Or, TNG at 33.
Last Monday, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 33.
A couple of days later, my favourite episode turned 29.
“Darmok”, the second episode of the 5th season of TNG, first aired on 30 September 1991. The Children of Tama, an alien species with an alien language, want to establish a dialogue with the Federation, and the Universal Translator seems to have no problem with the language, but it also gives the Enterprise crew what seems like gibberish. At least until they figure out that the Tamarians speak in metaphor and allegory. Of course, without the common cultural references, talking to each other is still hit and miss at best.
As Picard and the alien captain Dathon learn to work together against a dangerous beast while marooned on a random planet, they also slowly learn to talk to each other, and we start to get a few pieces here and there.
“Temba, his arms open.” A gift, an offering, tell me more.
“Shaka, when the walls fell.” A failure. (I use this once in a while. It confuses nearby people but it’s moment of great joy when someone understands.)
“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Work together.
“Sokath, his eyes open.” I understand.
There are plenty more, but you get the idea. While they eventually manage to talk to each other, in the process, it costs Dathon his life.
It’s an episode ripe with depth and meaning and it does what Star Trek does best: exploring and expanding what it means to be human while demonstrating that we’re at our best when striving to be more than we are. It’s TNG at its peak, as was a lot of 5th season, and I remember watching that first airing with friends on an old TV in student housing. Nostalgia, perhaps, but if I watch the episode now, I get the same feeling of wonder even though I know what’s going to happen.
Live long and prosper.
Mirab, his sails unfurled.by
So I was still watching Star Trek TOS in the 80s (I’m still watching it now sometimes), but I was watching a lot of other TV SF, too. Things that stand out in my memory, in alphabetical order so there’s no calling favourites:
Alien Nation. One whole season and then five TV movies stretching deep into the 90s, proving that it was cancelled too soon. It also wouldn’t be believable if made today. I mean, the US accepting actual aliens as immigrants?
Alf was more a sitcom than SF, and probably ran a season longer than it should have. Or two. The concept was fun but the jokes were a little on the repetitious side. We all watched it, though.
Automan. I remember watching a lot of episodes of this, but thinking back, only a few scenes here and there stand out in my memory. I wonder if I should fix that or if it’s a good thing.
Greatest American Hero. A suit that gives you superpowers but for some reason you lose the instruction manual. He did eventually stop crashing into things when he was flying. I actually own the boxed set of the entire series. Picked it up for not much more than a song a few years ago.
Knight Rider. Who didn’t want to be Michael Knight back in the day? Working for a secret organization with lots of cool toys and partnered with a self-aware car that could do a lot of things on its own. Bringing help to the helpless, hope to the hopeless, hap to the hapless. Or something like that.
Max Headroom. Ah, the power of television, of ratings, of eyeballs glued to your screen. The evil of corporations. The wonder of satire. Prescient in a lot of ways.
The Powers of Matthew Star. Let’s be honest, the only thing that made this worth watching was the acting ability of Lou Gossett Jr. Otherwise, it’s your standard teenager coming of age with superpowers who doesn’t really want to go back to his home planet storyline.
Red Dwarf. If I’m honest, I didn’t discover this until there were already four series out, so it was already the 90s.
Star Trek: The Next Generation. So the writing was hit and miss for the first couple of seasons and Worf’s sash was a little frilly for a Klingon in the beginning, but Star Trek was back on TV for the first time in far, far too long.
V. Looking back, I wonder if this is where the conspiracy nuts got the idea for lizard people. Alien invasion not what it seems, underground resistance, stellar (and huge) cast.
Voyagers. Cheesy, goofy fun. There are teams of time travellers out there keeping history moving the way it’s supposed to be. Paradoxes and silliness ripe for the plucking!
TNG is still a semi-regular feature of my viewing, but a couple of the others are probably binge-worthy. There were tons more I could have mentioned, and I didn’t even touch the Fantasy side of the coin. Did I miss anyone’s favourite?
Be well, everyone.by