Star Trek : The Next Generation is the first and highly successful remake of the original Star Trek TV show. The Next Generation ran for seven seasons from 1987-94.
The captain of the new, beefed up United Federation of Planets starship Enterprise is Jean-Luc Picard, played by the British character actor Patrick Stewart. It seems that Stewart was made for the role. His popularity rivals that of William Shatner and the Captain Kirk character.¹
A new cast of characters and innovations such as a holodeck – where interactive environments are created through holograms – are added. Also noteworthy is the fact that Klingons are no longer arch enemies of the Federation. Lt. Commander Worf, a Klingon, serves on the new Enterprise. And whenever the crew is unhappy or estranged by its various space adventures, a psychological counselor, Deanna Troi, is available.
Another memorable character is Lieutenant Commander Data. He is an android who, like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, wants to know what it’s like to be human. And “Q,” played by actor John de Lancie, was something akin to a classical Greek or Roman god in that he had powers and knowledge extending beyond our normal understanding of space and time. Also like the pagan gods, he abused these powers in childish ways and even challenged the authority of the Q Continuum (the ruling body of the Q, representing the status quo), resulting in Q’s frequent punishment.
Perhaps the most formidable new enemy of the Federation is the Borg, a horrid collective of cyborgs who suck the life and technological knowledge out of any living creature deemed worthy of its cold malice.
These and other innovations made TNG rival the original Star Trek series in terms of sheer creativity. This isn’t surprising because Gene Roddenberry, the producer of the original show, was directly involved in TNG.
TNG‘s immense popularity attracted the film star Whoopi Goldberg,who played the super-intuitive bartender and wise advisor Guinan. Goldberg apparently approached the producers of TNG, expressing her desire to be on the show.
Other notable guest actors in the show in show include Erich Anderson, Billy Campbell, Nikki Cox, Ronny Cox, Olivia d’Abo, Kirsten Dunst, Mick Fleetwood, Matt Frewer, Walter Gotell, Kelsey Grammer, Bob Gunton, Teri Hatcher, Stephen Hawking (as himself), Famke Janssen, Mae Jemison, Ken Jenkins, Ashley Judd, Sabrina Le Beauf, Christopher McDonald, Bebe Neuwirth, Terry O’Quinn, Michelle Phillips, Gina Ravera, Jean Simmons, Paul Sorvino, Brenda Strong, James Worthy, Tracey Walter, Liz Vassey, David Ogden Stiers, Ray Wise, and John Tesh.²
Several films based directly on the TV series were released at theatres: Star Trek Generations (1994); Star Trek: First Contact (1996); Star Trek: Insurrection (1998); Star Trek Nemesis (2002). TNG video games have also been released.
¹ Stewart has taken on many significant roles. In the 1970s, before Star Trek, he played Sejanus in the highly acclaimed BBC series, I Claudius. An ambitious Roman soldier cum commander who gained power through cunning and deception, for me, Stewart’s Sejanus is overplayed. His facial expressions and head movements are often overdone. It’s almost as if Stewart hadn’t settled down yet. I’m not sure a younger Stewart could have played the rock solid Captain Picard that many of us have come to know. Rumors abound that, before becoming Picard, Stewart didn’t know anything about Star Trek or sci-fi, for that matter. Apparently he missed doing Shakespeare and more “serious” roles while committed to Star Trek.