TNG S03E20 Tin Man (3.5 out of 5 stars). Guest star of the week is telepathic negotiator and Countdown Conundrum Tam Elbrun. Despite having been able to read minds since birth, he’s never noticed that people find his habit of finishing their sentences maddening. Still, he is supposed to be something of a screw-up, so maybe this tracks. The Federation flagship has been diverted from doing the kind of routine and monotonous survey work that should be beneath it to investigating the mysterious living ship orbiting a star which the Romulans have a claim to. Lots going on here then – a dissection of what reading minds would actually be like, more Cold War intrigue with the Romulans, and the sci-fi plot which gives the episode its title. The elements mesh more smoothly than they have in the past, and the plight of Tin Man is genuinely affecting, even if this is the ending of The Motion Picture reprised. But there’s nothing here to push this one over the top and we still haven’t quite got away from it’s-the-guest-star’s-story-of-the-week despite Michael Piller’s best efforts. Data has a man-cave which Elbrun finds “spartan”.

TNG S03E21 Hollow Pursuits (3.5 out of 5 stars). Dwight Schultz from off of The A Team makes an instant first impression, being a dick in Ten Forward. But this turns out to be merely a Holodeck fantasy wherein the socially awkward Lt Barclay can live out his adolescent fantasies. Surely there should be codes of conduct about turning colleagues into living sex dolls? Right? They also really really need to be able to put a lock on those Holodeck doors if they’re going to get up to these kinds of shenanigans. Riker describes Barclay as “seclusive” which is certainly an imaginative epithet. But it fits, and it’s heartening to see Picard insisting that they not give up on this misfit screw-up they’ve been saddled with. And this avoids the trap of coming off like a management training film because it’s about who this man is and what makes him tick and how that affects our regular characters, not about abstract notions of leadership and teamwork. Whereas the previous episode felt like it was all about the guest star and not our people, Barclay is a member of the Enterprise crew and that makes a surprisingly big difference. It’s also refreshing, if a little implausible, that even on the Federation flagship not all the team are highly-competent, well-adjusted adults with excellent social skills and good personal relationships with those around them. And I can only imagine that this depiction of social anxiety might have resonated strongly with some of the teenage science-fiction fans watching. While I think I enjoyed this more than Tin Man, it ends up with the same score because the Holodeck stuff is all so ick. Apparently the Enterprise requires a flux capacitor. Great Scott!

TNG S03E22 The Most Toys (4.5 out of 5 stars). The drama of the destruction of Data’s shuttlecraft in the teaser is slightly undermined by the fact that we already know that something else is up. But I suppose we were never likely to be convinced that Data had been written out before the opening titles (Tasha Yar notwithstanding). And lo! there he is, alive and well, mere moments later. Saul Rubinek is deliciously shifty as the trader selling under-the-counter explodium and very funny in his first interactions with Data. His performance is especially praiseworthy, given that he was a last-minute replacement for poor David Rappaport, who had already shot several scenes before taking his own life. The crew’s reactions to the loss of a shipmate are very affecting, and Data’s implacable opposition to his captor’s wishes very satisfying. Sure, this eventually becomes a bit of a retread of The Measure of a Man, but what’s so wrong about that? And how about that nasty surprise in the transporter beam, huh? In several early scenes, there seems to be a lumpy item under Brent Spiner’s costume on his back just above his belt. I’m not sure what it is. A girdle? Surgical truss? Scoliosis?? Nonspeaking extras are still in the old uniforms! The season’s almost over for chrissake. Wardrobe!

TNG S03E23 Sarek (5 out of 5 stars). TNG began with a difficult relationship with its legendary progenitor. Having decided, pretty much at the last minute, to put a Klingon on the bridge, Roddenberry banned all Vulcans and Romulans, and wanted no references at all to past adventures of the original Enterprise (once McCoy’s cameo was out of the way). Gradually, these elements began to creep back in, and this episode was green lit on the explicit understanding that Spock would never be mentioned. After a knock-down, drag-out argument, Roddenberry finally permitted the sacred name to spoken exactly once. This fascinating behind-the-scenes wrangling is actually in many ways the least interesting aspect of this episode, which – whether the Great Bird realised it or not – uses Sarek as a proxy for The Original Series and demonstrates that the new show does now have the confidence to stand on its own, because for all the undeniable virtues of 60s Trek (for which see early entries in this blog) this is the kind of story which could never have been told with Kirk’s crew. And it’s a marvel, anchored by two titanic performances from Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart. Sarek’s secret is heartbreaking and the solution is devastating. Amazing stuff from all concerned, and the new show is now able to play with the old show with much greater freedom. Best episode of TNG so far, and maybe the best episode since Amok Time.

TNG S03E24 Ménage à Troi (3.5 out of 5 stars). It seems as if it’s an unwritten rule that when a returning character is in an episode, this is commemorated by means of a punny title. As wordplay goes, this is at least better than Hide and Q but that’s a pretty low bar. The Ferengi are back too, and for the first time, it’s possible to see actually potential in this avaricious race – the early scene between Majel Barrett and Frank Corsentino is a highlight. And that’s Neelix standing next to him. Quite a number of future series regulars get auditioned during the run of TNG including Tim Russ, Armin Shimerman and Robert Duncan McNeill. Meanwhile, Wes’s lengthy campaign to be admitted to Star Fleet Academy has passed another milestone and Picard packs Riker off on shore leave, so it’s hard at first to identify the central narrative around which all of these storyettes are orbiting. But this eventually develops into a kidnap plot with Lwaxana, Deanna and Will all held captive by the lovestruck Ferengi. Compared to most recent episodes, this is pretty thin, uninvolving and unfocused stuff, but by the standards of Seasons 1 and 2, it’s a masterpiece of detailed characterisation and tight plotting, and the end is very funny, which is worth another half-a-star. Seeing Wesley in his proper uniform is nice too. Just have to do something about Troi now…

TNG S03E25 Transfigurations (2 out of 5 stars). Sigh. Geordi is sharking again, and consulting (of all fucking people) Worf for seduction advice. Christy even has the same hairdo as Leah Brahms. Geordi evidently has a type. Meanwhile, in a genuinely spectacular-looking exterior set, the away team are investigating a crashed shuttle, and now that same Geordi has to become a human pacemaker for its injured inhabitant. Again, it takes a while to discover what this episode is really about and to connect Geordi’s largely uninteresting love life with Dr Crusher’s latest case study, and an inordinate amount of time is spent on people coordinating their social diaries or discussing their leisure activities. Eventually, Geordi and Data start exchanging some technobabble and they figure out how to get “John Doe” home, but at no point does the relationship between him and Beverly seem real or important or even the least bit interesting. What a disappointment.

This last story notwithstanding, this has been a truly impressive run of episodes. I do hope there’s something left in the tank for the season finale.

Trekaday 031: A Matter of Perspective, Yesterday's Enterprise, The Offspring, Sins of the Father, Allegiance, Captain's Holiday
Trekaday 033: The Best of Both Worlds, The Best of Both Worlds Part II, Family