This is the season that changed everything. After a shaky and unfocused first season, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION showed marked improvements in season two; however, the series was still searching for its definitive voice. It wasn’t until season three that STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION began to catch fire, with the creative team finally being capable of producing compelling stories with a sense of consistency. Not only did season three produce a number of great episodes, it featured a few that would not be bested during the course of the show’s seven year run, including the highly regarded The Best of Both Worlds Part 1.
Season three also marked the return of characters from various areas of the Star Trek universe. First and foremost the character of Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), who was unceremoniously dropped from season two of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, made her return as a reinstated crewmember of the Starship Enterprise. Security Chief Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), who had died in season one, manages a return from the dead- making a guest appearance in the episode Yesterday's Enterprise. Other returning characters include Ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) from the original series, as well as the omnipotent Q (John de Lancie), who shows a decidedly different side of his character.
Season three marks the long anticipated return of The Borg- the single most dreaded enemy that the Federation ever faced. Finally, season three marked a return of another sort- the show went back to the format of twenty-six episodes, instead of the twenty-two that made the sophomore year of the show too short a season. The twenty-six episodes that comprise STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON THREE ($140) come to DVD in the form of a seven disc boxed set from Paramount Home Entertainment.
Disc one contains the episodes Evolution, The Ensigns of Command, The Survivors and Who Watches The Watchers?. In the third season opener, Evolution, the recently returned Dr. Crusher worries that her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) is working himself too hard with his studies and duties as Acting Ensign. Her worries turn out to be justified when he falls asleep in the middle of an experiment, allowing two microscopic machines to escape into the ship’s computer core, where they begin evolving at an exponential rate- threatening both the Enterprise and a once-in-a-lifetime experiment for a noted scientist. The Ensigns of Command finds Data (Brent Spiner) having to clear a long-standing human colony from a world with high levels of radiation, when it is found that the colonists are in violation of a preexisting Federation treaty. In The Survivors, the crew of the Enterprise has to solve the mystery of why two elderly botanists were the only people left alive after of a brutal alien attack killed all eleven thousand of their fellow colonists. The Prime Directive is unintentionally violated in Who Watches The Watchers? when an anthropological mission to a primitive world is discovered and contaminates the belief system of the local populace.
Disc two contains the episodes The Bonding, Booby Trap, The Enemy and The Price. In The Bonding, one of the ship’s officers is killed during a routine archeological mission, which leaves her orphaned son more than a little confused when the dead woman mysteriously reappears on the Enterprise in the form of a living breathing person. Booby Trap is definitely one of the third season’s highlights and offers a story in which the Enterprise is trapped by a weapon left over from an ancient interstellar war. To save the ship, Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) seeks help from a holodeck recreation of one of the Enterprise’s designers- a woman to whom he is instantly attracted. In The Enemy, the Enterprise answers a distress call on the boarder of Romulan space, which leads to LaForge being captured and the possibility of a new Federation/Romulan war. The Price offers the Federation a chance to acquire the first stable wormhole ever discovered, as long as Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) doesn’t allow her feelings for one of the competing parties to get in the way of the negotiation.
Disc three contains the episodes The Vengeance Factor, The Defector, The Hunted and The High Ground. In The Vengeance Factor Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) tries to mediate a peaceful reunification between long feuding factions of the same race, however an assassin looking to settle an old dispute complicates things for Picard and the crew of the Enterprise. The Defector turns out to be a superior cold war drama involving a high-ranking Romulan’s decision to defect to the other side, thus allowing him to maintain the peace and inform the Federation of an impending invasion by his people. The Hunted involves the discovery of the mistreatment of war veterans on a planet being investigated by the Enterprise crew for possible admission into the Federation. Dr. Crusher becomes a hostage in The High Ground, when the Enterprise arrives at a planet to render humanitarian aid after a terrorist bomb blast.
Disc four contains the episodes Deja Q, A Matter of Perspective, Yesterday's Enterprise and The Offspring. Deja Q is another superior season three offering that finds the omnipotent Q stripped of his powers and deposited on the bridge of the Enterprise. While Picard and crew are wary of this supposedly mortal Q, one of Q’s old enemies try to take advantage of the situation- threatening the safety of the Enterprise, as well as the populace of an entire planet. Yesterday's Enterprise is certainly one of the best episodes produced during the entire seven-season run of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. The plot involves a starship from the past traveling twenty-two years into the future, which radically alters the present and plunging the Federation into a long time war with the Klingon Empire. Only Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) is aware of the changes in the present reality and she has to convince Picard to send the starship back to where it came, even if it means sending the crew to their deaths. A Matter of Perspective goes the he said she said route, when Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is accused of a murder and the holodeck is used to recreate the various accounts of a noted scientist’s death. The Offspring is another of season three’s highlights with its tale of the ramifications of Data’s decision to create an android daughter.
Disc five contains the episodes Sins of the Father, Allegiance, Captain's Holiday and Tin Man. Sins of the Father is another standout episode in which Worf (Michael Dorn) is forced to return to the Klingon home world and defend his family’s honor against an accusation of treason. In Allegiance Picard is kidnapped by an unknown alien race and forced to endure a psychological laboratory experiment, while back on the Enterprise, an alien double has taken the captain’s place. Captain's Holiday is an episode of a different sort, in which Picard gets to let down his hair (so to speak) and play Indiana Jones and kiss the girl during a shore leave adventure that is anything but restful. In Tin Man, the Enterprise delivers a powerful telepath to a first contact meeting with an alien life form that resembles an organic spaceship- the situation is further complicated by the arrival of the Romulans.
Disc six contains the episodes Hollow Pursuits, The Most Toys, Sarek and Ménage à Troi. Hollow Pursuits is another season three standout that introduces the reoccurring character of Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), an introverted officer who acts of a vivid fantasy life on the holodeck. Picard assigns LaForge the task of drawing the misfit officer out of his shell; however, things become more uncomfortable for everyone when the senior officers discover the nature of Barclay’s holo-addiction. In The Most Toys, the Enterprise crew is made to believe that Data has been destroyed; however, as it turns out, the android officer has been made part of a collection of "one-of-a-kind" items by an unscrupulous trader. Spock’s father makes an appearance in Sarek, a tale of the elderly Vulcan ambassador’s final diplomatic mission for the Federation, one that is complicated by unexplained violent outbursts amongst the Enterprise’s crew. Ménage à Troi marks the seasonal appearance of Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) in a story of an amorous Ferengi, who wants to make use of Lwaxana’s telepathic skills by kidnapping her, her daughter Deanna and Riker.
Disc seven contains the episodes Transfigurations and The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1. In Transfigurations, the Enterprise rescues an amnesiac alien from an escape pod in the middle of a debris field. As he recovers, the mysterious and enigmatic alien turns out to be far more than he initially appeared. As I stated above, The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1 is probably STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION finest moment in episodic television. The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1 marks the long anticipated return of the Borg, in a story in which Captain Picard is turned into a member of the Borg collective, as their fist step in assimilating the entire Federation - starting with Earth.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made all of the episodes from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON THREE available on DVD in their proper full screen aspect ratios of their original broadcasts. Episodes from season three do look better than those from season one and two DVD box sets, but there are flaws in the video portion of every episode, due to the fact that the show’s special effects and post production work was completed in the video realm, instead of on film. These flaws are less noticeable on the season three box set than they were on the first two, which is probably attributable to a higher budget and the development of better production techniques as the series progressed.
The image on the DVDs is fairly crisp and offers a respectable level of detail, with this presentation offering noticeable improvements over either Laserdisc or broadcast. Colors tend to be nicely saturated and more stable than they appeared on the previous two seasons. Additionally, flesh tones are a bit more natural on this release. Blacks are accurately rendered and contrast is within the expected parameters of episodic television cinematography. The cleanly authored DVDs don’t betray any signs of digital compression artifacts, even though most discs contain four episodes.
The episodes are offered with Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mixes that are an improvement on the Dolby Surround original broadcasts. In Dolby Digital, there is definitely a greater sense of presence and cleaner definition, than there was in the matrixed format. However much of the time, the mix comes across as this great enveloping cocoon of ambient sound, instead of offering individualized or localized effects. Of course, this is attributable to the show’s original sound design and not a flaw in the Dolby Digital soundtracks. The sound mixes do offer their share of directional sound effects, but they are somewhat constrained by the broadcast medium for which they were designed. The bass channel is effectively used to enhance the steady hum of the Enterprise’s engines and add clout to other sound effects. For maximum enjoyment, one should apply as much amplification as they and their equipment can stand. Dialogue is always cleanly rendered, although it still does nothing to clarify the show’s notorious techno-babble. English Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVDs, as are English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus, which continue to utilize an interface reminiscent of the Enterprise’s computer systems. Through the menus, one has access to individual episodes and scene selection within the episodes, as well as each disc’s set up features. The menu system on disc seven also provides access to season three’s supplemental materials, which pretty much stick to the same format as contained on the first two season DVD box sets.
Under the title of Mission Logs, one will find the following programs: Mission Overview, Selected Crew Analysis, Departmental Briefings: Production and Memorable Missions. Mission Overview: Year Three runs over seventeen minutes and offers a series of new and old interviews that look at the highlights and changes that occurred during the third season of the series. Clocking in at less than fourteen minutes is the Selected Crew Analysis, which features interviews with the cast and creative team, who discuss the development of the characters over the course of the third season. Running roughly twenty minutes is the Departmental Briefing: Production, which offers a look at some of the difficulties that occurred behind-the-scenes during the third season, as well as a glimpse at season three’s visual effects work and music. Memorable Missions runs about thirteen minutes and features interviews with cast and crewmember who discuss their favorite moments from the season three.
With consistent quality and more than a few outstanding episodes, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON THREE certainly marks the point when the series came into its own. Once again, Paramount Home Entertainment has done great job with the presentation of the episodes, making them look and sound better than they have in the past. My only problem with season three is the final episode cliffhanger that has me anxiously anticipating the arrival next box set. Thank goodness for Paramount’s accelerated release schedule, otherwise I’d be going out of my mind for a half a year or better waiting for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON FOUR to show up.
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