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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
arlier this year, when the new “Star Trek” movie was released in theaters, Paramount trotted out two “Best of” collections from their most endurable franchise. One compiled four episodes from the original series, the other dished up four installments from “The Next Generation,” and both were very nice discs aimed at the casual collector who has little interest in forking over big bucks for entire seasons of either show but would like to own a few classic episodes for periodic enjoyment. Fast forward to the DVD release date of the latest “Star Trek” film, and Paramount has offered up another two discs from the same two series, again each featuring four episodes for your short-attention span enjoyment.
That first “Next Generation” disc was very good, but the episodes chosen for it were somewhat too predictable. Devoting half of the disc to the “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter – a TV epic featuring Jean Luc-Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) temporary transformation into a Borg – was a no-brainer. With the latest volume, however, the folks in charge have been a tad more creative in choosing what may be the best of “The Next Generation” and have come up with a really thoughtful cross-section of episodes. These are not action packed installments of the series, but rather a smarter, more poignant collection of emotion and dialogue driven episodes, featuring some excellent examples of how well written this show really could be when the writers found their cylinders firing off in the right directions.
Kicking off the disc is “Relics,” an episode notable for bringing back Scotty (James Doohan) from the original series. As is so often the case for a series that isn’t really about time travel but must quickly bend the rules in order to pull off a gimmick such as this, the convenient Deus Ex-Machina fates conspire to bring Scotty forward some 80 years so he can have an adventure with the new crew. Normally such nostalgia-fests can feel all-too obvious, but “Relics,” scripted by “Battlestar Galactica” showrunner Ronald Moore, has a few special tricks up its sleeve. Scotty ends up being a man out of place and time; a fogey whose old-school antics and attitudes have little place on the sleek, updated Enterprise D. It’s quite the hoot to see his reaction to the synthesized booze available in the bar, and his continual reminiscences that begin with “back in my day…” fall mostly on deaf and uninterested ears. It’s a brave twist on nostalgia to make a classic “Trek” hero such a rube, but the episode never lets him become truly pathetic, and in the end he gets to be something of a hero. Really nice stuff this one is, and much better than I’d remembered it being from the first and only time I saw it all those years ago when it first aired.
Next up is “The Inner Light,” the only episode on this disc I’d never seen prior to checking out this review copy, and let me tell you, it’s probably the best offering on the platter, which is no mean feat for this disc. In the pre-credits sequence, the Enterprise encounters an alien probe which latches onto Picar, and propels his mind into a whole other life – that of a simple villager named Kamin, who resides in a village that may be slowly dying due to drought. But Picard/Kamin clearly recalls his previous life and spends years trying to figure out what happened. Along the way he falls in love, raises a family, becomes a prominent figure in the village, learns to play the flute, and grows old in the process. Years pass for Kamin, while back onboard the Enterprise, mere minutes are ticking by. This is a highly emotional episode, and it does everything in 45 minutes that ever made this show really work. The implications of what happens to Picard in this episode are pretty mind-blowing, and when it’s over, it’s difficult to imagine how a human being could recover from such an experience. It’s a stellar outing for “The Next Generation,” and an episode I could watch over and over.
“Cause and Effect” is probably the least interesting offering on the disc, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t a lot to appreciate about it. It’s a déjà vu episode, which sees the Enterprise literally blowing up repeatedly, but each time it happens, the scenario begins again, and the crew starts piecing together what’s happening to them, with each new reset. The biggest problem with this episode is that there is, as you might expect, a great deal of repetition, including the Enterprise’s destruction, which we see at least five times. Nevertheless, writer Brannon Braga makes a go of the concept and gives the viewer just enough to chew on to keep it interesting. Mostly, though, as I was watching, I kept wondering how much it would suck to be a civilian living onboard the Enterprise, living under the constant threat of death, and waking up each day, never knowing if it was going to be the last. You couldn’t pay me enough to live a civilian life onboard the Enterprise, and waking up probably wouldn’t even be an issue, as I’d have a hard time even getting to sleep at night. Keep an eye out for a cameo from Kelsey Grammer in the episode’s final moments.
Last, but far from least, is “Tapestry,” a “Next Gen” episode that I saw years ago, dearly loved at the time, and as it turns out, still love today. Again, written by Moore, and again a Picard-centric offering, this one sees the reappearance of intergalactic and all-powerful shit-disturber Q (John de Lancie). It appears Picard has died, and Q decides to play the Ghost of Christmas Past by showing him what his life would have been like had he done a few things differently in his youth. Picard’s regrets, and his desire to go back and handle a certain event with more care, ripples forward and creates an entirely different life for Picard – one that is not nearly as exhilarating or important. De Lancie and Stewart were one of the great double acts in “Trek,” and there’s a reason the show kept bringing Q back, even when it seemed it’s done everything it could do with him. This was unquestionably one of, if not the best Q tale in the entire series, and much like “The Inner Light,” it leaves the viewer with much to ponder.
Special Features: As with the previous “Best of” collections, this offering is bare bones.