I’ve been doing these Trek write-ups for a while. But there was something someone else wanted to do, and I told him he’d have to wait until, well, I got to that point in a Trek rewatch.
That means, finally, I can move on Star Trek the Next Generation with Canada’s favorite Geek commenter, Jimmy Impossible.
“Encounter at Farpoint”
Time to get a new gang together.
jimmy: Well, that brought up a smorgasbord of emotions.
tomk: Good ones? I’d hate to snoop.
jimmy: Good and bad and middling…all over the place…hence the board.
tomk: Considering how much Trek I’ve watched lately, me not so much.
jimmy: So I watched on Blu-ray (I have the whole series) so it was digitally remastered. So shots in space, of the Enterprise, the aliens, even the opening credits looked phenomenal. But at other times, particularly near the beginning on the bridge, it sure did look cheap. I understand it was essentially a pilot episode with not much of a budget.
tomk: I also watch a lot of old Doctor Who. You want cheap? TNG looks outright extravagant by comparison.
jimmy: I mean, it wasn’t horrible, but lower budget than I was expecting. Watching it on a high definition television surely made a difference too for a show that is now…sigh..:33 years old.
tomk: Oh. That makes more sense. I just streamed off Netflix onto my plasma screen TV.
But yeah. That age. Most of the cast is over 60 these days with three 70 or older.
jimmy: They all understandably look so young, especially Wil Wheaton.
tomk: One of two actors I’d heard if before the show started.
jimmy: LeVar Burton?
tomk: That would be the other. I remember being disappointed he didn’t do much in the pilot.
jimmy: Yeah. Half the crew never showed up until the second half.
tomk: When it almost felt like a different episode. Q was missing for a while there.
jimmy: Now that you say that you’re right. The Q episode and the Farpoint episode, having little to do with one another.
tomk: Until Q comes back and reminds us he’s involved with the episode.
jimmy: And with no verdict.
tomk: Why would they need a verdict? They saved the day without violence.
That being a sure sign Gene Roddenberry wrote the script.
jimmy: Except for all the torture.
tomk: That was the space jellyfish. Picard didn’t do that.
tomk: Good guys don’t torture Grapplar Zorn.
jimmy: The space jellyfish were so ridiculous they reminded me of the orchids in Picard.
tomk: Those orchids can stop a half-formed Borg cube. Can a jellyfish do that?
jimmy: No. But they can make delicious apples.
tomk: And fine embroidery on cloth.
jimmy: So, where were these things coming from? More specially…what did Riker actually eat?
tomk: I assume they convert ambient energy into matter, such as anything a shopped might desire.
jimmy: I just hope all the converted matter wasn’t from the being itself.
tomk: Did Gropplar Zorn seem like the kind of guy to do that?
jimmy: He’s the kind of guy to threaten an alliance with the Ferengi.
tomk: It’s an idle threat since Picard seemed to indicate the Ferengi often eat their business partners.
jimmy: You never saw that on DS9.
tomk: Picard might be a Space Racist.
jimmy: Like that, but with less hair.
tomk: But hey, Picard. He hates kids and Ferengi.
jimmy: I know the whole kid thing is an ongoing personality trait, but they really club you over the head with it early here.
tomk: As I see it, here’s what I take from that: this was Gene Roddenberry’s first time writing any sort of Trek since the first movie. Paramount actually forced him into a consultant’s role for every movie after that.
And that sort of bluntness…is very indicative of his writing style.
That said, the script was co-written by his longtime associate D.C. Fontana.
She started off as Roddenberry’s secretary before showing a talent for writing, and she probably wrote more episodes of the original Trek than anyone other than Roddenberry. Most of the Spock character came from her and Leonard Nimoy since she wrote most Spock-centric scripts that expanded Vulcan culture and Nimoy’s acting choices filled in the rest.
Heck, she even hung around to help Gene during the Animated Series.
Point is, this feels very much like an original series episode, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
jimmy: Full disclosure: I’m not much of an original series fan.
tomk: Partial disclosure: I think I knew that.
jimmy: Speaking of, what did you think of the Bones cameo?
tomk: It was fine. DeForest Kelley said he did it as a favor to Gene.
jimmy: I think fine is an apt description. It was nice to see him, and useful for setting the time period, but did feel a little forced.
tomk: And the make-up hasn’t aged well.
jimmy: No. Nor has Data’s. That was one of the jarring pieces I eluded to earlier. All the digital effects looked amazing, but make up effects and the people being frozen, etc. felt dated.
tomk: Yes. Let’s spray a guy with a fog machine!
And Worf looked…weird.
jimmy: They were still working out some kinks.
tomk: We should keep that in mind.
tomk: There were more than a few criticisms about the first season being rewritten scripts intended for the original cast.
jimmy: Oh? I hadn’t heard that. I guess we will see as we go. And you did already mention that this one felt like it could have been from the original series.
I felt like Picard not going on the away mission was a pretty blatant representation that this was not Kirk’s Enterprise.
tomk: Picard and Riker both have Kirk-ish attributes. Picard has the authority while Riker has the ladies man adventure dude thing.
But Roddenberry wanted to do a “Next Generation” show in the 70s. It would have featured some of the original cast with younger crew members learning as they went. Some of the new ones ended up in the first movie. But there were some unproduced scripts…
jimmy: I never knew that. Makes sense.
It’s almost like they split Kirk into Picard and Riker with the eye to “the Captain really shouldn’t be going on all these potentially dangerous away missions.”
And though he survived, was it any surprise that the unknown red shirt was the first to be incapacitated?
tomk: See? Just like classic Trek!
But seriously, there are some classic Trek elements here. We noted Kirk is basically split into Picard and Riker. Data is essentially a Spock, and having McCoy say so just points out how obvious it is. And Troi, well, Roddenberry apparently seriously cast her as eye candy, and God know the old Enterprise had a lot of women hanging around just for that. Let’s wait and see how long it takes before some of the men just start telling the women how beautiful they are.
jimmy: And don’t forget the men in skirts.
tomk: Well, that was new.
jimmy: Along the same lines, it seemed a bit odd for Picard to scoff at the “costume” Q wore as a military man…since the entire crew is in “costume”. Not like the Starfleet uniforms are the jeans and t-shirt if the future.
tomk: Every so often we see some crewman’s family. We should note what they wear. Or just check out Wesley’s wardrobe.
jimmy: Right. And the crew does have clothes they wear when not on duty. It just seemed an odd way for Picard to phrase things, especially since Starfleet is very military-esque.
tomk: Picard is a very serious man played by an actor who initially didn’t unpack his bags when he got the job and moved to LA.
jimmy: And luckily refused to wear a wig.
tomk: Leave the bad make-up to Worf.
Though I could point out, Gropplar Zorn, coolest name on the show, was played by actor Michael Bell. And I think you’ve probably never heard of him, but you know his work:
jimmy: That Doc Ock is not a nice fellow.
tomk: Well, neither was the Riddler or Lex Luthor. Bruce Banner and Gleek had their moments.
jimmy: I never would have known that’s who he was though.
tomk: I kinda recognized his voice when the episode was new.
jimmy: Young Tom was on the ball.
tomk: Young Jimmy was…I dunno…dating girls and hanging with a young moose.
jimmy: At 12…maybe the latter.
tomk: Well, I’ll tell you one thing hindsight has given me…a feeling for what might have been whenever Tasha Yar talks about that Mad Max style colony she grew up on. That’s gotta be the mysterious character backstory in the entire series and we never really learn much about the place.
jimmy: Since she lasts like 3 episodes.
tomk: Yes, well, considering what else we got…
Wesley knows Picard because Picard delivered the news Old Man Crusher died.
Data is an android.
Riker and Troi had a fling.
Troi is only half-telepath.
Worf doesn’t like being told not to do things.
Geordi has cool eyewear.
Picard hates kids.
Dr. Crusher seems rather permissive and forgiving.
And O’Brien gets like two lines to show he may not be overly observant.
jimmy: I can’t believe I forgot all about Colm Meaney.
tomk: And I am sure he remembered your last birthday.
jimmy: Heh. Also, if Data really is an android, how can he whistle an entire song perfectly…except for the last 5 notes?
tomk: I dunno. If Holodeck water is only a hologram, why is Wesley still wet when they go into the hallway?
jimmy: I was wondering that too…but they did say that it was “real” insomuch as the holodeck used technology to create matter ala the transporters.
tomk: How often do you suppose people walk into the walls?
jimmy: I assume the room is always shifting perspective. Which must be quite the programming feat with multiple people in a room that looks to be the size of my rec room.
tomk: It did give us an opportunity to see Data is strong.
jimmy: Yeah, he picks up a big rock to crush Batman with.
tomk: So, Data is Killer Croc?
jimmy: Can Killer Croc whistle the end of “Pop Goes The Wesley”?
tomk: I dunno. Can Croc lift a teenage boy over his head with one arm?
jimmy: Something to think about.
tomk: Have we ever seen them in the same room to think about?
jimmy: No. I think he was in Ten Forward hanging out with Riker’s beard.
Actually, the holodeck first appeared on the animated series, but I can’t find a clip to show you.
jimmy: Oh really?
tomk: They called it the recreation deck, but it worked the same way.
jimmy: I don’t think it showed up in any pre-Next Gen movies though…right?
tomk: No. I think Roddenberry wanted to use it in the original series, but couldn’t afford the effects.
jimmy: There’s really not much to it effects-wise outside of it turning off at the end usually.
tomk: The original series did get its budget slashed the longer it ran.
By the by, does it seem weird that Q seems more menacing than his usual playful? Sure, he uses “mon capitan” to address Picard, but otherwise he comes across as mostly sinister.
jimmy: He does. But they were still probably figuring things out. And he needed to be the new “Khan” or something for them to hang their villain hat on.
tomk: I guess the Ferengi were too much to hope for what with their habit of eating business partners.
jimmy: Had the Ferengi even appeared in Trek at this point?
tomk: Nope. The plan was, as far as I know, to make them the other reoccurring villains.
But they didn’t quite work out the way they were intended to. Deep Space Nine saw to that.
We’re probably better off for that.
jimmy: I think part is their design; they are far from menacing-looking.
tomk: Yes, well, that comes later.
This time was just Q, and Q was hardly the first godlike being the crew of any Enterprise ever ran into. Heck, one such entity, Trelane, was later retconned into a juvenile Q.
As in Q’s species, not the actual Q from this show.
jimmy: That sounds vaguely familiar.
tomk: On the original show, I think a third of all episodes could be the Enterprise dealing with either a godlike being or a society where a computer is running things badly and no one is really trying to do anything about it until Captain Kirk shows up.
Trelane is one of the more memorable ones. He looks like an adult, but after playing various games with Kirk, he is eventually stopped when two disembodied voices, one male and one female, show up to punish him because he’s really just a child in his species.
jimmy: I think that happened with the Beyonder…
tomk: Star Trek did it first.
Not sure when Trelane was labeled a Q. Probably a novel, and Roddenberry is on-record for saying anything that didn’t happen in a live action movie or TV show wasn’t canon.
jimmy: That seems to be mostly an unwritten rule for these franchises anyway.
tomk: Depends on the franchise. Star Wars‘s expanded universe prior to the Disney buy-out comes to mind.
jimmy: Books and comics were considered canon?
tomk: I think so, but keep in mind that for the longest time with Star Wars, that was all they were making.
jimmy: That’s true too.
tomk: Star Trek has, for the most part, been a much more constant presence in the past fifty or so years.
jimmy: Well, it has mainly been a TV presence. Which often lasts for years.
tomk: And then the movies.
jimmy: Yes, movies too, but there always seemed to be a Trek TV on the air.
From 1983-1999 there was essentially no live action Star Wars.
tomk: Aside from the occasional Ewok movie, yes.
tomk: Well, this was 1987. New Trek and no Ewoks in sight.
jimmy: I’ll be honest, if I didn’t know what was coming, I’m not sure if I would have made it through this episode or continue with the series. Some of the direction and effects have not aged well. But it was from 1987, so I have to remember to cut it some slack.
tomk: Same here…it’s not terribly impressive.
Though lots of good shows have a weak first year or two.
jimmy: Very true.
Look at the animation on early Simpsons or Family Guy for example.
tomk: The first season of Seinfeld is dreadful.
jimmy: That was my next example.
tomk: But if the show sticks it out and everyone involved gets used to their roles in front of and behind the camera, it can get better.
jimmy: It certainly does in all these cases.
tomk: Not always, mind you. Sometimes the potential just isn’t there and you’re stuck with Full House.
jimmy: Some may argue with you on that one, but let’s move on.
tomk: I do not fear the Full House fans.
But did you have anything else to add here?
Contrary to my comments earlier, I’m looking forward to more because I know a lot of great things (and my favorite of the movies) is to come.
tomk: Insurrection? How surprising.
jimmy: That would be surprising!
tomk: Nemesis would be more surprising.
But maybe we should go get to the next episode…one that seems like a direct sequel to an episode of the original series.
jimmy: Ok. You’ll have to fill me in on the backstory when we get there.
tomk: I think I can manage that.