The Next Generation season two is a revelation. Not in the sense that it’s unimaginably better than season one — it is, but just a bit. No, it’s a revelation because I never knew that Dr Pulaski existed.
She's actually a pretty decent character, arguably more interesting than Dr Crusher, who's entertaining more for Gates McFadden's portrayal than the writing. I quite enjoy her android racism, as she stumbles into a ship of totally woke 24th century people, who are super-cool with Data.
It’s great to have Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan too — she sneaks just a little bit of mystery into the show, and not in the painful, cheesy way that American shows often attempt enigmatic characters. I’m looking at you, Galen from Crusade, though I’m fairly sure no one else gives you a second thought.
I mentioned last season my dismay at Brent Spiner’s attempt at Sherlock Holmes, which sadly returns in ‘Elementary, Dear Data’, a title that does not bode well. Mercifully (yet also a little unsatisfyingly) this is all brought to a halt when the story decides it’s suddenly all about Picard and Moriarty, and robs Data of the chance to actually prove himself. It also touches on the ethics of the development of artificial intelligences... but frankly I couldn't take it seriously, because I can't see Daniel Davis as anyone but Niles from The Nanny.
I don’t want to seem like I’m anti-Data, so allow me to single out ‘The Measure of a Man’ as perhaps my favourite episode so far. The Next Generation can often lean into preachy stiltedness, but this story has a solid emotional core that keeps it from terminal dullness, avoids schmaltz, and reminds us all that Data and Tasha Yar totally had a thing going on. The connection between the crew and Data is a beautiful thing, only slightly undermined when yet again, an arsehole pretends to be Data in ‘The Schizoid Man’, and yet again, they fail to spot it’s not their friend.
I did enjoy 'Q Who' though unlike most of these stories, I'd watched it before, as I used to seek out Q and Borg-related episodes from the video store as a child. If I had come to it cold, I think I would have been surprised by how well it handled the predicament, compared to TNG's common trap of making moral dilemmas over-preachy and under-dramatic.
And just touching on the episodes that I wasn’t particularly moved by:
- ‘The Child’ — this was… quite weird.
- ‘Where Silence has Lease’ — coincidentally, if you squint with your ears, Nagilum sounds kind of like “Mulligrub”.
- ‘The Outrageous Okona’ has a title that makes me want to hate it, but in the end, it’s just really unspectacular.
- ‘Loud as a Whisper’ — not terrible
- ‘Unnatural Selection’ — I was convinced that this was going to be the episode where Pulaski died to let Crusher come back. It’s not, but when you believe that might happen, it’s actually quite tense and engaging.
- ‘A Matter of Honor’ — Lots of fun, and Brian Thompson is good in everything.
- ‘The Dauphin’ — What a silly, silly costume.
- ‘Contagion’ — Pretty solid and tense.
- ‘The Royale’ — Oh, do we have a hotel set? that’s nice. Some cute visuals, but there’s no dramatic tension to speak of.
- ‘Time Squared’ — Some solid time travel.
- ‘The Icarus Factor’ — It’s very hard to take the Rikers seriously in those ridiculous outfits.
- ‘Pen Pals’ — Meh, but sweet.
- ‘Samaritan Snare’ — This feels vaguely ethically dodgy. Gomez is one of what I realise later will be many fun engineer characters that turn up for a few episodes and then disappear to Mandyville.
- ‘Up the Long Ladder’ - Irish
- ‘Manhunt’ — My god, the Dixon Hill episodes are tedious. At least Lwaxana makes it slightly less boring, as Majel Barrett sneaks in some vulnerability.
- ‘The Emissary’ — K’Ehleyr is way above your league, Worf, you're a fool to let her go.
- ‘Peak Performance’ — More meh.
And finally... we have ‘Shades of Grey’. As a long-time explorer of old Doctor Who, I’m no stranger to the idea that you might run out of money at the end of the year. But to deal with it by sticking two characters in a room while another is lying unconscious, and do a poorly-linked clip show, is a little shocking. That’s the season finale, the culmination of the generally improved season two, ending with Marina Sirtis emoting the living hell out of a wafer-thin plot, and Dr Pulaski spending all her time staring into techno-goggles. I was unsurprised to accidentally learn that it’s actually the worst-regarded episode in the history of Star Trek.
That's not true. I was pretty surprised it still wasn't an episode of Voyager.