Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Six
With five successful seasons in their pocket, the cast and production staff and especially the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation were faced with a dilemma: either progress the series into bolder and less formulaic storytelling, or continue the "same ol' same ol' " and then call it quits. Throughout Season Six (1992-93), viewer ratings remained strong, but the series had quite plainly plateaued and was coasting on earlier momentum. Plus, with the new Star Trek: Deep Space Nine siphoning fan attention and studio resources, it was time for ST:TNG to decide whether it was ready to more "boldly go" or just plain go. Not surprising for a show that routinely chose a wishy-washy path when pressed against the wall, the answer was: some of both.
So while the 26 episodes of this sixth and penultimate year only occasionally trailblaze new creative quadrants and too often rely on Tales From The Holodeck or other tattered tropes from the plot box, some top-notch stories and welcome breaks from formula are on hand. There are fewer edge-of-the-couch highpoints than we found in seasons Three, Four, and Five, but there are enough pleasant surprises to keep the faithful tuned in from week to week confident that another gem must be just around the corner.
By now the cast is one of TV's strongest ensembles, though it's still Stewart who's the writers' ace up the sleeve. Picard-centric dramas here include the outstanding "Tapestry" (in which Q gives the deceased captain an all-too-personal "it's a wonderful life" experience), "Starship Mine" (a.k.a. "Die Hard Picard" with a lone Jean-Luc battling terrorists/thieves through the empty Enterprise), "Lessons" (torn between love and duty, Picard is forced to send the woman he loves on a potentially deadly mission), and especially "Chain of Command" Parts 1 & 2 (Picard is captured and brutally tortured by in a script with powerhouse moments for both Picard and David Warner's Cardassian reichmarshal). Next up on the reliable-actor roster is Brent Spiner, whose android Data reunites with his evil twin and an army of de-assimilated Borg in the season closer "Descent, Part 1."
Michael Dorn's Klingon Worf receives the spotlight in another two-parter, "Birthright," and in the cool "Rightful Heir." Jonathan Frakes gets a plum job playing two Will Rikers in "Second Chances," and takes center stage again in a nod to Philip K. Dick's psycho-reality-benders, "Frame of Mind." LeVar Burton and Marina Sirtis are still the Ringo of the band, but each gets at least one cut on this album: Geordi falls for an alien murderess in "Aquiel," and Troi goes undercover to infiltrate the Romulans in "Face of the Enemy."
Star Trek's Old Testament is affectionately reopened when Scotty (James Doohan), rescued from transporter limbo, finds himself so 23rd Century in "Relics," a very-special-episode revival superior to last season's Spock story.
This season's Stupid Time Tricks award goes to "Timescape," while the latest Idiotic Transporter Malfunction prize goes to "Rascals," in which Picard and company are Disneyfied into children. Star Trek rips off Sabrina the Teenage Witch in "True-Q."
But the worst offense here is one of the most frustratingly lazy episodes in all Trekdom. It's the wonderful opportunity pissed away in "The Chase" for the first and last time in any Trek series, we explore why so many alien species throughout the galaxy look like Southern Californians with "ribbed for her pleasure" foreheads. Here's a potential epic-of-biblical-proportions premise deserving a multi-episode arc, perhaps even a whole season build-up, but it's squandered on the most pedestrian of runarounds capped by a crap-science rationale. A nadir point in a seven-year run pot-holed with missed opportunities, the concept would have better served if they'd just continued to ignore the whole issue.
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Paramount's Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Complete Sixth Season DVD boxed set spreads its 26 episodes plus extras across almost twenty hours on seven discs, living up to the strengths (and weaknesses) established by its five matching predecessors. Once again the silvery clamshell case holds a gatefold digipak that keeps unfolding like winter in Buffalo. The episodes look great and the audio (DD 5.1 and 2.0 stereo options) maintains these sets' commendable clarity, dynamic range, and sound-spread (the afterlife scenes in "Tapestry" now have a nice subtle echo-chamber effect).
A thorough guide to episode synopses remains an obvious and perplexing omission (go to www.startrek.com for the goods), so another fluffy "collectible booklet" is a feeble stand-in.
The extra featurettes, comprised of recent interviews with the cast and production staff, are similar in flavor and style to those in the earlier sets, with the addition of a nice overtone here a genuine feeling of "family" among a cast that had worked so closely for so long. In Mission Overview: Year Six (18 minutes), Brent Spiner, writer Ronald D. Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, James Doohan, and others look at Stewart's acclaimed performance in "Chain of Command," Scotty's presence in "Relics," Prof. Stephen Hawking's guest shot in "Descent, Part 1," the genesis of "Time's Arrow," and the debut of Deep Space Nine. In Bold New Directions (18 mins.), Stewart (with Spiner, Sirtis, and writer Brannon Braga) revels in the pleasure he had directing "A Fistful of Datas." Then LeVar Burton (with Frakes) discusses his directing debut in "Second Chances."
In Departmental Briefing: Production (15 mins.), Ron Moore, Michael Okuda, and others focus on recreating the Original Series bridge for "Relics" and the writing behind "Chain of Command," "Tapestry," and "Frame of Mind," plus actor James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential, Star Trek: First Contact) recalls being a mouse-faced alien in "Birthright." In Profile: Dan Curry (20 mins.), the Visual Effects Supervisor gives us a cool cook's tour of his home, where he's living quite comfortably amidst paintings, props, models, and weaponry used in the show.
Finally, one of the best supplements so far is a Special Crew Profile (19 mins.) of Data featuring Brent Spiner, who's joined by fellow cast and crew members in a reflective look back at the creative evolution of the android, topped off with footage of Spiner recording his album of torchy standards, Old Yellow Eyes Is Back.
Also here are trailers for Star Trek: Nemesis and the forthcoming Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVD releases.