Although STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION didn’t really hit its stride until season three, season two is the point at which the show began to really find its voice and the actors became comfortable in their roles. I should also note that season two produced a number of episodes that I would count amongst my favorites, and it was during the second season that The Borg; the ultimate Star Trek adversaries were introduced. One of the more interesting and perhaps overlooked additions of the second season was Commander Riker’s beard. With the beard, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) seemed less stiff and developed more of a roguish charm- the beard also differentiated Riker from just about every other human male in Starfleet, all of whom are clean shaven.
Of course, there was some difficulties associated season two of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. First and foremost was the problem of a writer’s strike that truncated the season to only twenty-two episodes, which culminated with what many refer to as a "cheap clip show." Next was the decision to write out the character of Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and replace her with Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur). For some reason Gene Roddenberry must have thought having the ships doctor become a foil the emotionless android Data (Brent Spiner) would have been reminiscent of the mildly antagonist (and popular) relationship between the original series Spock and McCoy. However, this didn’t pan out and Dr. Crusher found herself reassigned back to the Enterprise for season three. With all that said, Paramount Home Entertainment has brought STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON TWO ($135) to DVD in a six disc boxed set containing all twenty-two episodes and additional supplemental materials.
Disc one contains the episodes The Child, Where Silence Has Lease, Elementary, Dear Data and The Outrageous Okona. The second season opener, The Child, finds Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) impregnated by an alien life force and she gives birth to a son, all within a matter of hours- what does this child want from Troi and the crew of the Enterprise? The season opener also introduced the sage like character of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who served as bartender in the Enterprise’s new lounge Ten Forward. In the episode Where Silence Has Lease, the Enterprise becomes trapped in an empty void and subject to an unknown entity’s experiments with the concept of mortality. In Elementary, Dear Data, a holodeck fantasy in which Data gets to play Sherlock Holmes has the potential to destroy the Enterprise, when the ship’s computer creates an adversary capable of defeating the android. The Outrageous Okona is a roguish space trader in need of repairs that accepts the Enterprise’s offer of help, but soon after he comes on board, factions from two rival planets arrive- each claiming the right to arrest him. The episode also includes a secondary story in which Data tries to cultivate a sense of humor through the use of a holodeck-generated comedian.
Disc two contains the episodes Loud as a Whisper, The Schizoid Man, Unnatural Selection and A Matter of Honor. Loud as a Whisper features a deaf and dumb mediator, who is brought in by the Enterprise to settle a planetary civil war; however, when the individuals through which the mediator telepathically communicates are killed- the entire peace process is thrown into jeopardy. In The Schizoid Man, Data begins acting strangely after encountering dying scientist Ira Graves; however, the Enterprise crew quickly discovers the reason- Graves transferred his intellect to the android’s body in a bid for immortality. Unnatural Selection begins with the Enterprise answering a distress call from another starship; however, when they arrive they find that the entire crew of the other ship has died of old age. Tracing the contamination back to its point of origin, Dr. Pulaski becomes infected when she tries to help some of contamination’s other victims. A Matter of Honor is certainly one of the season’s highlights, with its story of Commander Riker agreeing to participate in an officer exchange program and serving on board a Klingon vessel. As Riker adapts to the Klingon code of honor, a situation arises that could force a conflict between the Klingon ship and the Enterprise- one which will test his loyalties to both ships.
Disc three contains the episodes The Measure of a Man, The Dauphin, Contagion and The Royale. The Measure of a Man is another of the season’s highlights in which Lt. Cmdr. Data’s rights of self-determination are brought into question. Is Data the property of Starfleet and obligated to participate in a risky experiment to create other androids, or is he an individual and guaranteed the rights of any other federation citizen? To answer this question, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) must turn to the local JAG Officer, who just happens to be the woman that served as prosecutor in his Court Martial over the loss of his previous ship the Stargazer. The Dauphin finds Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) in his first romantic encounter with a young planetary leader, whom the Enterprise is ferrying home. However, Wesley soon learns that this beautiful girl and her overprotective bodyguard are not exactly what they appear to be. In Contagion, the Enterprise witnesses the destruction of its sister ship the Yamato, which became infected by a computer virus created by a long dead alien civilization. However, before its destruction, the Enterprise crew is able to download the Yamoto’s logs, which unfortunately leaves the Enterprise also infected. The Royale opens with the Enterprise encountering a piece of a spacecraft launched from Earth in the 21st Century. Their effort to locate the rest of the craft leads the Enterprise to a deserted planet, where several crewmembers find themselves trapped in a recreation of a hotel that would appear to be based on a centuries old pulp novel.
Disc four contains the episodes Time Squared, The Icarus Factor, Pen Pals and Q Who?. Captain Picard meets his double in Time Squared- with the disoriented doppelganger arriving from six hours in the future, in a shuttlecraft whose logs indicate that the captain was the only survivor of the recently destroyed starship Enterprise. In The Icarus Factor, Commander Riker is offered a ship of his own and finds himself face to face with his estranged father, a man with whom he has a deep-seated resentment. The plot of Pen Pals finds Data unintentionally breaking the Prime Directive by contacting a young girl on an endangered world; however, after much debate, the crew of the Enterprise determines that they should do what they can to help stabilize the girl’s home planet. Q Who? is another of the second season’s standout episodes, one in which the omnipotent Q (John de Lancie) returns and offer his services to Captain Picard as The Enterprise’s guide to the cosmos and their protector from things that they are ill prepared to encounter. However, when Picard rebuffs him, Q decides to teach Picard and all of humanity a lesson it will never forget. Transporting the Enterprise halfway across the galaxy, Q brings about humanity’s first encounter with The Borg- an unstoppable, unrelenting and unremorseful alien life form that expands its sphere of influence by assimilating other species and their technology.
Disc five contains the episodes Samaritan Snare, Up The Long Ladder, Manhunt and The Emissary. Samaritan Snare finds Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) kidnapped by the very same slow-witted aliens to whom he offered his assistance in repairing their malfunctioning ship. Meanwhile, Captain Picard faces life-threatening surgery when he must have his malfunctioning artificial heart repaired. In Up The Long Ladder, the Enterprise must rescue two diverse groups of colonists from the unstable star in their solar system. Although starting out together, one group has returned to an agricultural way of life, while the other has resorted to cloning to maintain its society. Manhunt marks to return of Counselor Troi’s mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry), who has marriage on her mind and Captain Picard in her crosshairs. However, Picard retreats to the holodeck, where he hides from Lwaxana Troi in the world of a Dixon Hill adventure. In The Emissary, an all but forgotten Klingon sleeper ship is due to emerge from hibernation. Because the crew of the sleeper ship went into hibernation while there were still hostilities between the Federation and The Klingon Empire, the Klingons dispatch an emissary to the Enterprise to help deal with the ship and protect the long-standing peace that now exists between the two powers. As fate would have it, the emissary turns out to be an infuriating woman whom Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) was once romantically involved.
Disc six contains the episodes Peak Performance and Shades of Gray. Peak Performance finds the crew of the Enterprise preparing for the pending Borg threat by participating in a battle simulation with a derelict starship captained by Commander Riker. However, the unexpected arrival of a Ferengi vessel threatens both ships, when the Enterprise’s weaponry becomes locked in simulation mode. Closing out season two is Shades of Gray, which has been referred to as a "cheap clip show" by more than a few of the series’ fans. The plot concerns Commander Riker being infected by an organism that attacks his nervous system. After much trial and error Dr. Pulaski discovers the only effective treatment is to stimulate Riker’s memories- hence the clips from past episodes that pad out the running time of the season finale.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made all of the episodes from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON TWO available on DVD in their proper full screen aspect ratios of their original broadcasts. Like the episodes from season one, the presentation on DVD does improve upon how the episodes look in syndicated broadcasts and on Laserdisc, but problems do remain. Because the show’s special effects and post production work was completed in the video realm and not on film, these sequences display weaknesses in the form of video noise and shimmer in every episode. Again, the only remedy for this situation would entail having every episode’s postproduction work redone in high definition. Another inconsistency is the amount of film grain that crops up from time to time in just about every episode, but this too is a result of the show’s budgetary constraints and the show’s postproduction work.
For the most part the episodes look pretty darn good and do show a marginal improvement over those from season one. The level of sharpness and detail can fluctuate within episodes from very crisp to mildly soft, but the image always remains highly watchable. Colors tend to be strongly rendered, but there are some moments where the hues do appear a bit subdued. Flesh tones usually look natural, although, like season one, they sometimes have a propensity to come off as a bit too red. Blacks are very solid looking and the image has pretty good contrast. Of course, there is certain flatness to the photography of episodic television shows, which remains evident here. Although there are four forty-six minute episodes per DVD, clean dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts from becoming noticeable.
As with season one, all of the episodes in the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON TWO DVD collection have been upgraded to Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes. The 5.1 channel sound is a definite improvement over the standard Dolby Surround mixes that were part of the original broadcasts and Laserdisc releases. While the forward soundstage still dominates, channel separation is cleaner and better defined across the front. The rear channels provide a good level of ambient sounds and musical fill. Engine rumble and the occasional whoosh of a passing space ship are the most effective uses of the surround channels. Dialogue reproduction is clean and fully intelligible, which doesn’t always help with some of the show’s techno-babble. I have to say that STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was a well-recorded show for the late 1980s, which is evidenced in the solid fidelity of these new sound mixes. Additionally, the bass channel provides each show with a rather punchy bottom end- so don’t spare the amplification while watching the episodes. 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 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. Disc six’s menus also provide access to the set’s supplementary materials. Under the title of Mission Logs, one will find the following programs: Mission Overview, Selected Crew Analysis, Starfleet Archives, Departmental Briefings: Production and Memorable Missions. Mission Overview runs fifteen minutes and looks at the changes the show underwent during its second season, including cast changes and the addition of a major new set. Running fourteen minutes is the Selected Crew Analysis, which features interviews with the cast and creative team, who discuss the development of the characters across the second season. Clocking in at seventeen minutes is the Starfleet Archives section, which is a detailed look behind the scenes at the various props and models use in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, as well as in the theatrical films. The Production section of Departmental Briefings clocks in at eighteen minutes and offers a look behind-the-scenes at all the work that went into creating the second season episodes. Memorable Missions runs about seventeen minutes and lets the cast and crew of the series pick out their favorite moments from the second season.
With a larger budget and better scripts, the second season of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION is certainly stronger than the first. Of course, some will claim it was too short a season and the "cheap clip show" season finale left a lot to be desired. Still, there were enough standout episodes produced during the second season of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION to make it clear that the show had genuinely found its voice. Paramount’s DVD box set looks and sounds better than syndicated broadcasts and offers fans the convenience of having the episodes available at their fingertips. Without question, the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON TWO DVD collection is something fans of the series will definitely want to own. Personally, I love having television shows in season-by-season box sets, and in particular, I love Paramount’s accelerated release schedule, which will make the entire seven-year run of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION available before the end of 2002. One final thought, watching this boxed set has got me really psyched for season three- I can’t wait for it to arrive!
reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied
or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.