Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine Season 3.
With Lower Decks’ third season fast approaching, I wanted to write up a theory that I’ve had kicking around since the second episode of Season 2. Lower Decks’ episodic nature hasn’t lent itself to a ton of theory-crafting so far – although I do have at least one more in the pipeline, so stay tuned for that! – but this one feels plausible; it’s the kind of narrative choice that I could see the show’s writers making.
First of all, let’s briefly recap what happened to Ensign Boimler from the end of Season 1 to the beginning of Season 2. After impressing Captain Riker, Boimler took a transfer to the USS Titan at the very end of Season 1, leaving Mariner and the Cerritos behind and being promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Boimler would serve under Captain Riker for a short while, and one of the Titan’s assignments at this time involved following up with the newly-aggressive Pakleds.
Lieutenant Boimler was assigned to an away mission to the planet Karzill IV as part of this assignment, and after getting caught in a firefight he was able to save the day and allow the rest of the team to make it back to the Titan. However, as this mission drew to a close a transporter accident created a duplicate – or clone – of Boimler, resulting in two identical Lieutenant Boimlers, indistinguishable from one another.
For seemingly arbitrary reasons, Starfleet decided that only one Boimler could remain aboard the Titan, and the other would have to take a demotion back to the rank of ensign and return to the Cerritos. After one Boimler returned to the Cerritos we’ve followed his actions, and the second Boimler hasn’t been mentioned since. But could that be about to change?
Although we were told that the two Boimlers were indistinguishable from one another – totally identical – the second Boimler, the one who remained aboard the Titan, seemed much more outgoing than the Boimler we’ve gotten to know. Not only that, but he seemed more than a little devious in tricking “our” Boimler to return to the Cerritos so that he could continue on the Titan and advance his career. Could we be looking at the beginnings of an “evil twin” (or “evil clone,” I guess) storyline?
It wouldn’t be the first time that such a story has appeared in Star Trek! Going all the way back to The Original Series we had stories like The Enemy Within that split Captain Kirk into two distinct personalities, one “good” and one “evil.” And of course there’s the classic Mirror, Mirror that showed our heroes’ evil alternate universe counterparts.
The Next Generation followed this up by creating Data’s own “evil twin” – Lore. Lore would tangle with the crew of the Enterprise-D on more than one occasion, doing things like allying with the Crystalline Entity and raising an army of abandoned ex-Borg, as well as trying to corrupt Data and sway him to his cause.
Most significantly we have Thomas Riker, the first transporter duplicate in Star Trek and whose character clearly inspired the Boimler storyline in Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Not only was Thomas difficult to work with for William Riker after being rediscovered, but he would go on to rebel against Starfleet, join the Maquis, and even steal the USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine.
Lower Decks has brought back a lot of Star Trek tropes and story beats, and many of them have been used for one-off gags or as cute callbacks to past events. It can be difficult to tell whether there’s some deeper meaning to the whole transporter duplicate story because of that. In the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open it worked well as a surprising twist, a way to kick Boimler back to the Cerritos, and as a cute wink to fans of The Next Generation, especially considering Riker himself was present. The storyline could end there with Boimler’s twin never being mentioned again.
But at the same time, Lower Decks has used some of these classic Star Trek moments and story beats to set up longer arcs, or returned to them later. There’s a symmetry to some of the show’s episodes and storylines, too. The way the Cerritos saved the USS Archimedes in the Season 2 finale after having to be saved in the Season 1 finale is one of the best examples of this – and we could also point to the Pakled storyline itself as an unfolding multi-episode arc.
I think we’ve laid out how it’s at least possible that there could be something more going on with the transporter clone and looked at previous examples of “evil twin” tropes in Star Trek. So that answers the question of “could it happen?” quite nicely – but that’s really just the beginning.
The matter at the heart of this theory is what direction such a story would take, how it could potentially impact (our) Boimler, and what it could do for the series as a whole.
If we look back to episodes like Datalore or Second Chances, I think it’s not unfair to say that those storylines didn’t go on to have a lasting effect. The creation of twins, clones, and duplicates hasn’t actually come to matter in a significant, ongoing way for any Star Trek character so far. Even when those twins made repeat appearances their stories tended to be confined to a single episode – or perhaps a two-parter.
It was never really explained in any detail what impact Thomas’ emergence had on William Riker after the events of Second Chances. Even when Thomas returned in Deep Space Nine’s third season episode Defiant, the story unfolded from his perspective without any input from his doppelgänger.
Data’s conflict with Lore is perhaps the biggest of these storylines, with Lore being mentioned a handful of times outside of his main appearances. But because of Data’s nature, he wasn’t as emotionally impacted by Lore’s behaviour as other characters in a similar situation might’ve been. Data even expressed confusion in Second Chances as to the nature of the dispute between Will and Thomas Riker!
Although Lower Decks has been largely episodic, we’ve still seen some impressive character work across its first two seasons. The way Ensign Mariner in particular has grown into her role and come to resolve some of her issues with her mother, her friendships, and her position in Starfleet has been wonderful to see – and it’s this more serialised approach to characterisation (a hallmark of modern television storytelling) that could make an “evil Boimler” storyline different to what we’ve seen before in Star Trek.
Boimler’s issues with his transporter duplicate could have an impact on him that extends beyond a single episode – and that could take his character on a journey. Beginning with the sense of betrayal he surely felt at the duplicate’s duplicity aboard the Titan, Boimler could begin to forgive him, only to discover he’s up to no good. He could find it difficult to convince his friends at first, before showing them irrefutable proof of the clone’s misdeeds. And the whole experience of having to face off against someone who literally knows him inside and out and has shared every experience he ever had could both challenge and change him.
We could see a more confident Boimler emerge from under such a storyline – but someone whose friendships have been pushed and stretched before eventually settling. Or we could see Boimler begin to second-guess himself; if the “evil” clone was Boimler himself, perhaps he’d wonder if being “evil” is part of his own nature, and that could cause him to freeze or find it hard to make decisions.
In short, there are a lot of ways that such a story could go – but almost all of them would be good for Boimler’s characterisation in the long run. We’d get a fun episode with the evil twin that could harken back to the likes of The Enemy Within, Mirror, Mirror, Datalore, and others – but the impact of that episode could reverberate across an entire season, giving Boimler a character arc that could be very satisfying to see unfold.
So that’s it for now! The theory is that Boimler’s transporter duplicate will – in classic Star Trek tradition – turn out to be evil!
For the reasons laid out above, I think such a story could be fun and interesting. Moreover, I like the idea of the fallout from Boimler’s conflict with his “evil twin” not being confined to a single episode and potentially setting him on a season-long arc as he processes what happened and what it means for himself and his friends. Going down that road could feel deeply cathartic – with Boimler filling in for other Star Trek characters in similar situations who never got the chance to deal with the longer-term implications of what they went through!
I hope this was a bit of fun. Please keep in mind that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will happen in Lower Decks either imminently or in Season 4. I just think it’s a fun concept, and while all the pieces seem to be in place for such a story, it could be that the transporter duplicate will (in the best tradition of Star Trek) never be mentioned again!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. Season 3 will premiere on the 25th/26th of August 2022. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. 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 Original Series Season 2, The Voyage Home, The Next Generation Season 6, Deep Space Nine Season 6, Voyager Season 4, Enterprise Season 2, Short Treks, Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, and Prodigy Season 1. Phew. That was a lot!
The world can be a crappy place, and not just because of wars and pandemics. Sometimes we all need to switch off from current events and seek out some escapism. For me, films and TV shows with very heavy themes, lots of violence, or dark narratives don’t always provide the best escape, and on days when my mental health suffers I find myself reaching for something lighter and comforting. On this occasion, I thought we could pick out a few Star Trek stories that I believe fit that description.
The Star Trek franchise has long been an escape from reality for me. In both its older and modern incarnations, I find that jumping head-first into a future that looks safer and better than anything we could imagine today feels pretty great! Star Trek has always had an underlying setting that feels optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow – and that’s something we all need to hear sometimes.
So with that in mind, let’s consider a few Star Trek stories that I believe make for lighter, comforting viewing. As always, this isn’t a ranked list; the episodes are listed below in the order they were first broadcast.
Number 1: A Piece of the Action The Original Series Season 2
The Original Series made very creative use of some of the limitations of its time! It wasn’t always possible to visit a brand-new planet every week that looked and felt very “alien,” so The Original Series used sets intended for other films and TV shows in different – and occasionally silly – ways. A Piece of the Action sees Captain Kirk and the crew encounter a planet whose entire population have based their society around the Chicago mob!
When A Piece of the Action was written, the 1920s were only forty years in the past – the equivalent today of the eighties! So perhaps to viewers at the time it was more relevant and less… camp. But I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a light, almost comedic flair simply because of its setting; the ’20s-inspired dialogue, the old fashioned suits, and the general tone of a “Golden Age of Hollywood” gangster flick all contribute to that.
The notion of going to a faraway planet in space and finding a society based on the Chicago mob is silly, but A Piece of the Action sells it in the best way it can, making the very odd juxtaposition of scenes aboard the Enterprise and scenes on Sigma Iotia II flow surprisingly well. But above all, it’s a fun story that imitates, in a very Star Trek way, classic mobster films from a generation earlier.
Apparently A Piece of the Action was going to be the basis for a Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film that ultimately didn’t enter production. It seems as though I’m in a minority, based on the reactions to this news from Trekkies I’ve spoken with, but I’d have been interested to see what a director as undeniably talented as Tarantino would’ve brought to Star Trek. A new film from such a big name would surely have been a box office draw, at the very least! But maybe that should be the topic of a longer article sometime.
Number 2: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Also known as “the one with the whales,” The Voyage Home is arguably the most lighthearted and fun of all the Star Trek films to date! After the very heavy stories of loss and death in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the third and final act of this trilogy came along like a breath of fresh air. I feel that The Voyage Home is the most dated of the Star Trek films thanks to being set in what was, at the time, the modern day. But that doesn’t detract from it; the kitschy eighties flavour is all part of the appeal!
There are some fantastic moments of pure comedy in The Voyage Home. I won’t spoil them if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, but suffice to say that bringing a 23rd Century crew to the modern day and forcing them to interact with basic things like cash and computers led to some absolutely hilarious, iconic moments.
There’s an ecological message at the heart of The Voyage Home, and the threat posed by the alien “whale probe” is definitely serious. But that theme doesn’t present as excessively weighty, and by the time Kirk and the gang are running around San Fransisco in 1986, the focus is more on the fun side of that premise.
With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 fast approaching, it could be fun to go back to The Voyage Home to see the most recent use of the “slingshot method” of travelling through time – something that may be making a return to Star Trek very soon!
Number 3: Relics The Next Generation Season 6
I wanted to put at least one crossover episode on this list, and this time it’s Relics that makes the cut! Bringing Scotty into The Next Generation was a lot of fun, and having him overcome his “fish out of water” status to eventually work alongside Geordi La Forge was absolutely fantastic, and made for a wonderful, heartwarming story.
With no evil villain to defeat nor a war to fight, Relics posed a scientific puzzle for Star Trek’s first two engineers to overcome – and in the process they were able to save the Enterprise-D from being trapped inside of a Dyson Sphere! There’s definitely a message in Relics: that older people have a lot to contribute if younger people are willing to take the time to listen.
When I first saw Relics back in the ’90s, I wasn’t prepared for Scotty’s arrival. This was before the days of spoilers on social media, so I went into the episode completely unaware of what I was about to see. When Scotty materialised on the transporter pad for the first time I was absolutely blown away! The Next Generation had been my first port of call in the early ’90s, but by the time Relics came around I’d seen all of The Original Series films and quite a few episodes, so I was really excited when it turned out to be a crossover episode.
Relics is, in a lot of ways, a very fan-servicey episode. But it’s also a comforting one, and more than that it feels almost like a slice of pure Star Trek. There’s a scientific mystery that’s both interesting and exciting, there are some wonderful character moments between Scotty and Picard and Scotty and La Forge in particular, there’s more than a dash of humour, and there’s an underlying message that may just strike a chord with some folks in the real world. It’s an all-around Star Trek episode!
Number 4: The Magnificent Ferengi Deep Space Nine Season 6
The Magnificent Ferengi takes what should be a dark and upsetting premise but manages to put a lighthearted, comedic spin on it thanks to the inclusion of the titular Ferengi. After a less than spectacular introduction in the first season of The Next Generation, in which they were originally supposed to replace the newly-pacified Klingons and become a major antagonist, the Ferengi carved themselves a new niche in Deep Space Nine thanks in no small part to a wonderful performance by Armin Shimerman as Quark.
We came to see the Ferengi as comic relief on a number of occasions, as in The Magnificent Ferengi, but they were also a people with depth. Issues within Ferengi society surrounding the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the second-class status of women, and so on were topics that Deep Space Nine tackled, and the fact that the Ferengi can be funny didn’t detract from those attempts to use them to examine some more serious subjects. But that’s not why we’re here today!
At the height of the Dominion War, Quark and Rom’s mother is captured by the Dominion, and Quark leads an all-Ferengi rescue operation. With the exception of Grand Nagus Zek, this episode brings together practically every Deep Space Nine Ferengi character, and musician Iggy Pop has a guest-starring role.
The plot descends into a comedic farce – naturally, given Quark’s leadership – and if you’ve ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s… well, you know what to expect! The Magnificent Ferengi is a ton of fun, and a great episode for showcasing some of Deep Space Nine’s recurring characters.
Number 5: Message in a Bottle Voyager Season 4
Once again we have an episode with a potentially dark premise that goes in a very different and fun direction! The Doctor is the star here, as he’s sent to the Alpha Quadrant to attempt to make contact with Starfleet for the first time since Captain Janeway and the crew became stranded 75,000 light-years from home… but he finds himself aboard a ship that has been captured by the Romulans!
Comedian Andy Dick guest-stars as a newer version of the Emergency Medical Hologram, and forms an astonishingly funny pair with the Doctor, who was often used for moments of comic relief during Voyager’s run. Seeing the two holograms working together to outsmart the Romulans in a comic story that could verge into slapstick is absolutely hilarious, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments.
I also find Message in a Bottle to be a very uplifting episode. It marks the halfway point of Voyager’s seven-season run, and the first moment that the crew are able to contact the Federation. After four years of being alone, the crew finally get to inform Starfleet that they’re okay and working their way home, and there’s something incredible about the episode’s closing moments as a result.
The Prometheus-class ship is a pretty cool inclusion, too – a brand-new class of ship which has features that even the USS Voyager or Enterprise-E couldn’t match. I always wanted to see more from this ship, but aside from a couple of background appearances, we haven’t yet!
Number 6: Carbon Creek Enterprise Season 2
Carbon Creek uses a frame narrative to tell the story of the first time Vulcans came to Earth… and it wasn’t in the mid-21st Century, as Captain Archer (and us as the audience) had been led to believe! Instead, T’Pol tells the tale of her great-grandmother, and how she and a small crew came to be stranded on Earth in the 1950s during a survey mission.
Carbon Creek is fun for its fifties atmosphere, and Enterprise really manages to nail that feel through some wonderful sets, costumes, and dialogue. It’s also an episode that shows off how Vulcans can be unintentionally funny in Star Trek, particularly when confronted with different or unusual situations. In this case, T’Mir and her crew have to blend in with a town of very emotional humans.
There are definitely some lighthearted moments scattered through the entire episode, and the frame of T’Pol recounting the story to a stunned Archer and Tucker adds to that as well. It’s also a great example of how a prequel story doesn’t have to tread on the toes of anything established previously; nothing in Carbon Creek fundamentally changes what we already know about first contact between humans and Vulcans. In many ways it expands it – knowing that Vulcan had humanity under observation decades ahead of official first contact gives them a reason to be surveying the area during the events of First Contact!
All in all, a fun episode that steps away from many of Star Trek’s familiar elements like starships to tell a story with some interesting characters in a fun setting.
Number 7: Ephraim and DOT Short Treks Season 2
It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more Short Treks lately; the most recent batch of episodes ended with Children of Mars shortly before Picard Season 1 kicked off in early 2020. The idea of telling one-shot short stories in the Star Trek galaxy may have been a fairly blunt and obvious way for CBS All Access (since rebranded as Paramount+) to convince Trekkies to remain subscribed in between seasons of the main Star Trek shows, but several episodes ended up being fantastic in their own right.
Ephraim and DOT was one of two animated Short Treks episodes that were broadcast in December 2019, and it’s something that we hadn’t really seen the Star Trek franchise do before. Thirty-five years after The Animated Series went off the air, this was Star Trek’s first return to animation, and where The Girl Who Made The Stars was more of a conventional story, Ephraim and DOT was framed very differently!
Telling the story of a tardigrade named Ephraim and a DOT-type robot aboard the USS Enterprise, this Disney-inspired tale sees the unlikely duo team up to save Ephraim’s eggs. With an enthusiastic narrator who sounds like they’ve come from a National Geographic documentary, the short story is a lot of fun – and packs a surprisingly emotional punch at its climax!
Ephraim and DOT also shows off a handful of fun clips from The Original Series that have been reimagined for animation, and this “greatest hits” montage was absolutely fantastic; a blast from the past that elevated the episode.
Number 8: Nepenthe Picard Season 1
If you don’t have the same connection to the characters from The Next Generation that I do, maybe Nepenthe won’t be one of your “comfort episodes.” But for me, seeing Picard reunited with Riker and Troi was one of the highlights of Picard Season 1 – and Nepenthe is one of the best Star Trek episodes that I’ve seen in a long time!
After several tense and dramatic episodes in which Picard and the crew of La Sirena had to unpick the mystery of Bruce Maddox, the synths, the Zhat Vash plot, and so on, Picard was able to rescue Soji and use a spatial trajector to escape to the planet of Nepenthe – home to Riker, Troi, and their daughter Kestra.
There are some very sweet moments between Soji and Kestra as they bond, and while the story has some very bittersweet moments as we learn that Riker and Troi’s elder child had passed away, there are some absolutely incredible and heartwarming character moments as well. After more than eighteen years away from the 24th Century, Nepenthe felt like the homecoming I had been waiting for.
Seeing Riker and Troi enjoying a peaceful life away from Starfleet was something that I needed to see, even if I didn’t realise it beforehand! Although there were issues with the Picard Season 1 finale that meant that, realistically, taking an entire episode away from the main plot to slow down and hang out with Picard, Riker, Troi, and Soji was arguably a mistake, I just can’t find it in my heart to fault Nepenthe for the way it comes across on screen. It’s a beautiful, emotional episode, and sitting down to eat pizza with the characters after everything they’ve been through just feels right.
Number 9: First First Contact Lower Decks Season 2
First First Contact might be my favourite episode of Lower Decks so far. It isn’t as hilarious as some of the show’s other offerings, but as an uplifting story with a real “Star Trek” feel, I don’t think it can be bettered! The episode sees the crew of the Cerritos teamed up with the fancier and more powerful USS Archimedes – under the command of one Captain Sonya Gomez, no less – to undertake their first ever mission of first contact!
But naturally, things don’t go to plan. The Cerritos is called into action to save the stricken Archimedes, and the entire crew pulls together to perform the very difficult and dangerous task of literally stripping off the ship’s outer hull! Lower Decks ditched its usual two (or three) storylines format here, and put all four ensigns and all of the ship’s senior staff in the same story – and the result was absolutely fantastic.
Lower Decks goes out of its way to recreate the look of The Next Generation era, and I’ve always appreciated that. But it doesn’t hesitate to bring new things to the table, and we get our first look at Cetacean Ops in this episode – an aquatic department that had been mentioned in background dialogue in The Next Generation but never seen on screen.
All four ensigns have roles to play in the story, and after the Cerritos had to be saved at the climax of the Season 1 finale, the poetic symmetry of being the one to save a disabled Starfleet ship was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to bring the show’s successful second season to a close.
Number 10: Kobayashi Prodigy Season 1
The Kobayashi Maru test seems like an odd choice for a “comfort” pick, doesn’t it? But the way Prodigy pulls it off feels like a love letter to Star Trek, bringing in classic characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine in holographic form.
There’s more going on in the episode than just the Kobayashi Maru test on the holodeck, and Prodigy’s ongoing story arcs come into play in a big way throughout. But for me, the moments on the holodeck with Dal and the holographic versions of some wonderful characters from Star Trek’s past are what elevates Kobayashi and what makes it so enjoyable.
It’s such a shame that Prodigy remains (officially) unavailable in most of the world, because it’s been one of the most surprisingly fun Star Trek projects, and despite its kid-friendly atmosphere and intended audience, there’s so much to love for Trekkies. I hope that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally will see Prodigy grow in popularity and bring in hordes of new fans – and with episodes as strong as Kobayashi to ease them into the world of Star Trek, there’s a good chance that’ll happen!
The character choices may seem like an odd mix at first – and seeing Odo on the bridge of a Galaxy-class ship definitely felt strange! But each of them is given a moment to showcase their strengths, and what they brought to Star Trek in their original appearances. It makes the entire holodeck sequence feel so very special – and with such an eclectic mix of characters, there really isn’t anything quite like it in Star Trek’s entire official canon!
So that’s it!
Those are my picks for ten “comfort episodes” – or rather, nine comfort episodes and a comfort film – from the Star Trek franchise. We don’t need to repeat why the world feels so messed up right now, because we can all see what’s going on. Certain news stories have become omnipresent, completely taking over social media and other apps. If you find yourself doomscrolling, take a break. Do anything other than wallow in the mess of the real world.
The Star Trek franchise has been my comfort place for decades, and I find myself drawn to it when the world feels too much or when my mental health suffers. A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words, and I find that practically every Star Trek story – even those darker in tone – have a lot to offer.
So I hope this was a bit of fun and maybe gave you some viewing inspiration! I had a great time going back to these episodes to put this list together, and with everything going on in the world I thought it could be a good time to share something like this.
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. 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 Original Series Season 2, The Animated Series, The Next Generation Season 1, Voyager Season 2, Star Trek 2009, Picard Season 1, Discovery Season 3, and Lower Decks Season 2.
I wouldn’t even like to guess how many different planets (and other planetary bodies) have been visited across all 800+ episodes and films in the Star Trek franchise! It must be a lot… maybe someone has been keeping a tally, but I certainly haven’t! There are some worlds that we’ve visited more than others – Bajor, Qo’noS, and of course Earth all spring to mind. But there are some planets that, for one reason or another, are best left behind in the franchise’s past.
As Star Trek moves on to bigger and better things, some planets – and their inhabitants – seem outdated, or perhaps the concept behind the planet was never a good one to begin with. Today I thought it could be interesting to consider five examples of planets that Star Trek will almost certainly never revisit!
Planet #1: Ekos
Ekos was created for The Orignal Series Season 2 episode Patterns of Force, but you might know it better as “that Nazi planet.” There’s definitely scope for the Star Trek franchise to tackle authoritarianism, fascism, and even Nazism – and as recently as 2004, Enterprise put its own spin on the “Star Trek-versus-Nazis” concept. But there are a few deeply unsettling things about Ekos, and how its Nazi-inspired government came to power.
First of all we need a brief history lesson! In the 1960s, when Patterns of Force was created, some historians, economists, and other political scientists regarded Nazi Germany as an “efficient” state. Resting all power in a single individual, they argued, made for a powerful government that could be run very efficiently. In Patterns of Force, Federation anthropologist/historian John Gill cites this theory as the reason for introducing Nazism to the Ekosians.
That theory was flat-out wrong, and even by the 1970s and 1980s, the flawed thinking that led to the myth of “Nazi efficiency” had been exposed and thoroughly debunked. In short, Nazi Germany was a very poorly-run government, with a handful of cronies of the führer wielding disproportionate levels of power, and micromanagement in certain departments and industries majorly hampering the state’s industrial output. How this myth ever came to be as widely believed as it was is, in some respects, a bit of a mystery. But suffice to say that the central conceit behind Patterns of Force has been exposed as a falsehood.
John Gill, the academic at the heart of the story, also represents a very distinct kind of betrayal of Federation values, taking things to perhaps the most unpleasant extreme possible. Star Trek has never shied away from showing us flawed human beings and Federation officials, but Gill is a step too far, and Patterns of Force can be an uncomfortable watch for many Trekkies.
Though it might be interesting, in some respects, to revisit Ekos in the 24th, 25th, or 32nd Centuries to see how things had progressed, in many ways it’s a planet – and a story concept – that should probably remain on the sidelines. Modern Star Trek can tell far more subtle stories about authoritarianism, racism, and the like without needing to resort to overt depictions of Federation-sponsored Nazism.
Patterns of Force is based on an outdated concept, and while it was brought to screen quite well by the standards of The Original Series, with some clever visual effects for the time and some surprisingly accurate costumes, it feels like an anachronism overall. This is one best left behind in the 1960s!
Planet #2: Megas-Tu
The Animated Series had some very wacky sci-fi concepts. Taking Star Trek away from live-action meant that the franchise was no longer confined by the limitations of practical special effects, and thus it was possible to depict things like a 40-foot tall clone of Spock, an entirely underwater civilisation, or, in The Magicks of Megas-Tu, an alternate universe where magic is real and science is not.
I’ve always had a soft spot for The Magicks of Megas-Tu, and I think it’s an episode that every Trekkie should watch at least once. It’s an example of mid-century sci-fi at its wackiest, but it manages to retain a Star Trek tone throughout the very unusual adventure that Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise find themselves on.
With the possible exception of Lower Decks, which has been more willing to explore some of the stranger elements of classic Star Trek, I can’t imagine Megas-Tu ever making another Star Trek appearance. How would it fit in Discovery, for example, or Picard? The tone of modern Star Trek is just too different – and even by the time of The Next Generation, Star Trek had moved away from concepts like this. Megas-Tu feels homeless, in a sense, in a franchise that has moved on.
That isn’t to say that it was a bad concept when it was first developed, but like several ideas from The Original Series and The Animated Series, magic and fantasy just seem to be a step too far for a franchise that has retained its esoteric side and sense of fun, but refocused them into more science-based stories rather than stories that use literal magic and fantasy as core elements.
It’s hard to see how a story about Megas-Tu could fit in with modern Star Trek. Audience expectations have shifted when it comes to science-fiction, and with the Star Trek franchise moving away from stories like The Magicks of Megas-Tu, it seems very unlikely that we’ll see anything like it in the franchise anytime soon.
There’s also the in-universe problem of travelling to the Megans’ universe, and while technobabble can always be created to explain away these things, it seems like a bit of a stretch. It’s possible we’ll get more references to The Animated Series – Picard Season 1 made reference to the Kzinti, for example. But a full revisit to Megas-Tu is probably off the table!
Planet #3: Ligon II
The planet that inspired me to put together this list, Ligon II was visited in Code of Honor, the notorious Season 1 episode of The Next Generation that has been widely criticised for its use of racial stereotypes. The Ligonians encapsulated stereotypes of Africans and African-Americans, and Code of Honor has to be one of the worst episodes of The Next Generation as a result.
Some stories from past iterations of the franchise are open to redemption; to being revisited to right the wrongs of the past. We’ve seen this, to an extent, with certain characters in modern Star Trek who saw much-needed development or expansions of incomplete arcs. We’ve also seen Lower Decks revisit planets like Beta III to comment on Starfleet’s somewhat chaotic approach to first contact.
But Code of Honor and the episode’s depiction of the Ligonians feels so utterly wrong that it’s irredeemable. There are some parts of Star Trek’s past that the franchise brushes under the carpet, choosing to ignore and even overwrite things rather than try to fix the unfixable. Captain Pike’s “woman on the bridge” line in The Cage is such an example – overt sexism from a character that we’re now very excited to see return. Ligon II and Code of Honor are definitely in the “let’s all just pretend that never happened” category… for the good of the franchise!
It’s amazing, when you think about it, that Code of Honor was produced as late as 1987. It would still feel outdated had it been part of The Original Series in the 1960s, but to know that it was produced for The Next Generation – within my own lifetime – is one of those things that boggles the mind.
Code of Honor is an episode that I think Trekkies need to watch. It’s worth remembering that, despite its lofty ambitions and attempts to depict a better future, the people who create Star Trek can still make mistakes. This was an episode that Gene Roddenberry had some creative input in and signed off on – he was The Next Generation’s executive producer at the time.
The episode is noteworthy for its complete lack of awareness. The people who created this story, cast it, and put it to screen were so blind to the offensive stereotypes that it depicted that they allowed it to progress and even get broadcast. Star Trek may have made strides, even in its early years, in its attempts to confront and tackle things like segregation and race hate – but it was blind, at times, to subtler, more covert forms of racism and racial stereotyping.
Planet #4: Uninhabited Delta Quadrant world
This planet doesn’t have a name… but I vote we call it “Tom Paris and Captain Janeway’s sex planet.” That’s right, it’s the planet from Threshold! After crossing the Warp 10 barrier and experiencing hyper-evolution, Tom Paris kidnapped Captain Janeway and took her to this remote, uninhabited world somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. By the time Chakotay and the crew of the USS Voyager tracked them down, both Paris and Janeway had mutated into amphibious salamander-like creatures… and mated.
Although the crew of Voyager successfully recovered Paris and Janeway and the Doctor was able to revert them back to their human forms, for some reason they left their offspring behind. That means somewhere in the Delta Quadrant, little human-salamander offspring are polluting a perfectly innocent planet that was just minding its own business. I’m pretty sure that violates the Prime Directive… in the most disgusting way possible.
As much as some fans (myself included) like to joke about Threshold – which is absolutely one of Voyager’s worst stories – I can’t see Star Trek ever doing anything more with this episode, this concept, or the planet visited in the final few minutes. For completely different reasons to those laid out above, this is another part of Star Trek’s past to simply ignore!
Again, the one exception could be Lower Decks, which has an irreverent take on these things. We saw mating mugatoes in the Season 2 episode Mugato, Gumato, so I wouldn’t put it past the Lower Decks team to dream up a reason to bring back the human-salamanders one day! After all, Tom Paris made an appearance in the show!
To Threshold’s credit, it won an award for its prosthetic makeup, and while the story was undeniably ridiculous to the point of abject failure, it was at least an attempt to go into a little more detail about Warp Drive and the limits to warp speed. It never sat right with me that Warp 9.9999 was as fast as anyone could ever go… but Warp 10 was supposedly fast enough to travel anywhere in an instant.
However, as with many technobabble things in Star Trek, maybe the complexities of Warp Drive work better when they’re left ambiguous! Ambiguity and vaguery allow for the creative teams to take stories in wildly different directions, allowing for maximum storytelling potential without different writers and different shows being constrained or tripping over one another.
Planet #5: Romulus
What? Too soon?
Romulus was destroyed during the events of 2009’s Star Trek, and we got to learn a little more about this event and its aftermath in Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Though the Romulans survived – well, some of them did, anyway – their homeworld, as well as its sister planet of Remus, is gone. The surviving Romulans are living on a number of other worlds in and around the territory of their former Empire.
Both Star Trek and Picard Season 1 were somewhat ambiguous on this latter point, though. We don’t know how many Romulans survived, where they went next, or even what became of their Empire. We do know that a faction called the Romulan Free State existed as of 2399, but that the Tal Shiar and Zhat Vash still existed in some form too, and were able to launch military operations on Earth, at the heart of the Federation.
Presumably Romulus’ destruction didn’t kill off either organisation, and the fact that they retained the capability to launch such powerful operations suggests that the Romulan government and its espionage operation still exist in some capacity, presumably having relocated to a different world. To what extent the Romulan Empire remains united is unclear, as is the fate of races like the Remans, who had second-class citizen status.
With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 going in a different direction, I presume we won’t be in a position to learn much more about the Romulans for a while. But if there are future 24th and 25th Century stories in the years ahead, it would be nice to get some kind of closure; to fully learn what happened to the Romulans in the years and decades after the loss of their homeworld.
By the time of Discovery’s 32nd Century, at least some Romulans had relocated to Vulcan as part of a reunification project. The planet was renamed Ni’Var, and while tensions still existed between the Romulans, Vulcans, and Romulo-Vulcans, it seems that the Romulans got a happy ending of sorts – even if it took centuries to get there!
So that’s it.
There have been plenty of fun and interesting worlds that the Star Trek franchise has visited, with many making just one single appearance. Modern Star Trek has contained a number of references in dialogue or on-screen displays to some of these worlds, giving us tantalising teases about what became of them after we last saw them. Those references are always appreciated!
With over fifty-five years of history and more than 800 episodes at time of writing, it’s inevitable that not all of these planets (and the peoples who populated them) worked well or would be worth going back to. Fortunately it’s relatively uncommon for Star Trek to have made truly egregious missteps, but there are certainly some episodes – and the planets and factions they included – that are best left behind. I hope it was a bit of fun (or at least mildly interesting) to consider a few examples today!
The Star Trek franchise – including all films, series, 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 Original Series and its films, The Next Generation and its films, and Picard Season 1.
“The only question I ever thought was hard / Was do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?” So sang “Weird Al” Yankovic on his 2006 parody hit White & Nerdy. In those two lines, the comedy singer encapsulated a debate that has rumbled on in the Trekkie community since The Next Generation premiered in 1987! This is a question I’ve thought about many times, and today I’m finally going to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and lay out my thoughts on this classic Trekkie debate.
Though there have been at least a further six captains or protagonists who’ve joined the Star Trek franchise over the years – or more, depending on how you count things – the classic debate has always surrounded Picard versus Kirk, and I think that’s probably because the contrasts between the two characters and their approaches to leadership are so extreme. Most Star Trek captains who have followed embody elements of both Kirk and Picard’s styles of management and leadership while remaining distinct characters, but when it comes to the franchise’s first two captains, there seems to be a major clash of personalities.
My first contact with the Star Trek franchise was The Next Generation in the early 1990s. It was only later that I went back to watch The Original Series and its films, encountering Captain Kirk and his crew for the first time. The Next Generation made me a Star Trek fan, and while I can appreciate what The Original Series did and how entertaining it was, I just don’t have the same connection to it – or to any other Star Trek show, frankly – as I do to The Next Generation. So that’s my own bias stated up front as we go into this discussion!
I’ve always found this debate to be fascinating, but I try not to take it too seriously. Some fans can turn genuine and heartfelt passion into toxic or even aggressive negativity sometimes, attacking others who don’t share their precise views on the nature of Star Trek (or other franchises). Fandoms shouldn’t be a place for division, negativity, or toxicity; they should be a place where we can all come together to share something we love. It’s in that spirit that I enter this discussion – and I encourage everyone to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, and it’s supposed to be light-hearted fun!
So let’s get started, shall we? For reasons both alphabetical and chronological, Captain Kirk gets to go first!
The Case For Kirk
Captain Kirk will forever be Star Trek’s first captain, and thus he should be the yardstick that Trekkies use to judge the successes of any subsequent captain – Picard included. Without Kirk, there would never have even been Picard – because there would quite literally have been no Star Trek. Just look at the failure of The Cage, the first pilot shot for The Original Series, as a case in point: Star Trek only became successful when Captain Kirk was in command.
But Kirk isn’t the best just because he was first. James T. Kirk is a man of action: a tough-talking, villain-punching, decisive commander who stops at nothing to get the job done and protect his ship and crew. He’s not above a bit of rule-breaking, either; when you’re alone on a mission of exploration far beyond Federation space, what’s the point in Starfleet orders or the Prime Directive?
On board his ship, Captain Kirk made friends. He didn’t see his crew as mere underlings, but as people he actually liked spending time with. He even developed Star Trek’s first ever cross-species friendship, bridging the gap between emotional humans and stoic, logical Vulcans in the best way possible. His friendship and partnership with Spock became legendary – and frankly, Picard has no friends… or at least, he has no friendships that come anywhere close to matching the closeness between Kirk and Spock. This pair literally created the genre of slash fiction!
It wasn’t until the finale of The Next Generation that Picard was prepared to sit down with Riker and play a round of poker, but Kirk had those friendships from the start. His closeness with Spock has rightly become legendary, but he was also firm friends with Dr McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and even the young Chekov. Kirk’s crew would even risk their Starfleet careers to steal the USS Enterprise and follow him on a dangerous mission to the Genesis Planet in The Search For Spock.
As Star Trek’s first captain, Kirk made first contact with many different races and factions – including practically all of the franchise’s best-known and most famous aliens. He also introduced us as the audience to races like the Vulcans and the Klingons – two of Star Trek’s most iconic alien races. It’s through Kirk’s eyes that we first came to perceive many of the franchise’s classic factions; he gave us his perspective and allowed us as the audience to meet these aliens through his interactions with them.
Captain Kirk developed rivalries with some of Star Trek’s biggest and most notorious villains. The Romulan commander from Balance of Terror, Garth of Izar, who went on to inspire an entire fan-series, Dr Tolian Soran in Generations, and even “God” himself in The Final Frontier. Most significantly, of course, Kirk found his arch-enemy in one of the greatest villains ever put to screen in the whole of cinema: Khan. Picard’s enemies simply aren’t in the same league.
Captain Kirk recognised the dangers of space travel, and he blazed a trail that Picard and others merely followed. He knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to find a negotiated settlement to every problem, and wasn’t shy about pulling out his phaser – and his fists – to settle disputes. Do you think Captain Kirk would have been bossed around by the Sheliak, or by the Edo and their Mediators? Or would he have punched those alien menaces in the face and told them where to shove it?
In conclusion, Captain Kirk is a bona fide action hero, a man’s man, and the embodiment of the very best of Starfleet in the 23rd Century. He would consider peaceful options where they were available, but wasn’t above punching aliens in the face when he needed to. He would go above and beyond for the sake of his crew, even being reduced in rank by Starfleet for having the audacity to save Spock. He saved Earth on many occasions – and even saved the life of his rival, Captain Picard, and the entire crew of the Enterprise-D in his final act before dying a hero.
The Case For Picard
Let’s calm down, leave the toxic masculinity in the ’60s where it belongs, and let a grown-up take charge. Captain Picard is the Joe Biden to Captain Kirk’s Donald Trump – he’s level-headed, diplomatic, and professional. Captain Kirk may have been the archetypal action hero of the ’60s, but by the late ’80s, things had moved on. What fans wanted to see from someone in a position of authority was not someone who was quick to pull out their phaser or punch an alien in the face, but someone who could be diplomatic, courteous, and who could resolve situations without needing to resort to such barbarity. Embodying all of those traits was Captain Picard.
A new era of Star Trek not only needed a new face, but a whole new style of leadership, and Captain Picard delivered. If the 23rd Century had been the “wild west,” where anything was allowed and rules were made to be broken, the 24th Century saw Starfleet evolve and move beyond that. Civility could finally replace cowboys like Captain Kirk.
Did Captain Kirk ever pilot his own ship? In the episode Booby Trap, we saw for ourselves just how skilled Captain Picard was, and how intimately he knew his ship. Where someone like Kirk would have ordered maximum warp until the power was drained, Picard and his crew came up with a complex solution, then executed it perfectly. Picard made the Enterprise-D dance like a ballerina; Kirk could never have done anything like that.
Where is Star Trek: Kirk? Oh, that’s right: they never made that series. But they did make Star Trek: Picard, such was the overwhelming response from fans to this wonderful character. 176 episodes of The Next Generation and four films weren’t enough – fans were eager for more Captain Picard, and thus he became the first character in Star Trek’s history to get a new show named after him. More than thirty years after we first met Captain Picard, new adventures with the character are still being created, with at least two more seasons of the show in production.
While Kirk may have had fun with some villains like Khan, he never had to stare down the biggest, most devastating threat that the Federation ever faced. Captain Picard beat the Borg… and he did it twice. He even survived being assimilated and was able to push through his Borg programming to give his crew a piece of vital information that ultimately saved Earth. In First Contact, Picard brought the Enterprise-E to the Borg’s second invasion attempt, saving the day in the 24th Century and then again in the past. Forget the Klingons, the Gorn, the Romulans, and the people on that weird planet who all pretended it was Chicago in the ’20s: Captain Picard fought and defeated the most dangerous threat that the Federation has ever encountered.
Captain Picard realised that he can be on good terms with those under his command, but that as the captain he has to put the needs of the ship first. In the episode Lessons, he learned first-hand that having close relationships with subordinates is difficult for any commanding officer, and maintaining a friendly but respectful distance from his crew – even those whose advice he relied upon – was necessary to keep everyone safe and to allow him to be able to make the tough calls.
Captain Kirk got to make many first contacts – but he did so by default because he was first. Captain Picard actually made more first contacts than Kirk did – including with some very different forms of life. Whether it’s the Microbrains, the Exocomps, or the Q Continuum, Captain Picard was prepared to treat everyone he met with courtesy and respect, staying true to Starfleet’s mission of seeking out new life. But it doesn’t end there. Captain Picard introduced us as the audience to alien races like the Bajorans, Cardassians, and of course the Borg – and these would go on to be just as important to the Star Trek franchise overall as any of the aliens we met in The Original Series.
In conclusion, Captain Picard is a calm diplomat, the level-headed manager of a large crew, and the personification of the very best of 24th Century Starfleet. He guided his crew through some incredibly difficult and dangerous missions while maintaining his composure. He learned lessons about loss and grief that Kirk never had to learn. And he saved the lives of at least two of Kirk’s crew: Spock and Scotty. He also saved Earth from the Federation’s greatest threat, and even learned to perceive time in a non-linear fashion thanks to Q.
So Who Wins?
You’re going to hate me for this – but they both win. Everything I said above is true (in a roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way), but that doesn’t mean that one captain is better than the other! Like all of us, Kirk and Picard have strengths and weaknesses; things they do well and areas where they need to rely on others. There isn’t a definitive answer to a question like this, because the answer will always be “it depends on the circumstances.”
There are times when Captain Kirk’s approach to leadership is needed, and times when the way Picard approached a situation would lead to the best chance of success. As we saw in Generations, there was even a time when the only way to save the day was for both men to team up. The fact that each captain has his own set of skills and his own style of leadership isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength, one which benefits Star Trek as a whole.
I mentioned in my introduction that subsequent captains have incorporated elements from both Kirk and Picard, and that’s because both men have so many positive, upstanding qualities that Star Trek’s writers were keen to give to new characters as the franchise has continued to grow. Kirk was always ready for action, but that never came at the expense of being thoughtful and considering non-violent solutions. And Picard’s diplomatic, polite style could give way to ordering his crew to “fire at will” when the situation called for it. Both captains are adaptable, able to rise to meet the needs of all manner of incredibly difficult situations – even if that meant setting aside their usual ways of doing things.
No one can doubt Kirk or Picard were absolutely dedicated to their ships and crews, either. They may have shown that dedication in slightly different ways, and they may have expressed their appreciation and love for their friends and crewmates in different forms as well, but both of them were quite literally willing to lay down their lives and go down with the ship if necessary. Both men ultimately lost their ships – the original USS Enterprise and the Enterprise-D were both destroyed. But they both bounced back to take over new commands and go on to even greater things.
There are times when I’m in the mood for watching Captain Kirk get into a fist-fight with a Gorn or for seeing his epic stand-off against Khan. And there are moments where I want to see Picard use diplomacy to win an argument with the Sheliak or watch him wrangle with one of Q’s puzzles. But there are also times where I want to see Picard grab his phaser rifle and kick some Borg butt, and times where I can think of nothing better than seeing Kirk solve a scientific mystery like that of V’Ger. Both captains have given all of us so much enjoyment and entertainment over the years that I simply can’t crown one of them a winner and leave the other a loser. To me, they’ll always both be winners.
The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series, The Next Generation, and every episode and film 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 Decks as 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: 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: 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.
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: There will be spoilers for the episodes and films on this list.
It’s only a few days till Star Trek: Picard premieres. Just saying that gets me excited, as I’ve been anticipating this series since it was announced! And in a broader sense, I’ve been waiting for the Star Trek franchise to move its timeline forward again since Voyager went off the air and Nemesis was in cinemas.
If you’re new to Star Trek, or haven’t watched any of the older series for a long time, it might be worthwhile to go back and take a look at some of the classics in anticipation of Star Trek: Picard. So let’s go together and get caught up on some of the episodes which may – or may not – be relevant to Picard’s story. At any rate, they’re all worth a watch before the show kicks off.
Number 1: Endgame (Star Trek: Voyager, 2001)
Before The Avengers ever thought of it, Voyager had the first Endgame! And it was a heck of a ride involving a time-travelling Janeway giving her past self technology from the future in order to defeat the Borg. By changing the past, Janeway was able to get Voyager home far sooner than she had in her own timeline.
Time travel paradox aside (how could future Janeway exist if she erased her own timeline by interacting with her past self?) the episode sets up what could be an important story point regarding the Borg. As Voyager prepares to travel home, future Janeway infects the Borg Queen with a virus – one that has the potential to devastate the entire collective. Voyager is able to easily destroy many Borg vessels – and the Borg Queen’s complex – thanks to the enhancements future Janeway brought them, and the end of the episode is the last time we’ve seen the Borg in the Star Trek timeline. What happened to them after Endgame is a key question, and given that we’ve seen a Borg vessel and ex-Borg in the trailers for Star Trek: Picard, it may be one that the series will answer.
Seven of Nine, a key member of Voyager’s crew in its later seasons, is also set to feature in some form in Star Trek: Picard, and her relationship with the collective was always a point of interest. I definitely think it’s worth giving Endgame a rewatch before Picard kicks off.
Number 2: Star Trek: Nemesis (Film, 2002)
This had to be on the list, right? Nemesis is as far forward as the Star Trek timeline had gotten – prior to last week’s Short Treks episode Children of Mars. And it was a Picard-centric story, focusing on his fight against a clone of himself created by the Romulans. As a story which features Picard heavily, as well as his relationship with the Romulans, this would already be an important one to watch. But because in this film Picard sees Data sacrifice himself to save him, it becomes even more meaningful in the story of Picard’s life.
We already know from the trailers that Data’s loss weighs heavily on Picard, and may even be a significant factor in his decision to leave Starfleet a few years after the events of Nemesis. As Data’s sacrifice is such an important moment in Picard’s later life, Nemesis is definitely worthy of a viewing before Picard premieres.
Other things to note from the film would be the Romulans and their relationship with the Federation. Nemesis takes place after the Dominion War (as seen in Deep Space Nine) and the Federation and Romulans had been allies. Is that alliance still in place? Is it possible that the surviving Romulans will have a good relationship with the Federation after the destruction of their homeworld? All interesting points to consider!
Number 3: Children of Mars (Short Treks, 2020)
I have a full review of Children of Mars already written and posted, which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Suffice to say that it wasn’t my favourite episode of Short Treks, but nevertheless it was created to be a prequel to Star Trek: Picard. While it’s unclear whether the two principal characters the episode features – schoolgirls named Kima and Lil – will cross over to the main series, there’s a significant event depicted which certainly will be a story point in some form.
A faction called the “rogue synths” launches a massive attack on Mars, where the Federation’s Utopia Planitia shipyards are located. Who this group are and what their aims were isn’t clear, but it seems as though this attack was designed to disrupt efforts led by Admiral Picard to assist the Romulans as they faced the supernova which would ultimately destroy their homeworld. In that sense, the attack on Mars looks set to be significant in the backstory to Star Trek: Picard.
Unfortunately if you’re outside the United States, as I am, you won’t be able to watch this episode by conventional means. Amazon Prime, despite having the rights to show Picard, don’t seem to have shown this episode of Short Treks. I suppose it’s possible that they will put up Children of Mars on their streaming platform before Picard premieres, but realistically if you want to guarantee seeing it before the main series you will have to find another way to access a copy. I can’t recommend any one website or other method, but if you know your way around a computer I daresay you’ll be able to find it.
Number 4: Disaster (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1991)
Disaster is one of my personal favourite episodes of The Next Generation. Perhaps I should do a list of those one day! It’s a bottle show (i.e. a show taking place entirely on board the ship – these were usually done to save money on building new sets) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t tell a very interesting story – or rather, a connected series of stories. As the Enterprise-D hits a “quantum filament”, it is left without power to most of its key systems. The main crew are split up, and are forced to play different roles than they usually would.
It’s a great example of characters working in the face of adversity, and of how the threat and danger in an episode of Star Trek doesn’t have to come from a menacing evil alien. Worf ends up delivering a baby, Counsellor Troi is the senior officer on the bridge and is forced to make significant command decisions, and most significantly for our purposes, Picard is stuck in a turbolift with a group of frightened children.
We’ve seen Picard in command countless times and we know he’s good at it – with his own crew. What Disaster does is show us how Picard can take control of any situation, even one he’s uncomfortable in as he’s never been keen on children. He’s able to get the situation under control and lead the kids to safety in the face of a difficult situation. It may not be the most significant TNG episode ever from Picard’s point of view, but it is nevertheless worth a watch.
Number 5: The Battle (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987)
The Next Generation’s first season was all about the show finding its feet. With the Klingons having been somewhat pacified, the show was looking for a new antagonist, and the Ferengi were initially created to fill that role. Though over the course of Deep Space Nine we’ve come to see the Ferengi more as a neutral power, interested in their own finances more than in galactic events, in early TNG they were much more aggressive.
The Battle was only the Ferengi’s second appearance, though we’re not really interested in the episode for that reason. Dai’mon Bok, a Ferengi captain, has somehow acquired the USS Stargazer – a ship previously captained by Picard. Over the course of the episode, we learn Picard had been in command at an event called the “battle of Maxia”, in which he defeated a Ferengi vessel using a warp speed technique called the “Picard manoeuvre”. The story fills in some of Picard’s pre-TNG history and proved to be a great opportunity for Patrick Stewart to show off his acting abilities, as the episode takes the character through a moment of (induced) madness.
Number 6: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I & II (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1990)
I’ve kind of spoilt it in the above picture, but Picard’s assimilation by the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds was a truly shocking moment for The Next Generation to end its third season on. This was the first time we’d seen assimilation on screen, and for a character as significant as Picard to be captured was a phenomenal moment. The entire two-part episode is beautifully constructed, and the moments leading up to the reveal of the assimilated Picard are perfectly shot and edited.
In terms of Picard’s life, his experience with the Borg, and the guilt and regret he felt over the attack on Starfleet ships at Wolf 359, would stay with him for a long time. In First Contact we see how it could influence his judgement – Picard was usually level-headed, calm, and neutral, but when it came to the Borg his emotions could get the better of him leading to irrational decisions. Seeing how this came to be, and how one traumatic event can affect his character, could be very important to understanding his decision-making in Picard, especially if the Borg are involved.
Family, the second episode of Season 4 of TNG, follows on from The Best of Both Worlds and would also be worth a look-in as an epilogue of sorts to this story.
Number 7: Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present)
Given the significant changes to Star Trek storytelling that are present in Discovery, it would be well worth getting up to date with Star Trek’s most recent outing if you haven’t seen it already. I understand that some fans weren’t happy with the series for a number of reasons, but there are some definite high points in there which even the most hardline sceptic should be able to appreciate.
Jason Isaacs in Season 1 and Anson Mount in Season 2 both give amazing performances as two very different Starfleet captains, and Discovery tells two separate, season-long serialised stories in the style that Picard plans to adopt for its first season. If the Short Treks episode Children of Mars is any indication, the visual style of Discovery will also carry over to Picard at least in part. Whether you think this is a good thing or not is another matter, of course, but if you’ve somehow avoided Discovery this long, now could be a good time to give it a second chance.
Because of its serialised nature it’s hard to pull just one episode from Discovery and say “just watch this one”. But if I had to pick a single episode, I’d recommend An Obol for Charon from Season 2. Despite containing several ongoing story arcs, the main thrust of this episode – dealing with an ancient planet-sized lifeform – is largely a self-contained story, albeit one that would have a huge impact on the remainder of the season.
Number 8: Star Trek: Generations (Film, 1994)
“Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you, don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.” Those were the words spoken to Picard by Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. And for a time, it seemed as though Picard was following the advice his predecessor gave him. We saw Janeway promoted to Admiral in Star Trek: Nemesis while Picard remained a captain, even though for the audience she was a character we’d met much later and was noticeably younger. What could it have been that caused Picard to turn his back on Kirk’s advice?
In Generations, Picard loses several members of his family to a fire. Château Picard, where it seems he’s living in retirement at the beginning of the new series, was the place where his brother and family had lived. Family had been important to Picard, but he had been content that the family line would continue thanks to his brother having a family, but that was taken away from him in Generations. It’s a film in which he suffers another loss, too – the Enterprise-D.
Though casualties were said to be light, the loss of the ship he’d called home for more than seven years and had countless adventures aboard did have an effect on Picard, not that much of it is acknowledged on screen. Mostly, though, it’s Kirk’s sacrifice which is the key point worth noting from Generations, and even though the two men didn’t know each other particularly well, Kirk’s advice seemed to be taken to heart.
Number 9: Tapestry (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1993)
As Tapestry begins, Picard has been badly wounded. His artificial heart couldn’t tolerate the injury and he dies – only to be greeted by his long-time nemesis Q, and given a rare opportunity to make a fresh start.
Picard has an artificial heart because in his youth he was brutally stabbed! By choosing to avoid that fate, Picard set his life on a different path, one which didn’t lead to the man we knew, but a more timid and less successful man who had only made it as far as a junior lieutenant in Starfleet. He realises his mistake, and pleads Q to send him back to set things right, stating: “I would rather die as the man I was… than live the life I just saw.”
It’s another story that adds some colourful background to Picard’s story, and we see him in his youth before he settled down into the man we knew. Given that there are sure to be changes in his character between the last time we saw him and how he appears in Star Trek: Picard, it’s worth remembering that people do change over the course of their lives, and the person you are at 20 isn’t the same person you are at 50 or 70 or 90.
Number 10: All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1994)
The finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a strange one, with a time-travel concept and the return of Q. Across three time periods Picard had to figure out a puzzle – a spacial anomaly which would destroy humanity, and for which he was ultimately responsible!
If you’ve seen the science fiction film Arrival, then All Good Things… uses a similar concept. By learning to perceive time differently – realising that events in the future were impacting the past, not the other way around – Picard was able to prevent disaster. “We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.” So says Q, complimenting Picard on his ability to change the way he thought and attack the situation in a different way from a completely different line of reasoning.
Bringing to a close Q’s arc in The Next Generation, the episode also shows Picard as someone who is capable of things that he even doesn’t know about himself. Q gave him the push, but it was Picard who solved the mystery and saved humanity. We also get glimpses of Picard’s personal future – including his retirement at Château Picard. There’s the mention of a degenerative disease called irumodic syndrome which Picard is said to be suffering from in his later years – whether this will come into play in Star Trek: Picard is unknown.
I can’t end a list without adding in a few honourable mentions!
Star Trek (Film, 2009) – This is where we first hear about the supernova that destroyed Romulus from Spock. It’s a significant plot point in the film, but not one which is covered in great detail. What You Leave Behind (DS9, 1999) – Concluding the Dominion War arc, which brought together the Federation and Romulans as allies, this episode is the most recent in which we saw many Star Trek factions like the Cardassians and Breen. Skin of Evil (TNG, 1988) – Picard’s first on-screen experience with losing an officer and a friend, when Tasha Yar is killed in action. Time Squared (TNG, 1988) – Picard must contend with the idea that he abandoned ship in the middle of a crisis when a duplicate of himself from the future is discovered. The Defector (TNG, 1990) – A Romulan Admiral defects to the Federation to try to prevent a war, and Picard must deal with the information he provides. The Raven (VOY, 1997) – Seven of Nine experiences flashbacks and uncovers her family’s half-assimilated ship where she was first captured by the Borg. I, Borg (TNG, 1992) – The introduction of Hugh the Borg, and Picard’s attempt to weaponise him to defeat the collective. Human Error (VOY, 2001) – Seven of Nine begins to discover more about her human side after years away from the Borg. In The Pale Moonlight (DS9, 1998) – Sisko lies and cheats to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War as an ally – and Garak commits murder to cover up their actions. Did the Romulans find out between the end of the war and the events of Picard? Sarek (TNG, 1990) – Picard came to know Spock well, but also met his father. Picard helped Sarek stay in control of his emotions as he suffered a serious Vulcan illness.
So that’s it.A few episodes and films that might feed into the plot and background of Star Trek: Picard. Perhaps not everything will be relevant, especially given the scant information about the show’s plot that we actually have. I’ve made two significant assumptions based on the trailer and cast information that we’ve seen so far – firstly that the Borg will have some role to play in the story, and secondly that the Romulans will too. But it could be an elaborate misdirect and both of these factions will ultimately end up being little more than backstory. We’ll have to see.
Regardless, the episodes and films above should go some way to showing off Picard and Star Trek at their best as we prepare for the new series. It’s been a long time since I was this excited about the premiere of a new television series, and I can’t wait to tune in when Picard kicks off in just ten days’ time.
Live Long and Prosper!
The Star Trek franchise – including all films, series, and episodes listed above – is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.