Original Air Date: September 27, 1987
Writer: DC Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Director: Corey Allen
“Humanity is no longer a savage race!”
By the late 1980s, there had been no new episodes of Star Trek for some two decades in spite of a highly successful run during syndication as well as a brief but slightly mediocre animated series in the 1970s. A reboot series entitled Star Trek: Phase II was announced in the late 1970s, however it ultimately failed to launch. Then, after four successful motion pictures, the return of live-action Star Trek to television finally came in 1987 with The Next Generation, a show featuring an all-new crew plus many of the original creatives, especially creator Gene Roddenberry, writer DC Fontana, and producer Robert Justman. This show was to be distinct from its predecessor in many ways, but perhaps the starkest difference is its context. While the original series was shot in the 1960s, with all manner of social commentary on the Cold War, American Imperialism, racism, the Vietnam War, youth culture and so on, The Next Generation was to be a show for a decidedly post-Cold War audience, yet one which nevertheless still retains many of the optimistic science fiction themes of the original series.
Before Star Trek: The Next Generation was given the chance to grow and flourish into the beloved science fiction series many fans came to know, its early seasons were often beset by tumult behind the scenes. Apparently, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry attempted to rule the show like a tyrant (in part as a response to him being cut out of the movies) so he instituted a variety of rigid rules –including the infamous screenwriting injunction that none of the crewmen could face interpersonal conflicts. At the time, Roddenberry was suffering from declining health, and many of the actors found the set intense, while writers were frustrated with various roadblocks put in their way. With that being said, I still enjoy many of these early episodes and thankfully Star Trek: The Next Generation has endured. Today, many viewers regard it as one of the best science fiction shows ever made –and rightly so.
Below is a terse list of the key members of The Next Generation crew:
- Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the dutiful, gentlemanly captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D (or simply “Enterprise-D”).
- Jean-Luc Picard is played by Patrick Stewart (1940-present), a celebrated Royal Shakespearean actor who apparently lived out of his suitcase during early filming for TNG because he was a bit skeptical of how successful the show would actually become (Gene Roddenberry was also hesitant about initially hiring Patrick Stewart because he wanted a more traditionally “masculine” actor to portray the captain). Stewart was a bit stiff as a cast member at first, but some of the other actors helped to loosen up his stuffy sense of austere professionalism, while Stewart served as a model of excellence and an advocate for other cast members. Post-Star Trek, Patrick Stewart has appeared in many popular Hollywood films like the X-Men series. He married three times and has two children. He was married from 2000-2003 to Wendy Neuss (his second wife), a Star Trek TNG producer. He is also a close friend of fellow X-Men actor, Ian McKellan, who officiated his third wedding
- Commander William Riker(“Number One”), the first officer aboard the Enterprise-D.
- William Riker is played by Jonathan Frakes (1952-present) an actor and film director (after the end of Star Trek TNG he directed two of the TNG films, including First Contact and Insurrection). Formerly a resident of Maine, he and his wife and two children relocated to California in 2008.
- Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, a blind helmsman aboard the Enterprise-D during Season 1, but the chief engineer for the rest of the series. Despite being blind since birth, Geordi wears a prosthetic VISOR to assist his “sight.”
- Geordi La Forge is played by Levar Burton (1957-present), an actor who appeared in other noteworthy programs like Roots and the PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow. He and his wife have two children and reside in Sherman Oaks, CA. In his youth, he made the courageous decision to step away from seminary and organized religion more broadly. He has directed a variety of different Star Trek episodes spanning multiple series, more than any other cast member.
- Lieutenant Commander Data, a synthetic life form with artificial intelligence and sentience who is an anatomically fully functional android. He is the second officer and chief operations officer aboard the Enterprise-D.
- Data is played by Brent Spiner (1949-present), a theater, television, and film actor as well as a musician. In 2021, he published a memoir which also doubled as a fictitious noir-esque detective story regarding a crazed, murderous fan claiming to be “Lal,” the android daughter of Data as featured in the third season episode “The Offspring.” He and his wife have one child.
- Lieutenant Worf, a Klingon warrior in Starfleet leader aboard the Enterprise-D.
- Worf is played by Michael Dorn (1952-present), an actor who has appeared in a variety of television shows and movies (his first film appearance was in 1976’s Rocky as Apollo Creed’s bodyguard). He is also an accomplished pilot and it appears he does not have any children.
- Lieutenant Natasha “Tasha” Yar, chief of security aboard the USS Enterprise-D. The character’s concept was based upon the character of Vasquez from the film Aliens (1986).
- Tasha Yar is played by Denise Crosby (1957-present), granddaughter of world-famous crooner Bing Crosby (whom she sadly never met). She was born out of wedlock into a fractured family and an absentee father. In adulthood, she embarked on a modeling career (posing nude for Playboy in 1979) before becoming an actor, appearing in shows like Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and The X-Files among others. Crosby married Geoffrey Edwards, son of the famous film director Blake Edwards, and then appeared in a string of her father-in-law’s films including Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther (both following the death of Peter Sellers). She and Edwards separated in 1990 and later remarried Ken Sylk and they had one son together. Crosby has described her experience on Star Trek TNG as “miserable” during the first season, and after twenty-two episodes she became the first Star Trek actor to request that her character be killed off (in “Skin of Evil” near the end of Season 1), though she later returned as both Tasha Yar and a character called Sela. She was apparently frustrated that her character, Tasha Yar, lacked depth and she feared turning into Uhura, saying only “aye, aye, captain” for years to come. The character of Tasha Yar later became the inspiration for other notable female science fiction characters, like Kara Thrace in the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
- Counselor/Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi, a half-human, half-Betazoid with the acute ability to sense emotions, and with a romantic past linked to William Riker. Her father was a Starfleet officer.
- Deanna Troi is played by Marina Sirtis (1955-present), an actor born in London who emigrated to Los Angeles. In 1992, she married an actor and rock guitarist named Michael Lamper. Tragically, he died in his sleep in 2019 and Sirtis emigrated back to London at that time citing his death, growing tensions in the United States, and a desire to pursue a career in the British film and television industry. She does not have children.
- Dr. Beverly Crusher, chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise-D. She is a widow whose husband passed away amidst tragic circumstances and she has one son, Wesley “Wes” Crusher (Wil Wheaton).
- Dr. Crusher is played by Gates McFadden (1949-present), a television, film, and theatre actor and choreographer. She has one son (Brent Spiner is actually her son’s godfather). During the fourth season of TNG, she wore a laboratory coat as a uniform to conceal her pregnancy.
- Wes is played by Wil Wheaton (1972-present), an actor, gamer, comedian, audiobook narrator, and writer who has appeared in a variety of television programs and films. He was tragically forced into acting at a young age by his “abusive” parents (who are strongly politically conservative, whereas Wheaton has been a self-proclaimed moderate or liberal). He resides in Arcadia, CA with his wife and her two children from a previous relationship (Wheaton legally adopted both children). He has been open about his struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and alcoholism.
It is the 24th century, 78 years after the events of the original series (the 2360s to 2370s). A newly constructed starship known as the Enterprise-D (a “galaxy class starship”) is set to embark on its maiden voyage under the nascent command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Enterprise is sent to Deneb IV, homeworld of the Bandi people and beyond which lies the great unexplored mass of the galaxy. The Bandi have offered their remote outpost known as “Farpoint Station” to Starfleet, however before it can be accepted, the station is in need of inspection. In his inaugural captain’s log, Picard notes that the Enterprise is currently short-staffed, missing a variety of key positions, including its first officer, a role which will be filled by Commander William Riker who is scheduled to meet them at Deneb IV.
Suddenly, Counselor Troi senses a strange presence (“a powerful mind”) and an expansive grid appears before the ship (it is somewhat reminiscent of the “Tholian Web” which appears in the second season of TOS). Then a hostile omnipotent alien entity known as Q appears on the Bridge (John de Lancie). Donning several different visages, including garb from the 16th century and an American military officer’s outfit from the 1950s, Q demands that the Enterprise turn around because humans are excessively violent and have ventured too far into space. “Thou art notified that thou kind have infiltrated the galaxy too far… return to thine own solar system.” He asks that Picard and crew answer for centuries of human capriciousness: “…and 400 years before that you were murdering each other in tribal god images.”
When Q disappears, the Enterprise attempts to flee the situation. Picard orders that the saucer module be separated from the rest of the ship in order to protect the lives of the families and citizens of the Federation who are aboard. Picard transfers command to the “Battle Bridge” on the stardrive section. Meanwhile, the powerful energy force of Q (in the form of a bubble-like orb hurtling through space) catches up with the separated section of the Enterprise. Q then transports Picard and others into a mock Grand Inquisitor scenario (which Counselor notes is curiously not a dream or a simulation). It is an odd trial featuring a rowdy cohort of people who look like Mongolians, apparently it is reminiscent of a “mid-21st century” trial (there was some sort of nuclear holocaust in the 21st century –a “post atomic horror”). While serving as the presiding judge, Q accuses humanity of being a “grievously savage race.” In the course of the trial, which presents an amusing dialectic between Picard and Q, Picard requests the chance for he and his crew to prove themselves, a challenge which Q readily accepts.
Meanwhile, the USS Hood drops Commander William Riker at FarPoint Station where he meets future crew members: Dr. Crusher, her son Wes, and Geordi La Forge. He also meets the Bandi administrator of Farpoint Station, Groppler Zorn (Michael Bell), who mentions that if Starfleet does not accept the station, Farpoint will be forced to seek an alliance with the Ferengi. It quickly becomes apparent that something strange is happening at Farpoint Station, especially after Riker asks for an apple and it suddenly appears. A similarly unusual event occurs with Dr. Crusher while she is shopping for a gold-patterned fabric.
When Riker beams aboard the Enterprise, he is greeted mostly by cold, antagonism from Captain Picard who issues a test for Riker to manually reattach the saucer to the stardrive section (he passes with flying colors in an inspiring scene reminiscent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). We are also treated to a beautiful scene of pure nostalgia for fans –Data transports an unnamed Admiral to the USS Hood via a shuttlecraft. It turns out to be an elderly 137-year-old Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. While cantankerously grumbling about Vulcans, Bones remarks, “Well this is a new ship, but she’s got the right name… You treat her like a lady. And she’ll always bring you home” as he walks off into the distance with Data. This was DeForest Kelley’s final onscreen performance. Picard bids Bones farewell with a fond message: “Bon voyage, mon ami” but then Q reappears and delivers a 24-hour ultimatum for the Enterprise to prove itself under some critical test at Farpoint Station.
As the strange mystery of Farpoint Station unfolds, it becomes apparent that the station is harnessing geothermal energy, and that it was constructed rapidly by unknown means. Its technology is extraordinarily advanced, unrecognizable to Starfleet officers. Suddenly, there is a “perimeter alert” and an unknown saucer-shaped vessel arrives (it is twelve times the volume of the Enterprise). Despite several attempts, the vessel is unresponsive to outreach. While Q pushes Picard to confront the unknown vessel with violence, Picard decides to peacefully solve the mystery. As it turns out, the unknown vessel is actually a living creature (like a giant “space jellyfish”). It promptly attacks the station on the planet surface below and kidnaps Groppler Zorn. We learn that Groppler Zorn and the Bandi have been hiding a secret –they once captured one of these “space jellyfish” only to discover that it possesses immense power –it can convert energy into matter. This is how the Bandi managed to construct Farpoint Station so quickly and so effectively: by harnessing the energy of this imprisoned creature which, in effect, became Farpoint Station. Meanwhile the other vessel, or “space jellyfish,” has arrived to merely rescue and retrieve its imprisoned mate. Thus, Picard delivers the evacuation order for Farpoint Station and then fires an energy beam downward which releases the entrapped “space jellyfish” from captivity, allowing it to return to its partner (one is blue, the other is pink). As the two “space jellyfish” float away together, Counselor Troi senses a feeling of “great joy and gratitude.”
Since the Enterprise has passed the test, Q then reluctantly leaves the Enterprise but he “will not promise never to appear again.” Picard then instructs Farpoint Station to be rebuilt and speaks with his new first officer as the episode concludes:
Riker: “Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go.”
Picard: “Oh no, number one, I’m sure most will be much more interesting. Let’s see what’s out there… Engage!”
My Thoughts on “Encounter at Farpoint”
I was a bit dismayed to learn that many Trekkies/Trekkers regard “Encounter At Farpoint” a relatively lackluster introduction to the show. In contrast, I had a lot of fun with this episode. To be fair, it is a bit clunky and rough around the edges –indeed many of the characters seem cold and distant from one another, and often unnecessarily surly and stern for reasons unknown. Obviously, there was quite a lot of tension going on behind the scenes and, in many ways, this dual episode represents two scripts smashed together to extend the episode’s runtime (DC Fontana’s Farpoint Station narrative and Roddenberry’s Q narrative), but I still loved it –everything from the reveal of the holodeck to a surprise cameo by everyone’s favorite country doctor. In this episode, the new crew of the Enterprise-D is introduced in an exciting manner as we are whisked away to a mysterious outpost, asked to solve a hidden secret, and we are given the first appearance of Q (a character who closely resemble Trelane from “The Squire of Gothos” in the original series). I find myself both intrigued and puzzled by the character of Q –who is he and what does he want? Why does he test humanity for moral weakness? Will he ever use his godlike powers for good, or is he a-moral? Will he ever be proven correct in that humanity will eventually show itself to be a “savage race”?
In addition to Q, there are several other compelling character threads, including the mysterious past “Imzadi” relationship between Commander Riker and Counselor Troi, as well as the shadowy past of Picard and Dr. Crusher (and, by extension, her son Wesley). And along those lines I am still a bit befuddled about Picard’s odd remark to Riker that children make him uncomfortable and he is not a “family man.” Perhaps this was added to build a potential fatherly narrative arc between Picard and Wesley, as well as a rekindled romance between Picard and Dr. Crusher. At any rate, “Encounter at Farpoint” managed to evoke a sense of wonder and awe in me.
As has been well documented elsewhere, tensions were high behind the scenes of Star Trek TNG in these early seasons. It was Paramount who demanded that Roddenberry create a 2-hour double episode, however Roddenberry only wanted to make a 1-hour episode. They compromised with a 90-minute episode (but only after Paramount executives threatened to toss Roddenberry off the lot). This confusion left Fontana and Roddenberry with a haphazard writing project ahead of them. DC Fontana’s original working title for this episode was “Meeting at Farpoint” while Roddenberry added in the Q subplot.
Director Corey Allen (1934-2010) was an actor and director. He played the role of Buzz Gunderson in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). His father was Carl Cohen, a Las Vegas casino industry magnate. In total, Corey Allen directed five Star Trek TNG episodes and four Star Trek DS9 episodes, among numerous other television shows. He died in 2010.
Star Trek Trivia:
- The planet Deneb IV is mentioned in the classic Season 1 episode of Star Trek TOS “Where No man Has Gone Before,” wherein Captain Kirk states that he has been worried about a colleague, Gary Mitchell, “ever since that night on Deneb IV.”
- John de Lancie (1948-present) plays Q in this episode. He has continued to reprise his celebrated role of Q in many other Star Trek episodes. John de Lancie is a Shakespearean stage and screen actor who has been involved in a variety of intriguing projects over the years. He co-wrote the Star Trek novel I, Q with Peter David, along with several other Star Trek books and audiobooks. He has narrated for various major orchestras and has also appeared as a voice actor in a number of television shows and video games. He is also an accomplished sailor, and a celebrated secular activist and humanist. He and his wife have two sons.
- This episode features the first moment in which Captain Picard uses the term “engage!”
- In this episode, Q uses the power of “freezing” against at least two Enterprise crewmen.
- At one point in this episode, Picard interrogates Commander Riker about a past instance wherein the USS Hood visited Altair III and Riker refused to allow Captain Robert DeSoto onto the planet’s surface because it was too dangerous.
- Geordi’s VISOR appliance is described as a “remarkable piece of bio-electronic engineering” by which he “sees” much of the EM spectrum ranging from simple heat and infrared to radio waves. It is also noted that the VISOR causes him some mild pain, though he declines painkillers and rejects exploratory surgery to correct his vision.
- When Wesley Crusher visits the bridge of the Enterprise, Picard explains that the panel on the right of the captain’s chair is used for log entries, library computer access retrieval, view screen control, and intercom and so on. The panel on the left contains the back-up conn and ops panels plus shield and armament controls. The forward view screen is controlled from the ops position (the view screen uses high-resolution, multi-spectral imaging sensors.
- During the introduction of the holodeck, Data whistles the song “Pop goes the Weasel.”
- The first appearance of the holodeck is a “woodland pattern” which is a duplicate of earth, based on the transporter technology, and the holodeck has thousands more patterns.
- We learn that Picard was previously a first officer.
- During the trial scene, it is revealed that in the year 2036 earth declared that no citizen could be held accountable for the whole of the human race.
- The term “Imzadi” is first used in this episode to denote the relationship between Counselor Troi and Commander Riker (Imzadi means something akin to “soulmate”). The widely popular novel Imzadi takes place before the show and examines the relationship between Troi and Riker.
- Data says he is “superior in many ways” to Riker, though he would “gladly give it up to be human.”
- There is an odd scene in this episode in which Data is confused about the meaning of the word “snoop.”
- During one brief but memorable moment in this episode, Dr. Crusher explains to her son Wesley that travelers like Captain Picard have no time for a family. As she does so, she gazes off into the distance as if to recall a tragic memory. But the moment quickly passes. Later, Picard also says he is “not a family man.”
- It is revealed that Galaxy class starships computers, like the one aboard the Enterprise-D, have the ability locate anyone aboard the Enterprise.
- This episode introduces the idea that the saucer section can separate itself from the rest of the ship. The effect is used only three more times in the TNG series, as well as in the film Star Trek Generations.
- The cameo by “Admiral McCoy” was DeForest Kelley’s final television appearance before his death in 1999. He said it was an honor to have been invited, and he requested nothing more than the minimum pay.
- Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II is quoted in the trial scene (“Kill all lawyers”).
- Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry named Captain Picard for (one or both of) the twin brothers Auguste Piccard and Jean Piccard, both 20th-century Swiss scientists. Jean-Luc Picard was originally set to be named “Julien Picard.”
- Tasha Yar’s original working name was “Macha Hernandez” and then “Tanya.” Her surname was suggested by Robert Lewin, who drew inspiration from the Babi Yar atrocities in Ukraine during World War II.
- The chairs aboard the Enterprise appear noticeably reclined in this episode. They are changed in later seasons.
- This episode gives the first mention of Ferengi Alliance in Star Trek.
- Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderfully triumphant score for Star Trek TNG was taken from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
- Gene Roddenberry initially wanted Deanna Troi to have four breasts. Thankfully this was scrapped due to Roddenberry’s wife and DC Fontana disregarding the idea (though a three-breasted alien appears in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a la Total Recall).
- Michael Bell (1938-present) played Groppler Zorn in this episode. He has appeared in numerous television shows and lent his voice to various cartoons and video games. He is married to Victoria Bell, an actress, and they have one daughter, Ashley Bell, also an actress. Michael Bell has developed a reputation over the years for his union activism in Hollywood.
The more I learn about behind-the-scenes negativity in the history of Star Trek, and especially after the most positively memorable documentaries like Gene Roddenberry’s A&E Biography, the more it makes me question the authenticity of the ‘positive’ interviews. But knowing that Gene’s intentions for making The Next Generation the kind of Star Trek show he wanted it to be, particularly the way that the classic Trek couldn’t be, might make his need for absolute control sympathetic to a point. I can still look back on Encounter At Farpoint with better respect for how it very bravely relaunched Star Trek on TV than I had back in 1987. It became clear that this new Trek couldn’t be as dynamic as the classic Trek because of its improved focus on essential morality tales. Yet it can be agreeable if most Trekkers now consider it the best Star Trek series. Thank you for your review.
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Giving Deanna four breasts was certainly NOT a good idea and so I’m glad that they decided against it. Star Trek alien people chiefly work when the physical alien traits are minimized so that they can be more relatable as people. Thankfully the character of Deanna Troi could be most respectable for the Enterprise counsellor in that regard.
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