Thursday, November 25, 2010

Somewhere Worth Going On Star Trek The Next Generation: "Where No One Has Gone Before!"

The Good: Good character development, Interesting plot, Original, Competent acting
The Bad: Moments of uncertain acting and silly characterization
The Basics: Good acting, excellent character development and a reasonable plot make "Where No One Has Gone Before" the first solid episode of this series.

I was a bit hesitant, back in the day, to accept Star Trek The Next Generation, probably because I had only discovered Star Trek in the summer before Star Trek The Next Generation debuted. When "Where No One Has Gone Before" originally aired, I was prejudiced against it. My logic at the time was that the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "The Naked Now" had been a cheap knockoff of the Star Trek episode "The Naked Time," so "Where No One Has Gone Before" was probably going to be an infantile remake of Star Trek's "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (click here for my review!). I was, quite fortunately, wrong.

In the blooming series' first episode strong enough to want to recommend, "Where No One Has Gone Before" tells a story that focuses on a visiting alien and a StarFleet engineer. The arrogant engineer claims to be able to make starships run more efficiently and while the Enterprise's engineer thinks it's a bunch of meaningless gibberish, Kosinski is given access and initiates an experiment on the warp drive of the Enterprise. Instead of helping the engines work better, the Enterprise is sent hurtling to a distant galaxy in a move that seems to surprise everyone, especially Kosinski. Attempting to replicate the mistake that brought them 300 years from home, casts the ship billions of light years in the opposite direction in a place where thought and matter are closely related and what the crew idly thinks becomes reality. The first person to figure out what is truly going on is Wesley Crusher, because while everyone else is watching Kosinski, Wesley is watching his alien assistant.

The episode is, arguably, a set up episode, but it doesn't feel like it. Part of the reason it does not feel like a set up is because the alien assistant, the Traveler, only appears two other times and both at least two seasons apart.

"Where No One Has Gone Before" hinges on making explicit what has been implicit up until now; there is something special about Wesley Crusher. In one of the series' early moments of excellent character development, the Traveler interacts with both Wesley and Captain Picard, inspiring both of them to grow and change.

Initially silly are the images that the crew comes up with. Mental images of beloved animals, strange accidents (Picard almost steps out into space) and simple wish fulfillment (one crewmember is dancing around a cargo bay as if she were a ballerina) appear. But the truth is, they make sense. In a world where everything is provided, something like an underlying fear of fire makes some sense. It illustrates that - despite the heavy-handed philosophy of this and other early Star Trek The Next Generation episodes, that humanity still has basic things about it that have not changed. And that's refreshing.

Often people disregard this episode on the basis of the special effects. Outside the Traveler's facial make-up (which appears a bit greasy and is inconsistent with how he will later appear in the series), the effects all work at creating a believable place and circumstance. After all, most of the effects are of a place outside normal space. What would the end of the universe look like? Some of the effects are even downright cool, like Picard almost falling out of the ship.

In fact, the only real weaknesses come in the time it takes belaboring Kosinski's plan before it is implemented and Commander Riker's role in the piece. Riker is a bit of a buffoon in the episode, appearing ignorant and annoying as opposed to the positive character he usually comes across as. Jonathan Frakes is not giving a terribly stellar performance, either.

But Wil Wheaton and Patrick Stewart are. They give their best and it shows. Their characters take big steps forward in this episode and it is pulled off with realism by the acting put in. Wheaton manages to present a boy who is both gifted and lacking in confidence and for an actor of his ability, that's a stretch. He pulls it off, though.

The nice thing is, this is a good introductory episode to Star Trek The Next Generation without being as tedious as the pilot episode. Moreover, it's accessible to anyone. Everything is carefully explained making it an idea entry point into the 24th Century.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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