Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep9: The Battle

As I continue my season long disappointment with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One I kept thinking about an interview I recalled with actor Martin Landau concerning his disappointment over the writing and some of the scripts that were assigned to him for his two year stint on Space:1999. As a fan of that series I have always been mildly saddened by his remarks suggesting the stories weren't good enough. Landau may have a point about some of the character elements in that series maybe not getting enough traction as far as development. But, I can imagine Landau, had he been assigned the role of Picard, might have had a few things to say about ST:TNG Season One as well.

Season One of ST:TNG makes the character development on Space:1999 feel like five seasons of Babylon 5. How about even a half season of Firefly? Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but Space:1999 always did get a bum, undeserved wrap.

How is it, for whatever reason, ST:TNG always manages its way into the upper echelons of science fiction lists despite the weight of its first season, an unbalanced second season and a good number of lemons to boot along the way? To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, "Curious?"

With all that Space:1999 achieved in two years as far as establishing an original mythology, a strong vision, a cast of intriguing characters with great potential and amazing visual effects, arriving over a decade before the first episode of ST:TNG aired, I wonder how it is this miracle series is continually relegated to a status far below that of ST:TNG? Would ST:TNG make the top ten lists based on its first two seasons? I suspect those are questions in this universe that shall forever go unanswered floating like endless stardust into the black void of space.

In fact, it's interesting British mastermind Gerry Anderson picked American thespian Martin Landau, while Gene Roddenberry selected British stage actor Patrick Stewart to helm and steer their collective ships. Both are incredibly strong actors. Just as Landau housed doubts about Space:1999 going into that unlikely commitment, Stewart too understood Star Trek: The Next Generation as a healthy pay check and secretly pondered the unlikely potential to go beyond one year, never mind the intended six year plan. You just never know.

What Landau and company achieved in just two seasons for Space:1999 versus what it took those backing ST:TNG to achieve over the course of seven seasons, one could argue Space:1999 was largely a bigger success despite cancellation. Let the debate begin. On the other hand one could argue Space:1999 might have achieved even greater heights had it gone seven years. Can you imagine? Oh the places we could have gone before.

In the meantime, we reach the ninth installment of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 9, The Battle. Space:1999 delivered a classic called Force Of Life for its ninth installment. Does ST:TNG deliver as big at this point as Space:1999 did back in 1975?

"Ugly, very ugly" declares one of the equally distasteful looking Ferengi, a race of profiteers and traders, over the free offer by one of their own of Picard's old vessel the U.S.S. Stargazer. It's a derelict ship offered to the crew of the Enterprise-D.

The Captain is experiencing mental breaks with reality and reliving moments from his past aboard the Stargazer, abandoned nine years earlier by Picard and his then crew.

The Battle of Maxia. Data retrieves and reveals records that indicate Picard fired upon and destroyed a vessel while under a flag of truce. Audio files reveal Picard's voice, but Picard has no recollection. DaiMon Bok has forged the audio recordings. How?

Picard continues to suffer bouts of headaches. The question remains, how are the Ferengi responsible? Riker intervenes contacting the silly Ferengi prompting one to respond, "I'm all ears."

As Picard experiences mental conflict thanks to the Ferengi's manipulations of the Captain I couldn't help but feel a certain deja vu. The Battle was beginning to exhibit elements of schism reminiscent of Season One, Episode 5, The Enemy Within and Captain James T. Kirk's own psychic battle of sorts from Star Trek: The Original Series. It's very subtle.

Picard transports over to the Stargazer where this tale of revenge becomes more and more evident. Ferengi DaiMon Bok is looking to exact revenge on the Captain who took the life of his son during the Battle of Maxia.

The early boyish look of the always capable Number One. The Stargazer approaches the Enterprise-D. The Ferengi plan, the act of one sole Ferengi, outside the blessing of his comrades, is to see Picard destroyed. A thought maker is discovered in Picard's quarters. The device is altering Picard's good sense as he plans to fire upon the Enterprise-D leaving them no option but to fire back in self-defense ensuring certain death for Picard.

The Ferengi Captain, DaiMon Bok, is incarcerated for engaging in "this unprofitable venture." The Ferengi are clearly disgusted by their colleagues actions in using their resources for a personal motive. It is noted there is no profit in revenge as Picard agrees, "there never is." "Let the dead rest and the past remain the past." The thought makers are destroyed and Picard is saved. The episode does offer a little more information regarding the motivations of the Ferengi, but it doesn't make any more entertaining. No worries though, DaiMon Bok returns for Season Seven, Episode 22, Bloodlines.

Denise Crosby seemingly confused and uncomfortable in her role throughout Season One. There are certain aspects to Stewart's performance as Picard, Jonathan Frake's Number One [often finding himself in the tightest and most difficult of situations alternating between taking orders and giving them at the drop of a dime] and supporting roles from Gates McFadden and others that are entirely natural and strong on their own. Unfortunately, once again, the material here is weak and not entirely convincing particularly with the laughable thought maker as a storytelling device.

Seeing the return of the Ferengi offered me little comfort since their abysmal introduction in Episode 5, The Last Outpost. Thus far, the Ferengi have been poorly implemented as a race within the ST:TNG universe. Where is the Borg when you need them?

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, writer Larry Nemecek made note of Rick Berman's accurate reflections on the Ferengi dubbing them a "disappointment as a major adversary" and ranking the creatures high on the "silliness quotient." I couldn't second that emotion more.

There is little, credible logic to some of the shifts in the story. Picard verbally shares the famous Picard Maneuver and demonstrates he does indeed have the ball... wherewithal when required. At this point, you can only hope it's not just a story.

The idea of Picard as a sound tactician and captain has yet to be fully revealed. This is certainly a sticking point regarding the politically correct, ever so contemplative Captain thus far in the series. But far be it from me to be too hard. He is a Starfleet Captain after all and he had to be on the ball most of the time to get there.

Director Rob Bowman returns for his second outing following Episode 6, Where No One Has Gone Before. The Battle is a step back. Stylistically the episode isn't poorly constructed, but Bowman is working with thin material here. Bowman wouldn't truly shine until he took the reins of what I consider to be the season's hallmark, Episode 20, Heart Of Glory.

The Battle is both a mental battle of Picard versus Picard, but is far from the engaging Kirk versus Kirk of The Enemy Within. Mind you, both are entirely ludicrous, but Star Trek: The Original Series sold the idea and made it incredibly entertaining thanks to a script by Richard Matheson. The Enemy Within, did so much more with the dichotomy of the Captain's character, however great the impossibility of its science fiction. At least it was extraordinarily good fun. Even The Battle isn't a very convincing battle as battles and revenge tales go. Granted the title, The Battle, is as much a reference to Maxia as it is any present struggles. Is this the best you've got!? As much as this as much a mental battle as a physical one, Picard's maneuvers aren't enough to engage the viewer. Once again, ST:TNG misfires in its lackluster first season run.

May the legendary Picard Maneuver lead us to the light at the end of a fairly dismal Season One tunnel and right this ship.

The Battle: C-

Writer: Larry Forrester & Herbert Wright. Director: Rob Bowman.


John Kenneth Muir said...


Your comments are right on, as usual, particularly the comparison to Space:1999. What's interesting of course is that you can read all the time in Trek books how TNG "pioneered" the idea of a big budget sci-fi TV show in syndication, when of course, Space:1999 had actually done it a decade earlier. "Curious" is right. It's disheartening as a 1999 fan to see how often TNG is referred to as great, when, as you point out, at least starting out, it wasn't firing on all thrusters.

I've been doing my own retrospective of TNG lately, looking at first season episodes that might be better than their reputation indicates ("11001001," and "Skin of Evil" so far.)

Notice "The Battle" isn't on that list.

As you point out, it's a pretty thin show; thin both on stylistics and story. The "revenge" tale is shallow, and the Ferengi are still lackluster villains at this point.

Another episode -- so early -- that makes Picard look inept as a captain (here, unable to differentiate between reality and memory because of the Ferengi device) -- is bad news. I like and respect Patrick Stewart, but the writers just did not do Captain Picard any favors in these early days.

An eminently fair review of a weak first season entry.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Sci-Fi Fanatic that the first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation are definitely lacking in the areas of character and plot development. I unfortunately do not share your love of Space: 1999, so I do understand why ST:TNG is considered by most to be the superior science fiction show.

While Space:1999, as you mentioned, has “a strong vision, a cast of intriguing characters with great potential and amazing visual effects, I think the same could be said of ST:TNG – even if it did take longer to develop said characters and “vision”. While you admire the original mythology of Space: 1999, I could never suspend my disbelief in the basic premise that an object the mass and density of the Earth’s Moon, could somehow be propelled into interstellar space by the explosion of nuclear waste. While most of the individual episodes of Space: 1999 were good solid SF ideas, the fact that they were roaming interstellar space on a rock nearly the size of a small planet always took some of the plausibility away of those stories from me. Despite that faster-than-light travel is still seemingly impossible for humans; it has long been an acceptable science fiction trope, particularly in regard to interstellar spaceships. This is no doubt one of the reasons why ST:TNG is more popular with SF fans than Space: 1999.

It is a matter of personal taste, but I never found the lead characters of Space: 1999 appealing. While Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were and are both fine actors, they always seemed to be a bit stiff or cold in Space: 1999. The same could be said of Patrick Stewart (especially in season one) in ST:TNG, but Jonathan Frakes – love him or hate him – as William Riker, was anything but rigid or taciturn. Brent Spiner as Data established himself as a sympathetic and likable character very early on in ST:TNG.

As for a simple explanation as to why Star Trek; The Next Generation is generally considered a superior science fiction series to Space: 1999 is that it had a built-in fan base when it aired that were predisposed towards liking it. Space: 1999 was an unknown import (to most) in this country and had to earn its fans through repeated showings over the years in recurrent syndication. The sheer number of Trekies or Trekkers will always keep Space: 1999 from making the top of any best of sci-fi TV series lists.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

And how. Great point about syndication. Space1999 was all over the syndication market in the USA or we wouldn't necessarily be having this conversation. I believe a writer I know may have covered that in some detail in Exploring Space1999.


And yes your coverage on the subject of sttng has been immensely entertaining and got me back to finishing this particular entry. You inspired me to get it rolling again.

Thanks again for the terrific remarks John


Hello doc

Thanks as always for your critical insights.

Oh and to you both.... If I had to choose the first two seasons of Space1999 would win hands down.

Based on these first two seasons of sttng I think the characters had that same potential too. However I did enjoy some of the sci Fi ideas and darker vision of space1999 a little more.

Acceptable tropes or not I liked the fact Space1999 took some risks and played against conventions. I truly appreciated it's efforts to not be Star Trek.

With masses of space debris hurtling through space why not the moon?

I agree Riker is infinitely likable for me. Data too. Professor Bergman was one of the warmest intellectuals in science fiction. He was terrific and really brought warmth to a scary place, the great unknown of space. Star Trek was definitely warmer.

I can only hope Space1999 continues to reach a new audience. I think it is a colder show but it's sense of place and isolation, once a climates, makes it an intriguing odyssey in science fiction.

But I totally appreciate all of your fine input.
Thanks and I hope you both had a great Thanksgiving with family.
Best sff

le0pard13 said...

Another of your excellent examinations, SFF. This one certainly doesn't go on anyone I know 'best lists'. And yes, as a whole the Ferengi (original to this series) were never a compelling adversary in ST:TNG. I think ST:Deep Space 9 handled them much better as an interesting variation of ourselves in their story lines, comparatively. In this, they are a stepchild when classed with the Klingons and Romulans (which came over from ST:TOS). Of course, we will have to give this series some credit for introducing a truly original antagonist in The Borg. And the first hint of them actually lands in this first season with THE NEUTRAL ZONE episode. Anyway, for later discussion.

These looks at the young ST:TNG program always make for lively conversations. Thanks for this, my friend.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello my friend [L13]

Thanks for the kind remarks.

I did enjoy The Neutral Zone as a season ender.

It was definitely one of my preferred favorites from Season One.

I love the SIgns And Portents of the Borg in that one. It's very Babylon 5 Shadows-like as is that very good Season Two episode Q Who.

Honestly though not a whole lot to get excited about in Season One or Two.

I was just looking throught one of the recent issues of Star Trek Magazine.

THe magazine actually gave The Battle 4 out of 5 stars. WHAT!? Seriously. How, in good conscience can you give this episode 4 our of 5 stars? It even got better marks than Heart Of Glory at three stars and that was the best episode of Season One.

In fact, according to that official magazine, 5 episodes received 4 star ratings and The Battle ranked 2nd place for best episode of the season. Wow. I'm sorry to say, but that is not a very objective analysis of Season One. Those folks have to be drinking the Kool Aid. Granted that Kool Aid tastes good.

Cheers my friend

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