Longtime “Star Trek: The Next Generation” writer Naren Shankar says the 1992-1993 sixth season of the series was its best, and I think he’s onto something.
This penultimate season manifested the sweet spot of the series’ run, with stand-out episodes including “Chain of Command” (Picard endures a Cardassian torturer as “Deliverance” casualty Ronny Cox captains the Enterprise), “Second Chances” (Riker discovers a transporter glitch created a second, stranded Will Riker eight years earlier), “Tapestry” (Faced with his favorite captain’s mortality, Q permits Picard to live a safer and less exciting alternate timeline), “Relics” (Montgomery Scott works to save the Enterprise-D after spending decades suspended in a transporter loop), and “Ship in a Bottle” (the crew tangles again with Holodeck Moriarty).
Tuesday marks the first time the season is available in high-definition, and (in addition to all the standard-definition extras that came with the 2002 DVD release) The new Blu-ray set comes with an engrossing array of new extras:
Beyond The Five-Year Mission: The Evolution Of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Part One: The Lithosphere (24:52)
Writers Ron Moore, Rene Echevarria, Naren Shankar, Morgan Gendel, Frank Abatemarco and the late Michael Piller (via standard-definition archival footage), production associate Dave Rossi and showrunner Rick Berman discuss season six.
* Showrunner Rick Berman notes Odo, Kira and Quark were created to work around Roddenberry’s weird new rule that Starfleet officers are never in conflict with one another. (Which is weird, since of course Starfleet officers are in conflict with one another constantly. Wouldn’t you agree, Commandant Decker?)
* Gene Roddenberry was “out of the picture” and “quite ill” during the development of DS9, according to Berman. (My understanding is Roddenberry didn’t have much practical influence over any of the Star Trek franchises following the conclusion of TNG’s first season. Roddenberry died Oct. 24, 1991. DS9 premiered Jan. 3, 1993.)
* Berman was excited to develop a new Trek series without Roddenberry but apparently not excited at the prospect of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (which launched midway through TNG’s sixth season) because it involved far less trekking to stars than did TNG.
* Head writer Michael Piller thought of the Deep Space Nine station as outer space’s Fort Sheridan, army post near the Illinois-Wisconsin border.
* Shankar thinks one of key weaknesses TNG exhibited was that its characters were “a little too nice.”
* As TNG head writer Piller was busy co-creating DS9 with Berman during TNG’s sixth season, Jeri Taylor, who ran the TNG writers’ room, became more important to TNG’s evolution. She sheltered the writers “even from Michael [Piller],” remembers Shankar. “She kind of let us run.”
* Freelancer Morgan Gendel, who wrote the season-six Die-Hard-On-The-Enterprise episode “Starship Mine,” remembers that he was denied the customary opportunity to write a second draft on his Hugo-winning “The Inner Light” episode. (Peter Allan Fields, a “Man From UNCLE” vet who went on to serve as a DS9 writer-producer during its first two seasons, shares teleplay credit with Gendel on “Inner Light”).
* Moore deems the LaForge-centric sixth-season murder-mystery episode “Aquiel,” scripted by himself and Brannon Braga, a “misfire” and “fiasco.”
* Echevarria, who fought to kill off Will Riker and replace him with Tom Riker near the end of season six, now believes it was the right decision to let Will live. (Though I seem to recall a “Star Trek: Voyager” episode that killed Harry Kim and replaced him with a duplicate for the rest of the series, and that worked out just fine.)
Beyond The Five-Year Mission: The Evolution Of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Part One: The Biosphere (29:32)
Production designer Ronald D. James, visual effects supervisor Dan Curry, director of photography Jonathan West and co-producer Wendy Neuss discuss their contributions to season six.
* Longtime visual effects supervisor Curry served as director of only a single Trek episode, season six’s “Birthright: Part 2.”
* Longtime TNG director of photography Jonathan West served as camera operator during the death of Spock in “The Wrath of Khan” and caught pneumonia while shooting the windiest Ceti Alpha V scenes with Ricardo Montalban.
* Originally the Enterprise-D conference room was fitted with expensive plexiglass windows that looked out into space, but these were eventually removed because reflections and smears proved a nuisance. Production designer James reasoned that by Picard’s era, scientists would have “developed glass that doesn’t have reflection.” Windows were built glass-free for all subsequent Trek spacecraft.
* Only one wall of Jim Kirk’s Enterprise bridge was recreated for the Scotty episode “Relics.” West believes the captain’s chair built for that set was repurposed for the DS9 time-travel episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” but Trek historian Michael Okuda disputes this.
* Nuess points out that while TNG employed a full orchestra for its weekly musical score, such a thing was “extraordinary” for the TNG era and non-existant for the TV series of today.
* The TNG orchestra originally recorded at the 20th Century Fox studio before it moved to Paramount.
* Stephen Hawking re-wrote his poker scene with Data, Einstein and Newton, adding jokes.
* Hawking’s speech machine may not have Todd Barry’s delivery, but Hawking is funny. Spiner remembers meeting the superscientist some time after Hawking’s episode was shot, and Hawking greeting Spiner by typing into his speech machine, “Where’s my money?”
Beyond The Five-Year Mission: The Evolution Of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Part One: The Noosphere (29:59)
Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, John DeLancie, Whoopi Goldberg, LeVar Burton and Jonathan Frakes reflect on their careers.
* Goldberg got involved with “Star Trek” when she was lunching with friend LeVar Burton. When he told her he had just been cast in TNG, she said, “Tell them I want to be on it.” The reason she did not appear in the first season, according to Goldberg, was because producers did not take Burton seriously when he relayed her offer. (It helps to remember that Goldberg in 1986 was at a career peak, having just been nominated for an Oscar for her work in Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” and landing lead roles in big-screen studio comedies like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Burglar.”)
* Bartender Guinan was named after Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, an entertainer and film actress who in 1920 opened a popular New York speakeasy called the 300 Club. Raided routinely and arrested several times for serving alcohol, Texas Guinan died Nov. 5, 1933, exactly one month before the repeal of prohibition.
* “I would still be doing Star Trek if it were up to me. It was the best job in the world,” begins Jonathan Frakes, who these days spends a lot of time directing episodes of shows like VH1’s “Hit The Floor” and ABC Family’s “Switched At Birth.” Frakes says Marina Sirtis feels the same way, which could explain why both reprised their TNG roles for 2005’s “These Are The Voyages,” the last episode of “Star Trek: Enterprise” and our final glimpse of the original pre-Abrams Star Trek universe.
* Sirtis says she had no say in her on-screen appearance and “fought for bangs for years.” (She says she was never successful, but she may not be counting the time Troi was transformed into a bebanged Romulan.)
* McFadden says her weirdly tiny role as Jack Ryan’s wife in “The Hunt For Red October” was rather bigger before that film’s editors got to it.
* Though Frakes apparently spread the rumor that Spiner hates cats, Spiner insists the rumor is false and absurd. He does allow that the cats who played Spot were poorly trained and the writers were always coming up with tasks that the cats found difficult to accomplish. In response to Spiner’s complaints about the tedious number of retakes required for the cat scenes, the writers apparently pranked Spiner with a fake script that depicted Spot doing all manner of nigh-impossible tricks.
* Goldberg regrets that she was never shown getting “beamed” anywhere. (Though an HD clip shows that a much smaller version of Guinan emerged from the transporter platform in season six’s “Rascals.”)
* Dorn wondered at first if Kevin Conway wasn’t in fact too small to play the ancient Klingon leader Kahless in season six’s “Rightful Heir.”
(Though it turns out the guy who played Kahless in the old Kirk-Spock series wasn’t exactly a behemoth either.)
* Patrick Stewart speaks of some kind of weird need to do his own laundry.
6.4 “Relics” Commentary With Ronald D. Moore, Denise Okuda and Michael Okuda.
This was the episode that brought the original series’ chief engineer Montgomery Scott unaged into the TNG era. Learn:
* Though in the third season TNG writers were forbidden to reference the original Kirk-Spock series “in any way shape or form,” new writer Ron Moore did so anyway, sneaking in planet names and histories that would likely mean nothing to showrunner Rick Berman. (Why Berman adhered to this idiotic policy – especially considering the participation of Dr. McCoy in the TNG pilot -- remains a mystery, though Moore speculates it had something to do with “insecurity” and a fear of fans comparing the 1980s version to the 1960s version. Which is ridiculous; the idea that anything could prevent the fans from comparing the two series is patently nuts.)
* Moore remembers that during the scripting of season three’s “Sarek,” which saw Mark Lenard reprise the role of Spock’s father from 1960s series, Berman forbade the writers from sticking the proper noun “Spock” in the dialogue. Only after an “insane, ridiculous argument” involving Berman, Moore and senior writer Ira Steven Behr did Berman relent.
* Moore believes one of the reasons they were allowed to bring Scotty back was Berman and head writer Michael Piller were distracted at the time with getting “Deep Space Nine” on its feet.
* Though Moore wrote the episode, “Relics” actually began with a freelancer (named Michael Rupert?), who pitched the idea of rescuing a fellow who was trapped for decades in a transporter loop like the one Scotty engineered.
* Despite consulting his script notes from 1992, Moore cannot recall from where the notion of bringing back Scotty came.
* Writer Brannon Braga, who took the freelancer’s transporter-loop pitch and wrote up the initial memo on the Scotty-rescue concept for writers-room overseer Jeri Taylor, would normally have scripted the episode as well – but Braga knew Moore (as the staff writer with the most love of the old Kirk-Spock series) was “kind of dying” to write the Scotty episode. Braga let Moore have it and moved on to the western-themed “Fistful of Datas” episode instead.
* According to Michael Okuda, visual effects supervisor Dan Curry found the transporter “sparkles” film element from the original series and repurposed it for the transporter effect that ushered Scotty into the Enterprise-D era for the first time. (The TOS transporter effect was recreated by CBS Digital for the new HD version of the episode.)
* Moore believes TNG staffers who were “secret fans” of the Kirk-Spock series secretly put the Scotty episode way over budget by cooking the books and illicitly borrowing money that should have gone to other episodes.
* It was Naren Shankar, a writer who doubled as the series’ technical advisor, who suggested the thing that menaced Scotty in both eras could be a Ringworld-y Dyson Sphere, an engineering marvel “probably millions of times bigger than the Death Star,” per Michael Okuda. “You could settle the entire Federation there quite a few times over.”
* Moore and some of the other writers felt in retrospect that the concept of a Dyson Sphere was really too big for the Scotty episode and probably should have been saved for an episode that focused on the history and content of that massive construct. Series dictates disparaging episode-to-episode continuity discouraged TNG writers from revisiting the sphere, but Moore says the “Deep Space Nine” writers room noodled around with Ben Sisko’s crew visiting “that Dyson’s Sphere where we found Scotty.”
* In earlier drafts Picard was more dismissive of Scotty, but the script apparently evolved at the behest of the actors, who did not want their characters to be unfriendly toward this iconic personage so beloved by fans.
* The Okudas have to remind Moore that a “fascinating” deleted scene Moore wrote with Scotty and Troi was produced (and is included on the new Blu-ray as an HD extra).
* Berman’s request that Moore delete what became a very funny homage to the original-series episode “By Any Other Name” -- involving Data’s description of a mysterious Ten Forward beverage as “green” -- was repeatedly ignored.
* A decade after “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and two years before Paramount released “Forrest Gump,” Moore originally envisioned that “Relics” would “Zelig” Scotty by using the holodeck to insert the 1992 version of James Doohan into old footage culled from the 1960s “Star Trek,” and Scotty would interact with the 1960s versions of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The idea was ultimately deemed too costly, but a very similar notion fueled the time-travel DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” in which Worf, Odo, Dax and Sisko found themselves observing young Spock, Chekov and Uhura on Jim Kirk’s original TV Enterprise.
* Due to the expense of recreating Shatner’s 1960s TV bridge for the episode, someone suggested that the holodeck could simply recreate the Enterprise-A bridge already built for 1991’s “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” – but Moore hated that idea. “There was no meaning to that,” opines Moore. “There was no sentimental attachment to that version.”
* It was Denise Okuda who remembered that “This Side of Paradise” featured a few seconds of footage depicting a deserted TOS bridge, and it was that footage that Scotty steps into via a holodeck door.
* The tiny bit of TOS bridge set built for the episode contained a dedication plaque that today hangs in Moore’s office.
* A Star Trek fan named Steve Horch, who specialized in building prop replicas, saved the bridge scene when he agreed to recreate the captain’s chair and helm/navigation console for the cost of the materials required. Horch agreed to Michael Okuda’s suggestion that he simply rent the props to the production for that price. (The pieces were not used for DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations” because they were being used for a traveling exhibit.) Horch, who passed away in 2010 at age 54, “eventually became co-owner of a prop company that did a lot of work for the show,” notes Michael Okuda.
* TNG set designers consulted Franz Joseph’s 12-page 1975 Ballantine "book" “Star Trek Blueprints” to recreate its section of Kirk’s original-series bridge. (Toward the end of his unhappy stay at Cornell University in the 1980s, Moore consulted the same blueprints as he painted an elaborate and detailed mural on his dorm wall depicting the Enterprise bridge. No photos exist of this work.
* TNG’s TOS bridge wall was one day suddenly slated for bulldozing but survives today as part of a traveling exhibition because Michael Okuda called Gene Roddenberry’s widow, who called a Paramount exec, who decided “this set is a valuable studio asset.”
* Scotty’s ship, the Jenolan, was a shuttlecraft built for “The Undiscovered Country” and redressed with wall graphics repurposed from the Trek movie series. Moore named it for the enormous Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, Australia, where Moore witnessed 6’2” Trek actress Suzie Plakson singing “Amazing Grace.”
* During his two months on staff at “Star Trek: Voyager” Moore argued that Janeway’s ship should have plant life in the halls and grow so increasingly customized by its crew that it became unrecognizable as a starship by the time it got back to Earth. Moore thought a key problem with Voyager’s interiors is they looked too much like the ones we saw in TNG.
6.15 “Tapestry” Commentary With Ronald D. Moore, Denise Okuda and Michael Okuda.
This was the episode in which Q gives a “dead” Picard a chance to rewrite the history that cost him his heart.
* This was Moore’s first opportunity to write for the omnipotent Q. His second and final time writing for Q was the series finale.
* “Tapestry’s” original title was “A Q Carol,” initially inspired by Patrick Stewart’s one-man “Christmas Carol” stage show.
* “A Q Carol” first sent the mortally wounded Picard back to his French boyhood (where we see him bullied by older brother Robert and adult Picard overhears his parents discussing their disappointment in young Jean-Luc). “A Q Carol” then gave Picard his first look at his father’s funeral, a funeral he had to miss because his duties aboard the Stargazer did not permit it. Again, we see his mother is disappointed with Jean Luc, this time because Jean Luc is not in attendance. Q then whisks him to the Stargazer, where Picard learns his old crew saw him as a micromanager and too strict a disciplinarian. When Q gives Picard the opportunity to change his past, Picard refuses, insisting that what he did made him the man he is today.
* While Moore’s fellow writers liked the idea of Q taking Picard on an after-death tour of Picard’s past, they grew less enthused about the “Christmas Carol” angle. Via memo, Moore then pitched showrunner Rick Berman on three alternative paths the episode could take. One pitch saw Picard confronted by Guinan as well as Q, who are revealed to be “two sides of the same coin” (and make me wonder if Moore was inspired by the Giant/Dwarf/White Lodge/Black Lodge business on “Twin Peaks”). Another took Picard back to his days at Starfleet Academy.
* Moore likens the third pitch, which became “Tapestry,” to the Nicolas Cage/Kathleen Turner movie “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which Turner’s character revisits her past.
* “Tapestry” was inspired by TNG 2.17, “Samaritan Snare,” in which Wesley Crusher learns while traveling with Picard that Picard has a cardiac implant that needs replacement, and that the implant was originally installed because Picard picked a fight with three Nausicaans, one of whom stabbed Picard in the heart. The mechanical heart prop Picard holds is the same one we saw in “Samaritan Snare.”
* For “Tapestry” there was thought of having Picard pass a mirror and see his younger self, but that idea did not move forward.
* It bugs Moore that the scarlet uniforms worn during Picard’s early career lack the white turtleneck collar we saw Kirk, Scotty, Saavik and Chekov wear from “The Wrath of Khan” through “Generations.” (Capt. John Harriman had the collar on the Enterprise-B in “Generations” but Capt. Rachel Garrett worked collarless on the Enterprise-C in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”) Michael Okuda speculates that costume designer Bill Theiss was instructed to find a cheap way to distinguish the scarlet uniforms worn in 2293 during the events of “Undiscovered Country” from the scarlet uniforms worn 34 years later in 2327, when Picard was at Starfleet Academy.
* One can see Sandman Headquarters, repurposed from “Logan’s Run,” in the cityscape behind Picard and Marta during their love scene. (Also? The background used for Talos IV in the original “Star Trek” pilot was originally used for “Forbidden Plant.”)
* The character of Marta was based on a friend Moore had in high school; he always wondered how she would react if he pursued her romantically.
* Moore recalls writers often pitched depiction of Picard-Crusher romance (there were hints of mutual attraction in the early episodes), but it was always shot down at a high level without a lot of explanation.
Moore suspects either Patrick Stewart or Gates McFadden may have asked that the storyline not be pursued, but Picard and Crusher learned they were attracted to each other in season seven’s “Attached” and were even depicted as married in the final episode’s future timeline.
* Okuda says he sees “Tapestry” as TNG’s version of “The Enemy Within,” as it depicts the two sides of the Enterprise’s captain.
* Asked if he’d prefer the next Trek TV series be a sequel or a reboot, Moore says he finds the idea of a reboot more interesting, but admits the idea of a follow-up also has great pull.
6.21 “Frame Of Mind” Commentary With episode director James L. Conway and director of photography Jonathan West.
* Conway says TV directors had more authority 20 years ago. Today TV directors have to consult with the series writers before they can move on from one shot to the next
* As a high-school student, West was invited by a friend to watch William Shatner on the set of the original series back in 1966.
Gag Reel (5:20)
* Jonathan Frakes liked to end some scenes by singing the series’ title score.