TNG S03E07 The Enemy (4 out of 5 stars). The teaser places us on a more-than-usually convincing Planet Sound Stage, full of dry ice, blue lighting and ominous sound-effects, and before long, Geordi is stranded with a only a half-dead Romulan for company, having blundered into a Picard-and-Beverly-style pit. This episode thus functions as an examination both of Geordi’s character and of Romulan culture. As far as Geordi’s character is concerned, writers David Kemper and Michael Piller have at least remembered that he’s meant to be blind. Beyond that we don’t get much (he’s Data’s Best Friend and he can’t get laid, surely that’s enough) but Levar Burton is as good as ever, always hoping for better from his suspicious fellow strandee. The intrigue on board the ship is more interesting, with the debut of the fantastic Andreas Katsulas as the shifty Romulan Tomalak. Overall this is a nice balance between political intrigue, personal jeopardy and medical ethics, with good material for Worf as well as Geordi (and Picard, as ever). When the viewscreen is shot from the side, the angle of the image changes too, suggesting a 3D effect, although the surface only ever seems flat.

TNG S03E08 The Price (2 out of 5 stars). After last week’s blood-and-thunder, the set-up for this one seems a little tepid. Yes, it’s nice to see our people as people and not the functions that they were in Season 1, but Troi’s enthusiasm for chocolate doesn’t seem more than superficial. She’s summoned to Ten Forward where a gaggle of alien races are bidding for rights to use the only known stable wormhole (remember that, it will be important later) and they are soon joined by the Ferengi who are even less funny than usual. In this post-money society, there is still a contest to see who can make the best offer. But the A plot seems to be that Troi is falling for hunky negotiator Matt McCoy – he catches her in her quarters, Googling him, and when he begins relentlessly negging her, she’s helpless before his beta-male magnetism. It’s all pretty awful, a poor treatment of a thin character who never reads as an actual person despite Marina Sirtis’s best efforts (and Ron Jones’s syrupy strings). The misogyny continues in one of the most ludicrous scenes in the series’ history as Crusher and Troi stretch seductively in Lycra, while exchanging “girl talk”. I would never have believed this script was written by a woman, but noticing the same name on Skin of Evil and We’ll Always Have Paris, it makes more sense. One extra star because Troi’s empathic powers are actually deployed in an interesting and useful way at the end.

TNG S03E09 The Vengeance Factor (2 out of 5 stars). The Gatherers are a galactic nuisance and Picard is recruited by Sovereign Marouk of Acamar III (who wants the help of “the Star Fleet” to wipe them out). This all feels an awful lot like the people with silly names and dodgy prosthetics who babble about made-up things which don’t mean much. Marouk has brought her own cook on board, and Riker flirts with her by mansplaining food replicators. What makes this work better than some Zagbars vs Zoombles plots is the depiction of the devastation wrought by the Gatherer – the wasteland which Geordi, Worf, Data and Riker explore looks fantastic. Alas, the Gatherers themselves look like standard-issue Mad Max knock-offs and I still struggle to care about their petty squabbles. We’re not out of the woods yet. Data does Spock’s “Is that not what I said?” gag yet again. Non-speaking extras are still in the old-style uniforms, both in sickbay and on the bridge. That roll-out must have been a bitch.

TNG S03E10 The Defector (4.5 out of 5 stars). Picard and Data (and Patrick Stewart) putting on an am-dram production of Henry V (for several minutes) is pure self-indulgence but rather good fun nevertheless. Look how far Picard has come from the brittle headmaster we met in Series 1. And, fleshing out the tertiary cast, here’s Tomalak back again. From their introduction in TOS, the Romulans have generally been used to tell Cold War stories and so it is here, with seeming-defector “Setal” warning that war is coming and only a pre-emptive strike by Star Fleet can avert it. It’s delicious to see the pompous Federation from another perspective and it’s the kind of thing which Ronald D Moore is so good at. I clocked Ira Behr’s name on these credits too, and intrigue of this nature will influence a great deal of Deep Space Nine too. Picard’s heart-to-heart with Data is simultaneously touching and terrifying, and while the episodic nature of this show means that it’s unlikely that we will be plunged into war, everyone concerned makes it seem as credible a future as possible. The structure of the story makes necessary a certain amount of narrative “vamping” in the middle which means that we lose a little power and momentum, but overall this is very fine stuff, using one excellent guest character to bounce off the regulars to great effect (rather than letting a lot of strangers bicker with each other like last week).

TNG S03E11 The Hunted (3.5 out of 5 stars). Guest star James Cromwell is prime minister of a world which wants to join the Federation, but the Enterprise initially fumbles its attempt to recapture an escaped prisoner, who turns out to be another Lone Starr-looking motherfucker who doesn’t show up on on the ship’s sensors, for… reasons. Lone Starr is a blunt instrument of the state, programmed to kill for his government. The ethical dilemma of the week becomes whether to return him to his penal colony or whether to meddle in the affairs of another planet. High-minded stuff but not especially engaging. Luckily, once it comes to trying to return him, he turns out to be more than a match for the crew’s ingenuity and the pursuit sequence as he finagles his escape is very watchable. Even more striking is Picard’s behaviour in the final act. Rather than the patrician Federation resolving a decades-long conflict in twenty minutes, here he confronts the Prime Minister with the natural consequences of his actions and beams out, leaving him to find whatever solution he can.

TNG S03E12 The High Ground (3 out of 5 stars). Infamously not shown on BBC2 for years, as it’s basically a treatise on how to mount a successful terrorist campaign (like the one which lead to the reunification of Ireland in 2024, so there’s something to look forward to). There’s good character stuff here for Beverly and the Captain and some decent action sequences, but I really am getting sick of 90s bad boys with floppy hair and designer stubble. This one’s called “Finn” which for some reason I find maddening. What’s interesting is how much more self-assured the show is as a whole. We’re roughly mid-way through Season 3 and we’ve got to the point where, sure not every episode is a diamond, but we almost never plumb the depths anymore and pretty much every week there’s something new, something fresh and something to enjoy.

TNG S03E13 Deja Q (4 out of 5 stars). While puzzling out an errant and death-dealing moon, the Enterprise is visited by a flirtatiously naked Q who proclaims that he has been stripped also of his powers. De Lancie is as good as ever and the writers rise to the occasion (he asks Worf if he’s eaten any good books lately). Picard is rightly suspicious, but Q passes every test, making the outcome of this genuinely hard to guess. While the crew battles to divert the moon, Q is persecuted by a race he wronged in the past. Although the Enterprise and our people are hardly ever in jeopardy, and the fate of the planet below never feels particularly tangible, this is probably the best outing for Q so far, even if it doesn’t have quite the lasting impact that Q Who had. Corbin Bersen makes a valiant attempt to match De Lancie’s unpredictable energy but doesn’t quite pull it off.

Trekaday 029: Evolution, The Ensigns of Command, The Survivors, Who Watches the Watchers, The Bonding, Booby Trap
Trekaday 031: A Matter of Perspective, Yesterday's Enterprise, The Offspring, Sins of the Father, Allegiance, Captain's Holiday