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As Star Trek moves on to bigger and better things, some planets – and their inhabitants – seem outdated, or perhaps the concept behind the planet was never a good one to begin with.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 Star Trek: The Next Generation.
This is the first in what I hope to be a weekly series over the next few months. In the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 disaster – the series has been withheld from fans outside of North America, if you somehow missed the news – I won’t be covering the show at all. Instead I’ll be writing up re-watches of some of my favourite episodes from Star Trek’s extensive back catalogue. This week we’re visiting The Next Generation’s final season to look at the episode Masks.
First up, a brief introduction to this format. I’m not calling these articles “reviews.” It wouldn’t be fair to do so because I’ve seen Masks – and all of the other episodes we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks – more times than I care to remember! This won’t just be a recap of the plot of the episode – I will be giving my thoughts and analysis as we go. But it can’t really be an objective “review,” strictly speaking.
Masks was one of the last episodes produced for The Next Generation before production shifted to Star Trek: Generations. At this stage we’ve been with the crew of the Enterprise-D for almost seven years and we know them well – so we think we know what to expect. Season 7 tried to shake things up at various points – like in Genesis where the crew all de-evolved! And Masks is kind of in a similar vein. We’ll see the ship transformed, and Data in particular will take on several different personalities.
Masks is one of those episodes that sticks in my mind. The Enterprise-D and her crew found themselves in many wacky and unpredictable situations over the years, but there’s something about the Aztec-inspired aesthetic that really makes what’s going on in Masks feel ancient and otherworldly. It’s a story that feels at home in the Star Trek franchise; the kind of episode no other sci-fi series would even attempt.
The episode is also a great one for Data actor Brent Spiner, who gets a chance to show off his range as an actor. There’s always seemed to be a disconnect between the character of Data and the personality of the man who plays the role! Data is cool and logical, but Brent Spiner has an almost chaotic energy to him, full of life and with a great sense of humour. Masks isn’t the only episode of Star Trek to give him more to do – look at his roles as Lore and as various members of the Soong family for more examples – but it’s certainly an episode that gives Spiner many opportunities to shake up his regular role.
Data is such a wonderful character, and his series-long quest to become more human saw him attempt to mimic a variety of different behaviours. At the beginning of Masks we see him taking an art class, learning to sculpt and to use his imagination. Because of the largely episodic nature of The Next Generation, even in Season 7 Data is still chasing his ambition of becoming human in much the same way as he had been earlier in the show’s run. The character saw evolution across the series as a whole, but moments like these at the beginning of Masks could sometimes feel like a reset, reinforcing Data’s android nature and showing how he doesn’t fully understand some element or other of what it means to be human.
I wouldn’t try to argue that Masks is an especially important episode, either for The Next Generation or Star Trek as a whole. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t groundbreaking or transformative for the franchise in the way certain stories can be – it doesn’t introduce new characters, factions, or themes that would carry over to future projects, for example, nor is it a transformative event in the lives of any of the main characters.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun episode with an interesting premise. In a way, what we have in Masks is an examination of computer viruses and the major cultural and technological differences that exist between cultures. After encountering the D’Arsay archive inside of what appears to be a comet, it transmits its information to the Enterprise-D, but that computer code plays havoc with the ship’s systems – and with Data. Though this computer virus analogy isn’t the episode’s message or primary focus, it’s not a coincidence that a story like Masks was created at this time.
In 1994, when the episode was initially broadcast, home computing was growing exponentially. Along with the rise of the PC came fears of computer viruses, and antivirus software was becoming a big business. Though Masks mainly considers cultural themes within the story itself, I’d argue very strongly that the premise – disruptive or even malicious software being beamed to the Enterprise-D – is a reaction to the way the home computer market was shaping up at the time.
Computer viruses continue to plague systems today, of course, but with improvements in antivirus software and better computer education, the fears most folks have of viruses has diminished. In that sense, this aspect of Masks feels like a step back in time a quarter of a century – which it is, of course! The idea of rogue computer code harming – or in this case transforming – one’s computer was certainly a relevant concern at the time, though, and although it’s one that the episode doesn’t feature prominently it’s still an interesting aspect.
Masks also looks at how we deal with cultures very different from our own, and how we need to be careful when interpreting history. Captain Picard is at his best in episodes like Masks, getting the chance to show off one of his real passions – history. Picard is well-placed to jump into the story and find a use for his skills, and is supported at various points by Riker, Troi, and perhaps the most unusual choice – Worf. One of Worf’s lines about the sun and moon proves crucial to unlocking the mystery of the archive, and while Captain Picard definitely needed others around him in these scenes, I’m not sure I’d have chosen Worf!
The struggle that Picard and the others had of trying to interpret an unfamiliar culture is one that historians and anthropologists have long dealt with. And to me, Masks is an example of Star Trek doing what it has always done: using a sci-fi lens to examine a real-world subject. Usually the stakes aren’t so high, of course, but putting a kind of ticking clock and threat in the background gave the story an impetus it would’ve otherwise lacked; had Picard and the crew simply been trying to learn about the D’Arsay symbols and characters out of curiosity, the story wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
On the technical side of things, Masks was one of the first Star Trek episodes to use computer-generated imagery (CGI), using the new technology for the comet and D’Arsay archive. The remastered version, which is what you’ll find on blu-ray and streaming – didn’t preserve the original CGI model, recreating the archive from the ground up based on the original design. The DVD version, however, and other older copies (like VHS) do still have this piece of Star Trek’s history. You can also find images of the original CGI model online, of course.
A few times across The Next Generation, sped-up shots would be used to show Data working or moving faster than a human could. Out of everything present in Masks, this short sequence (which shows Data sculpting a treble clef in his art class) is perhaps the only part that feels dated in 2021. The rest of the episode’s effects hold up remarkably well, and the remastered CGI sequences look great even on a modern 4K display.
Many times across Star Trek’s long history there have been so-called “bottle shows.” These are episodes which primarily use existing sets and often don’t bring in many new characters or guest-stars, focusing on just the main cast. Though there was a set built for Masks – the temple, which would later be re-used in Deep Space Nine – the episode is mostly a bottle show, or perhaps a semi-bottle show! It focuses on a handful of characters, mostly re-uses existing Enterprise-D sets – with a few additions and changes to reflect the transformation the ship is undergoing – and feels like a very self-contained story in that respect.
Given Data’s prominent role, Brent Spiner is the star of Masks. And while we see elements of his portrayal of Lore in one of the personas that Data assumes, for the most part he makes each of the D’Arsay characters feel unique and distinctive. For an actor who spent most of The Next Generation’s run playing a very unemotional, unreactive character, I can quite understand why Brent Spiner would describe Masks as one of his biggest acting challenges on the show. I think he rises to the occasion and shows off a range that any actor would be proud of; making each persona feel separate despite only minor costuming changes is no mean feat, and he pulled it off very well. There was a risk, perhaps, that in order to differentiate each of the D’Arsay personas in such a short runtime each would have to be exaggerated to the point of pantomime caricature, but that didn’t happen in the final episode. That alone should be testament to Brent Spiner’s talents and hard work.
There are a few lines from Masks that resonate with me from a mental health standpoint. Though the episode isn’t intended as an examination of mental illness, Data developing an android version of “multiple personalities,” as Troi puts it, does bring up some comparisons. When Data asks Geordi what it feels like to lose one’s mind is a line that very much struck a chord with me, not least because it’s a question I’ve asked myself (and doctors) in the past.
Data’s line as the episode draws to a close about feeling “empty” following the removal of the D’Arsay personalities likewise felt very relatable. It isn’t always easy to tell where the line is between one’s own personality and aspects of oneself that might be better characterised as manifestations of mental illness, and even the removal or lessening of a mental health symptom can, in some cases, bring with it a feeling of emptiness or of feeling incomplete. That’s definitely a second thing I find relatable – and I think it shows how stories which only touch on themes of mental health can still be impactful even if mental health isn’t the focus.
The only real criticism I have of Masks is that its ending feels a little too quick – almost abrupt, really. After a slow buildup which sees the Enterprise-D progressively transformed to resemble the D’Arsay culture, Picard has a short conversation with Masaka, and then after a quick “woosh” everything is un-transformed and back to normal. A quick epilogue with Data and Picard in the ready-room closes the episode, and the final few minutes just feel a little rushed, especially considering the deliberately slow pacing of the rest of the episode.
Despite that, I enjoy Masks. It isn’t my all-time favourite episode of The Next Generation, but it’s one of those solid standalone stories that Star Trek does far fewer of since the move to serialised story arcs and shorter seasons. Masks shows off a different kind of science fiction with its slightly wacky concept of an archive transforming the ship into stone artefacts, but at the same time it’s a story that’s grounded in real-world parallels of history and anthropology. Brent Spiner puts in one of his finest performances, taking on a variety of personas that force him to step well outside of his normal bounds as Data.
So I hope this was a bit of fun. My objective at the moment is to remain connected to Star Trek and the Star Trek fan community but without providing any support or coverage of Discovery in light of the awful decision from ViacomCBS. Later this week I hope to look at an episode from Star Trek: Enterprise, and I already have dozens of other ideas for episode re-watches as we move through the holidays and into 2022.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is out now on blu-ray and DVD, and is available to stream on Netflix outside of the United States (at least for the time being). The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.
I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.
On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”
The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.
Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?
That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?
Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?
Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.
Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.
Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.
In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First Contact–Regeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.
Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.
The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.
This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.
And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.
In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.
Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.
All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.
So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.
Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.
Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.
What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.
Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.
So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for 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: 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: 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 first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for The Measure of a Man from TNG Season 2.
When I was compiling two lists of episodes to watch prior to the release of Star Trek: Picard, I only included The Measure of a Man, from The Next Generation’s second season, as an afterthought in one of my “honourable mentions” sections. Despite having seen some androids briefly in one of the trailers, and even after having seen Mars come under attack in the Short Treks episode Children of Mars, I still wasn’t convinced this episode would be important. I wound up including it in my second list of episodes, but not because of androids or Bruce Maddox, but because of how it showed an aspect of Picard’s character – his staunch defence of the rights of different life-forms.
We now know, of course, that Maddox has a key role in Star Trek: Picard, though whether he’s actually going to appear in person or is merely a narrative force is unclear right now. And of course we’ve learnt a lot more about synthetics and the development and subsequent prohibition of synthetic life. Thus, at this point, The Measure of a Man warrants a re-watch and a closer re-examination.
Watching an episode so long after its original airdate, and after we’ve seen so much Star Trek content that was produced subsequently, it’s worth trying to stay objective and be aware of where the three characters we’ll be focusing on are at this point in the timeline. Obviously Maddox was a guest star, and aside from a reference in the fourth season, was never seen or heard about again until Picard premiered. But Data and Picard are arguably different than we might remember considering how early we are in The Next Generation’s run. This episode aired before Q Who introduced the Borg, before Picard was assimilated, and before Data had really developed a strong personality that extended beyond his original programming.
The Next Generation operated differently to Discovery and Picard – it was much more of an ensemble show with each crewmember having their own stories and episodes, rather than focusing primarily on one character’s story. So Data and Picard, by this point in the show, still have significant parts of their backstories unexplored.
The episode opens, as many episodes of The Next Generation did, with Picard narrating his captain’s log. Nothing too exciting – the Enterprise-D is due to dock at a starbase, pick up and drop off some members of the crew, and switch out some science experiments that have presumably been running in the background. On board, we see Data, Riker, O’Brien, La Forge, and Dr Pulaski playing poker. Data seems confused by some of the “superstition” that the others apply to their playing – he can’t quite grasp the concept of “luck” in a game of chance. Again, it’s worth remembering how early we are in Data’s story! This might be the first game of poker he’s played, and just as he struggled with the others feeling lucky or unlucky, he was completely unprepared for bluffing – it’s such an illogical way of playing, after all.
In this moment, Data is still very much a machine, regarding the game as “simple”, based around mathematical probability and assuming that everyone will play logically. Having this sequence be the setup for an episode about taking him apart to find out what makes him tick is an interesting choice; we see Data at his most mechanical, but we also see in him an adaptability and a desire to learn and grow. The costuming choice to give Data a poker visor was also a great call – he’s approximating and mimicking human behaviour, but without fully understanding it.
Seeing Data easily outmanoeuvred by Riker – despite holding a better hand – emphasises how much he still has left to learn. Riker wasn’t betting on the strength of his cards, he was simply betting that Data would fold – Data thus missed a key element of playing poker. But he learns from this experience, much like a child would.
As an interesting aside, the next shot shows the Enterprise-D approaching Starbase 173. The model used for the Starbase was in fact a re-use of the Regula One station from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and is virtually unchanged in its appearance (except for, I believe, its scale in relation to the Enterprise-D). This model was itself a re-use from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. With CGI generally being so good nowadays, it’s almost hard to imagine a time when a single model would have to be re-used over and over again – and The Measure of a Man was not the last appearance of this model by any means.
Aboard the station, Picard is reunited with Phillippa Louvois, accompanied by a very romantic soundtrack. He seems very surprised to see her, and she is clearly an old flame of his – someone who he didn’t part with on good terms judging by their conversation! But the passage of time can be a great healer, and where other people may have held a grudge, Picard is amused, and maybe even happy to see her again. The credits roll, and then we’re back with Picard and Louvois, sitting down to have a longer conversation.
Louvois holds the rank of captain – putting her on equal footing with Picard – and her uniform matches his. She’s not the first woman captain featured in The Next Generation – there was at least one other in Season 1 – but she gets a significant amount of screen time here. She explains that she’s the JAG (judge advocate general – i.e. a military judge, or in this case a Starfleet judge) for this sector, and the way she talks about it makes it seem like a remote part of the Federation, far from any other Starbases. It’s the frontier!
We find out about Louvois’ history with Picard – she was the officer responsible for his court-martial after his previous command was lost. We’ve seen the Stargazer before in The Next Generation, in the episode The Battle, and we also know that Dr Crusher’s husband was serving on the Stargazer under Picard’s command when he was killed. Louvois says that a court-martial is “standard procedure” when a ship is lost, but Picard accuses her of being overly aggressive in her prosecution of him – and says that’s why she left Starfleet for a time. There’s a very complicated history here. Louvois calls Picard out on his arrogance – which to be fair, he actually was in this scene. But the chemistry and sexual tension between them is noticeable – there’s much more to their relationship than something professional or friendly.
After the awkwardness of seeing Picard called a “damn sexy man”, an Admiral approaches and Louvois excuses herself – but not before taking the opportunity to try to embarrass Picard in front of their superior. The Admiral introduces Commander Bruce Maddox, but they don’t immediately discuss Maddox’s proposal as the Admiral wants a tour of the Enterprise while it’s visiting his new Starbase. Maddox joins the Admiral on the tour, and they visit the Enterprise’s bridge. There is some discussion of the Starbase’s location being near the Neutral Zone, but the focus is clearly on Maddox, cutting to a close-up of him staring at Data.
Maddox interrupts the small-talk about the Romulans and the legacy of past starships Enterprise, clearly impatient. The Admiral tells Picard that Maddox is here “to work on your android”, then promptly leaves the bridge. Data, Picard, and Maddox have a conversation set to a backdrop of very tense music. Clearly all is not well. Maddox, it turns out, opposed Data’s entry into Starfleet Academy some years prior, claiming Data was not a sentient being and was thus not eligible. Picard asks what Maddox plans to do and he replies calmly that he is “going to disassemble Data.”
The way Maddox has been set up thus far is of someone who is impatient and impersonal – arguably lacking in empathy. He refers to Data as “it”, a term one might use for an inanimate object. Data is, anatomically speaking, male. In the second episode of The Next Generation’s first season, The Naked Now, Data sleeps with Tasha Yar and though we don’t see it on screen it’s confirmed that he is, for all intents and purposes, male. So Maddox dehumanising Data in this way, while subtle, shows us the kind of person he is.
Maddox explains his reasoning in the next scene – seeing Data when he first applied to the Academy sparked a desire in Maddox to learn more about the work of Dr Soong, Data’s creator. His intention is to dismantle Data, learning how he functions, in order to recreate him and produce copies. Maddox believes himself to be close to a breakthrough, and Data is intrigued at the prospect, in part no doubt because he’s been essentially alone as the only one of his kind. Riker, on the other hand, seems much more concerned. Data asks Maddox a technobabble-laden question, and when Maddox replies that he hasn’t been able to get the basics of a positronic brain working, Data’s tone changes from interest to concern – and after a couple more questions from both Riker and Picard, Data pipes up and says that Maddox’s research is inadequate. Picard says he will not allow Data to undergo the procedure, but Maddox has a trump card – Data is to be reassigned under his command.
In the next scene, Data arrives in Picard’s ready room and the two have a conversation about what to do regarding Maddox. Data says he will not undergo the procedure, but Picard is playing devil’s advocate – wondering aloud whether there is merit to Maddox’s idea. Data uses the example of La Forge’s visor, and claims that his status as a non-human is why Picard would even consider letting Maddox experiment on him. Picard dismisses him but is clearly troubled by the implications. He gets to work reading Starfleet case law regarding officer transfers.
After what must be some time, Picard visits Louvois in her office aboard the Starbase, and is clearly very angry about Data’s forced transfer. The usual calmness we associate with Picard is gone, replaced by a firey demeanour borne perhaps from a combination of frustration at the legalese he’s been trying to wade through and his previous conversation with Data. After all, Data did essentially say that Picard and Maddox are being racist (or species-ist) in their treatment of him. Louvois gives Picard a “nuclear option” for getting Data out of the procedure – his resignation. There’s no other way to stop the transfer, and as Picard doesn’t trust Maddox, this seems to be the only way. Again the complicated past between Picard and Louvois complicates their conversation, but the advice she gives him is sound. And as she’s the senior officer in the sector for legal matters, that should be it.
Back aboard the Enterprise-D, Data is packing his belongings, and pauses briefly over a hologram of Tasha Yar. Maddox enters the room while Data has his back turned, and picks up a book that Data had been reading. Barging in without ringing the door chime is another way Maddox demonstrates to the audience that he doesn’t regard Data as warranting the same rights or respect as a human or other life-form. He tries to reassure Data that his knowledge and memories will remain intact despite the procedure, but Data retorts that the facts may remain, but the feelings associated with them will be lost. He then uses the example of the poker game from earlier in the episode – that the moment-to-moment reality, the essence of his experiences, is not just a case of data and facts. Maddox, Data claims, does not have the necessary expertise to preserve Data’s memories and personality.
It’s at this moment that Data explains that he has resigned. Maddox becomes angry and tells him that one way or another he will serve under his command – and undergo the procedure. It’s clear that Maddox’s attempts at gentle persuasion were all for show; this is how he really feels. Believing Data to be a “thing”, an object not a person, he pays lip service to Data’s feelings while not understanding them or even recognising their existence. In the next scene, Picard and Maddox are in Louvois’ office, where Maddox has started a legal process to prevent Data leaving Starfleet, saying that as a non-sentient being he cannot resign of his own volition.
Maddox presents the argument that if he’s successful, every Federation starship could have its own Data on board, allowing for much greater exploration and potentially even saving lives. He’s “sick of hearing about rights” – a shocking statement in and of itself – and selfishly makes the point that this is his life’s work, and he doesn’t want it to be ruined by what he sees as the ignorance of Picard and Louvois. Data, in Maddox’s view, is “just” a machine, and because of that does not have the right to either refuse to undergo the procedure or to resign.
Picard has a great line here: “Starfleet is not an organisation that ignores its own regulations when they become inconvenient.” In Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, this is essentially his own reasoning for leaving Starfleet. He felt that they had an obligation to help the Romulans and failed to do so – ignoring their own regulations, and a promise made, because it had become difficult in the aftermath of the attack on Mars.
Maddox manages to convince Louvois that there may be law to support the notion that Data – like the Enterprise’s computer – is not a “person” in the legal sense, but is merely the property of Starfleet. Picard urges her to use the same passion she showed at his court-martial. Though Maddox and Picard don’t interact much here, as they mostly direct their remarks to Louvois, it’s clear that they have very quickly developed a loathing for one another. Picard feels Maddox is essentially ignoring Data’s rights as a sentient being, and Maddox believes that Picard doesn’t understand the issue and is unfairly getting in the way of his work.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Data is attending a farewell party. Riker, Troi, Worf, Pulaski, and Wesley are all present in Ten-Foward, and Data receives several gifts from his friends, but La Forge is sat alone, away from the group. He’s feeling very down about the whole situation. In this moment, we see Data at his most human – La Forge is arguably his best friend among the crew, and when he says he will miss him, he really means it.
Louvois summons Riker and Picard to tell them that, according to her research and legal precedent from 300 years ago, Data is legally the property of Starfleet and not a person. Picard challenges her ruling, but the fact that the Starbase is new and she has no one working with her threatens to cause a problem. The solution is that Picard and Riker will take on the role of advocates – Picard arguing for Data and Riker against him.
This is the point in the episode which is the most questionable, I feel, as a point of plot. Riker is chosen to prosecute Maddox’s case as a senior officer, but Maddox himself is of equal rank to Riker and would be a better candidate – especially as Riker states very clearly that he can’t advocate a position he fundamentally disagrees with. I’m no expert on the law, let alone on military law, but surely there must be someone else who could have taken on the position. Or, if not, it should have been possible to send for lawyers from elsewhere – Maddox’s experiment is not time-sensitive and could have waited for the case being resolved. As it is, however, Riker and Picard agree to proceed with the case.
As the scene ends, I think we see the real genius of setting up Louvois as having history with Picard. If he’d been facing off against a random, faceless judge or JAG, we would know the stakes but we’d be confident in his abilities and ultimate victory in the case. But knowing Louvois is a “hardball”, someone who prosecuted Picard aggressively in the past regarding his conduct on the Stargazer, it raises the stakes and there’s a real sense in this moment that Picard and Data could lose. Because we’ve always seen Picard to be a rule-following officer, an exemplar of Starfleet’s code of conduct, and an all-round upstanding captain and diplomat, knowing that Louvois went after him in the past makes her seem all the more aggressive in her handling of the law. We get the sense that things could end badly, that the one factor Picard has no control over in the case – the judge – is someone who will work hard against him and Data. This information, conveyed only in a few brief lines of dialogue in their earlier two encounters in the episode, has set the stage and told us all we need to know.
Data again visits Picard in his ready room, and Picard explains the ruling and the challenge he’s making to it. He offers Data the opportunity to select another officer to provide his defence, but Data declines – an important moment given the earlier conversation they had in the same room. We then see Riker studying the law in preparation for the case, feeling pretty rotten about what he has to do. He looks up Data’s technical schematics, smiling to himself as he thinks he’s found something – then his mood and the background music turn sour as he realises the implications. Riker doesn’t want, after all, to win the case. And getting caught up in it for a moment and allowing himself to feel excitement at a breakthrough ends up making him feel worse about the task.
At the hearing, Riker calls Data to take the stand. Could Data have refused, as he’s essentially being compelled to serve as both evidence and a witness for his own prosecution? I think that’s a matter of law again! And if he did refuse to take the stand, would there have had to have been another case to answer the question of whether he has the right to refuse to testify? Regardless, Data takes the stand and his commendations and decorations from Starfleet are listed by the Starbase computer (notably not the usual computer voice). Riker asks the simple question “what are you?” to which Data responds that he is an android. Riker pushes him for the definition of the word, which includes a sentence that androids “resemble” humans, but are obviously not, in fact, human. He then pushes Data on his creator, making the point that Data was artificially made.
None of this, really, seems relevant to the hearing. Data’s nature is known to all parties and his defence does not depend on proving himself to be anything other than an android. But for dramatic effect it’s important, as essentially the fact that Data was man-made is the entirety of the prosecution’s case against him. Interestingly, and completely unrelated to the events of the episode, Data states that his total memory capacity is “800 quadrillion bits”. If a 24th Century “bit” is assumed to be the same as today’s computer bits, that would put his memory at 800 petabits, or 100 petabytes as there are eight bits to one byte. While this is a lot of memory, it’s not as huge as it may sound even by today’s standards. It’s roughly an order of magnitude less than the most up-to-date estimates of the size of the data stored on the internet, for example. And that’s something which is growing all the time. It is, however, much greater than the capacity of a human brain or memory – though the comparison is an inexact one as we don’t store and process memories and information in the same form. But there are computers and servers in the world today which can store as much or more information that Data can – something which would obviously have been hard to conceive when The Measure of a Man aired in 1989, before the invention of what we know of as the internet today.
As Riker continues with his demonstrations, Maddox is seen smiling to himself – he seems to think the two of them have the case sewn up. Data is forced to bend a steel rod to demonstrate his physical prowess to the hearing, and Riker then removes his forearm and hand – apologising to Data as he does so. Riker then tries to explain that Data was made “to serve human needs”; that is his sole purpose. Of course, having already seen Data with his “brother” in the first season episode Datalore, we know this isn’t really true. Lore was a companion to the colonists on Omicron Theta, and Data was designed to be so too. Riker has also fallen into the habit of referring to Data as “it” in this moment, and as he continues his speech about Data he walks behind him – hitting a hidden “off switch”, which we’d previously seen Data show to Dr Crusher and others in the aforementioned episode Datalore.
Picard and Louvois are both shocked by this, and Riker sits back down. He clearly thinks that this is a case-winning move, and the look of shame and self-loathing on his face confirms that. Maddox smiles, smugly. Picard requests a recess and tells Guinan, back on board the Enterprise, that Riker’s words in the hearing “almost” convinced him of Data’s status.
Guinan’s response, that if Data is ruled to be merely property, it could pave the way for “whole generations of disposable people” warrants a closer look. And we have to step back and consider The Measure of a Man and its place in our own history. In 1989, we’re 25 years out from the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act which put an end to legal segregation in parts of the United States. In living memory for a significant portion of the audience was segregation – itself a hangover from the days of slavery. And this line, delivered in a very calm manner by a black woman, absolutely references slavery without her ever using the term by name. The implication for Picard is clear – if he loses the case, and androids are ruled to be property and not people, it’s the first step to the creation of a slave underclass in the Federation.
This moment changes the way Picard approaches the case. The word “property”, he believes, is merely a euphemism for slavery. And he returns to work with a renewed sense of purpose. Again, given his state of mind in the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard, I’d direct anyone who says that Picard “would never get depressed” to look to this moment and others from The Next Generation to see how he can become defeatist and sit in self-pity. It took Guinan here to give him the kick he needed, just as it took Dahj to snap him out of how he’d been feeling in Remembrance.
Back at the hearing, Picard says that humans are simply “machines of a different type” to Data, and his mechanical status is not relevant to the case. Picard asks Data to return to the stand, and presents him with the bag he packed earlier in the episode – demonstrating that Data has a semi-emotional attachment to things like his medals and a book gifted to him from Picard. The final item from Data’s bag is the hologram of Tasha Yar, and after some gentle prompting from Picard, Data discloses he and Yar had been intimate – to the surprise of Louvois and Maddox.
Maddox then takes the stand, and Picard runs him through three tests for sentience. This is also, by the way, the first time the Daystrom Institute is named on screen. Maddox lists three criteria for sentience – intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Picard proceeds to quiz him on why these apply to him – a human – and not to Data. Maddox is forced to concede that Data is intelligent and that he’s self-aware, as Data’s intelligence was never in question and he’s clearly aware of his place in the hearing and the potential consequences it could bring.
Maddox then talks briefly about his plans to disassemble Data – to rebuild him and thousands more like him. Picard challenges that by doing so, he will be creating a race of beings – a race that meet two of Maddox’s own criteria for sentience. If there’s even a chance that Data could meet the third, would the Federation have created a race of slaves? This is where we see Picard at the most passionate he gets, not just in the context of this episode but in almost all of his appearances in Star Trek to date. Aside from the emotional reaction he has to the Borg in First Contact, I can’t remember seeing him more energetic and involved. He cares for Data’s rights, but his conversation with Guinan shifted his whole perspective on the case, and now he has an even greater passion and reason to win. He admits to the court that he doesn’t know whether Data has consciousness, nor what that would mean if a race of Datas were created from Maddox’s work. But the implication he makes, as Guinan did earlier, is clear – they’re on a cliff-edge, with slavery at the bottom.
Picard also turns on its head the Starfleet mantra – “to seek out new life”. “There it sits,” he says as he gestures to Data. As he concludes his speech we see Riker smile for the first time since the hearing began. He’s never seen Picard so animated, and he clearly thinks the argument is a case-winner. And in short order he’s proven right. Louvois says she must allow Data the freedom to explore his life and consciousness for himself, and without explicitly ruling on his “personhood”, she rules that he is not the property of Starfleet and that he has the right to choose.
Maddox and Data have a moment of semi-reconciliation at the end of the hearing, as Maddox cancels the order to have Data transferred, and Data tells him to keep working and suggests that he may be able to agree to the procedure in future when more work has been undertaken. Maddox, disappointed by the ruling no doubt, appears to have had his opinion and perspective on Data shifted at least slightly by Picard’s argument – emphasised by his use of the word “he” right at the end.
Picard invites Louvois to dinner – as they reconcile too. Back aboard the Enterprise, Riker has declined to attend a party in Data’s favour, feeling that he came too close to costing his friend his life. But Data reminds him that if he had refused to participate, the ruling would have been made against him, and the episode ends with the two of them heading to the party.
So, when considering Star Trek: Picard, what do we get from The Measure of a Man? Obviously we see Dr Maddox, some thirty-five years prior to the events of the new series. We see his attitude toward androids – he considers them to be tools, not people. But we also see his attitude shift right at the end, swayed by Picard’s argument and the time spent with Data over the course of the episode. Maddox, despite moments of smugness, isn’t a classic villain. Instead, the episode shows what is basically a difference of opinion. Maddox, having studied androids from a theoretical standpoint for years, but with no practical real-world experience in living and working with Data holds the opinion that Data cannot be sentient. But Picard, Riker, and others, despite not having the same technical background as Dr Maddox believe Data to be their friend despite his synthetic nature. The episode thus shows the difference between theory and practice – and why practice is usually better and more appropriate!
Maddox obviously continued his work, as Data encouraged him to do. In the episode Data’s Day from Season 4, he dictates a letter to Maddox, confirming this. However, by the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, which takes place around fifteen years later, Data is still believed to be the only extant android – Lore having been disassembled. The discovery of B4 – an earlier version of Data – in that film is thus presented as a big deal. However, as we now know from Short Treks and Star Trek: Picard that teams of androids – albeit rather basic ones from a personality point of view – were working on Mars only a few years after Nemesis, Maddox must have been quite far along in his work by that point. It’s also possible that the discovery and disassembly of B4 provided Maddox with some of the missing pieces of the puzzle that he’d hoped to gain by dismantling Data.
Watching The Measure of a Man divorced from all thought of Picard is difficult, especially as we’re partway through the first season of the new show. But taken as a standalone episode, it’s an interesting piece of drama, the kind Star Trek has always been good at. Without any battles, explosions, or really any action at all, the episode manages to be riveting, especially in the hearing scenes. And of course it’s a great example of Star Trek using its science fiction setting to talk about real-world issues. In this case the issue was slavery rather than artificial intelligence, but looking back on it knowing the way technology has changed since, it can absolutely be viewed through than lens too.
Maddox was, aside from his single reference a couple of years later, a one-off character who served a fairly one-dimensional purpose for most of the episode. Bringing him back in a big way for Picard is something I absolutely was not expecting, and whether we get to see him on screen or not, his influence is all over the show. The Measure of a Man is not required viewing for Picard. The new show is structured and written in such a way that the role Maddox takes in the story could be swapped out for any other name and the story would be identical. But it does provide interesting background and backstory.
Having had Maddox’s name dropped multiple times across the first three episodes, I would be surprised to learn we aren’t going to see him at all. A single reference would’ve been a cute throwback to The Measure of a Man and Data’s Day; a wink to returning fans. But with him being set up as perhaps the creative force behind Soji and Dahj, and with tracking him down being the driving force for the current storyline, I think he practically has to appear – at least in some capacity, even if it’s just in recordings – before the end of the season.
The legal precedent laid down in this episode was clearly not applied throughout the Federation. In the Voyager episode Author, Author, not only does The Doctor – a sentient hologram – have to undergo a very similar legal hearing, but we learn that thousands of Emergency Medical Holograms are being used as labourers in mines and on vessels across the Federation. And of course, in Picard we see that Maddox had been somewhat successful in creating his “slave race” of android labourers. There are disturbing implications there, which I wonder if the show will touch on in later episodes.
I enjoyed going back to The Measure of a Man. I wouldn’t like to guess how many times I’ve seen it already; as with most of the rest of The Next Generation and its spin-offs I’ve watched and re-watched it on a number of occasions.
The fourth episode of Picard premieres tomorrow here in the UK – though if you’re in America you may have seen it already! I’m looking forward to seeing if Picard and his new crew stay on Maddox’s tail as they head to Freecloud.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Picard – 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 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.