Many science fiction fans would argue that "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is the best series in the "Star Trek" franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. Looking back at the show on its 25th Anniversary, it's easy to see why. Debuting on September 28, 1987, over 20 years after the original "Star Trek" series, the show lasted seven seasons and was nominated for, and won, multiple awards. The success of this spin off led to the creation of 3 other series in the franchise: "Deep Space Nine," "Voyager," and "Enterprise," as well as multiple feature films.
Taking a look back at the engaging characters and strong story lines is enough to make one miss having a "Star Trek" show on the small screen. From Captain Picard's many uses of the words "engage" and "make it so" to the amazing theme song to the ethical questions the show presented, it is unforgettable even all these years later.
To celebrate this milestone anniversary, here's a roundup of seven of the best episodes from the series.
"Yesterday’s Enterprise" (Season 3, episode 15)
This is an episode with all the classic elements of "Star Trek": temporal rifts, space battles, and a major moral dilemma. After encountering the rift, the Enterprise enters an alternate timeline where they are at war with the Klingon empire and there is no Worf or Deanna on the ship. Instead we see the return of Tasha Yar (who was killed in season one) and the appearance of the Enterprise C, which barely escaped destruction at the hands of the Romulans by leaving the past using the rift.
In order to set the timeline straight, the original Enterprise needs to send the crew of the Enterprise C back to the past to face certain death. All those lives must be sacrificed in order to set things right, a decision that is difficult for the present crew. This episode also gives another one of the most memorable lines in the series said by Captain Picard. One that is especially appropriate for this anniversary: “Let’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.”
"The Measure of a Man" (Season 2, episode 9)
This episode is a perfect example of what's so great about "The Next Generation." There’s no need for an action-packed space battle to keep this episode interesting, as the Enterprise crew faces a more intriguing battle with android crew member Data at the very center of it. When the beloved android refuses to submit to a Star Fleet researcher’s risky procedure, he finds himself dragged into a legal battle fighting for his very existence: Is he a machine, just Federation property that can be taken apart at any moment, or a sentient being with the same rights as any other living being under Federation law?
Tackling these types of moral dilemmas is what makes "Star Trek" such an unforgettable series. Captain Picard’s stirring speech at the end is moving, powerful, and shows off actor Patrick Stewart’s classical background to the fullest. How can anyone question Data’s right to choose as a person after watching Picard’s amazing argument in the clip above?
"Chain of Command" (Season 6, 2-parter)
Sent on a covert mission to a Cardassian border planet, Picard, Worf, and Crusher walk into a trap that results in the capture of the captain. A prisoner of the Cardassians, the episode takes a dark turn as Picard is tortured at the hands of his captors. A lot of TV shows have tried to address the issue of torture in the past, some succeeding and some failing, but this two-parter does an excellent job portraying a powerful story focusing on Picard’s struggle to resist torture at the hands of the Cardassians.
This is a strong story that goes back and forth between Picard's agony and his crew's fight to rescue him. It’s a great performance by the cast and guest stars Ronny Cox (who plays Captain Jellico, the one in charge of the Enterprise in Picard’s absence) and David Warner (who plays Picard's Cardassian torturer.) You can never forget Picard’s final proclamation that “There are four lights!”
Phantasms (Season 7, episode 6)
Talk about an irresistible pick! While not the strongest of episodes in some ways, it’s the perfect example of the type of sci-fi fun that can be had on a show like "Star Trek." It’s an episode that takes us for a ride in our favorite android’s dreams, or rather nightmares, as Data's unconscious tries to warn him about an alien presence on the ship.
Between seeing Deanna as a talking cake, Crusher drinking Riker’s brain through a straw, and visits from Sigmund Freud, it provides us with laughs only a "Star Trek" episode can offer. Like many of the episodes featuring Data, it has just enough heart to make you smile too. The scene where Data asks Worf to take care of his cat Spot and then gives him cat-sitting advice is priceless because it’s not only funny, but sweet to see how much Data cares for his pet.
"The Inner Light" (Season 5, episode 25)
In this episode the Enterprise discovers an alien probe that knocks Picard unconscious with some kind of beam. When he wakes up he’s on a primitive planet and everyone thinks he’s an iron weaver named Kamin, a married man who likes to try playing the flute! Picard ends up living a lifetime, growing old with a wife, children and grandchildren only to wake up back on the Enterprise and discover he’s been knocked out for about 25 minutes.
It’s an amazing episode showcasing the acting of Stewart, and even won the 1993 Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation. That final scene with Picard clutching and playing the flute, clearly thinking of the family he had that no longer exists, is truly moving and unforgettable.
"The Best of Both Worlds" (Season 3/4, two-parter)
This episode has everything you could want from a confrontation between the Enterprise and their ultimate nemesis, the Borg. From major space battles to the transformation of Picard into Locutus to Riker's struggle to deal with taking on the mantle of Captain, it's an amazing cliffhanger episode with a more than satisfying conclusion. It’s definitely why this episode can be considered THE best of the series.
Nothing gives you more chills than hearing Picard of all people say “Resistance is futile.”
"All Good Things…" (Season 7, series finale)
... must sadly come to an end, even "Star Trek: The Next Generation." As the series finale, this episode had a tough job trying to please fans who were saying goodbye. While no finale was going to please everyone, the intriguing story line in this episode does a good job combining all our favorite elements of "The Next Generation." With time travel, touching crew moments, action, a complex problem, and of course a return to show's premiere plot with a visit from Q, it is certainly a classic episode.
Picard ends up jumping through time, to the past and the future, allowing us to re-visit familiar faces from the Enterprise’s early days and go 25 years into the future to glimpse what might become of our beloved characters. Of course in the end Picard’s efforts save the whole of humanity (as it should be) and the series closes on a friendly poker game played by the main characters, allowing us to see them happy and together one last time. This episode also won a Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation in 1995, and it's easy to see why.
And since there's not enough space to cover all the greats, honorable mentions go to these classic episodes: "Darmok," "The First Duty," and "Cause and Effect."
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