As the TNG portion of the great rewatch draws to a close, it’s time to look back over our epic journey. In the first of these summary posts, I pick out ten of my favourite episodes. Some were shoe-ins for the list, whereas others had to fight fiercely to beat out the competition. Some of the omissions may even surprise you – for example, I never was much of a fan of Yesterday’s Enterprise.
And so here, I present, in no particular order, the Patrick Stewart extravaganza that is my TNG Top Ten.
Chain of Command, Part 2
The first half of this two-parter suffered somewhat in the rewatching – was I really supposed to believe that Starfleet had absolutely no one better to go on a clandestine mission than Picard, Crusher and Worf? But I still wanted to give props to Part 2 for being an excellent piece. Patrick Stewart plays opposite David Warner as Gul Madred, a calmly sadistic Cardassian officer who is just as likely to be torturing Picard for fun as he is for actual information. It’s splendidly acted throughout, and Picard’s refusal to break is only underscored by his later admission that, for a moment, he actually saw five lights.
The Best of Both Worlds
“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile.”
An important episode for both the Borg and Picard, this episode sees the cybernetic menace relentlessly cut through the ranks of Starfleet – with an assimilated Picard at their helm. Although I never got to enjoy the “I am Locutus of Borg” cliffhanger first time around, I can still appreciate the greatness of this episode, which showed the Federation on the back foot, and cut deep scars in Picard’s psyche that he would carry for a long time to come. It’s also a prequel of sorts for Star Trek First Contact, which is of course my favourite film ever.
“I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you; the universe is not so badly designed.”
We’re sticking with Picard in this episode, as Q gives him a chance to go back and alter the events that led to him getting an artificial heart. For once, Q is entertaining rather than annoying, and his intervention allows to see what made Picard the man he is today – and where he might have ended up if he hadn’t learnt the value of living life to the full. Some might argue that it’s a bit It’s A Wonderful Life, and that the moral of the story seems to be that bar fights are good, but I stand by this episode as an insightful exploration of Picard’s character.
The Inner Light
“This is not my life.”
Have you had enough of Picard yet? I hope not, because in this episode the captain gets to live an entire other life, that of iron-weaver Kamin on the long-dead planet of Ressik. This is an exploration of the road not taken for Picard, as he gets to experience life with a wife and children, as part of a settled community instead of a restless explorer. As long as you don’t think too much about the logic of how the whole experience works, this is an excellent episode.
All Good Things
“It’s time to put an end to your trek through the stars.”
We’re halfway through this list and we still haven’t stepped away from Picard, but how could I omit the series finale? Booking the events of the very first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, All Good Things sees Q’s trial of humanity continue, and this time Picard must traverse past, present and future to prove himself worthy. Voyager did a good job with Endgame, but TNG still holds the crown for best ever series finale.
The Measure of a Man
“And this man has turned him off.”
Do you love courtroom drama? Do you like the idea of Picard and Riker arguing over Data’s very rights as a sentient being? Then you’re in the right place. The Measure of a Man not only has a serious Star Trek moral message about whether a sentient android is property or their own person, it has excellent performances from the lead characters. Riker is forced to go all out on the prosecution side for fear that the hearing will be summarily ruled against Data, but what better orator to defend everyone’s favourite android than the captain himself. The blu-ray release even comes with a special extended edition of the episode.
“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”
Picard dons his captain’s jacket for the first time and tries to understand an alien captain who talks only in metaphor. This is Star Trek at its best, where aliens who are very different than us aren’t necessarily enemies, and that with an open mind we can find a way to communicate with each other. Also, it’s Picard-centric, and as we’ve already established, lots of Patrick Stewart is a good thing.
“Perhaps next time you are judged unfairly, it will not take so many bruises for you to protest.”
Possibly an unusual choice, but despite the obvious late-season trope of seeing the main cast through the eyes of junior characters, I really like this episode. It has competent female characters, an important lesson about standing up for yourself, and a tragic ending that shows that it isn’t all fun and games in Starfleet.
The First Duty
“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth.”
Remember how perfect Wesley was in season one? Not so much in this episode, where he participates in a cover-up about the death of a fellow cadet. This episode has all the drama you could hope for, as the standard ‘academy cover up’ story gets dragged into the 24th century, without losing any of its impact.
“If there’s nothing wrong with me, maybe there’s something wrong with the universe.”
There were lots of contenders for this final slot, but in the end I went with Remember Me because it was a rare chance for Beverly Crusher to do something other than fix scrapes and fall in love with questionable men. Although it does lose a little impact once you know the twist, the episode remains strong, as Crusher deals with the growing absurdity of disappearing people and a shrinking universe.