TNG S02E01 The Child (2 out of 5 stars). To begin with, this does start to resemble the show we know and love. Geordi and Worf are in the right colour uniform and in the right positions – Worf at tactical and doubling as head of security, Geordi in engineering – and even O’Brien is back manning the transporter. Ten Forward exists and Guinan is behind the bar. Riker has his beard. Worf’s makeup appliance no longer looks like an ill-fitting beanie hat. But Crusher is gone, victim of a mysterious antipathy on the part of show-runner Maurice Hurley, whose power struggle with Rick Berman continues, exacerbated by the absence of an ailing Gene Roddenberry, who still gets an executive producer credit, but will hardly be around from now on. In her place is Diana Muldaur, who was supposed to be warmly crusty like Dr McCoy, but who ends up coming across as cold and never seems to click with the rest of the crew. She also doesn’t get her name in the opening credits, for reasons which don’t seem well known.

Meanwhile, the writers strike nearly killed the show off for good, but in an act of desperation, Hurley started thumbing through scripts which had been completed for Star Trek Phase II, and – realising that Ilia = Troi, Xon = Data and Decker = Riker – pulled this Ilia-centric story off the pile. It does not get the new season off to a good start. With ten or so minutes taken up with shuffling Enterprise crew-members around, and justifying why on earth Wesley is still here, there isn’t time to adequately deal with many, or indeed any, of the consequences of the counselor’s violation, impregnation, parenthood and grief. Marina Sirtis, never the strongest link in the TNG chain, is helpless in the face of such thinly-written material and nothing the supporting cast can do will resuce this one. Still, nice to see Whoopi Goldberg, even if Guinan’s presence renders Troi even more redundant than she was already.

TNG S02E02 Where Silence Has Lease (2 out of 5 stars). Another one of those entirely meaningless Star Trek episode names which as far as I can tell has nothing whatever to do with the plot. Worf and Riker are on an away-mission which seems to involve battling some half-Gorn half-Armadillo, half-Skeletor creatures. No, it’s a Holodeck callisthenics exercise which Worf looks like he’s getting a little too involved in. It’s pretty thin as teasers go. This script is credited to Jack B Sowards, who contributed much to the screenplay of Wrath of Khan, including the Kobayashi Maru. When it finally gets going, this episode sees the Enterprise trapped inside a featureless black void, in which a Romulan Warbird suddenly de-cloaks. This proves to be the first of a series of illusions conjured by Charlie X Trelane Apollo Q Nagilum, who puts Riker and Worf onto the bridge of The Starship That Jack Built, bumps off a literal red-shirt and then threatens to exterminate half the people on board. As engagingly mysterious as this sometimes is, it isn’t terribly interesting or dramatic. Even blowing up the Enterprise is merely an opportunity for a calm and reasonable conversation about ethics and Nagilum’s Mogwai face looks stupid.

TNG S02E03 Elementary, Dear Data (4 out of 5 stars). Geordi turns out to have an interest in old sailing ships. Bet that’ll prove to be one of his defining characteristics. JK, his personality is of course that he’s Data’s Best Friend. This is a wonderful episode for Brent Spiner and Data, as well as an amazing dissection of what the Holodeck is and how it works. And sure, it’s a retread of The Big Goodbye, but it’s better in every department – Data is a better choice than Picard, Doyle is a better choice than Chandler, and the details regarding Moriarty’s transition from avatar to antagonist to new life form are very well worked out. Even the fact that he basically just gives himself up at the end is a kind of a strength, although not very exciting. The only other problem is the amount of time we’re expected to wait before things start turning nasty, but Spiner makes the most of the fun-and-games which precede the main plot. This is very good stuff, if still not quite great.

TNG S02E04 The Outrageous Okona (1.5 out of 5 stars). What TNG will eventually become is a potent combination of thrilling adventure, strong character-driven plots and thought-provoking sci-fi concepts. For our second Data-centric episode in a row, we effectively get the workplace sitcom version of the show, featuring Diet Coke Han Solo Captain Okona, cracking on to a young Teri Hatcher, and then a truly ghastly sequence in which Data is coached in stand-up comedy. At no point does this ever become what you might call a story, After last week’s near-triumph, this is a huge disappointment, in which “outrageous” turns out to be an ambition rather than a description. Even Picard describes the tiresome plot as “this ancient morality play we’ve been dragged into.”

TNG S02E05 Loud as a Whisper (2 out of 5 stars). Another episode, another pair of squabbling planets, and another very soggy teaser – Picard and co beam down to the planet and are confronted by the terrifying sight of… an empty room. “Space, the final frontier…” TOS treated blindness with a great deal of delicacy and intrigue. Here TNG has a crack at deafness, backed up by telepathy. It’s all very well-meaning, earnest and thoughtful, but it’s deathly dull and we don’t even get the horror of Joe Piscopo to break up the tedium, although that could also be considered a blessing. The deaths of Riva’s “chorus” certainly stick in the mind, even if little else about this slack episode is likely to.

TNG S02E06 The Schizoid Man (2.5 out of 5 stars). The only Star Trek episode I can think of which shares its name with an episode of The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan faced a duplicate version of himself. Patrick Stewart faces Data carrying an old scientist’s katra. Before this, Data is mainly reduced to reeling off lists of synonyms when asked if he understands what a concept means, and failing to comprehend ordinary idioms. Data’s best-kept secret is his off-button, which he casually reveals to Morgan Sheppard’s “grandpa”. There’s no danger that will end badly, is there? Are we supposed not to guess what has happened, or is it supposed to be dramatic irony? Regardless, it just makes the crew look dumb. Still, at least something happens in this episode, which is a modest improvement. First appearance of Suzie Plakson, here as Vulcan Dr Selar. She will later play a Klingon, a Q and an Andorian. With four Data stories in a row (one shared with Troi) it’s clear now that he’s the second lead in this show. But this is a pretty rotten string of episodes.

Trekaday 023: Coming of Age, Heart of Glory, The Arsenal of Freedom, Symbiosis, Skin of Evil, We'll Always Have Paris, Conspiracy, The Neutral Zone
Trekaday 025: Unnatural Selection, A Matter of Honor, The Measure of a Man, The Dauphin, Contagion, The Royale