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Five Gifts From The Next Generation To Star Trek At Large

With the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation just three weeks away, it’s time to think about what the series contributed towards Trek lore as a whole. After all, it wasn’t just the first successful Trek television series (The first series may have created the mythology, inspired a fandom and led to all that followed, but it still found itself cancelled twice, remember), but the series that rebuilt the universe for the two series that followed. So, what did TNG do with that opportunity? Here are five suggestions.

Klingons Are Our Friends
While Worf took some time to find his place on the show – He really didn’t make sense until he became the security guard for the ship, let’s be honest – bringing him on board the Enterprise-D opened up a world of alternative alien culture that Spock’s presence on the original show didn’t even come close to. It allowed the show to explore moral and cultural ideas outside of the sanitized norm of both Starfleet and 1980s/90s America without impacting the audience’s feelings about their heroes, and also demonstrated how understanding and evolved the humans of the time were by putting up with such a barbaric race in the first place. More importantly, it stood as the simplest, most obvious way of saying to old fans, “See? Everything is different now.” Something as simple as bringing the Klingons into partnership with the Federation gave Trek as a whole the license to grow beyond its status quo.

Boldly Going Where No-One Has Gone Before
As matter of necessity from running more than 100 hours of television with each episode having to establish a new storyline with, more often than not, new alien races to deal with, The Next Generation created a whole host of new alien races and planets. Some of them were forgotten after their first episode, but many weren’t; without TNG, there would have been no Cardassians or Bajorans for Deep Space Nine (No Ferengi, either), no Antarians for Enterprise, and no Q for Janeway to be tortured by in Voyager. Although, to be fair, she probably would’ve been perfectly okay about that.

And Then There Were The Borg
There also would have been no Borg, but they were enough of a game changer for the franchise as a whole to get their own entry. It’s unclear whether the Borg were intended to become quite the level of threat that they eventually did – I’d argue that they ended up taking over Voyager when they appeared in that series, and came close to doing the same on TNG post-“Best of Both Worlds” – when first introduced, but their creation gifted the series with something it had lacked since the Ferengi turned out to be more comedic than threatening: A big bad that couldn’t be defeated or rationalized with, and was so unknown and alien that Starfleet no longer seemed like the dominant force in the series from that point on.

Previously, On…
This is down more to the television landscape than any particular decision made by TNG, I know, but moving TNG from the any-episode-in-any-order model of the original Trek to long form story arcs that would allow characters to develop both themselves and relationships with others feels like it was both a necessary and important change for Trek as a franchise, echoing the earlier “status quo can shift” lesson of the Klingons as friends, but on a scale that was both smaller and more long-lasting – Or, in the case of the Troi/Worf romance, not very long-lasting at all once DS9 needed a Klingon.

The Holodeck. Just Because
Hey, it may seem like a small thing, but come on: Try to imagine TNG, Deep Space Nine or Voyager without holodeck technology. Suddenly, half the fun of each show goes out the window…

What TNG creation made Trek better for you, dear reader? And, just to switch it up, what TNG concept do you wish had never been mentioned?

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/blubeetle3 Jeff Novak

    I’m gonna go all Trekkie on you now. The Holodeck made its first appearance in the Star Trek cartoon. A good 15 years before TNG.

  • Xaos

    More than its rather haphazard continuity (which I don’t think really went any further than any other episodic TV show; Moonlighting or Remington Steele had pretty comparable relationship arcs, for instance), wasn’t Best of Both Worlds largely the episode that made the season finale the de rigeur big deal that it pretty much de facto is now?

    I know prime time soaps had “Who shot JR?” and Dynasty had some wedding massacre or something, but as far as I know, before TNG wrapped up season 3 with the Borg on the doorstep, there was no general thing of beginning and ending seasons with a bang, especially for syndicated shows.

  • sandwich eater

    I’d say that Star Trek didn’t feel like a full-fledged fictional universe until it was fleshed out by TNG. For example, I don’t think we ever saw normal civilian life on Earth before Picard visited his brother’s vineyard. 

    There are so many things that TNG contributed not just to Star Trek but to TV sci-fi in general.  Without TNG, I don’t think we’d see all the space sci-fi shows of the 90s like Babylon 5, the subsequent Star Trek shows, Farscape, and Stargate. It’s kind of sad that American TV no longer seems to be able to support an epic space sci-fi show.

  • thepowell

    The series that launched a thousand memes.

    But, yeah, The Borg.  And by association, the Best Star Trek film (no arguments!).

  • http://twitter.com/blubeetle3 Jeff Novak

    I don’t remember the Borg in “The Wrath of Khan”.

  • Grant

    The significant episode is “Family”, the second episode of Season 4 – it was the first time that Paramount allowed Star Trek to actually dedicate one episode to the emotional fallout of another, and opened the door to increased story and character arcs as the franchise progressed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/plink1 Patrick Link

    Riker’s beard 

  • http://squidoo.com/retroblogs Atomic Kommie Comics

    Good:
    Expanding the Trek Universe history in episodes like “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and other plot tie-ins to the Classic Universe. (A concept carried on in the final season of the otherwise mediocre ENTERPRISE.)
    Intro of the Q Continuum (and they should have had Trelane linked in to it) and the Borg.

    Bad: Subsequent overuse of the Borg (except for STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT)
    Turning Star Trek into an interstellar war franchise. Roddenberry was right to keep the conflict at Cold War levels in the original show since it was pointed out that almost every warp-drive-possessing race could basically lay waste to anybody else’s planet with just a single starship!
    And I know I’m gonna get yelled at for this: Reversing roles of Klingons (Dishonorable SOBs into honorable foes with a long historical tradition) and Romulans (Honorable foes with a long historical tradition into dishonorable SOBs). Better to show Klingons being true to their original portrayal with characters like Worf showing the conflict of nature (Klingon culture) over nurture (Federation culture), with Federation ethics and morals succeeding (at least in his case).

  • thepowell

    –cough cough– STVIIIFC –cough cough–