The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: Encounter at Farpoint

Welcome back to the Great Star Trek Rewatch! Leaving the movies aside for the moment, I’m plunging ahead into the 24th century, where Captain Jean-Luc Picard has just taken command of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, the latest starship to bear that illustrious name. In this two-part opener, Picard and his crew must investigate Farpoint Station, a space station that seems far more advanced than the technology of its creators would allow. And the crew had better do a good job, because a representative of the omnipotent Q continuum has given them 24 hours to solve this mystery and prove that humanity is worthy of exploring the stars.

If Encounter at Farpoint feels a bit like two stories mashed together, that’s because it is. The story of Farpoint Station wasn’t enough to fill two hours, so, lo and behold, Q was added into the mix. I’m not a fan of godlike beings in general and Q in particular, so I don’t welcome this addition, but nonetheless, as first episodes go, this one does the job of introducing the characters and the new Enterprise pretty well. There’s even a cameo from DeForest Kelley as an ancient Admiral McCoy, complete with full Georgian accent.

The New Crew

  • Our new captain is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, nominally a Frenchman but played by a British actor. Remember how Kirk used to beat up three or four opponents at a time, usually getting his shirt torn in the process? Not so Picard – he’s the thinking man’s captain. Mind you, we should remember that even though it’s Picard who gets the credit for speechifying, Kirk gave plenty of impassioned speeches in his time, and was even quite smart and thoughtful in his time.

    In this episode, Picard is portrayed as quite stern and distant – he makes Riker do a manual docking manoeuvre for no real reason, admits he hates children but wants to seem genial towards them, and puts Worf in his place a couple of times. Future episodes would make Picard a little more human.

    Special powers: sternness, debating, tea drinking

  • William T Riker is first officer, and will eventually become Kirk redux, the action-hero and ladies’ man of the series. For now, he’s still a babyface without much personality – all we know about him is that he had a past relationship with Deanna Troi and that he’s such a stickler for the rules that there was a time he wouldn’t let his previous commander go on an away mission. Remember all those times Kirk, Spock and McCoy all beamed down together? Those days are over, and Health and Safety is in.

    Special powers: professionalism

  • Data is the ship’s resident android, and usually to be found at the helm. He’s the outsider looking in, and, unlike Spock, who was content to be different, he longs to be human. Mostly in this episode we see Data being excessively verbose and literal. He claims to have graduated from Starfleet Academy as part of the class of ’78, but this is later discarded as a continuity error, as the series is set in 2364 and Data is not a century old.

    Special powers: strength, memory

  • Deanna Troi is the half-Betazoid ship’s counsellor, a very eighties role to have on a starship. Necessary, for sure, but not something you would have seen in Kirk’s day! Whilst it might seem unusual for a counsellor to sit on the bridge, Troi’s ability to read the emotions of other life forms is a highly useful plot device. Unlike Spock, who needed to touch someone in order to read their thoughts, Troi can sense emotions at a distance. Although she tones it down in later episodes, right now the character seems to be going for an exotic, Middle Eastern vibe. It’s at this point that I should note that Marina Sirtis is from East London.

    Special powers: sensing emotions

  • Tasha Yar is the ship’s security officer, at least for the first twenty-two episodes. We’ll find out more about her past soon, but for now all we know is that it wasn’t pretty. Upon rewatching this episode, I got to thinking how things might have been if Yar were the first officer. She’s quite forward and quick to act, but seeing her temper her strong convictions with experience over the years might have been interesting, had there been room for her as a character.

    Special powers: none (that’s why she had to go)

  • Beverly Crusher is the chief medical officer; her husband was friends with Picard until his untimely death, at which point Picard was the one to bring the body home. We’ll see some unresolved sexual tension between her and Picard in the coming years, but for now they’re just circling each other warily, like cats. According to her son, Wesley, Crusher is shy around men she doesn’t know.

    Special powers: Amazing medical skillz

  • Geordi LaForge is the chief engineer, who has been blind since birth. The VISOR he wears gives him the ability to ‘see’ pretty much the entire EM spectrum, and even though it causes him constant pain, he seems to welcome the expanded view of the universe. It’s a neat concept that shows someone overcoming disability whilst reminding us that yes, they have a disability, but I can’t help feeling that there should be better artificial vision options in the 24th century.

    Special powers: Super EM vision

  • Worf is deputy security officer, and also the only Klingon serving in Starfleet, which wil be a rich vein of stories for years to come. For the moment, he is shown as a bit hotheaded and quick to pull out a phaser, even when it doesn’t make any logical sense. Here we see a compilation of Worf getting denied, over and over.

    Special powers: shooting at things

  • Wesley Crusher is the annoyingly precocious son of Beverly Crusher. Even at this early stage he’s wearing cable-knit jumpers and sneaking onto the bridge. So, before you get too annoyed, calm yourself with a bit of Shut up Wesley.

The New Ship

The Enterprise D is a Galaxy-class starship, and as part of the Encounter at Farpoint drinking game, you should take a drink every time someone reminds us of that. It is far bigger than the original Enterprise, and, not only does it have more people aboard, but some of them are civilians and even children. Of course, there are no particular security controls to stop children wandering into engineering or onto the bridge, they just have to remember that the captain told them not to.

  • The Enterprise D can separate into two-parts, the saucer section, which doesn’t have warp drive (but appears to be travelling at warp right after the separation here for some reason), and the stardrive section. Of course, the normal bridge is exposed at the top of the saucer section, so there is a secondary battle bridge which controls the stardrive section alone. Separating the ship was going to be something that happened every week, until the writers realised it took ages and really slowed down the pace of the story.
  • The Enterprise computer can be queried as to the location of any crewmember, and will then display flashing dots indicating how to reach them.
  • This episode introduces the holodeck, an area of the ship that can display immersive holograms of various areas, combined with transporters, tractor beams and whatnot to manipulate the surrounding area (some things are real and replicated, some are holographic). In this episode, we see a woodland area.
  • The engines can manage up to warp 9.8, but with some strain. Although not explicitly stated, the warp scale has been recalibrated so that warp 10 is an absolute maximum, at which point one would be at every point in the universe simultaneously. I bet you all can’t wait for Voyager’s Threshold.
  • Not yet introduced: replicators, the new warp core.

The devil is in the details

  • Unlike the 23rd century, the Federation of the 24th century has no money. This doesn’t stop Dr Crusher from going shopping on Farpoint Station, buying a bolt of fabric and telling them to charge it to her. The joke’s on the seller – she has no money!
  • The Ferengi are mentioned here, in preparation for them being the villains of TNG now that the Klingons are allies. Of course, when they were actually introduced, they weren’t taken seriously enough to be proper villains, but luckily the Romulans and Cardassians stepped in to fill the breach. Here Picard threatens Zorn that the Ferengi like to eat their humanoid allies, but presumably this is a bluff as we never hear of this again. Can you imagine Quark feasting on Commander Sisko in DS9? I thought not.
  • Riker appears able to read Troi’s thoughts when she’s projecting them to him; apparently she taught him how to do this when they were together. This plot point is never revisited.
  • Colm Meaney appears in this episode, but his character has yet to earn the name Miles O’Brien – instead he is credited as ‘battle bridge conn officer’.
  • In early TNG, short skirts are still prevalent – in Engineering a male officer can even be glimpsed wearing one.
  • According to this episode, the New UN was formed in 2036, and Q’s courtroom dates from the “post atomic horror” of 2079, a time when people wore clothes that had inbuilt drugs dispensers that could be sniffed for an immediate hit. From First Contact, we know that World War III ended around 2053, and first contact with the Vulcans was in 2063, so it seems like the post atomic horror should have been over by 2079. Perhaps there were still rough areas on Earth at that point.

Summary – Encounter at Farpoint: Make it so.

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