Written by Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Corey Allen
The first television episode of Star Trek since the original series was canceled was something I had anxiously waited for and was eager to see.
Unfortunately after watching this, I didn’t revisit the series for another two years until a friend had told me that it had gotten much better.
Looking at it now, Encounter at Farpoint is not really that bad, although I know that the series did get better with time.
The series introduces all of the characters present in the series in an enticing way. As Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is taking the Enterprise toward a place known only as Farpoint Station, he encounters a mysterious being known as Q (portrayed by John DeLancie). Q attempts to use Picard as the representative of all humanity and puts him on trial for humanity’s crimes. Picard challenges Q’s assessment of humans as barbarians, leading Q to offer him a deal. Q allows Picard to continue with his journey to Farpoint, stating that this is the perfect test for humanity.
Upon arrival, Picard brings aboard the remainder of his crew, and clues in Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), his second-in-command as to what happened on their way to pick them up. Together, the two men manage to figure out the mystery behind Farpoint and help save an alien creature imprisoned by those who run the station.
The main problem with Encounter at Farpoint is that too much information is being crammed into two hours (including commercial breaks). Too many times there seems to be a paragraph of dialog that did not fit to the story but is there just to tell us about that particular character. Seeing how this was the beginning of a new television series, much of that could’ve been cut and left for future episodes.
There is also a problem with the writing of the individual characters which I found to be uneven within this episode. Later on, many of the kinks worked themselves out as actors adjusted to the roles, and writers got a better grasp on the characters.
Data is one of the characters I see as having evolved for the better. In Encounter at Farpoint, he is very wooden and stoic at times, almost identical to the ship’s computer. At other times, he seems to almost show emotion and laughter; smirking and acting comical. However, the scenes in the middle of the episode between Data and the aged Dr. McCoy are priceless and not to be missed for the world!
Counselor Deanna Troi is also written unevenly here. At times she appears to be a pouty sex-kitten in a mini-skirt on the bridge. At one point she is completely unprofessional as she cries out to Commander Riker (her former lover) not to put himself in harm’s way. Her “sensing” of emotions becomes redundant after a while as she seems to walk around with a constant dewy-eyed, troubled look.
The third character I really think is weak is Captain Picard himself. Patrick Stewart’s performance is not bad, but I can tell he doesn’t really have a complete grip on the character yet. I cannot see any Starfleet Captain unconditionally surrendering his ship, as Picard does to Q, or begging Q for more time to figure out the mystery behind Farpoint Station. A Starfleet Captain should be stronger than that. While I don’t expect the shoot-now-and-ask-questions-later style that was the trademark of Captain Kirk, I don’t expect the weakness in the character that I see in Encounter at Farpoint.
There is also a problem with the Enterprise D just standing by as the people they are in the midst of diplomatic discussions with are attacked by an unknown force. While in the end, that proved to be the correct thing to do, I have trouble watching Commander Riker talk about “many casualties” while they stand by and do nothing about it.
What is wonderful about Encounter at Farpoint is the effects. The saucer separation sequence is supposed to be the most expensive effect ever on television at the time (that’s why it wasn’t seen again in future episodes). The energy beings look like giant, iridescent space-jellyfish.
We are introduced to the holo-deck and the principles behind it here. It is done very well and seeing the door to the Enterprise D and the corridor in the middle of the forest is done with great precision.
The character of Q is also the big plus here. He doesn’t come off with the comic relief he has in later Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, but an almost God-like being with omnipotent powers really gives a great challenge to the crew.
I also greatly enjoy the soundtrack. It is easily the caliber of a movie soundtrack rather than a television show.
All in all, I can watch this episode again without it being painful, although I expected a lot more from the writing team of Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana.
Next Episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Naked Now