Friday, March 07, 2008

But first a few observations about the episode itself. Viewing it from today’s perspective, it almost seems more an episode of the original series than of the Next Generation, which is only natural. Not only was it written by Gene Roddenberry and Dorothy Fontana—who wrote or supervised many TOS stories—but it had to fulfill expectations very similar to those for the first Trek movie: it had to be different, but not too different—it had to be reassuring as well as wondrous; it had to feel like Star Trek—and it had to be bigger, more contemporary.

So the first few minutes gave us an updated version of the old beginning (a new voice intoning the same ritual introduction, though now it’s a “continuing” mission, going where “no one” has gone before) and a theme we’d basically heard as the theme of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And most importantly, our first glimpses of the newer, bigger 24th century starship Enterprise.

“Farpoint” seems padded, partly to show off some visual effects that there hadn’t been budget to do in the original series, and partly because the length of the episode kept changing, finally from 90 minutes to a two hours. And there were character moments and lingering shots of the new crew members, to help get us acquainted.

It was also awkward in ways you might expect the first story to be—the actors and writers hadn’t quite found the characters, the world of the series was a little shaky (like all those uniform styles we never saw again). But the acting of the main characters in this drama—namely Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, and John De Lancie as Q, was superior. Whenever they are on the screen, we’re in good hands.

And there was one undeniably magical moment—when DeForest Kelley playing the aged Dr. McCoy talks to Data, and gives this new Enterprise his blessing. “It’s a new ship, but it’s got the right name. You remember that, hear? You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”

But this is not a review—it is an exploration of what this story says about its central concerns: the human future, both between our present and theirs, and how humanity has changed by the 24th century, to make a still imperfect future, but one worth hoping for.

That was the promise of the Next Generation as a series, and though the reviews of Farpoint at the time were a bit mixed—some gruff, some gushing—a couple of comments emphasize this (as quoted by the Reeves-Stevens in their TNG 10th anniversary book, The Continuing Mission). Don Merrill in TV Guide wrote that like the best of the original series, the episode carried “a message of hope, a belief that mankind is growing—and maturing.” And Paula Dietz wrote in the New York Times that on the evidence of Farpoint, TNG had “the power to make us see ourselves in a new way.”

Farpoint is also one of Gene Roddenberry’s clearest and most forthright statements on contemporary society, and the Star Trek future. Though Dorothy Fontana wrote the basic story of Farpoint Station itself, GR created and wrote the Q sequences (which were needed to fill out the story to the two hour length the studio wanted.) Of course when it comes to specific moments, who knows who is the most responsible for creating them. But in general, the scenes I will describe seem to reflect GR's view of present day humanity.

For in “Farpoint,” just as in the first story in every Star Trek series, humanity is questioned and tested by a more advanced life form, and we have to answer for ourselves.

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