Not so very long ago—on January 29, 2017, in fact—I began a new project that I pompously called Boldly Going (after the now famous Trek preamble, with the split infinitive that’s become accepted usage, “to boldly go”). The goal of this project involves my watching every episode of Star Trek-related television that currently exists.
Initially, the idea was to watch five episodes a week, which would have placed the end date somewhere around two-and-a-half years in the future. I’ve since amended the plan, so that I’m watching only four episodes a week, one episode each, on average, of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. I decided to postpone the original series and the animated series until later. At least until after I’ve watched all of Enterprise. This new plan would move my completion date to more than three years out, but that’s okay.
Chances are I’ll finish watching the episodes sooner. I just finished watching the first seasons of TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT. That’s 88 episodes in 14 weeks, or an average of 6.28 episodes per week. Obviously, I’ve exceeded my plan.
The first seasons of these shows were of different lengths, so I watched them at different rates to finish around the same time. That wasn’t my initial plan either, just something I decided to do along the way. I like the symmetry of finishing the seasons at the same time, so that I could write a roundup encompassing all of the shows. I’ll do the same for the second seasons as well. I suppose the symmetry will fall by the wayside after I finish all the ENT episodes, since it didn’t make it as far as the other three.
This review of all four series will by necessity be very broad. I believe the experience to have been enriched by watching them at the same time. It has allowed my comparisons to be in real time rather than through memory. For this reason, I’m not comparing anything to the original series yet, unless I can’t help myself, since I haven’t begun my re-watch of Star Trek.
I count myself as a fan of Next Generation, but I’m afraid that this first season did not compare favorably to the other three. I know it gets better, but these episodes were the most difficult to sit through. I will list some of my favorites of all the first season episodes in a bit. I’m not going to list my least favorites because many of them would be from TNG. That’s not strictly fair since that series was going through some growing pains that the other series would be able to avoid, since TNG was drawing up the blueprint for success for the rest.
I know it’s become popular to bad-mouth universe creators such as George Lucas and, in the case of Trek, Gene Roddenberry, and I don’t really want to do that. However, Roddenberry was much more involved in these early TNG episodes than in the other series, and I think his creation had already surpassed his original vision by then. The shows became better as he had less creative control. That’s just a statement of fact. I still respect the gift which the Great Bird of the Galaxy gave to us all.
The show that I was most pleasantly surprised by was DS9. To me, this was always that Trek show about the floating fuel dock in space, while the other series were always about going somewhere. Going boldly, I should say. As it turns out, although DS9 is a very different show from the other three, that’s one of its strengths, not a weakness. And I’m told that it gets even better. I’m looking forward to it.
Star Trek has always been about characters to me. I would be hard-pressed to give you the entire plots of most of the episodes I just watched, but I’m coming away with a better understanding of most of the characters.
Let’s get my ranking of Trek captains out of the way first. Kirk is not in the mix yet.
In order, my #1, my favorite captain is Jean-Luc Picard, that French guy with the English accent. And he is #1 by several lengths; it wasn’t even a close race.
My #2, by a nose, is Captain Janeway. I know Voyager is often disparaged as “less than” in certain quarters, as is Janeway, but I find that her character is smart and strong without sacrificing her femininity. If I were lost in another quadrant of the galaxy, I would want her to be my leader.
At #3, closely behind Janeway, is Captain Archer. He has that pioneer spirit and a beagle named Porthos. Plus, he gets to make all of the mistakes first in this prequel series. He may gain more points in the future as Enterprise progresses, but he feels right at #3 at the moment.
That leaves Sisko in last place at #4. This is a copout, but he isn’t even a captain in this first season. Let’s see what happens. If it’s any consolation, DS9 was not my least favorite of the four shows this season. That dubious honor goes to TNG, which was nowhere near a good as it was in my memory.
Aside from the “captains” there were other standout characters in each of the shows.
For my personal tastes, Data and Worf presented the most story potential of all of the cast in TNG. Tasha Yar was never fully realized, and her death in “Skin of Evil” was more of a mercy killing. And while I greatly admire Wil Wheaton, one of the patron saints of all nerddom, Wesley Crusher earned much of the fan hatred that has been heaped upon him. I personally despised his rainbow-bedazzled uniform tunic and often joined in on the “Shut Up, Wesley!” chorus. LaForge, Troi, Beverly Crusher and Riker were rarely more than parts of the scenery. I remember liking Troi and the doctor more during my initial viewing of these episodes, but I may have been distracted by their other physical assets. They are both pretty ladies, but Troi is often annoying and Beverly is just a terrible doctor. They tell us that she’s great, but the evidence doesn’t support it. Riker is just a swaggering Kirk stand-in through the first season. Maybe he gets better with the beard.
In DS9, the true standout characters for me were Odo and Quark, enemies and friends at the same time. It’s obvious that in the beginning that Chief O’Brien, our carryover from TNG, was intended to be our focal character. Although I like Colm Meaney as an actor, he is not really able to carry the lead role. He’s best as a secondary character. I didn’t care for Dr. Bashir or Major Kira in the beginning, though both characters have grown on me. Kira more than Bashir so far, because his character is still pretty one-dimensional at the end of the season. The two actors must have liked each other well enough, however, since they got married (and, sadly, later divorced). Dax is a beautiful woman and I like the fact that she shows up on screen, even if she contributes little else to the series so far. I suppose that makes me a sexist pig. Jake Sisko, and his Ferengi friend Nog, prove once again that Trek doesn’t do children well, but these two aren’t as distracting as Wesley.
Tuvok and the holographic Doctor are the series all-stars of Voyager. Tuvok is, simply put, the best Vulcan since Spock. The Doctor is a genuine revelation. An AI, like Data, but with definite emotions and a unique situation that seems to be a fertile story nursery. B’elanna Torres, the Klingon-human engineer, is another standout. Harry Kim, Tom Paris, and Chakotay don’t have much to do, it seems. Neelix is, arguably, the Wesley of Voyager, while his girlfriend Kes is pretty much disposable.
On Enterprise, the standout character is the female Vulcan T’Pol. And not because of her form-fitting catsuit and impossibly pouty lips. Well…not just because of, at any rate. She’s not as classically Vulcan as Tuvok, and it often seems to be a struggle for her to maintain her stoic exterior, but that’s part of the character’s charm. Tucker, Reed and Mayweather have grown on me, and even Dr. Phlox is okay. Hoshi has been my least favorite character so far, but she’s growing a little less whiny and self-doubting by season’s end, so there’s hope for her.
From TNG (in no particular order):
“The Battle” — this one places Picard back on his old ship, the Stargazer, mind-controlled by the Ferengi.
“The Big Goodbye” — the first “holodeck malfunction” episode and the introduction of Dixon Hill.
“Datalore” — Data has a brother, and he’s evil (even if he doesn’t have a goatee).
“Arsenal of Freedom” — worth watching for the late Vincent Schiavelli as the holographic arms merchant, and for the Picard/Beverly stuff.
“Coming of Age” — a good episode even though it’s Wesley-centric.
“Conspiracy” — for its Thing/”Who Goes There?” paranoid vibe and an ending that was pretty gory for television standards at the time.
“Captive Pursuit” — a “Most Dangerous Game” plot with a Trek twist.
“Progress” — which made Major Kira rise in my estimation and also made me miss Brian Keith.
“Dax” — just because I like Dax.
“If Wishes Were Horses” and “Move Along Home” were fun episodes.
As was “The Forsaken” just for the Odo and Lwaxana Troi moments.
“Time and Again” — like most of the Trek writers, I tend to like episodes dealing with some sort of time travel.
“Eye of the Needle” — which has a time travel element not revealed until the final act.
“Learning Curve” — Tuvok as drill sergeant.
“The Andorian Incident” — dig those crazy blue antennae.
“Shuttlepod One” — a great Trip and Reed story.
“Fusion” — the best T’Pol story
“Detained” — what’s a series without a prison break episode?
“Desert Crossing” — Clancy Brown. ‘Nuff said.
Oddly, the time travel episodes of Enterprise left me cold (pun intended—heh-heh). I know the Temporal Cold War probably becomes more important to the series, as it seems to be in the final episode of the season, but I still don’t really understand all of the Suliban stuff, and it’s not my favorite.
There are a few episodes that are among the worst pieces of episodic television ever produced, as I mentioned before, but the majority of the 88 episodes are just simply okay. Not great, not bad. Just okay. Or “meh” as the kids like to say. I would go so far as to say you could skip the entire first season of TNG without missing a whole lot, if you already have a basic understanding of the characters.
If I stay on track with my current plan. I’ll be about a third of the way through season three of all four of the shows by the end of this year. That’s still a lot of television to watch. It will be interesting to see how my opinion of the different series changes.
Live long and prosper, my friends.