December 3, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Relics"

It is 12 October 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise stumbles upon a dyson sphere, a huge spherical construction enclosing an entire star and producing a staggering large living environment on the sphere's interior surface. Embedded into the exterior of the sphere is a 75 year-old Starfleet vessel, with its transporter still recycling the same pattern. When La Forge (LeVar Burton) successfully beams the pattern out of the transporter, it is revealed to be legendary engineer Captain Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan) - decades out of his own time.

After the huge success found in bringing Spock to The Next Generation is Season 5, the same trick is attempted again in "Relics". Scotty comes to the 24th century and is immediately paired up with his future replacement Geordi La Forge. At the same time the episode plays with the idea of the dyson sphere, which is one of my favourite pieces of 'out there' engineering concepts. In the end neither concept seems to get exploited quite as well as it could have been, but there is still an awful lot of fun to be had in watching Scotty interact with the Next Generation characters.

There is an odd sort of disconnect between Scotty and the main cast. I think it boils down to the two decades of television drama between them. The character is, if we are to be blunt about it, a broad caricature. He never received much in the way of back story or character development because television in the late 1960s simply didn't require it. Contrast that against La Forge or Picard (Patrick Stewart), who spend the most time with him, and the difference is palpable. Compare the interactions here with those of Spock (Leonard Nimoy) back in Season 5's "Unification": Spock is a much more roundly developed character through television and film, and as a result fits much more comfortably into the context of The Next Generation.

It is also worth noting, perhaps a little unfairly, that James Doohan was never the strongest of actors. He gets a lot of material here, and its arguable he does not quite manage to cope with it all.

The scenes that do work do so marvellously, notably an interaction with Data (Brent Spiner) in Ten Forward (Data's "It is green" nicely echoing the classic episode "By Any Other Name") and particularly a melancholic conversation with Picard in a holodeck recreation of the original USS Enterprise. That scene absolutely nails it with a combination of pride, mourning, regret and humour. Indeed the whole episode is worth watching just for that one scene.

The Enterprise attempts to explore the dyson sphere and becomes trapped inside, which is essentially an excuse for Scotty and La Forge to cooperate and showcase to Scotty that he is still of value and has a potential future ahead of him. It is sufficient for its function in the episode, but it does feel a little like the dyson sphere concept is wasted. Similarly a lot of material for Scotty - a man who's just discovered almost all of his friends are dead and gone, and he's seven decades out of time - is left on the floor when it could have generated something a lot more effective.

As a nostalgia exercise, and a chance to watch a classic television character again (Doohan only appeared once more, in the opening scenes of Star Trek: Generations), "Relics" functions perfectly well. It could have been a lot better, but as it is it is still pretty enjoyable stuff. Two good episodes out of four leaves Season 6 with a quality ratio of 50 per cent.

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