- Directed by Corey Allen
- September 28, 1987
- First Run Syndication
The Enterprise investigates the mystery of Farpoint Station which the Bandi people are offering to the Federation while humanity is put on trial by the being called Q.
The 80s were a great time in television. A highpoint for the medium in many aspects. Not only was it an era of great toy based cartoons but it was a time of fantastic live action television too. And most of it was in first run syndication which was a bounty of shows you just could not find on network television. In that mix was Star Trek: The Next Generation-the first Star Trek live action spinoff. It was a risky move back then which has since proven to be a relatively safe bet.
“Encounter at Farpoint” was as close to a television event for me as I could get then. It was the first of new Star Trek! On a weekly basis! And it did a good job of recreating the feel and vibe of the original series with a new set of characters. The most important duty of any series pilot is to introduce the core characters and concepts to the audience. “Encounter at Farpoint” introduces all the characters (even accidentally Miles Edward O’Brien as always portrayed by Colm Meaney) though some got handled better than others.
Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) was somewhat in the background though part of events, but Worf’s (Michael Dorn) main thing in this was making sure everyone knew he was a Klingon and then he was really unimportant to the whole story. That forehead is a big clue. A lackluster beginning for a character who would appear in more Star Trek than any other. Geordi (LeVar Burton) was basically “My VISOR bothers me” and then he did little that could not have been done with a tricorder. Not exactly sure what that says though.
We get introduced to the romantic tension between Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis). That was a bit weird as he was clearly going to be the lady’s man of the show. Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), the Jar Jar Binks of the Star Trek universe, and his mother Beverly (Gates McFadden) as well as their connection to Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart).
We also get introduced to Picard’s discomfort around children. It was not that he hated kids. He just did not know how to handle them. And on a ship with families on it (this Enterprise was to be more like a city in space) he realized he needed help and in a moment of honesty he asked Riker for help in dealing with them.
I just felt there were far too many characters to be effectively handled in an ensemble series. Yar and Wesley would both exit the show allowing the others to flourish but here some are just superfluous. We have Worf and Geordi who didn’t have a clearly define position in the show. You would be hard-pressed to name either of their positions based on this alone and if you knew what their positions on the ship were based on this right after it aired I would call you a liar because they did not do squat to let the viewer in on that.
I admit to never being a big fan of Q (John de Lancie). First off when I saw him up on the screen all I could think of was Eugene Bradford from Days of Our Lives. He’s not a terrible actor and he’s gone on to do other things but that was what I knew him from and that’s all I could think of him as when I saw him there.
In the Star Trek universe an all-powerful alien here and there was not bad for story purposes. Here Q was dark and a bit sinister. He clearly looked down on Picard but as much as he looked down on him he was also yanking his chain darkly so to speak. He was a fine nemesis but felt like an addition to stretch the story out into two hours.
“Encounter at Farpoint” is an intellectual story with very little action. This is a mystery that the Enterprise crew must solve and the parts where Q isn’t involved work much better than the parts where he is. He’s just about a nagging and annoying character that slows up the story here.
A great treat to fans was the appearance of Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) as the elderly Starfleet admiral inspecting the Enterprise’s sickbay. He was not named onscreen as “Dr. McCoy” and if I recall it was some time before he was officially acknowledged as McCoy but we all knew. The interaction between Data and he was classic Star Trek and just a great treat to fans.
I do like that “Encounter at Farpoint” felt then and still does like a direct continuation of the original series. The script was written by D. C. Fontana, a writer on the original series, and Gene Roddenberry himself. They continued the execution and that is what got me hooked. It has that same vibe-the strange new worlds and unusual things that could be found in science fiction that TOS had.
Though we have the return of the space mini, I was not thrilled with the uniforms. They were reminiscent of pajamas. As bad as the jogging suits of TMP. To this day I think some variation on the TOS film uniforms after Wrath of Khan should’ve been present in the series. They clearly indicated a hierarchy while the ones used here not so much. The collar pips were to do that, but the film uniforms accomplished that without in story information needing to be presented.
Despite my issues they assemble a fine cast and executed a great story with “Encounter at Farpoint.” This is very good cerebral Star Trek. This pilot film is a fine beginning to the first TOS spinoff. It’s an excellent story with a great deal of promise that delivered. If you haven’t seen this in quite a few years, it’s worth a revisit. You’ll be reminded of the good stuff of Star Trek as well as what made you fall in love with TNG.