Yesterday’s Next Generation -By Rick Austin @EvolvedRick

Picard relaxing with a book on Risa

Picard relaxing with a book on Risa

I’ve been going through Star Trek: The Next Generation again. Well, after finishing off Voyager and with my beloved DS9‘s having fallen prey to an evil Cardassian plot, it made sense. I could have gone for the original series, but I really felt like TNG.

Also it seemed like too much of an effort to get my old Enterprise tapes out.

But I’m happy with The Next Generation. The original series may have been where I boldly went first, but it was The Next Generation that was “must-see” TV for me when it came out. Bizarrely I was introduced to it through a computer game magazine, Sinclair User. Every month they ran a section about what cool new items were on the market, from Bermuda shorts to strawberry ice creams, plastic sheeting sunglasses that rolled up into a tube to little rubber balls covered with strands.

One month they highlighted a couple of Next Generation things. Videos, a couple of model starships, you get the idea. They talked about it being a bold new version of Star Trek, said a couple of things about Romulans and mentioned the Ferengi in a way that made them sound like they could be the biggest threat to the galaxy since Khan got his wrath on. I liked the magazine and trusted it to steer me right. I may have been biased since they also gave away free games, but I was still keen to watch it.

Fast forward a bit and here I am. Wait a minute… it ended 20 years ago… so how many years have passed? Has it really been that long? Let me check: I’ve still got my hair, most of my teeth and plenty of original body parts. I’ve actually added to their size too, but that isn’t really a positive. The show’s still here with me too and I couldn’t resist giving it another viewing.

I sat patiently through some of the more cringe-worthy moments of the early seasons. Picard was frosty, Riker seemed driven by his libido and far too smarmy, Data was irritating at times, Geordi was cool but stiff, Deanna sensed things but didn’t seem to help in any way, Beverly Crusher seemed wasted, Worf was the guy who stood in the background and growled, and Wesley was Wesley. Tasha Yar was there too and as the first season went on I had that ominous knowledge of her impending doom and knew I’d miss her.

Oh, and those Ferengi who I was originally promised would be so amazing really weren’t that amazing at all. But I knew that already.

But I knew it would get better and started drinking more Earl Grey tea. Sure enough, before I could even realise it Pulaski came and went without being given a fair chance. Worf started to become a breakout character. Wesley improved, Geordi relaxed a little and a conn officer went from being nameless to O’Brien to Miles. Reg Barclay kept popping up, the captain relaxed and Riker became far more likeable after he grew his beard.

Episodes I had nicknamed as “Wesley and the magic beans”, “The one with Tom Paris in it”, “Troi turns into a crazy old lady”, “Riker sleeps with Ro”, “The alien guy who turns into a Patrick Stewart groupie”, “The alien that sounds like a guy eating pizza” and “Oh please no, not Rascals” slowly reminded me of their original titles. Despite this, the holodeck still kept malfunctioning.

I always remembered season 3 as the one when the show hit its stride, although there were plenty of episodes before then when things were good, and some after that when things were bad. Still, after Shades of Gray they couldn’t have gotten too bad. The effects got better, the performances got better, the characters got better. Even the Ferengi got better.

Some bits were funnier now than then. Picard turning down the principal’s job at Starfleet Academy, for instance. He had a chance to run a school for gifted students, some with abilities far beyond a normal human’s, like in X-Men? Maybe Gul Madred should have checked that his fifth light had a burnt-out bulb before getting so uppity with Picard? Would the Crystalline Entity have looked better with giant Christmas tree lights on it?

I’m well into the final season again now, and even knowing how it all ends I can’t help but keep saying to myself “They never could have done this episode earlier”.

I know that may sound obvious but when I watch Attached I understand that, as important an episode as it is for defining Picard and Beverly Crusher’s relationship, I just couldn’t have believed it any earlier. Seeing Riker being so playful on Captain Picard Day… well, there’s no way he could have gotten away with it before then. Worf struggling to escape from a million parallel universes never would have been as tense. Seeing Wesley bow out as a good man never would have had an impact. Good things sometimes take time to develop, but the end result can be more than worth it.

It’s also true that all good things must come to an end.

I’ll miss The Next Generation after I’m done with it again. After seven years of episodes it became more than just a show, it was like sharing the adventures of a family. It’s brought back smiles and tears, adrenaline-surges and frustration about the Ferengi. It was good then and it’s still good now. I know it’ll still be there, waiting for me to put it on again when I need or want it. It’s still there waiting, even if an alternative timeline says it shouldn’t.

All it takes is to push a button… and engage.

Rick Austin

Author: Rick Austin

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