Star Trek into Darkness is in theatres and with it comes the nostalgia factor for all things Trek-related. For one generation of Trekkers, it was Shatner, Nimoy and The Original Series cast that dragged them into the Roddenberry universe. And for a whole different cohort, Captain Jean-Luc Picard led the charge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
From 1987 to 1994, not including the four feature films, the crew for the fifth Federation ship to carry the name Enterprise searched the galaxy for new life and new civilizations. Like The Original Series, it was a mission of exploration and peace that carried a message of hope for the future but with a few small differences.
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A tenuous partnership had been reached with the Klingons.
Other species like the Romulans took more prominent roles.
Commander Riker grew a beard even though he wasn’t his evil copy from an alternate universe.
The first season of The Next Generation was quite reminiscent of The Original Series in the scope of the villains and style of the storytelling. It took a couple of seasons to stabilize the main cast, a process that took place through seasons two and three as cast members left, were replaced and returned. But it was during season two when The Next Generation finally began to develop an identity of its own, particularly thanks to the first official appearance of the Federation’s greatest threat, the Borg.
A collective hive species made up of cybernetically enhanced humanoids, the Borg are a virtually unstoppable juggernaut of horror that mow down everything in their path. They absorb entire worlds and species into their fold, leaving…well, almost nothing behind. Their impact is felt in three Star Trek TV series as well as one of The Next Generation movies. They compete with the Romulans for the most pernicious villains in Captain Picard’s path of exploration.
Anchored by Patrick Stewart as the good Captain, the TNG cast was an interesting and diverse group. Brent Spiner as Lieutenant Commander Data was always a fan favourite. Much like Spock before him, Data was cold, analytical and intelligent while still being an extremely endearing character. Except Data was an android, not a Vulcan, and actively tried to be human.
Worf was also a very interesting character in the context of the Star Trek universe. As the first Klingon in Starfleet, Worf represented the leap his species from Original Series villain to Next Generation ally. His inclusion as a main cast member also allowed the deeper exploration of the Klingon culture, something that continued on Deep Space Nine.
The Next Generation offered its cast a lot of leverage in growing their characters individually and as a group. This was done through interesting, engaging stories and utilizing unique villains that pushed them to their limit that kept coming back for more. Here are a few episodes that have always stuck out to me…
Season 2, Episode 16: Q-Who? – The malevolent Q, an omnipotent entity that plagues the Federation across three TV series, decides to teach Picard and company a lesson by helping them meet the Borg. How nice.
Season 3, Episode 26 & Season 4, Episode 1: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2 – The Borg finally arrive in force, crushing their way through Starfleet’s best and taking Captain Picard captive. Riker, Picard’s second in command, steps up and leads the crew in the offensive to save Picard, Earth and the entire Federation. One of the most epic cliffhanger season finales ever.
Season 4, Episode 7: Reunion – Worf’s erstwhile lover, K’Ehleyr, returns with a son he didn’t know he had. When she dies at the hands of his mortal enemy, Worf seeks revenge in the midst of a tenuous time for the Klingon Empire.
As a quick aside, I just got back from watching J.J. Abrams’ current contribution to the Star Trek mythos. Without ruining it for you, Star Trek into Darkness is a great film but if you want to back and refresh yourself on part of the world that built up it, go watch Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at@ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.