Back in the good old days, you had around six months of new Star Trek coming at you week after week, for between three to seven years, with the average season length being 26 episodes.
There was the odd deviation now and again, particularly with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, but their one or two truncated seasons were the exception not the rule.
Nowadays, regardless of genre, we’re used to between six and fifteen episodes a season, depending on the show. Some network television entries might go for 22 or more episodes a season, but most of us are streaming our content these days to escape the ads and the general drivel the networks cook up.
Shorter seasons usually means there are no ‘filler’ episodes, and it means we can binge like crazy people on our favourite series’if that is our desire.
Which episodes would make it and which wouldn’t?
If we’re honest with ourselves, every Star Trek series has a bunch of outstanding episodes, a handful of good episodes, a decent whack of average episodes, and few real clunkers. Would it be possible to put together a shortened version of every season of each series that still served our characters and kept the overall themes of Star Trek intact, and still be good viewing?
As a bit of a mental exercise I thought I’d give it a shot, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series I grew up on.
The only rules I applied to the experiment were that the pilot and the finale episodes had to be part of the season order – but in those instances, those seasons would be thirteen episodes long rather than twelve. So, Encounter at Farpoint and All Good Things stay in, no matter what. I also felt that it would be a good idea to re-order the odd episode, so long as the pilot and finale were left untouched.
Following is my take on Season 1 of TNG. Depending on the response to this, we might tackle Season 2 in a week or so, or jump over to TOS, DS9, VOY or ENT to shake things up a little.
Please note that the episodes synopses are totally tongue in cheek.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
13 Episode Order
If Then Was Now Experiment Part 1
Episodes 1 & 2
Encounter at Farpoint
The iconic crew of the USS Enterprise-D come together to play with space jelly-fish, while visiting a futuristic shopping-mall and dodging an eccentric omnipotent being intent on putting humanity on trial for crimes against the known universe. You know, things like the Kardashians, reality TV in general, the new Star Wars movies, and super-sized meal deals.
Where No One Has Gone Before
The Enterprise is thrown into deep space thanks to an arrogant idiot and his enigmatic bestie (who thinks Wesley is the sweetest thing since peanut butter and chocolate met and made babies). Off camera, someone releases some happy juice into the water supply and everyone starts to hallucinate.
Why include this episode? There are some strong moments in this episode, and it’s an interesting idea that I personally enjoyed. Plus, the Traveller pops up again later in the series to explain why Wesley goes away.
A Ferengi puts a big pink bow on an old starship, the USS Stargazer, and gives it to Picard for Valentines Day. Picard, still affected by the previous episode’s happy juice, starts to hallucinate again. Tripping out, he jumps into his pressie and attacks the Enterprise for a laugh.
Why include this episode? It gives us some pretty important back story on the character of Picard, and is a better introduction to the Ferengi than The Last Outpost.
A box with an animated face vomits jewels all over the Transporter Room and tells Deanna she’s about to get married. Deanna’s mother, Lwaxana Troi, pops in for a visit soon after, with Deanna’s intended and his family, just as a bunch of disease ridden space hippies turn up and start talking about dreams. Meanwhile, Riker does a lot of sulking and Lwaxana’s assistant does a lot of drinking. If anyone needed a good drink, it was probably Deanna and Picard!
Why include this episode? One word. Lwaxana. If you want two words, Lwaxana Troi. Deanna barely gets anything to do in the first season, and this is a nice episode that lets her character shine and gives us some of her back story.
Lonely Among Us
Pussy cats hate on a bunch of reptiles as an alien energy being possesses Beverly, but quickly jumps ship into Worf because she’s wearing some truly hideous eye wear. Growing bored of Worf and frightened his persistent scowl might leave worry lines, it hops into Picard and shoots lightening at everyone, while doing its best to convince Picard he should beam himself off the ship as energy and into a nearby space cloud.
Why include this episode? Lonely Among Us is pretty universally derided, but it does establish the whole “Bev can sack the Captain” concept and I actually enjoy watching the crew scramble to try and stay ahead of their possessed Captain.
The Naked Now
Everyone gets space-drunk on a familiar virus, while Wesley and some other guy play pick up sticks with engineering’s isolinear chips. Meanwhile, Tasha and Data get jiggy with it, and a big shiny star fragment tries to get jiggy with the Enterprise.
Why include this episode? I like it. A lot of fans don’t, but I do. I enjoy the stuff between Beverly and Picard and I get what the writing staff were trying to do: by seeing the crew in varying states of vulnerability, we learn a little something about them. The episode just appears a little too early in the series run.
The Enterprise finds another Data, called Lore, who might be a smidge psychotic. Beverly discovers Data has an off switch, while her son thinks there’s something a little suss about Lore who likes to grin a lot and use contractions. While all of this is going on, a big crystal snowflake that made friends with Lore ages ago turns up and tries to eat everyone.
Why include this episode? Beverly gets to shoot someone. Plus, this is possibly the best episode in the whole first season, besides The Big Goodbye. Lore would go on and become a really interesting character, responsible for some excellent future episodes, and his introduction deserves a place in this shorter season one.
Heart of Glory
A bunch of feral Klingons with testosterone patches whacked all over their bodies, tell Worf he’s a sissy and then try to get him to help them steal the Enterprise.
Why include this episode? It’s a great Worf episode, bringing his character to the forefront in a season where he doesn’t have a lot to do. Also, I really love the camera work in the end, when the Klingon falls. Nice work, Rob Bowman.
The Big Goodbye
Picard, Beverly and Data skive off work and hit the Holodeck for some much needed rest and recreation. Calling up one of Picard’s favourite programs, based on an old series of novels, they pretend to be in the 1940’s. Eventually, the bad guys from the novel find out about the Enterprise and want to take it and the whole galaxy over. Wesley saves the day, because why not?
Why include this episode? It’s a great episode, and it’s the only Star Trek episode to ever win a Peabody Award. On top of that, it won an Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Series.
Captain Kirk’s son has a bumpy nose and is a junkie. Diana’s right hand man from the original V TV Series, who, funnily enough, was also Khan’s right hand man from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is an ass about it. The Enterprise crew get to pontificate a bit and look all smug and superior.
Why include this episode? It’s not a bad little episode that builds the tension really well, and it stars Merritt Butrick who played Captain (Admiral) James T. Kirk’s son in two Star Trek feature films. Merritt would, tragically, die a year later from toxoplasmosis, complicated by the AIDS virus. The message is still relevant today, and there are incredibly strong performances throughout.
Skin of Evil
Deanna crash lands on a planet where a really nasty oil slick with some serious issues lives. The oil slick torments the crap out of the Enterprise crew before killing Tasha Yar.
Why include this episode? I loved Tasha, and this is a great episode that really hits you. Plus, we need to explain why Tasha doesn’t appear in future seasons.
The Neutral Zone
The Enterprise bumps into a really old probe with a bunch of frozen people in it. They were all about to die from something yuck, so Bev takes care of it and now they need to try and adjust to 24th Century life. Meanwhile, the Romulans drop in for coffee and to show off their really awesome shoulder pads. They get a bit angsty about some outposts of theirs and threaten our crew with a full Romulan makeover.
Why include this episode? All things considered, it wasn’t a terrible end to the first season. Most importantly though, it reintroduces the Romulans who will go on to play a major part at varying points throughout the series.
There’s not much you can do with the first season of TNG. I don’t mind it, but it’s not great.
There are a few episodes I quite like that I didn’t include in this season, simply because they go and set up something interesting but those ideas are never followed through. Namely, Coming of Age and Conspiracy.
Other episodes weren’t included simply because they didn’t really do much for the characters, or for the overall series.
The above is far from perfect, but at the very least it’s watchable.
What would your picks be for a shortened season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Let me know, and I’ll stick them in a post.
Until next week, where we might take a look at season two or jump to another series, Live Long and Prosper.