An Enterprising Approach to TNG
How expanded narrative could have changed the series
When The Next Generation premiered in 1987, episodic storytelling was the norm. Get in, tell your story, and get out. Next week, move on to the next (unrelated) mission. It works, but perspectives on this have changed significantly over the years. When Enterprise warped into its final season, it brought with it a form of storytelling rarely seen in Star Trek: the three-episode mini-arc.
This was an approach that straddled the line between the episodic television of old and the full-blown serialization of today. It seemed groundbreaking for Star Trek in 2004, but a decade earlier Deep Space Nine opened its second season with such an approach. The Circle Trilogy set the tone for what DS9 would become, with breathing room to tell a story that was simply too big for the traditional format. It worked beautifully, but was never revisited until the NX-01 entered the Borderland.
What if this approach had been used on TNG? Let’s look at one episode per season that could have benefited from a larger canvas, and how these stories might have been told.
Season One: Datalore
Early in the series, we were teased with a look at Data’s origins by visiting his homeworld, meeting his brother, and learning of his “father.” There’s so much to be explored here, but only the key points can be touched in 44 minutes. In a three-part structure, the writers could spend more time in the first hour exploring the history of Omicron Theta, Dr. Soong and his work, and Data’s connection to it all. The middle episode could focus on Data and Lore, ending with the arrival of the Crystalline Entity. The final chapter—with the Crystalline Entity posing a greater threat to the ship—could revolve around the discussion between Picard and Data about loyalties. In the end we would get richer character development, a better origin story, and have time to make this a real struggle for Data and the crew.
Season Two: Q Who
The story that introduced us to the Borg packs a lot into a small package. From Sonya Gomez and what drives those who enroll in Starfleet to Q’s expulsion from the Continuum, there’s plenty to expand upon—and that’s to say nothing of the Borg. More time for Picard and Q to discuss why he’s on the outs with his fellow omnipotents and why humanity isn’t ready for what lies ahead, more of Geordi’s mentoring of Gomez (and what is says about Starfleet), and a deeper exploration of the Borg would make for a compelling arc. During the middle episode, debate over what the Borg represent, Guinan’s experiences, and perhaps even the visit to the Cube that we already get could deliver a mix of philosophy and mystery. The third episode could deliver the chase, exploration of the Borg with an additional, longer visit to the Cube, and even a Best of Both Worlds-style hide-and-seek.
Season Three: Who Watches the Watchers
There’s some heavy stuff in this quick dive into Bronze Age society. The Federation is conducting on-the-ground surveillance of a primitive people and ends up contaminating an alien culture. There’s probably enough here to build an entire series on, certainly enough for a trio of episodes. The first hour could be an exploration of how and why the Federation conducts operations such as this, perhaps with a Vulcan scientific team aboard, concluding with Liko returning to tell Oji about “the Picard.” The second could open with Picard and the Vulcan scientists discussing how to handle the cultural contamination. Geordi could even give an extended PowerPoint presentation about the topography and unique properties Mintaka III. (He’d love that.) Picard’s arrival and attempt to talk to Liko could kick off the final part, resulting in a more serious injury and the possibility of losing the captain—which would bring the wisdom of the Federation’s actions into greater question.
Season Four: First Contact
Such a great opportunity to explore how a more advanced society handles first contact with another in an enlightened age. There are two sides to this story, both or which are inadequately explored: The Malcorian fear of rapid technological advancement; and the Federation’s observation of pre-warp cultures. The cold open of Riker in an alien hospital would still be the hook, but much of the first episode could be told purely from the Malcorian perspective, like Voyager’s “Distant Origin.” Mirasta’s meeting with Picard and Troi could occur midway through part one, and the episode could conclude with Picard entering the room to meet the Chancellor. The arc’s second installment could be made up of the existing third act, interweaving the Picard/Durken discussion with Riker’s attempt to escape. While Riker supplies the action, the additional time that could be spent on fears of venturing into the galactic community—and its impact on society—would be fascinating. The third episode could play out the final two acts of the original “First Contact,” expanding upon the ideas that were hastily presented.
Season Five: Unification
Who doesn’t want more Spock? I do. So much of the first half of “Unification” is spent getting to Romulus and investigating the mystery of the Ferengi ship, we really only get one episode with the historic Vulcan. Picard’s scene with Sarek is powerful, but the rift that has developed between Sarek and Spock could be examined more deeply—particularly since it allegedly stems from a TNG-era enemy, the Cardassians. The idea of Vulcan-Romulan reunification, central to the plot yet left unexplored, is also sitting there waiting to expand the Star Trek universe. An underground movement to teach Vulcan philosophy? Fascinating. A three-part “Unification” wouldn’t be so much about changing elements of the original, but simply giving the writers breathing room to explore the key elements of the story: Sarek and Spock, the budding Romulan underground, and the military plan to invade Vulcan.
Season Six: The Chase
“It’s four billion years old. A computer program from a highly-advanced civilization, and it’s hidden in the very fabric of life itself.” This is, for me, one of the most fascinating stories in Star Trek. It addresses the origin of life, why so many of the races we encounter are physically similar, taps into the idea that we all share common ground, and provides an epic mystery to boot; but it goes by so quickly. More discussion between Picard and Dr. Galen and more exposition of Galen’s research in the first hour could help build a stronger framework for the search to come. The middle part could focus on the attempt to unravel the mystery of the codes, with the Cardassian attack being the transition to the third. From there, a visit to the Vilmor system and the unravelling of the puzzle continues with more exploration of the planet than simply scraping a rock wall. I’d still want the episode to end as it does, more or less, as the message is more powerful when you are left to think about it rather than having it broken down in a crew debriefing.
Season Seven: Preemptive Strike
This episode aired just two weeks after Deep Space Nine’s “The Maquis, Part II,” offering an incredible opportunity to expand the Star Trek universe by combining the 1701-D crew with that of the station. Imagine two DS9 and three TNG Maquis episodes being shot together with two casts. Financial realities aside (I think we’re all sympathetic to that), “Preemptive Strike” could be easily expanded into an epic story that connects all three 24th-century series. In this scenario, rather than expanding the script to lead up to Ro’s departure, in a story that involves TNG, DS9, and Voyager, this would not be a culmination but rather just one turn of events. She could abandon her mission to meet up with Chakotay for the Voyager tie-in (remembering that this aired before Voyager premiered, but she does reference Chakotay when talking to Picard … though not by name). There’s a whole other chapter waiting to be told in the final episode after the discovery of the Starfleet attack force inside the Hugora Nebula.
So there are seven expanded episodes that are admittedly light on details. But it’s fun to think about how TNG might be told from the perspective of a more modern television format. What would you do with these stories? Which other episodes do you feel could benefit from an Enterprising approach to TNG? The floor is yours. Please share your ideas with your fellow readers in the comments section.
This article was originally written for the official Star Trek website and is reproduced here for portfolio purposes. You can also view this on StarTrek.com.