Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Complete Season 3

Starring: Patrick Stewart
Certificate: PG
Available now

The third year of Captain Picard's command of the starship
Enterprise sees the return of Dr Beverly Crusher, several run-ins with the Romulans and Ferengi, a strange temporal event that resurrects Lt Tasha Yar, a visit from the Vulcan ambassador Sarek, and the threat of invasion by the dreaded Borg...

Season 3 is the year in which The Next Generation really hit its stride. There are no truly bad episodes in this entire box set.

That is not to say that every episode is perfect, however. The High Ground is an overly simplistic discourse about terrorism, and the episode has been afforded unwarranted fame by being banned by the BBC. Who Watches the Watchers? presents the rather patronising view that religious belief necessarily indicates a backward society - whereas later seasons, and the introduction of races such as the Bajorans, would take a more open-minded view about issues of faith. And Sarek relies on the extremely illogical premise that Picard (Patrick Stewart) is the only suitable recipient for the emotional impulses of Spock's elderly father Sarek (Mark Lenard), even though there are clearly plenty of other Vulcans on board the ship. However, this plot contrivance is a small price to pay for having a guest appearance by Mark Lenard and some terrific acting by Patrick Stewart.

More commendable episodes include Booby Trap, A Matter of Perspective and Hollow Pursuits, each of which uses the holodeck in a new and interesting way. Who says the holodeck never does anything but break down - this is certainly not the case during this season. Hollow Pursuits also introduces the popular recurring character of Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz), a lovable loser whose lack of confidence makes a nice change from the usual examples of human perfection that inhabit the TNG universe.

The Romulans reappear in a couple of splendid political thrillers, The Enemy and The Defector, the latter of which keeps you guessing right up until the end. They also put in a cameo appearance in the intriguing "strange life form" story, Tin Man.

Another returning foe is the entity Q (John De Lancie), who appears, robbed of his powers, in the excellent Déjà Q. This is a more light-hearted instalment than the previous year's Q Who, but it contains many an uplifting moment, including the scene in which Q compliments Data (Brent Spiner) on his "humanity".

The most moving episode in the entire season has to be The Offspring, in which Data constructs his own daughter. A partial follow-up to the previous year's The Measure of a Man, this marks an impressive directorial debut by Jonathan (Commander Riker) Frakes, and boasts a real weepy of an ending.

At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, Captain's Holiday offers a refreshing change of pace. This episode is unlike anything that Trek has done before - or, indeed, since. Picard assumes a more adventurous, even gung-ho, attitude when he becomes involved in the search for a missing treasure on the recreational planet Risa. The scheming Ferengi reappear here, and also in the episodes The Price and Ménage à Troi. The Price is of particular note for establishing concepts that would be developed in the next two Trek spin-off series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, by featuring a wormhole that leads to the Delta Quadrant. Ménage à Troi is a rare article indeed: a Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett) episode that is actually very good!

However, the true highlights of Season 3 are Yesterday's Enterprise and The Best of Both Worlds. The former takes a couple of irresistible plot elements - the trans-temporal encounter between two starships Enterprise and the resurrection of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) - and combines them in a fast-paced adventure packed with special effects. This breathtaking episode more than makes up for Yar's ignoble demise in the first season's Skin of Evil.

The Best of Both Worlds brings the year to a spectacular close. The final scene is the season cliffhanger to end all season cliffhangers, one that has never been bettered, either on a Star Trek series or on any other genre show. The drama's tense build-up is underscored by what I consider to be musician Ron Jones' best work for the series. Jones communicates a sense of foreboding from the very beginning of the episode, which culminates in a crescendo of colliding instruments that has to be heard to be believed.

An important design change takes place at the beginning of Season 3. Two-piece costumes with raised collars replace the old one-piece spandex outfits - for the foreground characters anyway - lending the crew, and thus the series, a more stately appearance than the previous "superhero" look. This change came about because the one-piece costumes had been so tight that they were placing undue pressure on the main actors' skeletal structures. Look at the non-speaking extras in the background, though, and you will see some of the spandex outfits still in use throughout this season.

As we have come to expect, the extra features on the final disc comprise documentary material cobbled together from old and new interviews with the cast and crew. Whereas the recollections offered on previous volumes didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, this time around I was surprised to learn of the script difficulties that affected the third season. The backstage chaos, which resulted from a severe shortage of usable scripts, is well and truly belied by the quality of the episodes contained within this box set.

To my mind, this is the best season of all.

Richard McGinlay

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