choose Sisko as their Emissary, they could just as easily have chosen Dax instead.
Jadzia Dax returns from the wormhole having been anointed by the Prophets as their Emissary, and receives much respect and adoration from the Bajorans. Meanwhile, Sisko makes good on his threat and quits Starfleet, returning to Earth. Jadzia is promoted to the rank of commander and given “temporary” command of DS9, due in no small part to the way the Bajorans feel about her.
First contact with the Dominion occurs, and shortly afterwards the Dominion and Cardassians form an alliance – the work of Dukat, formerly the commander of Bajoran occupying forces on Bajor. The Dominion Cold War begins. Behind the scenes, Dukat is researching the Pah-wraiths, the ancient noncorporeal enemies of the Prophets. In disguise he travels to Deep Space Nine with a lone Pah-wraith, and in the course of unleashing the entity into the wormhole, kills Jadzia.
With no Emissary on the outside to come to their aid, the Prophets are fighting a losing battle against the Pah-wraiths while the Dominion War rages. The loss of Dax, though distressing to the crew of DS9 and her husband Worf, doesn’t appear to matter to the Federation war effort… not at first. In fact, the wormhole’s closure appears to provide the Federation alliance a reprieve, as the threat of Dominion reinforcements is reduced.
However, without the Orb of the Emissary re-opening the wormhole and expelling the Pah-wraiths, things go badly for the Prophets. When Dukat is able to implement the next phase of his plan and release the rest of the Pah-wraiths from the Fire Caves, there’s no one to stop him. The Pah-wraiths seize control of the wormhole, and as a thank you to Dukat they destroy the Federation minefield, allowing a massive fleet of Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole. The Dominion conquer DS9 and Bajor with ease.
With no way to stop Dominion reinforcements pouring in through the wormhole, the Federation alliance moves into attrition mode, trying to hold the existing front line for as long as possible against repeated Dominion attacks. Though the Pah-wraiths don’t actively take part in the fighting, their involvement allowed Dukat and the Dominion to swing the balance of the war back in their favour. By controlling Deep Space Nine and the wormhole, the Cardassian-Dominion alliance has the Quadrant’s most significant asset. It seems like only a matter of time until the Federation will have to sue for peace, if the Dominion would even accept…
So that’s it! Five Star Trek “what ifs!”
I can already think of more, so watch this space. I might return to this concept in future. I hope this was a bit of fun, and a chance to consider some alternative outcomes to some of the events we’ve seen across Star Trek’s history. I tried to pick a few different ideas from different productions – otherwise this could’ve been “five Captain Picard what ifs!”
As always, this was really just an excuse to spend a little more time in the Star Trek galaxy. It’s totally fine if you disagree with any of the storylines I’ve suggested today, or if you think this whole concept was a silly idea! None of this will ever make it to screen, and it was more of a thought experiment and creative writing project than anything else. I had fun putting this together – and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
What If…? and the logo for the series are the copyright of Marvel and The Walt Disney Company. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including the following upcoming series: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and Prodigy Season 1.
Yesterday was Star Trek Day! And in case you missed it, ViacomCBS held a live event that was streamed online and via Paramount+ showcasing and celebrating all things Star Trek! We’ll break down the big news in a moment, but first I wanted to give you my thoughts on the event as a whole.
This was the first big in-person event that many of the folks involved had been able to attend since 2019, and there was talk of the pandemic and its enforced disruption on the various shows that have been in production over the last couple of years. There was also a lot of positivity from presenters and interviewees not only about Star Trek – which was to be expected, naturally – but also about being back together and simply being able to hold a major event of this nature. The positivity of hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton was infectious, and the event was much better for the role the duo played in hosting the panels and introducing guests.
That isn’t to say that Star Trek Day was entirely without problems, though. To be blunt, the event dragged on a bit too long (it ran to over three hours) and several of the panels and interviews were the worse for being conducted live instead of the pre-recorded, edited, and curated segments and panels we’ve had to get used to in the coronavirus era. Several of the guests seemed unprepared for what should’ve been obvious questions, and there were too many awkward silences and pauses while people gathered their thoughts and responded to the hosts. Such is the nature of live broadcasting – and it sounds rather misanthropic to criticise it!
During what I assume was an intermission on the main stage we were treated(!) to a separate pair of presenters on the red carpet reading out twitter messages and posts from the audience. This was perhaps the segment that dragged the most; one of the presenters even admitted to not being a regular Star Trek viewer (she hadn’t seen Discovery at all) so unfortunately this part of the show was less interesting as the pair were a little less knowledgeable about the franchise. If it had been made clear that this section of the broadcast was going to last as long as it did I might’ve taken a break as well!
Overall, though, despite running a bit too long and the ending feeling a little rushed (something we’ll talk about later), Star Trek Day was a success. It didn’t only look forward to upcoming projects like Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2, but it looked back at every past Star Trek series, inviting members of the casts of those shows to talk about what made them – and the franchise – so great.
As a true celebration of all things Star Trek, the broadcast has to be considered a success. And although a pre-recorded event could’ve been edited and streamlined to cut to the more interesting parts and to give interviewees a chance to gather their thoughts, it was nice to see many of the folks we know and love from Star Trek back together and able to spend time in person with one another. Hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton did a great job at making us as the audience feel included, as if we were there at Star Trek Day right along with them. For those few hours – even through awkward moments and segments that seemed to run a little too long – it felt like being a member of the Star Trek family. As someone with few friends, I appreciated that immensely. For those few hours last night – and yes, even though Star Trek Day didn’t start until 1:30am UK time I did stay up to watch it – I felt like I, too, was an honorary member of the Star Trek family, and that’s a feeling I would never have been able to get anywhere else.
Now then! Let’s talk about the various panels, trailers, and interviews. Over the coming days I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the announcements and trailers in more detail (as well as perhaps crafting a few of my patented and often-wrong theories), but for now I want to try to include an overview of everything that was included in Star Trek Day.
We’ll come to the biggest announcements and trailers at the end, but first I wanted to talk for a moment about the music. Star Trek Day had a live orchestra on its main stage, and we were treated to live renditions of Star Trek theme music past and present – as well as a medley that kicked off the event. I was listening to Star Trek Day on my headphones, and the music sounded beautiful. Composer Jeff Ruso (who composed the theme music to Discovery and Picard) picked up the conductor’s baton, and the medley he arranged was really an outstanding celebration of all things Star Trek.
Star Trek Day both began and ended with music, as Isa Briones (Star Trek: Picard’s Soji) sang her rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1926 song Blue Skies to close out the broadcast.
There were five “legacy moments” spread throughout Star Trek Day, and these celebrations of past Star Trek series were genuinely moving. Actors George Takei, LeVar Burton, Cirroc Lofton, Garrett Wang, and Anthony Montgomery spoke about their respective series with enthusiasm and emotion. Cirroc Lofton paid tribute to his on-screen dad Avery Brooks, talking about how Deep Space Nine showed a single dad balancing his work and family commitments. He also spoke about Deep Space Nine’s legacy as the first Star Trek show to step away from a starship and take a different look at the Star Trek galaxy.
The themes of diversity and inclusion were omnipresent in these legacy moments, and all five actors spoke about how Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry have promoted diversity since the very beginning. George Takei spoke about Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek, how sci-fi had previously been something often seen as just for kids, and how putting a very diverse cast of characters together was groundbreaking in the 1960s. It’s always amazing to hear George Takei speak, and even fifty-five years later he still has a grace and eloquence when speaking on these topics. As someone who has himself been at the forefront of campaigning for diversity and equality, he does so with a gravitas that few can match.
Garrett Wang spoke about how Voyager could be a “refuge” for fans; a place to go where everyone could feel included and like they were part of the family. The way the show combined two crews was, I would argue, one of its weaker elements, but Wang looked at it through a different lens, and I can see the point about how Voyager put those folks in a difficult situation and brought them together to work in common cause. He also spoke in very flattering terms about Captain Janeway and Kate Mulgrew – who is returning to Star Trek very soon.
Anthony Montgomery was incredibly positive about Enterprise, and how the series embodied the pioneering spirit of exploration. I loved his line about how Enterprise, although it was a prequel recorded later than many other shows, laid the groundwork and filled in much of Star Trek’s previously unvisited stories and unexplained lore. Above all, he said, Enterprise was a “fun” show – and it’s hard to disagree! The orchestra concluded this speech with Archer’s Theme – the music heard over the end credits for Enterprise – which is a beautiful piece of music. If I were to remaster Enterprise I’d drop Faith of the Heart (which is a nice enough song, don’t get me wrong) and replace it on the opening titles with Archer’s Theme. The orchestra played it perfectly.
LeVar Burton talked about The Next Generation, and how Star Trek was reinvigorated for a new era. The Next Generation was the first spin-off, and it came at a time when spin-offs didn’t really exist in the sci-fi or drama spaces, so it was an unknown and a risk. Burton also spoke about The Next Generation’s sense of family, and how Star Trek can be a unifying force in the world.
Far from being mere padding, the five legacy moments saw stars of Star Trek’s past pay tribute to the franchise and the shows they were part of. There were consistent themes running through all five speeches, particularly the theme of inclusion. Star Trek has always been a franchise that strives to include people who are “different” – people like myself. For many fans, that’s one of the things that makes Star Trek so great. To see some of the biggest stars acknowledge and celebrate that aspect of Star Trek was wonderful, emotional, and rather cathartic.
Each of the five actors spoke with love, positivity, and enthusiasm for the franchise that made them household names. Anthony Montgomery’s incredibly positive attitude in particular shone through – he was beaming the whole time and seemed genuinely thrilled to have been invited to speak and to celebrate Enterprise.
If Star Trek Day aimed to celebrate all things Star Trek, then the legacy moments went a long way to making that ambition a reality on the night. The speeches were pitch-perfect, as were the orchestral renditions of all five Star Trek themes, and I had an unexpectedly good time with these moments. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the programme listed on the website; I didn’t really have any expectations of what the legacy moments would include. They surprised me by being one of the most enjoyable, down-to-earth parts of a hugely entertaining evening.
Let’s talk about news and announcements. That’s what you’re here for, right?! That was certainly what I was most interested in and excited for when I sat down to watch the Star Trek Day broadcast – though, as mentioned, I was taken aback by some of the other elements present that I wouldn’t have expected!
First, a non-announcement! Wil Wheaton interviewed the head of production on Star Trek, Alex Kurtzman, early on in the evening. Kurtzman didn’t have anything to say about the Section 31 series, nor about the upcoming Star Trek film due for release in 2023. However, he mentioned something that I found really interesting: a Starfleet Academy series or project. This isn’t anything close to an official announcement, of course, and he and Wil Wheaton talked about it in abstract terms. But a Starfleet Academy series has been something Star Trek has considered in the past; Gene Roddenberry was quite keen on a Starfleet Academy spin-off prior to developing The Next Generation. Watch this space, because it’s at least possible that a project centred around Starfleet Academy will get off the ground under Kurtzman’s leadership.
There were no brand-new shows or films formally announced at Star Trek Day. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting such an announcement, and Kurtzman’s earlier statement that no new show will be worked on until the current crop have run their course would seem to exclude it, there are multiple pitches and projects that have been rumoured or talked about over the last few years. The Section 31 series was absent again, as mentioned, and that’s more bad news for a series that feels like it isn’t going to happen. There were also no mentions of the likes of Ceti Alpha V, Captain Proton, or Captain Worf – just some of the heavily-speculated or rumoured pitches believed to be floating around over at ViacomCBS.
We did get release dates or release windows for several upcoming seasons, though! After Lower Decks Season 2 draws to a close in mid-October there’ll be a couple of weeks with no Star Trek, but then Prodigy will be available (in the United States at least) from the 28th of October. Shortly thereafter, Discovery Season 4 will kick off – it will premiere on the 18th of November in the United States and on the 19th internationally. Finally, Picard Season 2 is scheduled to arrive on our screens in February next year – presumably shortly after the season finale of Discovery.
All of this is great news! There was no release date for Strange New Worlds, but I think we can assume it will follow within a few weeks at most of Picard Season 2, which would put it perhaps in May or June 2022 at the very latest. But there will be a whole lot of Star Trek on our screens this autumn and winter, well into the first half of next year. Wil Wheaton said it best: with so many new Star Trek projects in production, we’re living through a new golden age of Star Trek right now!
I was a little surprised when the Discovery panel ended without revealing a new trailer or teaser for Season 4. Michelle Paradise, Wilson Cruz, Blu del Barrio, and Ian Alexander talked about how the show is fostering a sense of family in the 32nd Century – and that we will see Gray get a “corporeal” body in Season 4 somehow, which is great! But I have to say I’d been expecting a new trailer; the show is only a couple of months away after all. Perhaps we’ll get that nearer to the time. There wasn’t any mention of Season 5 either, but it’s possible that announcement will come as the marketing campaign for Season 4 ramps up.
Wilson Cruz seems like such a positive person in every interview I’ve ever seen him participate in, and he brought a lot of positive energy to the stage in Star Trek Day as well. There was talk of the Stamets-Culber relationship being revisited in Season 4, which is great – Stamets and Culber really form the emotional core of the show. He also spoke about how Dr Culber is embracing new roles in Season 4 – the role of counsellor to others aboard the ship as well as a parental role for Adira and Gray.
Gray’s storyline has the potential to be one of the most powerful in Discovery as the show moves into its fourth season. Being trans or gender-nonconforming can make one feel invisible – something I can speak to myself – and this is literally shown on screen by Gray’s invisibility. The powerful story of discovering how to be seen, and to do so with the help, encouragement, and support of one’s closest friends and family has the potential to be an exceptionally powerful story, one which I can already feel resonating with me. Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander spoke very positively about their on- and off-screen relationships, and they seem like they work exceptionally well together as a duo. I can’t wait to see what Season 4 will bring for them both.
I’ve already got a Prodigy theory! The show’s co-creators talked about how Prodigy Season 1 begins with the kids on a never-before-seen planet described as being “far removed and mysterious.” It sounds like we aren’t seeing a planet that the USS Voyager visited in the Delta Quadrant – something backed up by scenes seemingly set on that world in the trailer – and the USS Protostar appears to have crashed “inside” the planet. Did it crash during the final leg of Voyager’s journey home through the Borg transwarp network? Or perhaps during one of Voyager’s other flights – the space catapult from The Voyager Conspiracy or Kes’ telepathic launch in The Gift, for example. More to come on this, so stay tuned!
So we got a release date for Prodigy in the United States, but as I’ve said on a couple of occasions now it seems as though Prodigy isn’t going to be broadcast anywhere that doesn’t already have Paramount+. Considering that the series is a collaborative project between Star Trek and Nickelodeon (itself a ViacomCBS subsidiary), it should surely have been possible to secure an international broadcast on the Nickelodeon channel – a satellite/cable channel here in the UK and in many other countries. It’s a disappointment that, once again, ViacomCBS does not care about its international fans. It’s not as egregious a failing as it was with Lower Decks, because as a kids’ show Prodigy’s primary audience won’t really notice the delay. But for Trekkies around the world, to see Prodigy teased then find out we have no way to watch it is disappointing, and there’s no way around that.
Despite that, the Prodigy panel was interesting. Dee Bradley Baker, who voices Murf – the cute blob-alien – seems like he’s a real Trekkie and spoke about the franchise with passion. It was so much fun to see him perform Murf’s voice live, as well! Brett Gray, who will take on the role of young leader Dal, seemed overjoyed to have joined a franchise – and a family – with such a legacy, and I liked the way he spoke about how the young crew of the USS Protostar will grow as the season progresses.
The show’s co-creators – brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman – spoke about how Prodigy won’t be a series that talks down to children, but rather aims to be a series with plenty to offer for adults as well. The best kids’ shows manage this – and the Hagemans have received critical acclaim and awards for their work on Trollhunters and Ninjago, so there’s a lot of room for optimism. They both seemed to have a good grasp of the legacy and role Star Trek plays and has played for young people, and I think the show is in safe hands.
The Prodigy trailer was action-packed and exciting! We got a glimpse of the villainous character played by John Noble – and heard his distinctive voice – as well as got a much closer look at the USS Protostar than we had before. Perhaps the most exciting moment, though, was seeing the Janeway hologram for the first time! Janeway’s role in the show seems like it will be that of a mentor; the kids will make their own calls and decisions, but Janeway will be on hand to offer advice – at least that’s my take at this stage.
There were some funny moments in the trailer, too, which will surely produce a lot of giggles from Prodigy’s young audience. “Just hit all the buttons” until the phasers fire was a great laugh line, and the ship losing artificial gravity was likewise hilarious. There was also a crash-landing that reminded me very much of a scene in the Voyager episode Timeless. I’m really looking forward to Prodigy and to spending time with the young crew of the USS Protostar.
The Lower Decks panel was perhaps the funniest of the night. It was also the one where the interviewees felt the most comfortable and did their best at participating and answering questions; there were none of the awkward silences or long pauses that made me cringe during other panels. Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, and creator Mike McMahan initially took to the stage before being joined in truly spectacular fashion by Ransom voice actor Jerry O’Connell. The cast members clearly get on very well together, and this came across as the four talked with host Mica Burton about the first four episodes of the season as well as what’s to come in the remaining six episodes.
Wells and Cordero talked about how they see their characters of Tendi and Rutherford becoming friends and bonding over “nerd” things – geeking out together over things like new tricorders, engineering, or how best to do their work was a hallmark for both in Season 1. I’m not so sure how I feel about Mike McMahan saying that the rest of the season plans to go “even bigger” with some of its stories. Lower Decks can be overly ambitious, at times, with the number of characters and story threads it tries to cram into a twenty- or twenty-five-minute episode, and this can be to the detriment of some or all of the stories it wants to tell.
However, McMahan spoke about the episode Crisis Point from Season 1 as a kind of baseline for how big and bold the show wants to go in the second half of Season 2. That episode was one of the best, not just for its wacky over-the-top action, but for its quieter character moments. If the rest of Season 2 keeps in mind the successful elements from episodes like Crisis Point, then I think we’re in for a good time!
The mid-season trailer was interesting! Here are just some of the things I spotted: the Pakleds are returning, Rutherford seems to get a “Wrath of Khan-inspired” moment in a radiation chamber, Tendi was transformed into a monster that seemed reminiscent of those in Genesis from Season 7 of The Next Generation, Boimler and Mariner are involved in a shuttle crash, Mariner rejoins Captain Freeman on the bridge, there was a scene in which Boimler easily defeated some Borg that I assume must be a dream or holodeck programme, a Crystalline Entity was seen, the creepy bartender with the New England accent was back, and Boimler and Mariner shared a joke about the utility of phaser rifles. I’m sure there was more – but those were the key things I spotted! The rest of Season 2 will hopefully continue to hit the highs of the past few weeks – and there’s another episode coming out very soon here in the UK that I can’t wait to watch!
It was very sweet for Star Trek Day to take time to discuss Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, coming in the centenary year of his birth. His son Rod, and former Star Trek stars LeVar Burton, George Takei, and Gates McFadden joined Wil Wheaton to talk about Gene Roddenberry, and this was one of the most touching moments in the entire event. There were some laughs as George Takei told us about his first meeting with Gene Roddenberry and how he came to land the role of Sulu – including how both he and Gene mispronounced each others’ names! Gates McFadden seemed to have been talked into joining the cast of The Next Generation by Roddenberry, having initially wanted to return to the stage and join a play. Rod Roddenberry’s reminiscence of the design process for the Enterprise-D was hilarious – apparently his mother thought the ship looked like “a pregnant duck!”
LeVar Burton, who had been a Star Trek fan prior to joining The Next Generation, spoke about how he was overwhelmed at first when meeting “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” and how a small role on a made-for-television film introduced him to producer Bob Justman, who later arranged for him to meet with Gene Roddenberry during pre-production on The Next Generation. All of these anecdotes went a long way to humanising Gene Roddenberry the man – we can often get lost in the legacy and philosophy he left behind, and how Star Trek and the world he created has influenced and impacted us, but this was a rare opportunity to hear small, personal stories about the man himself. I greatly appreciated that.
George Takei got one of the biggest applause lines of the evening when he spoke about the importance of Star Trek’s fans, in particular Bjo Trimble, on popularising The Original Series and getting a nationwide fan community started. Decades before the internet came along to make fandoms and fan communities a part of many peoples’ lives, Star Trek was already developing its very own devoted fan community thanks to people like Bjo Trimble, and for George Takei to take time to acknowledge the role fans have played in Star Trek’s ongoing success was wonderful to hear.
As I’ve said before, The Motion Picture was the culmination of this fan-led journey for Star Trek, but the film also laid the groundwork for much of what we’d come to know as Star Trek in the eighties and nineties. Many sets and design elements were in continuous use in some form from The Motion Picture’s premiere in 1979 right the way through to the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, and much of the aesthetic and feel of Star Trek is owed to what The Motion Picture pioneered. George Takei acknowledged that, and that was a pretty cool moment. The Motion Picture is one of my favourite Star Trek films, and a 4K remaster was briefly shown off as well – the 4K blu-ray set of the first four Star Trek films is out now, so Star Trek Day took a moment to plug it!
The panel that seemed to get the most online attention was, I felt, one of the worst and most cringeworthy to watch! The Strange New Worlds panel was followed up by a pre-recorded video that introduced new members of its main cast, who joined Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn. Among the newly-revealed characters were an Aenar (an Andorian race introduced in Enterprise) a possible descendant or relation of iconic villain Khan, and three characters from The Original Series who are returning to Star Trek: Dr M’Benga, who appeared in a couple of episodes, Nurse Chapel, and the one who got the most attention: Cadet Nyota Uhura!
Uhura blew up online after the announcement, and it’s fair to say that I was not expecting this! There was scope, I felt, for Strange New Worlds to bring back classic characters, but the choices they made seem to be pitch-perfect. I’m especially excited to see more from Dr M’Benga – he was a minor character who feels ripe for a deeper look. The same could also be said of Captain Pike and Number One!
As I predicted a few months ago, the uniforms for Strange New Worlds have been slightly redesigned from their Discovery style. I was never wild about the asymmetrical collars; they worked okay on Discovery’s all-blue uniforms but looked perhaps a little clumsy on the recoloured uniforms worn by Pike and the Enterprise crew. So to see the teaser show off a redesigned style that keeps the bold primary colours but ditches the Discovery style was pretty great! As with any new uniform I think we need time to see them in action and get used to them, but there’s already a lot to like. In addition to the V-neck style worn by Pike and Spock, we saw a white medical variant worn by Nurse Chapel, another medical variant with a broad crew collar worn by Dr M’Benga, and a zipper style worn by Number One. Starfleet uniforms – like any aesthetic or design element – are of course subject to personal taste, but from what we’ve seen so far I like the Strange New Worlds uniforms.
The Strange New Worlds live panel was not the best, though. Anson Mount, who is usually so full of life and happy to talk about all things Trek, sat in silence for large parts of it, deferring to the rest of the panel to answer questions. He may have been trying to avoid jumping in too fast or dominating proceedings, but it led to several very awkward silences that weren’t fun to watch. I got the sense that perhaps he wasn’t feeling well.
The producers – Akiva Goldsman, who has previously worked on Picard, and Henry Alonso Myers – gave us a few tidbits of information about the series. I was very pleased to hear so much positive talk about returning Star Trek to a more episodic format. Goldsman, who had been instrumental in crafting Picard’s serialised story during Season 1, seems quite happy to return to episodic television. There are a lot of advantages in a show like Strange New Worlds – i.e. one about exploration – to using a more episodic format. Episodic television can still see wonderful character growth – I’d point to Ensign Mariner in Lower Decksas a recent Star Trek example – so it was great to see how positively the cast and crew talked about that aspect of Strange New Worlds.
The producers and cast seemed very keen to embrace the legacy of The Original Series in more ways than one. Without looking to overwrite anything, they want to bring their own take on classic characters, and I think that’s great. Spock benefitted greatly from the expanded look we got at him in Discovery’s second season, and there’s no reason to think characters like Nurse Chapel or Cadet Uhura won’t likewise get significant character development that plays into the characters we know and love from their roles in The Original Series.
In terms of aesthetic, Strange New Worlds is trying to walk a line between embracing the 1960s style of The Original Series and also updating the show to a more modern look. There was talk about the design of sets, in particular Captain Pike’s quarters, and how the designers had been keen to return to the 1960s for inspiration. Likewise hair and nail styles were mentioned by Rebecca Romijn for Number One – a ’60s-inspired, “retro” look seems to be on the cards for the character, but not to such an extent that it becomes distracting. Walking that line is a challenge – but one I’m glad to see the show tackling!
We didn’t get a full trailer for Strange New Worlds, and the character introductions were cut in such a way as to minimise what we could see of the USS Enterprise. However, we did get a decent look at the transporter room set, which looks really cool, and when we met Dr M’Benga we got a glimpse of what I assume to be sickbay – and it looks like the colour scheme from The Original Series is still present in some form. We also got to see the logo and typeface for Strange New Worlds.
So an underwhelming panel in some respects led to one of the biggest reveals of the night! Uhura, Chapel, and Dr M’Benga make welcome returns to Star Trek, that’s for sure. And there’s a particular genius to choosing these three characters in particular: they’re all ripe for more development and exploration. Uhura was a mainstay on The Original Series, but compared with the likes of Kirk and Spock there’s still plenty of room to explore her characterisation, background, and learn more about who she is in a way that will inform the original character and portrayal. Likewise for Nurse Chapel and Dr M’Benga – in many ways these two characters are near-blank slates for the new writers and producers to mould into their own creations.
I’m more excited today for Strange New Worlds than I was 24 hours ago, and that’s really saying something! I loved how Mount and the producers spoke about how his portrayal of Pike and Pike’s leadership style led them to redesign parts of his quarters so he could accommodate more of his crew around the table. Cooking was a big part of Captain Sisko’s character in Deep Space Nine, and I picked up at least a hint of that in some of the things said about Pike.
The panel also discussed how the USS Enterprise is a “star of the show” in many respects, and how episodic storytelling will allow the series to return to Star Trek’s roots in terms of producing entertaining stories with morals. As I’ve said before, Star Trek has always used its sci-fi lens to shine a light on real-world issues, and to learn that Strange New Worlds is embracing that is fantastic news.
Spock’s characterisation was mentioned by Ethan Peck and the producers, and there was talk of how we’d see different facets of his personality. The Cage was mentioned as showing us “smiley Spock,” and I liked how the producers have a keen knowledge of how Spock and other Vulcans perceive and experience emotions – Spock is an emotional person, even if he suppresses those emotions much of the time. An exploration of that aspect of his character – informed by his experiences in Discovery Season 2, perhaps – will be truly interesting to see play out.
Finally we come to Star Trek: Picard. This was the final event of the evening, and unfortunately the way it was teed up felt incredibly rushed. Jeri Ryan – who will reprise her role as Seven of Nine in Season 2 – raced onto the stage to introduce the new trailer, and it just seemed very obvious that the people running the event were acutely aware of time constraints and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. There was no Picard panel, no appearance from Sir Patrick Stewart (even by video-link or in a pre-recorded message), and though the trailer was very interesting the way Picard Season 2 was handled felt rushed right at the end of Star Trek Day – ironic, perhaps, considering the rushed way Season 1 also ended!
We’ll get to the trailer in a moment, but it was great to see that Picard Season 3 has been officially confirmed. We knew this was coming – Season 3 is already in production, and filming has already begun. But to get an official confirmation was good, and it drew a huge cheer from the audience. There’s clearly a big appetite for more Picard!
Onward, then, to the trailer. This is one that I’ll have to return to for a more detailed breakdown in the days ahead, but for now here are my summarised thoughts.
A return to the 21st Century is not what I would have chosen. Time travel isn’t my favourite Star Trek storyline, and in particular time travel stories which return to the modern day can feel awfully dated very quickly. Look, for example, at Voyager’s two-parter Future’s End, or Star Trek IV as examples of that. Star Trek feels like the future – one of the reasons I love it so much – and when it comes back to the modern day I think it risks losing something significant. It’s possible that only a small part of the story will be set in the modern day, but even so I wasn’t exactly wild about this story element, unfortunately.
We knew from the earlier trailer that there has been some kind of change or damage to the timeline. It now seems as though Q may be more directly involved, as Picard blamed him for breaking the timeline. Whatever the change was, it seems to be centred in our own 21st Century (though it could be anywhere from 2020-2040, I guess) and resulted not in the creation of the Federation but a “totalitarian state” by the 24th Century. I don’t believe that this is the Mirror Universe that we’re familiar with, but rather a change to the Prime Timeline itself – perhaps caused by Q, but earlier comments seemed to suggest that Q wasn’t to blame, so watch this space.
In voiceover we heard Laris questioning Picard’s motivation for wanting to join Starfleet or leave Earth, something we’d seen him talk about in episodes like Family and again in Generations. She seemed to question whether he’s “running” from something in his past – could it be some darker impulse or perhaps a family secret that’s connected in some way to the creation of the totalitarian state? Could it be, as I suggested recenly, tied into World War III?
One of the things I was most curious about was the role of the Borg Queen, whose return had been signalled a few days ago via a casting announcement. It seems as though Picard has access to the incarcerated remains of a Borg Queen – somehow – and that she may be vital to allowing the crew of La Sirena to travel through time. Rather than the Borg themselves playing a role in the story, then, this may be a battle involving Picard and Seven – victims of assimilation – and a captured, damaged Borg Queen.
There’s a lot more to break down from the Picard trailer, and in the days ahead I’ll put together my thoughts in more detail – as well as perhaps fleshing out a theory or two. For now, I think what I want to say is that I have mixed feelings. The big drawback I can see is the modern-day setting for part of the show. I hope I’m proven wrong, but to me Star Trek has never been at its best with these kinds of stories, and I’m concerned that it’ll stray from being a Star Trek show into something… else.
On the other hand, there are many positives. The return of Laris, who seems to have an expanded role compared to where she was in Season 1. Q’s mysterious time-bending role, too. Is he the villain of the piece, or is his latest “trial” something that he believes will help Picard and humanity? What role will he play – ally, adversary, or something in between? The “totalitarian state” definitely channelled some elements of the Mirror Universe, but also seems to have put its own spin on this concept, taking it to different thematic places. I’d be curious to see what role the Picard of this timeline has in the government of the totalitarian state.
So that’s all I have to say for now. In the days ahead I’ll take a closer look at the Picard trailer, as well as talk about other things we learned at Star Trek Day.
Although it was a late night and a long broadcast, I had a good time with Star Trek Day overall. There were some moments that didn’t work well, some unprepared interviewees and some segments that dragged on too long, but on the whole it was a fun and incredibly positive celebration of Star Trek. I came to the broadcast hoping to see more from upcoming shows, but I was blown away just as much by the celebration of Star Trek’s past as I was by the look ahead.
The hosts, presenters, and most of the speakers and guests showed off their passion and love for Star Trek in a very positive way. There was a lot of talk about returning the franchise to its roots, celebrating the legacy of Gene Roddenberry and his original vision for Star Trek and what made it so appealing to people of all ages across multiple generations. As we look ahead to Star Trek’s future in 2021, 2022, and beyond, taking these moments to look back at what got Star Trek to where it is today was fantastic, and well worth taking the time to see. Above all, Star Trek Day shone with passion and positivity, and that’s just what the franchise needed as it marked its fifty-fifth birthday. Here’s to the next fifty-five years of Star Trek!
Star Trek Day was broadcast online and on Paramount+ on the 8th of September 2021 (9th of September 2021 in the UK). At time of writing the event can be re-watched on the official Star Trek website; panels and trailers are supposed to be available via Star Trek and Paramount+ official YouTube channels. Clips may also be available via official social media pages and channels. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Generations. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
The Star Trek franchise has featured some absolutely terrific villains across its fifty-five year history. Characters like Khan, Gul Dukat, the Borg Queen, and many, many more have gone on to play significant roles in the franchise, cranking up the tension and drama while giving fans someone to truly despise. One of my all-time favourite Star Trek villains comes from what may – controversially – be my favourite Star Trek film: Dr Tolian Soran from Star Trek: Generations. It’s this character that I want to talk about today.
Although their motivations are very different, I feel that Dr Soran fills a similar role as an adversary for Captain Picard specifically as Khan did in The Wrath of Khan for Captain Kirk. Khan was motivated by vengeance and hatred for Kirk in particular, whereas Soran sees Picard as little more than a bump in the road on the way to completing a scheme he’s worked on for decades, so there are clear differences, yet in their two films the characters play similar adversarial roles for Star Trek’s first two captains.
One of Dr Soran’s lines has stuck with me ever since I first watched Generations in the cinema in 1995 (which is when the film was released here in the UK). The line is this: “Time is the fire in which we burn.” Delivered with menacing clarity by actor Malcolm McDowell, Soran’s view of time as an all-consuming fire is dark, yet beautifully poetic at the same time. Though Captain Picard would argue against this notion at the end of the film, the line, and the way it was delivered, is permanently etched in my memory. At times, it has been a motivating factor in my life, which may seem strange for a line delivered by a villain! As I said last November when I commemorated this website’s anniversary, the notion that time was catching up to me was one of the motivating factors I had in setting up my website and writing about Star Trek and other topics.
What I love most about the fire analogy is the way in which it describes the one-way flow of time. When an object is burned in a fire, an irreversible reaction takes place at the molecular level, and no matter how much we might regret burning something or wish we could undo a disastrous fire, doing so is impossible. The same is true of time – going back in time, changing the past or reliving a moment isn’t possible. (Except when Star Trek does time travel episodes, but that’s a different subject altogether!)
Although Soran was an obsessive, desperate to get back to the Nexus, his philosophical side shines through at several key moments in the story, and the way this side of his character comes across elevates him. No longer a one-dimensional villain with a singular purpose, Soran is a thinker, someone who has an understanding of the world and his place in it. His interpretation of the world, or rather his reaction to it, may be extreme, but nevertheless the mere existence of this deep-thinking aspect of his character makes him feel a lot more significant and a lot more well-rounded. Soran has clearly considered the implications of what he’s doing, even if it means sacrificing millions of lives for his own benefit.
The attacks of September 11th, 2001 brought religiously-motivated terrorism to the fore in a way that was new for many people in the western world. Yet even before then, the idea of sacrificing one’s life in order to reach paradise, or heaven, had been a significant force. Soran’s quest to reach the Nexus at any cost can be seen through this lens; a dangerously obsessed man willing to do whatever it takes to reach his version of paradise.
At the same time, the Nexus storyline rebuffs the idea of religion in general, at least insofar as Soran is concerned. If Soran believed in an afterlife – a belief which is not uncommon even in Star Trek’s 24th Century – then his quest to re-enter the Nexus wouldn’t make sense. He could be comforted by the belief that the afterlife would be just as good, if not better than, what he experienced there. The fact that Soran is a scientist and he’s chasing an interstellar energy ribbon that is observable and definitely exists (within the confines of the story, of course) seems to pour cold water on the idea of Soran as a religious fundamentalist; his desire to reach the Nexus is based on his own experience of the phenomenon, and not simply on the nebulous concept of “faith.”
Star Trek’s history with religion is complicated. The Original Series once showed a “chapel” aboard the USS Enterprise, and in Deep Space Nine Kasidy Yates claimed her father was a minister, so human religion definitely still exists in the 24th Century and the franchise hasn’t tried to erase it. At the same time, however, Star Trek has often tried to offer alternative explanations for gods, miracles, and other religious experiences. The Final Frontier depicted the “god” at the centre of the galaxy as a beligerent alien. Q fills a similar role on occasion in The Next Generation. The Prophets in Deep Space Nine are noncorporeal aliens. And so on.
So if the Nexus represents heaven or the afterlife for the sake of Soran’s story, it’s still a scientific and secular take on the concept. Soran isn’t like Sybok, a man on a mission with faith at its core. He’s a scientist, trying to solve a scientific puzzle. The fact that it has religious comparisons is neither here nor there for him; he sees the Nexus as his one shot at paradise.
Though we don’t see anything on screen of Soran’s life prior to his encounter with the Enterprise-B, given what happened to the El-Aurians and Generations’ focus on Picard’s family, there are the building blocks to see Soran through a semi-sympathetic lens if we’re so inclined. The Borg destroyed or assimilated the El-Aurian homeworld, and during the attack they killed Soran’s family, including his wife and children. When Picard visits the Nexus, he sees a version of the life he could have led, as did Kirk. What Soran sees in the Nexus – and what he wants so desperately to recapture – is his family. At a personal level we can understand and even empathise with that, even if it doesn’t come close to excusing his actions.
A villain that we as the audience can relate to is something the best stories manage to have, and a villain who isn’t simply evil for the sake of it also makes for a much more satisfying and fulfilling narrative. Soran ticks both of those boxes. We could even argue that Soran isn’t “evil” in the strict sense of the word; he’s merely uncaring and ambivalent to the lives of others due to his single-minded dedication to his quest.
For Trekkies, Soran is perhaps most significant and best-remembered for being the character who killed Captain Kirk. Star Trek’s first captain carried the torch for the franchise for more than two decades prior to the inception of The Next Generation, and while characters like Scotty, Spock, Dr McCoy and others all had their fans and their moments in the spotlight, Kirk was the most significant character from The Original Series. His death in Generations arguably marked the end of an era, and the definitive passing of the baton from one set of characters to another.
Though we have since had a version of Captain Kirk back in the Kelvin timeline films, and Star Trek has of course returned to the 23rd Century with Discovery and Short Treks, the death of William Shatner’s Kirk is an incredibly significant moment in the history of the franchise. While it’s true that Star Trek had already moved beyond The Original Series by 1994 thanks to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and the gentle yet clear ending to The Undiscovered Country, there was still a sense that any of the main characters could return – something epitomised by the return of Spock in Unification and Scotty in Relics. Captain Kirk did get the chance to make a triumphant return to the franchise – but doing so led to his death.
Kirk’s death is clearly a hugely emotional moment, especially for Trekkies who’d been with the franchise since the beginning. But his sacrifice stopped Soran and prevented the deaths of millions, as well as the deaths of the crew of the Enterprise-D. Even though the film doesn’t really acknowledge his death in this way, he died a hero.
It was Soran’s scheme that killed Kirk, but it also brought Captains Kirk and Picard together. Between them they had to figure out a way to prevent Soran going through with his plan, and thus Soran became the unintentional catalyst for what has to be one of my favourite moments in all of Star Trek. Marvel films have shown that a good team-up story can be emotional and exceptionally fun, but putting together two of the most significant characters in the entire Star Trek franchise? It’s a moment that’s very hard to beat even more than 25 years later!
Without Soran, none of this would have come to pass. While we may lament Captain Kirk’s death, in a franchise that runs as long as Star Trek and where the in-universe timeline spans centuries, characters are eventually going to die. Maybe Captain Kirk would have preferred a quiet retirement, but as a satisfying story beat, making the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the lives of millions and a crew of Starfleet officers could not be more quintessentially Kirk.
I find Dr Soran to be an absolutely fascinating character in his own right. But more than that, he’s responsible for perhaps the most ambitious crossover that the Star Trek franchise has yet attempted, and brought together Captains Kirk and Picard for an amazing adventure in a truly excellent film.
It’s hard to pick a fault with the way Soran was brought to screen, too. Malcolm McDowell put in an outstanding performance that was intense and riveting to watch. Even Soran’s lighter moments, such as his conversations with Geordi and the Duras Sisters, have a distinct edge to them. McDowell makes it clear with every syllable and every movement that Soran doesn’t care about any of them or their goals, and would hurt or kill them in a heartbeat if they got in his way. He comes across as a powerful, intimidating adversary thanks to this no-holds-barred approach.
So that’s about all I have to say, really! I find Dr Soran to be one of Star Trek’s most compelling villains.
Star Trek: Generations is available to stream on Paramount+ in the United States, and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Star Trek franchise – including Generations and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
For reasons that still aren’t crystal clear over thirty years later, Gates McFadden was dropped after Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dr Crusher had been a mainstay of the show’s first season, going a long way to humanising the otherwise stoic Captain Picard, as well as bringing a family dynamic to the series. Her absence in Season 2 was an obstacle for the show to overcome, and to replace her, Gene Roddenberry and the creative team introduced a new character: Dr Katherine Pulaski.
I have to hold up my hands and admit to being a fan of Dr Pulaski. There are certainly elements to her characterisation that worked less well, and we’ll look at those in a moment, but on the whole I felt her inclusion in the series took The Next Generation to different places, places it wouldn’t have been able to reach without her. That’s my own bias coming into play as we delve into her character today.
The intention behind Dr Pulaski’s introduction was to shake up The Next Generation. Across the show’s first season there hadn’t been much interpersonal drama between the main characters – something that was a marked change from The Original Series. In Star Trek’s first incarnation, the “frenemy” relationship between Dr McCoy and Spock in particular was a source of both drama and humour, and it seems clear to me that The Next Generation lacked that in Season 1, and that Dr Pulaski was created to try to bring that element back to Star Trek.
When I think about Dr Crusher, with the possible exception of her role in the two-part episode Descent, I wouldn’t use the terms “strong” or “forceful” to describe her personality. She’s a reasonably quiet, slightly soft-spoken character, clearly very compassionate but also quite agreeable, especially when pressed by Captain Picard. To call her “bland” might be unkind, but she was never meant to be the standout character among the cast of The Next Generation.
Dr Pulaski is the polar opposite. She’s opinionated, outspoken, and occasionally brash. Though she does form firm friendships with other members of the senior staff, she’s much more of a standalone, individualist character. These are all traits that she inherited from The Original Series’ Dr McCoy, and we can see a very definite McCoy influence for practically her entire run on the series.
The role of a doctor in Star Trek is naturally a limited one, and that was especially true when the franchise was primarily interested in episodic storytelling. Dr Pulaski’s scenes are largely limited to Sickbay or dealing with medical-themed stories and events, and this naturally puts constraints on what she – and other doctors in the franchise too – can do. In episodes with a strong medical storyline, I’d argue that Dr Pulaski shines, and aspects of her personality that might otherwise come across as abrasive can instead feel determined and driven. In stories without much going on in Sickbay she’s naturally of less use to the writers, and it shows.
One of the main areas of criticism when Dr Pulaski came aboard was her relationship with Data. Designed to mimic the Spock-McCoy dynamic from The Original Series, some of Dr Pulaski’s early scenes and episodes with Data did not work as intended. She came across as patronising and looking down at Data – and that’s putting the most positive spin possible on it! At worst, Dr Pulaski was actively degrading and dehumanising in the way she spoke to and about Data, and that’s something that many fans found hard to take.
Though we’re more aware in 2021 of the need to be inclusive and attentive to the needs of neurodivergent people, non-binary folks, and other marginalised groups, even in 1988 many fans were uncomfortable at seeing Data dehumanised and talked about in the abstract. Fans had had a whole year to get to know Data, and just like we balked at Dr Bruce Maddox’s treatment of him in the episode The Measure of a Man, so too fans felt Dr Pulaski was treating Data unfairly. This is legitimate criticism, and soured many fans on Dr Pulaski almost from her first moment on the series.
Though I was perhaps a little unkind in my characterisation of Dr Crusher earlier, there were many fans of The Next Generation who liked the character and wanted her back. A letter-writing campaign began almost from the moment Season 2 premiered – supposedly with some involvement from Patrick Stewart – to convince the producers to bring back Gates McFadden and dump Dr Pulaski. Though I daresay this would’ve happened regardless of how well Dr Pulaski’s character had been received, the fact that those early episodes featured a conflict with Data that certainly went too far and crossed a line didn’t help her cause.
Despite all of that, by the time Season 2 was finding its feet, Dr Pulaski had become established as a regular member of the crew of the Enterprise-D, and had settled into her role in Sickbay about as well as she could. The fact that she was a strong and decisive personality may have been divisive among fans, but in my opinion she elevated the role of the ship’s medical officer, taking what had been a secondary position with Dr Crusher in Season 1 and transforming it into a more important role, especially in medical storylines. Even when Dr Crusher returned in Season 3, this aspect of the show continued to an extent; Dr Pulaski’s legacy on the show, despite the character being dropped with little fanfare, may be that Dr Crusher found more prominent storylines.
The comparisons with Dr Crusher are inescapable, and one other aspect that viewers felt was missing after Dr Crusher departed the series was a relationship with Picard. Dr Crusher and Picard had history as well as more than a little romantic tension, whereas Dr Pulaski didn’t have that connection with Picard – or with anyone else. Though there was a storyline in the episode The Icarus Factor involving a past relationship with Commander Riker’s father, this didn’t become a major aspect of her character, and she remained romantically un-attached for the rest of her tenure.
Though the episode Unnatural Selection is perhaps the story where she was given the most to do, where I felt we saw Dr Pulaski at her best was in episodes like Time Squared, where she tended to a second Captain Picard from several hours in the future, Up The Long Ladder, in which she takes part in a traditional Klingon ceremony with Worf, and though there are two sides to her relationship with Data on display in Peak Performance, the way she consoled him after his defeat at Strategema was sweet. In these moments we see different aspects of her character – her medical expertise, her embrace of different cultures, and through her evolving relationship with Data, her ability to overcome her own prejudice.
Perhaps the fact that Dr Pulaski had anti-android prejudice to begin with made her too unpopular with fans to be redeemable. Her occasionally blunt persona didn’t help her in that regard either. But had we met Dr Pulaski in Season 1 not Season 2, I think it’s possible for her evolving relationship with Data to have provided a deeply satisfying character arc.
The problem Dr Pulaski faced was that she joined a series that already had a full season – 25 episodes – under its belt. The characters had grown together and been through some major events in Season 1, particularly the death of their friend and colleague Tasha Yar. Yar’s own deep relationship with Data, which was jump-started by the events of The Naked Now, had gone a long way to humanising him across Season 1, and there was something charming in the “android who longs to be human” story. In Encounter At Farpoint, Riker called Data “Pinocchio,” and across Season 1 that’s how viewers came to know Data. Dropping in Dr Pulaski at the beginning of Season 2 and giving her a very prejudiced way of looking at this character we’d come to know and love was a bridge too far for many viewers, and although the relationship improved dramatically over the course of the season, her early interactions with Data remained a sore spot.
Dr Pulaski was present for all but two episodes of Season 2. However, most episodes didn’t have a major medical focus, and thus she was really a secondary character much of the time. Even so, I’d argue that she brought a lot to the show, and despite the introduction of her character not really succeeding in the way the creative team intended, Dr Pulaski certainly achieved her objective of shaking up the crew. Though she was never a villain, the introduction of Dr Pulaski showed that there can still be disagreements and interpersonal drama among Starfleet officers in the 24th Century, and that not everyone has to agree all the time. The Next Generation could, at times, fall into the trap of being too idealistic in its portrayal of characters in particular, and while there were adversaries and antagonists in Season 1 – including some from the Federation – Dr Pulaski was the first main character on the show to pull in a different direction. In that sense she arguably laid the groundwork for storylines we’d see from Season 4 onwards with characters like Ro Laren, and in particular the non-Starfleet crews we’d meet in Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
The fact that Dr Pulaski was never shy and didn’t pull her punches is something I found charming and appealing about her, particularly when compared to Dr Crusher’s Season 1 persona. She could be opinionated and even pushy at times, but she always did her best to help those in her care and didn’t bat an eyelid at the wacky situations the Enterprise-D would find itself in. Not only that, but she grew as a character across her single season on the show, particularly in terms of her relationship with Data and her understanding of different kinds of life. The Next Generation set out to seek out new life, and while Dr Pulaski’s old fashioned idea of what “life” is may have held her back at first, over time she came to recognise that Data was a valuable colleague and even a friend, even if she didn’t understand everything about him.
Had she been kept around and spent more time on the show, perhaps we would have seen those themes continue to play out. There was scope for her relationship with Worf to develop, not romantically necessarily but certainly putting them in more stories that would have allowed their friendship to grow and for both characters to learn more about the other’s culture. Her relationship with Kyle Riker could have been revisited, allowing for a more complex and nuanced relationship with William Riker on the Enterprise-D. And though she could never replace Dr Crusher in terms of having a close relationship with Captain Picard, the dynamic between the two – particularly the power play between a man who’s used to being the sole commanding officer of his ship and the doctor who’s the unquestioned master of Sickbay – would have been interesting to explore. There was scope for her to occasionally push back against Picard and other main characters, asserting herself more strongly than Dr Crusher usually would.
All of that and more would have been interesting to see, and while Dr Crusher had some great stories from Season 3 onwards, I’ve always felt at least a little sad that we didn’t get more from Dr Pulaski. At the very least it would have been nice to know how she came to depart the Enterprise-D and what her next role was going to be. Did she transfer to a different starship, return to Earth, retire? We don’t know, and I think it’s highly unlikely we will ever get any kind of solid confirmation of Dr Pulaski’s post-Season 2 life.
I found Dr Pulaski an interesting character and a welcome addition to The Next Generation, even though not every aspect of her characterisation succeeded or achieved its intended objectives. She remains an interesting character in Star Trek, particularly within the 24th Century, and I’ve always been fascinated by this single-season character. Season 2 of The Next Generation marked a change and uptick in the show’s quality – whence comes the expression “growing the beard,” a reference to Commander Riker’s facial hair! Though she wasn’t front-and-centre at every moment, Dr Pulaski played a significant role in the evolving series, helping it grow and become better than it had been in its first season. We can’t argue that the introduction of her character is somehow responsible for The Next Generation’s increasing success in that era, but we can’t dismiss it as mere coincidence either.
And perhaps that’s Dr Pulaski’s real legacy. She was a part of The Next Generation at a key moment – its powerful second season. Season 2 provided much more of a blueprint for the show’s future success – and for the successful development of Deep Space Nine and other parts of the franchise – than The Original Series-inspired first season had. Dr Pulaski, though originally intended to be a throwback to Star Trek’s first series, played a role in the franchise’s evolution as a character who wasn’t afraid to shake things up, stand up to her commander, and hold her ground. We can see elements of her personality in a number of Star Trek characters who came later, even continuing to the modern day.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all characters and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser for Season 4, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the teaser for Season 2, and Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the franchise.
This is going to be a controversial list! Practically every Trekkie I know has their own take on which Starfleet uniforms are the best – and why! Even if we can agree on some of our favourite episodes and films, the aesthetic of Star Trek has always been a world unto itself. Some of the best uniform designs may not feature in the best stories, and likewise some of the best individual episodes and films may not have their casts in the best uniforms, so the two aren’t necessarily connected – though a truly bad costume can, in some cases, detract from an otherwise-decent story.
There have been a wide variety of uniforms used across Star Trek’s 55-year history. Most designs incorporate at least some elements of the original – the costumes designed for The Original Series by William Ware Theiss in the mid-1960s. Gene Roddenberry’s brief for the uniforms was that they were to be “simple, utilitarian, and naval” in style, reflecting his vision of the future and of Starfleet. The very first uniforms, seen in The Cage, Charlie X, and a couple of other early Season 1 episodes, arguably best fit the “naval” aspect of the brief, with toned-down colours and a slightly thicker rolled collar. It was only partway through Season 1 that the typical uniform in its three bright primary colours was rolled out.
Colour is a hugely important factor when discussing Starfleet uniforms. Since The Next Generation went off the air, most Star Trek projects have tried to move away from big bold blocks of colour, opting for smaller coloured patches or other ways to express differences in division and rank. Partly this is an attempt to make the uniforms look “modern,” but also I think there’s a feeling among at least some folks that the brightly-coloured shirts and tops of The Original Series in particular, but also The Next Generation, look rather childish or even camp, detracting from the serious messages present in many Star Trek stories.
That said, even the attempts to design sleeker, “cooler” Star Trek uniforms have almost universally resulted in garments that aren’t exactly serious by today’s standards! Recent attempts like the Discovery uniforms are still very sci-fi; hardly the kind of thing you’d see someone wear out on the street – unless they were on their way to a Star Trek convention. I guess what I’m trying to say is that trying to design a “cool Star Trek uniform” may simply be an impossible task!
So I’m all in favour of embracing the campiness – at least to a degree. Once you get lost in Star Trek, things like uniform colours don’t take you out of it, or at least they don’t for me. I’m not really a fan of attempts to make uniforms that look too much like things that we already have in the real world. There obviously has to be a line between something plausible and something completely outlandish, but in sci-fi that line can be further away than some folks seem to think!
Several generations of Starfleet uniform have become truly iconic; instantly recognisable emblems of the franchise that hardly anyone with even a passing knowledge of popular culture could fail to identify. This has been helped by internet memes, with Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Captain Kirk, Captain Janeway, and even Voyager’s Doctor all re-entering popular culture years after their respective series went off the air.
We also need to give some of the new variants time. A uniform – or any aesthetic element of a series or film – doesn’t become an icon overnight, so the 32nd Century uniforms we saw in the Discovery Season 4 teaser, the uniforms in Picard Season 1, and whatever the Strange New Worlds crew end up wearing need time to grow on us! Some Trekkies have already taken to some of the new styles, which is great, but for a lot of folks it takes time to even get used to a whole new look – let alone learn to love it!
As I always say, this whole list is entirely subjective! If you hate all of these uniforms and love others, that’s 100% okay. As with practically every aspect of Star Trek, it’s a big galaxy and there’s room for fans with different tastes and preferences. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at five of my favourite Starfleet uniforms!
Number 1:The Motion Picture – Admiral’s variant
I can understand why fans were unimpressed with The Motion Picture uniforms on the whole. They represent an attempt – the first real attempt – for Star Trek to try something new and step away from the bold primary colours of The Original Series, but ended up being understated at best, bland and forgettable at worst. The dull colours, t-shirt design, and lack of any distinctive features all meant that these uniforms only ever saw one outing.
But there was an exception! Kirk’s uniform as an Admiral, which he wore for the first part of the film prior to taking command of the Enterprise, is undoubtedly one of my favourites. It’s understated, for sure, but I love the smooth lines between its grey and white sections, the high angled collar, and how the gold Starfleet insignia stands out without being too flashy or over-the-top.
A lot of the criticism of The Motion Picture’s uniforms is absolutely fair. But there’s something about Kirk’s variant that I absolutely adore. I’d suggest that it’s the most “uniform-looking” costume in the whole film, and with its shoulder epaulets and wrist braiding, it’s a unique blend of The Original Series and future, more military-inspired uniforms – some of which we’ll look at further down the list.
Number 2:The Next Generation – Season 3-7 variant
I’m not calling today’s list my “all-time” top uniforms, but if I were putting Starfleet uniforms in a ranked list these uniforms would have to be near the top. Excluding variants like the acting ensign uniform Wesley Crusher wore, Troi’s “casual” outfits, and Picard’s jacket, the standard uniforms that were introduced beginning in Season 3 of The Next Generation hit all the right notes for me.
These uniforms have a high collar, which gives them a more “serious” feel than the previous crew-neck style. They retain the large blocks of colour across most of the top, yet the colours are ever so slightly toned down when compared to the bright colours of The Original Series, which I’d argue makes them appear a bit more serious and less camp. With the collars and pants being black, the coloured blocks on the top are striking and draw the most attention, and it’s easy to tell at a bare glance which officer represents which division.
It was a surprise when The Next Generation swapped the red and gold colours over – The Original Series had used gold for command and red for security/engineering. But there’s no denying it works well, and Picard and his crew honestly look fantastic in these uniforms.
Number 3:First Contact and Deep Space Nine Seasons 5-7
Though reportedly “uncomfortable” for some of the actors, I really like these uniforms. Until Star Trek: Picard premiered last January, they were also the most up-to-date uniforms in Star Trek’s internal timeline – at least if you exclude far future variants! These uniforms shrank the division colours down, retaining only a coloured undershirt poking up through the collar, with the rest being black and grey.
To me, this design says “new Star Trek” – even though the uniforms haven’t been new for almost 25 years! When the franchise was off the air, and even after it returned with prequels, these uniforms still represented the furthest forward Star Trek’s timeline had got, and I guess it’s for that reason I have more of an affinity to them. They’re modern-looking, swapping out big blocks of colour for greys and blacks that are more toned-down, and I guess the intention was to give them a more military style.
First Contact and Insurrection are two of my favourite films, and the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine – where these uniforms were also worn – saw the Dominion War story arc play out, which happens to be my favourite part of that series. I have very positive associations, then, between these uniforms and the narratives they were present in!
Number 4:The Wrath of Khan uniforms – a.k.a. the “monster maroon”
Speaking as we were of uniforms with a very military style, the uniforms which debuted in The Wrath of Khan were a total change from those present in The Motion Picture three years earlier. They incorporated elements of military dress uniforms, with a wide double-breasted jacket, high collar, epaulets, rank insignia, and a belt around the jacket.
In Star Trek’s internal timeline, these are the longest-serving uniforms (that we know of!) having been in service for around 75 years. I don’t personally think that they work well without the high collared undershirt, so my preference is for the Wrath of Khan variant, not those seen in The Next Generation. But the fact that they were in service for a long time is neat – and a way for The Next Generation to connect itself visually to the films of The Original Series era!
If The Original Series uniforms were campy and bright, these military-inspired ones were the complete opposite. Designed to be serious and focused while still retaining some colour, I think they look amazing. Having so many different elements could’ve made for a complicated look, but the simple use of one predominant colour helps settle things down.
Number 5:Star Trek: Picard – 2399 variant
Star Trek: Picard showed off two new uniform styles – one for flashback scenes and one for Starfleet in 2399. I would have preferred the flashback uniforms were replaced with the First Contact uniforms as they didn’t look great and were ultimately unnecessary, but the 2399 uniforms – which we saw Commodore Oh, Rizzo, and later Acting Captain Riker wear – were fantastic.
What I like most about these uniforms is that, after almost twenty years, colour was back in a big way! Enterprise had blue boiler suits, Discovery mostly showed off an all-blue look, and while neither of those uniforms are bad, I was keen to see something visually different – something more “Star Trek.” Picard delivered.
These uniforms are, in some respects, similar to the Voyager and early Deep Space Nine uniforms in that they’re mostly black with a coloured shoulder area and collar. But the lack of a prominent undershirt and the Starfleet delta detailing on the coloured sections makes them look far superior to those older uniforms! I hope we’ll get to see more characters wearing these uniforms going forward.
So that’s it! Five of my personal favourite Starfleet uniforms.
Aesthetic, colour, and costume style are very much subject to personal taste, and I know there can be a range of opinions on all of these things. Despite that, with the exception of Kirk’s uniform from The Motion Picture, I think a lot of Trekkies would put at least one or two of these uniforms on their own lists of favourites!
There really aren’t many Starfleet uniforms that I passionately dislike. Most serve a purpose, and it’s usually at least understandable what the intention behind the design was. Enterprise’s boiler suits, for example, were clearly inspired by modern-day naval, submarine, and astronaut uniforms, and were designed to be a bridge between more typical Starfleet uniforms and 21st Century attire.
Voyager and Enterprise kept consistent uniforms during their entire runs, but every other Starfleet crew has had at least one change of uniform. Changing things up keeps the aesthetic of Star Trek interesting, and while I can understand why some folks lament changes of this nature, without radical departures from “normal” uniforms we wouldn’t have got to see some of the best and most visually interesting ones. I like that the Star Trek franchise is bold enough to continue to shake things up.
The teaser trailer for Discovery’s impending fourth season showed off another new uniform – a more colourful variant of the 32nd Century uniform that we saw worn by Admiral Vance and others. Though we really only had a few seconds of footage, I liked what I saw and I think these new ones have the potential to join a future list of this nature!
Regardless of what your favourites might be, and whether or not any of them made this list, I hope it was a bit of fun. I’ll never miss a chance to talk about Star Trek!
The Star Trek franchise – including all titles on the list above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. All Star Trek shows and films mentioned above may be streamed on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom. Availability may vary by region. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser trailer for Season 4. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Star Trek’s First Contact Day virtual event has given us an awful lot to digest! We got teasers for Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and more details about Prodigy. If you missed the event, I wrote up my impressions of everything we saw, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.
This time, I want to look at the teaser for Discovery’s impending fourth season in more depth, and in particular start making some guesses about what may be going on! The teaser was barely ninety seconds long, and with the show at least six months away it may be futile to speculate about pretty much anything! But that hasn’t stopped me in the past, so let’s jump in!
My usual disclaimer applies: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not offering up these suggestions saying any are unequivocally true. This is nothing more than speculation from a fan – and a chance to spend some more time talking about Star Trek, which I absolutely adore.
In the run-up to Season 3 last year, I spent a lot of time speculating about the event that ultimately turned out to be the Burn. When we first heard its name I put together a list theorising a number of possible connections to past iterations of Star Trek – but as you know by now, none came to pass!
Discovery has had an on-off relationship with Star Trek’s broader canon. Season 1 sidestepped a lot of things, redesigning the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe years before Kirk’s first crossing, and fighting a major war. Season 2 tied itself much closer to canon, bringing in Captain Pike, Spock, and revisiting Talos IV. Season 3 shot forward into the future, and told a story that touched on past iterations of the franchise at points, but had an overall narrative that stood on its own two feet.
In short, trying to guess whether Season 4’s main storyline will be related to something we’ve seen in the past or not is a crapshoot. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. Regardless, if it’s going to be something brand-new then naturally the details become impossible to predict! So in this list I’m going to look at eight possibilities from Star Trek’s past that could explain what we saw in the teaser.
First of all, let’s explain what exactly we saw! Stamets described a “gravitational anomaly” that’s at least five light-years in diameter. This anomaly appears to be incredibly destructive, and if Burnham is correct, it’s appearing and disappearing at random. As a result, it could potentially strike any Federation or non-Federation world or starship without warning.
Assuming that this anomaly is the main problem facing Captain Burnham and her crew in Season 4, I’ve got a few ideas for what it could be, or what it may be related to. I quite like the idea of Discovery sticking with the “natural disaster” concept from Season 3. It worked well last time, and presenting the crew with a puzzle, mystery, or challenge that’s more scientific in nature than military could be wonderful to see. As long as such a storyline manages to avoid feeling either repetitive or anticlimactic, I think it works in principle.
One final point of note is that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, Discovery Season 4 began filming back in November, well before Season 3 had finished airing – and crucially, before the creative team had time to process any feedback they were getting about the season’s themes and storylines. As a result of that, it may be the case that Season 4 doesn’t make as many changes from Season 3 as some fans would have wanted to see. But once again, that’s speculation on my part!
So let’s consider this “gravitational anomaly,” then. What could it be? What have we seen in past iterations of Star Trek that could potentially be involved? Will there be any tie-ins to other ongoing series, such as Picard, or will the show set up something we’ll see return in a future project, such as Strange New Worlds? Let’s jump into the list and see if we can make some reasonable guesses!
Number 1: The Nexus
When I first saw the teaser, my mind immediately went to the Nexus, the energy ribbon seen in Star Trek: Generations. The Nexus was large, more than large enough to engulf an entire planet, and while it may not have been light-years in diameter when we saw it in that film, it’s possible it grew… somehow! The Nexus was incredibly destructive, causing the destruction of two transport ships and seriously damaging the Enterprise-B, not unlike some of the damage suffered by the USS Discovery in the teaser.
There are two crucial points which made me think of the Nexus, though. The first is that the energy ribbon was said to contain a “gravimetric field,” which sounds an awful lot like Stamets’ “gravitational anomaly.” Both seem to be connected to gravity, and as we saw in the teaser, the USS Discovery appears to lose its artificial gravity at one point.
The second point I consider key to the Nexus being a possibility is that we already know it’s something that recurs. The Nexus returns to the Milky Way galaxy every 39.1 years (according to Data in Generations) and unless something major happened in the intervening centuries, this force of nature should still be present, periodically crossing through the galaxy.
At a couple of points in the teaser we saw members of Discovery’s crew looking dazed and confused, not unlike how Soran and Guinan appeared after being transported out of the Nexus by the crew of the Enterprise-B. Perhaps we can infer from their demeanours that they’re not quite sure where they are or what just happened – maybe that means they’ve just spent time inside the Nexus’ paradise-like realm.
Though the stated size of the anomaly relative to what we saw in Generations may count against it, I like the idea of revisiting the Nexus. Would Discovery bring aboard a Soran-like villain, someone hell-bent on getting to “paradise?” Maybe!
Number 2: The super-synths from Picard Season 1
It’s absolutely true that I also suggested the super-synths could’ve been the cause of last season’s disaster! But that doesn’t mean I’m done suggesting ways for this unnamed faction to reappear in Star Trek, especially considering that the teaser for Picard Season 2 suggested that series is moving away from them.
At the end of Picard Season 1, we learned that there is a race of super-synths that exist somewhere out in deep space – perhaps many thousands of light-years away from the Milky Way galaxy. They offered to come to the aid of any synths that ask for their help, though whether this offer was genuine or not was not clear – as indeed was very little about the faction!
Soji and Sutra, two of the synths from Coppelius, attempted to make contact with the super-synths, but despite opening a beacon and a portal to their base, Soji was ultimately convinced to shut it down and cut off her attempt to communicate. We thus learned precious little about who the super-synths are or what their objectives may be. They seemed menacing, and may harbour an anti-organic hatred that could make them diametrically opposed to the Federation.
We know that, in principle, this faction can open portals in space to allow for travel far faster than warp drive. Perhaps getting too close to one of their portals causes the kind of damage seen to the USS Discovery, and their portals may appear to be “gravitational anomalies” when detected on sensors. The super-synths clearly have a powerful understanding of gravity, such that they were literally able to move stars and create a stable eight-star octonary system. It’s thus at least possible that they use gravity or gravitational anomalies as some kind of weapon.
One thing that Picard Season 1 left unresolved was the fate of the super-synths. Having been contacted, were they now aware of the Milky Way and the Federation? Might they be hell-bent on attacking the Federation? If their offer of help wasn’t genuine, might they arrive to attack the synths who live in the Milky Way? There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s at least plausible that they could be involved. As I’ve said numerous times, finding a way for Picard and Discovery to work together, using similar themes, factions, or even characters would be fantastic and something truly worth doing. This may not be the way it happens… but it could be!
Number 3: A graviton ellipse
The Voyager Season 6 episode One Small Step introduced the graviton ellipse, a fast-moving anomaly that can travel through subspace, normal space, and even other dimensions. The ellipse was drawn to electromagnetic energy – such as that emitted by spacecraft! One ellipse appeared in the Sol system in 2032, during an early manned mission to Mars, and “swallowed” the Ares IV ship. It later attempted to do the same to the USS Voyager.
The graviton ellipse was smaller than five light-years across, so again we have to contend with size. But there are points in its favour! Firstly, the ellipse was specifically drawn to spacecraft and other future technology. Though we didn’t see it attempt to “eat” anything on a planet’s surface, it stands to reason that similar technologies used in power generation may emit the same kind of electromagnetic radiation that an ellipse would be drawn to.
Secondly, the ellipse moved essentially at random, disappearing into subspace to reappear many thousands of light-years away. One single ellipse was known to have visited both the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. This seems to fit with what we know of Discovery’s “gravitational anomaly” – specifically the part Captain Burnham told us about its random, unpredictable appearances.
Finally, the graviton ellipse was known to cause damage to spacecraft, draining their power, as well as gravity-related disturbances in space. An encounter with an ellipse may not have destroyed Ares IV or the Delta Flyer, but they were known to be very difficult to escape from.
The drawbacks of this option are that graviton ellipses were relatively well-understood as early as the 24th Century, and with Discovery Season 4 set over 800 years later, it stands to reason that the Federation would be well-equipped to at least know what they’re up against if an ellipse seemed to be in the vicinity. Secondly, there was no indication that the ellipse would stay in one area, causing widespread damage in the way Discovery’s fourth season teaser suggested. Despite those negative points, however, I think it’s at least a possibility. Perhaps post-Burn technology has drawn an ellipse to Federation space, or it’s even possible that someone has found a way to weaponise one to attack the Federation.
Number 4: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise
Discovery’s third season had a couple of interesting references to Enterprise, specifically the “Temporal Cold War” arc. One faction involved in the Temporal Cold War were the so-called Sphere-Builders: extradimensional beings who were attempting to convert part of the Milky Way galaxy to match their native realm so they could colonise it.
Though the time-travelling agent Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were definitively defeated in the 26th Century, Daniels was from a time period before Discovery Season 4 is set, so he may not have been aware of any future involvement they had in galactic affairs!
The Sphere-Builders, as their name implies, built spheres. These moon-sized objects were spread throughout a region of space known as the Delphic Expanse, and emitted huge amounts of gravimetric energy, causing the entire region to become unstable and peppered with anomalies.
The spheres were also able to cloak, concealing them from 22nd Century human and Vulcan ships. The region of space a single sphere could affect was huge, and in the mid-22nd Century there was a large network of them, perhaps consisting of over 75 individual spheres. A hidden anomaly-generating piece of technology with a connection to the Temporal Wars? That sounds like something that could cause the problems afflicting Captain Burnham’s ship as seen in the teaser!
If a rogue sphere were on the loose, if the Sphere-Builders were returning, or if a single sphere had been left in the Milky Way, forgotten about since the 22nd or 26th Centuries, it stands to reason based on what we know of them that it could be the cause of the “gravitational anomaly.” This concept is potentially interesting; a leftover “doomsday weapon” unattended for centuries could make for a fun story. It would also be great to see a tie-in with Enterprise!
Number 5: Tyken’s Rift
A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned in the Picard Season 1 episode Nepenthe, but before that one had been seen in more detail in The Next Generation fourth season episode Night Terrors. It was described as a rare spatial anomaly, one capable of encompassing entire star systems.
Unlike some of the other entries on this list, size isn’t a problem for a Tyken’s Rift! If a whole binary star system (i.e. a system with two stars) was able to fit inside, it’s more than possible such an anomaly could be five light-years in diameter!
The Enterprise-D wasn’t badly damaged by its encounter with the rift, but it was trapped inside and unable to escape. The Tyken’s Rift was also said to drain power, trapping ships inside. Perhaps the damage to the USS Discovery was not caused by the anomaly itself, but by pushing the ship past its limits trying to escape?
The drawback to a Tyken’s Rift being the cause of Discovery’s anomaly is twofold. Firstly, aside from a slow but steady power drain it didn’t seem to be harmful, and we saw nothing in Night Terrors to suggest this anomaly could or would cause catastrophic damage to a ship. And secondly, the Tyken’s Rift that the Enterprise-D encountered appeared to be stationary. It was even included on stellar maps, so it would be easily avoided.
I don’t think either of these points totally rule it out, and as one of the relatively few named anomalies in Star Trek that are massive enough, it seems fair to still include a Tyken’s Rift as a possibility.
Number 6: Species 8472 and Fluidic Space
One of Voyager’s most interesting adversaries was Species 8472, known only by their Borg designation! This powerful extradimensional faction were able to outwit even the Borg, fighting a very successful war against them for a time.
Species 8472 were native to a realm filled with an organic compound. Voyager’s crew named this region “fluidic space,” and it seemed as though Species 8472 based much of their technology on this organic material, including their spacecraft.
The Borg became aware of fluidic space some time in the mid-late 24th Century, and attempted to travel there and assimilate it. But Species 8472 proved resistant to assimilation, and waged a war on the Borg, eventually travelling through to normal space to continue the fight. The intervention of the USS Voyager gave the Borg an advantage, but it seemed shortly thereafter as though the war ground to a stalemate.
Species 8472 made one further incursion, but after an agreement with the USS Voyager, agreed to return to their own dimension, content that the Federation proved no threat. However, that was 800 years ago! A lot can change, and perhaps Species 8472 have decided to make a return.
This would change the “natural disaster” concept, making it perhaps a precursor to invasion. Whether that would be good or not depends on how well it was executed – as well as your personal preferences for storylines! Given what we know of Species 8472 and their technology, I think it’s at least possible they could be the cause. Perhaps Stamets’ anomaly is some kind of gateway to fluidic space.
Number 7: The Borg
On the other side of the war with Species 8472 were the Borg! I also suggested Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains as a possible cause of the Burn last season, and despite seeing some ex-Borg in Picard Season 1, we haven’t really seen the faction proper in Star Trek since Enterprise Season 2 in 2003. Perhaps now is the right time?
Borg technology outpaced the Federation in the 24th Century by a considerable margin, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that wouldn’t continue to be the case. The anomaly Stamets and Burnham discussed in the teaser may well be a natural phenomenon, but if it turns out to be a weapon, I can think of few other factions capable of creating and wielding one so massively powerful. Other Borg technology, such as their transwarp network, was known to have gravitational effects as well, so perhaps that’s another sliver of evidence.
This doesn’t really fit with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, and that is certainly a mark against it! But then again, the Borg are very adaptable, and travelling back in time several centuries is not exactly standard procedure for assimilating a planet either, yet that’s what they tried to do in First Contact! The gravitational anomaly could be the opening salvo of an attack; the artillery barrage to soften up the Federation before the Borg drones rush in to assimilate the survivors. The Borg certainly seem capable of doing something like this, and with the Federation having been on the back foot for more than a century as a result of the Burn, the Borg may have been using that time to build up and prepare for a large-scale invasion attempt.
We don’t know for sure if the Borg are still around in the 32nd Century, or if they still hope to one day conquer and assimilate the Federation. After more than 800 years, anything could have happened to them! However, it’s plausible that they still exist in similar form to how we last saw them.
The anomaly seemingly “attacking” both Federation and non-Federation targets could be indicative of an intelligence at work behind it. Space is huge after all, and the chances of it hitting a target as small as a starship, starbase, or planet regularly seems unlikely without some kind of explanation. Is it a force of nature drawn to energy, like the graviton ellipse mentioned above? Or is it a Borg weapon deliberately targeting Starfleet? The latter may seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible!
Number 8: The Burn
I certainly hope that Discovery Season 4 doesn’t just drop the Burn and proceed as though it never happened. After the cataclysm caused huge disruption to the Federation and the wider galaxy for over a century, I think we need to see a lot more of the consequences of that event before we even consider a “reset” of the Federation!
Perhaps what this anomaly will be is some kind of “mini-Burn,” affecting a smaller area. It could be a ripple effect of the original event, or otherwise connected to it in some way. Hopefully it won’t be caused by poor Su’Kal, who’s been through enough over the last 125 years! Though the Burn was presented as a unique event, perhaps it had lingering effects that are only just becoming known.
Season 4 needs to walk a line between acknowledging the events of Season 3 without dwelling on them the whole time. I understand that the writers and producers have other stories to tell in the 32nd Century beyond the Burn, but given how catastrophic it was I feel strongly that we need to see at least some of its lingering impact. Connecting the Burn to this new problem would create a degree of separation, allowing the season to go in new directions but without dropping the massive event entirely.
The Burn was a disaster which “caused dilithium to become inert,” and which caused active warp cores to explode. It wasn’t known to have gravitational effects, instead being some kind of shockwave that travelled through subspace. That could certainly count against it!
However, if this event were connected to the Burn in some other way, rather than being a direct result of Su’Kal’s outburst, perhaps it could be explained. I couldn’t even guess how such a connection could be made; it would be some kind of technobabble connecting the anomaly to dilithium and/or subspace. But it could be done, and it could be made to fit!
So that’s it. Eight very early theories about Discovery Season 4 and the mysterious “gravitational anomaly!”
As mentioned at the beginning, I quite like the idea of the series going down a “natural disaster” route, allowing the crew to solve a puzzle and unravel a mystery, rather than simply pitting them against a Federation-threatening adversary. Perhaps that will be what ultimately happens, but I think it’s at least possible we’re seeing some kind of attack or weapon as well. Time will tell!
The teaser was action-packed, and the new season looks to be in great shape. I think that there are possible downsides to another “huge galactic disaster” storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic if it’s an event smaller in scale. But despite that, if this anomaly is going to be one of the main storylines in Season 4, there’s a huge amount of potential.
Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4? Maybe!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, sometime later this year. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It isn’t. This “article” is just a horrible April Fool’s Day joke.
I need to write something convincing here so that I can use it as an excerpt on the homepage. Let’s see what we can come up with… By expertly blending these different scenes together, Shades of Gray compiles the very best of Star Trek: The Next Generation into a single package. There, that’ll do. What can I say? I used to work in video game marketing. I can spin and bullshit about any subject I choose!
While we’re here, though, it’s worth noting a couple of things about Shades of Gray if you have the time. And yes, I’m serious this time. Pinkie promise.
Shades of Gray is the only clip show that Star Trek ever made. With the decline of clip shows in general, and modern Star Trek shows having shorter seasons that don’t need to be padded out to fit archaic broadcast television schedules, I doubt that we’ll ever see another one. That makes it utterly unique in the Star Trek franchise. “Unique,” though, does not mean “good.”
The only reason Shades of Gray was made, as I alluded to above, was to fulfil The Next Generation’s contract of producing twenty-two episodes in its second season. Problems earlier in the season caused shoots to run longer than planned, and several episodes ended up being more expensive to produce than expected – most notably Q Who, which introduced the Borg for the first time, but also Elementary, Dear Data. This left the show in a place where it was necessary to produce an episode as cheaply as possible. It was thus little more than a money-saving measure, as clip shows almost always were.
The poor reception to Shades of Gray meant that no other attempts were made to make clip shows, and the creative team behind The Next Generation and other Star Trek shows of the ’90s were very keen to avoid them.
It’s the only episode of The Next Generation to feature all of the show’s main cast. In addition to the main cast of Season 2, Dr Crusher and Tasha Yar returned in clip form from Season 1. So it’s got that going for it… which is nice.
Finally, and this is the most bittersweet part for me, is that Shades of Gray marked the unceremonious end of Diana Muldaur’s role as Dr Pulaski.
I’ve yet to meet another fan of The Next Generation who likes Dr Pulaski as much as I do. Where Dr Crusher was often – and I’m sorry to say this – rather bland and uninteresting, even in episodes which gave her a significant role, Dr Pulaski has much more personality and more character. She’s headstrong and opinionated, and while some of her opinions – such as her ideas about Data being less than human – did not win her any fans, I liked that about her.
I would say that the Data issue was only really present in a couple of places across the season, and certainly by the time the season really got going she and Data had developed much more of a rapport. But her initial conflict with Data was supposed to mimic Dr McCoy’s argumentative tone with Spock in The Original Series. Indeed Dr Pulaski was intended to be a Dr McCoy-type character, designed to shake up the dynamic in what was still a new series. I do like Dr Crusher, and she had some great episodes, particularly in Seasons 5 and 6. But I would have dearly loved to have seen more of Dr Pulaski.
Perhaps we should save that for a Dr Pulaski article somewhere down the line? Remind me if I forget!
I’m not going to waste any more of your time for this silly April Fool’s Day joke. I hope it was a bit of fun!
Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other regions where the service is available. The series may also be available internationally on Netflix, and is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, and the casting of Star Trek: Prodigy. There are further spoilers for older iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
A few days ago I took you through a short list of five main characters from past iterations of Star Trek that I’d love to see come back. This time, in a similar vein we’re going to look at five secondary or recurring characters that likewise could make for interesting returns to the franchise. Though most Star Trek shows have primarily focused on a main cast of characters, every series to date has featured at least one or two recurring characters as well.
For this list, I’m counting characters who appeared on more than one occasion – not one-off guest stars. And as with my previous list on this topic, these are characters I’d like to see return to the franchise in a general sense, not characters I’m predicting will appear in any specific upcoming show or film.
As always, I have no “insider information!” This is purely for fun and a chance to highlight some of these characters, as well as speculate about what their futures (or pasts) might be like beyond what we saw of them in their original appearances.
Number 1: Shran
We don’t know for sure how long Andorians live, but it’s at least a possibility that Shran – who appeared in Enterprise as an antagonist and later ally to Captain Archer – could still be alive in the 23rd Century. If he is he’d be well over 100 years old, but that doesn’t necessarily count against characters in Star Trek!
Jeffrey Combs played Shran, and also played recurring characters Brunt and Weyoun on Deep Space Nine. As someone who has close ties to the franchise, it would be wonderful to bring him back. It was amazing to hear JG Hertzler’s voice in Lower Decks last year, and it would be amazing to welcome back Jeffrey Combs as well.
Shran offers the Star Trek franchise an opportunity to tie in Enterprise in a significant way. At the moment, Enterprise is very much an outlier in the Star Trek canon; cut off all on its own in the 22nd Century. Despite there being opportunities in the three films and two seasons of television set in the 23rd Century, only the briefest references to Enterprise have been made since it went off the air in 2005.
Strange New Worlds is the prime candidate for Shran to reappear, but if the untitled Section 31 series uses a 23rd Century setting, he could potentially appear there as well. Shran was depicted primarily as a soldier, but the passage of time could have softened that side of him, and I would love to see him occupy a less-aggressive role, perhaps as a Federation ambassador. However, if there were a story featuring the Andorians in a major way, we could certainly see him included there as well.
Number 2: Garak
We got to know Garak very well across the latter part of Deep Space Nine, and his backstory as a spy was given plenty of attention. What we don’t know, of course, is what came next – what happened to Garak after the Dominion War was over?
Sooner or later, I hope Star Trek takes us back to Bajor and Cardassia in a major way, looking at the aftermath of that conflict. I know that the Dominion War wasn’t wildly popular with everyone – some of my Trekkie friends regard it as the worst part of ’90s Star Trek! But it was a major event in the fictional history of the franchise, one which seriously impacted the Federation. Exploring its aftermath, and looking at how the Federation managed to rebuild, would be worth doing.
Garak was last seen on Cardassia Prime at the end of the Dominion War. With Damar dead and the Dominion withdrawing, it’s possible he would have been in some kind of leadership role, at least temporarily. His years living with the Federation on DS9 would have put him in a unique position to liaise between Cardassia and the Federation alliance.
However, I don’t think Garak would have necessarily stayed in a leadership position. As a former agent of the Obsidian Order he represents Cardassia’s past – an empire governed from the shadows. Having fought hard to overthrow their Dominion oppressors, the Cardassians may have wanted to look to civilian leadership. I doubt Garak would have been re-exiled or returned to DS9, but may have gone into quiet retirement instead.
Number 3: Morn
Morn was really just a background character in Deep Space Nine, but the fun alien design was unique and made him instantly recognisable. As a result he became a somewhat ironic fan favourite, and ultimately got his own episode in Season 6: Who Mourns for Morn? Though he never spoke a line in the series, Morn was a significant character at points, and during the Dominion War smuggled information to the Federation from the occupied station, allowing for the success of Operation Return.
In at least one future timeline, Morn took over Quark’s bar, so perhaps a story that revisited DS9 could see him in that role. If Quark’s is still around, perhaps Morn is simply seen there as a regular patron – he appeared to be semi-retired, after all. Even if a return to DS9 simply saw him in his familiar background role, that would be good enough!
Who Mourns for Morn already explained a lot of his backstory, so there really isn’t a lot of room to go into more detail in that regard. A story that brought back almost any of the Deep Space Nine cast could include Morn, though, perhaps as a trusted confidante. With Picard and the crew of La Sirena operating outside of Starfleet, if they found themselves in Bajoran space perhaps they’d need someone like Morn – he seems like the type who could be very helpful at flying under the radar!
Maybe this would completely ruin things, but I would dearly love to see Morn speak if he did return. Even a single line of dialogue would be more than enough! I’m sure some fans will scream and say “no! Leave Morn alone!” but I think it could be a really sweet moment if done well. If we did return to DS9, seeing Morn sitting on his usual barstool would feel like a homecoming of sorts – almost as though no time had passed.
Number 4: Naomi Wildman
Naomi Wildman made 19 appearances across Voyager, the majority of which came in Seasons 5 and 6. The show tried to explore the idea of her being the only child on a ship full of adults, but only really managed to land that kind of story once – in the episode Once Upon A Time. The introduction of Icheb and the other ex-Borg children potentially gave Naomi playmates, but we never truly saw much of this. And on at least one occasion, Naomi was not included in a story that focused on the Borg children – the episode The Haunting of Deck Twelve.
As a character who quite literally grew up in space, and aboard the lost USS Voyager no less, Naomi may have a rather unique perspective after growing up. How did she react to Voyager’s return to Earth – which would have happened when she was around six years old? In at least one future timeline she’d joined Starfleet, but whether she’d do so in the prime timeline is unknown.
Naomi had a close relationship with Seven of Nine, who is currently a recurring character in Picard. She was also close with Icheb, who we know was killed a few years prior to the events of Picard. Exploring her post-Voyager relationships with those two characters could prove very interesting. If Picard Season 2 – or any future seasons of the show – spend more time with Seven, we could be reintroduced to Naomi and learn what she’s been up to.
The death of Icheb, if explored in more detail, could also be an opportunity to bring her back. Did they remain in touch after returning to the Alpha Quadrant? Icheb joined Starfleet – did Naomi join too? If so, maybe they served together before Icheb’s untimely demise. Otherwise we could see Naomi return in any story featuring main cast members from Voyager. So perhaps an appearance in Prodigy – where Captain Janeway is set to return – is on the cards?
Number 5: Jack Crusher
Jack Crusher was the deceased husband of Dr Beverly Crusher and father to Wesley Crusher. He served on the USS Stargazer under Captain Picard’s command, and that’s about all we know. He was killed during an away mission, and it was at least implied that Picard bears a degree of responsibility for that, either through something he did or didn’t do.
As a deceased character, Jack Crusher could only come back via a flashback, time-travel story, or story set in the past. But where I think there’s scope to see more of him is in Star Trek: Picard, particularly if Beverly and/or Wesley Crusher return. We could learn the circumstances of his death, and it could be a very interesting story if Jack Crusher’s death were somehow connected to some event taking place in the current Picard era.
For example, Picard, Dr Crusher, and the crew of La Sirena may have to travel to the world where Jack was killed, only to learn that the beings responsible for his death were the super-synths, the Zhat Vash, or someone else that we met in the new series. There would be something cyclical about bringing back, even if just in flashback form, Jack Crusher.
In the future timeline shown in The Next Generation’s finale, Picard had married Dr Crusher. While there was no evidence for or against that outcome in Picard Season 1, any story that explores Picard and Dr Crusher’s post-Nemesis relationship could be made to include flashbacks to Jack. He was a significant character in both of their lives, and in addition, his legacy may have been a factor in Picard and Dr Crusher never taking their relationship beyond friendship in the prime timeline. A story that took them back to his death could be interesting for both of them.
So that’s it! Five recurring or secondary characters who I believe could be welcomed back to the Star Trek franchise in some form.
This was the second part of a two-part miniseries looking at the possibility for certain characters to reappear in the franchise. It’s unlikely to be the last time we talk about such things – with so many different Star Trek projects on the go, practically anyone from the past could come back in some capacity!
Aside from those who have been definitively killed off within the prime timeline, I would argue that basically any character could return. Not all of them would be suitable for the current crop of shows, but if the franchise continues its renaissance… who knows? Maybe we’ll finally get Star Trek: Morn after all!
The Star Trek franchise – including all series mentioned above – is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service exists, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, and for other iterations of the franchise.
This is going to be the first part of a short two-part series in which I look at a few significant characters from past iterations of Star Trek that I would love to see return. Rather than tying these characters to a specific series, film, or ongoing project, this list is more general. I’m not advocating, for example, for any of these characters to necessarily appear in Picard or Strange New Worlds, but rather to return to the franchise at some point, when a suitable story could be written.
It goes without saying that practically every major character (at least those who weren’t killed off) could be brought back in some capacity, and with the franchise continuing to expand I think it’s increasingly likely that we’ll get some significant moments where characters reappear. For the sake of this list I’m not counting characters who are starring in shows that are currently in production, so I’ll be limited to characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the films.
By my count there are 42 characters across those five series that we could call “major” – i.e. they regularly had their names listed in the main credits, and weren’t considered guest stars or just recurring secondary characters. This time I’m picking on just five, and my usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information!” This is just a short list of characters that I think could be fun to bring back in some capacity, nothing more.
Of the 42 characters that occupied major starring roles in at least one season of the five aforementioned shows, I’m excluding five: James T Kirk from The Original Series, Data and Tasha Yar from The Next Generation, Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine, and Trip Tucker from Enterprise. All the exclusions are for the same reason: those characters have died in-universe. While there could be convoluted ways to bring back alternate versions (such as we saw with Sela, for instance) the original character can’t return after death.
Though it may be controversial, I don’t believe that the death of an actor necessarily excludes a character from returning. The Kelvin films recast the entire main cast of The Original Series, and Star Trek: Picard recently recast a couple of legacy characters as well. So characters whose primary actors have passed away are still in contention.
Now that we’ve laid down the ground rules, let’s take a look at my choices.
Number 1: Chakotay
This one is inspired by the return of Seven of Nine in Season 1 of Picard. I’ve written about this before, but Seven’s return to Star Trek was cathartic for me, because the passage of time allowed her to be a very different, more emotional, and much more human character than she ever was in Voyager. Seven was sometimes annoying and difficult to root for, especially toward the end of Voyager’s run, and basically the reason was that she’d always seem to “reset” after learning what should have been a big and important lesson in how to be human. It made her character bland and repetitive. But we’re not here to talk about Seven of Nine!
Chakotay didn’t have a lot to do in Voyager, despite being the first officer. There were a handful of episodes in which he was given a storyline, but a lot of the time he was just a presence, someone there for other characters to bounce ideas off or to tell Captain Janeway he didn’t recommend she do something we all knew she’d end up doing anyway. In short, bringing back Chakotay is something I would see as a chance for his character to get a Seven of Nine-like “redemption,” with some genuine development and a significant storyline.
One thing Voyager touched on briefly but never really explored was the way Chakotay felt about the deaths of the Maquis. The episode Extreme Risk focused on B’Elanna as she struggled to come to terms with what happened to their former colleagues, but Chakotay never really got a similar moment. As part of a larger story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, learning what happened to the Maquis’ colonies in the aftermath of that conflict could include Chakotay, as one of those worlds was his home.
We could also learn that Chakotay was allowed to remain in Starfleet following Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, and may even have been given his own command. Given that Voyager quite quickly dropped the Maquis angle, I’m not sure this is the route I’d go down because it doesn’t seem like it offers a lot of development or growth potential for his character, but it’s a possibility.
The final few episodes of Voyager’s seventh season saw a burgeoning relationship building between Chakotay and Seven of Nine. With Seven now a recurring character in Picard, and with the possibility of her entering into a relationship with main character Raffi, we could potentially explore what happened between Seven and Chakotay. Voyager’s finale certainly suggested that he had strong feelings for her, even after her death in that timeline.
Unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t especially clear, the producers of Voyager lost interest in – or didn’t know what to do with – the “one ship, two crews” concept that had been part of the show’s inception. Chakotay and the rest of the Maquis were absorbed into the crew by midway through Season 1, and while lip service was paid to Chakotay’s Maquis past at numerous points, I think that’s one aspect of his background that would be ripe for exploration. In any 24th or early 25th Century story that looked at Bajor, Cardassia, and the aftermath of the Dominion War, I’d spend at least an episode or two considering the legacy of the Maquis, and Chakotay could play a major role in such a story.
Number 2: T’Pol
I’ve mentioned T’Pol before in relation to Strange New Worlds, and that series is certainly one where we could see her crop up. Because of Enterprise’s place in the timeline, unless Star Trek plans on returning to the 22nd Century for some other story, there aren’t many characters who could realistically still be active and able to play a major role. The 23rd and 24th Centuries (as well as Discovery’s 32nd Century) are where current Star Trek projects are focused – and I have to say I think that’s the right call. Enterprise was an interesting experiment, but I see no pressing need to return to the 22nd Century at this stage.
The story I’d include T’Pol in would go something like this: she’s a senior Federation ambassador by the mid-23rd Century, and accompanies Captain Pike on a diplomatic mission. The mission would make first contact with a race we met in The Next Generation era, such as the Cardassians. We’d thus tie together all three of Star Trek’s eras in one story! I think an episode like that would be incredibly rewarding for longstanding fans of the franchise; a “love letter” to the fans.
But there are many other roles T’Pol could occupy. Having spent so long with humans during those early days of humanity striking out into space, she could prove an invaluable guide or advisor to a young Spock. Whether Spock is “the first Vulcan in Starfleet” is a point of contention without an obvious answer, but even if he wasn’t it’s clear that the Vulcans continued to operate an independent fleet into the 23rd Century, and thus Vulcans serving in Starfleet seem to have been rare. T’Pol is well-placed to be a kind of mentor to Spock for this reason.
However, both of those story concepts take T’Pol out of her usual scientific role, and perhaps a story could be devised which would be better-suited to her career as a scientist. I’m still thinking of a 23rd Century story, but one which perhaps requires high-ranking Federation scientists to work on a mystery or puzzle.
Number 3: Dr Pulaski
I’ve never met a fan of The Next Generation who likes Dr Pulaski as much as I do. I understand why she wasn’t popular with fans, replacing Dr Crusher after one season and especially because of her early run-ins with Data that amounted to anti-android bigotry. But where Dr Crusher could be fairly bland, Dr Pulaski had a really strong personality that shone through.
On another occasion we’ll talk about Dr Pulaski and how her introduction in Season 2 of The Next Generation was an attempt to shake up the new series and bring in a Dr McCoy-type character. But for now I want to consider how she could return, and what sort of role she could have.
Picard Season 1 missed an opportunity to bring back Dr Pulaski – or another medical officer from The Next Generation like Alyssa Ogawa – in the second episode. Picard receives bad news from a doctor he knew while serving aboard the USS Stargazer, Dr Benayoun. This was a new character created for Picard, and if I’d been writing it I might have chosen to bring back Dr Pulaski at this moment instead. I don’t know if that was ever suggested, because it’s well-known that actress Diana Muldaur didn’t have a great time working on The Next Generation. But it would have been neat to see!
One series that has been doing great with references to less well-known parts of canon is Lower Decks, and perhaps that means Dr Pulaski would be a good fit to return there. I don’t know if Diana Muldaur is still working, nor whether she’d be well enough or willing to reprise the role. But it was at least a little sad that Dr Pulaski was dropped in The Next Generation Season 3 with no explanation. There’s scope, I feel, to learn what came next for her – even if the character has to be recast.
Almost any medical story or story involving characters from The Next Generation Season 2 could see Dr Pulaski return, and of course Star Trek: Picard has to be the prime candidate of the shows currently in production. She could, for example, be one of the chief medical officers assigned to help the surviving ex-Borg now that they’re (presumably) under Federation protection. Or how about this: in a storyline that clearly shows how much she’s changed her attitude to synthetic life, she could be the head of a Federation medical team sent to Coppelius to help the synths. This would cement her “redemption” from her earlier interactions with Data, and would perhaps provide a suitable epilogue to her role in The Next Generation Season 2.
Number 4: Benjamin Sisko
Captain Sisko is probably the character whose return I’ve touted the most! Because of the unique nature of his disappearance in the Deep Space Nine finale – vanishing into the realm of the Bajoran Prophets – he could return literally anywhere, in any time period. The Prophets don’t experience time in the same linear manner as humans, so they could send him to a point in his future, his past, or anywhere along the Star Trek timeline.
This is why I’ve proposed Sisko as a character who could appear in Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery – because he could be sent back by the Prophets at any moment in time. I would argue he would have more to do in a story set in the late 24th or early 25th Centuries than he might in the 23rd or 32nd, but in any story that brought back Bajor, Sisko could play a major role.
He could also be part of a story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, at Cardassian relations with the Federation, and of course at Deep Space Nine itself. I think Sisko has the potential to be a useful character too. If he joined the story right at the moment of his return to normal spacetime, he could potentially be a point-of-view character, and an excuse for a film or episode to dump a lot of exposition that could otherwise feel clunky and out-of-place. This would be done under the guise of other characters bringing Sisko up to speed on what he’s missed – and we could catch up on galactic affairs right along with him!
Of all the characters on this list, Sisko is the one whose story feels the most unfinished. There was almost a cliffhanger ending to his role in Deep Space Nine, with a tease that one day he’ll be coming back. Whether we’ll ever see that on screen is another matter, of course, and Avery Brooks has seemed less willing to reprise the role than some other Star Trek actors. But you never know!
Number 5: Montgomery Scott
It would be relatively easy for Scotty to crop up in Strange New Worlds as a junior engineer – or in any other 23rd Century series, for that matter. But that’s not really what I’m proposing this time. That idea has merit, and I think I included Scotty in one of my character ideas lists for Strange New Worlds. However, this time what I’m suggesting is Scotty in the 24th Century.
Relics, the Season 6 episode of The Next Generation, established that Scotty had been kept alive in a form of transporter stasis of his own devising for over eighty years, finally rematerializing when the crew of the Enterprise-D encountered his crashed ship. After working briefly with Geordi La Forge, Captain Picard, and others, Scotty was given a shuttle and set out to explore the new century on his own. We would later learn in 2009’s Star Trek that Scotty had gone back to work, developing a method of “transwarp beaming” that became important to the plot of that film.
After that, however, what became of Scotty is a mystery. He had initially intended to retire, so did his stint with Starfleet continue? Or did he resume his planned retirement in the 24th Century, catching up on the eight decades of galactic history that he’d missed? He reunited with Spock, apparently, and it’s at least possible he would have been able to visit the elderly Dr McCoy as well.
Scotty offers a “coming out of retirement” story, perhaps prompted by some horrible event or disaster that requires an engineering solution. We could learn, for example, that he’d worked alongside Geordi La Forge in preparing the Romulan rescue fleet, or even that he was helping to rebuild the Mars shipyards after the attack by the Zhat Vash. Those are two ideas based on events from Picard Season 1, but of course there are many, many other ways Scotty could have contributed to Starfleet and the Federation in the late 24th Century.
So that’s it… at least for now. The second part of this short series will look at five secondary or recurring characters who I also think could be fun to bring back!
With so many ongoing and upcoming Star Trek projects occupying different places in the timeline, there really is scope to bring back almost any major character, and I hope the creative team don’t feel constrained! As a Trekkie I think I’d be happy with literally any of them making an appearance, though of course it would have to make sense in-universe as well as not be offputting for casual viewers.
We mentioned the episode Relics, and I think that story manages to walk that line exceptionally well. For fans of The Original Series, Scotty’s return was an amazing treat. But for folks who weren’t familiar with the older series, his inclusion in the episode still managed to make sense. The story was well-written, and while knowing more about who Scotty was and where he’d come from certainly added to it for Trekkies, it didn’t put off casual viewers by demanding a lot of knowledge of Star Trek canon. That’s the kind of model any future episode, film, or story that brings back a character should try to emulate.
We can also point to If Memory Serves, from the second season of Discovery. That episode began with a short recap of the events of The Cage, establishing what happened to Captain Pike on Talos IV, who the Talosians were, who Vina was, and so on. By beginning an episode which features a returning character with a clip or compilation of their past Star Trek exploits, almost any character could be integrated into an ongoing production.
The Star Trek franchise has been running for over five decades, and has a huge roster of wonderful characters. The fact that there are too many to put on the list – or the fact that the list could literally include every single one – is testament to the quality of the franchise and the creative teams who’ve contributed to it over the years.
Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where I’ll look at five secondary or recurring characters who I’d also love to see come back!
The Star Trek franchise – including all series mentioned above – is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service exists, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the episodes on this list.
Love is in the air! Happy Valentine’s Day – even though 2021 promises to be the strangest in a long time. If you have a special someone to spend today with, I bet you’re wondering what to watch to put you both in the mood. And if you don’t… perhaps you’re just wondering what to watch. So without further ado, here are a few Star Trek episodes worth watching on the most lovey-dovey day of the year – or at least tangentially related to it! As always, the list is in no particular order.
Number 1: The Dauphin (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
It’s been a while since we talked about The Next Generation’s most controversial major character: Wesley Crusher! He’s the main focus of this episode, falling in love with the ruler of a war-torn planet. In a classic case of “bad timing,” Salia and Wesley’s relationship wasn’t to be. He learned a valuable lesson about love along the way, though, and while the episode has some cute moments and some awkward ones, it manages to be distinctly “Star Trek” all the while.
Number 2: Choose Your Pain (Star Trek: Discovery)
I often call the relationship between Stamets and Dr Culber the “emotional core” of Discovery, yet looking back on the show’s 42 episodes, there are relatively few in which they are the main focus. Choose Your Pain has a lot going on, but one of the most significant points is how Hugh and Paul clash over the tardigrade – the space-dwelling lifeform that appears to be the key to making the Spore Drive work as intended. They’re able to resolve things, of course, but only when Stamets does something life-changing to himself in order to save the tardigrade’s life.
Number 3: Threshold (Star Trek: Voyager)
When we think about Tom Paris, who’s his romantic partner? B’Elanna Torres, of course. But in Threshold – widely regarded as one of Voyager’s worst episodes – Paris and Janeway get together and even have kids! Had you forgotten about that? After passing the Warp 10 barrier and experiencing “hyper-evolution,” Paris kidnaps Janeway and flees to an uninhabited planet. The two hyper-evolve into lizards and apparently “do the nasty,” resulting in at least three offspring. The crew of Voyager opted to leave the hyper-evolved children behind when they rescued Paris and Janeway, though, and for some reason the events of Threshold were never mentioned again. I wonder why?
Number 4: Amok Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Amok Time is certainly one of the most iconic Star Trek episodes, having been imitated and parodied many times. It focuses on Spock and introduces us to the concept of pon farr – the Vulcan biological mating need. The Vulcans evidently practice arranged marriage, and when Spock’s betrothed chooses another man, Kirk and Spock must engage in a ritual fight to the “death.” As one of the first episodes to explore the Vulcans in depth, as well as our first visit to the planet Vulcan, Amok Time is incredibly important within the history of Star Trek. And as a love story, well there’s something kind of romantic about T’Pring choosing to escape her arranged marriage to be with someone she cares about… right?
Number 5: Change of Heart (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Workplace romances are bound to cause problems! After Worf arrived on the station at the beginning of Deep Space Nine’s fourth season, he and Jadzia Dax struck up a relationship. They eventually got married in the episode You Are Cordially Invited, and continued to work closely together. In Change of Heart they’re assigned a dangerous mission to evacuate a Federation spy at the height of the Dominion War. But when Jadzia is injured, Worf is forced to choose whether to save her life or complete the mission.
So that’s it. Five somewhat Valentine’s Day-related Star Trek episodes! Try not to take it too seriously; this was just a bit of fun to mark the occasion!
On a more serious note, Valentine’s Day can be difficult. It can be a day that brings home feelings of loneliness, that we aren’t loved or even that we’re unworthy or undeserving of finding someone special. If you feel that way, listen to me: it’s bullshit. You’re a King, a Queen, or non-binary Royalty and you are amazing. If you haven’t found somebody yet, that’s okay. There’s no pressure or time limit. I know people who found love well into their seventies and eighties, and a few years ago attended the wedding of a neighbour of mine who finally was able to marry his boyfriend – at the age of 85! Just because some people manage to find their special somebody early in life doesn’t mean you have to conform to that too. One thing I wish I’d learned a lot sooner is that it’s better to be single than to be in a bad relationship! So please try not to worry or let Valentine’s Day become an excuse to feel rotten. Your time will come. Until then, I wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day – platonically, of course!
The Star Trek franchise is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek and all episodes and series listed above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for other iterations of the franchise.
Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard expanded our knowledge and understanding of the Star Trek galaxy in the 24th Century. As the lore of Star Trek grows (pun intended!) one thing I find fun is seeing how any new information we get can be made to fit with past iterations of the franchise, and in the case of Picard, I think I’ve hit on a theory that is plausible based on some new facts that we learned last year.
I previously touched on this theory as part of my essay on Commodore Oh a few months ago, but I thought it warranted being expanded and given its own article – so that when it’s finally confirmed on screen I can say “I told you so!” Or not. In short, this theory connects Data’s brother Lore to the Zhat Vash, the faction introduced in Star Trek: Picard.
Before we go any further and get into the weeds, let’s recap. Lore was introduced in The Next Generation Season 1 episode Datalore, and would return in Brothers in Season 4, as well as the Season 6 finale Descent, and Descent, Part II which opened Season 7. He was, in effect, Data’s “evil twin,” and would go on to cause havoc for Data and the crew of the Enterprise-D. We would also learn that Lore was responsible for luring a spacefaring lifeform called the Crystalline Entity to his homeworld, killing most of the citizens of the colony.
Next we have the Zhat Vash, who were introduced in Star Trek: Picard. An ancient, secretive Romulan sect, the Zhat Vash were on an anti-synthetic crusade. They believed that the development of artificial life would lead to all life in the galaxy being exterminated, and sought to wipe out synthetics wherever they found them. As part of their plan to prevent the Federation developing synths, a Romulan agent named Oh infiltrated Starfleet shortly after the discovery of Data in 2338.
This theory begins with something that The Next Generation never really explained: Lore being evil. Apparently this is a flaw in at least some Soong-type androids, as we’d also see Sutra exhibiting many similar traits to Lore in the two-part finale of Picard Season 1. But is there more to it than a simple mistake, as Dr Soong believed?
Though the Zhat Vash despise synthetic life, as part of their crusade to exterminate synths from the galaxy they seem to have learned a great deal about them – including how to reprogram them. In Picard Season 1, we learned that rogue synths had attacked Mars, destroying Admiral Picard’s fleet. It was the intervention of the Zhat Vash, hacking into the synths and reprogramming them, that caused this attack. If the Zhat Vash possessed the ability to do this in the 2380s, it’s at least possible that they were able to do something similar to Lore in the 2330s.
Lore was activated months (or possibly years) before Data, and lived with his creator on the Omicron Theta colony. Dr Soong’s reputation seems to have been known within the Federation, and his work doesn’t appear to have been classified or somehow kept secret. The Zhat Vash seem to have been able to infiltrate the Federation with relative ease, having two spies inside Starfleet that we know of, and even if a Zhat Vash operative in this era were not an especially high-ranking officer, given the openness of Dr Soong’s work and the dedication the Zhat Vash have to their cause, I think we can reasonably suggest that they would have come to know what he was doing, and thus of the existence of Lore.
As I suggested in my last crossover theory, it stands to reason that the Zhat Vash will have been deeply alarmed about the Federation and their synthetic research. In the mid-23rd Century, two Federation AIs went rogue: Control (as seen in Discovery Season 2) and the M-5 multitronic unit (as seen in The Original Series second season episode The Ultimate Computer). Although it seems to be androids that were the main focus of Zhat Vash attention, as Laris made clear, the Romulans fear all kinds of AI – so these events would certainly have upset them enough to keep an eye on Starfleet and the Federation.
That makes it even more likely, in my opinion, that the Zhat Vash would have found out about Dr Soong and Lore on Omicron Theta. If they were following Dr Soong’s work on positronic brains, they may have been working on ways to shut down his research or reprogram Lore. As mentioned, none of this appears to have been classified, and while Dr Soong kept his work private, it may have been possible for the Zhat Vash to infiltrate Omicron Theta and gain access to his research.
Their main goal was to prevent the rise of synthetic life. A single android was bad enough, but what they feared most was a civilisation of them. But Dr Soong didn’t have a civilisation – he had one single operational android. From the Zhat Vash’s perspective in the 2330s, if they could force Lore to be shut down – and ideally kill Dr Soong at the same time – the Federation would be unable to replicate the work and would thus be unable to build more.
At some point following his activation, Lore began to exhibit “emotional instability” to the point that he upset and worried the colonists on Omicron Theta. This doesn’t appear to have happened from the moment of his activation, though, which lends credence to the idea that he was reprogrammed – perhaps rather crudely in an attempt to force Dr Soong to take him offline.
However, before Dr Soong could take action to shut him down, Lore contacted the Crystalline Entity, which arrived and wiped out the Omicron Theta colony. If Lore had been reprogrammed, was this something he chose to do of his own volition? It seems a very specific action to take if he wanted to kill the colonists – he was more than capable of physically overpowering and outwitting them if he wanted to kill them.
The destruction of Omicron Theta can be seen as a classic Romulan move. By using the Crystalline Entity, not only was Lore assumed destroyed, but so were Dr Soong, his assistants, and all of his research, setting back synthetic research in the Federation by decades. Of course we know that Dr Soong and Lore both escaped – but that clearly wasn’t part of the Zhat Vash’s plan! Perhaps they underestimated Lore.
Most importantly, though, having the Crystalline Entity wipe out Omicron Theta absolved the Romulans of any direct involvement, as well as potentially destroyed any evidence that they had ever been there. It reminds me in many ways of the false flag operation that they ran on Mars; the synths were reprogrammed and forced to go rogue, an event which so thoroughly shocked the Federation that the Zhat Vash were able to persuade them to shut down all synthetic research.
With Lore being the only extant android, a “clean” attack on the colony, wiping out the entire site and all of its inhabitants, would work very well from the Zhat Vash’s perspective. Openly attacking Omicron Theta would surely have started a conflict with the Federation, and if that could be avoided through this kind of cloak-and-dagger operation, well that seems exactly like something they would seek to do.
So that’s the extent of the theory, and any Zhat Vash involvement afterwards appears to have ignored Lore. Perhaps they figured that the existence of Data showed that the Federation would not stop until they were forced to, or at least that it was no longer possible to stop Federation AI research by killing one android. This would explain why they didn’t take any aggressive action against Data during The Next Generation era, and could also explain why Dr Soong went into hiding after the Omicron Theta attack – he may have been hiding from the Zhat Vash.
This theory fits with Lore’s appearances in The Next Generation and doesn’t step on the toes of anything as far as I can see. It provides backstory to why Lore acted the way he did, and explains his motivations for doing so in a different way. It also elevates Lore from simply being an “evil twin” trope into more of a tragic character – we will never know what Lore could have been were he not interfered with.
Crucially, this theory fits with what we learned of the Zhat Vash in Picard Season 1, both in terms of their goals and their methods. It seems at least possible that the Zhat Vash are responsible for the attack on Omicron Theta and for reprogramming Lore, turning him into the malevolent adversary that Data and the crew of the Enterprise-D had to deal with.
This could have even been the first mission of a young Zhat Vash operative named Oh. Maybe she was the one sent to Omicron Theta to deal with Dr Soong, and this entire situation is her doing.
So that’s it. That’s my theory! I doubt it will ever be confirmed, but you never know! It seems plausible to me, at least. I hope this was a bit of fun and an excuse to jump back into the Star Trek galaxy. As always, please remember not to take this theory, or any other fan theory, too seriously. Theory-crafting is supposed to be enjoyable, and the last thing we need right now is something else to argue about!
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and The Next Generation – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as for other iterations of the franchise.
Thirty years ago this very day, Star Trek: The Next Generation broadcast the twelfth episode of its fourth season: The Wounded. This would be a highly significant episode for the franchise going forward, and in many ways began to set the stage for the upcoming spin-off Deep Space Nine. At this stage work on pre-production of Deep Space Nine had already kicked off, and while The Wounded is by no means a backdoor pilot, there was a conscious effort on the part of Rick Berman – who was in charge of Star Trek at the time – to begin to put the pieces together for the new series.
The Wounded is the first episode to give future Deep Space Nine regular Miles O’Brien a significant role. Though present since Encounter at Farpoint at the beginning of Season 1, O’Brien had been a background character with little to do until this point. The episode also marked the debut of the Cardassians, with future Gul Dukat actor Marc Alaimo featuring as a different Cardassian – Gul Macet.
For both of those reasons, The Wounded is incredibly important within the history of Star Trek. The foundations of Deep Space Nine were laid here, and it was around this time, under Rick Berman’s direction, that Star Trek truly cemented its evolution from purely episodic storytelling to an interconnected franchise. Deep Space Nine would share The Next Generation’s time period and be broadcast while its sister show was still on the air. This was a marked change from the way The Next Generation was spun off from The Original Series, and one which allowed the different parts of the franchise to connect in ways that were unprecedented at the time.
After more than a decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and other such franchises, we almost take for granted this concept of big, interconnected fictional universes. But episodes like The Wounded are a big part of building that sense of connectedness within Star Trek, and in the early ’90s that was something entirely new. The difference between a good film or television show and one that can become one part of a greater franchise is that sense of interconnectivity, and it’s impossible to understate the importance of episodes like The Wounded on building up Star Trek as that kind of franchise.
In that sense, it isn’t only Deep Space Nine which owes so much to The Wounded – and other similar episodes around this time in The Next Generation’s run – but also Voyager, and by extension Enterprise, the Kelvin films, Discovery, and the fact that Star Trek is still going strong thirty years later. It’s one of those incredibly significant moments in the history of the franchise – one of the moments at which Star Trek became an expanded franchise.
More than that, The Wounded is an especially good episode. As Star Trek has always done, it deals with real-world themes through its sci-fi lens, looking at war, post-traumatic stress, how feelings of hate can linger long after the event, and so on. It was also a rarity at this point in Star Trek to see Starfleet officers as anything other than exemplars of virtue, or the Federation as anything less than a utopia. Captain Maxwell is not a villain per se, but the actions he takes in The Wounded endanger the peace – a hard-won peace with the Cardassians. In that sense, the episode looks at the idea of how war can and should be justified, and whether it’s acceptable to sacrifice the truth to preserve the peace.
Coming toward the end of the 1990-91 Gulf War, that makes The Wounded a very timely piece of television. Unlike the later Iraq War of 2003, the Gulf War was generally popular at the time, but even so there was a sense that there wasn’t a real plan for what to do after the initial military objectives had been achieved. Should the US and allies push on into Iraq and remove the Iraqi government? Or should they make peace even if doing so meant leaving a dictator in place? The Wounded doesn’t tackle all of these issues head-on, but the general theme of making peace with an enemy, the value of peace itself, and on a personal level, the toll war can take on those who serve, were all present in the narrative.
Finally, The Wounded draws on inspiration from the film Apocalypse Now, itself influenced by the novel Heart of Darkness, and in the vein of those classics features a story about a war hero going “mad.” Plot points like Captain Maxwell’s mental state and his foray into enemy territory are comparable to storylines in those classic works of literature and cinema. There’s a reason why audiences respond to such powerful themes and storylines, and The Wounded does an admirable job of translating them to Star Trek’s science fiction setting, doing so in a way that retains the original message, ensuring it isn’t buried too deeply in talk of aliens and spacecraft.
Because of the way The Next Generation was broadcast at the time, I can’t claim that this is the thirtieth anniversary of when I saw The Wounded! That would’ve been a couple of years later, as here in the UK that was the kind of delay we were looking at between an episode’s US premiere and when it would be broadcast here. Regardless, let’s take a look at The Wounded together.
The episode begins with a couple of sequences that set up the main storylines. Both via his captain’s log and on the bridge, Picard gives us a lot of information about the Cardassians – who were, as noted, new to Star Trek in this episode. The bridge crew briefly discuss the situation, and it emerges that Picard had been part of the conflict and negotiations to resolve it while in command of the Stargazer. The exact nature of Cardassian-Federation relations is a little confused; Picard says a “peace treaty” is in effect whereas Troi describes the Cardassians as “allies.”
Up next we get a sequence with Chief O’Brien and Keiko – whose wedding had been part of the previous episode, Data’s Day. In their quarters, O’Brien seems unimpressed with Keiko’s vegetarian cuisine. O’Brien got a fun line when looking at the kelp-based meal: “Sweetheart… I’m not a fish.” That line still wins a chuckle decades later! As O’Brien promises to prepare Keiko a meal of his childhood Irish classics, the ship comes under attack.
On the bridge, the crew briefly discuss the minor damage to the ship. The Cardassians apparently fired without responding to hails. This sequence marked the first appearance of the Cardassian Galor-class warship, initially described here as a “scout ship.” Despite firing on the Enterprise-D while its shields were down, there is no major damage nor any casualties. A few phaser shots from the Enterprise-D causes damage to the Cardassian ship and forces its captain – Gul Macet – to hail. The Galor-class would go on to be one of the Cardassian mainstays during the Dominion War – where it was much more effective! Perhaps it got an upgrade. Macet alleges that a Federation ship attacked the Cardassians in violation of their peace treaty; he gives Picard one hour to find out what’s happened.
Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery both have pretty understated theme music. They aren’t bad, but they’re closer to the themes from Deep Space Nine and Voyager in that they’re slower, quieter pieces of music. The Next Generation’s theme is in contrast to those! Taken from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the up-tempo theme really conveys a sense of adventure in a way the others really don’t. Star Trek: Lower Decks, and to a degree the main theme from 2009’s Star Trek reboot film, both do this too, and both of those pieces of music are likewise up-tempo and adventurous. It’s only when coming back to The Next Generation after watching a full season of Discovery that I can really appreciate this difference in musical tone!
After the opening titles Captain Picard receives a briefing from a Starfleet Admiral. He informs Picard that the USS Phoenix, under the command of Captain Maxwell, was responsible for destroying a Cardassian station – though they are unable to find out why as Captain Maxwell is not responding. The Enterprise-D – along with a small group of Cardassian “observers” – has been granted permission to enter Cardassian space and catch Maxwell.
The Admiral is very concerned with preserving a hard-won peace treaty, and makes it clear that he believes that the Federation is not prepared for another war with Cardassia – prescient, one might say, in light of how badly the Federation handled much of the Dominion War! Though the Dominion War arc hadn’t even been conceived at this stage, when looking back at The Wounded now that we know what happened, it’s possible to see how the Dominion War story built on what had previously been established in many ways. These smaller moments add up to a much greater whole, and are part of what makes for a believable narrative.
Though Captain Picard is initially insistent that the three Cardassian observers be made welcome and not made to feel like “prisoners,” he acquiesces to Worf and Riker’s request that their access to the ship be limited. Worf intends to post guards at what he considers to be sensitive areas of the Enterprise-D for the duration of the Cardassians’ stay. Data establishes that O’Brien once served with Captain Maxwell aboard a ship called the Rutledge, and Picard tasks Counsellor Troi with looking after the crew, as he feels some officers may be uncomfortable with the Cardassians on board – foreshadowing what’s to come.
The Cardassians beam aboard and Riker and Troi are there to greet them, along with Chief O’Brien. The Wounded is the only episode of Star Trek to show off a different style of Cardassian uniform. Unlike the silver-grey mail-like armour that they would wear in the Deep Space Nine era, here the Cardassians wear a plain brown leather-like armour over some kind of undershirt. Most notably, this is the only episode which shows off Cardassian headgear – a kind of helmet that covers the back of the head with three bars connecting at the front. Though the outfit isn’t bad per se, I think it’s easy to see why it was changed later. Not only does the headgear look a little silly, it also covers up key aspects of the Cardassians’ facial features and makes them less distinguishable from one another. Gul Macet sports facial hair, too, and The Wounded would be the only time we would see that on a Cardassian character.
It’s interesting that Marc Alaimo was the first Cardassian seen in Star Trek, and in another role would also go on to be the most significant Cardassian. In that sense he’s similar to Deep Space Nine co-star Armin Shimmerman, who was one of the first Ferengi seen in Season 1 of The Next Generation and also played Quark, the most famous Ferengi in Deep Space Nine. We don’t spend enough time with Gul Macet to really show off how different he is from Alaimo’s more well-known character of Gul Dukat, and in many ways the performance he puts in here is similar. Perhaps Macet and Dukat are related?
Counsellor Troi seems to pick up on O’Brien’s discomfort with the Cardassians as she and Riker escort them from the transporter room. In the briefing room, Geordi and Riker explain the basics of scanning for the Phoenix, and that they’re able to scan one sector per day. It’s worth pointing out that how big a “sector” is in Star Trek has never been consistently explained on screen! The Cardassians are sceptical – understandably so – but Picard is able to calm the tensions.
Also present at the briefing room table is O’Brien, and Picard turns to him to ask him a little about Captain Maxwell, with whom he previously served. O’Brien explains that Maxwell’s family were killed during a Cardassian attack on the Setlik III outpost – and if Setlik III sounds familiar to you, it’s a name associated with O’Brien’s military service that would be brought up numerous times in Deep Space Nine, most significantly, perhaps, in the episode Empok Nor.
O’Brien responds aggressively when it’s suggested to him that Captain Maxwell is taking revenge for what happened to him, and it’s clear that he feels a strong sense of loyalty to his former commander. Gul Macet attempts to press the point when Picard intervenes, but before the discussion can continue the briefing is interrupted by Worf, who has located the Phoenix on long-range sensors.
The briefing breaks up, and Captain Picard invites Gul Macet to the bridge with the senior officers. O’Brien and the two junior Cardassians leave together and end up sharing a turbolift. Here’s where we get one of the episode’s most interesting scenes. The Cardassians – who are, after all, just doing their jobs – attempt small-talk with O’Brien, but he isn’t having any of it.
After an invitation to join the Cardassians in Ten-Forward, O’Brien snaps. He tells them abruptly that he will cooperate with them when it comes to discussing technology or the search for Captain Maxwell if ordered to do so, but will not spend his free time with them. He then barges past them out of the turbolift.
It was around this time that we began to see cracks in the utopian/perfect veneer of Starfleet and humanity in Star Trek, proving that they haven’t entirely risen above the pettiness and conflicts we have in contemporary times. Gene Roddenberry was strongly opposed to the idea of Starfleet as a military outfit, and famously tried to have Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country re-written to cut out what he saw as anti-Klingon racism from Kirk. He felt such attitudes were beneath humanity in his vision of the future. I can only imagine he felt the same way about O’Brien in The Wounded. As an aside, The Undiscovered Country will also celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.
On the bridge, Picard orders the Enterprise-D to intercept the Phoenix, with Gul Macet watching over his shoulder. Macet wants the ship’s precise location so that he can have Cardassian vessels arrive first. He also asks for the ship’s transponder frequency – a neat callback to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Worf looks angry at this suggestion, which Captain Picard refuses – diplomatically, of course.
O’Brien serves Keiko the promised meal in their quarters, though she seems unimpressed with his replicated potato casserole (which looks more like potato salad!) He sings an old song from his days on the Rutledge, and it seemed for a moment as though the unpleasantness with the Cardassians was forgotten. But it turns out the song – which Colm Meaney does his best to sing – was a favourite of Captain Maxwell’s. He pushes Keiko to comment on why someone – speaking abstractly – might not be comfortable with Cardassians, but appears in denial about his own feelings toward them.
This scene and the previous one really humanise O’Brien. What he’s feeling is, as Keiko explains, quite natural. Yet at the same time he’s not comfortable sharing with her exactly what it is that’s wrong. He brushes off his battle experiences calling them “skirmishes,” and refuses to accept or even recognise that he’s holding on to a degree of resentment.
On the bridge, the crew has detected that the Phoenix is in pursuit of a Cardassian vessel – a supply ship. Gul Macet is incredulous that Data can read Cardassian transponder codes and tell what kind of vessel it is at such range, but they have a more immediate problem. Maxwell is not responding to hails, and goes on to attack the ship while the Enterprise-D can only watch.
I do like the 2D graphics used to represent the positions of the Phoenix and the Cardassian ship on the main viewscreen. Though arguably not very “high tech,” it’s cleverly done and easy to understand for us as the audience. The remastered Blu-Ray version didn’t change this, but did upscale and improve it. Though in many ways Discovery and Picard have changed up the aesthetic of Star Trek for modern times, we have seen these flat, 2D maps in those series as well.
Gul Macet again insists on being given the transponder frequency (or prefix code) for the Phoenix, and when Maxwell does not respond Picard orders Worf to send the code to the Cardassians. Worf loudly protests, but does carry out his orders. Despite sending the codes, however, the Phoenix is able to continue its attack and destroys both the Cardassian warship – to Gul Macet’s shock – and the supply ship it was initially targeting.
Following the battle – if it can be called that – Picard orders the Enterprise to increase speed to warp 9 to catch up. Given the urgency, I do wonder why the ship was only at warp 6 initially. Gul Macet leaves the bridge wordlessly.
Picard goes to visit O’Brien in his transporter room. O’Brien again states how greatly he respects Captain Maxwell, saying he served with “the two finest captains in Starfleet,” putting Maxwell on par with Picard himself. He also says that he believes Captain Maxwell must have a reason for the actions he’s taken, reiterating that this isn’t some quest for revenge.
Captain Maxwell, according to O’Brien, took the loss of his family as well as one could, and continued to perform his duties despite the tragedy. Even hearing that Captain Maxwell has just killed 600 Cardassians does not shake O’Brien’s opinion, as he tells Picard that he “knows” them and that one must be careful around Cardassians, a race he clearly holds in low regard. What Picard says next about holding on to one’s anger clearly has an effect on O’Brien, and causes him to consider not only what Captain Maxwell is doing, but his own attitude to the Cardassians. It’s one of the most powerful moments in the episode – yet lasts mere seconds.
Picard, in this statement, encapsulates the theme of the episode: that holding on to anger is never a good thing. Captain Maxwell may have pretended to be fine – as O’Brien was moments earlier with Keiko – but neither man ever got over their wartime experiences. It’s something that applies in the real world, too. At the time, the Gulf War was raging, but the peace treaty storyline reminds me more of the Vietnam War, and how Americans in this era might view their one-time enemies. It could even apply to the Second World War, and even today there are lingering feelings from that conflict in some areas.
In Ten-Forward, O’Brien joins one of the Cardassians for a drink. He initially offers an apology for his earlier actions, spurred no doubt by Captain Picard’s words. But as he talks to the Cardassian officer he spills more of his history with them – he was present on Setlik III after Captain Maxwell’s family was killed, and it was the first moment he ever killed someone. O’Brien’s words are very powerful: he doesn’t hate the Cardassians, he hates himself, and blames them for making him into a soldier and a killer.
On the bridge, Worf claims to have caught the other junior Cardassian accessing a computer on deck 35. Gul Macet reprimands him and confines him to quarters. The Cardassian officer’s staredown of Gul Macet seems to imply that he was carrying out his orders, but that point was not expanded upon further.
Gul Macet and Captain Picard speak in the ready-room. Macet says he will further discipline the man, Picard says it doesn’t matter, and that in order to have peace, no one individual must be allowed to disrupt it – a very self-serving statement under the circumstances, one might say! Macet sees Picard as a kindred spirit – both men desire peace above all else. Perhaps that comes as a surprise to both of them. Though it is hard to detach Marc Alaimo’s performance as Macet from his later role as Dukat, he is believable in this moment.
Data interrupts the conversation to tell Picard that they’re twenty minutes away from intercepting the USS Phoenix, and the very next scene shows the two ships together. Captain Maxwell beams aboard to discuss the situation with Captain Picard, and is greeted by O’Brien and Riker in the transporter room.
Far from being adversarial, Captain Maxwell is disarmingly pleasant, greeting Riker warmly and being pleased to see O’Brien after such a long time. Were it not for the previous twenty minutes we’d be forgiven for thinking this was any “normal” interaction between Starfleet officers! In that sense though, seeing this scene in context, there’s something very unsettling about it. Knowing that Captain Maxwell has gone rogue, knowing how many people he’s just murdered, and then seeing him as a jovial man in a Starfleet uniform offering friendly handshakes leaves a bad taste – intentionally so.
O’Brien looks disturbed as Riker and Maxwell depart, the latter arriving in Picard’s ready-room for a showdown. Again, though, pleasantries were observed, and Maxwell initially retains his disarming persona. Soon, however, Maxwell appears to go off the rails. He insists that the Cardassians are re-arming, and that the science station he attacked was actually a military outpost.
When pushed by Picard for evidence, he offers nothing concrete, instead talking in vague terms about there being no need for a scientific station in the area and its strategic value from a military perspective. He didn’t contact Starfleet because he didn’t want to wait, believing that Federation bureaucracy would be too slow to recognise the threat.
Captain Maxwell genuinely expects to find a kindred spirit in Picard, a fellow veteran of the Cardassian border wars. Not only does he expect Picard to harbour the same anti-Cardassian sentiments he clearly holds, he seems to expect his so-called “evidence” – which is little more than guesswork – will be adequate to excuse his actions in Picard’s eyes.
When this doesn’t materialise, Maxwell begins to sound even more disconnected, talking in big but ultimately vague terms about the need to save lives. He argues that he’s trying to prevent a war by stopping what he sees as Cardassian aggression, and accuses Picard of losing his edge. He believes that the peace treaty was a ruse, and that he was doing necessary work by ignoring it.
Picard replies by giving his assessment of the situation. He suggests that Maxwell is not doing any of this for the good of the Federation, but simply for the sake of revenge. When Maxwell says that history will consider Picard a fool, Picard says he will accept that, but insists Maxwell stand down now and return to Federation space. Maxwell asks him to join him and scan one of the Cardassian supply ships together, but Picard refuses.
Can we argue, in light of what came next, that Maxwell was right? Not only in the sense of what the Cardassians were doing in The Wounded, but seen in hindsight after the Dominion War? The Cardassians were re-arming, and within five years of the events depicted in this episode, the Dominion War would break out. Captain Maxwell’s methods may have been wrong, but his basic point stands: the Cardassians did use the peace treaty to rebuild and re-arm. They were preparing for another conflict. In that sense, we can look at the Cardassians as one might look at Germany in the mid-1930s. Picard was arguing that peace was the most important goal, something worth making sacrifices for. Those same arguments were made by many in Britian, France, and elsewhere in the years preceding the Second World War. We might even call it appeasement.
Maxwell initially agrees to Picard’s plan, agreeing to return to the Phoenix and accompany the Enterprise-D to a nearby Starbase. Picard was very strong and unwavering during the conversation, telling Captain Maxwell that he will “allow [him] the dignity” of returning to his own ship rather than putting him in the brig, then turning away to face the window after ordering Maxwell escorted out.
Predictably, though, Captain Maxwell does not stick to his side of the agreement. While en route to the Starbase, the Phoenix changes course, hunting down a Cardassian starship a light-year away. Picard orders the Enterprise-D to pursue, rapidly increasing speed. However, Data explains that the Phoenix is also accelerating and they won’t catch up in time.
As an aside, I like the design of the Nebula-class ships. They debuted in The Best of Both Worlds, though this was the first time the ship design was named on-screen. The intention with the Nebula-class was to create a vessel comparable to the Galaxy-class but smaller, clearly giving the Enterprise-D an advantage. In that sense it’s an updated Miranda-class from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and in fact its saucer-plus-nacelles design is superficially similar. It’s a neat-looking starship, and though such things are 100% subjective I’ve always thought the Nebula-class was a fun design.
As Picard gives the order to ready the phasers, Riker informs him that O’Brien used to be Maxwell’s tactical officer, and he’s summoned to the bridge. The Enterprise-D catches up with the Phoenix just as it intercepts the Cardassian supply ship, and O’Brien arrives on the bridge to help out.
The Phoenix has not powered up its weapons, and Data informs the bridge that they’re unable to scan the Cardassian ship. That does raise eyebrows – literally – but Picard first talks with O’Brien about Captain Maxwell, still hoping to avoid a Starfleet-on-Starfleet battle. Captain Maxwell hails the Enterprise and pleads with Picard to board the Cardassian ship, saying it will prove him right.
Picard, of course, is having none of it. With Maxwell no longer trustworthy he insists he beam aboard the Enterprise. Maxwell is looking increasingly desperate, threatening to destroy the Cardassian ship if Picard won’t board it. He ends the conversation when Picard doesn’t back down.
Captain Maxwell will strike if his back is against the wall, so says O’Brien. And mere seconds later the Phoenix is seen to power up its shields and weapons, reading an attack on the Cardassian vessel. Picard orders red alert, and prepares to take the extraordinary action of firing on another Starfleet vessel to defend a Cardassian ship.
O’Brien offers to beam aboard the Phoenix to talk Captain Maxwell down, and comes up with a technobabble plan to beam through the cycling shields of the Nebula-class vessel. With few other options, Picard authorises the mission. It would’ve been neat to see O’Brien in the transporter room pulling off this seemingly dangerous, complicated bit of transporter work! But instead the very next scene in in Captain Maxwell’s ready-room, with O’Brien having already beamed aboard.
Maxwell is shocked to see O’Brien, and pulls out a phaser. He refuses to believe Picard will attack his ship to protect “the enemy,” but when O’Brien insists that he will he becomes dejected. He asks O’Brien what happened in “this war,” but O’Brien retorts that there is no war any more, that the war is over and they have peace.
As they talk, it becomes clear to O’Brien – and to us as the audience – that Picard and Gul Macet were right: for Captain Maxwell this is all about what happened to his family on Setlik III. He says that the war is not over, that the Cardassians are butchers who “live to make war,” and O’Brien comes to realise that he was never able to let go of what happened.
As O’Brien listens, Maxwell’s voice breaks. His children never had the chance to grow up, he lost his family, and he has been unable to let go of that anger toward the Cardassians. It has clouded his judgement. The two men talk and reminisce about their time on the Rutledge, and other officers they served with, including a man who died at Setlik III. O’Brien sings the song again, and Captain Maxwell joins in. It turns out the song was one sung by the man who was killed by the Cardassians.
As the song comes to an end, Captain Maxwell realises that it’s over. Whatever he was trying to do, whatever reasons he had, however he’d convinced himself and his crew that it was right, he couldn’t defeat the Enterprise and he couldn’t negotiate with Picard. As he says to O’Brien, he isn’t “going to win this one.”
Picard confirms in a voiceover log that Captain Maxwell has been detained, and that the Phoenix has rejoined the Enterprise. In the briefing room, Picard thanks O’Brien for resolving what could’ve been a far worse situation. O’Brien expresses his pride at having served with Captain Maxwell, someone he still considers a “good man,” in spite of what he did. Picard dismisses him, and Gul Macet says he admires O’Brien’s loyalty, “even if it is misplaced.”
The Wounded has one final twist, though, as Picard explains to Gul Macet. After saying that Maxwell, who was a decorated war hero, simply could not find a role for himself when peace broke out, Picard drops the bombshell that Maxwell was right. The Cardassian ships were not carrying science equipment – they were, as Maxwell said, preparing for war.
Gul Macet asks the obvious question: if Picard knew, why not board the ship? Picard responds that he was there to protect the peace; that was his only objective. He placed preserving the peace ahead of everything else, even when he knew that Maxwell was right and that the Cardassians were using the so-called science outpost for military purposes. As we discussed above, he chose to put peace ahead of all other considerations.
Picard tells Gul Macet to take a message back to the Cardassian Central Command: the Federation and Starfleet will be watching. They know what the Cardassians were trying to do, and though they did not take aggressive action this time, the option remains on the table. Any chance of a surprise attack is gone, the Cardassian objective has failed. Picard spins his chair around, signalling the end of the conversation – and the episode.
So that was The Wounded. It was fun to look back on this episode on its thirtieth anniversary – something which makes me feel very old indeed! The episode was a heavy one, with incredibly deep and meaningful themes that touched on issues which are still as relevant in 2021 as they were in 1991. It’s also an important piece of Star Trek history, introducing the Cardassians, giving O’Brien his first real storyline, and bringing Marc Alaimo into the franchise.
Though the Cardassians’ uniforms would be redesigned, their overall look, as well as the appearance of their Galor-class ships, would remain in use until the end of Deep Space Nine. We have briefly seen a Cardassian in the recent third season of Discovery, too, a design which is largely unchanged from that which debuted here. The Cardassians would go on to join the Klingons as one of the most-explored Star Trek factions thanks to their significant role in Deep Space Nine.
As Gene Roddenberry stepped back from day-to-day work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, things began to change. Where the first season largely followed the formula Roddenberry used in The Original Series, by the end of Season 2 and certainly by the time The Wounded premiered, the series had taken a different path. In addition to the darker themes which looked at humans holding prejudiced views and even committing war crimes, Rick Berman and others were working hard to establish Star Trek as a growing, connected franchise with themes, characters, factions, and storylines that would all cross over.
Plans for Deep Space Nine were underway, and within two years that show would premiere with the episode Emissary. The Star Trek franchise we know today wasn’t created by The Wounded, but the episode plays an important role in taking Star Trek to new places, not only thematically but also in terms of expanding the roster of characters. O’Brien had his first major storyline here, and the success of his role in The Wounded established him as a major player in Star Trek, getting him ready for the move to Deep Space Nine.
I had fun re-watching this episode of The Next Generation. I have written up two other re-watches from the show, and you can find them here: Season 2’s The Measure of a Man and Season 7’s Lower Decks. This is something I do from time to time, and with no new Star Trek on the schedule at the moment, check back as I’m sure I’ll be writing up more episode re-watches this year!
Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery.
Time certainly flies, doesn’t it? It was one year ago today that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in the United States (and a day later in the rest of the world). It’s not unfair to say that I was incredibly excited about this series, which would take the Star Trek timeline forward in a significant way for the first time in eighteen years. Though I tried hard to keep my hype and expectations in check, there was no getting around how much I was looking forward to Star Trek: Picard.
As we hit the first anniversary, I thought it could be a good moment to look back on my remembrances (ha! get it?) of the show as well as what the first season achieved, what it did well, and where it came up short.
If you were a regular reader a year ago, you’ll recall from my reviews that the season started very strongly. In fact, I named Remembrance (the season premiere) the best Star Trek episode of 2020 – a year which, for all its problems, saw 33 episodes across three shows. I rank Remembrance very highly among modern Star Trek episodes, and I’d even compare it favourably to Deep Space Nine’s Emissary, perhaps placing them joint-first as the best Star Trek premieres.
The finale, on the other hand, let the season down somewhat. Carefully-established mysteries that the show had slowly build up over the preceding eight episodes felt rushed through in a two-part conclusion that dumped new characters, a new location, a new faction, and whole new storylines into play right at the very end. The season also ended with a plot hole unexplained – why Dr Maddox travelled to Freecloud – and the disappearance of main character Narek, whose storyline was dropped halfway through the second part of the finale.
So despite enjoying Picard overall, as I look back a year later at Season 1, I’m afraid I have to say that it was a mixed bag.
From the moment Star Trek: Picard was announced it shot to the top of my list of shows I was excited for. I may have talked about this in the run-up to the season, but I remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed when Enterprise was announced in 1999. I wasn’t particularly interested in a Star Trek prequel, and while the show had heart and told some exciting stories, there was a sense really since Voyager ended and Nemesis had been in cinemas that Star Trek wasn’t moving forward.
Enterprise, the Kelvin reboot films, Discovery, and even Short Treks all told stories in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries, and though those stories were enjoyable and fun, there was a lot left behind in the 24th Century that was never explored. What would become of the characters we knew, of the Federation, of Starfleet, and all the other factions, races, and planets? The 24th Century had been Star Trek’s biggest era – with 517 episodes of television and four films starring three crews and a huge supporting cast of secondary and recurring characters.
The 24th Century was also “my” Star Trek era. The Next Generation was the first Star Trek series I watched, and it was literally my way into being a Trekkie. I have a great fondness for the shows of that era, and I consider it to be not only the time when Star Trek was at its most successful in terms of viewership (and finances) but also the closest the franchise has to a “Golden Age.” So to see that era abandoned for prequels and mid-quels wasn’t exactly disappointing, but it wasn’t something I was wild about.
So for eighteen years (Nemesis was released in 2002) Star Trek hadn’t moved forward in terms of the timeline. And even when Discovery launched and established itself with Short Treks and a spin-off, there was still no plan to revisit the 24th Century. Picard came along like a breath of fresh air, and I was incredibly excited, hyped up, and interested in what the series would bring. That was my mindset going into the premiere and each of the subsequent nine episodes.
Picard was not Season 8 of The Next Generation – and I didn’t want it to be. I was very keen that the new cast be given an opportunity to establish themselves within the franchise and become fan favourites for a new generation of Trekkies. What I hoped for was that, in thirty years’ time, people would be clamouring for a Dr Jurati series or Star Trek: Elnor with the same vigour I have for Picard. And I think, in that sense, we’ve begun to see at least the beginnings of that.
A lot of television shows don’t really settle in until Season 2, which is where the overused term “growing the beard” comes from. I’ve used that expression myself a few times, but in the aftermath of Discovery’s recent outing it seems to be the only phrase that critics are using to describe the show and it’s honestly put me off! But we’re off topic. There was perhaps a degree of leniency on my part going into Season 1 of Picard; a willingness to let some minor issues slide in order to see the show continue to build and grow. And as underwhelming as the Season 1 finale was, I’m hopeful that Season 2 can build on the foundation that has been laid.
Though there was the mystery of Dr Maddox’s location, the Romulans’ scheme, and later the beacon to contact the super-synths, what Season 1 really was, when you boil it down, was a team-up story. Picard, over the course of ten episodes, put together a new crew and gave them a reason to work together. Establishing each member of the crew, giving them a side-quest of their own, and binding them together to follow Picard was the primary accomplishment of the season.
I’ve used the analogy of the Mass Effect video game series once in relation to Star Trek: Picard already – when it comes to the basic existence of the super-synths and their beacon. But there is a second point of comparison that is interesting to me, and may be to you if you’ve played those games. In Mass Effect 2, much of the game is comprised of Commander Shepard recruiting a crew. Each member of the crew needs to be brought on board, then later a side-mission is given in which players can earn their loyalty. Picard Season 1 played out similarly.
Raffi wanted to go to Freecloud to reunite with her son. Dr Jurati had a secret plot to kill Dr Maddox. Elnor had to resolve his lingering emotional issues with Picard. Rios had to put together the pieces of what happened aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Seven of Nine wanted revenge for Icheb. Each of the main characters – at least those on the mission to save Soji – had to be recruited and then have their side-quest resolved before the story could reach its conclusion. This isn’t just a story from Mass Effect 2, it’s something many team-up stories do.
As I mentioned when considering some preliminary ideas for Season 2, finding a way to keep this crew together will be something that the next chapter of this story needs to address. Because they came together to do a single task – rescue Soji – and then continued to help the synths on Coppelius and prevent the arrival of the super-synths, they’re done. Their mission is complete, and Season 2 will have to find a believable reason for keeping them together. But that is a challenge for next time!
Each character we met was interesting, and none felt unoriginal or bland in the way some secondary characters can in a story which primarily focuses on one person. We’ll deal with Picard himself in a moment, but for now: Elnor was a lonely member of an all-female sect, and also had abandonment issues after Picard’s disappearance. Rios pretended to be the roguish “Han Solo” type, but had serious post-traumatic stress following his former captain’s murder-suicide while aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Raffi was a flawed genius whose drug problem had dominated her life and cost her her most important relationships. Dr Jurati had been brainwashed into murdering someone she loved. Narek was the spy with a heart of gold – but instead of being a cliché he turned that trope on its head by sticking to his mission to the end. Dahj and Soji were different from one another – androids unaware of their synthetic nature. One was drawn to Picard, the other deeply suspicious of him.
Then we had the reintroduction of several legacy characters. Dr Maddox, who we met in The Next Generation, had continued his research after his meeting with Data, and eventually was able to develop his own line of androids. Seven of Nine had helped Icheb become a Starfleet officer, but lost him when she was betrayed by Bjayzl. Riker and Troi, who had married in Nemesis, had a family – but their son had died. Hugh was perhaps the most successful of all the legacy characters, the ex-Borg who had taken full advantage of his own liberation to assist hundreds or possibly thousands of other ex-Borg on the Artifact.
There was tragedy and drama aplenty in each of the characters we met, but none of it felt forced or contrived in the way some drama shows can. This wasn’t a soap opera, it was hard-hitting. Picard Season 1 may not have followed the traditional episodic Star Trek formula, but it had a distinctly Star Trek tone – it used its sci-fi setting to examine real world issues. It did so in a tense, dramatic, and exciting way, and expanded on themes from The Next Generation and elsewhere in the franchise, looking at basic rights such as the right to life.
The attack on Mars can be analogous to many different recent and historical events, but the reaction to it is certainly reminiscent of the western world’s post-9/11 outlook. The aftermath of a tragedy allowed a nefarious faction to push through a prohibition on certain groups of people. Islam was not “banned” after 9/11, but as recently as 2016 Donald Trump talked of a “ban on people from Muslim countries” – these restrictions were in place for much of his term as President.
The theme of the season was in realising that we mustn’t judge whole groups of people by the actions of a few. This could apply just as much to the supporters and voters of Donald Trump in 2021 as it did to Muslims and others. The fanatics who attacked the United States Capitol a couple of weeks ago are no more representative of the 70+ million Trump voters as ISIS or al-Qaeda are of Islam. That is the message of this synthetic ban storyline: not to be so quick to judgement, and not to allow those with a pre-existing agenda to force the issue.
The Zhat Vash quietly infiltrated Starfleet, and slowly began poisoning the minds of Starfleet officers and Federation civilians. We have the literal expression of this metaphor via the mind-meld – this represents how those with an agenda are using propaganda and “fake news” to unduly influence the discourse. These themes are buried in the narrative, but they are there – and open to interpretation. This is how I see some of these storylines having real-world comparisons, but it may not be how you or someone else sees it. Fiction is always subjective, and that’s okay. If you disagree, that’s great!
As I’ve said before, a story doesn’t just have merit because it can be seen through a real-world lens. In some cases, pushing too far in that direction can lead to a narrative being less enjoyable. So Picard balanced out some of these contemporary metaphors with a truly engaging and mysterious Star Trek story.
We saw these events from Picard’s point of view, and he’s such a great character for telling this story because he didn’t know exactly what happened and why, just as much as we as the audience didn’t know. So when the synths attacked Mars, his life, his career, and his whole world fell apart. We meet him at the beginning of the season premiere as someone who’s fallen into a major depression. Dahj would be the catalyst for bringing him out of that – but it wasn’t until the mysteries and conspiracies had been unravelled and brought to light that he could truly move on.
We went on that journey with Picard. We began together, not knowing what had happened on Mars, not understanding why, and then along comes Dahj. She was equally mysterious: who was she, why was she seeking out Picard, who were the assassins that were trying to hurt her? And as we learned more about both of these elements of the story, this chapter of Picard’s life – and the lives of those around him – came into focus.
My criticisms of the season finale generally don’t stem from the fact that any of the narrative decisions were bad, but rather that I wanted to see more. We rushed through Sutra’s story, Dr Soong’s story, and the end of Narek’s story. We don’t know anything about the super-synths, and precious little about the civilisation on Coppelius. There was scope to know more if the season had been structured differently and perhaps extended by an episode or two, and that’s really where I felt things came unstuck.
From an aesthetic point of view, Picard blended The Next Generation-era elements with a style firmly centred in modern-day sci-fi. The design of La Sirena reflects this – it was clearly not a Starfleet ship. Inside and out, La Sirena has touches of Star Trek, but stands apart and very much does its own thing. Beginning with the redesign of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and carrying all the way through to Discovery, we’ve seen starship interiors with certain visual elements – angled corridors and hallways, grey or blue pastel carpeting, panels with distinctive lines, the warp core as a glowing column, and so forth. La Sirena has some hints at some of these, but is much closer to ships seen in The Expanse, for example, and other modern sci-fi properties in other ways.
Within the Star Trek fandom, starship designs and uniforms are both subjective things with a range of opinions on which are best. And before anyone rushes to judgement to say La Sirena looks bad or they dislike the mermaid-combadges, I’d say that we need to give the show time for its aesthetic to grow on us. There have only been ten episodes of Picard compared with 176 of The Next Generation, and those episodes are only a year old. Obviously nothing in Picard will feel as “iconic” yet – but as time goes by and we spend more time in this era that may happen.
I adored the design of La Sirena. It felt like a runabout mixed with a hot-rod, and I think that shows to some extent the personality of Captain Rios. This is his ship, and he’s put his personal stamp on it – as we saw in a very funny (and incredibly well-acted and well-filmed) sequence with five different Rios-holograms. After the blue boiler suits of Enterprise were followed up with another all-blue look in Discovery I was also glad to see more colour back in the two new Starfleet uniform designs which debuted in Picard. The one in the “current” time (that we saw people like Riker and Commodore Oh wearing) was my favourite of the two when compared to the design seen in flashbacks, but both were neat.
The only aesthetic problem I felt Season 1 had was its outdoor filming locations and their lack of variety. We visited locations on Earth which were supposedly in France, Japan, and North America, as well as half a dozen planets, and each looked exactly like southern California. Because Picard had ten episodes and almost all of them had some outdoor filming this was amplified far more than it had been in the likes of The Next Generation, which would see fewer outdoor shoots with more episodes in between them. But as the season progressed, the fact that each planet Picard visited was a barely-disguised location within a few miles of Los Angeles detracted from the look.
Some locations, like the planet of Aia, were beautifully created in CGI, but then ruined when scenes on the surface not only didn’t match the CGI creation of the planet (the colour and tone are way different). What made no sense to me about the Aia scenes in particular is with so little time spent there, why not use a sound stage? Rig up a planet that looks genuinely different instead of using an outdoor filming location. We only saw two or three scenes set on Aia, all around the beacon, and I honestly just thought it was a wasted opportunity. Vashti, Nepenthe, and Coppelius all felt very samey because of the decision to shoot outdoors in the same area, and that’s just a shame to me. I would love to see some more variety in Season 2 – either by travelling to shoot on location further afield, or by using indoor sound stages that can be made to look different each time.
So we come to the man himself: Jean-Luc Picard. I mentioned earlier that he was depressed, and the way this part of his story was conveyed was heartbreaking and wonderful. I recently wrote an article looking at the characterisation of Luke Skywalker in the 2017 film The Last Jedi, because he was also depressed in that story. It was one that some Star Wars fans hated, but it resonated with me. Picard’s story in Season 1 resonated with me too, for many of the same or similar reasons as I explained in that essay.
Depression and mental health are not easy subjects to convey in fiction, and Picard itself had a scene in the episode The End Is The Beginning which unfortunately painted a pretty stereotypical picture of mental health. But Picard’s story was much better, and very well done overall. It showed that anyone – no matter how heroic they have been in the past – can fall victim to depression. Picard lost his fleet, he lost his role in Starfleet, and instead of saying “no, the right thing to do is to help so I’m going to fight on,” he collapsed. He hit a problem that he couldn’t solve, suffered a humiliating defeat, and gave up. He spent years in quiet retirement – which was more like a self-imposed exile – because of how he felt.
That is powerful in itself, as it shows how anyone – even heroes that we want to put on a pedestal – can fall victim to depression. The same was true of Luke Skywalker. But what came next is equally important – Dahj gave Picard a reason to believe in something again. Not only was there a mystery to figure out, which can be tantalising in itself, but Picard was the only one capable and willing to help Soji – so he stepped up. Where he had fallen into the lowest point of his life, he found a reason to believe and that set him on the path to recovery. I find that a powerful and inspiring story.
There were two cathartic moments for me in Season 1 that I didn’t know I needed to see. The first was with Seven of Nine. During the latter part of Voyager’s run, Seven was my least-favourite character. She was annoying, arrogant, and worst of all, after learning some “lesson in how to be human” from Captain Janeway or the Doctor, she’d seemingly reset and forget it ever happened by the next episode, requiring her to “learn” the same lesson in being human many times over. She was repetitive and boring. But in Picard she had finally moved past her Borg years and embraced her humanity and emotions – even though she lost Icheb, seeing her get so genuinely angry and react in such a human way was something wonderful to see – and was performed beautifully by Jeri Ryan.
The second cathartic moment came from Data. His death in Nemesis wasn’t something I was happy about, but within the story of that film I remember feeling at the time that it worked. However, looking back I can see how, for example, seeing Picard and the rest of the crew laughing and moving on at the end of the film was perhaps not the right way to end the story. Data didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone – his sacrifice happened in a brief moment, and after saving Picard he was just gone.
Picard carried that regret with him in a far more significant way than the closing moments of Nemesis hinted at. Riker and Troi did too, and we got to see both of them express that. Picard poured his heart out to Data when he was in the digital afterlife, and the scene between the two of them was something incredible. It was something I as a fan needed to see, to put Data to rest properly after all these years.
In a sense, Picard and Data’s story is an inversion of the story Kirk and Spock went through in The Search For Spock and The Voyage Home. After Spock’s death, Kirk would stop at nothing to find a way to bring his friend back to life – even stealing the Enterprise. While Picard set out on his journey to save Data’s “daughter” from harm, what he ended up doing was bringing a final end to Data’s life. There was no way to save Data, nor to transfer whatever remained of him into a new body. The only thing Picard could to for his friend was finally allow him his mortality, and permit him to die. As Kirk might’ve said, that sounds like a “no-win scenario.” But as Kirk never really had to learn – at least until the moment of his own death – those scenarios exist every day. It might sound cool to say “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” and push to save everyone all the time, but that isn’t possible. It’s a fantasy – and Picard confronted the genuine reality of death in a way Kirk never had to.
Data had desperately yearned to be more human. From his first appearance in Encounter at Farpoint when he struggled with whistling through to the introduction of his emotion chip in Generations and beyond, all Data wanted was to feel less like an android and more like a human. Mortality is one of humanity’s defining characteristics – especially when compared to machines and synthetic life. By shutting down Data’s remaining neurons and consciousness, Picard gave him perhaps the greatest gift he could give – and Data achieved his goal of getting as close to humanity as possible.
As I look back on Season 1 of Picard, I can see that it had some flaws and some issues. But none of them were catastrophic, and even though there was one episode that I described at the time as a “misfire and a dud,” the season as a whole was great. It started off with what is perhaps the best premiere of any Star Trek series, and though the ending was imperfect we got some amazing story-driven dramatic Star Trek.
Perhaps Season 1’s legacy will be defined by what comes next. Not only by future seasons of Picard, but by other shows and films set in or around this time period, expanding the Star Trek franchise and pushing it to new places. The Next Generation served as a launchpad for two other series and four films, and perhaps Picard has similarly laid a foundation upon which more Star Trek will be built. That’s my hope, at any rate.
Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Season 1 was an entertaining ride – with a few bumps in the road as mentioned. We got to learn a lot more about some of Star Trek’s factions – the Romulans in particular, but also the Borg – and meet some genuinely interesting new characters. Despite some leftover story threads from Season 1, Season 2 is potentially wide open to tell some new and interesting stories when it’s finally ready to be broadcast. I can’t wait for that!
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.
2020 has seen a lot of cancellations, and as the end of the year approaches that has extended to New Year celebrations too. Around the world, fireworks displays and other big events are being shut down due to the pandemic, and while I’m sure most of you are too sensible to have even considered attending such an event in person, many of these parties and countdowns were scheduled to be televised, which leaves us with a gaping hole in our New Year’s Eve viewing. With parties also off the agenda for most of us, I thought I’d put together a fun list of things to watch instead as the minutes tick closer to midnight.
I’ve never been particularly bothered about fireworks. A professional display can be fun to see if you’re there in person, but on television much of the impact is lost. Despite that, for the last few years I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves with the London fireworks display – one of the many events that has been cancelled for 2020 – simply because there aren’t a lot of other options. At least, there weren’t until now!
I started thinking about alternatives, and I came up with five potentially fun ideas (and a couple of bonus ones!)
Number 1:The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Timestamp: 2:50:20 (Extended Edition Blu-ray)
I have to admit this one is not an original idea (I stole it from a meme). But if you want to begin the new year with Théoden of Rohan proclaiming “so it begins,” you can! If you start The Two Towers at precisely 21:09:40 (assuming you have the extended edition on Blu-ray), Théoden will utter that line at the stroke of midnight. Not only that, but you’ll begin the year with one of the best fantasy battles ever filmed: the Battle of Helm’s Deep.
Why not make New Year’s Eve a Lord of the Rings marathon while you’re at it? I could think of far worse ways to start 2021 than with three of the finest films of the genre.
Number 2:Phineas & Ferb Season 4, Episode 2: For Your Ice Only/Happy New Year (2012)
Timestamp: 00:19:26 (Disney+ version)
Episodes of Phineas and Ferb come bundled in pairs on Disney+, so if you want to celebrate with Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, and Dr Doofenshmirtz you’ll have to start this duo of episodes at precisely 23:40:34 on New Year’s Eve. That will ring in the New Year with a countdown, a ball drop (from outer space, no less) and one of Dr Doofenshmirtz’s wacky inventions.
The climactic final act of Ghostbusters II takes place on New Year’s Eve in New York City, and if you’re up for some comedy to ring in 2021, this could be the way to do it! Though not as spectacular as the 1984 original, Ghostbusters II is nevertheless decent, and manages to have heart despite the ridiculous nature of its premise.
If you start the film around 22:30, you’ll get to the scenes on New Year’s Eve by midnight, and will have started 2021 with a funny, heartwarming, and slightly spooky tale.
Number 4:Futurama – Season 1, Episode 1: Space Pilot 3000
Timestamp: 00:01:52 (DVD)
Futurama premiered in 1999, and fittingly its pilot episode was set on Millennium Eve. Fry, a pizza delivery guy, ends up alone – before falling into a cryogenic stasis chamber and waking up 1,000 years later! If you begin the episode – at least, the DVD version – at 23:58:08 on New Year’s Eve, you’ll begin 2021 not just with Fry, but with a surprisingly fun multilingual New Year’s countdown.
If you haven’t seen Futurama in a while, this could be a fun way to get back into it. So what do you say? Wanna go around again?
Number 5:Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 3, Episode 26: The Best of Both Worlds (1990)
It wouldn’t be a Crazy Uncle Dennis list without some Star Trek, right? If you begin watching The Best of Both Worlds (part one or the omnibus version on Blu-ray and Netflix) at precisely 23:16:02 on New Year’s Eve, you will begin 2021 with Locutus proclaiming that “resistance is futile!” The Best of Both Worlds would be many folks’ pick for the absolute best episode of The Next Generation, and it’s an engrossing watch even thirty years later.
Stick around for the second part to see how Riker and the crew manage to overcome the Borg incursion into Federation space, and start 2021 with one of the best and most iconic Star Trek stories there is. I’d challenge even non-Trekkies to be underwhelmed with that!
Bonus #1: Last year’s London fireworks!
This one is a total cheat because I said we would look at things to watch instead of the usual fireworks displays. But on YouTube you can find the official broadcasts of many different New Year’s Eve events, including the London fireworks. If you go for the official (BBC) broadcast of the 2019-20 fireworks show, you’ll need to start it at eleven seconds to midnight in order for the countdown to line up. That’s not a lot of room for error if you’re planning on having a busy evening!
There are many recordings of these shows available online, and you can check out the New York ball drop, Hogmanay in Scotland, and many more. Out of everything I’ve put forward, picking one of these would make for the most “normal” feeling New Year’s Eve, so if you’ve had anxieties or worries this year, or if you’re caring for someone who is keen on a return to normalcy, this could be a good option. You can even pick which year you’d like to relive. Personally I might go back and re-celebrate the Millennium!
Bonus #2:Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch, 2020)
Though I believe it hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, every past game in the Animal Crossing series featured a New Year’s Eve event, complete with countdown, party poppers, and an in-game fireworks display. New Horizons will almost certainly follow suit, with events taking place either side of midnight. If you’ve been spending a lot of time on your island this year, it could be fun to spend New Year with your animal friends.
Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons provide players with these kinds of experiences. If you’re missing the party atmosphere and want to feel like you’re participating in an event instead of simply watching along, this could be perfect. Well not perfect, but a reasonable substitute nevertheless.
So that’s it. A few silly suggestions for what to watch on New Year. It’s not long now till 2020 will be finally over, and with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine having already begun – at least here in the UK – hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.
Stay tuned because I have more festive and holiday-themed things to come before we reach 2021!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, broadcaster, distributor, or production company. Header image courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A few days ago I looked at the possibility of a remastered Mass Effect trilogy. While unconfirmed, this project has been rumoured to be in development for at least the last six months, and while I could certainly consider the argument that we don’t need a remaster less than a decade after the trilogy wrapped up, it got me thinking about games that I really would like to see given a proper update for 2020.
When it came to choosing titles, I excluded anything from the last couple of console generations, as those are new enough – in my opinion – to hold up reasonably well in 2020. I excluded titles that have been remastered already, as well as one title (Super Mario 64) that has been the subject of intense speculation regarding a potential upcoming remaster. I considered a number of titles from the 1980s and early ’90s, but despite some good contenders, the titles I ultimately chose are all from the mid ’90s through to the mid 2000s. Remember that these are just my opinions; the list is subjective.
This list is just a fantasy. Some of the games below may one day be remastered, but others are so obscure that I may be one of only a handful of people who knew they existed even when they were new! So don’t get excited at the prospect of an impending remaster; if you must play a title on this list… I dunno. Try eBay?
Number 1: Star Trek: Generations (PC, 1997)
When it comes to naming my “all-time favourite” game, I struggle. There are so many good video games that I’ve played over the years, and what I enjoy playing changes with my mood. That said, the PC game Star Trek: Generations has to be a contender. Part Doom-clone, part puzzle game, part tactical ship-to-ship combat game, featuring fully-voiced characters and some great sequences set in stellar cartography that I don’t even know how to categorise, Generations was a fantastic and incredibly well-rounded experience. It’s such a shame that it released way too late – several years after the film – and was overlooked by even the hardest of hardcore Trekkies.
The main part of the game is a series of Doom-inspired first-person missions to various planets. Generations took a randomised approach – there are a number of planets that the villainous Dr Soran can visit, and which ones he travels to differs with each playthrough. All of the main characters from The Next Generation have their own missions, and the final act of the game lets players take on the role of Kirk. The story sticks to the film in the beginning and near the end, but diverges greatly in the middle during some of the away missions. It’s a fantastic title, and a few years ago I was able to track down a copy on eBay. I’ve been intending to replay it but haven’t got around to doing so yet.
Number 2: Jet Force Gemini (Nintendo 64, 1999)
Jet Force Gemini was a Nintendo 64 exclusive just before the turn of the millennium, and it was a fun sci-fi adventure in an original setting. The game gave players three characters to control: twins Juno and Vela, and their dog Lupus. An action/adventure title with some basic 3D platforming sections, the game had a slightly over-the-top story that involved saving teddy bear-like creatures and defeating a nefarious villain. Considering how many sequels and franchises exist right now in all forms of entertainment, Jet Force Gemini could offer something different – or at least something most players in 2020 haven’t experienced before!
Developed by Rare, the game had weapons that could be upgraded as well as an open level design that was comparable to other Nintendo 64 titles at the time. Though it was included in the Rare Replay compilation a few years ago, no remaster – or even a sequel – has been attempted, which is a shame. If a title like Jet Force Gemini were to launch today it would undoubtedly spawn a whole franchise!
Number 3: Knights of the Old Republic I & II (PC & Xbox, 2003-04)
I talked about Knights of the Old Republic a few times during my playthrough of Jedi: Fallen Order, because some aspects of the two titles are comparable. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t enjoy the Star Wars prequels, and the first two films were especially bad. But in the aftermath of Attack of the Clones I got to have two of my favourite ever Star Wars experiences – these two games.
With all the discussion around a Mass Effect remaster, Bioware’s Star Wars game hasn’t been mentioned. But it should be – both Knights of the Old Republic and its Obsidian-developed sequel are phenomenal. The Star Wars franchise has struggled to break away from its original trilogy and characters for a long time, but Knights of the Old Republic took a genuinely original and interesting setting and told a story that took place millennia before the films. These games did wonders for the Star Wars brand at a time when two crap films had tarnished it, and playing them again but with the enhanced graphics of a title like Jedi: Fallen Order would be amazing.
Number 4: Blue Stinger (Dreamcast, 1999)
The only Dreamcast exclusive on this list was a bargain-bin find even at the time it was released! But that’s such a shame, because if you can look past the hammy dialogue and silly premise there’s a fun game hiding just beneath the surface. Blue Stinger didn’t pretend to take itself too seriously. Its dinosaurs-from-space apocalypse setting precluded that! But not every game – or every film – has to be dark and gritty; there’s plenty of room in the gaming realm for titles like this.
What I liked most about Blue Stinger was the fact that the game offered a lot of customisation. Different outfits and different weapons for the multiple playable characters all contributed to making my playthrough feel unique, that I was having an adventure all my own. Few games at the time offered that kind of experience, and I appreciated it.
Number 5: Arx Fatalis (PC & Xbox, 2002)
After playing and loving The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on the original Xbox, I was looking for another fantasy-inspired roleplaying game to play. There were a few such titles around, but after finding Arx Fatalis and seeing little more than the box art I was convinced it was going to be the next big thing. The PC version of the game – which I didn’t play – is generally considered to be better, as its spellcasting system involves using the mouse to draw symbols in the air. That extra sense of immersion must have felt great!
Arx Fatalis’ underground setting was amazing, with towns and settlements built into caverns, and I had a great time exploring the dungeons and caves of this unique world. There was a decent amount of choice, both in what quests I could take on and how to go about completing them. While Arx Fatalis arguably offered less than Morrowind, it was a solid and decent title nevertheless. Sadly it didn’t sell very well, partly due to being overshadowed by Morrowind, and remains in relative obscurity.
Number 6: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Future’s Past (SNES & Sega Mega Drive, 1994)
You knew that there was going to be at least one more Star Trek title on the list, right? Future’s Past (or Echoes from the Past if you got the Sega Mega Drive version) plays out like an extended episode of The Next Generation in a lot of ways, and there are things to do on the bridge of the Enterprise-D as well as on away missions. A team of up to four crew members – including both redshirts and major characters – can be assembled for away missions, and different combinations of characters can yield different results.
The away missions take a top-down view, making the game a kind of real-time tactics game as well as being a fun Star Trek adventure. Some of the game’s systems are quite in-depth for a mid ’90s title, and performing tasks like navigating the ship from one star system to another actually made it feel like you were a crewman on the Enterprise-D!
Number 7: FIFA 97 (Multiplatform, 1996)
Though the FIFA series had been running for three years by the time FIFA 97 arrived on the scene, it was the first iteration that I owned. FIFA 95 had introduced club teams after the first entry only featured national sides, but it was only available on the Sega Mega Drive. FIFA 96 was the first truly multiplatform release, and after the excitement of the 1996 European championships in England I was craving a football game to play!
Nostalgia is big in entertainment at the moment, as people look back fondly on the past. What could be absolutely fascinating to see, as a football fan, is a recreation of the various leagues and divisions as they were in the 1996-97 season, but with the graphics of modern FIFA titles. I think such a game would play on the nostalgia that football fans have for the players, stadia, and kits of their younger days, and if it were successful, there could even be a whole range of legacy FIFA titles going all the way back to the inception of competitive football leagues! Can you imagine a FIFA game set in the 1890s featuring clubs like Northwich Victoria, Glossop North End, and Small Heath? Maybe it’s just because I’m a history buff but I’d love something like that!
Number 8: Pirates of the Caribbean (PC & Xbox, 2003)
Despite the name, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean has very little connection to the film series – the first iteration of which was released the same year. Though the Black Pearl makes an appearance, the story is really that of Captain Nathaniel Hawk, an original character. Hawk must put together a crew and then can sail across several islands in a shrunk-down map based on the Caribbean. There’s a main quest involving a war between England and France, and a number of smaller side-quests too.
The popularity of titles like Sea of Thieves and Assassin’s Creed IV shows that gamers love a good pirate-themed title, and I think the under-appreciated Pirates of the Caribbean could work brilliantly in 2020. It had a fun and engaging story, and was a title that allowed a decent amount of player choice.
Number 9: Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64, 1999)
As I mentioned at the beginning, Super Mario 64 has been rumoured to be the target of a remaster. But the Nintendo 64 also saw the first 3D adventures of that other great Nintendo character – Donkey Kong. Where the Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES had introduced Diddy Kong and a couple of others, Donkey Kong 64 kicked things into high gear by having five playable characters.
The game is similar to both the aformentioned Super Mario 64 in terms of its 3D platforming as well as titles like Banjo-Kazooie, which was also developed by Rare. It had a multiplayer mode, well-designed and diverse levels, and while the plot was pretty basic it was a lot of fun. The game was re-released on the Wii U as a download title, but wasn’t remastered.
Number 10: Max Payne (PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2, 2001)
Despite receiving two sequels and a feature film adaptation, no attempt has yet been made to remaster the original Max Payne. I’ve often talked about how Shenmue on the Dreamcast was my first experience with a game that felt genuinely cinematic – well Max Payne was the second such game I played. Gaming before the turn of the millennium was a lot of fun, but as an art form and entertainment medium, it hadn’t fully hit its stride. Many games had stories which were childish, over-the-top, or just silly; Max Payne was a classic detective/noir adventure that would have been just as at home on the big screen.
The story and even 95% of the gameplay would need absolutely no adapting; this is one game that just needs to be updated using today’s better graphics! The story is what makes Max Payne worth playing. Its sequels were fine, but nothing can top the original experience. Though the game’s signature “bullet time” has since been reused in many other titles in the years since its release, the story underneath the gameplay is still one that players today could enjoy.
So that’s it. Ten games that I’d remaster if I could. In the years since I got my first home console in the early 1990s – a SNES – I’ve been lucky to play many different games on a range of platforms. These are just a few that I’d love to remaster – if I had a studio, an unlimited budget, and a willingness to lose money!
This has been a fun topic, and it’s one I may revisit in future. I had at least ten more titles lined up that could have made the list, and with so many great games from the past, there’s no shortage of options! It was great fun to talk about some games of yesteryear that I enjoyed during the 1990s and early 2000s.
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developers, studios, and/or publishers. Some screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Spoilers will be present for The Next Generation and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s only a couple of days now until the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks – at least for viewers in the United States. The franchise’s first full animated series in over forty years looks like it’s going to be hilarious… but did you know that it isn’t Star Trek’s first “Lower Decks”?
On the 7th of February 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired the fifteenth episode of its seventh and final season. The episode was titled Lower Decks, and much like the new show, it took the action away from the main cast and the bridge crew. The episode wouldn’t be broadcast in the UK until April 1996 (that’s when I will have first watched it, as I was an avid Trekkie even in those days!) Let’s hope that ViacomCBS doesn’t plan on making us wait anywhere near as long as two years to get the new Lower Decks.
With the new show coming out, I thought it could be fun to step back in time twenty-six years and revisit the first Lower Decks.
By this point in the history of the franchise, Star Trek shows had expanded well beyond a small cast of regular characters. Where the “redshirts” of The Original Series had been, to put it politely, one-time use characters by and large, The Next Generation had a handful of secondary characters who would augment the main cast. Ensign Ro, Guinan, Chief O’Brien, Lt. Barclay, Nurse Ogawa, and several others all had roles to play, and as the show went on some of them came to be increasingly prominent. This was a concept that Deep Space Nine would expand greatly, and that series had a far larger secondary cast, some of whom – particularly in later seasons – would be incredibly important across whole story arcs.
Lower Decks looks at four junior members of the Enterprise-D’s crew (and one civilian). Only two – Nurse Ogawa and Sito Jaxa – were familiar to us before the episode aired. Ogawa had been a regular character in scenes set in sickbay since the fourth season, and Sito had appeared in the fourth season episode The First Duty. The other three were new for this episode, but all would have significant, interconnected roles in the story. The episode can be overlooked when it comes to thinking about The Next Generation’s best offerings, in part perhaps because its premise means it spends so much time away from the main cast. I confess that I overlooked it myself when I put together a list of ten great episodes from The Next Generation a couple of months ago; I didn’t even consider it a contender! However, it’s a fantastic story and a great piece of television. While it isn’t unique in the Star Trek canon – Deep Space Nine would have many episodes where secondary characters were the focus, and the episode Good Shepherd, from Voyager’s final season, similarly features junior crewmen – it was unusual for The Next Generation, and features some genuinely emotional moments. Stellar performances from all of the guest-stars elevate the episode, and make what was an interesting story into something truly great to watch.
At this point, almost a quarter of a century from when I first saw it (gosh does that make me feel old) I’ve seen Lower Decks a number of times. I wouldn’t like to guess how many, but The Next Generation is probably my most re-watched Star Trek series so it’s been a fair number, I can tell you that! I’m always happy to go back, though, and this will be my first time writing about it and taking a deeper look at some of the moments within.
Lower Decks opens with Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi sitting in Ten-Forward. They’re engaged in something we almost never saw them do in The Next Generation – managing the ship’s crew! On a ship with a complement of over 1,000 people, this must be a huge task, yet with all the other adventures and hijinks that befall the crew, we never really get to see these quieter moments or the more “boring” tasks involved in running a starship of this size. This is actually something I hope we’ll see some of in the new Lower Decks, as I feel it’s an under-explored side of Star Trek and life aboard a Federation starship.
While they discuss officer assignments and promotions, a group of younger officers are seated a few tables away. This is where we meet the episode’s real stars – in addition to Ogawa and Sito there’s Ensigns Lavelle and Taurik, as well as Ben, the waiter in Ten-Forward. While the others are enjoying their evening away from their duties, Lavelle is obsessed with the prospect of promotion. This character setup was great, painting Lavelle as the career-obsessed type and showing that the others find it easier to relax. Setting up Lavelle’s fixation on his promotion will pay off a bittersweet moment for him at the end of the story.
This kind of story can be difficult – in the space of a couple of minutes the show has to set up several new characters and their relationships in a way that feels natural and not like there’s a huge dump of exposition on the audience. It’s really only Nurse Ogawa who’s familiar to the audience; Sito hasn’t been seen in three years at this point, and the others are brand new. So it was a clever scene, and I think it achieved its goal of introducing us to the episode’s main characters.
Riker and Troi’s conversation turns to promotion, specifically for the night-duty Ops officer. This is a role that both Lavelle and Sito are contenders for. Ben, the waiter, overhears, and after the tiniest amount of persuasion from the junior officers spills the beans; I get the impression this is something he takes a lot of satisfaction in doing! Setting up a conflict between the friends is an interesting way for the episode to go, and of course there’s only one job so one of them will be disappointed.
Sito and Lavelle are left stunned and concerned, and then the title sequence rolls. I will always love The Next Generation’s theme – even though it was, of course, “borrowed” from The Motion Picture!
After the credits roll, Riker is in the Captain’s chair on the Bridge, ordering a phaser lock. Sito is at tactical, with Worf standing over her shoulder, and Lavelle is manning the helmsman’s position next to Data. They’re conducting a battle drill – though that may not have been immediately obvious – and Riker seems a little disappointed with their response time.
Riker seems to be harsh on Lavelle, reprimanding him for saying “aye aye” instead of “aye”, while in main engineering, Taurik is tasked by La Forge with writing up the battle drill report. Sito seems to be the one who really messed up – after the ship changed course she had to re-lock the phasers which delayed firing on the target. However, Riker seemed to take it easy on her, offering her advice instead of cracking down, and compared to how he treats Lavelle it’s clear who he favours.
Captain Picard emerges from his ready-room and orders an immediate course change, postponing a scheduled rendezvous, as the ship has received new orders. Picard summons the main crew – Data, Riker, and Worf – to the observation lounge, and Riker assigns Sito to the ops station next to Lavelle, who seems put out by her being given the role ahead of him. The system they’re travelling to is close to Cardassian space, and there’s some discussion about why they may be going there, and the two share a cute moment when Sito uses the expression “spider under the table” to mean a “fly on the wall” – eavesdropping on the senior officers’ chat.
Lavelle is worried that Riker favours Sito for promotion over him, but it doesn’t seem to hurt their friendship at all – despite knowing they’re effectively in competition their friendship remains solid. I liked this characterisation; if Lavelle became too cold, distant, and unkind toward Sito he’d be much harder to root for as a character.
In engineering, Taurik tries to show La Forge a theory he learned at Starfleet Academy to increase the ship’s engine efficiency. La Forge initially seems interested, but Taurik may have jumped the gun by suggesting it be rolled out to the Enterprise’s engines without completing a simulation first. Taurik has other ideas to help too, but La Forge – seemingly annoyed – basically tells a confused Taurik to get back to him later.
Two things come out of this for me: the first is that Lavelle and Taurik have comparable issues with their commanding officers. And secondly, we see how a junior officer can feel that they’re being treated not necessarily unfairly, but perhaps that they feel they’re taken less seriously. The Next Generation in its first few seasons would sometimes put the character of Wesley Crusher in a vital position where his ideas and plans were listened to by the whole crew; this episode feels, at parts, like a total reversal of that. The way Taurik is treated by La Forge here is just one example.
The next scene features Nurse Ogawa in sickbay. In contrast to how Taurik and Lavelle have, at best, complicated relationships with their superiors, she and Dr Crusher are on much more friendly terms. To the audience this undoubtedly makes sense – Ogawa is a character we’re much more familiar with as by this point in The Next Generation’s run she’s already made thirteen appearances going back over three years; she’s a character we’ve seen in sickbay often, and her relationship with Dr Crusher has been touched on previously. Ogawa is being recommended for a promotion to lieutenant – if only it were that easy for Sito and Lavelle!
Dr Crusher uses Ogawa’s first name – Alyssa – and they talk about her personal life and who she’s dating. Ogawa treats her as a friend, and I loved this dynamic.
The ship drops out of warp, and back in Ten-Forward, Sito is talking to Worf about her brief stint manning the ops console. Worf is the one who recommended Sito for the position – and on the other side of the room, Taurik, Lavelle, and Ben the waiter are looking on. Ben is on first-name terms with Commander Riker, much to the shock of Lavelle. Taurik and Ben convince him to strike up a conversation with his commander, as getting to know him on a personal level might improve their relationship.
What follows has to be one of the best scenes in the episode. Lavelle makes a truly cringeworthy attempt to talk to Riker, mistakenly believing him to be from Canada when he’s in fact from Alaska, and generally making a fool of himself in a moment that I certainly could relate to – and I’m sure lots of people who’ve made conversational missteps can too! As mentioned, Lavelle could have come across as a kind of selfish and egotistical glory hunter, chasing his own promotion and ignoring his friends if the character had been less-well written. But this moment, and the other with Sito on the bridge, go a long way to humanising him and making him relatable.
Though Lavelle doesn’t see it, as he excuses himself and slinks away, there seemed to be a moment of hope for his cause at the very end; despite everything, Riker was at least amused by the conversation and smiled to himself.
The Enterprise-D is holding position 5,000km from the Cardassian border – which is practically a stone’s throw when dealing with the vastness of space. Captain Picard is concerned, seemingly waiting for a ship to arrive, when Worf detects a small object that could be an escape pod. The pod is 50,000km inside Cardassian territory, and the captain wonders aloud how it will be possible to retrieve it. The only one of the ensigns present on the bridge in this moment is Lavelle, and from this point on the episode begins to split the characters up for important events.
I love this setup – each of the characters, as the episode progresses, will learn part of what’s going on, but it won’t be until the very end that they can put all the pieces together and establish the whole story. This is what really gives the episode its unique feel; following the junior officers who don’t know everything that’s happening but must carry out their orders regardless.
In engineering, Taurik and La Forge work to increase the effectiveness of the transporter to be able to beam the individual from the life support pod onto the ship. I have to confess at this point that I feel that 50,000km seems like a very limited range for the transporter. I wouldn’t like to say with certainty, because Star Trek in general can be vague with things like distances in the few instances where we get specifics, but I’m reasonably sure we’ve seen the transporter used over greater distances before with no issues.
Interestingly, and continuing the theme of the junior officers not knowing the full story, La Forge orders Taurik not to scan the life pod’s occupant to determine his or her species. Again – this seems like something that might be helpful or even necessary for using the transporter, but Star Trek’s technology is vague enough that it can be made to fit circumstances like this!
In sickbay, Ogawa helps Dr Crusher prepare for the arrival of the mysterious figure, but when they’re ready Crusher orders her to leave the room. In the hallway she meets Sito, who has been posted at the entrance to sickbay in her capacity as a security officer. They wonder aloud what’s going on; Sito isn’t letting anyone but the senior officers inside. As Ogawa departs, Captain Picard arrives and seems to briefly hesitate when greeting Sito.
Lavelle asks Riker on the bridge if he can work another shift; he says he needs the extra training, but Riker tells him it’s a bad time. Captain Picard leaves sickbay and orders Sito to accompany him. En route, he asks her if she’s a qualified pilot, and in his ready-room queries her past record from the Academy – the events of the Season 4 episode The First Duty. In that episode, Sito, Wesley Crusher and a couple of other cadets were involved in a plot to cover up the death of a fellow cadet who died during an illegal flying manoeuvre. Sito defends herself to the captain, and defends her record and her character.
We see Picard being far more harsh than usual, and something definitely seems “off”. Picard has always believed in telling the truth, as indeed we saw in the episode in question. But he’s also a believer in second chances; Sito would never have been allowed aboard the Enterprise-D without his permission, so his words seem overly critical and perhaps even unfair.
In one of the shuttlebays, Taurik is using some kind of beam on a shuttlecraft. It wasn’t obvious at first, at least not to me, but it’s revealed in short order that he is in fact firing a phaser rifle at it, “intentionally damaging” it as he puts it. La Forge tells him it’s a requirement to test shuttles in this manner from time to time, but like Taurik, the audience is just as surprised at such an odd regulation!
Taurik cottons on pretty quickly – La Forge is making it seem as though the shuttle was escaping an attack. He tells the junior officer it’s a coincidence – but both of them know that the other knows the truth. The way Taurik is presented is very much in line with other Vulcans – he’s very clever, but also not at all subtle about concealing the fact. Instead of keeping to himself what he knows about the work he’s doing on the shuttle, he shows off to La Forge that he’s figured it out – in spite of the fact that it could potentially cause problems for him.
In sickbay, Dr Crusher swears Ogawa to secrecy before revealing their patient – a comatose Cardassian! It couldn’t be anyone else this close to Cardassian space, right? The seventh season of The Next Generation was running concurrently with Deep Space Nine’s second season – in fact, the day before Lower Decks premiered, the 14th episode of Season 2 had aired. So by this point in the history of Star Trek, the Cardassians have taken shape as a significant antagonist faction.
The junior officers – and Ben – are playing poker while off-duty in the next scene, and of course conversation turns to why they are where they are and what might be happening. Sito is of course upset because of her conversation with Picard. Playing poker has been a hobby of the Enterprise-D’s crew for the whole run of the series, and giving the junior officers the same hobby ties the two groups together neatly (if somewhat transparently).
The scene is juxtaposed with the senior officers’ poker game – where the topics of conversation are the junior officers! Riker disagrees with Worf recommending Sito for the role at ops, and Dr Crusher has spotted Ogawa’s boyfriend talking to someone else in Ten-Forward. The scenes jump between the two poker games in what is a pretty clever sequence.
I once again liked Lavelle’s conversation with Sito – despite wanting the promotion for himself, he reassures her when she’s feeling low after her dressing-down from Picard, strongly emphasising their friendship is what matters most to him. The poker games draw a comparison between Lavelle and Riker, something which Troi also picks up on, to Riker’s annoyance. Riker wins his hand, but Lavelle loses; he was bluffing. Perhaps that says something about the positions the two men are in?
As several people depart each poker game, La Forge arrives at Taurik and Lavelle’s quarters to summon Taurik to engineering.
Ben is the only character who’s able to flit between the two groups – and as Lavelle retires to bed, he joins the senior officers’ poker game. The next day, Worf springs a surprise test on Sito in her martial arts class – he claims it’s a Klingon ritual that the test must be unannounced. He blindfolds her and proceeds to beat her several times in a row.
Sito eventually protests; removing the blindfold she declares is isn’t a fair test. Worf tells her that she has passed – the test was not about defeating him while blindfolded, but about standing up for herself. Combined with what she’s just been through with Picard, the sense that the senior officers are all testing her is starting to build!
Inspired by the lesson from Worf, Sito heads straight to Captain Picard’s ready-room to respond to what he had told her earlier. Standing up for herself, she insists that if he won’t judge her fairly, she wants to be transferred to another ship.
Captain Picard wasn’t being unfair or unduly hard on Sito for no reason. As we suspected, he had an ulterior motive. The ops position will have to wait; Sito is being assessed to see if she’s capable of being given a very dangerous assignment – she’ll learn the details at a briefing with the senior officers. I’m glad that Captain Picard had a proper reason for treating her the way he had earlier; it seemed to run very much against his character and it needed an explanation!
A brief scene in sickbay sees Ogawa telling Dr Crusher that her boyfriend had proposed – Dr Crusher had been seconds away from telling her about seeing him with another woman! The action then cuts to Sito’s briefing. Captain Picard, Riker, and Worf are joined in the briefing room by the Cardassian from the escape pod. His name is Joret Dal, and he’s a Federation spy who brought them information about Cardassian military operations, and he now has to get home.
The mission sounds very dangerous – Sito is a bargaining chip to help Joret Dal cross the border, and when he makes it he’ll launch her home in an escape pod. The border is heavily militarised, and crossing it will almost certainly mean they’ll be intercepted by the Cardassian military. However, he believes that if he has a “prisoner”, it will make the crossing easier.
It isn’t clear how or why Joret Dal came to work with the Federation, but Sito readily agrees to the mission. Earlier, Captain Picard had told her he asked for her to be assigned to the Enterprise-D to she could have a chance to “redeem” herself after the incident at the Academy; I can’t help but feel she sees this mission as her shot at redemption.
Sito is ordered to report to sickbay, and to keep the mission secret from everyone – which of course includes her junior officer friends. Out of everyone present, it’s Worf who seems to be most concerned for her safety. Captain Picard didn’t order her to undertake the mission, but in a way, being in the room with the captain, first officer, and the Cardassian spy put her in a very uncomfortable position if she had wanted to refuse. Combined with what Captain Picard said earlier about redemption, there’s an element of psychological persuasion going on that isn’t acknowledged, but is definitely present. Despite the way it’s presented as being Sito’s choice, I confess I find the circumstances a little concerning. She wasn’t coerced, not exactly. But she was certainly placed very deliberately into a position where refusing the mission would have been very difficult.
As Sito departs, Worf looks very concerned. Joret Dal says “I didn’t realise she would be so young”, clearly foreshadowing what’s to come. At the damaged shuttle, Worf and La Forge are with Joret Dal. Sito arrives, having been made-up by Dr Crusher to look as though she had been hurt. Worf is even more alarmed at seeing her; he clearly cares deeply for her – in a platonic way, of course.
Sito expresses her thanks to Worf before departing aboard the shuttle – again, more foreshadowing and setting up what’s about to happen. After telling him she’ll see him soon, Worf is left to stand watching as the shuttle door closes, leaving her alone with Joret Dal and about to undertake the mission. Seeing a sensitive side to Worf may not be something I would’ve thought I’d have wanted to see, but it absolutely was. He was almost behaving like a father or older brother to Sito, building up her confidence and looking out for her. It’s a side of him that we don’t see often, despite him having a son of his own.
Aboard the shuttle, Joret Dal tells Sito he doesn’t consider himself a traitor for working with the Federation. He feels that the Cardassian military engages in too many pointless battles with the Federation, and no longer serves Cardassia properly. His motivation isn’t that of a spy, but of a patriot. His character, which doesn’t get much screen time and thus could have come across as wholly one-dimensional, ends up feeling very real and well-rounded in just this short scene.
Sito and Joret Dal share a moment – they both realise that they have at least over-generalised each other’s people. She never thought she’d see a Cardassian who was tired of war, and he never thought he’d meet a Bajoran who would help him. There are two strong moral lessons in these moments for us as the audience: war and international relations are far more complicated than it may ever seem, and it’s possible to misjudge someone on the basis of their background or even their race.
The scene ends when a computer alarm signals a patrol ship is moving in. Sito moves to the back of the shuttle where Joret Dal handcuffs her. She looks anxious as the mission approaches its most crucial phase.
In Ten-Forward, Lavelle, Taurik, Ogawa, and Ben are wondering where Sito has gone. Lavelle is convinced that she left aboard the shuttle, and he knows it was heading across the border. All four are concerned. Taurik has the most telling line: “we have to accept that we’re not told everything that happens aboard the ship.” Lavelle wants the three to share what they know, and is upset that Ogawa and Taurik can’t share what they know.
Thirty hours later, Sito hasn’t returned to the rendezvous point in her escape pod. On the bridge, Lavelle, Data, and Riker are attempting to locate the pod. Worf recommends launching a probe, and despite launching a cross-border probe being a violation of the treaty with the Cardassians, Captain Picard okays it.
The probe almost immediately detects debris – Data confirms it’s the right consistency to potentially be the escape pod. Later, the Enterprise-D intercepts a Cardassian message confirming they destroyed the pod, and that Sito was inside.
Captain Picard makes a statement to the crew via the intercom, letting them know that Sito has died. Taurik hears it at his post in engineering, Ogawa at hers in sickbay, and Lavelle at his station on the bridge. Ben was, sadly, omitted from this sequence. However, even now, even after seeing this episode so many times over the years, this moment packs an emotional punch. Captain Picard speaks about Sito in glowing terms, in sharp contrast to his first conversation with her, and her death clearly has a huge impact on her closest friends.
In Ten-Forward, Worf sits alone and doesn’t even acknowledge Ben, who has brought him a drink. Lavelle joins Taurik and Ogawa and reveals he’s been promoted to lieutenant, though he feels absolutely no joy in getting what he wanted at the beginning of the story. He’d trade it in a heartbeat to have Sito back.
Taurik, Ogawa, and Ben comfort him, telling him Sito would have been happy for him, and to honour her by performing his new role to the best of his ability. Ben talks to Worf, inviting him to join the others in mourning and remembering Sito, telling him that she considered him a friend, not just a superior officer. He joins Lavelle, Ogawa, Taurik, and Ben silently, and the episode ends as they prepare to remember their friend.
So that was it. The first Lower Decks. What started out as a story with an interesting premise turned into one of the emotional high points of the whole season. It’s a story which still has me tearing up a quarter of a century on, and despite the fact that we didn’t know Sito or her friends terribly well, the episode did a phenomenal job getting across their relationships, which were at the core of what made the story so emotional.
The new series may have its emotional moments too – we don’t know for sure yet, but many comedy shows have a balance between funny and emotional moments. I’m looking forward to seeing what Star Trek’s latest show, and first animated series in four decades, will have to offer, and it provided a great excuse to step back in time and re-watch the first Lower Decks.
If I were thinking of characters to bring back for a future iteration of Star Trek, the junior officers we met in Lower Decks would absolutely be contenders. I wonder if the new series will make any reference to them, or to the events of this episode. If it did, it would be a neat little tie-in between The Next Generation and the new Lower Decks.
It’s only a couple of days now, so I hope you’re ready! Check back here regularly while Lower Decks is on the air for episode reviews, theories, speculation, deep dives, and more.
Star Trek: Lower Decks begins on the 6th of August for viewers in the US and Canada. The Star Trek brand – including Lower Decks and The Next Generation – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
The Star Trek franchise seems to have drawn the short straw when it comes to successful video game adaptations, especially when compared to Star Wars. I can think of several good Star Trek games – my personal favourite is the Doom-esque Star Trek: Generations adaptation, which even today is one of my all-time favourite games – but I think I’m almost the only person who bought a copy. Even websites specialising in so-called abandonware don’t seem to know about that one! Other decent Star Trek games – such as Deep Space Nine: The Fallen, the Elite Force titles, and the Armada games – all performed adequately, but none really made a huge impression or hooked in new fans.
The 2010s offered very little by way of new Star Trek games. There was, of course, Star Trek Online – but as someone who generally dislikes massively-multiplayer titles I didn’t have a particularly good time with it. I’m glad it was a success and I hope it brought in some new fans, but that style of game simply isn’t my cup of tea. The only other game I’d played in the last few years was the bug-riddled mess that was 2013’s Star Trek. I persevered as long as I could with that title, but a few hours in I got to a point where a glitch prevented me from advancing any further.
The only other significant title released in the last few years was Star Trek: Bridge Crew – not to be confused with an earlier title, Star Trek: Bridge Commander. Released in 2017, Bridge Crew was a VR-only title, and as I don’t game in VR I never bothered to check in with it again. But apparently I should’ve, because a few months after it was released Bridge Crew got an update allowing for non-VR gameplay, something I only noticed when the title cropped up among my recommended titles during the ongoing Steam Summer Sale. Well I was dumbfounded! How could I have missed this? It was an immediate buy, as Bridge Crew must be one of only a handful of Star Trek games post-1990 that I haven’t played for myself!
I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but aren’t modern games a chore to get running? After opening Steam and then selecting Bridge Crew, the game wanted to install a patch. Then it had to connect to Ubisoft’s Uplay service, which also required a separate patch, and just getting the game to open took several minutes. Not a problem unique to Bridge Crew by any means, but always bothersome!
I think that the game’s opening sequence is different because I also bought The Next Generation DLC, but it was really quite cool to sit through a fairly accurate recreation of The Next Generation’s title sequence. The graphics, while not exactly cutting-edge elsewhere in Bridge Crew, did a great job bringing to life some of the planets and other space phenomena that should be familiar to any fan of The Next Generation, and I appreciated the effort that must’ve gone into it.
My first thought upon seeing that Bridge Crew had a non-VR mode – aside from “I must buy this game immediately” – was wondering how well it would port from VR to non-VR. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, my ability and desire to sit down and play games has waned a lot over the last decade or so, and I’ve heard bad things about some VR titles not playing at all well without a VR headset and controller.
Bridge Crew is, as far I can tell, the first game I’ve played that started life in VR. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the controls certainly take a little bit of getting used to. I played with an Xbox One control pad, as I do for most games, but I believe mouse and keyboard is an option on PC as well.
In order to better explain the control scheme, we need to talk about what Bridge Crew is and what it isn’t. Your character can occupy one of four bridge stations: the engineering station, the helm, the tactical station, and the captain’s chair. Regardless of which you choose, your character is static; they sit (or stand) at their console and don’t move from their position. This isn’t a criticism at all, it’s part of how the game was designed. Each of the control pad’s two analogue sticks move one of your character’s hands, and the triggers are used to select an option on the console or to perform an action. For example, at the engineering station it’s possible to allocate the ship’s power to different systems, at the helm to plot a course and engage engines, and at tactical to pick a target and fire weapons.
This control scheme obviously works better in VR, where a player might be holding two motion-sensitive controllers and could look and move more quickly to select the various options. There’s probably also a greater degree of fine control over certain options – like acceleration and deceleration when in the helmsman position. However, after a bit of practice and more than a few cock-ups I think I’m getting the hang of it.
The game is also designed to be played with friends. Each of the four roles can be occupied by another player, which should – in theory, at least – speed things up when engaging in the game’s various missions. It is possible to play without anyone else – as Billy-no-mates here can attest – but as with VR, the game has really been designed to work best when four players are working together in co-op.
There’s something undeniably cool for a Trekkie to sit in the captain’s chair of a starship – even it it’s just virtually. And I was surprised at the level of detail involved in using some of the game’s systems, all of which are lifted from Star Trek films and television shows. Courses must be plotted and laid in, then the ship manoeuvred by the helmsman to align with the course. Power must be distributed between systems like shields and engines by the engineer, and in battle, the tactical officer must choose targets and fire weapons. Performing each of these tasks – while fairly simplistic in line with the game’s control scheme – actually feels like working on a starship.
Perhaps it’s because many of the actions are mundane – like moving a dial or slider to adjust power or change the ship’s trajectory – that the feeling of “realism” exists in Bridge Crew. There are three starships that the game recreates: one based on the Kelvin-timeline films (which is the game’s main setting), as well as the USS Enterprise from The Original Series, and The Next Generation’s Enterprise-D. Gameplay is similar on each vessel, but the different aesthetics are great, and both Enterprises are faithfully recreated. The gameplay itself may get repetitive over time, but at the moment I’m still having lots of fun with it.
I have encountered one glitch – a visual bug where, for some reason, much of the bridge disappeared. This happened when the ship sustained heavy damage; I haven’t played far enough into the game and its various missions to know whether this will be a reoccurring problem or not, but I thought it worth mentioning here.
I’m going to spend some more time with Bridge Crew over the upcoming days and weeks. I absolutely adore its faithful recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise-D from the DLC, and sitting in the captain’s chair on that bridge is a longstanding fantasy of mine! I’ve been lucky to sit in a recreation of The Original Series’ bridge twice – the first time in 1996, when Star Trek: The Exhibition came to the UK, and for a second time two decades later in 2016 at another event with the same title in Blackpool, also in the UK. Despite the same name, these two events were completely different. I’ve never been able to take Captain Picard’s seat on the bridge of the Enterprise-D, though, and with The Next Generation being my introduction to the franchise, and the series that first hooked me in, I’ve always wanted to have that experience. Bridge Crew got me as close to that as I’m likely to get any time soon, so for that alone I really appreciate what it has to offer.
It’s a shame I missed Bridge Crew first time around. But it’s nice to have a new Star Trek game to get stuck into. I’m always hopeful that the franchise will produce a fun game, and while Bridge Crew has its limitations, and is really designed to be played in a specific way, it still seems like a lot of fun right now.
When I’ve spent some more time with the game I’ll check back in, but I wanted to say something about it while it’s still on sale – 50% off on the Steam version on PC – in case anyone else who missed out wanted a chance to pick it up.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew is available now on PC and PlayStation 4. Star Trek: Bridge Crew is the copyright of Red Storm Entertainment and Ubisoft. The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
Welcome back to my series of articles looking at ten great episodes from each of the Star Trek shows. We looked at The Original Serieslast time, so now it’s The Next Generation’s turn. This is the series which first introduced me to Star Trek in the early 1990s, and it was Capt. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D who really hooked me in and got me invested in this fictional universe. I will always hold The Next Generation in very high regard as a result, and of all the Star Trek shows, it has a special place in my heart.
Plans for a Star Trek series which would have featured a different cast to that led by William Shatner in The Original Series had been kicking around in various forms since at least the mid-1970s. One of the earliest concepts for a new Star Trek film or series, before work on The Motion Picture had begun, was for something set at Starfleet Academy. Buoyed by the success of The Original Series in syndication and of the first three films, Gene Roddenberry began working on a Star Trek spin-off in the mid-1980s. Unlike the films, which mandated a lot of influence from Paramount Pictures, Roddenberry was keen to retain as much creative control over the new show as possible, and kept The Next Generation on a tight leash until ill health forced him to step away from day-to-day work on the show. If you’d like to know more about the creation of The Next Generation there’s a documentary on the subject titled William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge, which was made in 2014. I’ll leave the question of how unbiased and accurate it is up to you!
While The Next Generation retained much of what had made The Original Series a success, it did change up the formula somewhat, and not all of the changes made were well-received by longstanding fans at the time. As I noted in my article looking at divisions in the fanbase, some Trekkies actively refused to watch The Next Generation when it premiered in 1987, because for them, Capt. Kirk and his crew were the irreplaceable beating heart of Star Trek. While the show was only really controversial in some small fan circles, there was wider concern about its viability. At this point in the history of television, very few series outside of incredibly popular sitcoms and soap operas had ever successfully made spin-offs, so this was uncharted territory. Sir Patrick Stewart, who of course plays Capt. Picard, has gone on record as saying he did not believe the show would be a success, even saying at one point that the only reason he agreed to take on the role was because he expected it to be a one- or two-season commitment at most!
If you didn’t tune in last time, here’s how this format works. This isn’t my all-time “Top Ten”, because a ranked list for a show like The Next Generation comes with a lot of pressure! Instead, this is simply a list of ten episodes which, for a variety of reasons, I think are great and are well worth a watch – especially if you’re finding yourself with plenty of time on your hands at the moment! I’ve picked at least one episode from each of the seven seasons – and there are so many more I wanted to pick! The Next Generation has 176 episodes, so narrowing it down to just ten was a difficult task. There may very well end up being a second round of articles in this series to accommodate some of those great episodes which I couldn’t include this time. The episodes are listed in order of release.
So let’s go ahead and jump into the list – and be aware of spoilers (though do we even need to flag up spoilers for a thirty-three year old series?)
Number 1: Home Soil (Season 1)
Gene Roddenberry’s final episode as head writer is actually one of Season 1’s most interesting. Star Trek has always sought to seek out new life – but often that new life ends up looking and sounding remarkably similar to humans! Home Soil completely changes that, showing how the life that may exist beyond Earth could be very different indeed.
I tend to feel that stories like this play very well with a small group of fans – in which I must include myself, of course – but are less well-received in the wider Star Trek fan community. When we look at stories that tried to take very different looks at the kind of “new life” that may exist in the cosmos, they tend to be much more philosophical and ethereal, looking at concepts like how we categorise and qualify “life”, as well as about bridging the huge gulf between ourselves and them and coming to an understanding. We see this in The Motion Picture – and I have an article looking at the 40th anniversary of that film which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Many of the same issues are in play in Home Soil, but on a microscopic scale – The Motion Picture looked at a life-form that was almost the size of a solar system!
Home Soil also has something to say about the environment, particularly how we as humans can be destructive to the habitats of native species. Without meaning to in some cases – or by wilfully ignoring warning signs in others – we can cause damage which could ultimately be to our own detriment. This is a message that is still relevant today! Star Trek has often sought to use its science fiction setting to parallel real-world issues, and this is another good example of that phenomenon.
Number 2: Time Squared (Season 2)
Are you familiar with the term “jumping the shark”? It refers to the moment where a television series begins to see a major drop in quality with increasingly outlandish plots, and it’s taken from an episode of Happy Days. The opposite is called “growing the beard”, where a series greatly increases in quality, usually in its second season – and that term originates with The Next Generation, taken of course from Commander Riker’s beard, which debuted in Season 2. Just a little television trivia for you!
Season 2 saw changes to The Next Generation’s cast. Dr Crusher was gone, replaced by Dr Pulaski. There were apparently issues with Gates McFadden’s contract which meant she declined to return, and instead Diana Muldaur, who had guest-starred twice in The Original Series, was brought in. Dr Pulaski was an interesting character and I liked her McCoy-esque side which brought a different perspective to things. However, after McFadden agreed to return in the third season, Dr Pulaski was unceremoniously dropped without her departure being acknowledged on screen. Muldaur herself had not particularly enjoyed working on the show, especially after struggling with wearing heavy prosthetic makeup in the episode Unnatural Selection, and it seems that Dr Pulaski had not been as well-received by viewers as the show’s producers had hoped. The second season also saw a couple of cast members shuffled around to their familiar roles. Worf became the Enterprise-D’s security chief and replaced Tasha Yar at tactical. And after a first season without a permanent chief engineer, that role was given to Geordi La Forge, largely removing him from the bridge.
I’ve stated on the blog a number of times that time-travel stories are seldom my favourites because they can be so hard to get right. Time Squared is an exception to this rule, as it sees a time-travelling Picard picked up by the Enterprise-D’s crew. This alternate Picard is from only a few hours in the future, yet is unable to communicate. What is clear, however, is that the Enterprise-D has experienced a major disaster, and this alternate Picard appears to have abandoned ship! Given everything we know about the upstanding captain even at this comparatively early stage in The Next Generation, that seems unfathomable, and the crew work hard to unravel the mystery.
Time Squared also lets us get up close and personal with one of the Enterprise-D’s shuttlecraft. These smaller vessels have been present since The Original Series, and the design used here was used in The Next Generation’s earlier seasons before a larger shuttlecraft design was incorporated. But few episodes show us a shuttecraft in this much detail inside and out, so if you’re as interested in ships and shuttles as I am it’s interesting from that point of view. The fact that the shuttle had to be designed and built in such a way that its interior and exterior could be seen at the same time is also something worth noting, and must have been a challenge for those working on the show.
Number 3: Yesterday’s Enterprise (Season 3)
Season 3 dropped the spandex uniforms and replaced them with the more familiar high-collar variant that would remain in use for the rest of the series. As previously mentioned, this season also saw the return of Dr Crusher and the departure of Dr Pulaski, restoring her to the cast after a one-season break. However, Yesterday’s Enterprise completely changes things up and is set in an alternate timeline, one in which the Federation and Klingons are locked in a bitter war.
Broadcast almost two years before The Undiscovered Country brought the era of The Original Series to a close, there was still a lot left unexplained about the timespan between Capt. Kirk’s adventures and those of the Enterprise-D. One good question was: “what happened to the Enterprise-B and Enterprise-C?”, and this is something that Yesterday’s Enterprise sets out to answer, as well as filling in some of the blanks from those lost years. From that point of view, Yesterday’s Enterprise goes further than almost any other episode of Star Trek to date in exploring that era, and certainly further than any story had by this point in The Next Generation’s run.
Denise Crosby reprises her role as Tasha Yar, the Enterprise-D’s original security chief who’d been killed off toward the end of the first season. I think it’s pretty clear that by this point in the show’s run (and perhaps without many other roles coming her way), Crosby was regretting her decision to leave – and it had been entirely her decision, as she felt that Tasha Yar was not being given enough to do. How she could have come to that conclusion less than halfway through the first season, and knowing that the show would be returning for at least one more is anyone’s guess, but regardless. This alternate timeline version of Tasha Yar would be referenced in future seasons, as Denise Crosby would return to play her daughter, the half-Romulan commander Sela. Sela, by the way, is the one Romulan character I was glad not to see in Star Trek: Picard earlier this year!
The Enterprise-C’s Capt. Rachel Garrett, played by guest-star Tricia O’Neil, makes a great equal for Picard as the two Enterprise captains must work together. Picard’s admission later in the episode that the Federation was on the brink of defeat convinced Capt. Garrett to return the Enterprise-C to her own time, even though she knew doing so would mean sacrificing her life for the cause. The theme of sacrifice has been present in Star Trek before, notably with Spock in The Wrath of Khan, and would be seen again on several more occasions, but the Enterprise-C is a great example of how it can play beautifully in Star Trek.
Number 4: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2 (Seasons 3 & 4)
For many fans, The Best of Both Worlds might just be their favourite episode in The Next Generation. The first part concluded the third season, leaving behind a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, and the second part was broadcast after several long months and brought the story of the Federation’s first Borg invasion to a conclusion. The events of The Best of Both Worlds would be revisited several times: in the fifth-season episode I, Borg, in Emissary, which was the premiere of Deep Space Nine, in the film First Contact, and most recently in Star Trek: Picard, particularly in the episode The Impossible Box – a review of which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Picard’s assimilation by the Borg would go on to be a defining part of his character in these stories and others, and while it didn’t fundamentally change him as a person, it did mean he would suffer from guilt and flashbacks, and when he crossed paths with the Borg again he’d find it hard to remain objective.
The writers of The Next Generation had been planning to introduce the Borg since the show’s first season. Both the neural parasite conspiracy, which took up two episodes of Season 1, and the destruction of Federation colonies near Romulan space seen in the first season finale The Neutral Zone were meant to tie into the Borg’s ultimate introduction in the second season. The neural parasite angle was (fortunately) dropped, and the Borg’s first major attack on the Federation unfolded in an incredibly dramatic fashion. The Best of Both Worlds is really two stories – Picard’s personal battle with the Borg, which includes the efforts to rescue him by the Enterprise-D’s crew, and the wider conflict between the Borg and the Federation, and both aspects are incredibly tense and exciting. The decision for Picard to be captured raised the stakes significantly; no longer was the conflict an abstract one with mostly nameless minor characters threatened, but Picard, who had been the cornerstone of The Next Generation since its premiere, was being held hostage and brainwashed. As much as we as the audience want to see the Borg stopped and Earth saved, we care even more about Picard and ensuring he can be rescued and de-assimilated.
Thanks to many subsequent appearances, particularly with the Hansen family storyline in Voyager and the Enterprise episode Regeneration, the in-universe history of Borg-Federation relations and contact is now a bit of a mess. In the run-up to Star Trek: Picard I looked at the Borg as a faction, including their history, so if you’d like to know more please check out that article by clicking or tapping here. But we have to try to remember to place The Best of Both Worlds in context – this was only the faction’s second appearance in Star Trek, and their first major attempt to attack the Federation. While in some ways the Borg and their modus operandi have become stale thanks to their repeat appearances, this is the first time many of the things we now think of as Borg tropes were seen. Even on a repeat viewing in 2020, the crew of the Enterprise-D first seeing the assimilated Picard on the viewscreen is still incredibly powerful.
The way in which the Borg were ultimately stopped – by Picard breaking through his Borg programming to give Data a message – shows, I think, just how strong Picard can be. And that the Borg could be ultimately defeated by a poorly-guarded computer algorithm definitely has a War of the Worlds vibe – the Martians in that novel were, of course, ultimately defeated by bacteria, which was something tiny and easily-overlooked. The frightening thing about the Borg – beyond their seemingly-invincible vessel that cut through an entire fleet with ease – is that every ally that our heroes lose can be assimilated and turned into another enemy to fight. The Borg are akin to zombies in that respect, and also show us a nightmarish vision of how technology could get out of our control. I wrote an article looking at the Borg as a storytelling element, and I go into much more detail about these points and others in that piece. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Number 5: The Wounded (Season 4)
The Wounded marks the first appearance of the Cardassians, a race we’d become much more familiar with in Deep Space Nine, which had already been conceived at this point. As part of the slow buildup to Deep Space Nine, The Wounded also sees a big expansion in the role of recurring character Miles O’Brien, who had been present on the show since its premiere. Colm Meaney’s character would be transferred to Deep Space Nine when that show kicked off, and this was the second consecutive episode featuring him in a big way as part of fleshing out Chief O’Brien and preparing the character for the sideways move. Along with Data’s Day, Disaster, Power Play, and Rascals, and smaller appearances in other episodes, O’Brien would step up to become a major character in time for Deep Space Nine, and would go on to be the character with the second-highest number of appearances in Star Trek after Worf, who also appeared in both shows.
We get to see Starfleet through a more military lens than usual, as we learn some background to Federation-Cardassian relations. The two sides fought a series of wars along their shared border, which seem to have only recently come to an end. Many people, including O’Brien, still hold bitter feelings toward the Cardassians as a hangover from those war years, and Capt. Maxwell, whom the Enterprise-D is ordered to intercept, seems to be among them. Speaking as we were of The Next Generation establishing background for Deep Space Nine, the introduction of the Cardassians was another big step in that direction, as was the inclusion of border colonies – the foundations for what would become the Maquis storyline can be glimpsed here.
As a very military Star Trek episode, The Wounded is different to many that came before, and is perhaps closer in tone to The Undiscovered Country. The episode also channels the war film Apocalypse Now at points, focusing on a rogue captain heading into enemy territory, his mental health, and the need to stop him from doing too much harm. Just as that film is considered one of modern cinema’s best, so too is The Wounded one of The Next Generation’s, even though it is quite unlike many of the series’ other offerings.
Disaster would not be a good episode to use to introduce someone new to The Next Generation, as it takes the crew of the Enterprise-D and throws each of them into unfamiliar and difficult situations. For someone familiar with the series, however, this bottle show is absolutely fantastic, giving all of the main cast – and several recurring characters – a chance to shine.
When the Enterprise-D hits a strange anomaly in space, all main power is lost (except, as always, artificial gravity!) and the crew are trapped in whatever areas of the ship they happened to be in at that moment. With none of the main crew members at their posts, and with the ship having suffered serious damage in some sections as a result of the anomaly, the various pairings and groups have to work together, and it’s a great chance for some cast members who don’t often get much time together to interact. Dr Crusher and Geordi are paired up, Counsellor Troi is left as the senior officer on the bridge with Ensign Ro and Chief O’Brien, Worf is in Ten-Forward and must deliver a baby, Riker and Data undertake a dangerous trek to engineering, and Capt. Picard is stuck in a turbolift with a group of frightened children. All of the characters are given their own challenges to overcome, and the episode doesn’t feel like it’s one which belongs to any of them; it’s a true ensemble story with everyone having a role to play.
Almost every season of every Star Trek show ended up having what came to be known as “bottle shows”; episodes which took place wholly on the ship and without bringing in any expensive guest-stars or using too many special effects. These episodes do vary in quality somewhat, but Disaster has to be one of the best. Though it does end up featuring some great special effects – which look especially good in the remastered version – it’s a self-contained story set aboard the ship.
I had previously included this episode on one of my two lists of episodes to watch leading up to the release of Star Trek: Picard, as I felt it was an episode which took the captain out of his comfort zone. Disaster happens to be one of my all-time favourites as well, which isn’t surprising considering it’s on this list!
Number 7: Unification, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 5)
When considering episodes for this list, both Unification and Relics were major contenders. Both episodes feature a returning cast member from The Original Series: Scotty would be back in Season 6’s Relics, and Unification sees the return of Spock. Both episodes are well worth a watch and I hope to talk more about Relics on another occasion. Unification, Part 1 was the first episode to be broadcast following Gene Roddenberry’s death, and carries a special title card honouring Star Trek’s creator.
Without telling anyone his intentions beforehand – perhaps fearing they’d try to stop him – Spock has travelled to Romulus. This is of course a problem for the Federation, who even fear he may be defecting, and enlist Picard’s help to find out what happened. The episode marks the final appearance of Mark Lenard as Sarek, before the character was recast for the JJverse films and Discovery, bringing to a close a role he’d played in The Original Series, The Animated Series, three films, and a previous episode of The Next Generation. Lenard’s role, while fairly short in the episode itself, was one of the highlights as he gives an amazing performance. The tension between Sarek and Spock has been ongoing since his first appearance in Journey to Babel, and I think it’s one that many audience members can relate to, so seeing his death and Spock’s reaction to it was a continuation of that.
What’s great about Unification for a Trekkie is that brings together elements from different Star Trek stories. Of course there’s the inclusion of Spock, but the episode also harkens back to prior events in The Next Generation – notably Picard’s involvement with the Klingons. It’s an episode which explores both the Romulans and their connection to the Vulcans in far more detail than anything that had come before, and that makes it fantastic to geek out to! Spock’s involvement with the Romulans in Unification also laid the foundations for his appearance in 2009’s Star Trek, and that film’s destruction of Romulus storyline – a plot thread which was later picked up in Star Trek: Picard.
Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock has always been outstanding, and as the first character from The Original Series to cross over with The Next Generation in a major way (Dr McCoy’s appearance in the premiere was little more than a cameo) it goes further than almost any other episode had previously to really tying the two shows together, and succeeds as being an episode that really feels that it was made for fans. The decision to keep The Next Generation largely separate from The Original Series in its first few seasons allowed the show to really stand on its own two feet, and that’s an incredibly positive thing; too many crossovers and callbacks would, I feel, have been to the show’s detriment. But at this point in its run, The Next Generation was on a much more secure footing as one part of a growing franchise and thus the decision to include such a major character as Spock feels justified – and it’s a great story to boot, one which allows Spock to shine.
Number 8: Realm of Fear (Season 6)
Lieutenant Barclay is a recurring character we haven’t got to talk about yet, and he’s one of The Next Generation’s most interesting. First introduced in the third season, Dwight Schultz’s character has cropped up a few times since, and would often end up the butt of jokes both for the Enterprise-D’s crew and for the show itself. Realm of Fear is a little different, however, as it gives Barclay agency within the story and the chance to become somewhat of a hero for once.
While investigating a ship whose crew appears to have gone missing, Barclay – who has a phobia of transporters – begins to think he’s losing his mind as he keeps seeing strange shapes inside the transporter beam. After investigating what’s happening, he’s able to save the crew of the stricken ship.
It’s a story that only Barclay could really pull off, because his unique position among the crew of the Enterprise-D as a hypochondriac and as someone with a history of fears and exaggeration lends credence to the idea that Capt. Picard and others would dismiss his report. And in that sense, the episode makes great use of the established character of Barclay – who is played in a wonderfully neurotic way by Schultz.
Realm of Fear takes a deeper look than almost any other episode at the process of using the transporter, and that’s fascinating to me as someone who loves this technology. Star Trek can, at times, fall into the trap of using things like the transporter as a macguffin to drive the plot forward, and thus its in-universe use and status isn’t always consistent. The concept of the transporter, by the way, was an invention of Gene Roddenberry to allow the crew of The Original Series to visit different alien worlds without having to land the Enterprise every time – something he was told would be costly from a special effects point of view. It was thus a cost-saving measure, and while the idea of teleportation is nothing new, Star Trek gives it a uniquely technological spin.
Number 9: The Pegasus (Season 7)
The Pegasus now forms a duology of episodes with the Enterprise series finale These Are The Voyages, which was set during the events of this episode. Whatever one may think of Enterprise’s take on things – and it’s an episode which remains controversial – the original episode from The Next Generation stands on its own two feet and is a fascinating look at Riker’s past, as well as relations between the Federation and Romulans. It also features one of The Next Generation’s best performances by a guest-star, as future Lost star Terry O’Quinn takes on the role of Riker’s former commanding officer.
One valid question within Star Trek is why the Klingons and Romulans have cloaking technology but the Federation do not. It’s shown numerous times across the franchise – from the cloak’s first appearance in Balance of Terror in Season 1 of The Original Series right through to the Klingon war arc in Discovery’s first season – just how useful this technology can be, and how dangerous it can be in enemy hands. The Pegasus attempts to answer this question, by saying that the Federation has refused to develop the technology as a result of a treaty they signed with the Romulans decades before The Next Generation is set. As with other technologies in Star Trek, the cloak can be a bit confused, especially with the prequel shows establishing the existence of the technology before Capt. Kirk made Starfleet’s first encounter with it. My own personal head-canon to get around this is that there are just different types of cloak which the Federation are constantly figuring out how to scan through, and once one type is “cracked”, the Romulans and Klingons have to invent a new kind. Cloaking, despite how we usually see it presented on screen, doesn’t merely render a ship invisible, it must also conceal it from sensors and scans – something crews see on a viewscreen represented by the ship disappearing. But we’re getting off-topic, and none of that is actually canon, just my own thoughts.
In The Pegasus, Riker receives a visit from Admiral Pressman, his former commanding officer. Pressman is looking to track down his old ship, which had been presumed destroyed but had been reported to have been found by the Romulans. Aboard the ship was an experiment that would be illegal under the Federation-Romulan treaty, as under Pressman’s leadership, Starfleet had been working on its own cloaking device.
The episode presents Riker as deeply conflicted between two senior officers. His unwillingness or inability to tell Picard the full truth shows us a depth to his character that we don’t always see a lot of – Picard may be his current commanding officer, friend, and someone he respects, but he has other loyalties too. His decision at the end to tell Picard the truth about what happened aboard the Pegasus, and how he and Pressman barely escaped a mutiny, is an important moment for him and his relationship with Picard.
Number 10: All Good Things… (Season 7, finale)
After seven years on the air, The Next Generation finally came to an end in 1994. But All Good Things was less a finale than another instalment, as Star Trek: Generations would be released a mere six months later, kicking off the era of The Next Generation’s crew on the big screen. Indeed, a good deal of the work on Generations took place prior to and alongside All Good Things, and the film would reuse many of the familiar Enterprise-D sets. So in a lot of ways, the episode doesn’t feel like a finale. While it does bookend the series nicely, with Q returning and the action jumping back in time to the Enterprise-D’s first adventure, as the episode’s story draws to a conclusion the ship and crew warp off to their next destination, just as we might expect them to at the end of any other episode. Both of the other finales of this era – Deep Space Nine’s What You Leave Behind and Voyager’s Endgame – are very definite ends, with the story arcs for many characters within those shows wrapping up. All Good Things isn’t like that, largely because the Enterprise-D and its crew would be moving on to their next adventure in short order.
Encounter at Farpoint, the show’s 1987 premiere, introduced Q, the omnipotent quasi-villain who put Picard on trial for the supposed “crimes” of humanity. Q had promised then that his people would be observing Picard on his mission, and he cropped up on several other occasions in The Next Generation. In All Good Things, however, Q makes good on his words from right at the beginning of the series, and gives Picard a time-bending puzzle to solve – one which could result in the destruction of all humanity if he fails!
The puzzle essentially boils down to an understanding of time – is it always linear and moving in a single direction? When Picard finally learns to think outside the box and realises that, in this particular circumstance, events in the future were having an effect on events in the past rather than vice-versa, he’s able to unravel the mystery. Q compliments him on his thinking, and explains that the whole thing was a test to see how humanity was progressing.
So that’s it. Ten great episodes from The Next Generation that are well worth your time – especially if you have more time than usual for entertainment at the moment. I feel that The Next Generation is, in some ways, a series in two parts. The first part, which encompasses the first and second seasons, as well as parts of the third, is very similar to The Original Series in its format. The second part, which was certainly in place by the time of the third season finale, is much closer to modern television storytelling. As plans for Deep Space Nine stepped up a gear, Star Trek edged closer to being a serialised franchise, and with that came recurring themes, factions, characters, and story elements.
The Next Generation was my first encounter with Star Trek some time in the early 1990s. The first episodes I have solid recollections of are The Royale and Who Watches The Watchers from Seasons 2 and 3 respectively; I’m pretty sure I was an avid viewer by about midway through the show’s second season. It was also the first series I began collecting, initially on VHS but later on DVD in the 2000s. On a personal level, the series was a major part of my youth and adolescence, providing entertainment and escapism when I needed it. While I have enjoyed all of the other Star Trek shows, The Next Generation will always be special to me for that reason.
Up next in this series of articles I’ll be looking at ten great episodes from Deep Space Nine, after which I’ll move on to Voyager and then Enterprise, as well as do a “bonus” piece which picks ten episodes from The Animated Series, Discovery, and Short Treks. So I hope you’ll come back to take a look at those over the next few weeks.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: While this essay doesn’t go into many plot details, there may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including for Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery.
I’ve seen a number articles and videos over the last couple of years, really since Star Trek: Discovery premiered, looking at how the Star Trek fanbase has become divided into fans of “old” Star Trek and “new” Star Trek. However one may feel about the various films and series, it’s undeniable that there are many Trekkies who have jumped ship over the years and do not consider themselves fans of the franchise’s newer iterations – as well as plenty of casual viewers who have seen one series but not others. Given that the franchise is well past its fiftieth anniversary, perhaps that’s fair enough. But I did want to take a look at the phenomenon for myself and give my thoughts on how the franchise is split, some of the possible causes, and what that split could mean for the franchise going forward into the 2020s and beyond.
Firstly, the question often asked in these articles is “how can everyone come back together?” Writers will often set up that question, pretending that they’re going to answer it fairly, only to basically end up saying “everyone will come back together if Star Trek does everything my way and gives me everything I want.” That just isn’t realistic, I’m afraid. And as with many cases of division, the reality is that there may not be a way to bridge the gulf and reunite everyone around one new Star Trek series or film. That may sound depressing, and it is in a way. But we have to be realistic – there are some people now who are literally making money from running anti-Star Trek groups online, and if anyone expects someone in that position to suddenly turn around and say “hey guys, I just saw the latest episode and it was amazing!” well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. The truth is that some people aren’t interested in fair criticism. They have decided they want to hate, and just like fans of a football team could never support a rival club, no matter what, their hatred for the current and upcoming lineup of Star Trek shows and films will continue. It’s part of the tribal mindset that we as human beings all end up subscribing to in one way or another: “I support X, which is opposed to Y. Therefore, I can never ever like Y, because it would go against how I define myself as a person”. That’s true in sport, it’s true in politics, and it’s true in entertainment as well.
But before we can look at divisions in the fanbase, we need to examine the basic concept: what is “old” Star Trek, and what is “new” Star Trek? It’s a far more complicated question than it seems, and the answer will vary depending on how old a person is, and when they first encountered the franchise.
There are several “turning points” in the history of Star Trek where fans jumped ship, and the easiest way to look at them is in chronological order. The first one was in 1987, when The Next Generation premiered. Until this point, Star Trek had been The Original Series with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the 1960s crew, and while there was excitement for Star Trek’s return to television – just as there was in 2017 – that was countered by a vocal number of fans who believed ardently that the original characters were the beating heart of Star Trek – and were irreplaceable. These people may have watched The Original Series and the first four Star Trek films (The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered County were released after The Next Generation premiered) but simply had no interest in a new crew, a new ship, and a new century. Indeed, Sir Patrick Stewart himself has said many times that he believed The Next Generation would not be a success – and would run for perhaps two seasons at most.
The second turning point is the one I’m most familiar with – because it’s the point I came very close to jumping ship myself: 2000-2001, when Enterprise was announced and entered production. In the aftermath of the disaster that was Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999, a prequel was just something that many fans, myself included, had little interest in. Star Trek – as I have often written here on the blog – had always been about pushing forward into the future, and yet here was a show that wanted to look back at its own past. This kind of navel-gazing just didn’t feel like a good idea, and the aesthetic of the show, with its boiler-suit uniforms, clunky starship design, modern (for the time) computer screens, and overreliance on not-quite-good-enough early-2000s CGI was not inspiring. There had been some real stinkers in the Star Trek canon when it came to individual episodes and stories – Spock’s Brain, Angel One, Shades of Grey, Threshold, and Move Along Home to name but a few – but this was the first time that the premise of a series itself seemed unexciting, at least for me. The introduction of Scott Bakula as the captain did go some way toward lifting the show for some fans who had been on the fence, but I confess that during Enterprise’s original run here in the UK I only tuned in sporadically, and it was only when I got the series on DVD a few years after it went off the air that I watched it in its entirety. Nowadays I often cite Enterprise as an example whenever I hear the argument: “nobody asked for this”. Nobody in 2000 was asking for Enterprise, yet it actually told some interesting stories and had a great cast of characters. I’m glad to have seen it, I’m glad it existed, and ultimately I feel its strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. Giving it a second chance was a good decision – even if the only reason I bought the DVDs was to complete my Star Trek collection!
Next comes our third turning point: when Enterprise went off the air, a spell was broken. Star Trek had, in some form, been in continuous production for almost two decade