Monday, November 15, 2010

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep6: Where No One Has Gone Before

Where Star Trek has gone before? It's been a problem to date. Will ST:TNG go where it hasn't?
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Star Trek: The Next Generation once again rides the coattails of Star Trek: The Original Series, with a play on words anyway. The title is clearly an intended tribute to the monolith of excellence that is ST:TOS that ST:TNG just can't get its head around as far as strategy.
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Those doors on ST:TNG Season One are tricky and often lead to a precarious proposition on these continuing voyages.
Once again, ST:TNG rides the coattails of its magical forerunner, while it figures out its identity by referencing ST:TOS episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before. Does it end there? Fortunately, for the first time in Season One of ST:TNG, Where No One Has Gone Before feels like it captures some of the qualities of the classics without quite getting there, but at least it showed the most promise to this point. Attempting to capture the attention of viewers through classic familiarity has been a hallmark of ST:TNG Season One to this point and this is no exception in its attempt to link the two. Unlike The Naked Now [riffing The Naked Time] and Code Of Honor [riffing Amok Time], Where No One Has Gone Before feels like something different, interesting and original even if it's not. At least the execution of the episode was strong enough to raise it to a level of satisfactory entertainment. It stands as one of the best episodes of Season One of ST:TNG. I'm not exactly sure that's saying much, but this is a notable attempt at ideas with the preachy nature of the writing left on the script room floor.
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One of the reasons why ST:TOS was so brilliant was its ability to deliver ideas and concepts without hitting you against the head with the scripting equivalent of a cast iron frying pan. This is one of the big problems with ST:TNG in this first season. I really enjoyed this rumination by Melissa Dickinson from the Boarding The Enterprise article Alexander For The Modern Age: How Star Trek's Female Fans Reinvented Romance And Heroic Myth: "Star Trek touched and engaged people because it concerned itself with the big questions. It wasn't afraid to confront us with the greatest philosophical dilemmas of the human condition, nor to force us to examine our own natures by reflecting them back at us in unexpected ways." In a nutshell, that's precisely the sublime beauty of ST:TOS. It reflected big without alerting us to the fact it was doing so. It asked questions and rarely delivered spoon-fed answers or as the article suggests didn't necessarily deliver answers at all. ST:TNG isn't hitting that cord, but Where No One Has Gone Before does the best job of getting us closer in spirit to that way of mirrored reflection from ST:TOS thus far. Dickinson cites several fine, solid examples from that OTHER Season One in Charlie X, The Devil In The Dark and Balance Of Terror. They strike the right balance between thoughtfully analyzing issues of nature and behavior and delivering amazing science fiction entertainment.
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This was the first entry of ST:TNG where it gave me pause the creators were on to that kind of writing and that kind of thinking. I felt like I might stop and write a sizable entry for this one, but then considered the daunting fact I had seven seasons to view. Suddenly, ST: TNG, Season One, Episode 6, Where No One Has Gone Before wasn't good enough. Thus, it quickly entered into this more summary-based presentation. While it was a step in the right direction with some very nice character moments it still wasn't quite enough to put me over the top in my confidence with the writing department. The next several episodes quickly proved me correct.
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Synopsis: The crew of the Enterprise-D is plunged into a dimension where a convergence of mental and physical realities wreak havoc on the crew. The dimensional break is the result of a visiting Starfleet consultant's alien assistant. The Traveler [played by Eric Menyuk], as he's referred, becomes ill as a result of the break. The crew and the Enterprise-D could potentially be stranded in this alternate dimension if the Traveler dies leaving them to all go insane. Wesley's friendship and special connection with the Traveler saves them. The Traveler tells Picard of Wesley's gifts offering us a touch of mystery and he is promoted to Acting Ensign to begin his Starfleet training.
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Character interactions here are some of the most interesting on offer to date, sporting some of the most intriguing dialogue to this point. Guest star Eric Menyuk, the Traveler, offers a solid performance. There is a lovely Captain Jean-Luc Picard moment where he converses with a representation of his mother. She is played by the lovely, late Herta Ware [Cocoon] in a very brief but notable role and one that stood out as a highlight in the entry for me.


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And while I may not have agreed with everything in Melissa Dickinson's aforementioned article from Boarding The Enterprise she may have a point about feminine influence on Star Trek. The episode was based on Diane Duane's "Kirk-era novel, The Wounded Sky," according to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, and while the entry may not be as true to the source material as it could have been, Where No One has Gone Before benefits from that source. It was one of the more interesting installments in this troubled season. Could something entirely original be on the horizon?
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Where No One Has Gone Before: B-
Writer: Diane Duane/ Michael Reaves
Director: Rob Bowman
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Actor Footnote: Eric Menyuk. Screen-tested for the part of Data. He lost. He would reprise his role as the Traveler two more times in Remember Me [a personal favorite of Lazy Thoughts From A Boomer] and Journey's End.
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Director Footnote: Rob Bowman [1960-present]. It's worth nothing this is the first of five installments directed by Rob Bowman, a newcomer at the time. He offers a confidence behind the camera that benefits this series. It's no surprise this would be first of two by Bowman this season that would rank among the best. Bowman has had a strong career in television and film behind the camera including: Castle [2009] [starring Firefly's Nathan Fillion], The Lone Gunmen [2001 pilot], The X-Files [Season One-Seven], Baywatch [1989], Alien Nation [1989], Quantum Leap [1989] and 21 Jump Street [1987]. His film highlights include: The X-Files: Fight The Future [1998], Reign Of Fire [2002] starring Christian Bale, and Elektra [2005]. Bowman would direct five episodes for Star Trek: The Next Generation including: Where No One Has Gone Before, The Battle [Episode 9], Datalore [Episode 13], Too Short A Season [Episode 16] and Heart Of Glory [Episode 20].

2 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

A very fair, illuminating review of one of the better entries in TNG's first season.

In particular, I appreciate that you mentioned (and found an accompanying image of...) that brief but emotional scene featuring Captain Picard's elderly mother.

Twenty-something years after my first viewing of the episode, that image of rejoining (after the death of a parent) is one of the few TNG moments that sticks with me.

To me, that short (and sweet...) scene revealed a very human side of Picard, and made me like him more.

And it wasn't like she was boarding the love boat as a "Guest Star" to turn the story into soap opera. She was a phantasm, but a touching phantasm.

Thank you also for pointing out the positive efforts of director Rob Bowman. He brought a more cinematic, more pacey, more enthusiastic visual direction to TNG, and many times, really scored with that approach.

"Datalore" is a prime example: the story is pretty trite and leaves a lot to be desired, but the execution (by Bowman and Spiner) is impressive as hell. Or at least it was in 1987. Bowman almost always elevated the material to a superior (and involving) visual level.

Great post!

best,
JKM

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks John for your kind remarks.

That's a great visual moment between Picard and the ghost of his mother. Very touching. I get your point about the scene having more substance for its use rather than bringing her on board the Enterprise-D as the family visitor of the week.

I agree. I really had more appreciation for Picard's human side as a result of that scene eventhough we both still feel he's weak thus far as a Captain.

That was a great moment and I'm glad it captured the smae kind of power for you as it did for me.

I often think of my father and when Picard acknoweledges she is somehow always with him. Those are true, sincere words. That moved me. It was the first time I felt something in ST:TNG to date.

Boy and Bowman really is a talent. I couldn't agree with you more about Datalore. Bowman and Spiner wring out the best from that episode. It's all thanks to them.

Although a genre picture, to this day I've seen Reign Of Fire like 5 times. I love it.

Thanks for your input John.
SFF