Blu-ray Review Sci-Fi

Galaxy-Class Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six

June 30, 2014Ben MK

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By Ben Mk

Among all of the incarnations of Star Trek on television, Star Trek: The Next Generation represents the show at the pinnacle of its popularity. Although it hewed closely to the format established by the original series — something that the later Star Trek series, like Deep Space Nine, strove to break away from — it quickly attained its own cult following. Its legacy lives on to this day, and there’s no better example of the quality storytelling that helped to secure that legacy than the episodes on display in season six, which marks the penultimate voyage for the Enterprise-D and her crew on the small screen.

By its sixth season, The Next Generation had already grown into as much of an institution as the original series. Over the course of the previous 126 episodes, the show’s writers — led primarily by the late, great Gene Roddenberry — had woven a complex and rich mythology, creating, in the process, a narrative and thematic framework that allowed for the telling of many different types of stories, from the whimsical to the serious. And for season six, the writers and producers take full advantage of that freedom, as the episodes here run the gamut from the light-hearted, Western-themed 'A Fistful of Datas' to the somber and topical 'Chain of Command, Parts I and II'.

In true Star Trek fashion, the season begins with the resolution of one cliffhanger — 'Time’s Arrow, Part II', in which the discovery of Data’s head among some rubble on Earth leads Picard and an Away Team to travel back in time to 19th century San Francisco, where they encounter aliens, Mark Twain and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) — and leaves viewers hanging on another — 'Descent, Part I', which sees the crew of the Enterprise doing battle with a new and more vicious breed of Borg led by Data’s brother, Lore. Nestled in between are some of the series’ most memorable episodes, including 'Relics', 'Tapestry' and 'Second Chances'.

Aside from being quality episodes in their own right, these three episodes underscore a common theme: the second chance at life. In 'Relics', that second chance belongs to James Doohan, who — following in the footsteps of Deforest Kelley in season one’s 'Encounter at Farpoint' and Leonard Nimoy in season five’s 'Unification, Parts I and II' — reprises his role as engineer Montgomery Scott, found alive after a 75-year-long stasis in the transporter system of a derelict ship. In 'Tapestry', it’s Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) who, thanks to Q (John de Lancie), gets to relive his reckless days as a young ensign, following a near-death incident with his artificial heart. And in 'Second Chances', Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) discovers that an incident 8 years prior has left him with an exact double, who, after coming aboard the Enterprise, tries to rekindle his romance with Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis).

Other themes that surface in season six include Data’s (Brent Spiner) quest for knowledge and a higher plane of existence (as can be seen in 'The Quality of Life', 'Birthright, Parts I and II' and 'Descent, Part I') and Worf’s (Michael Dorn) exploration of his Klingon heritage (also in 'Birthright, Parts I and II' and in 'Rightful Heir'). But Worf and Data aren't the only crew members to receive character-centric episodes — so do Troi, Riker and (of course) Picard. And there’s even a crossover with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which premiered that same year) featuring an appearance by James Cromwell — unrecognizable under alien makeup as the Yridian Jaglom Shrek — who would go on to portray Zephram Cochrane, inventor of the warp drive, in Star Trek: First Contact. Not only does it all amount to one of the best seasons of The Next Generation, but it's one of the best seasons of network television — period.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six materializes onto Blu-ray with an exemplary A/V presentation — the latest in Paramount’s long line of fantastic The Next Generation Blu-ray releases. The high-def image retains the original broadcasts’ 4:3 aspect ratio, but the picture quality has been remastered, revealing a significant wealth of detail never before seen in these episodes. From the glowing blue of the Enterprise’s warp core to the vibrant reds, yellows and blues of the crew’s uniforms, colors are bolder and punchier than ever. Likewise, the detail visible in the image — the intricacies of the alien makeup prosthetics, the fabric texture of the Starfleet uniforms, the sharpness of the graphics on computer displays and especially the exterior views of the Enterprise and other spacefaring vessels — will impress those viewers who are accustomed to watching these episodes on DVD. In terms of acoustics, the discs’ robust DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack reconfigures the original broadcasts’ stereo soundtrack, making phaser blasts, explosions and the ilk more impactful, while subtler, atmospheric sound effects, like the gentle hum of Engineering, benefit from the additional nuance afforded by the broader soundstage.

Paramount’s six-disc Blu-ray release carries over all of the standard definition special features from the season’s 2002 DVD release — all 2 hours and 2 minutes of it — in the form of the following featurettes: Mission Overview Year Six, Bold New Directions, Departmental Briefing Year Six: Production, Departmental Briefing Profile: Dan Curry, Special Crew Profile: Lt. Cmdr. Data, Select Historical Data and Inside Starfleet Archives: Sets and Props. The remainder of the special features are newly-produced and presented in HD, and they include 47 minutes of Deleted Scenes (one for 'Time’s Arrow, Part II', one for 'Relics', one for 'True Q', two for 'Ship in a Bottle', one for 'Face of the Enemy', three for 'Tapestry', eight for 'Birthright, Part II', one for 'The Chase' and six for 'Rightful Heir'), three episode commentaries (by Ronald D. Moore and Mike & Denise Okuda for 'Relics' and 'Tapestry' and by James L. Conway and Jonathan West for 'Frame of Mind') and a 5-minute Gag Reel.

But the centerpiece of the new bonus features is the 85-minute documentary, Beyond the Five Year Mission - The Evolution of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Divided neatly into three parts, this fairly lengthy doc charts the production of season six, as seen through the eyes of the show’s cast and crew, and features a mixture of interviews, show clips and behind-the-scenes footage. Part one, The Lithosphere, focuses on the experiences of the show’s producers and writers (among them, Story Editor Naren Shankar, Supervising Producer Frank Abatemarco and Executive Producer Rick Berman). Part two, The Biosphere, shines the spotlight on the show’s production design, photography and music (with such contributors as Production Designer Richard D. James, Co-Producer Wendy Neuss and Director of Photography Jonathan West). And Part three, The Noosphere, provides the perspective of the cast (including Patrick Stewart, Levar Burton and Brent Spiner).

It’s the mark of great storytelling — and a true testament to the on- and off-screen talent involved in its production — that, though it’s now over two decades past its original air date, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six still holds up, despite all of the great sci-fi programming that has come and gone in the years since. And thanks to Paramount’s sparkling A/V presentation, not only do these episodes still entertain, they look and sound as good as any recent film or television production. Factor in the substantial — and substantive — bonus features, and there's no question: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six is absolutely worth beaming up on Blu-ray.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★★½

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