Paramount’s “Star Trek” franchise has spawned 9 feature films (and counting), 5 television shows (and counting), and a pop sub-culture with world-wide penetration. No other telefilm series has such a continuous and evolving presence in the eyes of the world, and no other science-fiction programming avoids cheesiness and awful production values quite as successfully as “Star Trek”.

Paramount Pictures has released “Star Trek–The Original Series” on 40 DVDs (2 episodes each), and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is arriving on DVD a season per box set during 2002. (Rumor has it that every season of “Deep Space Nine” will be released during 2003.)

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” Season 3 follows Seasons 1 and 2 onto DVD, and the box set’s quality matches that of the other box sets for the most part. Seven discs have been included in an attractive silver box set. As with the previous seasons, Season 3 does not offer a big story arc. Rather, there are several character arcs that firmly establish the core group of the “TNG” ensemble. With the exception of Wesley Crusher’s (Wil Wheaton) departure for Starfleet Academy in a later season, the main cast of the show is pretty much in place by Season 3. Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) returns to the Enterprise after a year working with Starfleet Medical on other assignments, relieving Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) as the ship’s chief medical officer.

Observant viewers will notice that Season 3 features a re-jigged opening sequence that seems to fly through more of space than the opening sequence used for Seasons 1 and 2. Another, more substantial change to production details also took place during Season 3–new uniforms. The new uniforms were made of thicker, sturdier materials than their Season 1/2 counterparts, and they look much more authoritative and “real”. (However, some of the extras still wear the old uniform, probably because there wasn’t enough money left in the budget to make new uniforms for everybody.)

With its core cast and smart new uniforms in place, “TNG” really stretched its space legs during Season 3. Indeed, the handlers of “TNG” seemed to be so confident about the show’s prospects that they decided to end the third season with a cliffhanger. During Season 3, the show’s tone began to feel more dark, more serious, imparting the series with a dramatic quality that “The Original Series” never had. Surprisingly, many of the scripts were written as the episodes were being shot, yet the quality of the show didn’t seem to suffer.

Disc 1: “Evolution”, “The Ensigns of Command”, “The Survivors”, “Who Watches the Watchers”.

Disc 2: “The Bonding”, “Booby Trap”, “The Enemy”, The Price”.

Disc 3: “The Vengeance Factor”, “The Defector”, “The Hunted”, “The High Ground”.

Disc 4: “Déjà Q”, “A Matter of Perspective”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “The Offspring”.

Disc 5: “Sins of the Father”, “Allegiance”, “Captain’s Holiday”, “Tin Man”.

Disc 6: “Hollow Pursuits”, “The Most Toys”, “Sarek”, “Ménage à Troi”.

Disc 7: “Transfigurations”, “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”.

A couple of episodes stand out from the rest. Once again, the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) provides many humorous moments, especially during “Transfigurations”. In that particular episode, Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) seems to be having problems courting a beautiful young lady. Worf impatiently chides Geordi, barking “You have MUCH to learn.” This from a guy who talks about attracting human females with scents and growls, lol.

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” re-introduces Tasha Yar (the pretty, talented Denise Crosby) to the series. The Enterprise “D” encounters a temporal rift that sends the Enterprise “C” 22 years into the future. Since the Enterprise “C” was not destroyed as it should have been, the Federation has been at war with the Klingon Empire. Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) convinces Picard to send the Enterprise “C” back into the past in order to avoid a catastrophic present/future. One of the members of the Enterprise “D” joins the “C” crew, and her decision leads to ramifications seen in later seasons of “TNG”.

My all-time favorite episode of “TNG” appears during Season 3–“The Offspring”. In this episode, Data (Brent Spiner) manages to duplicate the Soong-ian android process, and he creates a daughter named Lal. Despite the fact that, at this point in time in the “Star Trek” universe, Data is incapable of feeling human emotions, yet, he has never been more human than in “The Offspring”. I won’t say more–you’ll just have to see this episode for yourself.

In “The Next Generation”, the Borg seems to be the greatest threat to the United Federation of Planets. (Not until “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” will we see other aliens who are as formidable as the Borg.) The season finale of Season 1 showed various space stations destroyed by some unseen force. The Season 2 episode “Q Who?” introduced the characters (and viewers) face-to-face with the Borg. The Borg reappear in Season 3’s finale, “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”. This is the episode that “TV Guide” thinks saved the series. In “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”, the Borg abduct Picard and turn him into Locutus. In order to save Earth, Riker must take command of the Enterprise and battle his former captain. The nail-biting-inducing episode ends with Riker shouting “Fire!” right before “To Be Continued…” appears on the screen…man, those were tense days. 🙂

“TNG” Season 3 appears on DVD in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors). For the most part, the video image looks clear and stable. Colors are natural and realistic. However, there are some moments with digital specking, and some special effects shots look slightly soft and faded. Moreover, believe it or not, there are more episodes with instances of heavy grain in Season 2 than Season 1.

For the DVD releases of “TNG”, Paramount created new Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) sound mixes from the original stereo stems. I was very surprised by the high-quality of the new audio tracks. The true separation of audio effects to the five speakers immerses the viewer in the onscreen action. The bass can be quite powerful, especially when the Enterprise jumps to warp speed and booms off the screen. Music can be fairly enveloping, filling the room courtesy of fairly participatory rear speakers.

Each episode’s original DD 2.0 stereo (English) track can be selected, and the bonus materials come with DD 2.0 surround audio. English subtitles and closed captions support the audio.

There are 4 newly-created featurettes to accompany Season 3. Older and more recent interviews comprise the majority of the footage in these featurettes. These extras appear on Disc 7, and they are: “Mission Overview: Year Three”, “Selected Crew Analysis: Year Three”, “Departmental Briefing–Year Three: Production”, and “Departmental Briefing–Year Three: Memorable Missions”. These items each run between 13 to 20 minutes. (Unlike the featurettes for Seasons 1 and 2, the featurettes in the Season 3 set do not feature footage of Gene Roddenberry.)

“Mission Overview: Year Three” discusses pivotal moments in the “TNG” universe, obviously. “Selected Crew Analysis: Year Three” takes a closer look at how the characters are developing as well as the return of DR. Beverly Crusher. In particular, Wil Wheaton seems to be the happiest to see his “mommy” return to the show. The two “Departmental Briefing–Year Three” featurettes look at key episodes, one from a production (behind-the-scenes) standpoint, another from a more thematic standpoint. Each of the featurettes seems to mention “The Offspring” since it was the first time a cast member (Jonathan Frakes) directed an episode of the show.

A glossy insert fold-out provides a brief note concerning Season 3’s standout episodes, a note about the Borg, Airdates and Stardates for each episode, and a mini-mural of the cast members.

Entertainment Value:
After a slightly disappointing (and abbreviated) second season, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” roared back to life during its third outing. Seasons 3 through 7 comprise one of the finest moments of series television, giving viewers plenty of adventure coupled with moral soul-searching. If only the big-screen journeys of the “TNG” cast could be as good as the best moments of the TV show…