Star Trek: The Next Generation

Over a decade after the cancellation of the original series Star Trek returned to television in 1987, armed with better special effects, (eventually) better writing, and a predictable but reliable formula that would last them seven seasons.

Just The Facts

  1. Star Trek: TNG continued Gene Roddenberry's vision of a future in which mankind had joined together in a utopian society and ventured to the stars, confronting modern issues in a futuristic setting.
  2. For the crew of the Enterprise, a lot of these issues involve aliens being dicks.
  3. These were generally resolved by rerouting power through something, followed by someone giving a monologue about some social issue.

Ongoing mission to... do what now?

Just as in the first series, the Enterprise-D is launched into the depths of space with ambiguous mission statement of, "fly in more or less a random direction until you find aliens and/or something weird happens that defies all logic, then report back if you survive."

Pictured: science!

The somewhat suicidal nature of this mission becomes even more unusual when one considers the on-board crew and passengers. On average the Enterprise houses over a thousand people, though it only takes 100-200 to operate the ship (and in a pinch the captain can use the fancy command chair control panels and tell the computer what to do by himself).

Even allowing for families of crewmembers, that's 400-700 people who are on an incredibly dangerous ship sent on an incredibly dangerous mission for no apparent reason. Perhaps they were lured in under the pretense of an exciting cruise.

At least it's not shuffleboard.

One theory is that this large population of civillians was brought on board for two purposes. For one thing, it's probably getting harder to find people willing to get a job as an expendable redshirt, greatly reducing Starfleet's opportunities to study the combined fields of xenobiology and spontaneous combustion.

Thus they changed up their marketing plan, letting the guys in command wear red and somehow convincing hundreds of families to hang around on the ship and act as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. In quite a few episodes an early indicator of a new danger on the ship is when the civillians start dying mysteriously, go about trying to break the ship, or commence murdering each other under ambiguous circumstances.

The title of the show may be a grim pun, as it's possible the civillians are kept around and raised to be replacements when (not if) the rest of the crew is killed. The ship has nurseries, schools, farms, and everything else necessary to support people who live out their entire lives on board. In addition, although there's a new birth almost every day the frequent deaths of nameless extras ensures the ship will never be overpopulated.

These Darwinian conditions will produce the next generation of crew members experienced in surviving the bizarre hazards of space travel, and in turn pass it on. In short, it seems Starfleet prepared for and perhaps intended for the Enterprise-D to never come back.

Who signs up for this?

Perhaps the biggest threat to the Enterprise's survival is the dysfunctional crew themselves. Staffing the ship with people rife with curious character quirks and odd habits is a common feature in all iterations of Star Trek, but The Next Generation featured arguably the most impressive collection of misfits out of all the Treks. Let's take a look at the quirkiest of the quirks.

In command of the Enterprise are the tag-team duo of Picard and Riker. Captain Picard is the straight man of the team, assigned the arduous task of trying to keep his accident-prone ship and crew operational and alive respectively. Day after day they fly deeper into uncharted space, encountering deadly space anomolies and belligerant aliens and general weird mindbending stuff, and his reward for safely guiding the ship and crew out of harm's way was to do it all again tomorrow, probably facing a problem that makes even less sense than yesterday.

Every freakin' day.

Riker on the other hand seems to genuinely look forward to the daily threat of violent explosion, and indeed may have signed onto the mission just for the excitement of cheating death on a regular basis. Whether beaming down to incredibly dangerous planets (because scanning stuff from orbit in the safety of your hyper-advanced starship is for wimps) or just getting the gang together for poker night, Riker's stance is that while a career in space exploration is likely to end with a horriffic death at the hands of some kind of sentient sludge monster, that doesn't mean it can't also be fun.

For Riker, every day is casual friday.

The ops & engineering staff have almost as many problems among them as the ship they work on. Chief among these is Data, filling the affirmative-action-required Star Trek role of an emotionless crew member attempting to understand the mysteries of human interactions, who in this case is also an android with superhuman strength and speed, which are great abilities to give to someone with an intellect to rival supercomputers yet a childlike understanding of human nature.

His quest to understand what it is to be human nearly always causes wacky hijinks that range from telling bad jokes to 'accidentally' hijacking the ship. And when he does succeed at adding emotion to his programming, things get weird.

In what is either a cruel twist of fate or a prank taken to extremes, the Enterprise has a blind chief engineer. Now, Star Trek: TNG takes place in the 24th century. In modern time we're very close to developing a number of technologies to allow the blind to see, ranging from cloned eyeballs to installing artificial camera eyes hooked directly to the brain. So surely three hundred years from now they'll have some hyperadvanced super-eyes that see in ways we can't imagine. Nope, he's got a pair of future-shades clipped onto his skull that let him see like this.

Yeah, this totally isn't counter-productive to working on an incredibly complex starship.

Now to be fair the Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement (we see what they did there) does some pretty cool stuff. He can see through cards when playing poker, tell when people are lying by the temperature changes in the body, and he's seen everybody naked. Something he can't see, however, is anything displayed on a viewscreen or control panel. The screens and panels necessary for him to perform his job.

Then there's Worf, dual-classing as head of security and tactical officer, in other words holding the enviable job title of chief officer in charge of blowing stuff up. If the problem needs to be shot, stabbed, or punched in the face, Worf's your klingon. His ass-kicking reputation is such, in fact, that every alien who can knock Worf over seems to start his reign of dickishness by doing just that, occuring so often that they named a trope after him. Despite selflessly charging into battle against everything from killer cyborgs to demigods, Worf at times has difficulty with the respect of his peers.

Another Star Trek tradition first set forth by Kirk and carried on by most of the crew is the mission to seek out new alien species and introducing them to human culture. And by aliens we meen primarily female aliens. And by human culture we mean boning.

The most prolific professor of interspecies biological experimentation is certainly Riker. When not pursuing his off-and-on romance with the betazoid next door, his open-minded standards and his facial hair have gotten him into the pants of everyone from space-irish-peasants to three-fingered space-nerds. At one point the awesome power of his beard even seduced an androgynous pod person, sending shockwaves through an entire planet's socio-political system in the process.

Where no man has gone before.

Picard takes second place in this race, but does quite well for a man with the least hair in Starfleet. Maybe it's the natural charisma of a leader. Maybe it's the prestige of command. Or maybe chicks just dig a man who rides a Galaxy-class.

The rest of the bridge crew gets in on the act as well, though it seems they don't always turn out well. In addition to Troi's aforementioned antics with Riker (and sometimes Worf), Dr. Crusher gets it on with what later turned out to be some kind of psychic candle ghost and LaForge nearly makes it with a hologram. O'Brien from engineering not only gets a gal but a relatively stable marriage, something that appears to be pretty rare among Star Trek crews. Meanwhile local wunderkid-turned-acting-ensign Wesley at one point appears to make it to first base with what turns out to be a shapeshifting alien glow worm, and even Data gets some (with the aid of an odd space virus that made the entire crew drunk and horny, an episode simultaneously entertaining for fans and hated by the cast of the show).

Does it still count if you do it with a robot?

The Final Frontier: OSHA's worst nightmare.

Life aboard a ship has always been at least somewhat dangerous. Travelling far from home, getting lost or running out of supplies or even someone getting sick while living in such close quarters could spell doom for the crew. Star Trek's ships can use their computers to always know where they're going, use self-sustaining power sources to run virtually forever, and cure nearly any disease ever known.

So to even things up, Starfleet apparently decided to design their ships to be great spacefaring deathtraps. For starters, the wiring on the Enterprise appears to have been set up by some kind of sadistic homicidal electrician (possibly in cahoots with the above scheme to weed out the unworthy from the potential new crew members).

Nearly every control panel on the ship is wired to explode if the Enterprise so much as nudges a few space rocks or turns a little too sharply. Sure a boring office job on a boring planet may suck, but at least you're not in danger of your monitor exploding and filling your face with sparks and shrapnel.

Now, it's true that in pre-electronics days airplanes did have fuel lines directly linked to the fuel gagues they monitored that could cause similar explosions, and even today a power surge can cause some electronics to give you a good zap. But honestly there's no reason for damage to something in one part of the ship should cause a properly wired console on the other side of the ship (a quarter mile away if fansite specs are to be believed) to blast an unlucky ensign's face off. Not to mention that this was a problem on the first Enterprise, and yet the fifth-generation Enterprise-D 70 years later still has the same problem. Lazy engineers or government conspiracy? You be the judge.

And to think some people have gotten fired just for leaving the coffee maker on overnight.

Another feature of the Enterprise that survives despite the incredible dangers involved is the holodeck. Think of it as the most advanced (and potentially lethal) virtual reality system ever, using holograms and force fields to simulate virtually anything you can imagine. Though it has been used for training purposes and occasionally for some rather cool crime scene re-enactments that put CSI to shame, for the most part people on the Enterprise use it to dick around and have fun.

Let's take a moment to think about today's video games. Sooner or later they're likely to get a bug of some sort. Maybe your character gets stuck in a wall, or something catches on fire and won't go out, or an a.i. bug makes all the characters hostile to you.

Now imagine that instead of being safe on your couch you're physically inside the video game. And the game itself is trying to kill you. And the "safety" features that prevent the simulation from striking you with lethal force isn't working. And the only way to leave the video game would be to somehow regain control of the exact same buggy computer that's currently trying to murder you.

"It's not a bug, it's a feature."

At first glance one may wonder why anyone would willingly trap themselves in a box that regularly malfunctions and brutally slays everyone inside. There are two simple reasons for this. 1) A magic joycan that can simulate any place (and any person) you want to lifelike perfection? You know you'd try it. 2) Given that a majority of the ship can explode and kill you at any time anyway, might as well hang out on the part of the ship that can kill you in an accident involving simulated bisexual cyborg vampire strippers.

They died doing what they loved.

Another bit of technology that stands a good chance of causing horrific death is the transporter. This iconic Star Trek gadget gives the crew the essential ability to visit alien worlds without anyone having to film starship takeoff/landing scenes. Technically this one (usually) doesn't malfunction and kill people (though when it does, the leftovers resemble a hot dog that's been microwaved for about an hour). Generally it gets people killed by sending people down to the planet just fine, then bluescreening for most of the episode so nobody can get back on board.

Unique among the assorted technological deathtraps on the Enterprise, the transporter also posesses the ability to create rather than destroy lives, a feature that is mysteriously never used even once on the show (after all, who would want to bring people back to life after Starfleet went through so much trouble to kill them with exploding control panels?).

Allow us to nerd out on you for a moment. Quantum teleportation is basically like a fax machine, reading a document (in this case a person) at location A and making a copy at location B. The average person is somewhat more complicated than an ad for discount furniture, so they need to know exactly what every subatomic molecule in your body is up to in order to teleport you. They find out what each of your molecules are by nailing down what they aren't, and for some reason or another the original is destroyed in the process of making the copy.

Still with us? Right. The point we're laboriously crawling towards is that basically a transporter takes a look at all the physical data that defines your body, then uses local matter to make an exact duplicate of that body at another location. Now, when you put a pattern of a discount furniture ad from your computer into a printer, as long as you have paper and ink you can keep making garish advertising.

The component molecules that make up the human body aren't that hard to find either. Just about every starship and sufficiently developed city in Star Trek is equipped with the technology to make massive clone armies, yet they just use it to bamf around town.

They're about as good a shot as the average Starfleet security officer anyway.

Out of the frying pan, into the carnivorous space monster.

Om nom nom

Just in case day to day life on the ship isn't dangerous enough for you, the Enterprise's mission entails flying off into the depths of uncharted space and specifically seeking out situations that could result in the death and destruction of the entire ship and everyone on board.

Granted there is a lot of weird stuff in space (much of which today's scientists haven't quite figured out how to explain), so as a vessel equipped with the latest in scanning equipment and supercomputers it would make sense for the Enterprise to fly out there and take a closer look. However, Starfleet appears to take the Steve Irwin approach to science and then crank the dial to eleven. Just replace 'impressively patient crocodile' with 'incredibly volatile space cloud' and 'poke it with a stick' with 'irradiate it with the power of a thousand suns'.

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Crikey.

As is true of internet forums, another danger of exploring new frontiers is thatthey tend to include people, some or all of whom may be jerks. Compounding the problem is the fact that nearly every potentially-a-jerk alien in Star Trek is "like humans, but better at X". Some are simply victims of some random plague or social issue that the crew of the Enterprise can solve with a soapbox monologue and/or an energy beam of some sort. Some, however, appear to cruise around space with the primary intention of being total dicks to everyone they find.

In the event of aliens who don't want to be bestest buddies with Starfleet, this 'science and space exploration' vessel also carries enough armament to bomb an entire planet back to the stone age. Between energy beams strong enough to tunnel into planets and warheads that deliver hundreds of thousands of times more force than a nuclear bomb. Add in the fact that most other spacefaring species have similar (or better) weapons, and the Enterprise has a good chance of ending up on the losing side of a mexican standoff every time the neighbors drop by.

Many of these confrontations play out not unlike naval warfare, with captains delivering ultimatums and warning shots, and on occasion pounding each other with deadly salvos. However, some may notice a slightly different inspiration for Star Trek's space combat...