Following on from the decent, but flawed pilot episode, The Next Generation crew boldly went… back to Season 1 and Episode 4 of The Original Series. Or, at least, the plot did.
1.03 The Naked Now
The Naked Now was written as a sort of spiritual sequel or homage to one of the more memorable episodes from the original run, The Naked Time (also known as ‘the one where Sulu fences people whilst topless’).
Though the story has been given a contemporary coat of paint, the spine of it remains – whilst observing the death of a celestial body (a planet in Time, a supergiant star in Now), the respective Enterprise crews investigate the strange deaths of scientists observing the phenomena, some members of the crew become infected and start to act erratically, a member of the crew takes over the ship, a last minute cure is found by the Doctor, and the ship has to be saved at the last moment from the collapse of the body they have been observing.
Where these stories differ, however, is how they tell all the little mini-stories in between. The central performance in The Naked Time undoubtedly comes when the usually mild mannered Sulu marauds throughout the ship challenging the crew to duels. Now doesn’t really have this entertainment. Instead we get a number of the crew paired off for encounters of varying intimacy. Some are handled well (Dr. Crusher and Picard have a genuine chemistry) whereas others feel like they thrown together to shoehorn the characters in (Data and Tasha Yar).
As an aside, at the time the encounter between Data and Yar was quite controversial, but by today’s standards it is all quite tame. It still doesn’t make it good though.
The episode is an excellent example for the principle of ‘Chekhov’s gun’. Early on, we see Wesley is showing off how he has modified a tractor beam to become a sort of repulsor ray. In the same scene, he also shows La Forge how by recording all of the Captain’s orders, he has managed to edit them together to create an new, original ones. These two things combine to cause chaos once Wesley is infected – he initially gains access to engineering by playing mock requests for the officers to attend the Captain, then he uses the beam to hole himself up in engineering. This was actually quite well handled, and is obviously meant to pay tribute to the original story (where Lt. Riley takes over the ship). The key difference is that Riley was genuinely quite entertaining, whilst Wesley is a bit of a know-it-all brat.
There are some really irritating parts in the episode. Firstly, a number of the infections shouldn’t happen – for example, why does Riker touch Crusher’s neck when he brings Troi into the sickbay? It just doesn’t seem a natural movement, nor make sense. There’s also a bit where Wesley lets engineer Shimoda inside his engineering force field, and the latter decides to start playing with the isolinear chips that control the power of the Enterprise as if they are toys. This puts them in greater peril when the star collapses as they cannot manoeuvre away, even with Data on hand to try and resolve things. In the end, it is a further example of Wesley’s repulsor ray that saves the day. These are just a couple of the scenes that feel contrived, as if put there simply to artificially inflate the amount of peril the crew are in.
One final annoyance is the placement of the episode. As the second unique story in the series, it is too early to be familiar with all the principle characters and their quirks. As such, it therefore makes an episode that centres on the characters ‘acting out’ a bit redundant. If this had been placed a little later in the series (maybe a third or halfway in) then this point is eradicated. Yes, I understand the The Naked Time was aired fourth, but due to how linear The Original Series was (and how shallow the volume of its lead cast was) you knew enough about the characters for it to at least make sense.
Okay, that particular rant over it is time to rate the episode. Despite better pacing than the pilot, it is definitely half a step back on the overall quality front, and I am going to penalise them for the point made in the previous paragraph.
The Verdict | The homage was a nice idea, but too many aspects were mishandled. It is not horrible by any means, but will definitely never feature on a ‘Best Of’ compilation, nor be remembered that fondly. In fact, if didn’t so heavily reference The Naked Time then it probably wouldn’t be remembered at all. Poor.