Here’s another introductory DVD into the Star Trek universe, released to coincide with the theatrical opening of J.J. Abram’s new film. Labeled on the DVD packaging as “A Century After Kirk & Spock: New Crew, New Adventures,” Star Trek: The Next Generation focuses on the crew of the Enterprise D, roughly 100 years and five ship models after Kirk’s Enterprise. The four episodes included are a combination of fan favorites and critically acclaimed episodes.
In the finale to the third season (“Best of Both Worlds”), the crew of the Enterprise has its first major encounter with what would become one of Trek’s most popular foes, the Borg, a cybernetic race that assimilates every species it finds. The Borgs abduct Captain Picard and head for Earth as the Enterprise crew tries to stop them and rescue their Borgified skipper. Fans have routinely named this two-parter one of the strongest of the entire series, and indeed it tells a better story than the 1996 Borg-centric Trek movie First Contact.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise,” written by a team of five writers, including future Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore, is a clever time travel episode from season three that features an intriguing plot device involving an alternate timeline. Viewers of the new Star Trek movie may appreciate this episode as it was cited by screenwriters Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman as an inspiration for how they were able to change certain key events in Trek history while preserving the overall canon. This episode runs a close second to “Both Worlds” as the best of the series. (Other worthwhile alternate timeline episodes include “Future Imperfect,” “Tapestry,” and “Parallels.”)
Lastly there’s “The Measure of a Man,” an episode perhaps chosen for being a character-driven piece. In it, android crewman Data (The Next Generation‘s version of Spock) is put on trial in order to determine if he should be considered a sentient being or merely a piece of Starfleet property. Though this episode comes from the series’s second season, when the show was still finding its footing, it’s an excellent example of how Trek handled issues of morality. (Similar episodes include “The Drumhead,” “I, Borg,” and “The First Duty.”)
Since this DVD is limited to only four episodes from a series that spanned seven seasons, it’s inevitable that some deserving episodes weren’t chosen. Personal favorites aside, however, a valid argument could be made for including the two-part “Unification” storyline from season five, which features an elder Spock on Romulus and ties almost directly into the plot of the new film.
Image is comparable to previous Star Trek: The Next Generation DVDs. However, ironically, these newer episodes look softer than their original series counterparts because they haven't been digitally remastered. Part of the problem is the way the show was made. The show and special effects shots were filmed in 35mm, but the masters were edited and compiled on standard definition video. Remastering these episodes into hi-definition would require recompiling the effects for all 178 episodes of the series. Hopefully, with the renewed interest in Star Trek, remastered hi-def releases of The Next Generation will be forthcoming. The 5.1 audio track is decent but unspectacular, and for some reason, the two alternate language tracks are in mono rather than stereo.
Like The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series, the only "extras" on this disc are ads for the latest Star Trek Blu-ray releases.
The storytelling content on this DVD is certainly a higher caliber than what's found in the Next Generation series of films and so worth recommending to newcomers.