Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
-The 'politically correct' updated version of Captain Kirk's famous speech.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, or TNG for short, is the most popular of all the Star Trek series. It was first transmitted in 1987, 20 years after The Original Series (TOS), adding a 1980s twist to the 1960s classic: for example, in this interpretation of humanity's future it is revealed that not only do some women still wear mini-skirts, but now some men wear them too1.
Created by Gene Roddenberry (who also invented the original), TNG was highly controversial among the Trekkie2 community when it was first released. The popularity of the show led to three spin-off series being made, and it ensured that Star Trek became far more than just a revival of a 1960s TV show - a fate which a lot of people would probably have preferred.
The premise to TNG is very similar to that of the original Star Trek series. One major difference is that TNG is set 100 years further into the future than the exploits of Kirk, Spock et al, with the first season taking place in the year 2364. The Federation hasn't been defeated by the forces of evil: in fact, the Klingons and the Federation are in a stable alliance. The latter is bigger and more powerful than it has ever been, yet Starfleet's primary goal remains peaceful exploration.
The most advanced vessel in Starfleet is the newly commissioned USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The episodes tend to follow the same stand-alone format as the one used in TOS, but there is better continuity between the episodes. There is also more focus on the entire cast, not just the captain and his confidants.
The Enterprise D is much bigger than all the previous incarnations of the ship. She holds a regular complement of around 1,000, and in emergencies she can hold over 44,000 passengers. The families of crew members live aboard the ship (something with which Picard isn't comfortable). The ship is more like a small town - with schools and bars - than a military vessel.
The Prime Directive plays a larger part in TNG than it did in TOS, and Picard tends to stick by it more stringently than Kirk did.
One big addition in TNG was the introduction of the Holodeck: a room that can create a virtual reality in which the cast could play3. This allowed the writers to escape from the Star Trek universe and do anything they wanted: from having Picard playing a detective in 1940s New York, to having Worf fight an army of Datas in the Wild West. Anything was possible. Of course it wasn't all fun and games, and the issue of rights for holograms was touched upon on several occasions, leading to many long conversations about what it means to be sentient4.
TNG didn't want to seem like an exact rehash of TOS, and one area it distinguished itself from TOS was by creating a radically different set of leading characters.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)
Picard is a Frenchman, played by an Englishman in a typically 'American' heroic leading man's position5. Picard is more thoughtful than Kirk, and there's nothing he enjoys more than a senior-staff meeting in the middle of a crisis. He was one of the youngest captains in the fleet, rising to the rank at the age of 28 after the death of his own captain. He has had a long and distinguished career, which makes him the perfect man to command the Enterprise D, Starfleet's new flagship.
Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes)
Riker is the Enterprise's first officer and is the show's substitute for Kirk. He's a bit of a ladies' man, and he plays the trombone (although not perfectly). Though never stated openly in the show, it is believed that Picard prefers Riker to have command during battles because he has a keen, tactical mind. Riker was initially selected by Picard as his first officer because of his willingness to disregard orders in favour of the safety of the crew and its captain. Riker has been offered several ships of his own, but gave them all up to stay on the Enterprise.
Counsellor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis)
Troi is half-human and half-Betazoid. While Betazoids are a telepathic species, Deanna, being half-human, is empathic and can only sense other people's emotions6, something that Picard finds useful in negotiations. When she's not on the bridge stating the obvious, Troi can either be found treating a patient in her office, or eating chocolate. She has an 'on-again off-again' relationship with Commander Riker.
Lt Commander Data (Brent Spiner)
Data is one of only four androids known to have been created by the robotics genius Dr Soong, and the only android of any sort in Starfleet. Though he looks just like a very pale-skinned human and his mind is a virtual encyclopedia, Data can't experience emotions7. Despite his superiority to humans in many, many ways, he still has a wish to become more human - probably a design error. He has a similar role to that of Spock in TOS, in that it is not his job to understand humanity and it needs to be explained to him in detail. Dr Soong thought it right to make Data 'fully functional' and so Data was programmed in a wide variety of pleasuring techniques. On one occasion, Lieutenant Yar availed herself of these facilities while intoxicated.
Lt Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton)
Geordi has been blind since birth, and can only see with the aid of a ViSOR, Visual Sensory Organ Replacement. In the first season he was the ship's conn officer8, but when they realised they had forgotten to cast a Chief Engineer, he was promoted to that position. He and Data developed a close friendship with one another.
Lieutenant Natasha Yar (Denise Crosby)
Lieutenant Yar, or Tasha as her friends know her, is the Enterprise's security officer. She's a human from the failed colony world Turkana IV, and as a child she would have to hide from rape gangs that had essentially taken control of the planet. She was rescued by Starfleet, and to return the favour, she decided to enlist. She was killed by a sadistic alien entity that resembled a sentient tar pit near the end of the first season.
Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn)
Worf is the only Klingon in Starfleet. He was born on the Klingon homeworld, but at the age of six his family was killed in an attack on the Khitomer colony and he was rescued and raised by a human couple. In the first season he was the ship's tactical officer, but after the death of Lieutenant Yar he was also made the head of security9. As a Klingon, he has a divided loyalty to Starfleet and the Klingon Empire, and this leads to many tough calls over the course of the show.
Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden)
Dr Crusher is the ship's Chief Medical Officer. She was previously married to a Starfleet officer called Jack Crusher, but he was killed many years before and Picard, who just happened to be Jack's commanding officer, was the one who returned his body to her. Serving on a ship with Picard brings back some painful memories for her, but she's willing to work through them in order to work on the flagship. That being said, she and Picard do seem to have bottled feelings for one another. She left the ship in the second season to work at Starfleet Medical, but she suddenly came back for the third season.
Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton)
Wesley is probably the least liked character in the history of Star Trek. The son of Beverly and Jack Crusher10, Wesley is 15 when the show starts, and he is there to represent a young Gene Roddenberry (whose middle name was Wesley). His interest in Starfleet, and his obvious genius, leads to Picard giving him the position of Acting Ensign. Aficionados of the show found him obnoxious, and he was written out in the fourth season so that he could attend Starfleet Academy. He returned for three one-off appearances, and in his final episode Wesley realised that he had evolved into a god-like being. This didn't help endear him to fans.
- Chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney): O'Brien was in the show from the first episode as an unnamed conn officer, and he eventually became the ship's transporter chief. He became so popular among fans that he crossed over to Deep Space Nine where he was a regular cast-member.
- Keiko O'Brien (Rosalind Chao): Keiko is Miles O'Brien's botanist wife. She gives birth to their daughter, Molly, in season five.
- Doctor Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur)11: Pulaski was the doctor who replaced Crusher during the second season. She was a return of the McCoy-style character in a number of ways: her compassion for patients, her distrust of the logical Data, and a fear of the transporter. She left when Dr Crusher was brought back for the third season.
- Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg): Guinan was introduced in the second season as the ship's bartender. She's an El-Aurian refugee, and she's at least 500 years old. She has a strange ability to sense problems with the time-line. She and Picard have a close friendship.
- Lieutenant Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz): Barclay was one of the ship's chief engineers and he developed a friendship with Geordi. He's an introvert, and is prone to irrational phobias.
- Nurse Alyssa Ogawa (Patti Yasutake): Nurse Ogawa is a friend of Dr Crusher and can often be seen in sickbay. She got married and became pregnant12 in the final season.
- Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes): Ensign Ro is a Bajoran who was assigned to the Enterprise for temporary duty, but Picard liked her style so much that he brought her onboard full-time.
- Alexander Rozhenko (Jon Steuer, Brian Bonsall): Alexander is Worf's son. His mother initially raised him, but after her death Worf's parents looked after him. Eventually he came to live with Worf on the ship.
- Gowron (Robert O'Reilly): Gowron was a political unknown whom Picard, acting as Arbiter of Succession for the Klingon Empire, enthroned as Chancellor. He went on to lead the Empire in several successive episodes.
- Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry)13: Lwaxana is Deanna Troi's mother. She would usually make an annual visit, much to the annoyance of Captain Picard. She's usually followed by her silent attendant, Mr Homn.
- Lore (Brent Spiner): Lore is Data's younger 'brother', an android made unstable by his emotions. He looks down on humans believing himself to be superior to them.
- Sela (Denise Crosby): Due to a convoluted time-travel plot in a season three episode, 'Yesterday's Enterprise', an alternate version of Lieutenant Yar went back in time to the 2340s where she was captured by the Romulans. She was forced into marrying a Romulan and gave birth to their daughter, Sela. Yar was killed while trying to escape with Sela, and so Sela turned her back on her humanity and became a Commander in the Romulan fleet. She bears a striking resemblance to her mother, but with pointed ears.
- Q (John de Lancie): Q was the show's main adversary. He's a super-being who's seemingly capable of anything. He initially appeared in the pilot as a judge who wanted humanity to go back to Earth, but returned to bother his 'friends' on the Enterprise on several occasions. He returned to judge Picard once more in the final episode.
The Enterprise D is a Galaxy-class starship. Gone are the days of the five-year missions, and this Enterprise is on a continual mission of exploration. The Enterprise was launched in 2363, one year before the show. Nobody quite knows what it did in the year between.
The ship's external design is similar to that of the original Enterprise, only much bigger. At the front is the saucer section, which is in the shape of an oval, and at the top of which, again, sits the bridge. The saucer section of the ship is connected to the star-drive, which holds all the ship's jiggery-pokery. Attached to the star-drive are the two warp nacelles, which now have lights at the front and on the side.
Some time between the eras of TOS and TNG, Starfleet changed the warp-scale. The original used a cubic scale of the speed of light, but the new system is one whereby the speed of the ship relative to the speed of light is its warp factor to the power of 10/3. So using this system, warp one is the speed of light, warp two is ten times the speed of light, warp three is 39 times, warp nine is 1,516 times, and warp ten is a theoretical infinite speed that places you everywhere in the universe at once.
During an emergency, such as a warp-core breach or a giant net encompassing the ship, the saucer section can separate. This allows all the civilians on the ship to hightail it out of there in the saucer section while the unlucky people in the star-drive get killed, or brutally maimed. This was originally an idea that was to be used in TOS, but they couldn't afford to do it. Despite this feature being presented to the audience as a major feature in the pilot, it was only used twice more in the series.
The ship's weapons are more powerful. The Enterprise D still uses phasers and photon torpedoes but it has them in orange and not blue like the original, and everyone knows that orange is more powerful than blue. What's more, the weapons actually come from specific areas on the ship, not just any random area that the director of that week's show prefers.
The inside sets aren't as grey as the original: instead they tend to be silver, beige, wine and light blue. The show's main set is the bridge, which is much more like a living-room than the nerve-centre of the ship. Other major sets include engineering, sickbay, Picard's ready-room, the observation lounge and Ten-Forward, the ship's bar.
As well as reusing some of TOS's recurring aliens, TNG created a few of its own.
The Ferengi were introduced during TNG's first season as Starfleet's new adversary - unfortunately they were so ridiculous that TNG was compelled to fall back on TOS enemies, and the Ferengi were instead forced to become comic relief. They are supposed to represent the worst qualities of 20th Century capitalist humans. They're greedy, and lust after the rare mineral of latinum. They're shorter than the average human, have a large hairless head and very large earlobes. Ferengi women aren't allowed to wear clothing, and as a result aren't allowed to leave their homes or earn profit. They come from the planet Ferenginar, which is the capital of the Ferengi Alliance. Their empire is ruled by their economic leader, the Grand Nagus.
The Borg were introduced in TNG's second season as the new chief enemy of the Federation. They are a cybernetic collective, not made up of one species, but of many. Their goal is to assimilate all life in the galaxy into their collective. They are controlled by a hive-mind, and once a person is assimilated he loses all his individuality. Individually, their skin is extremely pale, and their bodies are covered in electronic implants, giving a zombie-like impression. They come from the deepest darkest Delta Quadrant of the galaxy, but they have come to the Alpha Quadrant and attempted to assimilate Earth on two occasions. Their ships are nearly invincible and one of their cubes can annihilate a Federation fleet with ease. Despite only appearing in six episodes of TNG, they became the show's greatest enemy14.
The Q Continuum is a race of god-like beings that inhabit the universe. Although their history is not explained fully, they were once like humans - beings confined to one form - but they somehow transformed into immortal all-powerful creatures capable of anything that they want. All Q are named 'Q', and this leads to quite a bit of confusion for all the non-Q that encounter them. They don't seem to have a culture or government: instead the Q seem to be ruled by consensus. Not all Q enjoy being Q because they find immortality to be rather boring, and at one point this leads to a Q civil war, which is eventually sorted out by the two Q having a child. However, there's very little that can be said about the Q as most of it is beyond our human comprehension.
According to Eugene Roddenberry, Gene Roddenberry's son, TNG came about because somebody bet Gene that he wouldn't be able to make another Star Trek series. Gene decided to take up the challenge, and due to the huge success of Star Trek IV in cinemas, Paramount thought that now was the right time for Star Trek to make a TV comeback. Unlike the original series, TNG was produced into syndication: hence there was no set network for it. This allowed the writers a lot of freedom in terms of writing, as there wasn't a network constantly interfering.
For the fans of the original, the news that this new series would take place 100 years later caused much outrage as that meant that there couldn't be crossovers with the original cast15. However, Gene Roddenberry thought that it was very important that the show take place in the 24th Century, partly to separate it from the original.
The first two seasons tended to follow in the same vein as the original with stand-alone episodes focusing on science-fiction rather than drama. These two seasons are often viewed by fans as being the show's worst with only a handful of good episodes in them. One of the problems was that Gene Roddenberry viewed humans in the future as being near-perfect beings, and this didn't allow for much drama. An argumentative writing staff and a writer's strike didn't help much.
The third season saw a major shift as Gene Roddenberry partly handed over the reins to Rick Berman, and Michael Piller was brought in as a new co-executive producer. He tried to play by Gene's rules about humanity, but he also attempted to do it in a more dramatic way. He also allowed more scripts by fans, and as a result he ended up hiring Ron Moore, who went on to become one of Star Trek's most popular writers16. The change in quality can be seen in the difference between the respective finales for the second and third seasons. The end of the second season featured a clip-show entitled 'Shades of Grey', which has been called the worst episode of the series. However, the third season's closer was 'The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1', a highly dramatic episode with a powerful cliff-hanger ending. It is regarded as one of the show's best instalments.
The quality remained consistent and the show managed to keep its style after Gene Roddenberry's death in 1991. The show became so popular that a spin-off called Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) was released to run along-side TNG's sixth season. The writers realised that the show couldn't run forever and decided that the seventh season would be its last.
The seventh season did see a slight dip in quality for several reasons, the main one being that the writing staff was stretched with all the activity that was going on in Star Trek at the time. Michael Piller was focusing more on DS9 at that point, while executive producers Rick Berman and Jeri Taylor, along with Michael Piller, were busy creating Star Trek: Voyager which was going to be TNG's replacement. Writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga were busy writing the first TNG movie, Star Trek: Generations, while at the same time they had to write the show's final story, a two-parter entitled 'All Good Things...'. As a result, the last episode wasn't up to some people's high standards.
TNG was the most popular of all the Star Trek series, and it seems likely to stay that way. The show's high ratings fuelled DS9 and Voyager, even though their ratings were anything but high. Four films were made based on the adventures of the TNG cast. Star Trek: The Next Generation is essentially what saved the Star Trek franchise and ensured that it would continue, long after it should have died.
But most importantly of all, Gene Roddenberry won his bet. Let's just hope that he collected his winnings before he passed away.