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

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Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six debuts on Blu-ray, with all six discs neatly housed in a standard-width, slim case. The TNG upgrade process that began two years ago (and will conclude later this year with the series’ seventh and final season) is a seemingly well-oiled machine at this point. Technical specs for the 1992-93 season are rock solid and there’s another set of carefully produced new extra features. The sixth season itself was quite well oiled too, cruising along at peak level (in the extras some of the team members proclaim it the series’ peak). Throughout 26 episodes, a remarkable level of consistency is maintained. There are a few duff outings, but by and large this is a probing, often exciting, and always forward-moving season of Trek.

“Time’s Arrow, Part II” kicks things off with one of those slightly below-par episodes. Time travel is generally a hit-and-miss conceit and here it really kind of misses as the crew winds up in the 1890s. Jerry Hardin’s frankly terrible overacting as Mark Twain doesn’t help matters at all. There’s a reason this wasn’t paired with the Season Five finale as a standalone release. The Barclay (Dwight Schultz) feature that follows, “Realm of Fear,” continues the shaky start. All of a sudden Barclay is afraid of the transporter? It’s a silly episode, but things improve ten-fold with “Man of the People,” one of the best spotlight episodes for Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) in the series’ history. Sirtis gets the chance to exhibit a greatly expanded range of emotions as she is exploited by Lumerian ambassador Ramid Ves Alkar (Chip Lucia) and endures drastic aging.

Star Trek Next Gen 6 relics (200x153).jpgThe wildly popular guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role as Spock, in the previous season led to another guest-starring role by an original crew member. James Doohan plays Scotty, a man truly out of time (he’s been stuck for centuries in a transporter buffer), in “Relics,” an all-time fan favorite. The Dyson sphere, seen in this episode, is now a far more detailed special effects triumph in the newly restored version, but its Doohan’s melancholy performance that makes “Relics” so memorable. I do wish someone on the Enterprise had told Scotty they’d recently encountered Spock. From there on, Season Six hardly hits a bum note, with another key two-parter—“Chain of Command” parts one and two—being separately issued as a standalone Blu-ray (with its own set of exclusive special features, making it a must-buy for big fans).

Star Trek Next Gen 6 tapestry (200x153).jpgOf this season’s Q (John de Lancie) episodes, “Tapestry” is rightly celebrated as one of Trek’s best-ever moments. Here Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is given a glimpse of a life far more ordinary than the one he has led. What if he hadn’t stood up to the bullying Nausicaans that necessitated the replacement of his natural heart with a mechanical one? What if he hadn’t risen in the ranks to the level of captain, instead playing it safe and taking the easy ways out? This is a thought-provoking and highly relatable episode that more than earns its reputation. But the season is rich with minor gems as well, things like “Starship Mine,” during which a gang of bandits infiltrates the Enterprise to boost a supply of trilithium, leaving Picard to take the kinds of decisive actions that have defined his life and kept him from becoming the man we glimpse in “Tapestry.” It also boasts a spot-on performance by David Spielberg as the numbingly boring chatterbox Commander Hutchinson.

Having barely scratched the highlights (which also include some hilarious moments for Brent Spiner’s Data in episodes like “A Fistful of Datas” and character-expanding moments for Jonathan Frakes’ Commander Riker in “Frame of Mind), it should still be mentioned that Trek was still somewhat hampered by a doggedly rigid avoidance of story arcs. This was a frustrating thing for the writers and it will inevitably feel outdated for viewers accustomed to modern episodic television. But when the individual stories are this strong, it doesn’t matter as much. The writers do what they can to connect the dots and build on characters and their evolving relationships, and the on-going Borg saga continues with the killer season-ending “Descent.” In the special features, we hear some thoughts about the loosening of Roddenberry’s “utopian society” rules that dictated the vision of the early years. It’s a pity the legendary creator had to pass away for this type of expansion to even occur, with moral cloudiness and unscrupulous behavior allowing for enhanced tension (and excitement) throughout some of the best episodes.

It’s becoming routine to praise the season-by-season restoration of TNG, but CBS Digital has outdone themselves yet again with the sixth season. Originally the plan was for CBS to handle the restoration in-house for the odd-numbered seasons, while outsourcing the even-numbered ones. That was met with mixed reactions and CBS decided to do it themselves from season five onward. What we have here is another terrific transfer. Aside from the necessary retention of the original 1.33:1 framing, these episodes take on a cinematic aura. Going back to the 35mm negatives has allowed for all the richness in color and detail in the live-action footage to be appreciated for the first time. The visual effects look remarkable as well, never looking out of place when something other than the original elements is used.

Also maintaining the already established high standards for the series, the lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix is everything fans could want. I’ve always felt it is debatable whether TNG truly needs more than 5.1, but the mixing is always true to the original feel of the show. The extra channels significantly contribute to the immersive sonic atmosphere. It’s the subtle effects that put the viewer right in the center of things. Occasionally there are startlingly effective directional effects and unexpected rear channel activity is frequent. Fidelity is flawless throughout, keeping Season Six on par with the previous season reissues.

Star Trek Next Gen cast (380x251).jpgWithout a roundtable reunion piece, the supplements feel a little more sparse than usual. There’s some great stuff though, namely the three-part “Beyond the Five Year Mission.” Totaling about an hour and a half, this is another engaging mixture of behind the scenes footage and recent cast/crew interviews. We hear from Whoopi Goldberg for the first time in the reissue program, talking about her role of Guinan. Marina Sirtis discusses the tweaks given to Troi’s hairstyle (she had no say in the character’s appearance). The first of the three parts deals largely with the introduction of Deep Space Nine, surely whetting fans’ appetite for the hopeful future upgrade of that series to Blu-ray. James Doohan’s and Stephen Hawking’s guest appearances are discussed in detail as well.

A five-minute gag reel, several deleted scenes (including a priceless one between Scotty and Troi that could’ve easily stayed “Relics”, if not for time), and a few audio commentaries (“Relics,” “Tapestry,” “Frame of Mind”) are all new to this release. As usual, the old DVD features have been ported over and are presented in standard definition. These featurettes remain valuable, though they generally feel a bit more superficial than the newly produced pieces. As always, it’s great that Paramount has remained committed to carrying over this stuff, making it easy for collector’s to jettison their clunky old DVD box sets.

No release date is on the calendar yet for TNG’s final season, but one has high hopes for an even more impressive package of supplements to send off the series. But for now, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six gives Trek enthusiasts plenty to chew on.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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