Surprisingly enough, the original Star Trek television series wasn’t all that popular when it first debuted in the 60s. But in the decades that followed, it achieved a cult-like status that few shows have ever equaled. For the most rabid of fans, annual conventions and fan-written books just didn’t satiate their appetite; they pleaded for some new Trek on TV. They finally got their wish in 1987, with the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As an added bonus, original creator Gene Roddenberry returned to the helm, serving as executive producer.
Set in time almost eight decades after the original, a few things had changed around the universe and a few remained the same. The United Federation of Planets still called the shots and the famous U.S.S. Enterprise was still roaming the galaxy, although it was completely redesigned, now twice the size and offering eight times more interior space. It’s mission remained the same, however, to “explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no one has gone before.” (after all, in the future, it wasn’t only men that did the explorin’).
Commanding the crew of the Enterprise was Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a no-nonsense but somewhat paternal leader, who seemed to have a little less affection for green alien women than his predecessor. His second in command was Commander Riker, who was perhaps more like Kirk than Picard, in the sense that he had a little less control of his emotions (loins). The ship was piloted by a blind navigator named Geordi La Forge, whose lack of vision was compensated for thanks to some nifty futuristic glasses. Deanna Troy was the ship’s resident Counselor, a human/alien hybrid that was remarkably attuned to the emotions of the crew (especially Riker).
Additionally, Lt. Tasha Yar, headed the ship’s security detail and Lt.Commander Data, an android, served as its Science Officer and yearned to be a human. The fight against interstellar bigotry had obviously made some major leaps in the last 80 years, evidenced by the fact that the crew now included a resident Klingon, Lt. Worf – something that never would have happened on the original series. And, when Security officer Yar was killed off in a 1988 episode, Lt. Worf took her place. Rounding out the crew was Dr. Beverly Crusher and her teenage son Wesley, an intelligent lad whose dream was to one day be a Starfleet officer. And finally, audiences were treated to the occasional cameo by actress Whoopie Goldberg, serving as ship’s lounge hostess, Guinan.
The universe remained a volatile place, with the Romulans still carrying on their sinister ways, along with a whole new collection of colorful alien species, some friendly, some not so much. Included in the latter was a cybernetic collective known as The Borg, who eerily used their advanced technological implants to assimilate other races into their own and thereby retain control. Then there was the supremely intelligent Q, who not only possessed the powers (and ego) of a god, but also a marked disdain for the human race, considering them nothing more than savages.
Much like the original series, Rodenberry brilliantly wove an aspect of social commentary into the plots, causing viewers to explore and question their own moral stances. In one particular episode, young Wesley inadvertently violated a planet’s strict customs, which led to his conviction and a sentence of death. Strictly prohibited from interfering in other civilizations, Picard had to decide whether to violate his prime directive or try and save poor Wes. This was only one of the examples of the thoughtful and intriguing scripts that often left viewers pondering well after the show was over.
For its efforts, Star Trek: The Next Generation did something its predecessor had failed at, actually outliving its stated five-year mission. In fact, the new series aired for twice as long as the original and was immensely popular during its original airing. And, as the old gang of Kirk, Spock and friends started showing their age, the new crew gradually took over the big screen adaptations as well. Star Trek: Generations was the first to help pass the torch, with a mix of characters both old and new, while three subsequent films focused primarily on the new crew. As for the rabid Trekkie fans among us, most embraced the new series with open arms, leading to three additional Star Trek television shows, and ensuring the continuation of Star Trek conventions for decades to come.
If you were a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we’d love to hear your thoughts about this memorable series in our comments section, as we tip the hat to Gene Roddenberry for his endearing futuristic vision.