At #1 – The Best Star Trek: The Next Generation episode
At the top of my top ten Next Generation countdown is the best episode ever made, Yesterday’s Enterprise, guest-starring Denise Crosby, Christopher McDonald, and Tricia O’Neill. This episode has everything classic Star Trek is meant to have, including a moral dilemma, character development, and a fantastic story. It was co-written by Eric Stillwell, who helped mold the original script into what was presented on screen, the pinnacle of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has everything. It has action, drama, good dialogue, and even a love story. It has more depth than at first glance, and it contains much more than most other episodes.
After Stillwell submitted the draft of the script for this episode, it was polished by Star Trek legend, Ronald Moore. It had to be finished quickly to accomodate the schedules of Whoopi Goldberg and Denise Crosby, who were both essential to the story. This is the one of the few episodes I can recall where Whoopi Goldberg was much more than a glorified prop. She does a good job, but I think Denise Crosby does an even better job. It looks as if Crosby is very comfortable on set, and she has some great moments.
In this episode, the Enterprise-C travels forward in time 22 years, where it encounters the Enterprise-D, and changes the timeline. You’d think a time travel episode might be filled with endless exposition and details, right down to the science, but you’d be wrong. The writers boiled the whole thing down to one simple problem: the arrival of the Enterprise-C has changed time and caused a war with the Klingons, but sending them back to their own time would be a death sentence.
Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard has perhaps the best speech of the whole episode, as he argues with Guinan about sending them back. At first, he refuses, which is only natural. Picard doesn’t want to see all these people die, as they were hopelessly outnumbered when they suddenly came forward in time. Eventually, he sends them back to the past, but has only his trust in Guinan to decide. That might be quite a hard pill to swallow for some, but given the concept, it is a brilliant plot point.
Denise Crosby returns to Star Trek in a script that was particularly well-written just for her. Originally, she felt she could do much more with her character, which is why she left the show to begin with. Here, she is given that time, and it works.
The production model of the Enterprise-C was built in ten days. The TV show did not have the advantages of CGI like shows do today, so the model was built out of plastic, wood and Bondo. It was heavily battle-damaged, so the detail didn’t have to be perfect. I think the ship looks spectacular and fits the story quite well. Always on a budget, the show borrowed uniforms from Paramount in storage from the Star Trek movies and used them for the time-wearied crew.
Patrick Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg have a majority of the work, but William Frakes gives a good counterpoint view to Captain Picard’s decisions, and he’s very unlikable in this episode, which is unusual. Also, Michael Dorn as Worf is absent because of the constraints of the story, which say the Federation is at war with the Klingons, so he can’t be there. They throw them a bone and give him a short scene in the prologue, before the timeline goes wonky.
I don’t have much to complain about with this episode. It is essential Star Trek, but does have some techno-babble thrown in there to move the plot. Brent Spiner as Data has to crap out some dialogue to make some scenes work, but none of it really means anything. Also, Picard sending back the crew of the Enterprise-C to die based on his bartender’s intuition is a little far-fetched, but maybe he really does consider her that close a friend. Also, Tasha and Castillo fall in love very quickly, so that must be the fastest love story in television history. She must not be very picky.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable episode. It has great dialogue and is very polished. The story’s true problems and moral dilemmas are very interesting, but the time travel concept makes the whole thing work. It is an easy episode for me to like and enjoy, and it is one of my favorites. This top ten has been a pleasure to write about, as it has allowed me to watch the episodes all over again and look at them from a different angle.