Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Three
Release Date(s)1989-90 (April 30, 2013)
Studio(s)Paramount Television (CBS)
“Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name... Enterprise.”
I’ll say it right up front – episode for episode, I believe that Season Three of Star Trek: The Next Generation is the show’s best. At last, there were no writers strikes or production slow-downs to contend with. The uniforms lost that cheesy one-piece pajama look. Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan become more involved in the show and Gates McFadden returned as Dr. Beverly Crusher. Fresh new writers like Ron Moore and Brannon Braga joined the production team. Perhaps most significantly, new co-executive producer Michael Piller took over the show’s writer’s room, crafting key episodes that catapulted the series to greatness.
There are so many good stories in this third year! Who Watches the Watchers? sees Picard and company struggling not to violate the Prime Directive when a mission to observe an indigenous culture goes bad. The Enemy features a great game of Cold War-style brinksmanship between Picard and a Romulan captain. This is continued in The Defector, when another Romulan officer attempts to warn the Enterprise that his people are planning a major offensive into Federation territory. In Sins of the Father, Worf must defend his family’s name in the eyes of his fellow Klingons. And Sarek sees the return of the Vulcan Ambassador from The Original Series (also Spock’s father), who’s suffering from a disease that strips Vulcans of their emotional control on the eve of a critical negotiation. In one of season’s finest installments, Yesterday’s Enterprise, the Enterprise finds a temporal rift in space just as another Federation starship comes through it – the Enterprise-C from a quarter century earlier – an event that changes history with disastrous results. Denise Crosby returns briefly to reprise her role as Tasha Yar in this episode. And nothing could be better than the season-ending The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, which sees the devastating return of the Borg, as well as a cliffhanger that left both Trek fans and new audiences alike hanging on the edge of their seats for an entire summer. For a brief time after this season, Star Trek: The Next Generation became the show to watch on TV.
I’m so pleased to say that CBS’ new six-disc Blu-ray release of Season Three delivers a magnificent high-definition restoration of the season’s twenty six episodes. As many of you know, remastering work on the Season Two Blu-ray set was farmed out to an outside facility with somewhat less than stellar results. Not so here! CBS Digital thankfully kept this season in house and the restoration team has quite simply knocked it out of the park. Image detail and color are extraordinary – these episodes look every bit as good as those of the Season One BD release. Detail is so abundant that you can actually see the decal film around the lettering on the Enterprise’s hull! All the subtle damage and scorch marks on the Enterprise-C are visible (in Yesterday’s Enterprise) and the intricate structure of the Borg Cube has never been more apparent and refined. Visual effects have been updated with a restrained hand, yet subtle improvements abound, including newly added textures on orbital views of planets. The stunning visuals are matched by a new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that’s both natural and dynamic, with excellent clarity and staging that helps to fully immerse you in the imagery.
And if the set’s remastering quality isn’t reason enough to pull out your wallet, the extras on this BD set are even better. Once again, all four featurettes from the previous DVD release have carried over here, and there’s abundant new material, most of it in full HD. Special edition producers Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett once again deliver a fabulous “VAM” experience, featuring no less than three hours of new documentaries! It all starts with a terrific three-part “making of” piece called Resistance is Futile – Assimilating Star Trek: The Next Generation that goes behind the scenes on the season in great detail with the writers, cast and production team. I have to say, I was really surprised at some of the revelations here, including details of lingering tensions in the writer’s room, how production design choices were made, and what the actors thought about the season at the time. (Patrick Stewart actually thought he might be written out of the show at the end of the season!) There’s also a touching Tribute to Michael Piller, a gag reel, episodic promos for each episode, audio commentaries on four episodes (including The Bonding, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Offspring and Sins of the Father) and unused footage of actor David Rappaport as Kivas Fajo from The Most Toys (he was replaced by Saul Rubinek after he attempted suicide halfway through filming). This set also contains what is easily my favorite extra thus far on these new TNG Blu-rays – a piece called Inside the Writer’s Room, featuring a lively roundtable discussion between veteran Trek scribes Ron Moore, Brannon Braga, Naren Shankar and René Echevarria, hosted by Seth MacFarlane. For well over an hour, they discuss how they came to be involved in the show, the various episodes they worked on, scripts they felt really worked or failed, the ideas and concepts that drive the best Trek, the pitfalls of the franchise and the often surprising constraints imposed on them by series creator Gene Roddenberry, funny moments and memories from their time in Trek and much more. It’s just riveting… and funny, engaging and hugely entertaining. It’s so good, in fact, that I hope Roger and Robert do something like this for the Star Trek: Enterprise BDs too. The simple fact is, the writer’s room is really the heart of any TV series – where the show either lives or dies – and that’s especially true for science fiction shows like Star Trek. With its abundant personality and many insights and stories, this piece is an absolute gem.
Bottom line: CBS has hit another home run with Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Three on Blu-ray. From start to finish, this is an experience that’s completely worthy of even the most avid fan of the series. If you love Star Trek… do not miss it!