Thursday, November 10, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 3 (The Naked Now)

When you think of a cult classic, you tend to think of movies.  It could be argued that Star Trek would be the ultimate cult classic.  It didn’t do that well when it first aired, but it gained enough popularity to spawn at least a dozen movies, hundreds of books and several spin-off series.  Having been born a few years after the original series ended, I’ve always known it as having a cult following.  William Shatner has always been Captain James T. Kirk.

I was in middle school when the first spin-off series premiered.  Set about 70-something years after the original series, it followed the adventures of the crew of a new Enterprise, the Enterprise-D.  The pilot was pretty good, considering that a new TV episode hadn‘t aired for a few decades, but the series went downhill from there, starting with The Naked Now.

The crew of the new Enterprise is responding to a research vessel, the SS Tsiolkovsky.  (The ship’s plaque shows the name as К. Э. Циолковский.)  The crew is having, as one officer puts it, a “blowout”.  Just then, what appears to be a hull breach exposes that part of the ship to space.  An away team finds the crew frozen.  Some are naked on a couch.  Another is fully dressed in the shower.

When the away team beams back, Geordi La Forge starts complaining how hot it is.  He’s uncharacteristically angry and aggressive.  Also, he seems to be sweating a lot.  Noting is physically wrong with any of the away team, but Dr. Crusher orders La Forge to be quarantined in sickbay, which consists of La Forge lying in a bed.  He later walks out of sickbay.  (Yes, he just gets up and walks out.)

What he has isn’t, strictly speaking, an infection.  It’s the same thing as the original-series episode The Naked Time.  Water molecules have chained together so as to make the affected person appear drunk.  The affliction is spread by touch and soon affects a good chunk of the crew, making them all drunk, apparently regardless of species.  It even affects the android, Lt. Cmdr. Data.  (How does an android even get drunk?)

Even the teenaged boy, Wesley Crusher, is affected.  Being that I was about that age when the show first aired, it never occurred to me just how annoying he was.  This episode was a pretty good example of how annoying and unrealistic the character could be.  Early in the episode, he shows La Forge two inventions.  One is a handheld tractor/repulsor beam that he can use to pick stuff up.  The other is a playback device that makes it seem that the Captain is giving orders.  Wesley can use this to pretend he’s a member of the bridge crew.  Both of these inventions are important to the episode.  Neither is ever mentioned again.

Wesley is able to take over engineering by having the chief engineer and assistant chief engineer report to different parts of the ship.  He then uses the repulsor beam as a force field to lock out almost everyone else.  It would almost be funny if the ship wasn’t right next to a collapsing star.  Fortunately, Wesley is able to save the day.  This earns the Captain’s respect, putting him that much closer to actually getting on the bridge.

The thing that strikes me most is that the episode is such an outright copy of The Naked Time.  Of all the non-original-series episodes, this is the only one that stands out as being a blatant rip-off.  I include Voyager’s Faces in this statement.  This isn’t to say that the spin-off series never did this.  It’s just that other attempts were much better  They had some original content.  For this to be done so early in the series was a bad sign.  Yes, there was a good deal of continuity, but at what cost?

I could see this being a good episode if they had waited until the show was more established and had made some changes to the plot.  The relationship between Data and Tasha Yar would have made more sense.  I could see this even being a decent season finale with a little work.   Wesley’s device to mimic Captain Picard, for instance, was a bit stalkerish and only served as a blatant McGuffin.  You could at least put some more effort into giving Welsey his chance to strike.  Maybe have some buildup and introduce the repulsor beam a few episodes earlier.  This could have even made a good tie-in to the original series.

The episode ended up being typical of a lot of the early episodes.  You have a major catastrophe coupled with a high degree of urgency due to another possible catastrophe.  A running joke was that the holodeck would not only malfunction a lot, but might also trap a character inside when they were needed for something important.

Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of the series.  Counting the series pilot and series finale each as double episodes, we ended up with 178 over seven seasons.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the third season that it really started to pick up.  This isn’t to say that you’d have 45 episodes to watch after this before things got good.  There were a few high points in the first two seasons.  This just wasn’t one of them.

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