TNG S02E13 Time Squared (3.5 out of 5 stars) opens with a fairly uninspiring comedy Riker-cooks-dinner scene. Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy that it was the poker game that took off. What follows is a very engrossing mystery for the most part. One of the Enterprise’s own shuttlecraft is drifting in space, and inside it is an unconscious Captain Picard. Science fiction and fantasy shows love doing doubles of the regular cast (we saw a duplicate of every classic Doctor Who until the seventh). TOS already gave us two Kirks on more than one occasion. Here Patrick Stewart gets a glimpse of his own future, which means he is forced to constantly second-guess himself. The results are often fascinating, if you can overlook the gobbledegook science. To be clear, plenty of TNG stories are resolved with technobabble, but it’s rare that so much of the plot rests on so much sciencey-sounding nonsense that doesn’t actually mean anything. He’s from the future so everything runs backwards? Okay, then. It’s also a shame that Picard-from-the-future is unconscious for so much of the episode. Picard phasering his other self (to death?) to stop the cycle is a baller move, but feels more like Rick and Morty nihilism than TNG optimism. Compare the treatment of future Picard here with the treatment of Thomas Riker in Season 6. How far we (will) have come…

TNG S02E14 The Icarus Factor (2.5 out of 5 stars). The Enterprise has failed its MOT and so a stop at Starbase Montgomery is called-for. This is somewhat of a ruse on Picard’s part to install Riker as Captain of his own ship, the Aries. We’ve been here before but this does feel more like character development and less like this-is-the-story-which-we-tell-every-week-with-this-character. His scenes with Picard are great and harking back to Encounter at Farpoint helps, but the presence of Riker’s father (a very stiff and awkward Mitchell Ryan) plays like a daytime soap rather than a prime time adventure series and the fact that he’s also an old friend of Pulaski’s strains credulity more than a bit. Also, as usual, I find delving into Klingon rituals a bore and the technobabble down in engineering never becomes more than a way to pass the time. Eventually Riker works out his daddy issues with some Tron cos-play and decides – shocker – to stay on board the Enterprise.

TNG S02E15 Pen Pals (2 out of 5 stars). Yay, it’s a Wesley episode. He’s being packed off to run a planetary mineral survey and fretting about every aspect of it. It’s not a bad way to examine what makes a strong or a weak commander, but the stakes are so low that it comes off more like a corporate training video and less like a thrilling science-fiction adventure story for the most part. Meanwhile, and bizarrely, fiercely loyal and rule-following Data has been secretly breaking the Prime Directive. This leads to yet more philosophical navel-gazing – all highly thoughtful and educational stuff but not very dramatic or engaging. I think the moral lesson is that the lives of cute children you’ve spoken to are more valuable than entire civilizations you’ve never met. And mind-rape is always just dandy, as usual.

TNG S02E16 Q Who (4.5 out of 5 stars) is a landmark episode in the series, setting up the most enduring foe this crew will see – a foe still going strong in Star Trek: Picard over thirty years later. To Doctor Who fans the Borg look a little like upmarket Cybermen and their insectoid origins show through (they were originally going to be behind all the insane goings-on in Conspiracy) not in their appearance but in their behaviour, which gives them a little extra colour. There are some pacing problems here to be sure – early on it seems as if a spilled cup of hot chocolate is going to be super-important, which it never is – but the main threat when it appears is absolutely terrifying. Does the ending work? Too many recent episodes have had the problem simply sort itself out in the last five minutes, and you could say the same here. Would we really have respected a Captain who didn’t briefly abase himself to save his ship? Are we supposed to think that Kirk wouldn’t have done that? C’mon. But it is a strong moment, Stewart sells the hell out of it, and the promise of more Borg in the now much-nearer future makes this feel like what it is – a delicious curtain-raiser which promises even more scary treats to come. Plus we have Guinan doing witch-fingers at Q. Lovely.

TNG S02E17 Samaritan Snare (2 out of 5 stars). Yay it’s a Wesley episode. He’s off to take more exams, meanwhile Pulaski is bullying Picard into getting an NHS pacemaker, but he wants to go for Starbase BUPA, which is a fairly thin pretext on which to put both Ensign and Captain into the same shuttlecraft. No sooner have they gone than Riker receives a distress signal from a B-plot. The Pakleds, who become brilliantly funny thirty years later in Lower Decks, are dreadfully annoying here, and the rum-tee-tum music to tell us how amusing they are is ghastly. For once, Troi has some useful information to impart, but everyone flat-out ignores her. Meanwhile the father/son bonding between Wes and Jean-Luc is seldom more than grating, although track is laid here for a wonderful future episode – Tapestry in Season 6. As ever, the problem with these early TNG outings is rarely the ideas, and almost always the execution. Ensign Hot Chocolate shows up again, briefly. The plan was to make her another recurring character but it didn’t work out.

Also – look, none of this is really the point but the dreadfully soggy end-of-teaser line establishes that the Enterprise is haring off a long way away from where Picard is getting his chest sliced open, and it takes the shuttlecraft hours to get to the starbase. But when Picard’s surgery goes awry and – wouldntchaknowit? – the only person qualified to save his life is Pulaski, she simply materialises over him like she’s a character in the last season of Game of Thrones. Why bother establishing that the starbase is a long way away, and you’re putting even more distance between you and it, if you’re not only never going to use that in a dramatic way, you’re actually going to ignore it the moment it becomes inconvenient? Was anybody reading these scripts before they were shot?

TNG S02E18 Up the Long Ladder (1 out of 5 stars) Worf has gas, which is reason enough for the incidental music to start going bananas. An ancient distress signal reaches the Enterprise and it turns out that Worf’s flatulence is actually measles, so combative Pulaski has to lie to the captain to spare his blushes. Data regresses to the clumsy character of Season 1 who doesn’t know when to stop offering synonyms. None of this has any narrative drive and none of the characters are really registering. Watching Worf and Pulaski drink tea is not interesting to me in itself and it’s doubly pointless when I know that Pulaski has less than half-a-dozen episodes left. Just when I thought this episode couldn’t get any worse, Riker finds himself on the planet of the Oirish Pig Farmers in scenes that could possibly qualify as hate crimes if shown in Dublin. The previous episode featured potentially strong ideas, executed poorly. This is misconceived from beginning to end. I very nearly abandoned the whole project watching Barrie Ingham channeling Red Skelton while sampling Klingon booze. There’s also a planet of clones (Clones? Clones!) because all the best episodes include three unrelated plot strands. I have a long list of other problems but I can’t be bothered to type them up.

Trekaday 025: Unnatural Selection, A Matter of Honor, The Measure of a Man, The Dauphin, Contagion, The Royale
Trekaday 027: The Final Frontier