Star Trek: TNG: Season 3
In 1966 a man named Gene Roddenberry changed the very landscape of television with a little science fiction show called ‘Star Trek’ .although its initial run lasted a meager three season after near constant fear of cancelation it went one to alter our social consciousness, inspire a generation of technological advances are create a sub culture that remains robust encompassing millions. Twenty years later the unthinkable happened. Rumors began to spread throughout the trekker cycles they Roddenberry was prepared to revive his most famous franchise. In 1987 he began broadcast of ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’. Long before the first Star Ship Enterprise embarked on its mission Roddenberry was a prolific writer providing teleplays running the gamut from westerns to crime thrillers and medical drama. One of the main reasons for the phenomenon of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise was his eclectic writing skills that were able to infuse a universal appeal to his series. Like the original TNG would incorporate that broad infusion of humanistic themes that made TOS a cultural force of nature that swept through our culture. Paramount has already released all three seasons of TOS remastered in stunning high definition. Currently they are working their way through TNG bringing them up to the third season under consideration here.
Over the initial two seasons of TNG the series had already distinguished itself as a hit worthy successor to the original. Still there was a certain blend of gravitas and playfulness that the foundation of TOS was based. Roddenberry’s health was declining and the network encouraged a change in the creative minds behind the stories. The Head writer Maurice Hurley was replaced by Michael Piller who also took over much of the Executive Producer credit sharing it with another prominent writer, Rick Berman. Their continued involvement with the direction the series would take is considered by fans as the most significant reason TNG was able to build on legacy of TOS and carve out its own well-deserved place among the great stories of science fiction. They also brought on anther writer who would help reinforce the underlying emotional depth that was instilled in the show. That writer was Ronald D. Moore, who would go on to become the creator and show runner of his Sci-Fi franchise and piece of genre lore, the reimagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’. His primary responsibility in TNG was as the go to man for stories focused on alien races particularly the Klingons and Romulans.
RDM, as Moore is widely known, brought his special skills in exhibiting the human condition through the filter of an alien species’ perspective. Much of the incredible insight that ‘Battlestar Galactica’ such a remarkable feat was honed with his involvement with TNG and it all began here in its third season. His first contribution to the star Trek legacy was in the fifth episode of the season, ‘The Bonding’. It dealt with an aspect of space exploration that has long been a part of the Star Trek universe, death. One of the major changes made to the format of TNG the Enterprise was expanded from a militarily based vessel to the home for families. Children were now counted as part of the ship’s compliment and although a concerted effort is made to keep them out of harm’s way their parents may face mortal peril. This episode examined this emotionally charged contingency. While on a standard away mission an ancient mine is triggered and although beamed directly to sick bay Lieutenant Marla Aster is declared dead. She was survived by her son Jeremy. The Captain has to perform the saddest of all his responsibilities, one that Kirk never had to perform, inform a young boy his only parent has died. This level of pathos set the bar above most of the dramatic series on television reinforcing the premise supported by Roddenberry that science fiction was not just for kids; it could be a vehicle for serious drama and an exploration of the varied components of the human psyche. Between Moore and Piller the writing took a remarkable upswing making this third season pivotal to the franchise and science fiction in general.
Moore also wrote the episode ‘The Defector’ which provided insight into the political dissent taking root in the Romulan Empire and a potential move to attack the Federation. These themes would be expanded as integral to later TNG episodes and the spinoffs. Another of the numerous themes that this season introduced that would become critical to the future direction of the franchise was the introduction of a new race of Aliens, the Cardassians. They would serve as one of the primary adversaries to the Federation and instrumental to the spin off series, ‘Deep Space 9’. They would be the go to villain until the season cliffhanger, ‘Best of Both Worlds’ which brought back the cybernetic ultimate threat, the Borg. Rather than making fans wait until the Blu-ray release of TNG season 4 Paramount has released both Episodes in a standalone Blu-ray release. Not only does this season continue the trend of providing greater insight into the psychological makeup of the individual characters but the peaceful mandate and quest to expand scientific knowledge Roddenberry envisioned as the future of humanity as we explore the stars is given episodes to widen the understanding of that premise. In "Who Watches the Watchers", the prime directive of non-interference is given a novel twist. The episode details the impact of a pre first contact race gaining knowledge of people from the distant stars. Such advanced technology leads them to deify Picard.
One of the most popular innovations introduced with TNG was the holodeck. In "A Matter of Perspective" it is used to help exonerate Riker from murder charges on a research station orbiting a planet. This episode brings a new technology to a classic murder mystery. Some episodes were a touch more playful such as Picard going on holiday and being pulled into a deadly treasure hunt and a bit of romance. Familiar characters make a return in several episodes such as the return of Tarsha Yar ( Denise Crosby), the former security chief killed in the previous season. Thanks to the longevity of Vulcans Mark Lenard reprises his role as Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek. The crew’s family receives attention in a couple of episodes most notably "Sins of the Father" which elaborates on Worf’s Klingon ancestry and the issues that prompted him to seek a career in the Federation and "Ménage à Troi", r vein story that provides a look at the issues common between mothers and their daughters as seen through the often turbulent relationship between Counselor Deanna Troi and her mother, Lwaxana, an Ambassador to the Federation.
Of course it is a given that fans will collect all seven seasons in high definition. The increased resolution of the 1080p video and the room shaking 5.1 audio is remarkable. Yet this third season is special as one that propelled Star Trek to new heights of quality.