March 11, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Neutral Zone"

The Enterprise discovers a centuries-old derelict spacecraft, and recover three cryogenically frozen humans from the late 20th century. Before they can properly bring these survivors up to speed on their situation, the Enterprise is dispatched the border of the Romulan Neutral Zone - where several Federation outposts have mysteriously disappeared.

This is a fairly significant episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not only is it the first season finale, but it also re-introduces the Romulans to the franchise and gives viewers their first hint of a major new threat. It's another half season before we discover the identity of who destroyed the Federation outposts, but the sense of menace exhibited here is already palpable.

All up, this is a strong episode that certainly leaves the season in much better shape at its end than it was in at its beginning.

First up: the mysterious new enemy. Pretty much everybody these days, even if they never saw "The Neutral Zone" itself, will recognise the disappearances as the work of the Borg. They were originally supposed to appear in the Season 2 premiere, with this episode forming the first half of a two-part story. Sadly the 1988 writers strike prevented that from happening. Mind you, the original plan was for the Borg to be insects rather than cyborgs, so perhaps the wait was worth it.

The Romulans return with a bang, their new starships looking absolutely stunning. It's probably my favourite starship design for the whole of the Next Generation. They're graceful, have a remarkable use of negative space, and are positively huge. It's easy to forget how big these ships are, but they dwarf the Enterprise. It's nice to see Marc Alaimo as the Romulan Commander as well: he's already played an Antican delegate in "Lonely Among Us", and as I mentioned back then he'll eventually play Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The subplot involving the three human survivors is rather well played, with each of the three reacting to their situation in a different believable fashion. Gracie Harrison is the most engaging as Clare Raymond, distraught that everyone she ever knew is long since dead.

All up this is a satisfying episode, and its a relief to end such a shaky first season on a high. So all up there were 25 episodes (that includes counting the pilot as a single 90 minute episode), of which I think nine were worth our time as viewers. That's a final quality ratio of 36%.

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