In 2003, the New York Times published an article casting judgement on which show was “the best spy series in television history.” The writer, Terence Rafferty, wasn’t thinking of the then-current hit series 24. He was writing about an obscure British series which had barely been broadcast in the United States - The Sandbaggers.
To this day, Rafferty’s words obviously provide a perfect quote for the back of DVD box sets. Despite his effusive praise and a small cult following, though, The Sandbaggers remains barely known in the country where it was made. More than 40 years since its final episode was first broadcast, the series remains one of the best of its kind. Spy fiction is a permanent fixture in British culture - and The Sandbaggers deserves to be seen as one of the jewels in the crown.
Belatedly continuing on from my looks at season 1 and season 2 of The Next Generation, here I'll be giving some brief thoughts on season 3. It's often thought that this is the season when TNG really began to fire on all cylinders, but for me the first half of it is dominated by very average episodes. Things do step up a gear in the second half, and builds towards the widely acclaimed two-part story "The Best of Both Worlds", which I'll deal with in its entirety here, even though its second part is actually the first episode of season 4.
Season 3's episodes are set in 2366, the third year of the Enterprise-D's mission. Notably, Beverley Crusher returns as ship's medical lead after her unfortunate absence in season 2. Several characters introduced here will recur in later seasons, including rogueish archaeologist Vash, Romulan commander Tomalak, and the villanous Klingon warlord Duras.
While TNG never really does full-blown story arcs as we know them, there are some recurring threads which begin in season 3. One is the Federation's very uneasy relationship with the warlike Romulans, who appear in three episodes. Another is the machinations of Duras, an enemy of Worf who has designs on seizing power within the Klingon Empire. These threads will join together in season 4. In any case, there are 26 episodes to look at, and little time to waste - engage!
Following on from my run through the first season, it's time to continue with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 2 was broadcast in 1988 and 1989, with the episodes being set in 2365 during the second year of the USS Enterprise-D's mission.
While season 3 is generally thought of as the point at which TNG really came together as a series, season 2 shows some definite - if extremely patchy - signs of improvement over the first set of episodes. The two most impressive episodes are "The Measure of a Man" and "Q Who", which are often seen as some of the very best from TNG's early years. Notably, the latter introduces the Borg for the very first time - the implacable beings set up as a formidable threat both within TNG and even moreso, in Voyager.
Some significant changes this season include the introduction of Guinan (played wonderfully by Whoopi Goldberg), the promotion of Worf and LaForge to security chief and chief engineer respectively, and the temporary replacement of Beverly Crusher as chief medical officer. Dr Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur, isn't often popular with fans not least due to her (initial) antipathy towards Data. Plus, who can forget the introduction of Riker's beard? Engage!
As you might have gathered from my list of top 10 Original Series episodes, I've begun watching the Star Trek TV series in earnest. While I took the coward's way out with TOS and watched only around 30 episodes total, with the remaining series I'll be in for the long haul. Fortunately, that's barely more than 600 episodes!
Next up, of course, is Star Trek: The Next Generation which premiered in 1987 with a first season of 26 episodes. These stories focus on the travels of the USS Enterprise-D in 2364, nearly 100 years after the original voyages of Kirk's Enterprise.
The production and reception of this first season has been well-documented elsewhere, but it's worth reiterating that The Next Generation had a troubled beginning. The 1988 writer's strike caused problems towards its end, but the first half of the series is also plagued by sub-standard episodes. The cast had yet to figure out their characters, acting could be dubious, and Gene Roddenberry's demands were restrictive.
With that being said, I was surprised at the high quality of a handful of episodes in the season's second half. Patrick Stewart is also reliably excellent in his iconic role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard - he anchors the series even when other characters aren't yet up to scratch. Without further ado - engage!