Lost in Translation is approaching a major anniversary mark, so it’s a good time to look back over the years. Today, let’s start at the beginning, with the first review posted, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the early days of Lost in Translation, I went after the easier, low-hanging fruit, and ST:TNG was well in reach. I had watched both the original and the then new Trek when TNG first aired in 1987.
When TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, first aired, the original had been in syndication for eighteen years, gaining a fan base that was too young to watch the series when it first aired. In between the last original Trek episode and “Encounter at Farpoint”, there had been an animated series and four films, beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, all with the original cast. TNG, though, guaranteed a weekly hit of Star Trek, thanks to first-run syndication; ratings weren’t going to be an issue, just sales to TV stations.
The first two seasons were rough. TNG re-used some scripts for a proposed but unfulfilled Star Trek II TV series with the original crew of the Enterprise. The Star Trek II series ultimately became ST:TMP, and the mappings of characters can be seen between the movie and TNG. The obvious ones are Kirk and Decker to Riker, Xon, the Vulcan science officer who died in a transporter accident, to Data, Ilya to Troi, and Argyle and MacDougal to Scotty. The mappings aren’t perfect; there was an effort to make the new characters their own selves. With Troi, some of the Deltan culture, such as openness to sex, had to be toned down for television. Data’s quest for humanity mirrors Spock’s quest to balance and integrate his Vulcan and Human halves, but the paths each took are different.
It does take time for a TV series to get settled in, for character to develop to what fans will remember. TNG was no different. Season three was when the characters sorted themselves out. Still, the worst episode of TNG, the second season flashback episode “Shades of Gray”, is still better than TOS‘ worst, the third season’s “Spock’s Brain”. Meanwhile, the best of TNG pushed the envelope of Trek storytelling. “Darmok” explored the language gap in first contact while bypassing the universal translator.
In the time since the last TNG episode, the two-parter “All Good Things…”, in 1994, more Trek has been made. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which began during TNG‘s run and Star Trek:Voyager began the year after TNG‘s end. Star Trek: Enterprise began after Voyager‘s run ended. Today, there are three concurrent Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. Picard is a direct sequel to TNG while Lower Decks follows the crew of another starship in the same era. At this point, TNG is the more familiar Trek series, thanks to having a longer run and and the subsequent series set in the same era.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good example of a successful reboot, matching the original series in quality, both highs and lows, and becoming its own entity.