Case Number 02043

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, SEASON THREE

Paramount // 2002 // 1180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // July 18th, 2002

The Charge

Make it so!

Opening Statement

Having weathered its first two shaky seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation in Season Three welcomed back Dr. Beverly Crusher and begin to hit its stride in a season replete with solid episodes but only a few clunkers.

Facts of the Case

Presented across seven discs in order of their airing (which is almost identical to the production order), the episodes of Season Three are listed below with brief comments and a quick letter grade. If you desire more extensive summaries (beware of spoilers!), as well as trailers and clips from each episode, look here.

* "Evolution"
When former wünderkind Dr. Paul Stubbs finds that his life's work has been endangered by microscopic computers escaped from a laboratory thanks to Wesley Crusher's negligence, he misses a grand opportunity to please millions of viewers by phasering Wesley. Picard is sadly even more understanding about Wesley nearly causing the destruction of the Enterprise. A pity. Grade: A-

* "The Ensigns of Command"
Human colonists live on Tau Cygna V, which is actually owned by the Sheliak. They are a race of highly advanced rock creatures whose idea of interspecies relations is a treaty that would make the U.S. tax code look like a haiku and whose idea of fun is squishing lower life forms...like ill-equipped humans living on Tau Cygna V. Watch Data take nearly a whole episode to convince the colonists that being alive somewhere else is preferable to being dead on Tau Cygna V. Grade: C+

* "The Survivors"
When an implacable alien race annihilates the Federation colony on Rana IV, leaving only a postage stamp of green and a blithely unconcerned elderly couple, the Enterprise crew is intrigued and decides to find the reason for this puzzle. Shortly after the crew starts poking around, Troi is driven into a coma by overwhelming psychic music (not necessarily a bad thing!), but since the crew likes her, they are concerned at this new mystery. You get a cookie if you can guess whether they are related. Grade: B

* "Who Watches the Watchers"
When team of Federation scientists observing a race of Bronze-age proto-Vulcans on Mintaka III suffers a catastrophic mishap, Picard & Co. charge to the rescue. When Dr. Crusher invokes Reason #5,604 to violate the Prime Directive, she unwittingly sets in motion a course of events that leads the Mintakans to think of Picard as a god-like being and to worship him accordingly. Captain Cheese-eating Surrender Monkey is aghast, and spends the remainder of the episode to making sure the natives understand their error. Grade: C

* "The Bonding"
When Jeremy Aster loses his archaeologist mother to an ancient bomb, Worf, who led the away team, feels responsible for the new orphan. However, Aster's mother soon reappears aboard the Enterprise. She'd dead. Isn't she? If she is, who is this impostor, and better yet, why has she appeared? Apparently, she came back just so we can have this heavy-handed treatment of death and mourning. Grade: D+

* "Booby Trap"
An ancient battleship seems quite the find, delighting the Enterprise crew with their historical treasure. Pleasure turns to horror when the realize that they have walked into a cunning trap, where the harder they try to run, the worse their predicament. This is a fine puzzle story, as long as you ignore the lovelorn Geordi sub-plot. Grade: A-

* "The Enemy"
Plenty of Cold War jousting between Picard and Romulan Commander Tomalok over a Romulan ship crashing well inside Federation borders, missing Romulan crew, and a missing Geordi LaForge. A mixture of cloak and dagger and rescue stories, the star of this show is well-matched scenery chewing and speeches by Patrick Stewart and guest Andreas Katsulas. Grade: A

* "The Price"
A potentially interesting story about competition among the Federation and alien races for rights to a wormhole. Were it not for the presence of Ferengi buffonery and a distracting episode of "Sex and the Enterprise" starring Troi and a secretly part-Betazoid negotiator, this might have risen above the ho-hum. Grade: C+

* "The Vengeance Factor"
After many years, and after much vigorous debate, the anarchy loving Gatherers seem ready, albeit reluctantly, to rejoin their civilized Acamarian brethren. Crashing the party is a beautiful Acamarian assassin, who seems intent on killing certain Gatherers with a very specific and deadly bioweapon. Riker, of course, does his duty to please that booty. Aside from a wrong-footed ending, it's a fairly good yarn. Grade: B+

* "The Defector"
An enthralling cloak and dagger drama, where Picard plays cat and mouse with a curious Romulan defector who warns of Romulan preparations for war. Wary of his sudden guest, Picard knows the Romulan is untrustworthy but also that if his warning is true, the Federation is in grave danger. Adding spice is the reappearance of Andreas Katsulas as Tomalak, the Romulan we love to hate. Rock solid! Grade: A

* "The Hunted"
A technologically advanced, refined, peaceful civilization? Check.
Application for membership in the Federation? Check
Dirty little secret that threatens the application? Check
Predictable and likely to cause severe head trauma? Check.
Grade: D

* "The High Ground"
A tale of Rutian terrorists, led by Finn, their charismatic leader, and the Rutian police, led by the hard-headed Alexana Devos. When the innocent delivery of medical supplies draws the Enterprise into the Rutian terrorist war, both Picard and Dr. Crusher are directly affected. Finn is determined to advance his cause by even the most vile of means, Devos is equally determined to fight the terrorists, and the Federation crew must decide who to help. Grade: B+

* "Deja Q"
Even without his immortality and omnipotent powers, Q (John DeLancie) still can annoy Captain Picard and even use his meager I.Q. of 2000 to help solve a problem that threatens to destroy a planet. However, when some of Q's enemies come looking to open a can of whoopass on him and thereby put the Enterprise at risk, things start to get very sticky. Funny and even touching at times. Grade: A

* "A Matter of Perspective"
Stolid Commander Riker is accused of murdering Starfleet researcher Dr. Apgar by the local constabulary of Tanuga IV. Conveniently, this jurisdiction requires the accused to prove his innocence, so The Bearded One becomes nervous, much like any woman within his visual range. With a clever dash of Rashomon, sensor readings and witness testimony are used in the holodeck to simulate different scenarios. Just when things start to look grim, Geordi and The Wonder Ensign start to make some sense of the mystery. Grade: A-

* "Yesterday's Enterprise"
Moments after the Enterprise finds a rift in space, history is dramatically altered. Now a ship of war battling the Klingon Empire and with a very alive Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) on the bridge, the Enterprise (NCC 1701-D) finds its predecessor Enterprise (NCC 1701-C) coming through the rift. Badly damaged trying to save a Klingon outpost from Romulan attack, the Enterprise-C is unexpectedly catapulted into the future of the Enterprise-D. The struggle for Picard is to decide whether to enlist the Enterprise-C against the Klingons, or return them to a certain death but with a chance to restore history. Strong performances all around, and Denise Crosby looks far better an actress than she did in Season 1. Grade: A+

* "The Offspring"
Data manufactures a daughter in his own image, worrying both Picard and Starfleet Command. As his daughter develops, choosing the name Lal and deciding to work in Ten Forward with Guinan, Admiral Haftel arrives from Starfleet to observe what Data hath wrought. When Admiral Plot-Device tries to separate the android family, Picard defies his instructions (surprise! surprise!) and a multi-pronged three-hanky crisis ensues. Grade: B-

* "Sins of the Father"
Worf suddenly finds his father (and therefore his whole family) accused of treason by Duras, a member of the Klingon High Council. With Picard's assistance, and with Kern, the brother he didn't know he had at his side, Worf confronts the High Council, determined to prove his father's innocence. Unbeknownst to Worf, devious political forces behind the shadows are determined to stop him from succeeding and want nothing better than to see him dead. Grade: A

* "Allegiance"
In the blink of an eye, Captain Picard finds himself imprisoned in a cell with three other aliens and no clear reason for their common predicament. Meanwhile, a false Picard has assumed his position aboard the Enterprise, though his unexpected behavior begins to arouse suspicions. While Picard fights to escape, he begins to wonder if perhaps one of his fellow prisoners is actually his captor, observing their struggles for reasons unknown. His escape, and the fate of the Enterprise under its ominous doppelganger Captain, hangs in the balance. Grade: B

* "Captain's Holiday"
Dreadful, positively dreadful. This episode is no more than a weak excuse to get Picard into poolside wear and hang out with a lovely thief, Vash (Jennifer Hetrick), and for us to tolerate a witless Ferengi. Limp humor, forced romance, and a listless plot make you wish for a vacation from this vacation. Grade: D-

* "Tin Man"
Betazoid prodigy Tam Elbrun (Harry Groener) comes aboard the Enterprise with secret orders to race towards a first contact with what appears to be a living spaceship orbiting a distant star in Romulan-claimed space. Heedless of his erratic behavior and the crew's suspicions of his controversial past, Tam desperately wants to make contact with the so-called "Tin Man" ship for his own very personal reasons. Ominously, the Romulans seem to be equally determined to reach "Tin Man" first -- at all costs. Mystery, tense drama, emotional complexity, and stand out performances make this a not-to-be-missed episode. Grade: A+

* "Hollow Pursuits"
Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) is a brilliant engineer whose abilities are overshadowed by his painful shyness and crippling lack of self-confidence. Unable to win the respect of his crewmates or vent his frustrations, Barclay retreats into holodeck fantasy where he is king. Geordi wants to be rid of his problem, but Picard insists that he try and solve the Barclay problem and not simply pass the buck. Meanwhile, mysterious and increasingly severe malfunctions threaten to destroy the Enterprise. You get a special hug if you guess who masters his fears and helps solve the puzzle. Barclay is a wonderfully human character amidst all these Starfleet superheroes. If you like rooting for this underdog, check out my favorite TNG episode, "The Nth Degree," in Season Four. Grade: A

* "The Most Toys"
Trader Kivas Fajo (Saul Rubinek) is a fanatic collector of rarities. By sleight of hand, he kidnaps Data and convinces the Enterprise crew that Data died in a shuttle explosion during a routine exchange of cargo. While Geordi LaForge despondently tries to find answers, Data uses every bit of his programming to resist his captor's demands and find a way to escape. Grade: B+

* "Sarek"
Particularly poignant for any fan of the original series, Sarek marks the return of Spock's father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), on another highly sensitive diplomatic mission aboard the Enterprise. However, Picard soon deduces that Sarek is not at all the masterful diplomat he has been, endangering the delicate negotiations with the Lagaran delegation. To protect the mission, and Sarek's dignity, Picard must put his own mind at risk. Every moment that Picard and Sarek appear together on screen is a treasure. Grade: A+

* "Ménage a Troi"
See the Rebuttal section below. Avoid at all costs! Grade: F

* "Transfigurations"
After rescuing a badly injured alien from the wreckage of an escape pod, Doctor Crusher is surprised on many fronts. Not only does "John Doe" (Mark La Mura) have astonishing recuperative powers, but he is undergoing an unexplained mutation of his entire body and he suffers from total amnesia. In refreshingly leisurely fashion, the Enterprise crew tries to solve the mystery of "John Doe" -- where he comes from, why he was injured, and what he is becoming. Grade: A

* "The Best of Both Worlds Part 1"
The Borg are back, and they want Picard. Introducing The Next Generation to the cliffhanger season-ending, this is some of the best drama in the entire series. Guest tactical expert Lt. Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) is a vivacious, ambitious officer. Expecting to parlay her Borg expertise into Riker's slot aboard Enterprise, she is surprised when she learns Riker is not sure whether he will accept a promotion to his own command. Grade: A+

The Evidence

With Season Three, Star Trek: The Next Generation, cast tinkering was finally completed. Notably, the brief flirtation with Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) was terminated in favor of the return of Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). While many were happy to see the red-headed Doctor return, and both the character and actress are fine (re)additions, the change is not without loss. Star Trek: The Next Generation and in particular Captain Picard have a tendency to become self-righteous and pompous, wielding a heavy moralizing club sufficient to cause severe head trauma in the audience.

To help keep this tendency in check, there must be some character (regular or guest-star) to rattle the Starfleet cage with skepticism, unpredictability, sarcasm, and an independent streak. Some of the best characters (and actors/actresses) from The Next Generation fit this category, such as Q (John Delancie) and K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson), but having a regular fill the role is even better. Dr. Pulaksi seemed to be destined for this sort of role. Sadly, she was never given much of a chance to grow and become a fully integral part of Star Trek: The Next Generation. At least Diana Muldaur was not rudely separated from this show by having Dr. Pulaksi dropped down a turbolift shaft!

On another character note, Season Three allowed Denise Crosby to remedy her decision to hastily depart the series in Season One in "Yesterday's Enterprise." Perhaps chastened by her previous error, or perhaps just with better writers, the "new" Tasha Yar improves upon her uneven performance in Season One. Further, her guest stint on "Yesterday's Enterprise" leads to effective plot twists down the road and one genuine super-sized surprise.

The cast now settled, Star Trek: The Next Generation completed the shakedown cruise of the first two seasons and all the pieces finally clicked into place. Michael Pillar came aboard for Season Three as Executive Producer, inheriting a nearly all new writing staff and a dearth of completed scripts. He controlled the chaos quite well, and apparently liked the experience well enough to stick around past the year he had promised "Great Bird of the Universe" Gene Roddenberry. Indeed, he went on to become co-creator/creative consultant on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and co-creator/executive producer of Star Trek: Voyager. However, as punishment for staying beyond a year, he had to figure out how to resolve the cliffhanger episode "Best of Both Worlds." After all, as he admits, he never expected to stick around, so he figured his "unsolvable problem" was somebody else's problem!

For a series with a legion of fans ready and able to pounce upon the smallest error, I was quite surprised to see such an underwhelming video presentation. Colors are richly saturated and the picture is quite clean, but edge enhancement is pronounced on all of the episodes. The Enterprise and most other ships, as well as starfield backgrounds, wave at you enough to be distracting. As my wife remarked, it is much nicer than on cable TV, but lacking enough to make you wish for an error free presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix adds depth to the front soundstage, but curiously avoids all but limited use of the rear surrounds. I hesitate to praise the technical presentation of Star Trek: The Original Series, but at least during those opening credits the Enterprise whooshes from front to rear. With Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three, there is not even that modest effort. More directional effects, subwoofer punch, I want a fully immersive Trek sound experience! Sadly, this is not such a mix, and a relative disappointment.

As with previous season box sets, Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three includes several featurettes. "Mission Overview" (17 minutes) covers the changes and distinctive characteristics of the third season, while "Selected Crew Analysis" (13 minutes) briefly covers the development of the regular characters. "Departmental Briefing -- Production" (20 minutes) looks behind the scenes for the production crew's take on making some of the shows a reality, and "Departmental Briefing -- Memorable Missions" (13 minutes) is a collection of anecdotes from cast and crew about specific episodes. Not a bad collection of extras, but these featurettes just whet your appetite and leave you wanting more. How about deleted scenes, gag reels, selected episode commentaries, and more input from the guest stars (some of whom are quite notable)? More, Paramount, more!

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Bless Majel Roddenberry, she has done so much for the Star Trek franchise over the years, and now carries on after the death of her husband and the Great Bird of the Galaxy, series creator Gene Roddenberry. However, I regret to say that Lwaxana Troi is an annoying, grating character whose episodes are universally some of the worst ever made in the Trek universe. Writing for Lwaxana seems a fool's errand, and Ferengi rarely are used as anything beyond plot devices or so-called comic relief, so you can imagine the galactic disaster when you combine the two in "Ménage a Troi." It's the Trek equivalent of a binary nerve gas. If you have a strong constitution, watch "Ménage a Troi," but don't say I didn't warn you. Personally, I'd rather jump naked into a swimming pool filled with double edged razor blades, or slam my head in a door again, and again, and again.

Closing Statement

A fanatic Trekkie or a completist is going to pick this set up regardless, but if you are interested in picking and choosing through the seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three is a solid contender for space on your shelf. As with any high priced box set ($140 list), bide your time and find the best bargain you can (unless you have that cash just lying around somewhere with nothing else to spend it on!).

The Verdict

The Defendants are released on their own future good behavior, as we have several seasons to go before a final verdict can be reached.

Review content copyright © 2002 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 86
Audio: 84
Extras: 64
Acting: 88
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 1180 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Mission Overview: Year Three
* Selected Crew Analysis: Year Three
* Departmental Analysis: Year Three
* Production Departmental Briefing
* Memorable Missions: Year Three

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0092455/combined

* Official Site
http://www.startrek.com/

* Wil Wheaton's Official Site
http://www.wilwheaton.net/