This new on-going review/blog will see me chart my thoughts as I make my way through the collected work that is The Full Journey. Due to the sheer scope of the job, I’ll be breaking down the entries into either single episode reviews, or possibly small groups.
I cannot promise how regularly this will be updated, but I am sure I will make it through all 178 episodes over the course of the year (before I inevitably either spontaneously combust from Star Trek overload or, in all likelihood, I do the same for Deep Space Nine).
1.01/1.02 Encounter at Farpoint
Nearly twenty years after the original series went off air, 1987 saw Star Trek return to our screens. Star Trek: The Next Generation would be the first of three ‘second-generation’ shows that would collectively dominate science fiction television for 18 years (and even longer on the big screen).
It all started with Encounter at Farpoint. This feature-length/double episode introduced the world to a new cast, crew, ship and antagonist. It also featured a surprise blast-from-the-past cameo from Star Trek alumni DeForest Kelley.
It is stardate 41153.7 (for all you Trek buffs out there) and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is commanding the newly launched USS Enterprise on its maiden voyage.
His orders are twofold. Firstly, he is to travel to Deneb IV to pick up the remaining members of his crew, then he is to investigate how the local inhabitants (the Bandi) have managed to construct the impressive Farpoint station – a feat seemingly beyond their simple capabilities.
In the first half/episode, the crew are side-tracked when a seemingly omnipotent being known as Q (John de Lancie) appears. After a protracted chase sequence, Picard and a few key crew members suddenly find themselves in a pseudo-courtroom. Accusing humanity of being unworthy of their level of technological and explorative advancement (due to its primitive barbarism) Q puts them on trial. After realising the scale of power that Q wields, Picard strikes a bargain to allow them to be tested to prove their worthiness. Q agrees and sets them back on course.
The second half/episode focuses on the initial mission. We are introduced to series regulars such as Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Doctor Beverley Crusher (Gates McFadden) and her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton), who are amongst the crew members rendezvousing with the Enterprise. Once the crew are united, the remainder of the plot chugs along at a fair enough pace. Empathic Ship Counsellor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) senses a powerful being in great discomfort nearby, leading to an away team investigating a vast tunnel system beneath the Bandi settlement. An alien craft suddenly appears, attacks the Bandi settlement and kidnaps Grappler Zorn (Michael Bell). Q reappears just as Picard orders the ship’s phasers to lock onto the craft. This brief interlude allows Picard to re-think his plan, and he sends an away team to the newly arrived ship. Whilst rescuing Zorn, the away team notes the similarity in the ship’s corridors to that of the underground tunnels. The new ships reveals its true form (that of a giant space jellyfish) and Picard deduces the mystery of Farpoint station – the Bandi’s power is actually that of an injured space jellyfish and the ‘alien ship’ is its mate. The Enterprise helps free it and Q begrudgingly leaves, seemingly somewhat content with Picard’s performance.
Notable moments here include Q’s initial debut (where he is attired in various garb from throughout history), and the debut of the ‘Emergency Saucer Separation’. When reading around the subject, I’ve discovered that some critics disliked the overly long separation scene, but to me it fit well. It was the first time it had been seen on screen (having been only mentioned once previously in The Original Series episode The Apple), and thus demanded an extended sequence to really hammer home that this is a big deal. The scenes aboard the Enterprise and subsequently in Q’s courtroom flow fairly well, but some of the dialogue could have been polished, and the scenes slightly trimmed down. It was almost like it was being stretched to fill the time it takes for a single episode to finish.
Planet side, there are a couple of scenes that highlight the peculiarities of Deneb IV. The first involves Riker’s initial meeting with Zorn, and the second with the Crushers shopping for fabrics. Whilst getting the point across, both feel a little unrealistic and clunky – particularly the one involving Riker. When our First-Officer-to-be visits Zorn, the host offers the Commander some fruit from a bowl beside him. When Riker reveals his particular penchant for apples (and notes there are none in the bowl) a second bowl miraculously appears beside Zorn. Now, I have no problem with the appearance of the bowl, as the ability is inherently linked to the plot, but Riker’s reaction in a little off-putting. He simply does not seem surprised enough at the appearance of the second bowl, and just initially chalks it up to him not noticing. This may have come across better with tighter editing and a slightly different layout to the room. In their equivalent scene, it is Dr. Crusher that seems overly imperceptive, despite her son’s protestations. Seriously, when Wesley is the most perceptive member of your crew, you should probably quit spacefaring.
Wesley hate (and other flaws) aside, I did enjoy the episode. Whilst the Deneb IV-centric storyline was quite run-of-the-mill, it was executed fairly well and served as a decent backdrop for the introduction of Q. As expected, de Lancie was shining light of the episode, immediately immersed in his character. There are some nice little interactions with Picard, as well as a nice bit of foreshadowing with Riker (who seems to be the only person to impress Q) and the events of later episode Hide and Q. Aside from running a little long, the Q-centric material in the first half is pretty good stuff. The pacing suffers is a little more towards the second half, and a good chunk of the characters don’t quite feel at home yet – the main exceptions being Q and Riker. Picard is portrayed as a lot tougher, and a bit meaner, than in later series and it almost makes him unlikable (thankfully, Patrick Stewart’s nuanced performance stops this from full being realised). Some not-too-drastic script tweaking could have alleviated this. As this is a pilot, I’m prepared to give it some leeway.
The Verdict | A decent, if flawed, start to a science fiction behemoth.