Friday, October 29, 2010

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep3: The Naked Now & Ep4: Code Of Honor

Ladies and gentleman, the Star Trek franchise simply cannot help getting naked. Please do not adjust your screen, The Naked Now must not be confused with The Naked Time though Star Trek: The Next Generation wouldn't mind if that happened.

David Gerrold wrote of Star Trek: The Original Series [ST:TOS] in his Foreword: The Trouble With Trek segment within the book Boarding The Enterprise, "Here's a clue to the enduring popularity of Star Trek: it's a way of believing. Star Trek doesn't just say that there will be a future-it says that the future is full of possibility. Star Trek represents a promise that tomorrow can be better than today-if we are willing to design and build it. ... Star Trek promises that... problems are only momentary. We will do better."

This may be the fulcrum by which I base my adoration for ST:TOS over the more anti-septic, pristine, Utopian vibe of Star Trek: The Next Generation [ST:TNG]. ST:TOS presented a crew of the Enterprise exploring, discovering, coming up with solutions as it went. There was a sense of imperfection and normalcy to these regular officers. They made mistakes and we understood and connected with where they were in their evolution. Somehow, we were there with them. Kirk, a kind of middle-class everyman, was the perfect voice for a generation. Roddenberry too saw his original incarnation as an aggressive, child-like discoverer, whereby his ST:TNG crew was more evolved, more restrained, more polished, less rough around the edges. This is true. There's even a kind of elitism about ST:TNG. The crew of the Enterprise-D appeared to have all of the answers even if they didn't. Perhaps it was the refined, cultured, mannered, English-voiced Patrick Stewart as the gentleman lead that added to the impression. While Stewart is a tremendous actor there is an air and an aura that does keep one at a distance through his more sophisticated or distinguished style. Mind you, I enjoyed ST:TNG, some of it, but there was certainly a sense of knowing. The surrounding sense of discovery seemed less important somehow. It was gone, despite the fact they were clearly looking for new life and new worlds, supplanted by lessons without the thrills so pronounced in ST:TOS. It's hard to articulate in words because it's certainly not black and white and ST:TNG has some amazing moments fused with entries that clearly offered mixed results.

That's not Lisa Stansfield, but rather Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar looking an awful lot like Lisa Stansfield circa Affection [1989]. Does the Yar kiss curl pre-date Lisa?
I think Gerrold's reflections in that earlier statement reflect where fans were at the time. They were hungry for more Star Trek and ST:TNG expectations may have been unfairly elevated to some degree to be something bigger than it actually was ready to be. The cast is wonderful, but the stories, at least in Season One, really highlight the series' flaws. Nevertheless, the promise and potential of that future is strong when hailing from the world of Roddenberry. We the people choose to believe even if the material doesn't quite measure up to the classic originals. We believe in the promise of Star Trek. Even when it doesn't quite measure up to ST:TOS we're willing to buy into the framework and the potential for greatness established by the original.

These two installments are placed together with good reason. These clearly retread or riff on ST:TOS. One can look at the entries as homage in an effort to introduce the new cast, but they lack originality to be sure. The episodes are not exact copies, but are eerily familiar to episodes established during the ST:TOS run. ST:TNG, Season One, Episode 2, The Naked Now is essentially ST:TOS, Season One, Episode 4, The Naked Time [1966] and ST:TNG, Season One, Episode 3, Code Of Honor, while not as obvious, has echoes of ST:TOS, Season Two, Episode 1, Amok Time [1967] written all over it.

Synopsis: In The Naked Now, as crewman become infected judgment is impaired and characters like Tasha Yar get unclothed [never a bad thing] and I kept imagining Data saying "Get Naked Now!" It never goes that far, but things do begin to play fast and loose with the crew of the Enterprise-D as they did for the crew of the original Enterprise. This was clearly man going where man had gone before. The Naked Now even if it is an obvious copy is still nowhere near as good as its source The Naked Time.

Harsh criticism must be suspended as the series clearly makes efforts to placate the original fanbase, find its identity and take us down new roads. This was indeed old school, old guard straight up. This is best signified by the screenplay as penned by John D.F. Black [scriptwriter of The Naked Time] and J. Michael Bingham [ghost name for D.C. Fontana]. If it feels recycled it's because it is. Rick Berman said of The Naked Now, "It was an homage, not a copy." The concept of the Tsiolkovsky virus is old news, but our new crew fights the good fight as the crew of the Enterprise did once upon a time. Relationships are introduced not least of which is the William Riker/ Deanna Troi connection first established in an almost love-at-first-sighting in the Pilot, Encounter At Far Point. There is also the suggestion of a complex relationship between Dr. Beverly Crusher and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This underlying tension would go on unaddressed until ST:TNG, Season Seven, Episode 8, Attached. The team behind ST:TNG were clearly packing a lot of elements and information into their upstart series just a little too quickly. But, as the Captain indicated at the end of the episode, paraphrasing, if the crew could avoid temptation, it could be one of the best crews. It may have been code for conflict, tension, sex, or what have you. Any way you sliced it, ST:TNG needed focus and strong character drama, which Gene Roddenberry was clearly holding back on during Season One. The Naked Now offers some, but it's merely a tease and certainly wasn't the tight package found in the ST:TOS episode for which it was paying tribute.

Code Of Honor truly taps the spirit of Amok Time, but once again is left a mere pale imitation or "homage" of the original idea. With Tasha Yar, a character embodied by Denise Crosby, central to the story, it didn't stand a chance of holding a candle to the talents noted in the classic helmed by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. Writer Tracy Torme [Season One, Episode 25, Conspiracy] indicated she felt the same way about the episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion. It looked very much like the battle between Kirk and Spock from Amok Time.

Synopsis: A plague on Styris IV leads the Enterprise to a vaccine found on Ligon II. Unfortunately the crew must negotiate with a primal, socailly primitive tribe that lives by a code of honor that has the tendency to get panties in a bunch. Chief Lutan is impressed with Tasha Yar and she must fight his wife to the death. This is certainly one form of wife swapping. The politically correct, and in this case, Prime Directive-driven Captain Picard stands by in the hopes his security officer can survive the game while the Enterprise crew essentially sits this one out. That Prime Directive always was selective and will be in ST:TNG as well.

The episode is preachy and, of course, this is early on and reminds me of the clunky, preachy dialogue and scripting that reared its ugly head on Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 3, Emancipation. Fortunately, after the serious misstep of SG-1's Emancipation, that series ironically freed itself and got back on track. I suspect ST:TNG will do better, but Code Of Honor lands squarely in that realm. As it turns out, to my surprise later, Emancipation was also penned by the same scriptwriter, Katharyn Powers, as Code Of Honor. It all started coming together.

Thus, The Naked Now and Code Of Honor live in that all too familiar air of similarity. The episodes are decent, perhaps because they are based on strong scripts, but like a great film followed by a sequel they never quite measure up. It's been there done that, but better. There's not a lot to get excited about with ST:TNG.

Of course, a nation starved without the prospect of a Star Trek series for years were hungry. ST:TNG offered something close to the beloved classic. It was familiar and different enough to keep fans tuning in the hopes the creators would get it right. At the end of the Pilot, Encounter At Far Point, Picard looks to the bridge screen and gleefully pronounces, "Let's see what's out there." As it turns out, at least in these first few installments, it would be a retread and homage to past glories. What was out there was classic Star Trek: The Original Series. Nevertheless, fans would patiently wait for something more.

That is not a Star Wars lightsaber, but with ST:TNG you never know.
Ultimately, when the gates opened to the new series, ST:TNG, there was a predisposition to rely and fall back on some of the writers from ST:TOS as evidenced by Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana and John D.F. Black's involvement. Unfortunately even the classic writers couldn't muster enough of the old magic to get this series rolling right away. There was a tendency to riff on themselves and what came before. Unfortunately it created a rush to judgment by many involved in the creation of ST:TNG. Everyone wanted results and they wanted them quickly. This ushered in a new wave of thinking and a new era of writers with a new way of writing. I admire writer Allen Steele's thoughts on the subject as outlined in his essay All Our Tomorrows: The Shared Universe Of Star Trek in Boarding The Enterprise. Star Trek: The Original Series is the classic it remains today for many reasons. Those reasons are far and wide and too many to list here. The actors, production design and much more played an important part in that series. One important factor was the writing. The science fiction writers involved and to some extent guided by Gene Roddenberry made for an epic saga that just rolled along like a runaway freight train even if people didn't notice it at the time. ST:TNG suffers without the confidence in sci-fi writing that was much of the bedrock behind The Original Series' cast and direction.

Steele had this to say about ST:TNG, "...the first season featured a few scripts written by veteran original-series writers and a couple of SF authors... it's second season... relied almost entirely upon scripts supplied by a staff of scriptwriters who'd previously written about cops, lawyers and doctors."

As I mentioned in my review of Encounter At Far Point, Gene Roddenberry eventually became overruled and "reduced to that of a figurehead."

Steele adds some interesting analysis with this closing thought. "SF writers were seldom allowed to set foot on the Enterprise."

Apparently, Rick Berman reached out to the SF writing community in 1992 when "he sent an open letter to the SFWA Forum, the in-house publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Of America, inviting its members to submit story proposals. If any were ever accepted, or even seriously considered, though, this writer never heard of it."

Herein lies the problem with spin-off franchises in Steele's humble opinion. ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:Voyager and ST: Enterprise all carried on with the implementation of writers primarily outside of the science fiction writing community. When the aforementioned incarnations of Star Trek seemed reminiscent of ST:TOS it was generally by design. It normally was the result of imitation on stories straight out of the classic original whether it be tribbles, alternate realities, Klingons or Klingon replacements.

Steele's conclusion brings home the point of where Star Trek had gone and where it needs to go. "If Star Trek is to be continued though, it must return to its roots. Using the latest generation of CGI special effects or putting another fashion model in a skintight uniform won't do the trick. The strength of the original series lay in its diversity. Star Trek was a science fiction anthology series; it needs science fiction writers to survive." Absolutely, Roddenberry pitched a kind of Outer Limits series with substance, only with a recurring cast of characters and limited sets to bring down costs. There was indeed a diversity of storytelling. Steele finishes with the recollection of Spock's words from Theodore Sturgeon's Amok Time, "Live Long And Prosper." "Always remember that an SF writer came up with that."

It is indeed the science fiction writer combined with the quality talents of the creative team that brought those stories and ideas to life. ST:TNG is clearly uncertain of where it's going here and arguably set its own course shortly thereafter, however awkward. But listen, about that fashion model in the skintight suit. We should talk.

The Naked Now: C+
Writer: John D.F. Black & J. Michael Bingham [D.C. Fontana]
Director: Paul Lynch

Code Of Honor: C
Writer: Katharyn Powers & Michael Baron
Director: Russ Mayberry

Writer Footnote: Katharyn Powers. She would pen the horribly preachy Stargate SG-1, Season One episode, Emancipation, which is horribly reminiscent of ST:TNG Code Of Honor. Things did improve on the writing front for Powers with seven more SG-1 episodes including: Brief Candle, Thor's Hammer, Fire And Water, Enigma, Thor's Chariot, Family and Serpent Song. Powers also penned Past Prologue for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.


John Kenneth Muir said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic: A great post about the early days of The Next Generation! As usual, your writing and choice of images are exemplary.

Your points are all very strong about "Naked Now" and "Code of Honor" functioning mostly as imperfect tributes to TOS episodes.

I remember watching these episodes on WPIX New York in 1987 and starting to worry that TNG was just going to recycle plot lines from the original Trek.

The next episode that aired, "The Last Outpost" didn't assuage my fears, as it was a kind of talky version of "Arena" with the Enterprise and the Ferengi immobilized in space by the equivalent of the Metrons, the portal of the T'kon Empire (if memory serves.)

Also, the fourth episode, "The Last Outpost" featured Picard surrendering the Enterprise (the flagship of the fleet) a second time. (He had surrendered to Q first in "Encounter at Farpoint.")

So four episodes in, Picard had a 50% surrender rate as his solution to the episode crisis.

I felt that was REALLY embarrassing. He had the most advanced starship in history at his disposal and two out of four times, his gambit was to unconditionally surrender his ship (with families aboard, no less, in the latter case) to the enemy.

This is why I've always felt Picard was a lesser captain than Kirk. I know others will disagree, but right up through Generations, Picard was a failure as a strategic thinker. I remember in the second season's "Peak Performance," he was beaten in a battle simulation by Riker...who was commanding an 85 year old starship. Again, Picard was commanding a state of the art flagship, and couldn't even win on the basis of superior technology.

By Generations, his response to the sudden appearance of a Klingon Bird of Prey was a baffled "What?" as it decloaked (and ultimately destroyed his ship). Contrast that with Kirk in Star Trek III -- with a skeleton crew aboard the Enterprise -- getting in first licks against a cloaked Bird of Prey. But I digress...

In terms of "The Naked Now" it is a fine example, I believe, of where TNG failed to capitalize on TOS. In "The Naked Time," we learned of Kirk's inner turmoil -- his loneliness and isolation because of his captaincy; but also his obsession with command.

We also saw the depth of Spock's emotions...his love of his mother, and his guilt about not being able to tell her he loved her.

In "The Naked Now," no such character intimacy or revelation is broached. Picard, Yar, Troi and Crusher simply all become horny.

And then the episode ends with the Puritan-style warning that the crew must "avoid temptation" to be successful. Wow...incredibly NOT forward-thinking in the 24th century, no? Could nobody on the Enterprise be in a committed relationship and actually have sex? Was that the point?

This episode was a groaner, and I don't think that "Code of Honor" was much better. Again, in comparison with "Amok Time," this episode reveals almost nothing of character. In "Amok Time" we saw the depth of the Kirk/Spock friendship, and even the depth of the McCoy/Spock friendship. There were also great character moments with Nurse Chapel. In "Code of Honor," it's all just a puzzle from which Picard and crew must extricate themselves; and mainly a lecture about the basis for the Prime Directive. Dullsville.

But I've gone on long enough! This is a terrific retrospective and analysis, and it brings back memories of watching TNG my senior year of high school.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

WOW. John. You bring up points I wish I had juxtaposed against the episode myself.

Your comparison of the two series is perfect and illustrate why ST:TNG to this point was a far inferior series.

The character development found in The Naked Time is far superior to the "horny" actions of the characters on Enterprise-D. So funny, but it's true, everybody is getting jiggy wit it and there's little in the way of growth apart from physical within the males. :)

I loved your points about Kirk and Picard. You sound very hawkish there my friend. : )

But I agree. I liked the assertive nature of Kirk. Picard is passive and quite frankly, as you pointed out, based on four early episodes, I wouldn't be too keen with him at the helm. Grow some stones brother.

Again, the Prime Dirtective is so arbitrary, but Picard is less than inspirational as a leader thus far.

Your point about The Last Outpost and Arena is a great one. I hadn't connected that, but once again a horrid little episode compared to the genius of Arena.

I do enjoy Stewart as an actor, but the writing simply doesn't compel this Captain or the stories in the way the original stories worked.

By the way, great mention about that remark at the end of Code Of Honor, "avoid temptation." I found that absolutely bizarre. Liek you said, what were they saying. Hands off one another and we'll be successful. If we show any kind of human affection its curtains for all of us. Strange.

Anyway, I really thoroughly enjoyed the additional commentary you've added to this post. It offers some great information and the the parallel between TNG's characters and the more involving TOS characters on Naked Now and Naked Time were fantastic.

Thank you John.

Will said...

Good job (as always)!

In regards to Naked Now, terrible thing to do as the first stand alone episode after the pilot. Simply terrible. To expect us to see characters acting the way they did after only one episode is just bizarre. Though I do like that Riker gets called Bill in the episode.

DS9 also did a season 1 ep called 'Dramtis Personae' in which they took the characters we are just getting used to and made them all crazy. They did that in episode 20 though. . .this was the first real 'episode'! Crazy times. Good imagery though in the episode.

As for 'Code of Honor', well, I think it only suffers from age. I actually don't mind the episode that much theme wise. A teeny bit insulting and racially insensitive (at least on the surface) but not the first episode I'd turn off if it came on.

Oh man. . .I've come to the realization that I may just have to geek fight JKM for his blasphemous 'Picard is a bad captain' argument. I loved you like a brother JKM *rolls up sleeves* but now. . .IT'S ON!

Kidding. Take care, both of you, and keep up the fun reviews!

Will said...

Oh. . .and check this link out. This was an unofficial official pitching guide that went around the art department at Paramount indicating how Berman and the other writers pitched ideas for the show (at least on DS9 and future shows). Very funny stuff:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi Sci-Fi Fanatic and Will,

I have little problem with Patrick Stewart, I just don't think the writers did him any favors as far as making Picard seem an effective captain.

Is Picard a bad captain? Well, here are some facts.

1. He is most famous in Starfleet, apparently, for losing his last command (The Stargazer). That's how you get promoted in the 24th Century...?

Who did he lose the ship to? Those terrifying space leviathans...the Ferengi.

2. Four episodes in Picard has a 50% surrender rate. (How many times did Kirk surrender...when it wasn't a trick?)

Note: didn't Picard also surrender in Season Two's "A Matter of Honor?"

Like SFF said, is this the guy you want to serve under? Captain White Flag!

3. Picard gets beaten by Riker who is commanding an 85 year old starship in "Peak Performance."

Again, Picard has brand new technology, a larger crew and the flagship of the Federation at his fingertips. Riker's aboard a rustbucket...and he cleans Picard's clock.

4. Picard's confused response in "Generations" to the presence of a cloaked Bird of Prey in Federation space is a shocked, "What?"

Not, "raise the shields." Not "evasive action." His response belies the character's utter lack of imagination. He can't even conceive of this possibility!

5. In "Where Silence Has Lease," Picard sets the Enterprise to self-destruct and then sits in his cabin alone and listens to classical music during the countdown to death.

I'm sure that command decision was terrific for the crew's morale.

"Activate self destruct....I'll be in my quarters drinking tea and listening to Mozart, or something..."

Again, Picard kind of has a giving up/surrender mentality. We're outmatched! Throw in the towel!

Okay, I'm deliberately being a jerk, and just playing around to get under Will's skin, but seriously...even if Picard isn't a bad captain, it's hard to argue he isn't made of a lesser mettle than James T. Kirk (or Janeway and Sisko, for that matter.)

I think the makers of the franchise realized this, and so tried desperately to toughen up the character for First Contact.

Suddenly he's a machine-gun bearing, sleeveless shirt-wearing macho "this far, no further guy." Huh? Where did THAT come from?

Surprised he didn't just surrender, given his history...


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha. i don't know Will, tough to argue with that bullet point list.

Just to chime in, I didn't think John was cracking on Picard, but as he mentioned and as I mentioned in my earlier comment, those scripts and the material with which he had to work.

ST:TNG has some ways to go based on the evidence of Season One.

Anyway, loved your comments Will. Excellent [as always] and further punctuating some additional information surrounding the entries. In particular, I really loved your point and observation regarding the creators behind ST:TNG going with these concepts early on. Poor decision. I agree. Further compounding the madness and horniness was the fact it was recycling a story and not doing it better or even close to the original. I feel my grading of it was kind especially when you consider John's points regarding the lack of character focus.

But to reiterate, Picard is indeed a victim of poor direction by the writers. Based on the way it's going he wouldn't be my first choice. Stewart was a great choice to play the character because he succeeds in some ways despite the poor writing. he almost gets you to forgive his less than assertive action and gets you to forgive him for his lack of Kirk-like leadership.

Thanks for the additional input Will and the great examples presented by JKM!

Will cracks me up, but seriously Will, this is a tough Captain and franchise to defend in Season One.

All the best guys.

le0pard13 said...

Sorry I'm late to this, but man is it fun catching up on these comments! My thoughts:
- I did have to force myself to finish THE NAKED NOW because I expected new stories from ST:TNG, not rehash... sorry, homages. Even ENCOUNTER AT FARPOINT introduced some.
- the less said about CODE OF HONOR, the better. It's one of the low points I've had with this series. Luckily, things got better (Where No One Has Gone Before was an imaginative episode shortly down the line).
- I very much enjoy Patrick Stewart as an actor. But, he's just okay as a Captain. Very cerebral... perhaps, too much so. It was great when he got up and actually hit somebody (see Season 3, HIGH GROUND ep). Notice how Soran kicked his ass to next Tuesday in the Star Trek: Generations film. An old, retired James T. Kirk had to be brought in there to show him how it gets done [BTW, I love that part in the movie].
- great points SFF. As usual, you bring some great analysis to these episode breakdowns. Kudos.
- I for one would like to see more SFF, John, and Will Sci-Fi discussion panels! I think you all should take this show on the road. Seriously. Record the discussion on Skype (I'm all for free) and post it as a podcast (again, there are free sites to do this). I guarantee you I and whole bunch of others would listen.

Thanks, all.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Boy L13, a welcomed late arrival.

Your input, as always, offers yet another interesting perspective. I'm so glad to have your additional commentary on the subject right here for others to read. Thank you.

I think your point about the homages versus something new is a very good one. They really didn't need to go here and these episodes could be completely wiped from the franchise and we'd never know it or care.

By the way, I think we are quite like-minded in our thinking because I too enjoyed Where No One Has Gone Before. While the title is clearly an homage, the entry is fairly original and entertaining. I felt it was the most enjoyable entry to date when we get there. I'm right there with you. In fact, when Season One was all said and done I felt it was in the Top 5 for the season, which may not be saying a whole lot, but it was definitely one of the best.

I loved you evaluation of Stewart as maybe a touch too cerebral for the part of the Captain. An argument is certainly possible for making such a case. As much as we enjoy Stewart's acting chops he is turning out to be a lesser Captain than I anticipated seeing. As John and I mentioned earlier, I would definitely find fault with the creators and the writers for taking his part into places where no Captain has gone before. It was definitely a direction than was less than impressive. Still, I liked their choice of Stewart in the beginning, whether the writers let him fulfill the part for me is still unanswered for me. My comments to date are strictly based on Season One of ST:TNG.

As for that discussion panel- it soudns like a great idea, but you would have to be part of it my friend. You clearly have some thoughtful analysis to offer and I wouldn't expect anything less.

Thank you as always