Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2004)
While series like Friends and South Park started out with “greatest hits” DVDs and then eventually came out with full season sets, Star Trek: The Next Generation follows the opposite approach. We received all seven seasons of the series back in 2002, and the folks at Paramount waited two years to indulge in a general compilation.
The Enterprise captain becomes the focus of this package. Simply called Jean-Luc Picard Collection, this two-disc set includes seven programs that prominently feature the ship’s chief. We see them in broadcast order as they span the series’ first season up through its sixth.
The Big Goodbye (Season One) offers the first serious exploration of the Holodeck. The Enterprise needs to perform a diplomatic mission to visit the insect-like Jarada; Picard (Patrick Stewart) must deliver a message, but the Jarada are exceptionally picky about how their language is articulated, so he’s under a lot of stress to perfect his text. To relax, Picard engages in a Dixon Hill detective story in the Holodeck, but inevitably, things go wrong, and problems ensue.
This was pretty mediocre episode. The Dixon Hill stuff got too cutesy, especially when Data embraced the concept. It also became rather predictable when the Holodeck began to malfunction and the Jarada got impatient. The show had some decent moments, and I liked the culturally unique aspects of the Jarada, but this remained a lackluster show.
Although “Encounter at Farpoint”, the first-ever episode of ST:TNG, featured a character from the original series, none occurred again until Sarek (Season Three), which brought back Spock’s father (Mark Lenard). Nearing retirement, Sarek comes aboard the Enterprise to go on a mission in which he’ll act as ambassador to meet a new culture for the first time. Oddly, not long after the ambassador’s party arrives, crewmembers start to behave antagonistically and angrily toward each other. The thoroughly unemotional Sarek also shows irritability and even cries during a musical recital. Dr. Crusher believes he has a syndrome that affects elderly Vulcans and that his innate telepathic abilities affect the crew. Picard needs to deal with the issues without insulting Sarek and also ensuring the success of the fragile mission.
I never liked the appearance of Dr. McCoy during “Farpoint”; it seemed gratuitous and pointless. Happily, ST:TNG didn’t pile on similar references to the original show, which made ones such as this more effective. Sarek’s presence appeared sensible and intriguing, and “Sarek” provided a good episode that expanded our understanding of the Vulcans and created a rich program.
Family (Season Four) examines the kin of both Picard and Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn). While the Enterprise goes through rehab after the Borg encounter, Worf’s Russian parents (Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown) come to visit him on the ship. In the meantime, Picard takes some R&R in France, where he goes to his hometown and reconnects with his brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp). He also spends time with nephew Rene (David Tristen Birkin) and Robert’s wife Marie (Samantha Eggar). Both Starfleet officers encounter friction with their relatives. Worf seems embarrassed by his doting parents, while Jean-Luc and Robert suffer from age-old interpersonal conflicts.
“Family” provides some solid character exposition. Next Generation often delves into personalities, but usually only female crewmembers Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) receive attention in the family way; Troi’s mother pops up on the show occasionally, while the interaction of Crusher and her teen son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) filled many programs. “Family” seems a little sappy and forced at times, but I value opportunities to see the characters in different situations and circumstances. Despite some horrendous overacting from Georgia Brown as Worf’s adoptive mother, this show comes across as a reasonably useful episode.
Note that this program formally introduces Picard’s family. Though they don’t appear in the theatrical film Generations, they still play a significant role there.
In The Drumhead (Season Four), the Enterprise hosts J’Dan (Henry Woronicz), a Klingon scientist who comes on board as part of an exchange program. They suspect him of espionage and sabotage as part of a plot that involves the Romulans. Retired Admiral Satie (Jean Simmons) comes back to action to investigate, and she launches a panel that includes Picard and her Betazoid assistant Sabin Genestra (Bruce French) to find out about the conspiracy she feels exists. Problems arise when Picard opposes the heavy-handed tactics Satie uses for the investigation, as these seem to go against Starfleet philosophies.
Hello, “Afterschool Special”! While “Drum Head” bandies about some valuable ideas that relate to the protection of freedoms – topics even more relevant in today’s climate – it does so in a fairly ham-fisted manner. It’s great to see still-lovely Jean Simmons again, and the show offers a reasonably engaging mystery, but it seems a bit too pushy to really succeed.
At the start of Darmok (Season Five), the Federation receives a signal from the planet El-Adrel IV, home of the “Children of Tama”. When Captain Picard extends an olive branch, Tamarian leader Dathon (Paul Winfield) has both of them beamed to the planet surface. Dathon speaks in nonsense phrases of partial English as he appears to challenge Picard to a fight. Our captain refuses, and Dathon walks away as he mutters more gibberish. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the crew of the Enterprise try to rescue Picard as the captain attempts to get by on the planet.
Though a little sappy at times, “Darmok” seems generally intriguing and enjoyable. The Tamarians provide a genuinely unusual species due to their language, and these moments appear clever and interesting. In addition, we see some nice bonding moments between Picard and Dathon. Overall, “Darmok” offers an above-average episode of Trek.
Early glimpse of a star alert! Watch closely and you’ll see a young Ashley Judd as an Enterprise crewmember.
A mysterious probe approaches the Enterprise at the start of The Inner Light (Season Five). It sends a beam inside the ship that apparently only affects Picard. He passes out, and when he awakes, he finds himself on a strange planet in the hands of a woman who refers to him as “Kamin”. Her name’s Eline (Margot Rose), and she’s supposedly his wife. Picard/Kamin roams that landscape as he tries to discover where he resides and how he can get back to the Enterprise, even as the years seemingly pass. Meanwhile back on the ranch, we see that Picard remains unconscious, and the crew try to figure out how to disconnect him from the probe and bring him back to reality.
When we see episodes that deal with Picard and an alternate reality, they usually find him in a domestic situation that forces him to examine the life he could have lived. “Light” offers a watchable but somewhat bland example of that genre. I do enjoy this kind of “alternate reality” material, and this show seems different from the others as it displays many years of Picard’s second life. Unfortunately, the probe’s purpose becomes obvious too early, which renders the show a little toothless. Overall, “Light” appears decent but unspectacular.
For Tapestry (Season Six), some crewmembers come under attack during a conference, and Picard apparently gets killed due to an energy surge in his artificial heart. As he goes into the light, he meets none other than Q (John de Lancie) as his guide to the afterworld. Q gives him a chance to rewrite wrongs he made as a 21-year-old, impetuous errors that led to the acquisition of the aforementioned fake ticker, and this sends Picard back into his personal past to alter his fate.
Although I worried that Q had become overexposed over the years, “Tapestry” changed my mind. The show doesn’t really focus on that character, and it helps expand our understanding of Picard in a vivid manner. The episode also features an insightful philosophical bent that makes us all wonder how our lives would differ if we changed our past behavior. “Tapestry” seems like a rich and involving piece of Trek.
By my reckoning, two of the seven shows are very good, while the others range from pretty solid to fairly mediocre. The programs offer a decent overview of Picard’s character, but I’m not sure I’d qualify them as the best related to him. Granted, the package doesn’t tout itself as the Captain’s “greatest hits”; unlike the Best of Friends sets, it makes no discussion of the episodes’ quality.
Nonetheless, one assumes that they’d pick the best shows connected to the character, which remains up for debate. Notably absent are any Borg shows, which I figure may later appear in a separate package. In any case, the seven shows in The Picard Collection give us a decent synopsis of the character but fail to provide consistently strong programs.