Weekly Trek – September 12-18, 2016

While the original Star Trek series (TOS) reached a level that could without much hyperbole be considered iconic, the series that followed actually didn’t lean too heavily on what came before.  With a few exceptions, the later shows struck out in new directions, but for the next few weeks, I will be talking about those times that the later shows did make a direct callback to the original Star Trek.

As the first Star Trek series to introduce a new set of characters, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) had a lot to live up to.  Fans of TOS were skeptical, and I can only imagine the outcry would have been like online if the Internet had existed in its present form back then.  TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” spent most of its time introducing the new ship and crew, as you would expect.  Their adventure with Q and at Farpoint Station had nothing to do with anything the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk had dealt with (Although, there was a great deal of fan speculation that Q was from the same species as Trelane from the TOS episode “The Squire of Gothos,” an idea that Peter David followed up on in his 1994 novel Q-Squared.).  “Encounter at Farpoint” did contain a nice hand-off moment, though, as Lieutenant Commander Data escorts a quite elderly Admiral Leonard McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley, on a tour of the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D.  McCoy’s appearance is little more than a cameo, but he did leave Data with these wise words about the USS Enterprise, “You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”

TNG’s second episode, “The Naked Now,” was a sequel to the TOS episode, “The Naked Time.”  In both stories, the crew is infected with a virus that causes personality changes.  The original contains the famous scene of a shirtless Sulu in full-on swashbuckler mode brandishing a sword around the ship.  In the TNG episode, many of the crew, including the android Data, suffer symptoms similar to drunkenness.  This episode’s most famous scene is probably Lieutenant Yar’s seduction of Data.  It’s not a terrible episode, but it should not have been the series’ second outing.  It’s hard to appreciate the crew’s altered personalities, when we’ve barely gotten to know their regular ones.

TNG avoided much in the way of TOS references from there until the third season when Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek, played by Mark Lenard, came aboard for a diplomatic conference in the appropriately titled episode, “Sarek.”  This story revealed that the aged Vulcan was suffering from a neurological disease called Bendii Syndrome that was causing him to lose control of his emotions.  Captain Picard offers to mind meld with Sarek, giving the Vulcan control back long enough to get through the conference.

Sarek appears again at the beginning of the two-part “Unification” story in Season Five in scenes showing the death of the character, but that major event is overshadowed by the episode’s main guest star, Spock himself as played by Leonard Nimoy.  “Unification,” which involves Ambassador Spock’s efforts to unify the Vulcan and Romulan peoples, aired a few weeks before the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which marked the final film appearance of the entire original crew of the Enterprise, and the storyline makes reference to the events of the film.  Nimoy’s appearance on TNG was big news and brought in great ratings, but the crossover went both ways withT NG actor Michael Dorn playing his character’s grandfather, Colonel Worf, in Star Trek VI.

My favorite of the TOS-inspired episodes of TNG is “Relics” from Season Six.  In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise-D finds a ship crashed on the surface of a Dyson Sphere.  They discover that the ship’s transporter buffer is still running and contains two patterns, one of which is retrievable.  They rematerialize the buffer occupant and find that it is none other than Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  What follows is a touching episode about a man out of time dealing with a galaxy that has passed him by.  At one point, Scotty visits the bridge of the original Constitution-class USS Enterprise in a beautiful scene that likely hit more that one TOS fan right in the feels (I count myself among that number.).  In the end, Scotty’s knowledge is able to help in a crisis situation, and he sets out in a shuttle given to him by the Enterprise-D crew to learn about the 24th century.  Jimmy Doohan puts in a wonderful performance as the time-displaced Scotty, which I would rank among his best work ever for Star Trek.

The big crossover event between the two series, though, didn’t take place on TV screens.  Instead, it was in the first film to feature the TNG crew, Star Trek: Generations.  But even this is not a complete crossover, since many of the TOS actors opted not to appear.  Parts that were originally written for Spock and McCoy ended up going to Scotty and Chekov.  Really the only TOS character with any meat to his appearance, though, was William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk and really the film was advertised around the meeting of Kirk and TNG’s Captain Picard.  While I find the film itself wildly uneven (and it forces the TNG crew to be idiots in order for one major plot point to occur), Shatner’s performance is great.  I don’t know if it was because he wasn’t the lead, but he seems relaxed and to be having a great time in what is Captain Kirk’s final adventure.

While that was it for TOS’s influence of TNG, its effects would reach to the later series, as I will discuss in the weeks to come. 

- Alan Decker

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