Prolific character actor David Warner passed away on July 24th, just five days shy of his 81st birthday. I think that my fellow blogger A Middle Aged Geek summed up Warner’s appeal on his own retrospective:
“The actor’s range was his shield from typecasting, and he could play deeply sympathetic characters just as he could play the very embodiment of evil–all with complete believability.”
Warner was born in Manchester, England on 29 July, 1941. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and in 1962 joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company. Warner’s stage work brought him acclaim, but due to a case of stage fright in the early 1970s he made the decision to shift his career to movies & television, where he would work regularly for the next four and a half decades.
Warner is one of the first actors who I became aware of, as he was regularly appearing in movies that I saw in the theater and on television when I was a kid in the early 1980s.
Acting opposite Malcolm McDowell as novelist H.G. Wells, Warner played John Stevenson aka Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979) directed by Nicholas Meyer. His identity as the infamous serial killer uncovered in Victorian England, Stevenson flees to then-modern day San Francisco via Wells’ time machine, with the author pursuing him in the present in an effort to finally bring the Ripper’s killing spree to an end.
Warner played the physical embodiment of Evil in Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure Time Bandits (1981). A year later he appeared in the triple role of Ed Dillinger / Sark / the voice of the Master Control Program in the groundbreaking sci-fi virtual reality movie Tron.
Also around this time, in the 1979 horror movie Nightwing, Warner was cast in the somewhat more sympathetic role of scientist Philip Payne, who assists Nick Mancuso as Native American police officer Youngman Duran in fighting a swarm of vampire bats infected with the bubonic plague.
Having seen Warner in all of these, I was subsequently very pleased whenever he would turn up in a particular movie or television show.
Warner was cast as the human diplomat St. John Talbot in the underwhelming Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and as such he was quite surprised when he was then asked to appear as a different character in Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country (1991) by Nicholas Meyer, who had previously directed him 12 years earlier in Time After Time.
Years later Warner would jokingly suggest that everyone had simply forgotten he was in Star Trek V when they asked him to appear in the next one, and truthfully I barely recall him from it. In contrast, his performance as Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI, who Meyer conceived as a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Mikhail Gorbachev, was incredibly memorable. Warner brought genuine dignity & compassion to the role of Gorkon. As a result, it carried a real impact when the Chancellor was assassinated, and with his dying breath begged Captain Kirk not to let the peace negotiations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire die with him.
Warner made one last Star Trek appearance a year later when he played sadistic Cardassian interrogator Gul Madred in the two part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.” Warner made Madred a figure of quiet menace. It was such a powerful, sinister performance, and it was surprising to learn that Warner had only been cast shortly before filming began when another actor dropped out at the last minute. As he explained to The A.V. Club in 2017:
“So I took over with three days notice. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but there was a lot of dialogue in it. And I said, “Look, I’ll do it, but I’ve got three days, and I can’t learn that kind of dialogue in three days.” So they wrote it all up on boards for me to read. So if you ever see it again, you won’t see my eyes moving, but I read every single line that I spoke, because I just couldn’t learn it in time.”
Also around this time Warner appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze as Professor Jordan Perry, the scientist who was indirectly responsible for the Turtles mutating. Now, I was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books at the time, but even so I’ll readily admit The Secret of the Ooze was quite a silly movie. I feel Warner brought a touch of class to the proceedings. He apparently enjoyed working on it, as he told The A.V. Club:
“It was just great fun being in a movie like that. You know, for kids. I didn’t often do kids pictures… it was just great fun to be on the side of the good guys!”
From 1992 to 1995 Warner voiced Batman’s immortal adversary Ra’s al Ghul on Batman: The Animated Series, reprising the role on Superman: The Animated Series in 1999 and Batman Beyond in 2000. Voice director Andrea Romano made some brilliant casting decisions on Batman: The Animated Series, and Warner as Ra’s al Ghul was absolutely one of them. The first time I saw an episode with Ra’s and heard him speak I knew that Warner, with his rich, theatrical voice, was the perfect casting. To this day whenever I read a comic book in which Ra’s al Ghul appears I “hear” Warner’s voice in my head whenever I read the character’s dialogue.
Another solid performance by Warner was archeologist Aldous Gajic on the Babylon 5 episode “Grail” (1994). Gajic comes to the B5 space station in search of the Holy Grail, which he believes to be alien in origin.
In his later years Warner became associated with the British science fiction series Doctor Who. He acted in several of the Big Finish audio plays, including two, “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Masters of War,” where he played an alternate-reality incarnation of the Third Doctor who, instead of being exiled to Earth in 1970, arrives in 1997, where in his absence events have taken a definite turn for the worse. Warner also voiced the villainous Lord Azlok on the Doctor Who animated serial “Dreamland” in 2009.
Warner at last had the opportunity to appear in a live action episode of Doctor Who in 2013, guest starring in “Cold War” as the lovably eccentric, pop music obsessed Soviet scientist Professor Grisenko. “Cold War” was definitely one of the best episodes from Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and I feel that’s at least partially due to Warner’s presence. Grisenko and Clara had some good scenes together, with Warner and Jenna Coleman playing off each other very well.
All of this is only just a small portion of Warner’s career. Following has passing earlier this week, his career was covered in a number of retrospectives, and on several occasions while reading them my reaction was literally “Oh, I forgot he was in that one!” The IMDB lists 228 acting credits for him.
Warner leaves behind an impressive body of work. He will definitely be missed by his many fans.
It’s a bit difficult to believe that this month is the 25th anniversary of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine, which premiered on January 3, 1993. Time really does fly.
Unlike other Star Trek shows, DS9 was set on a space station, not a starship. Spinning off from events in The Next Generation, the premiere of DS9 saw the planet Bajor achieving independence after four decades of brutal occupation by the militant Cardassian Union. The space station Deep Space Nine was originally Terok Nor, a former Cardassian outpost orbiting the planet Bajor. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), a Starfleet Commander mourning the recent death of his wife, is assigned to the newly rechristened Deep Space Nine, to help oversee the restoration of the devastated Bajor in the hopes that it can join the Federation. In this unpredictable environment Sisko also sought to build a new life for himself and his young son Jake (Cirroc Lofton).
Sisko’s assignment appears to be very much a dead end for his career, until a stable wormhole opens nearby, a shortcut to the far distant Gamma Quadrant. The alien beings who occupy the wormhole are worshiped by the Bajorans as their gods, the Prophets. For seemingly-inexplicable reasons the Prophets have now manifested for the first time in centuries, and have anointed Sisko their Emissary. Instantly Sisko becomes one of the most important figures in the Alpha Quadrant, in charge of the station guarding a strategic wormhole, the sole individual with whom the entities occupying it will communicate. Sisko is, to say the least, ambivalent about his position of Emissary, especially as many Bajorans now see him as the representative to their gods.
Star Trek: DS9 had a dual focus. It examined the efforts of Sisko and his crew to aid Bajor in recovering from 40 years of foreign occupation, a task complicated by both the ineffectual, corrupt provisional government and by the continuing machinations of the Cardassians, who were still stinging from the humiliation of being driven from the planet. The show also concerned itself with the Federation’s explorations of the mysterious Gamma Quadrant, which until the discovery of the wormhole was a region of the galaxy that would have taken decades to reach via normal warp drive.
Due to the fact that it was set in a fixed point in space, DS9 was able to examine how various cultures grew and developed over time. The Bajorans, after spending 40 years fighting a desperate guerilla war to liberate their planet, now had to figure out how to work together to restore a stable system of government. The return of their Prophets also brought about conflicts between science and faith, further threatening to fragment Bajor’s people.
Meanwhile the Cardassians, after centuries of militaristic expansion, were beginning to enter a period of steep decline, with various factions within the corrupt government attempting to exploit the chaos for their own personal benefit. The proudly nationalistic Cardassian people also struggled to deal with guilt over the crimes their military had perpetrated against the Bajorans, and with the inconvenient truth that if their society did not change then it would eventually perish.
Beginning with the season two finale “The Jem’Hadar” and continuing until the conclusion of DS9’s seven year run, the Federation was faced with an existential threat in the form of the Dominion, a vast alliance of powers based in the Gamma Quadrant that was obsessed with bringing “order” to the galaxy. The Dominion was, in a way, a dark mirror of the Federation. Whereas the Federation relied upon diplomacy, the gift of technological advancement, and the promise of a “better” way of life to attract new member worlds, the Dominion utilized brute force and terror to expand its reach. DS9 was a show that was skeptical of institutions & authority, and it would make the case that though their methods differed dramatically, the Federation and the Dominion were alike in each arrogantly believing that their system of government was the ideal one.
The conflict with the Dominion enabled the show to take a close look at the United Federation of Planets. In both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation, the Federation was typically characterized as something quite close to utopia, a near-perfect society seemingly without any significant injustice or inequality. In spite of its occasional excesses and various blind spots, the Federation was, at least in theory, fundamentally based upon the principle of the rights of the individual. The Dominion, in contrast, was a fascist structure that demanded absolute obedience from its subjects. Not only was the Dominion diametrically opposed to the ideals of the Federation, it was also a vastly superior military power.
DS9 addressed the question of what happens when a utopia like the Federation encounters an adversary inimical to its very ideals, a foe that can neither be negotiated with nor outfought. Faced with the very real possibility of its destruction, the question repeatedly arises as to how far the Federation will go to achieve victory, how much it will compromise its principles to ensure its survival.
These ideas were, of course, examined via the regular characters of DS9, how they acted and reacted to the events of galactic importance taking place around them, how their lives were affected over the show’s seven years.
Sisko often saw his principles tested. He was stationed far from the peaceful center of the Federation, commanding a space station occupied by a diverse population of alien species. Helping the devastated, divided Bajor to rebuild, fighting the dissident Maquis who had dropped out of the Federation, and serving on the front lines of the brutal war with the Dominion, Sisko regularly struggled to live up to both his personal ethics and the ideals of Starfleet.
The season six episode “In the Pale Moonlight” pondered just how far Sisko would go in compromising his morality in his quest to prevent the Dominion from conquering the Alpha Quadrant. All these years later the episode remains one of the most riveting, thought-provoking, unsettling installments of the entire franchise.
Another character who was repeatedly challenged throughout the run of the show was Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the station’s First Officer. As a member of the Bajoran militia Kira was often pulled between her loyalty to her homeworld and her responsibilities serving under Sisko. Additionally, Kira had been born during the Occupation, and has spent most of her life fighting against the Cardassians. To be blunt, Kira and her compatriots in the Resistance could be regarded as terrorists. She had a great deal of blood on her hands, having been required to commit numerous violent acts in the struggle to liberate Bajor. Kira was unapologetic for her actions but at times was nevertheless haunted by her past. She also struggled with having to shift from being someone who had fought tooth & nail against an unjust status quo to being a member of the establishment.
One of the most fascinating characters on DS9 was Odo (René Auberjonois) a mysterious shapeshifting entity who had been discovered by the Bajorans during the Occupation. Odo had no knowledge of his past. Surly and brooding, he had fallen into the role of Terok Nor’s chief of security while it was still under Cardassian control, but was trusted enough by the Bajorans to remain in that position once the Federation moved in. Odo was the ultimate outsider; he was literally one of a kind. There were times when it seemed the only reasons why he stayed on DS9 were that he literally had nowhere else to go, and because he carried an unrequited love for Kira Nerys.
Odo’s sad story took an even more tragic turn once the Dominion entered the picture. Early in season three Odo was reunited with his shapeshifting people, only to quickly learn that they were the Founders, the ruthless rulers of the Dominion. Having spent centuries subjected to mistrust, the shapeshifting Founders had established the brutal Dominion, believing that the only way to escape being persecuted was to seize control of the galaxy. Odo, in spite of his sympathies for the Founders’ cause and his longing to rejoin his people, was nevertheless revolted by the Dominion’s horrific tyranny. He reluctantly returned with Kira and the other “solids” to DS9. Despite having found his people, he was in a way now more alone than ever.
DS9 seemed to be a port of call for people who had no roots, no place to call home. Worf (Michael Dorn), the only Klingon to serve in Starfleet, was one of the most popular characters on The Next Generation. Beginning in season four Worf joined the crew of DS9. He once again found himself expelled from his own society after he objected to the Klingon Empire’s war against the Cardassian Union. Worf correctly perceived that the Klingon Chancellor, by making spurious claims that Cardassia had been infiltrated by the shapeshifting Founders, was using the threat of the Dominion as a pretext to invade Cardassia. Unable to abide by the Empire’s dishonorable actions, he again pledged his loyalty to Starfleet. Worf was in for a shock, though, as he quickly found the colorful mayhem of DS9 to be very different from the orderly routine of the Starship Enterprise.
Another former member of the Enterprise crew who found himself stationed on DS9 was Miles O’Brien (Colm Meany). O’Brien was very much a working-class everyman who had a grounded, stoic perspective on the strange events that frequently beset the station. The station’s Chief of Operations, O’Brien had transferred from the Enterprise at the start of season one. He had hoped to give his wife Keiko and their young daughter Molly a more stable life than on a starship, although he quickly discovered that the station had its own particular brand of chaos. O’Brien seemed to be a magnet for trouble, often becoming mixed up in all manner of bizarre and horrifying events. He was undoubtedly the hard-luck hero of DS9.
Deep Space Nine found its feet much quicker than The Next Generation had, generally offering up some pretty good episodes during its first season. Nevertheless the writers did take a while to figure out what to do with the characters of Jadziya Dax (Terry Farrell) and Doctor Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig). Eventually the show settled down into having Dax as a purveyor of dry wit and confidant to Sisko.
Jadziya Dax was actually a composite of the Trill woman named Jadziya, the very long-lived symbiont slug-like entity Dax, and the memories of Dax’s previous Trill hosts. Dax’s prior incarnation, a charismatic diplomat named Curzon, had been a mentor to the young Sisko. Now that relationship evolved into a close friendship between the vivacious Jadziya and Sisko. Eventually, at the end of season six, Jadziya was killed, but the symbiont Dax survived. In season seven Dax was joined with another Trill, a young woman named Ezri (Nicole de Boer). This led to an interesting reversal of roles, with the now-seasoned Captain Sisko serving as a mentor to the inexperienced Ezri Dax.
The arrogant, ambitious Bashir, who probably would have been much more suited to service on the Enterprise, was often the odd man out on the dysfunctional DS9. However, as the series became more and more morally ambiguous, Bashir was often used to demonstrate how the ideals of Starfleet were being challenged, and how he refused to let his own ethics to be compromised. Bashir and O’Brien, in spite of their very different personalities & backgrounds, also developed an odd but endearing friendship over the course of the show’s seven years.
A discussion of DS9 would not be complete without mentioning the Ferengi. Originally conceived as uber-capitalist baddies in the first season of The Next Generation, the Ferengi were an immediate flop, and that series very quickly reduced them to comic relief. DS9 set out to rehabilitate the Ferengi, to make them into a three-dimensional, believable species. To a degree the show was successful. While the Ferengi were still rather implausible, and often silly, they nevertheless came across much better on DS9 than they had on TNG.
One of DS9’s regular characters was Quark (Armin Shimerman) a Ferengi bartender & club-owner operating out of the station’s promenade. Quark was always looking to make a quick buck, and often fell afoul of Odo, who was determined to halt the Ferengi’s extra-legal activities. As we got to know Quark, however, it became apparent that he did operate according to his own particular code of ethics. He wasn’t evil; rather his pursuit of wealth caused him to have a number of rather glaring moral blind spots. Quark’s main failing was that he was often unable, or unwilling, to foresee the negative consequences of his actions on both himself and others, at least until some particular scheme happened to blow up in his face, sometimes literally. To his credit, Quark would usually attempt to make things right with those he had harmed, albeit somewhat reluctantly, while also trying to recoup as much of his investment as possible.
I could also discuss such fascinating recurring characters as Gul Dukat, Garek, Nog, Winn Adami, Weyoun and Martok, but we would be here all day. Suffice it to say that DS9 had a rich, fascinating, colorful ensemble.
Deep Space Nine had been described as the most multicultural of the various Star Trek series. It was the first Star Trek show to feature a black man, the superb Avery Brooks, in the lead. Miles O’Brien was played by Irish-born Colm Meany, and Julian Bashir was played by English-Sudanese actor Alexander Siddig. Nearly all of the other characters on DS9, both regular and recurring, were members of different alien species, with their own cultures and mores, their different perspectives on the events that unfolded.
The show is also noteworthy for being one of the first American genre series to experiment with serialization. Various storylines played out across multiple episodes, and the final season concluded with an ambitious, epic nine-episode serial that worked to resolve as many of the plotlines and character arcs as possible.
Deep Space Nine was produced at a time when American television was at a crossroads. It definitely was a forerunner of the now-standard model of serialization, yet at the same time it was still being made when 26 episode seasons were the norm, to crank out as many hours of television as possible to sell to syndication. Inevitably each season had at least a few subpar installments. As the show progressed, and became more involved in long-form storytelling, those surplus episodes inevitably became somewhat more glaring, especially in the final two seasons.
While DS9 has for the most part aged exceptionally well, its treatment of women and sexual relations does feel rather dated. Dax and Kira were the only two significant female characters among the very large ensemble. Bashir’s almost stalker-ish pursuit of Jadziya Dax in the first couple seasons, Ezri Dax in the final season, and a few other women over the course of the show, sticks out as an especially poor choice in today’s climate. The relationship between Odo and Kira also has problematic aspects.
Nevertheless, despite certain missteps, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine remains a quality show. For the most part it was well-acted, well-written, and well-produced. It was actually quite ahead of its time in its examination of the challenges presented by multiculturalism, and its debate concerning liberty vs security during times of war. It is definitely a favorite of mine.
Thirty years ago this month, on September 28, 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted with the two hour premiere “Encounter at Farpoint” co-written by D.C. Fontana & Gene Roddenberry. Set nearly a century after the original Star Trek, the series featured a brand new crew headed by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) exploring the galaxy aboard the starship Enterprise-D.
To be perfectly honest, The Next Generation took a bit of time to find its footing. In the years since the original series aired in the late 1960s, series creator Gene Roddenberry had frequently been lauded by fans for his utopian vision of the future. It would be fair to say that perhaps Roddenberry bought too much into his press. When it came time for him to devise the structure of TNG, he approached his role not as a writer or a storyteller but as a philosopher presenting his ideology for humanity’s salvation.
In the first season of TNG, Roddenberry had the Federation presented as a post-scarcity socialist paradise where currency had been eliminated, conflict was all-but-unknown, and human beings had reached mental & emotional maturity. The crew of the new Enterprise was intended to be practically perfect… which seriously hampered the dramatic possibilities of the show. In those early episodes, each time there was a crisis Picard would calmly convene a meeting of his senior staff to reason out a solution.
Trust me when I say that I very much look forward to the day when humanity matures enough that when an emergency occurs our response will be to form a committee to peacefully resolve the situation. Having said that, it is a fact that dramatic fiction thrives on conflict, and the conflict-free ethos of that first season of TNG often rendered the show cripplingly dull. As someone who had become a fan of the original show via reruns and the movies, I watched most of the first season on TNG, but I was underwhelmed by it. When the second season began to air in late 1988 I had pretty much lost interest in the show.
Fast forward to the Summer of 1990… I was 14 years old and going to day camp, where I met two cool teenage girls, Meelise and Renee, both of whom also had an interest in science fiction. We all spent a lot of time hanging out. As I recall, Meelise and Renee both mentioned that they were fans of TNG. Thinking back to that first season, I expressed the opinion that it was a pretty disappointing show. Meelise insisted that is had become much better. She lent to me a few VHS tapes on which she had recorded a number of episodes from the recently-completed third season.
I remember taking those tapes home, watching them, and being genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed those episodes. Not only had the plotting gotten better, but the writing for the main characters had all improved tremendously.
Then I got to “The Best of Both Worlds” written by Michael Piller, the riveting season finale which ended with the shocking cliffhanger of Captain Picard assimilated by the seemingly-unstoppable cybernetic Borg. I was hooked. That September I was glued to the TV set when “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2” aired, and I remained an avid viewer of TNG up until the series finale was broadcast in May 1994.
With the benefit of both hindsight and a greater knowledge of the behind-the-scenes workings of the show, as well as recently binging TNG episodes on Netflix over the last few months, I can see that there was a actually a gradual increase in quality even before season three. Most of the first year is still very underwhelming, but there were several episodes that offered a glimpse of the series’ potential. Despite some rough edges, “Where No One Has Gone Before,” “Heart of Glory,” “Symbiosis” and “Conspiracy” each offered the promise that TNG had new & interesting things to say.
It was actually in the second season that the first truly great episode of TNG aired. “Measure of a Man” written by Melinda M. Snodgrass was a challenging, thought-provoking piece that all these years later remains eminently watchable, one of the best episodes of anyStar Trek series ever made. Obviously inspired by the material presented them in this script, Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as the android Lieutenant Data both turned in extremely strong performances. Later that year another amazing episode, “Q Who” written by Maurice Hurley, featured the eerie, tension-filled introduction of the Borg.
I mentioned in my look back at the original Star Trek that, outside of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, the characters were underdeveloped. Picard and Data were the characters to receive the most time in the spotlight on TNG. That makes a certain amount of sense. Stewart is one of the strongest actors ever to appear in the regular cast of any incarnation of Star Trek. It was a genuine stroke of genius casting him as Picard, and it made sense that the show would often focus on the intellectual, cultured Captain. Data, an android struggling to understand what it was like to be human, to try to grasp the intricacies of emotion, was also a compelling character, well portrayed by Spiner. Again, it was an understandable decision to anchor a number of episodes around Data’s character.
TNG nevertheless did make an honest attempt to flesh out and develop the other members of the crew of the Enterprise-D, with varied amounts of success. It took the show’s writers longer to find the voices of certain characters. The female members of the crew were definitely ill-served at times by the plots of certain episodes.
However, in spite of these hiccups, there were some interesting relationships between the characters. One of my favorites was the deep friendship that Data and Geordi LaForge shared. Certainly any time you put Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton opposite one another you were almost guaranteed to have a really great, funny, warm scene. All these years later re-watching the show, a smile inevitable breaks across my face when Data and LaForge are paired up.
Besides, when I was a kid I watched Reading Rainbow all the time, so I really enjoyed seeing LeVar Burton on TNG.
Although not as successfully executed, another relationship that had potential was the one between First Officer William Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes, and Counselor Deanna Troi, played by Marina Sirtis. Riker and Troi were ex-lovers, and were now serving together on the Enterprise. This brought about the inevitable “will they or won’t they” tension, which could have been clichéd, although it seemed to work in this case since Frakes and Sirtis did possess a certain amount of chemistry.
I suppose part of the reason why Riker and Troi never worked as well as they could have was because the writers seemed to struggle with both of those characters. Riker was supposed to be a Kirk-type figure, charismatic and romantic and ambitious, but the dynamics of the show established by Roddenberry required that the First Officer couldn’t be too much of any of that, especially ambitious, because otherwise he could have ended up as a rival to Picard, a challenge to the Captain’s authority. At times Riker was a study in contradictions, and over the years a lot of fans, using the bits of characterization scattered across seven seasons, have tried to work out their own personal head canon to explain his behavior.
Troi at times fared even worse than Riker. As I said, the writers had trouble giving the female characters strong scripts, and so Troi would get saddled with one implausible romance of the week after another, or get take over by aliens, or other weird stuff. Troi possessed telepathic powers of empathy, which in theory should have been useful, but again the writers frequently had trouble utilizing this. Often the Counselor was reduced to telling Picard such near-useless statements as “Captain, I sense hostility and deception coming from the other ship.”
As with certain other elements to TNG, there was potential to both Riker and Troi, but unfortunately the show did not develop either of them as well as it could have. I think that much of the appeal of Riker and Troi is down to Frakes and Sirtis, who both did the best they could with the material they were given.
There was also an interesting relationship between Picard and Doctor Beverly Crusher, who was played by Gates McFadden. Picard and Crusher also had shared history that predated their assignments on the Enterprise, and even though they had never been romantically involved there was an undeniable mutual attraction. I do think it was to the benefit of the show that Picard and Crusher were usually written as colleagues who were very close friends, and the writers mostly avoided trying to nudge them into a relationship. Crusher was typically written as a competent professional, which was good to see, although over the course of the series she really didn’t receive too many quality episodes which spotlighted her character.
While on the subject of Beverly Crusher, I should mention her son Wesley, who was played by Wil Wheaton. Initially written as a teen whiz, the character was apparently a fictionalized version of Roddenberry himself. Unfortunately in the first couple of seasons the show went out of its way to try to make Wesley the smartest person in the room, and many viewers absolutely hated him. In later seasons, when Wesley was a semi-recurring presence on the show, the writers definitely gave Wheaton much better material to work with, and the character became more interesting & likable, at least in my estimation.
One cannot discuss TNG without mentioning Worf, played by Michael Dorn. The first Klingon to serve in Starfleet, Worf had been orphaned at a young age and adopted by humans. Much of what he knew about Klingon culture he learned from books, and his idealized view of his people as proud, honorable warriors often came into conflict with the reality of a once-mighty militaristic society infested with political infighting, corruption and treason. The solemn, brooding Worf was very much a character who was caught between two worlds, too human to be accepted by most Klingons, and too Klingon to fit in with most humans. Often alone, Worf struggled to discover his own path, to find a way to live up to his own personal standards of Klingon honor and duty while serving in Starfleet.
Probably the most enigmatic member of the Enterprise crew was Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Ostensibly the bartender of the ship’s Ten Forward lounge, Guinan was a centuries-old alien with nebulously-defined powers whose home planet had been destroyed by the Borg. Guinan often imparted sage advice to the crew during various personal crises or ship-wide emergencies. On paper Guinan sounds like the sort of character who could quickly become annoying. However, Goldberg played the character with just the right combination of gravity and mischief that in her occasional appearances Guinan was usually quite charming.
TNG introduced a number of key concepts to the Star Trek universe. Probably the most iconic was, of course, the Borg. Instantly memorable, the cybernetic juggernaut of the Borg Collective was perhaps too effective as an adversary. They were such a powerful, formidable foe that, as cool as they were, it was immediately apparent that they needed to be used extremely sparingly, lest they suffer from villain decay. TNG was mostly able to avoid this, as the few appearances of the Borg after “The Best of Both Worlds” saw individuals or rogue, underpowered divisions of the Collective popping up here and there.
It was a smart decision hold back on once again utilizing the full might of the Borg until the 1996 movie Star Trek: First Contact. It might have been a good idea for the concept of the Borg to have been put to rest after that, to have them go out on a high point. Unfortunately they became a reoccurring adversary on Star Trek: Voyager, with the inevitable diminishing results.
At least the writers recognized that TNG needed another adversary that could be used regularly. The ultra-capitalist Ferengi had already been introduced in the first season, but they had landed with a dull thud, never once working as serious villains. They were very quickly reduced to comic relief, although several years later Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would do a decent job at developing them into a semi-believable culture. The Klingons, with their political in-fighting, could occasionally be brought in as bad guys, with treasonous factions plotting against the Federation. Likewise, another adversary from the original series, the Romulans, returned. They were fairly effectively utilized, with a tense state of cold war existing between the Federation and the Romulans.
Finally, in the Season Four episode “The Wounded” scripted by Jeri Taylor, we were introduced to the Cardassians. A fascist, expansionist empire governed by the military, the Cardassians were involved in a lengthy, bloody war with the Federation. “The Wounded” opens shortly after the signing of a peace treaty between the two sides, although it quickly becomes obvious that the Cardassians are utilizing the lull in conflict to secretly re-arm. The Cardassians presented the writers of TNG with an opportunity to explore the less-idealistic, more pragmatic side of the Federation. Over the course of the second half of the series, we see the Federation and Starfleet making certain decisions that, from both a moral and tactical perspective, are ill-advised, all out of a desire to avoid another full-blown conflict with the Cardassians.
TNG also introduced the Bajorans, whose planet had been brutally occupied by the Cardassians. Both the Bajorans and the Cardassians would become central, key elements of the Deep Space Nine spin-off, where each of their societies would be intricately developed by the writers.
If I had one criticism of TNG that remained consistent throughout its seven year run, it was the writers’ annoying overreliance on techno babble to resolve their plots. It would always drive me up the wall when the Enterprise would solve an emergency by bouncing a particle beam off the deflector dish, or transmitting a phase-shifting tachyon pulse into a planet’s atmosphere, or some such nonsense. I realize that the show wanted to be more cerebral than the original Star Trek, but if you have to make up a bunch of technical-sounding gobbledygook in order to avoid a fist fight or a shootout then you’re really just cheating.
In certain respects, TNG remains very much a product of its time. The show was produced when one of the primary goals was to re-sell the series over and over in syndication. This meant cranking out as many episodes a year as possible. Nearly every season of TNG contained 26 episodes, which required a breakneck production schedule. Even from the point when the show got noticeably great with season three, there were inevitably a few duds each year. By the sixth and seventh seasons, with DS9 simultaneously being made, I think the production crew on TNG was beginning to get burned out, and the number of underwhelming episodes began to increase. The level of quality never dipped too low, but it’s apparent that it was the right call to end the series after seven years, while the good still outweighed the bad.
Looking back on Star Trek: The Next Generation three decades after its debut, it remains a study in contradictions. It was produced at a time when television was approaching a crossroads, when genre shows were slowly beginning to gain popularity in the general public, when serialization and long-form plotting were just beginning to gradually creep into the medium. At times TNG was clearly looking forward while nevertheless remaining firmly rooted in the established traditions of television production. Perhaps TNG never quite lived up to its potential, but it was a crucial stepping stone that enabled both the Star Trek franchise, as well as genre television as a whole, to leap into first the 1990s and then the 21th Century.