STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: SEASON 6 – DVD review

Every fall brings a slew of new television shows. Most don’t last beyond a few episodes, and even fewer get to finish their first years. Despite the fact that science-fiction as a genre (in any media) is considered to have limited appeal, “Star Trek” has endured for decades, and there has been a continuous run of “Star Trek” incarnations on TV since 1987. In fact, the seventh season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” received an Emmy nomination for Best Drama Series–a nomination that it had earned for years.

Paramount’s “Star Trek” franchise has spawned 10 feature films (including the upcoming “Nemesis”), 5 television shows, and a pop sub-culture with world-wide penetration. No other motion picture 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 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.

The “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Season 6 box set matches the quality of the other box sets for the most part. Seven discs have been included in an attractive silver box (with purple being the season’s signature disc color). As with the previous seasons, Season 6 does not offer a big story arc. Rather, it expands upon the narrative, character, and thematic threads found in previous years that helped the show to transcend the science-fiction genre and to rise into the realm of human-interest drama.

Disc 1: “Time’s Arrow, Part II”, “Realm of Fear”, “Man of the People”, “Relics”.

Disc 2: “Schisms”, “True-Q”, “Rascals”, “A Fistful of Datas”.

Disc 3: “The Quality of Life”, “Chain of Command, Part I”, “Chain of Command, Part II”, “Ship in a Bottle”.

Disc 4: “Aquiel”, “Face of the Enemy”, “Tapestry”, “Birthright, Part I”.

Disc 5: “Birthright, Part II”, “Starship Mine”, “Lessons”, “The Chase”.

Disc 6: “Frame of Mind”, “Suspicions”, “Rightful Heir”, “Second Chances”.

Disc 7: “Timescape”, “Descent, Part I”.

Season 6 begins with the conclusion to Season 5’s cliffhanger final episode. Season 5’s “Time’s Arrow, Part 1” saw the crew of the Enterprise go back in time to Mark Twain’s day in order to figure out how Data’s head came to be an archeological find hundreds of years before he was even created! Now, I enjoy time-travel yarns as much as the next person, but the “Time’s Arrow” story is a little screwy from where I sit.

Fans of ship’s counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) should be notified that she begins to wear a standard Starfleet uniform in Season 6. Troi gets more play here than in previous years, and actress Sirtis shows how there’s more depth to the character than just “I sense something.”

Of all the Season 6 episodes, I like “Rascals” and “The Chase” the most. “Rascals” offers fun, plain and simple. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes), Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), and Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) fly a shuttlecraft through an energy anomaly that causes them to revert to a child-like physical condition. Their intellects and personalities remain intact, but their bodies become like when they were pre-teens. When Ferengis commandeer the Enterprise and beam all the adults down to a planet, the child-sized adults must use their outward appearances to deceive the intruders and to re-take the ship.

“The Chase” is one of the most profound stories ever told in the “Star Trek” universe. You know how the aliens in “Star Trek” mostly look like humanoids? The financial explanation for that phenomenon is that it’s cheaper to attach a few rubber pieces to an actor’s face than to create aliens vastly different from humans. This much has been acknowledged by the “Star Trek” handlers (you can find this information at www.startrek.com). However, there is also a philosophical explanation for the appearance of humanoids.

In “The Chase”, Picard jets around the Alpha Quadrant, following clues left to him by his old archeology professor. Cardassians and Klingons join the Enterprise in finding the missing parts of a puzzle. The Klingons think that they are about to discover an ancient weapon of immense power, while the crafty Cardassians refuse to hint at what they think the object in question might be. For his part, Picard just wants to solve a mystery.

When the Federation, the Cardassians, and the Klingons arrive on an uninhabited planet, they find themselves ambushed by Romulans. The Romulans have been piecing together the same puzzle, and everyone is willing to go to war in order to control the mystery product. The puzzle turns out to be a video message encoded as DNA throughout the quadrant. The video explains the origins of various cultures in the universe–a common link unifying all humanoids.

The final moments of “The Chase” speak volumes about the “Star Trek” philosophy. Both a Romulan captain and Picard say, “Perhaps…one day…” There are resonations, reverberations, and repercussions a-plenty–most obvious being the possible peace overtures made by the Romulans in “Star Trek: Nemesis”–but the episode also reflects the filmmakers’ desire for world peace. After all, Africans, Asians, Caucasians, and all humans share a common ancestor, making us members of the same family. To grow beyond our present condition, we must all cooperate in working for a better tomorrow.

Year 6 ends with yet another cliffhanger episode. In “Descent, Part I”, the Enterprise heads to a planet to look for Data. The planet seems to be deserted, but it turns out that Data has joined Lore, the first android built by Dr. Soong. The 2 androids have become leaders of a host of Borgs. How and why remains to be seen in “Descent, Part II” (the first episode of Season 7). While “Part II” is very exciting, “Part I” is rather slow and uninvolving. I find this to be true with most “TNG” 2-parters, but I guess that spreading a big story across 90 minutes creates attention-grabbing “events” that spur water cooler discussions. Positive word-of-mouth never hurt anyone, right? 🙂

Video:
“TNG” Season 6 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. Colors are natural and realistic. There are very few noticeable indications of scratches, dust, or hairs, and the sharpness is very refreshing. However, as with the previous seasons, some visual effects shots are noticeably grainy. Also, some shots look unstable, as if water and temperature had warped the film negative to wavy shapes.

Audio:
For the DVD releases of “TNG”, Paramount created new Dolby Digital 5.1 English sound mixes from the original stereo surround stems. The new audio tracks are of high-quality, and the true separation of audio effects to the 5 main 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 of the screen. You can hear the constant hum of warp engines, too. Music can be fairly enveloping, filling the room courtesy of lively rear channels.

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

Extras:
There are 5 newly-created featurettes to accompany Season 6. 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 Six”, “Special Crew Profile: Lt. Commander Data”, “Bold New Directions”, “Departmental Briefing–Year Six: Production”, and “Departmental Briefing–Year Six: Dan Curry Profile”. These items each run between 10 to 30 minutes.

“Mission Overview: Year Six” discusses pivotal moments in the “TNG” universe. There are cast reactions to James Doohan’s guest turn in “Relics”. (Doohan played Scotty in The Original Series and in the movies featuring the cast of TOS.) The featurette also looks into the creation of “Deep Space Nine”, especially focusing on the development of the Cardassians as yet another civilization with a predilection for war.

“Special Crew Profile: Lt. Commander Data” focuses exclusively on Brent Spiner and his portrayal of an emotionless android. Everyone heaps praises on him for playing the most technically demanding role. After all, for so many years, he wasn’t allowed to react in any way to changes in tone other than with a confused or curious look.

“Bold New Directions” reminds viewers that Patrick Stewart and LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge) both tried their hands at direction. Stewart helmed “A Fistful of Datas”, while Burton guided “Second Chances” from the page to the big screen. Everyone else loved what they did, of course, but you don’t blame them or find it hard to believe that they took to their neophyte directors so well because the actors felt like members of one big family anyway.

“Departmental Briefing–Year Six: Production” and “Departmental Briefing–Year Six: Dan Curry Profile” look at “TNG” from the crews’ perspectives. The “Production” featurette showcases many interviews with the show’s writers as they reminisce about how they created their scripts. The “Dan Curry Profile” honors a man who has had a great deal of his work define the “look” of “Star Trek”. Curry talks about the creation of visual effects (not all digital, of course) as well as shows the proper use of certain weapons in the “Star Trek” world.

Finally, there are 2 trailers, one being the teaser for “Star Trek: Nemesis” and the other being a promo for the “Deep Space Nine” box sets arriving in 2003.

–Miscellaneous–
A glossy insert fold-out provides brief notes about Season 6 and the Romulans, Airdates and Stardates for each episode, and a mini-mural of the cast members. The box set also offers a $25 rebate offer for those of you who buy Seasons 5, 6, and 7.

Entertainment Value:
Seasons 3, 4, and 5 saw the best years of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. I think that Season 6 is a bit of a step back from the tension-filled drama of Seasons 3 through 5. The show’s sixth year feels like one of the movies starring the cast of The Original Series–mostly happy-happy-joy-joy and buddy-buddy, with many joke-y situations. Familiarity breeds…a bit of silliness, I suppose. It’s all in good fun, though, and there are enough somber moments to uphold the show’s seriousness of purpose. Season 6 of “TNG” is much, much better than all the good episodes of “Ally McBeal”, “Dawson’s Creek”, “Renegade”, or “V.I.P.” put together, so you’ll still get quality when you buy the box set. Besides, if you’ve collected sets 1 through 5, why stop now?

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