Gates McFadden, Star Trek TNG, "Encounter at Farpoint," 1987

Star Trek: The Next Generation:

Season 1, Episode 1 (pilot), “Encounter at Farpoint: Parts I and II”

 

Original U.S. broadcast: September 26, 1987

 

Review of episode, written by Zeke Pliskin:

‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is the double-length pilot episode of The Next Generation and introduces us to the characters, the ship and… the writers, who at this point were the weakest link.

 

The two main plots are engaging enough. Going on commentary from Roddenberry, the Q entity was written in later at Paramount’s behest but, to me, is the most amusing part of this outing. Q almost represents the studio’s viewpoint – in the show, the whole human race is on trial, in reality, the entire TNG concept was on trial. His presence is a definite highlight and he would go on to be one of the most memorable characters of any Star Trek incarnation. Q’s presence interweaves comfortably with ‘the trial’ itself which is the unravelling an enigma: how did an obviously technologically deficient race build a frontier outpost of high-technology to service the Federation, and can the mystery be solved without resorting to violent methods thereby proving Q correct in his definition of the human race as barbaric and child-like?

 

From a technical standpoint this episode is respectable. For particular commendation I would single out Industrial Light and Magic’s excellent special effects work. The models of the Enterprise-D and the alien spacecraft(s) set a high watermark which remains, for me, an engrossing aspect of the show to this day. We now take complex and expensive shots like these for granted in television shows, but until TNG it wasn’t all that common.

 

As for the performances, the cast are still tentative within their new roles, finding their comfort zones and strengths. Some of the dialogue allows them chances to connect with their characters and therefore with the audience, other sections would be better delivered tongue-in-cheek rather than with deadly earnestness, or omitted entirely. My own assumption is that at this point Roddenberry was working towards the strengths of the old cast, whom he was familiar with, expecting them to be partial clones of Kirk and crew instead of relying on his new actors to take Star Trek in interesting new directions. When he stepped down as Executive Producer and handed more responsibility to Braga (who, sadly, would go on to lose his deft touch while in control of Voyager) many of the problems were ironed out.

 

‘Encounter At Farpoint: Parts I and II’ represent some of the best moments of the first season but not necessarily the entire Next Generation run or the four films that would follow. It is abundantly obvious that the premise has great promise, but it would not be until late into the second season that consistency would improve and truly great stories would be added to the Star Trek canon.

 

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